Studio: Escape Pod
What It Is
A science-fiction story is read aloud; plus commentary on the back-end from one of the podcast editors and listener feedback on the previous episode’s story.
This show started up back in 2005 and has racked up over five hundred episodes in the intervening years. The content of the show varies a lot because of the varied stories chosen for the show. The longest episode I’ve heard was over eighty minutes long, while the shortest I’ve listened to was under twenty. The episodes are also given an MPAA equivalent rating, from G to X (no NC-17s for these guys!), so you can quickly tell which episodes might be fun to share with the kids and which you are stamped For Your Ears Only. A new episode drops approximately every week, but this varies too. The show sometimes presents older, classic stories, but more often the stories are newer. The show has two sister podcasts; Escape Pod is the sci-fi podcast, while PodCastle deals in fantasy and PseudoPod presents horror stories. The iTunes archive goes back a year and a half or so; for older episodes check out the website. The older episodes are streaming on the website, but you can purchase mp3 CDs of the first hundred episodes or so. The show has won several podcast awards; and, in an interview, Wil Wheaton gave it props as a podcast he never misses.
What About It
Well, as with any show dedicated to presenting various stories, this show varies in quality. I’ve heard a lot of really stupendous episodes, a couple of horrifically awful ones and a lot of fair-to-middling episodes. That’s really all you can say about the podcast. When the story is great, the show is great. When the story is mediocre, the show is mediocre. When the story is awful, the show is awful. I can say that the awful episodes are very few and far between. Usually the stories are fine, if not exceptional. Of course, the problem is that you don’t know what kind of episode you’re going to get until it’s almost over, right? You can research the story if you want. The website gives a brief summary and a brief excerpt, but a lot of the fun of the podcast is in just seeing the newest episode in your subscriber feed and listening to it totally blind with no idea what sci-fi genre you’re going to get. Yes, I suppose I should mention that the show, within the sci-fi genre, is very diverse. There are comic stories, grim stories, and optimistic stories. The stories might be in worlds incredibly different than ours; others seem to take place just a few years in the future. In some, like some I’ll mention below, the sci-fi element seems almost backhanded into the story as a minor background detail. Others, like one I’ll mention below, almost seem as if they should be broadcast under the PsuedoPod banner instead of Escape Pod. Some find the variety frustrating; I find the wide variety exciting. Bottom line: it’s a unique way to get a sci-fi story delivered to you, the reader is generally very good and the editor commentary that comes after the story is typically thoughtful and thought provoking so there’s some added bonus. So, is it a great podcast? Well, it’s flawed, of course, but I’m no huge sci-fi guy and I still never miss an episode. Take that for what it’s worth.
The reference to Wil Wheaton above made you literally squee.
Avoid Like the Plague If
The reference to Wil Wheaton above made you literally “Who?”
Best Entry Point
I’ll give you a few here. EP 410: Nutshell is a good example of a story that is entirely bound up in the sci-fi elements. The story takes place entirely in the dreaming consciousness of a space traveler in hibernation sleep; the ship’s AI has set up a virtual world for him to explore, but the AI can’t seem to stop meddling with things. It’s a great example of the show at its silliest and most comic; the reader, Alasdair Stuart, gives a wonderful performance. And then there’s EP414: Knowing. It’s a look at the show at its most horrific. A soldier for the Vatican searches for the answer to the Great Question of Life by capturing and torturing demons for the truth. But he discovers that sometimes it’s better to live the questions than know the answers. Hmm, then there’s EP 458: If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which is one of the most incredible stories I’ve heard on the podcast, but no spoilers as it’s one that just has to be experienced knowing nothing about it. And that episode is only about fifteen minutes. EP 423: Arena is probably the best “classic story” episode; it’s an old pulp story that inspired a Star Trek episode in which a human and an alien find themselves transported to a strange arena where they must fight to the death for mysterious reasons. But now that I think about it, so many others are coming to mind: The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, a melancholy love story; The Way of the Needle, a bizarre story of a very alien civilization; A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly, a story about business negotiations, the theater and a love of twist endings; Repo, a Star Wars-esque tale of a pair of bounty hunters after the same prey. Anyway, there’s a damn ton of them. Check them out; I bet you’ll love it.