Hi, David! My name is Emma Skinner; I’m an aspiring writer, and I’m also a huge fan of audio dramas.
This past December, my family and I had to go on an overseas trip - it was for various family reasons, and right in the midst of a whirlwind of other obligations for all of us, and so I was pretty eager to escape and be able to focus on other things during the endless days of traveling. I downloaded at least ten different audio dramas onto my phone for the flight home; The Hyacinth Disaster was among the ones I downloaded. I’d heard its name a few times (via writers/actors like Ely (@ShoMarq) and Anthony Oliveri mentioning it on Twitter in the general podcast sphere), but knew pretty much nothing about it aside from the fact that it was limited-run, set in space, and potentially quite tragic. (And I love stories that tend towards the dramatic/tragic, so I was all on board for that.)
It’s probably a good thing, in retrospect, that I ended up with an empty seat next to me on the flight home. Aided by the fact that I wouldn't have to worry too much about alarming any fellow passengers with any reactions I might have, I listened to the entire show in one go, first episode to last without a break. I was entranced from start to finish, had to hold my chuckles in many times, and tried (unsuccessfully) to hold my tears back many more times than that. In short, I loved The Hyacinth Disaster. And I want to tell you several of the many reasons why I loved it.
Right from the start, the premise of the series grabbed me. It’s one thing to have a story where things start out smooth and then go disastrously wrong, which is what I was anticipating based on the “Disaster” portion of the title. But I really appreciated that the initial setup (and subsequently, the overarching goal for the majority of the characters) was tense and complicated right off the bat. Instead of just a story about a regular mining operation where something bad happens, it’s one where the whole crew is already in the midst of a tense situation, with many important things, especially the lives of Ember and her crew, already at stake. That’s great, because it allowed for the conflicts, tensions, and bonds to feel incredibly organic - they’re in the middle of a situation that’s incredibly unprecedented, and they’re trying their best to keep it together, so of course some cracks would start to show! - while simultaneously characterizing pretty much the entire crew as people we can root for. We’re seeing them at their best, doing something deeply selfless for Captain Ember’s sake (okay, not really on Dreadnought’s front, but you know what I mean!), but we’re also seeing them as they try to keep from biting each other’s heads off and flying off the handle at one another. That’s a great dichotomy. I also really appreciated how the first episode didn’t feel like unmitigated exposition, but like the actual unfolding of a conversation between people who already know each other, for the most part, fairly well. That’s absolutely not a bad thing - it gave me lots of questions that I wanted answered, and immediately drew me in. I was eagerly listening to make sure that I knew who everyone was and that I’d gotten them all straightened out, and I was actively working to discern their interpersonal relationships and how exactly they felt about one another. I loved that.
As I said, both from the name and from the clip about the black box origin of the tapes at the very opening of the show, I was well aware that things were likely going to go badly for the crew of the ship. Which, of course, they did. And The Hyacinth Disaster’s storytelling arc, both for specific characters and the story at large, was amazing! It continuously surprised me or strayed from what I had been going to predict, without ever feeling unearned or cheaply done. All the beats of emotion landed, and the various moments of tragedy as the story progressed were only heightened by how different they were from one another. (For example, the mounting horror and helplessness of Argus’s suit rupture was very different from the sickeningly sudden death of Con and from the much quieter, meditative conversation between Dreadnought and Grimm as Dreadnought dies, and so on throughout the show. And all of them stuck with me for weeks afterwards.) At the start of the story, I think I was definitely expecting Con to be the biggest focal point character-wise, or at least the last of the crew to go, and so his death at the end of Episode 4 was a great shock move, one that made sense in the circumstances and really drove home the unfairness of space. (I love space, and I always have, and I always will, but oh, how terrifying it is. Terrifying because it’s impersonal. This show really reminded me of that fact.)
