Editor’s note: spoilers

Seren is a colonist, a young woman banished from her home planet of Lux and sentenced to the final frontier. Alone aside from a PEARL-class AI intent on monitoring her, Seren reflects on her journey and the choices stolen from her.

Written, starring and produced by Nerys Howell, Seren is one of the high watermarks of podcast audio fiction. Not just because of what it does, but because of how it does it. This is a show which manages to tell three simultaneous stories, while providing a blueprint for how to make audio drama in a podcast framework.

The first is the story of Lux, and what it thinks it is. Seren’s home is only glimpsed through the window as she leaves but over the course of the first season she, and we, realise some of its uncomfortable truths. A colony that never got over a recent war, Lux is a utopia where everyone does what they should. Most especially, ensuring the continuation of the colony. Anyone who doesn’t pair up is punished or banished to become colonists on worlds Lux doesn’t care.

A horrific premise, but as the show continues we’re introduced to the second narrative, that of the galaxy itself and how Lux is viewed. The all-powerful council who have ruined Seren’s life are revealed to be nothing but a group of intensely conservative, inward-facing leaders, incapable of accepting their galactic reputation.

That… has a certain resonance in the year of Keanu, 202 — NOT NOW, MASSIVE SOLAR STORMS, TAKE A NUMBER! — doesn’t it?

A tragic backwater at best, a dictatorship at worse. One of the show’s most rivoting episodes makes this overt when an engineer is called aboard. She disables PEARL, tries to get Seren to leave with her, explaining that Lux is viewed as a planet run by all-but war criminals. The only thing that stops her, in one of the show’s most heart-wrending moments, is the chip in Seren’s neck that PEARL uses to track her.

Despite their best efforts, the engineer can’t save her. Lux wins. Again.

Except, there is that third story: Seren’s. This is where Howell’s writing and acting come into their own as she uses the dystopian backdrop of Lux to explore not only Seren’s search for her own identity and sexuality, but the horrors of being young and alone. Horrors intensified the fact Seren’s life literally depends on finding a reproductive partner. As she remembers her time on Lux, we’re introduced to her beacon of hope best friend, and her string of romantic near misses. They’re piercingly well written and would be gloriously mundane and familiar on a kinder world. Seren is one of us. Unique, unsure, tying her best.

But on Lux that isn’t enough. The show pivots to an exploration of dystopia through an intensely personal lens, a world two turns from our own. The intensely personal on a global scale, spotlighted by Howell’s carefully chosen guest appearances. Various podcast luminaries play small, vital roles in Seren’s life. She feels alone. She isn’t and as the show closes we, and Seren, both get to realise that. And when we do? It feels like coming home.

Seren is, at present, a one-season show. It’s tightly written, plotted, produced and acted and is one of the most universally impressive podcast audio dramas of the last few years. If you’re looking for a great story, this is it. It may also just be the road map you need to tell your own.

Seren season 1 is available on podcatchers now.

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