The Penumbra Podcast: a beautifully produced radio drama anthology series that tells stories of sci-fi noir, swords and sorcery, westerns, and Twilight Zone-esque horror. Fun voice acting, great writing, and an emphasis on including characters from marginalized groups. (Lots of queer love stories, f’r instance, but also one of the recurring characters is a paraplegic knight.)
One of the things I like best about the Penumbra is that their stories all have a lot of heart. The primary recurring story is about a jaded PI, and in the grand tradition of noir the characters can trend pretty cynical, but the stories themselves are earnest, and regularly return to the moral that trust, vulnerability, and human connection make the world a better place.
- RedHanded: a true crime podcast hosted by two delightful British women. Fact-heavy, which is how I like my true crime, with enough conversation to keep it engaging but not so much that I feel like I’m not getting the content. They have a decently international focus, covering crimes from both the UK and the US as well as sometimes going farther afield to Europe, and they often discuss things like societal sexism and the flaws in our criminal justice systems. (I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but I like that they bring those topics into the show at all — it seems to me that a lot of true crime only brings up stuff about problems with policing if they’re specifically covering a police misconduct case, but Suruthi and Hannah aren’t fussed about saying “Here’s how the police messed up” if the police messed up.)
- AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon: hey do you want your heart broken by meticulously
crafted sci-fi that examines class, race, and gender inequities, mental illness, slavery, and state-sanctioned violence, in space, while bringing you along on a compelling mystery story? DO I HAVE THE DYSTOPIA FOR YOU. An Unkindness of Ghosts reminded me strongly of The Hunger Games and Ancillary Justice in its worldbuilding (as well as its unflinching portrayals of violence — seriously, content warnings abound). Also, it bears mentioning that the POV character is a black neurodivergent non-binary scientist! (This is an #OwnVoices book, if I’m reading Rivers Solomon’s website correctly.) I don’t think the words “trans” or “autistic” are ever explicitly used, but Solomon is skillful at showing the experiences of their characters and immersing the reader in their perspectives. We experience the world through Aster’s senses and build up understanding that way, rather than reading the word “autistic” and substituting whatever shorthand or existing understanding we have.
I consumed this book via audiobook, read by Cherise Boothe, and I’d definitely recommend that production; Boothe’s dialect work in particular is a joy to listen to.
Presumably due to monetization incentives, a lot of YouTube creators are making longer and longer videos, featuring deep dives into topics and discussions of all sorts, and I am HERE. FOR. IT. A few of my favorites:
- ContraPoints: Natalie Wynn is an ex-academic who left academia; started making videos about politics, philosophy, and gender; transitioned; and still makes videos about politics, philosophy, and gender, but with production values and makeup that make me swoon. She’s frequently crude and blunt in her presentation, but one of the things I value about her the most is that she’s painfully aware of nuance. A lot of her videos feature her debating herself on a particular topic, and I often come away with a better understanding of both sides of an issue. I recommend starting with her video on Jordan Peterson because I like it when people dunk on Jordan Peterson. Caveat: if you’re not interested in a lot of use of the term “Daddy” and surrealist flirtation in a bath with a mask of Jordan Peterson, you may want to steer clear.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: deep dive mini-documentaries on weird bits of history, particularly Internet phenomena. I actually first ran across Fredrik Knudsen’s work when his video on the Final Fantasy House popped up, but more recently I stumbled upon his video on John B. Calhoun’s “mouse utopia” experiments. I think that’s a great place to start, along with his docs on Henry Darger and the Collyer Brothers — though if you’re into weird Internet subcultures and dramas, I also recommend the Vaporwave and Time Cube docs.
- PhilosophyTube: okay, first, you should immediately block out twenty minutes of your day and watch Oliver Thorn’s video on transphobia and the philosophical underpinnings of the idea “yeah, people should be able to identify however they choose” because watching it gave me one of those radically paradigm-shifting lightbulb moments that I used to get in my best college classes. Here, I’ll embed it so you don’t even have to click away.
From there, I equally highly recommend his Martin McDonagh pastiche video on art vs. reality because it has some of the best meta comedy I’ve ever seen. Thorn’s videos are thoughtful, gently challenging, and incredibly well-cited.
So that’s what I’ve been consuming lately that brings me joy and makes me think! What have you been reading/watching/listening to recently? What should I add to my roster?