Last week I listened to the first four episodes of the podcast fiction series “SAYER.” I’m not usually one for podcasts, but I’m always up for some creative fiction, and SAYER is my favorite kind: science fiction.
Episodes are about 15 to 20 minutes long, with a single voice actor, Adam Bash, who acts as narrator and is also the producer of the series. From what I gather from the podcast’s website, Bash writes each episode with a different co-writer.
If I had to sum up SAYER, I’d say it’s a genre mash-up of science fiction, dark comedy, and mystery. You’re in the story, trying to figure out where you are—who you are. And your only companion seems to be a deep-voiced AI who may or may not be trustworthy.
The narrator is SAYER: a “highly advanced, self-aware artificial intelligence” working at Ærolith Dynamics. It seems you’re a new resident, and SAYER is speaking directly to you. His voice awakens you from chronostasis quarantine and then helps you get your bearings in this new world. Apparently, you’re now employed with Ærolith Dynamics on Typhon, a space station near Earth. SAYER claims you signed a waiver allowing biomechanical implants when you began your employment pre-chronostasis quarantine. I’m sure that will come up again at some point.
Speaking in a soothing monotone, SAYER has a dry wit that reminds me of listening to GLaDOS in the Portal video games. At one point, he warns you of a few symptoms of the quarantine, including “distrust of the color turquoise and auditory hallucinations” – so you shouldn’t listen to any disembodied voices except his.
It sets up an interesting premise: Should you believe this voice or not? SAYER is your only connection to the outside world. You have amnesia, so there’s no way of knowing where you came from or what you’re doing here other than what SAYER tells you. And some of the things he says are disconcerting, to say the least.
It’s a brilliant starting point for a sci-fi podcast, as you are actually incorporated into the story in a realistic way. You’re a blank slate for the narrator to fill you with information about your surroundings and purpose. It’s up to you to decide what to believe.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the pilot episode, though, is the hint of darkness and foreshadowing of your future life here on Typhon. SAYER mentions something about how you’re paralyzed for the time being so you won’t waste calories running around when you should spend those calories on something more useful. He also says you will most certainly die on Typhon—not that that’s anything to worry about, according to him. This is a perfect place for you, after all. It reminds me of what a sci-fi BioShock podcast could be like.
The following episodes ramp up the eeriness as you realize more about your current habitat and new job—like how you’re locked in your room at first. And how when you go to the cafeteria, you are “allowed to socialize.” (SAYER seems really excited for you.) And how things in the station—like entire floors—sometimes need to be “rearranged.” And how, after your regular “mandatory” recreation time, you must always undergo a psychiatric exam.
Even as he tells you these things, SAYER’s monotone voice continues to dish out increasingly absurd humor. I love it. Sure, you feel a sense of foreboding as you realize you’re not exactly “free” in this new place—you might even feel like a prisoner at times—but the deadpan sarcasm makes the experience funny as well. I feel like the second and third episodes are the funniest so far; the writing really hits its stride in those.
“Elevators are a wonderful piece of technology. They are simple and effective at what they do, and they rarely complain to me about their workload.”
“Were something to interfere with my orientation and alert system, the body count would be staggering. But fear not… the back-up generators prioritize my continuance over such things as heat shielding and life support.”
Rarely there are sound effects, such as alarms, the sounds of doors opening, and even labored breathing where appropriate. A very subtle soundtrack—mostly long, chilling notes that add ambience—plays in the background the entire time SAYER is speaking. I appreciate that these sounds are never overdone; even the alarm in one episode only plays for very short periods of time to indicate what’s happening, never becoming too loud or repetitive.
Clearly there’s a lot to learn about your new life on Typhon, from how to navigate around the station to what you’ll be doing at work. SAYER’s introductions to these novelties are droll and unsettling. I can’t wait to find out more.
You can find the first episode of the podcast here.