Back in 2006, a new fiction podcast came along called Variant Frequencies. Producer Rick Stringer began bringing the dark fiction of Ann Stringer and Matt Wallace to audio, blending excellent guest narration with subtle and effective sound effects and music. One of the best pieces they produced was Wallace’s The Failed Cities Monologues, a gritty, future, noir-type story of street preachers and prostitutes, femme fatales and assassins, written entirely for podcast from the points of view of a handful of narrators. It was an excellent and highly recommended feat of fiction and audio production.
In 2007, Wallace wrote a holiday companion piece to The Failed Cities Monologues, released then as a PDF, but this season he and Rick Stringer brought back all the original narrators to release the piece as a holiday podcast. The Failed Cities are dismal places, but the holidays still come, and we see how our characters fare during a rather shady slave transport deal. Again we get a peek of the violent life of the street preachers and their watchers, as well as the listener favorites the insanely focused assassins, the Feral Twins. Wallace's description is visceral and detailed, but his real triumph is in his characters. We see the story from many points of view, showing each distinct character. Wallace paints his characters with broad colors and subtle hues, driving us to sympathize with them even if we don’t want to, and even as the simple, tortured assassin Ferus hunts characters we assume are the good guys, we can relate to Ferus as easily as his targets.
One of the interesting things about FCM and Hath a Darkness is that although it was written specifically for audio podcast, it is not dialogue heavy like an audio drama. Instead of dialogue, we get mainly narration, first person accounts of what happened. It sometimes feels odd, but more often feels like sitting and listening to someone tell you about their weekend (if their weekend was full of street brawls and assassinations). Just as we don’t quote long passages of dialogue when we tell stories in our everyday life, neither do the characters in FCM. The subtle background effects still add a great deal to the storytelling, so it remains an immersive experience.
This is not the epic novel that FCM is, and in some places feels a little short if you listen on an episodic basis. Each story is told and then followed by an appropriately depressing (or flat out creepy) Christmas carol by Abney Park, which makes the episodes longer. But some people like small bites of fiction (after all, the ideal podcast length is the length of your commute,) and if that’s you, then this will fit your preference perfectly. The carols from Abney Park are wonderful setting pieces for the gritty Failed Cities noir. If you want just the story, though, Variant Frequencies just released the whole tale of Hath a Darkness in one large hour-long file, so you can skip through all the extras and just get to the story.