Time Travel Tragedy | Podcast rec: ars PARADOXICA

ars PARADOXICA cover art

Cover art for ars PARADOXICA.

I don’t know if it’s my taste, or audio dramas in general, or just the hellscape that is 2018, but I keep listening to stories where the antagonist is capitalism. ars PARADOXICA is a slight (very slight) departure, though, because this time the antagonist is the government and intelligence agencies of the USA! And also, I guess, human flaws.

This podcast didn’t quite make it onto my rec list for last weekends Nine Worlds podcast panel, but I finished listening to it at work this week, and now I’m very sad I won’t get to spend any more time with these characters, so I thought I’d write up a quick rec post.

ars PARADOXICA (extremely charmingly self-described „best time travel story ever told“) is the story of Dr Sally Grissom, 21st century physicist, who accidentally invents time travel and gets thrown back in time to 1943. She’s immediately forcibly recruited by the government and sent to a town based around a research facility that’s a clear parallel of the Manhattan Project (which also exists in-world). At first I was a bit disatisfied with the story, because I don’t know about you, but if I ended up back in time to World War 2 and later the Cold War, I would not shut up about the holocaust or the horrifying results of nuclear weapons, or, say, Operation Paperclip. Or civil rights. Or safe sex. Or, I don’t know, the dangers of smoking. There are a lot of things I would be concerned about even if, I feel, the government was forcing me to do time travel research that I found very satisfying.

But the story does eventually adress some of these things, particularly when one of the characters gets brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and when Black, Latinx, and Asian characters are introduced. (Oh yes, that’s another thing – the Japanese internment? Also a thing Sally doesn’t seem to really worry about.) I just still can’t wrap my head around how little Sally, the POV character for almost all of the show, thinks about the injustices of the history she’s thrown into.

But apart from my frustration with the focus of the show — and I guess I can understand that there’s only so much you can foreground on in an audio drama if you don’t want to make it the main focus of the plot, even if I would have different priorities — there are a lot of things about the podcast I really enjoyed. I love all of the characters, who are flawed and fascinating, and very well acted. I wish there was about three times more content to fully explore all of their lives and sub-plots, but I think the podcast does well focusing down to the main plot strands in the end to get everything tied up. (I would maybe have given the last threat a little more time to breathe, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s not just an artefact of my pacing in listening to the episodes.) I also really like the gradual and story-relevant way worldbuilding concepts are introduced. It draws you into the world, instead of dumping a bunch of exposition on you, which means, at least for me, that you can get hugely invested and get stressed out and sad in the best way.

And possibly the biggest compliment I can give: while the podcast uses my arch enemy the shoehorned-in audio diary format, it isn’t too constrained by it, justifies it more or less in the end, and for once it didn’t really bother me much.

ars PARADOXICA is complete at 3 seasons, 36 episodes of 25-40 minutes in length, plus some bonus episodes. Trigger warnings for individual episodes are provided on the website, as well as in the introduction to the episode audio later on.

(Title image is a billboard from Oak Ridge, HQ of the Manhattan Project. Public domain via Wikipedia.)

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