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Fleen Podcast Corner: Big Data

So this is probably a first — a podcast review at a webcomics site; but given that the podcast in question is by the webcomickiest of all webcomickers (the inimitable Ryan Estrada), I figure it probably works. Also, I should note that Estrada sent me downloads for all nine episodes (not to mention minisodes, and the reading of the related Machine of Death story, Shiv Sena Riot) so I’ve heard ahead of the three episodes now available for free listening.

Radio drama is something we in the US don’t have a lot of experience with¹, and the first thing you have to worry about is whether or not the voices and characters are different enough to follow easily. Estrada’s come up with a story conceit that lets him take a sprawling cast (more than 70 voice actors) across nine episodes and break them into manageable, discrete units that are pretty easy to follow. Apart from an overly-long, overly-narrated chase scene (which is not the easiest thing to depict in audio only) in episode one², the story zips along nicely.

The conceit is that a virus used by MRAs to spy on women has infected the phones of both teams of thieves and their targets. This works better than you might suspect, since everybody’s got a phone on them all the time, after all. The thieves are after the fabled Seven Keys To The Internet³, but that’s just another conceit for Estrada to tell a series of other stories about things he wants to talk about — criminal gangs in the digital age, Korean gaming police, secret hard drives in photocopiers, the history of magic, the history of abusive patents, venture capital and the tech bubble, put-upon phone center workers (a recurring theme, as this would be Manisha, star of Shiv Sena Riot and Estrada’s earlier Broken Telephone), relay phones for the deaf, and the prominence of Eastern Texas in patent trolling all come under his scrutiny … and as the end credits note each time, these are all real things.

The result is a series of I told you that story so I could tell you this story connections, with each story different in place, tone, subject matter, and (in large part) cast. So far, the best balance of all the competing areas of focus has been episode three, Motivation, featuring a lovely series of musical interludes derived from the verse of 19th Century spiritualist scammers and a lead performance (by Chris Tharp) that equally channeled Jeff Garlin and Penn Jillette.

The only thing that I’d ask for is that the show page link to cast credits on a per-episode basis instead of one big list. It’s a bit confusing trying to tie roles to particular interludes this way. Oh, and Jemaine Clement insists, in the opening titles, on pronouncing Data as dah-tuh instead of the proper day-tah. As another Data once pointed out, One is my name. The other is not. Get it together, Clement! Or, since Estrada’s the director and should know better, get it together, Estrada!

But these are minor quibbles. Big Data is a bunch of different stories on a bunch of weird-but-true side effects of modern life, and a fun journey through What Matters To Ryan. Give ‘er a listen, if only for the creative insults lobbed at Kickstarter supporters at the end of each episode.

Spam of the day:


Got that right, which is why I’m never moving again. Pretty good pitch, though.

¹ Not for lack of enthusiastic trying, sometimes. Waaaay back in college, I was part of a radio show that tried to put together a single, two hour SF radio drama in conjunction with the return of Comet Halley. It’s a creative endeavour that is very hard not to suck at.

² By episode four, a similar fight scene (also tough to do in audio only) was much briefer, reflecting either tighter scripting, tighter editing, or both. Much appreciated, either way.

³ It’s actually twelve, and full disclosure: one of my friends is actually a keyholder and she would find it hilarious to think that somebody might try to steal her key. She’d also kick their ass.

Thanks Gary! The credits are purposely lumped together to avoid spoilers about who’s in what episode because I didn’t want people doing character math to figure out future plot twists. I’ll probably reorder them when all the episodes have run!

JEMAINE Clement. Not Jermaine. One is his name, the other is not.

Touche, and fixed.

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