RaTan Lines: The Truth

So last issue I ran into a bit of a podcast name collision. Good thing the subject of this article has a more distinctive name: “The Truth”. Just in case there is a possibility of confusion, I’ll point out that The Truth is provided by the Radiotopia podcast network and someone named Jonathan Mitchell is involved.

The Truth is a short story podcast. Every episode is a self-contained story, except for comedy episodes with more than one self-contained story. At the start of an episode Mitchell gives content warnings if the episode has adult themes, and they almost invariably do. Apart from that warning, the episode title, and a one line description, there is no telling in advance what a story on The Truth will be like. The characters (and settings, if there’s an original setting) make their mark fast and disappear forever, never to grace fiction again. Such is the life of a short story reader or listener. There’s not much of a pattern to latch on to.

One general trend is that some parts will be disturbing: recent episodes involved YouTube pranksters messing with hospital patients, a device that predicts how happy the user will be with any decision, and being cryogenically awakened to an uncaring world. There have been multiple episodes about people hearing voices in their head (Mitchell issues content warnings for those suffering identity disorders too). There’s no thoughtless gore or long action scenes: those wouldn’t be very effective for an audio-only format, would they? There isn’t always humor, but if there is then it’s usually dark. If those are the sorts of stories you like, then The Truth might be for you.

There are a great many voice actors on this podcast, and multiple writers. Now and again, a story from another medium is adapted to pure audio form. Jonathan Mitchell is the producer each time though. There’s no narration: just dialogue and sound effects, as though the listener was at the scene with their eyes closed. There’s no background music, unless the music serves the plot somehow. These stories are cut down to their essence, and very little is repeated, so even the smallest detail is important. Considering that, and the gravitas these stories sometimes inspire, playing The Truth at high speed is not a good idea.

The team behind The Truth collaborated with Jonathan Mann to make a fantasy series called Songonauts. It’s about an indie band “which is going no-no-no-where” who encounter a magical drum machine which transports them into their songs. This used to be included in The Truth’s podcast feed. It was eventually split off into its own entity, probably because it breaks many of the trends of The Truth.

Firstly while The Truth’s episodes are unrelated to each other, Songonauts is a series. Secondly, Songonauts is much more innocent. In fact, Songonauts has been pretty much child appropriate so far. Spoiler alert: no Songonaut has yet been shot or ripped limb from limb by a mutant. The humor is light, very often poking fun at the music industry.

The premise of Songonauts is explained in every episode, and the characters are constant. If you can keep track of the mythology of the Songoverse, the only potential problem with listening at high speed are the songs. Every other episode has an original, plot-essential song. Are you noticing a theme with Songonauts? It is in many ways the perfect story for a pure audio medium. Some of the production aspects of The Truth were preserved: the lack of narration and use of sound effects, to name two.

The Truth is currently being updated every week, but eventually this season of the podcast will end and there will be months of no updates. That’s the state Songonauts is in: there hasn’t been a new episode in months. Episodes of both range from 10 to 30 minutes.

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