ars PARADOXICA is a love letter to physics, fiction, and the future. It’s a disorienting journey through spacetime and the Cold War. It’s a tome of secret history you stumbled across in a library in the dead of night.
It’s an award-winning serial audio drama.
When an experiment in a time much like our own goes horribly awry, Dr. Sally Grissom finds herself stranded in the past and entrenched in the activities of a clandestine branch of the US government. Grissom and her team quickly learn that there’s no safety net when toying with the fundamental logic of the universe.
This is easily my favorite take on time travel. I still don’t completely understand how it works in this show—but hey, that’s time travel for you.
While attempting to develop a method for teleporting objects, Dr. Sally Grissom accidentally sends herself back in time to October 1943. From this moment forward, that day in 1943 is the anchor point for all time travel. People can only travel backwards in time, and only as far back as 1943.
Dr. Grissom finds herself in the awkward position of explaining how she suddenly came to be aboard a military ship. After intriguing her interrogators with talk of time travel, she winds up working for ODAR—the Office for the Development of Anomalous Resources.
Imagine if the Cold War had an arms race to develop time travel to its maximum potential. As ODAR learns more and more about the potential of Dr. Grissom’s technology, they begin to make to make increasingly darker choices.
ars Paradoxica is one of my favorite audio dramas, largely because it contains two elements that I can never get enough of: incredible characters and nonlinear stories.
The cast of characters starts small and grows slowly throughout the series, and I grew to love almost all of them. Even the villains are sympathetic, often having such compelling motivations that I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if they won. While Sally starts out as the sole viewpoint character, others are introduced and get full episodes dedicated to their stories.
As can be expected for time travel stories, some characters we meet early in the show are actually time travelers that are introduced later. Various characters exist at different points in their relative timelines, so we get past and future perspectives on some situations. And speaking of relative timelines, I loved that this show doesn’t try to stick to one universal timeline that keeps being rewritten. Several characters come from timelines that now only exist in their memories, and these memories stay constant regardless of future time travel shenanigans. This usually doesn’t play a big role in the story, but there are great moments when, for instance, characters discuss a movie they both love and realize the lead actors are different in their original timelines.
Time paradoxes are handled in a way that revolves around personal consequences for characters rather than universe-shattering chaos. Any time someone is exposed to a paradox (such as meeting themselves), it causes brain damage. This has a real and lasting impact on multiple characters, shifting a traditionally plot-driven aspect of time travel to center around the human element.
My only real criticism of the show is some of the sound design choices. Static is used (in my opinion) more frequently than it should be, making some scenes difficult to follow. And the intro theme song would have been so much better if it didn’t sound like it was recorded at the bottom of a well. In all fairness, these are more my personal pet peeves than anything else. The sound designer, Mischa Stanton, is utterly brilliant and a giant in the indie audio drama community.
Minor pet peeves aside, the pros of ars Paradoxica far outweigh the cons. The story, world, and characters are all compelling, and I don’t think I’ve encountered as diverse a cast of characters before. There are a large number of complex female characters with real agency, asexual and lesbian characters, and multiple characters of a minority ethnicity.
All in all, I loved ars Paradoxica and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in character-driven time travel stories.
ars Paradoxica is a free science fiction audio drama available through iTunes or wherever you find podcasts. Find out more on its website, arsparadoxica.com, or try a sample of the first episode right now: