#80 Future perfect
We want to be better. Starting tomorrow.
This week: stories about the coming change, whether longed for or feared.
We're partial to BBC audio in all its forms, but Tomorrow's World is next-level: an inquisitive, playful, sonically-bountiful new show about how the science of the present is set to transform our future. Helmed by two charismatic scientists - Dr Britt Wray, an expert in synthetic biology and necrofauna, and Dr Ellie Cosgrave, who lectures in urban innovation at University College London - three episodes to date have examined how our brains and bodies will interact with artificial intelligence (the evolution of the brain, neural nets, the possibility of downloading a mind) and the fate of our cities post-climate change. In form and execution, we were genuinely reminded of Radiolab - there is a restless, personal intelligence at work here, and a tone that is poised between relaxed and alert, and an urge toward experimentation that doesn't overplay its hand. This is science that sounds like fiction, but stands on our doorstep. And in the hearing, it's an unqualified pleasure.
Gateway episodes: The Wizard's Hat (12 Oct 2017) / Hope Floats (26 Oct 2017)
From: Whistledown for BBC Radio
By the Book
In pursuit of a cure for 21st-century ennui, we have all become seekers, diligently investigating KonMari and paleo in hopes of dulling our anxiety about the inevitability of human mortality (fun!). In this charming Panoply show, a success story from the network's pilot program, pals Jolenta Greenberg (comedian, winner of The Moth's StorySLAM) and Kristen Meinzer (of WNYC's Movie Date) vow to live, fortnightly, by the philosophy of one self-help book. Then they record and report on the experience, whether it's the fatalistic power of The Secret or the leek-soup agony of French Women Don't Get Fat. While the premise is light-hearted, the results are actually pretty deep. Self-help books, after all, trade in our most sensitive and keenly-felt insecurities, and our intrepid hosts aren't afraid to reveal their own personal foibles. Season 1 just wrapped, so plenty of episodes are available now.
Gateway episodes: The Secret (23 Mar 2017) / The Memory Book (6 Jul 2017) / Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (17 Aug 2017)
Released: Weekly when in season
Heaven's Gate, 1. The Seekers
This high-quality series about the infamous UFO cult could be recommended on the strength of its production dream team alone: it includes Pineapple Media lead Ann Hepperman (see also Serendipity), the team behind Missing Richard Simmons, Peter Clowney (The Longest Shortest Time, etc), plus Snap and Spooked host Glynn Washington. In this first of 10 episodes, we are introduced to the incident that made Heaven's Gate infamous: the mass suicide of 39 people, who believed they were transitioning to a new life aboard a spaceship. The grim details are known, and mind-boggling. What isn't fully understood is why and how the group came to this point - or, more broadly, how any cult obscures reality and swallows its members - and this episode frames that as the larger question of the series. A skilled narrator, Washington brings his unique experience to the telling: he himself grew up in a cult-y religious society. Appointment listening for the weeks ahead.
From: Pineapple Street/Midroll
Released: 18 October 2017
Why'd You Push That Button?
Tech media outfit The Verge adds to its line-up with this clever little show, which asks why we make the choices we do when it comes to technology. Specifically, it's interested in how free those choices are, and how they affect our relationships with actual human beings. Hosts Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany, both Verge journos, tackle this with deadpan good humour (e.g. Tiffany, on Tinder super liking: "You literally have nothing to lose because you literally have nothing"), while interviews with users, tech execs and scientists provide useful insight and context. New instalments weekly.
Gateway episodes: Why do you Super Like people on Tinder? (17 Oct 2017)
From: The Verge
Mission to ZYXX
If we must have improvised comedy fictions, let them be as good and as joyful as this one, which reminded of us of the surprising pleasures of early Hello from the Magic Tavern. Its cast are members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and you've likely consumed their content before (e.g. This American Life's Director of Operations, Seth Lind, who co-edits and performs here). Our story begins with the appointment of former farmboy Pleck Decksetter to a junior role in the draconian Federated Alliance government. The Alliance is seeking to make diplomatic contact with, and/or plunder for resources, the planets at the furthest reaches of its influence, so affable Decksetter heads for the Zyxx quadrant with an ornery crew of misfits. Their improvised adventures are later edited and sound-designed, and never bloated - even the ads are fun!
Gateway episodes: 102. Nermie, I Shrunk the Crew [ft Sasheer Zamata] (13 Sep 2017) / 107. The (Redacted) [ft. Michael Cruz Kayne] (18 Oct 2017)
Style: Audio drama
Heavyweight / Rose
Breakdown / The McIver Murder Case
Steal the Stars / 13: Matt-25
The Daily / Wednesday, Oct. 18 2017
Love + Radio / Murdertown, USA
The Messenger / Position is Clear
Inside The Exorcist / 1. The Haunted Boy