The Cambridge Geek

Stellar Firma

If you want something different, look away now, because I've gone back to the Rusty Quill podcast network for a second podcast to listen to. The first was The Magnus Archives, which I greatly enjoy, and now I'm on Stellar Firma. Somewhat different however, in that while TMA is horror, this is sci-fi comedy.

Stellar Firma is the major (read only) company that humanity still runs/is employed by, after all of the others went into administration during the human-caused destruction of the Earth. Stellar Firma is in the same business as Magrathea from Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, that is, making planets for staggeringly wealthy clients.

Of course, since they're the only human-run organisation in the entire galaxy, and had the only available spaceships at the time to shift the population off the dying Earth, they don't so much employ people as own them as indentured slaves and source of genetic material. That's where David 7 comes in (specifically through a tube).

As his name might suggest, this David is the seventh that's been created from his particular genetic strain, born to be the assistant to planet designer Trexel Geistman. Trexel isn't quite at the top of the list of best designers, so the previous six have tended to be recycled depressingly speedily, when their collaborative work with Trexel hasn't been the best. Meaning that David is really very desperate to do a good job and design some excellent planets.

That designing element is where the semi-improv nature of this show comes into play. Trexel and David start off with an "audience prompt", specifically a planet for a given purpose (eg spawning, bloodsports, touching things you're not meant to touch) and one specific feature (suggestively named landmark, island of socks, ability to melt it), with the audience being some great human or alien figure.

The two therefore spend about twenty minutes riffing back and forth, coming up with a basic premise and then expanding it into a more fleshed out idea, while simultaneously trying to pepper in additional character- and world-building details. The improv nature varies between more or less obvious, with often it being just a "what would that look like?" question, but sometimes a more pointed "give me a list of [blank]" does slightly interrupt the otherwise relatively naturalistic flow.

If that were all, it'd be a fun series, but a bit limited. However, the fifth episode twists the idea round and makes it all a bit new. Each episode is a working "day", (of about twenty minutes, Trexel is lazy), and each fifth episode is the Friday review, with Hartro Plitz, their line manager. In these shows, Hartro goes back through the previous four designs and points out their (many and varied) shortcomings, such as the accidental creation of hedonistic party deathmatches (band name) or dream-eating monsters. I was very amused by the first of these, and they're probably my favourite bit.

The other add-on is the long-running storyline caused by David's faulty employee control implant. He has rather more intelligence and independence than a clone should do, meaning he's better at both keeping his job, and hacking his way out of the scrapes that Trexel gets him into, by tinkering with I.M.O.G.E.N. the station AI. (She occasionally chips in with security summons in response to a "sass detected" or "roleplay initiated", but doesn't have the same full personalitt seen in other AI.)

The premise can get a bit repetitive, and I'm not sure I suggest binging it in more than five episode runs, but those review episodes make a nice break point. The disagreements between Trexel and David are always fun though, especially the slow unrevealing of Trexel's "issues".

Give it the first five before you make a decision. Here's the first one.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Sitcom Improv Serial