And because I think I automatically guessed that Con would last the longest, it lent extra power and heartbreak to the fact that Grimm, in the end, is arguably the character with the most drastic character arc, and also the last remnant of the crew as the story ends. I absolutely loved his arc; it was written so well, and it integrated incredibly well into all the technical beats of the story and what person was in danger or what new problem needed solving. I was also especially fond of how well you handled the arguments between Blue, Finch, and Grimm about what the right thing to do with Dreadnought was. You made all of their changes of opinion believable - specifically, the fact that we open with Grimm’s pointed (and understandable!) dislike of Dreadnought, and by the time we’re on episode 5, he’s arguing in favor of at least trying to help the kid. One of my pet peeves (and a problem I always face in my own writing) is when character arguments don’t make sense, and so I love it when I see character conflicts that are understandable, where even if I don’t agree with one of the points of view, it makes sense in the situation. That’s exactly what I experienced with those arguments; though I was decidedly in the same camp of opinion as Grimm, I could empathize with why Blue and Finch felt so differently. And that’s really, really good writing. (Not to mention that pacing-wise, episode 5 in particular was a great moment. It was slower and a little calmer than the preceding episodes of mounting panic, and served as a good moment of reflection before we moved towards the conclusion. Both the arguments between Blue, Finch, and Grimm and the big conversation and story shared by Dreadnought and Grimm really hit me hard; those were exceptionally written and acted sequences.)
The conclusion of the story wrecked me in the best way. (I’m not surprised you made the list of Most Tear-Jerking Podcasts; congratulations on that, by the way!) I mean, I knew that more than likely, no one was going to make it out alive. But I always had hope that at least some of the crew would survive, and I especially had to hope that, if nothing else, they accomplished their mission and got the message through to Ember. By the time we were on the last episodes, I truly could not have said what I thought would happen. I was terrified that in the end, it would all have been for nothing, and that at best, we’d never even know if the transaction got through. (Side note: Blue’s negotiation in the last episode made me punch the air with victory. If I had to pick, she’s very much tied with Grimm for my favorite overall character, though I also feel very guilty picking favorites because of how much I loved them all; that contest is neck and neck, let me tell you. She’s fantastic. And the running joke about her tirades is fantastic.)
But I absolutely loved the ending. It was bittersweet in the best way. I cried at Blue’s sacrifice and final monologue to Con. I cried at Grimm’s choice to not tell Ember about what was happening (which I really, really appreciated from a writing standpoint. That was a beautiful and heartbreaking choice. And also a very generous and human action for him to take.) Oh, and the recurrence of “The Parting Glass” at the very end of the episode is now on my list of favorite moments in fiction where a theme or motif gets brought back in a way that’s utterly devastating. I love that choice. It was brought full circle! Painful and perfect.
The production quality of the entire show also deserves a big mention; your sound effects and general editing and audio choices were really well done, and never detracted from the story at all. And every single one of the actors involved in this project did a fantastic job. I have to extend some serious thanks and applause to them for their performances; everyone embodied their roles so surely and truthfully that I don’t think I was ever taken out of the story’s world for a moment. I’d start listing favorite moments or favorite lines/line deliveries at this point, but I think if I do so, I’m going to end up relistening to the entire show several more times on loop, because, well, all of it is so stellar. (Though I do have to note to you, David, that since I had no access to any of the credits till the very end of the show, I was happily surprised to find out you voiced both Con and Grimm - I never would have guessed, honestly! Great job.)
I just wanted to thank you and everyone involved with the creation of The Hyacinth Disaster for all of the hard work and love that you clearly put into telling such an amazing story. I laughed, I cried, and I was utterly swept up in it from start to end; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for weeks, and I’m sure that I’m going to be relistening to it soon. I’ve always loved stories and I want to be a part of creating them for the rest of my life and so it’s incredibly inspiring when I happen across works that are made so well and that move me so much. I truly hope you create many more wonderful stories, and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things that all of you do in the future, in whatever mediums! Thank you all for everything you did, and for the world you created, and for inspiring me to use my own creativity for good.
Many thanks, and my warmest regards,