6 Fiction Podcast Recommendations

 

The audio medium has been growing with the recent popularization of podcasts. Besides radio programs, informational and comedy shows, there are also a fair amount of narrative podcasts available. These programs can use their medium to their advantage, using sound effects, creative descriptions, vocal inflection, music and even more to enhance the story in ways that other narrative formats cannot.

If you are interested in this kind of storytelling medium, here are some wonderful serial fiction podcasts to get you started.

1 - “Welcome to Night Vale”

“Welcome to Night Vale” is a gateway podcast for many listeners. The format is that of a news broadcast for the fictional town of Night Vale. The town sits somewhere in the American Southwest, and the everyday happenings are a little more odd than most places. Most of the concepts addressed draw on those popularized by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. But instead of madness-inducing fear, the residents of Night Vale meet horrifying monsters, malevolent supernatural beings and impossibly sentient shapes or natural features without much more a shrug. Unless, of course, they’re killed.

The host of the broadcast is played by Cecil Baldwin, and his deep voice provides depth and an alternating dramatic and humorous tone to the impossible-to-fully-visualize events of the town. And gives a wonderfully sincere performance of the main character. The show releases two episodes per month, with the events said to be happening in real time. Each year-anniversary serves as a sort of season finale. The creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor say that one can pick up the series at any episodes, but that’s kind of a lie. There are several ongoing progressions in the plot that are worth listening to from the beginning.

2 - “Alice Isn’t Dead”

Written by Joseph Fink and led by another voice actor featured on “Welcome to Night Vale” - Jasika Nicole - “Alice Isn’t Dead” takes place in a world different from that of Night Vale. And while similar strange happenings are witnessed in this world, the tone has more of a focus on horror rather than the dark comedy that may be derived from it. The story focuses on a woman who has just discovered that her missing wife, Alice, has been in hiding for many months. Desperate to reunite with her, Nicole’s character takes a job as a driver for a shipping company that Alice was associated with, encountering strange places, mysterious organizations, monsters and possible conspiracies as she drives across the country.

Told by the protagonist speaking into a CB radio, “Alice Isn’t Dead” alternates between updates on what is or has been happening while trying to find her wife and various musings on human nature, America and her own health and sanity. It uses this format to add tension, with the character’s thoughts accessible to those that are hunting her down, as well as a way to surprise the audience with sudden sounds and new voices. The show also has a more concrete structure than “Night Vale,” with two seasons of 10 episodes each currently released.

3 - “Within the Wires”

Made by the other creator of Night Vale Presents, Jeffrey Cranor, “Within the Wires” has an even more distinct format, one which gives the actual narrative a bit of a slow establishment. The first season is told through a series of relaxation tapes, and eventually reveals that the story is set in a post-apocalyptic future, one with a worldwide civilization that harshly controls people’s upbringing and behavior. The plot is described as a “sci-fi/romance/prison break/relaxation tape.” The second season is told through a series of art museum audio guides, following different characters but continuing to reveal more about how the world functions.

Besides showing the depths of some amazing characters in multiple ways (the main characters narrate, are talked to, and discussed in the recordings), the show works to take the listener into the story, either as a resident of the world or, in the case of the first season, one of the two main characters. And the world that the show creates is an odd and rare dystopia where I actually find myself agreeing with its core values and aims, just not its methods and enforcement. “Within the Wires” is currently in the middle of its second season, with the same structure as “Alice Isn’t Dead.”

4 - “The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)”

Another podcast produced by Night Vale Presents (and the last one featured on this list, I swear), “Orbiting Human Circus” has much more of a lighthearted tone. Writer Julian Koster plays a young janitor in a surreal version of Paris, desperate to join the popular live radio show that is performed and broadcast from the top of the Eiffel Tower. When he is not making a fool of himself by interrupting the show, the janitor talks about his life, the strange mythos of this alternate world and his love of magic, usually addressing the narrator that he made up to keep him company.

This show is very charming in its strangeness, as well as its cast, which includes the amazing John Cameron Mitchell. The classic-sounding, warbling music, romanticly fantastic environment and comedic characters all serve the main aim of the show’s story, to blend the real and the imaginary. The show has released one season so far, as well as a short holiday-themed special.

5 - “The Adventure Zone”

This show is created by the McElroy family, known for “My Brother, My Brother and Me” and the YouTube series “Monster Factory.” “The Adventure Zone” consists of the brothers Justin, Travis and Griffin and their father, Clint, playing tabletop roleplaying games together. Their first full season was a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons led by Griffin. Besides the player characters Magnus, Merle and Taako, the show features a cast of lovable NPCs, all set in a world that doesn’t fully adhere to most fantasy standards - one that includes magic, spaceships, several elevators and Costco. The creators take some liberties when it comes to the normal rules of the game.

Even though it starts a little slow at first - it takes a few episodes for everyone to find their rhythm - the show (particularly the recently completed “Balance” arc) eventually proves the wonders of collaborative storytelling in the wildest of ways. DM Griffin plans a complex and amazing story (and composes music to match), and all of the players involved end up surprising each other in some of the most dire moments. There’s a reveal at one point that has to be one of the best I’ve seen from any medium - one where it really feels like something is lost if one sees it coming. For a show so ridiculous, it was so surprising to find myself crying at some of the final episodes. The show is now going through a series of short, experimental arcs while deciding on an official second season, and updates every other week.

6 - “Cabin Pressure”

I’m technically cheating here, as this isn’t exactly a podcast. “Cabin Pressure” is actually a British radio sitcom created by comedy writer John Finnemore. The show centers around a small charter airline, “small” as in there is only one airplane. There’s constant bickering between the awkward captain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), suave first officer (Roger Allam), abrasive CEO (Stephanie Cole) and her idiotic son/steward (John Finnemore) as the team navigates insane customers, financial troubles and their own dilapidated airplane.

Despite having concluded a few years ago and being a bit harder to find for free than anything else on this list, the show is still worth listening to. The writing is fast and clever, and Finnemore proves that not only does the audio medium thrive on vocal comedy, it also lends its way to amazing visual jokes as well. There’s a lot to be done with obscuring information. Plus, no matter your opinion on the man himself, it’s interesting and fun to hear Benedict Cumberbatch in such an awkward and high-pitched role. One doesn’t usually see that anymore.

There’s a lot of good to be found in this medium, and if you have any interest, I hope you find at least one of these shows to your liking. Happy listening!