Just to be clear, these are my top ten favorite speculative fiction audio dramas I listened to in 2018. I don’t pretend to be an objective judge of quality (if there even is such a thing), but I thought every one of these were incredible.
10. Here Be Dragons
Four women in a submarine chase sea monsters through the Bermuda Triangle. Along the way, they encounter creatures of myth and legend. This was a delightful adventure with quirky characters and a focus on relationships and intrigue over action. I loved it, and will be immediately be listening to each episode as they release.
9. Alba Salix
Alba Salix is an absolute riot, and full of heart to boot. The show starts a little rough around the edges but quickly begins to deliver incredible humor and characterization. Alba Salix is the totally-not-evil royal physician responsible for curing deadly cases of ego and cracking demonic pyramid schemes.
Imagine an alternative version of Firefly if an overly ambitious student loan company was the ultimate villain. The characters have wonderful chemistry with each other, the humor is beautifully dry, and the sound design is some of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s alternatingly philosophical and completely absurdist, and I can’t get enough of it.
Occasionally I stumble upon a story that contains everything I love: engaging characters, a compelling plot, and a world that slowly pulls back the curtain to reveal something incredible. The humor is upbeat and nerdy (my favorite), the characters are memorable and complex, and the stakes just keep rising. Season one is nearly complete and the finale should be arriving any day now.
A queer witch sets up shop in a small community after getting into serious trouble with some ethically murky love potions. Each episode tackles a meaningful theme, nurturing character relationships in a slice-of-life story. An overarching plot slowly begins to surface and more voice actors are added throughout the first season. For avid SFF readers, imagine the Dresden Files as written by Becky Chambers.
This is easily my favorite take on time travel. Everything is meticulously planned and there are none of the gaping plot holes often associated with time travel. A scientist accidentally travels back to 1943 while trying to invent teleportation and is recruited by a top secret government agency. The characters are some of the most vivid I’ve encountered in audio drama and sound design legend Mischa Stanton proves he excels at producing his own show.
More than 300 people disappeared from a small neuroscience research facility in Tennessee. A decade later, a reporter tries to solve the mystery. Limetown consistently delivers suspenseful mystery with a touch of horror. The writing is some of the best in the business and no moment is wasted. Season two kicked off a couple months ago after a multi-year hiatus, so now is the perfect time to jump in.
3. 36 Questions
Fine, this isn’t speculative fiction. But it’s just so damn amazing that I had to include it. 36 Questions is a 3-part romantic musical starring heavy-hitters Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton. The songs are superb, the story is alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, and really everything about this is just wonderful. It’s very short for an audio drama so it doesn’t require much of a time commitment to check out.
There’s a reason why this podcast has been picked up for a three-book deal with Tor Teen and given its own TV show. The Bright Sessions is amazing. Lauren Shippen excels at putting the human in superhuman, writing a masterful character-driven story through the lens of a therapist caring for teenagers unsure of their atypical powers.
1. Wolf 359
This was easily one of my favorite stories of the year in any medium or genre. If you’re at all curious about audio dramas, drop what you’re doing and listen to this right now. What starts as a quirky comedy of researchers studying a star in space quickly becomes something much more meaningful. Brace yourselves for incredible characters, complex themes, beautiful sound design, and an unforgettable experience.