The Cambridge Geek

Wolf 359

Finally got round to this one, after having read an unnecessarily large number of recommendations for it. To be fair, having now listened to the first series of it, I can rather understand why it's as popular as it is. (It's actually now complete, with four series, so if you enjoy this as much as I did, you can happily binge through all of it.)

Hephaestus station is in orbit around Wolf 359, a red dwarf star eight light years from Earth. It's on a survey mission, searching the stars for any form of intelligent life. Mostly because they don't have any on the ship.

The prime idiot of the station is Doug Eiffel. He's the communications officer, responsible for listening to the galaxy. With him are: Minkowski, the station chief; Hilbert, a mad Russian scientist, and Hera, the AI that runs their station. They're not all the best of teammates. Minkowski is a ferocious monster of a leader, enforcing mandatory fun time in the form of talent shows and Christmas, and Hilbert has a tendency to experiment on Eiffel.

Eiffel is the main viewpoint character, recording personal audio files to log his (tedious, but also dangerous) life out in the depths of space, but they all pop up in it, as a full audio drama rather than a monologue. Eiffel tends to get into trouble pretty damn frequently, as he has a lax approach to both his duties and life in general. Which doesn't help when the station has issues with evil plants, mysterious voices in the silence, rooms that appear and disappear, and spiders. Especially the spiders.

Add to that the fact that Hera tends to be both insecure and worryingly obsessed with finding loopholes in the programming that stops her flooding different rooms with liquid nitrogen, and it's not the most relaxing work environment. Eiffel tries to get throughout however he can, usually with the few cigarettes Minkowski hasn't taken from him, but these have their own problems with fire suppression systems and the presence of oxygen cylinders.

They're a shambles, basically. Minkowski's tight grasp on power is maintained by petty grievances, and Hilbert's cavalier mindset regarding the difference between colleagues and experimental subjects doesn't improve anyone's chances of survival. It's a comedy, mostly.

Each twenty minute episode is a self-contained story, but it does some nice things in terms of plot arcs that slowly build to an unexpected climax at the end of the series that I didn't see coming at all. There's a few Chekhov's Guns sprinkled throughout the show, but these are so well done that you sometimes don't realise anyone's been loading the firearm until it goes off. I'm tempted to go back and listen again just to see what I missed.

The plots are clever, but the real sparkle of the writing is in the characters. They're well realised, have more depth than you would think could be fitted into episodes this short, and have some compelling dialogue. I found myself getting more attached to them than I expected to (get to Episode 3, they find their feet a little), and I enjoyed Hera as a well done example of the "slightly" human AI. The AI that knows more than you and has a degree of contempt because of it is a well worn trope, but she feels like she's been around for a while, and is resigned to dealing with the stupid humans.

Absolute corker of a series, and I'm very much looking forward to listening to the rest of it.

Score 5

Tagged: Audio fiction Dramedy Cast Sitcom Science fiction Serial