#77 The bleeding edge
In this issue, stories from the bleeding edge: of bodies, numbers, and our own imaginations.
Your devoted servants,
Steal the Stars
If you like your audio drama delivered in high-quality, paranoid-thriller packages (and we vehemently do), this next-level series from Tor Labs, the science fiction/fantasy publisher's new podcast-producing imprint, should find its way onto your listen list. An original fiction penned by Mac Rogers (see also: The Message, LifeAfter), it introduces us to a secure facility, built to protect an alien secret, and staffed by ex-military who sign their lives away to work there. Security is managed by our protagonist, Dakota Prentiss, who is outwardly a total hardass but actually pretty lonely; she, like the other characters who people this story, is convincingly flawed and likeable. The alien secret itself is novel, as is the fast-unfurling plot, and the writing is so good as to be worthy of note - so we note it. Setting aside a love story that feels strangely arbitrary, this thing flows like honey. We're five episodes in, with nine to follow.
Gateway episode: 1. Warm Bodies (2 Aug 2017)
From: Tor Labs / Gideon Media
Style: Audio drama
The Heart, Bodies: Meat
We're still gobsmacked in the aftermath of this instalment of The Heart, the boundary-pushing love and sex podcast from Radiotopia. It actually represents the first episode of what will be an entirely new podcast: Meat by Jonathan Zenti, an Italian radio producer who, in the words of Heart host Kaitlin Prest, "is a fucking genius" (spoiler: she's right). Meat will explore the way we think about our bodies, and in this early-release episode, we are treated to a trip inside the brain and body of Zenti himself, a happy fat man who nonetheless recognises that the world is not kind to fat people. In this episode, he explains why he grew his body, and also attempts a diet. It's a sensory rollercoaster and one of the most intimate audio experiences we've ever had. Comprising documentary recordings from Zenti's life, magical, immersive sound design, and winning narration, this single episode represents an enormous achievement. We can only imagine what the rest of the series will bring. Meat will launch in October, but for now, stay up-to-date via meatpodcast.com and Jonathan Zenti on Twitter.
Released: 23 Aug 2017
The Butterfly Effect
This buzzed-about Audible Original is just the thing to appeal to mass-market podcast consumers and super-listeners alike. It's a limited, bingeable series that shines light into the dark and secret crevices of our culture, and it's powered by a narrative sophistication that's comfortable with ambiguity. Presented by the deceptively mild-mannered British journalist Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test, So You've Been Publicly Shamed), the aim is stated clearly at the outset: Ronson wants to understand how the advent of streaming porn, and in particular the success of Pornhub, has changed the world. This question takes him in directions he never imagined, deep into the welcoming world of porn performers and producers in the San Fernando Valley. The industry is on its knees in the wake of Pornhub's success, and the only porn that's thriving is "custom" - bespoke videos tailored to individual customers.
Ronson is the right man for the job here, clear-eyed and gentle and not afraid to just keep asking. The series as a whole is an unqualified pleasure; we inhaled it over the course of three hours, but it has lingered far longer in our minds. Hear it via Audible now or iTunes in October.
Gateway episode: Chapter 1
We stumbled on this by accident and now feel compelled to tell everyone we meet about it, including you. First, we must warn you, it is truly very weird. Every episode features a piece of unedited, public domain, forensic audio - an interrogation or a trial or a 911 call. This is presented without introduction, narration, or comment. It's helpful to read the episode description for context, but otherwise you're on your own. Iconic cases feature among the lesser-known: an account of Jeffrey Dahmer's trial is presented in four parts, and the final tapes from Jonestown and Heaven's Gate make an appearance, but we also hear the interrogation and arrest of Stephanie Lazarus, an LAPD officer who murdered her ex-boyfriend's wife; and an emergency call from two panicking mothers, whose teenage sons are trapped in a snow cave.
The show is the brainchild of Professor Mikita Brottman, who writes and teaches about true crime. In her words: "Most people will no doubt find them tedious. But for those who share my audio obsessions, nothing on earth can be more riveting." She's onto something. These slivers of uncut actuality have a kind of mystical power - they are unsolvable puzzles, with an edge-of-life immediacy - and we couldn't stop listening. New episodes drop randomly, as recently as yesterday, and 26 are available.
Gateway episodes: Episode 10: Stephanie Lazarus Interrogation (16 Jun 2017) / Episode 14: Jeffrey Dahmer Trial, Part 1 (1 Jul 2017) / Episode 19: Jonestown Mass Suicide (16 Jul 2017)
More or Less: Behind the Statistics
If you find yourself taking comfort in hard numbers these days, you'll enjoy the deep backlist available from this long-running BBC show, which peels back the headlines to look at the data that inform them. Most episodes run around 10 minutes, though some are longer and more in-depth investigations (How deadly is Ebola?; Fertility: when is too late?). Recent episodes have asked whether Trump has really been good for the economy, as he claims; whether basketball players like Steph Curry are underpaid; and the real prevalence of tower block fires. New episodes every week.
Gateway episodes: The Trump Bump (20 Aug 2017) / Post-Election Special (19 Jun 2017) / The Maths of Dating (1 May 2017)
The New Washington / Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Earshot / Who Killed the Kangaroo Man?
The Black Tapes / Episode 201 - The Sins of the Father
Welcome to Macintosh / Will You Be My Emoji?
The Untold / In the Grip of Anorexia
Scene on Radio / Transformation (Seeing White, Part 14)