Podcast of the week: Wolf 359
The fictional world of this sci-fi podcast is welcoming, if a little rough around the edges
There is potential here for great dynamics
Fiction podcasts allow their writers to explore landscapes otherwise difficult or outrageously expensive to portray, from dystopian future cities to haunted American desert towns to non-existent islands in the English Channel. I love almost nothing more than podcasts about space: and a good space opera is hard to come by. Enter Wolf 359.
The neat, short episodes of Wolf 359 cover dispatches from the USS Hephaestus Research Station as provided by communications officer Doug Eiffel. The other members of the skeleton crew dip in and out of his reports, and stories of life on the ship begin to unfold, little by little. The cast dynamics are interesting, but not perfect. The ship’s resident batty scientist, Alexander Hilbert, has an accent that made me recoil initially, and the stern pilot Renée Minowski is sometimes underplayed, sometimes ferocious. The moderately useless AI system of the ship, Hera, provides comic relief.
As a foursome, there is potential here for great dynamics – and there are moments during the early episodes of Wolf 359 when a listener can feel what is possible. At other times it falls prey to a recurring issue in science fiction podcasts – sounding more like a table-read than an audio-drama. This said, I kept listening and found myself 10 episodes deep and ready to finish the entire series.
There is something comforting about the tone. This could be because there is an element of nostalgia attached: it is a trace, in many ways, of classic BBC sitcom Red Dwarf. Wolf 359 is a welcoming, wholly established world. It may be a little rough around the edges, but that can make podcasts truly great. They’re often home-made, they’re projects of passion, they’re a vision made possible by the medium. The first episode, especially in the last minutes, contains a great deal of heart. If you listen to that 17 minutes and find them flying by, you might just find yourself deep into Eiffel’s broadcasts, feeling both very far away from home, and very much at home, too.