Solar the Podcast
Today, I review a podcast from Curtco Media. A representative from Curtco requested I review the podcast. I don't typically listen to podcasts, but decided to try it out since it's a sci-fi.
As always, minor spoilers might be present in the review.
Fantastic audio effects and a compelling mystery element make for an entertaining listen.
I don’t listen to podcasts very often, and I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to a fiction podcast before. Most of my podcast listening has been almost exclusively Radiolab, and I haven't tuned in to that very often since Robert Krulwich retired. All this is to say, I’m not a regular podcast listener. However, I do listen to audiobooks regularly, using Audible and Libby. I suspected listening to Solar would be akin to enjoying a David Baldacci audiobook, which usually includes a bit of music and sound effects in the way of gunfire and squealing tires.
Let me tell you, the audio effects in Solar are truly impressive. In fact, they were the strongest aspect of the podcast by far. At the beginning of each episode, the listener is told the program is best experienced with good headphones. They aren’t kidding. I’m no audiophile, but quality headphones are a must. The music and sound effects add a great deal to the overall tension, underlying mystery, and action sequences present in the tale.
As for the story, it’s typical science-fiction fare reminiscent of the movie Gravity and the works of Arthur C. Clarke. In many ways, the storyline reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama. Not bad company, honestly. However, the plot line did feel a bit Hollywood. First, the episodes are, well, episodic in nature. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given that it’s a podcast, and each installment is called an episode. Also, the narrative is split, some episodes taking place in the present and others happening days, weeks, or months in the past. I would’ve enjoyed the story more if it had been less disjointed.
The yarn follows the crew of the space vessel Aethon as it travels toward the sun on a research mission. The precise nature of mission is an enigma since the crew is divided between employees of a shady corporation and astronauts from a government agency—a future, multi-government version of NASA. Everyone seems to have their own agenda that they’re willing to put ahead of the mission. This creates a good deal of drama between the crew. Overall, I didn’t find all the drama totally credible. Partly because I’ve read Endurance by Scott Kelly, I don’t know that I buy that a highly trained and vetted space crew would be a bunch of loose cannons. Also, I struggle to understand why the shady corporation needed to partner with the government to do the mission. From what I can tell, the corporation possesses the technology and expertise to pull off the mission. So since what they’re doing is supposedly secret, why include the government? This is never explained to my satisfaction.
Having said that, there are two saving graces to the story. From early on there is a great deal of mystery surrounding what the mission exactly is. Nobody seems to know. If anybody does, they’re not talking or, at the very least, not telling the whole truth. In fact, none of the characters are trustworthy. Even the artificial intelligence that runs the ship can’t be relied upon to give a straight answer and does have its own seemingly conflicting agendas. This creates tons of tension and suspense that steadily build with each episode. The climax wasn’t unpredictable, but I did blast through the last three or four episodes just to hear what would happen next.
In the first few episodes, I had trouble finding a character to latch on to. None of the characters are particularly likable or interesting enough for me to care about without being likable. Fortunately, there was Wren, the second saving grace of the story. I didn’t find the introverted scientist immediately likable, but the character grew on me with each episode. I became super sympathetic for her plight when the commander, in the middle of the freaking mission, made a pass at her. I mean, OMG. Is during a first-of-its-kind space mission really the appropriate time to be trying to get your freaky on? Wren takes the inappropriate behavior by the commander in stride and even indicates she might be interested dating him sometime in the future back on Earth, but I really did feel for her all the same.
Bottom line, Solar is an ultimately entertaining podcast that gets better with every episode. The science-fiction aspects are readily identifiable to aficionados of the genre and aren’t so heavy-handed as to turnoff casual listeners. In addition, the mystery throughout the story builds tension and suspense that will keep listeners tuning in.
Based on the last episode, I suspect a second season is in the works. Will I tune in? Probably. The mystery is, after all, not completely unraveled.