The Sci-Fi Anthology’s Revival Isn’t Only Seen, It’s Heard

Episodes of The Hidden Almanac can be found at here. "Echo Lake Tourism Poster" by Purple Alicorn.

Curator's Note

With the revival of the scripted radio drama via podcasts, old radio formats are finding new life, including the science fiction anthology program. A radio format that transferred to television in the 1960s has returned to an audio-based medium through podcasts like the Within the Wires, Magnus Archives, Escape Pod, and X Minus One. Further, sub-genres within sci-fi anthologies are being revised including that of scripted radio drama, frame stories, short story readings, and even rerun classics.

Remixing old formats with new technology, podcasts have flourished in recent years, reviving talk programming, scripted serial dramas, and it is no less true with one of radio’s oldest formats, the anthology program. However, where podcasts diverge from their television brethren in the revival of the sci-fi anthology genre-format is the inclusion of “remediated” aesthetics like theater, news programming, and radio story hour (readings of short stories submitted by authors and in public domain), but even aesthetics not associated with the audio programming at all.

For instance, Ursula Vernon’s podcast The Hidden Almanac (featured above) uses an aesthetic style of The Farmer’s Almanac (albeit a twisted one) read aloud. Including segments such as in this day in history, Feast Days, garden tips, lunar phases, and faux-advertisements, this micro-podcast averages 3-4 minutes an episode, far shorter than most podcasts, which typically run 45 minutes to an hour. The series does so in part due to the brevity of the remediated aesthetic it pulls from and in part due to the limited resources available for the anthology project. Still, by utilizing an aesthetic that requires brevity, the anthology can produce short, high-quality, short standalone fictions in a set format akin to an episode.

Other examples of untraditional remediated aesthetics found in podcast’s sci-fi anthology remediated aesthetics are those of an audio archive in the Magnus Institute in The Magnus Archives, hotel incident logs in The Hotel and the Theater of Tomorrow, and depending on the season, relaxation tapes, museum audio guides, and dictaphone recordings in Within the Wires.  

 

Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  

Comments

I wonder you, or anyone else, has thoughts about why this (extremely) short-form mode of storytelling has made a comeback in online spaces and podcasts, where listening seems to be more individuate/isolated and ad hoc. Have you mined the comments on the ITunes or Android store to get a sense of what draws audiences to these podcasts, as well as when and where people are listening?

I haven't done any audience research on the micro-podcast specifically (most of my research in this area is in the revival of the scripted radio drama), but I do think the extreme short form (whether it's podcast, mobile game, web series, or fiction) is on the rise in part to do with what Ethan Tussey dscribes as the "procrastination economy." These short forms are snackable, interrutpable, and require very little from their audience in time or mental process, while being narratively fullfilling. In short, perfect for those times we are waiting—either to do something, or in avoiding something. 

Great to see the elements that make sci-fi anthology podcasts distinctive. Rather than framing podcasts as divergent from television due to their lack of the visual, it's fantastic to see your focus on the remediation of traditional radio aesthetics.

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