I’d like to draw your attention to a new sf fiction podcast, To The Manor Borne By Robots. This is an interesting new entry in the field of fully-produced science fiction audio dramas. Let me shamelessly crib from the press release for a description:
Only stories will feed the Beast! In the new podcast, To The Manor Borne By Robots, a monstrous entity invades 25th century Earth, wreaking havoc, destroying cities, killing millions. The only thing that will pacify it is stories, stories read to it by the Master, the leader of the future Earth. In an effort to destroy the Beast, the Master transports his 21st century ancestor, a cube-worker named Bob, to the future, where his DNA signature allows him to be a stand-in with the Beast, while the Master travels to the past, to unravel the origin of the Beast, and destroy it. Each episode features the serialized story of the Master, Bob, and the Beast, as well as a stand-alone story, all voiced by an extensive and talented cast of actors, lavishly produced, with sound effects and music. A sci-fi Scherherezade, To The Manor Borne By Robots is available on iTunes, and via web-player on its own site. Journey to the Manor, where the future is past.
They’re two episodes in, and I’m hooked. Every episode is split just about evenly between the frame narrative, where Bob and the Master must keep the Beast quiescent while seeking to destroy it, and the story that Bob reads to the Beast. Bob introduces the story, but it isn’t simply read; like the rest of the show the story is fully dramatized, with different actors, foley sound effects, and music.
So far I’m finding the frame narrative, about Bob and the Beast in the 25th century, and the Master back in our own 21st century, to be compelling on its own. I’m not 100% sure where they’re going and it’s well written. They’re doing a great job of having the Master master advertising business-speak jargon while he’s on teleconferences with Bob’s co-workers, and Bob is bonding with the Master’s assistant Jimmy and the robot X31 (which scans like a nice shout-out to the original sf radio drama, X Minus One back in the 50s). In this future, by the way and as advertised, people are literally borne about the manor by robots. Truth in advertising!
Then there are the stories themselves. It’s hard to judge based on two stories alone, but this shows promise. I have long been a fan of radio drama, listening to 40s and 50s radio re-runs on AM radio back in the late 80s and early 90s, and my go-to listening choice when I was laying in with my first baby was two albums (50 episodes) of X Minus One recordings. The stories here, “No Fatties, Please” and “I’m Gonna Crawl” are a nice update from X Minus One days–I was afraid they were going to be too Golden Age and dated at first. While they do not match what you might find in Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld today, I think they hold up to what you might find in F&SF or Asimov’s.
“No Fatties, Please” is the audio of a dating site profile. A hardcore biker guy claims, all in first person narrative, that he and his biker gang killed Osama Bin Laden with the approval of the President, and all the stories about Navy Seals and Zero Dark Thirty are just the cover story. It plays some stereotypes either for laughs or critique (the guy has seriously regressive views on Middle Easterners, Pakistanis, and terrorists in general), and challenges others (when the guy meets President Obama, he’s genuinely impressed). It’s a 100% implausible story, but it’s funny, and the actor playing the biker (Shepherd Stephenson) totally sells it, never forgetting that this is all about advertising himself on a dating site.
I’m going to label “I’m Gonna Crawl” with trigger warnings for domestic abuse and child abuse, but it’s a heck of a story. In this future, babies can be genetically modified to never age, staying about 9 months old or so (harkening to “The Cutie” by Greg Egan back in the 90s, among others). But this story is narrated by the baby, whose mother has died and who is being raised by his jackass, druggie, very resentful, normally aging brother. Again, the voice actor doing the heavy lifting (Jennifer Daley) completely sold it. It was very sad, very creepy, and it probably hit me harder because I currently have an 8 month old baby at home.
But honestly, I think it’s the framing narrative that’s going to keep me coming back. I want to find out what the Master is going to do in the 21st century, and I want to learn more about the Beast in the 25th century. So tune in and take a listen! We’ll see how it goes, but early indications are that it’s worth your time.