Noisy Universe

September 12, 2007

Clapperboard I listen to podcasts to keep me sane on the commute to work, but lately found myself running out of stuff to listen to. I still listen to much of the output from Leo Laporte‘s This Week in Tech network, and the BBC Today programme, but Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time is still on its summer holiday, the AVForums podcasts are down to monthly and I had simply had enough of Alex Lindsay‘s tedious and self-indulgent This Week in Media, so I’ve been tending to run out of material to entertain and inform me on my drive home.

I have tried a couple of audio books, notably Scott Sigler’s Earthcore and Ancestor, but I need a break from his voice and his penchant for gratuitous violence (I’m referring of course to his storylines – I’m sure he’s not personally a danger to society).

It was thus that I came to scan the web for possible new listening material and came across Silent Universe, a serialised SF story and branchild of one J. Marcus Xavier (and I’ll be very surprised if that’s his real name).

Silent Universe

The episodes come out every few months. They’re up to no. 6 and I’ve been catching up. I downloaded the free low-bitrate mono version (with 30 second embedded advert) for tryout purposes, but the subscription for the stereo higher quality ad-free version is modest.

One of the “selling points” is that listeners can influence the storyline via their views and feedback on the Silent Universe Forum. As a newcomer to the series I’ve not had that benefit to date.

One thing I like about Silent Universe is the refreshing notion that while man may start colonising the planets and moons in the solar system, the nations of today will remain separate and just extend their rivalries and wars to new off-Earth battlegrounds. This is not that startling per se, but most sci-fi seems to take it for granted that countries and wars are features of Earth-bound humanity, so our expansion into our solar system and others will inevitably be accompanied by a new and peaceful world(s) order. The scenario familiar from say Star Trek is a case in point.

Against this there is quite a lot of bad. It is very clichéd and plays out a bit like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy without the laughs. I was hoping for serious, deeply observant science fiction, that might reveal something about the human condition by extrapolation into a near future space age. Even Scott Sigler’s violence-fests have some inventive sci-fi ideas at their core. Silent Universe is like a rehash of Blake’s 7 – small band of intrepid do-gooders battling in Space against evil powers. It really isn’t desperately original. There is the usual motley crew of unlikely personalities, including the computer whiz who only talks in Star Wars impressions (Yoda, Vader, Chewie etc.) The script is trite and irksome.

Particularly irritating is Hilary Blair’s accent as the main character, space mercenary Emmeline Kaley. Emmeline is supposed to be Scottish but the accent is somewhere between Irish and Betelgeusian. It drives me up the wall.

Neither have I fathomed where the name Silent Universe came from. Given all the explosions and other amateurish sound effects I find it to be a fairly Noisy Universe.

Mr Xavier puts out short taster episodes every now and again, to bring the listenership up to date with feedback and other news about the series. He cleverly put out the free version of one of these in high quality stereo, including the first scene of the next episode, to try to drum up subscriptions.

Another time, explaining why one particular episode was not out yet, he mentioned he had not yet “received a couple of the lines”. I take that to mean the various voice artists record their lines independently in different locations and email him the sound files. He then has to edit them all together, add the sound effects and so forth. That might explain the interesting chemistry between the characters.

I may have been quite scathing but I’ve not yet totally given up on Silent Universe. I’ll stick with it until at least episode 6 (I’m now at 4) but I may then scour the Internet again to see if I can find anything better to fill the gaps in my listening schedule.

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  1. Marcus, thanks for taking the criticism in such good spirit.

    I will stick with it. It may yet grow on me, and I wish you all the best with SU. It’s no small venture.

  2. Haha, thanks for the review, brutally honest as it is. 🙂 I hope you get through to episode 6, and if you do, 7 is currently on the production board.

    Take it easy,

    and PS, nope my real name is not J. Marcus Xavier =0p

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