The Cambridge Geek

The Strange Case of the Starship Iris

The Starship Iris is a research vessel, out collecting samples for the "Republic", when its small transfer vessel explodes, taking with it all of the crew except for Violet Liu, biologist. Luckily for her, a nearby ship has detected the explosion and is able to pick her up. Unluckily for her, they're criminals.

Liu now has to spend her life on the run, helping these smugglers make enough of a profit to keep their ship flying, while attempting to investigate what happened to her old ship. Her new crew do have various links of their own to her crewmates however, which means they are more than happy to have a dig around and try and find out what went wrong. At the same time, the Republic are desperately trying to hunt them down for its own reasons.

That Republic has something of a bad rap, being frequently referred to by Liu's new crew as the "Regime". having had a tendency to disappear a few people over the years. In a neat twist, the intro and outro of each show is provided by an agent of the Republic who is commenting on the recordings made, and trying to tally them up with the troubling events they got up to. This leads to a sneaky bit of fun when it's extended to the credits, with each voice actor name being given as an alias.

There's also a lot going on in the background. The show is set a couple of years after humanity's first major war with an alien species, the Dwarnians, which they narrowly won. This leads to no small confusion given that Liu's new ship has a Dwarnian pilot, who just so happens to be very close to the crew.

That crew fit the "ragtag" title to a tee, with some ex-military, mad hackers and a worryingly geeky linguist. That pilot is also disturbingly cheerful, which is actually quite an unusual style and one I rather enjoyed.

They're thrown pretty heavily into a pleasingly twisty plot, which has all the requirements for a decent thriller. It could be reasonably described as something of a cross between Firefly and The Expanse, with a small criminal crew taking on a massive empire in order to investigate a worrying new threat. This is backed up by some clever world-building, with enough detail thrown in to allow you to conjure up a whole universe, but without ever feeling like an infodump.

The production values are top-notch, with excellent sound design, really well done dialogue and some impressively distinct characters. I never found myself confused as to who was who (a little simpler with the relatively few characters), and none of them were boring to listen to. Just to be boring and repetitive myself, the pilot definitely wins this, with an interesting range of vocal oddities and a nice bit of non-English language thrown in. (To bang on about the Firefly similarity, imagine their use of Mandarin.)

Eight episodes out thus far, and I think it's getting towards a climax (though I suspect it could probably run a fair bit longer). One it's worth bingeing, mostly because it can get somewhat convoluted.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Drama Cast Found footage Science fiction Serial