In case you’re new to the idea of Serial Box, it’s worth discussing right up top what it is. It is a subscription service that allows you to follow individual written series on a weekly basis. Not only does it allow you to subscribe to each serial in written form, but it also gives you simultaneous access to it in audio form. The episodes are written in relatively familiar TV-esque format, with each episode standing alone on its own while still driving forward the narrative for the entire “season” as it were. Each episode takes roughly an hour to read or one and a half hours to listen to all the way through, giving it a pretty standard TV feel.
In the past, we have covered the futuristic police procedural Ninth Step Station, and today we start a new series in the form of The Vela, which was pitched to us as The Expanse meets Battlestar Galactica.
RELATED – Ninth Step Station Episode 1 Review: An Engaging Start To A New Serialized Futuristic Police Procedural
This series will be brought to you by the juggernaut bestselling author team of Becky Chambers, (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Nominee for the Hugo Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction), Yoon Ha Lee (Ninefox Gambit, Locus Award for Best First Novel), Rivers Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts), and SL Huang (Zero Sum Game, Amazon Bestseller).
Here is the official synopsis for the series as a whole:
“Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself. When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board. But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?”
This first episode is written by author S.L. Huang, and it follows former Corporal Asala Sikou, who in the process of guarding a controversial general, begins to unravel a much larger conspiracy. Weaved in there is the main plot involving the disappearance of a ship, and a president’s desire for Asala to search for it (all while taking her kid along, Niko Ekrem). It’s a pretty straightforward story, when broken down into its core aspects, but it’s also full of plenty of politics and implied history of this space-dwelling world.
So, did it manage to capture my attention from the get-go? To be perfectly honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll admit, Ninth Step Station, the other Serial Box original we’re covering really set a high bar for me. Its mix of mystery and intrigue all set at a more familiar, futuristic backdrop was much easier to latch onto. Personally, the first 200 pages or so of a huge epic fantasy or sci-fi for me are always the roughest due to world-building, and it was in this regard the first episode suffered.
There was a lot of exposition piled on right at the beginning of the story following the opening scene, and it was all done in a bit of a boring and dry way that made it hard to pay attention while listening to. And because of all the world-building exposition dump, I found it a bit hard to connect with the two leads. The characters fell neatly into typical trope categories — jaded soldier and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed assistant. It’s a dynamic that I’m sure will work well, but given all the groundwork needed in setting up the world, there wasn’t enough to really expand into unique territory — yet — which is a shame.
So, as a piece of sci-fi fiction, I do think it fits in well with some of the shows they’re aligning themselves with, for better and worse, as I tend to have that same problem with a lot of them as well (slow beginnings that snowball into cool shows). If you’re into that kind of thing, be prepared for a bit of a learning curve, and the need for us to settle in with these characters. As of right now, I almost don’t feel comfortable giving this a letter grade since I’m not yet sold on it, but there is plenty of potential for cool action, great character moments, and moral ambiguity down the line. This opening episode touches on those things…but doesn’t quite reach the level of fully entertaining just yet. I’m hoping it’ll get there within the next two episodes or so.
Finally, I can’t go much further without at least bringing up the audio production itself. The narrator Robin Miles has a fitting sort of raspy tone to her voice that works well with the characters in the story, and her ability to transform her voice to fit the wide cast is pretty darn impressive. Additionally, unlike many standard audiobook productions, this series has ambient sound, sound effects, and little bits of music at the front and back fo each episode. It all helps to make a polished package that’s worth giving a listen.
All in all, it’s not a bad start, but as with many stories that require world-building, it’s a bit too early to judge one way or another.
+ Narration by Robin Miles
+ Interesting premise
+ Intriguing world
+ Great story potential
– Info dump at the front end of the episode
– Not enough for me to latch onto characters yet
– Slow pacing.
To check out the series for yourself, go ahead and CLICK HERE!