"Tales from the Afternow," an audio drama series created by Sean Kennedy, is a compelling journey into a dystopian future. While it is roughly 20 years old at this point, its quality and compelling storytelling holds up.
I'd argue that Afternow was far too ahead of its time, seeing its rise back when podcasts weren't a part of the larger community zeitgeist. If it were produced today, it would undoubtedly find a sizeable audience among fans of immersive audio storytelling. As it is, I'm fortunate to have stumbled across Rant Radio in the early 2000s to have a front-row seat to the show as it made its debut.
I've listened to the series (which canonically includes two seasons with a third non-canonical current-day audio entry called the Witchhunter Chronicles) numerous times over the years. Usually when I want to revitalize my sense of creativity.
This review delves into various aspects of the series, evaluating its storytelling, themes, production quality, and overall impact.
The series is narrated by the enigmatic Independent Librarian, whose monologues guide the listener through a ravaged world where corporations reign supreme. The narrative structure is a blend of diary entries, hacked broadcasts, and fragmented stories, creating a patchwork of experiences that piece together the grim reality of this future. The storytelling is immersive, often feeling like a series of confessions or secret transmissions in a world where information is dangerous.
Sean Kennedy excels in crafting a dystopian world that mirrors many contemporary fears. Themes of corporate dominance, loss of privacy, and the erosion of individual freedoms resonate deeply in the narrative. The show is a canvas for exploring the dark side of technological advancements, from rampant surveillance to the commodification of personal data. The world-building is intricate, with each episode adding layers to the complex societal, political, and technological landscape of the Afternow.
That's not to say that this world is entirely unique onto itself. The technology described in the series that facilitates the transmissions are heavily inspired by fiction such as Terminator. There are elements of Blade Runner, Snow Crash, The Matrix, and other popular CyberPunk properties, as well.
The heart of the series is the Independent Librarian, portrayed compellingly by Kennedy. His performance is both haunting and authentic, capturing the essence of a lone crusader against a monolithic system. The character’s depth is revealed slowly, adding a sense of mystery and gravitas to his mission of preserving knowledge. Supporting characters, though less prominent, add color and context to the Librarian's tales, although they sometimes lack the same depth.
Sean Kennedy's self-named protagonist is the heart and soul of the series. It's through his eyes that we experience the world of the Afternow, and you get a sense of the character's perspective as he attempts to describe the world in an impartial, archivist way.
The production quality of "Tales from the Afternow" is notable, especially considering its independent origins. The sound design is meticulous, with a keen attention to detail that enhances the atmosphere. Background noises, static, and distortions are used effectively to create a sense of place and urgency.
Though Afternow was produced at a time when mono audio was typically used to save on bandwidth, the sound design is perfectly stereo. You can hear vehicles and ambient noises whiz by Kennedy as he hunkers down and tells the tale of the day. The wind howling, crickets chirping, and eerie world around him comes to life.
The show has a cult following, particularly among fans of cyberpunk and dystopian narratives. Its impact lies in its ability to provoke thought about our current trajectory concerning technology and corporate power. While it may not have the mainstream appeal of larger productions, its influence in certain circles is undeniable.
"Tales from the Afternow" is a remarkable piece of speculative fiction. It's a haunting reminder of what our future could become if current trends continue unchecked. Sean Kennedy’s creation is not just entertainment; it’s a cautionary tale, a dystopian vision wrapped in a masterfully crafted audio experience. For those interested in thought-provoking, immersive storytelling, this series is a must-listen. While it may not cater to all tastes, its depth, creativity, and relevance make it a significant work in the genre.