Monday, March 2, 2009

Review: "Crescent" by Phil Rossi

Originally Published at Freshly Ground on March 1st 2009

Phil Rossi's Crescent is the second full-length podcast I've listened to, after the brilliant Hoad's Grim, which I'm still listening to as the episodes come down.

The quick review: Crescent was an enjoyable "read", keeping in mind that it is intended for a mature audience. It told a pacy and chilling tale of terror in deep space, carefully balancing horror with action. The characters were generally well-rounded and portrayed with a deft hand, and there are moments where the writing really shines. If you have the time to listen to the thirty-odd half-hour segments, and you can handle a bit of audio scare, then do yourself a favour and start downloading Crescent. It's free, BTW.

I've been playing them through my car radio on the way to work and home again. It's a great way to kill the commute.

In recent news regarding Crescent, it has apparently been picked up as both a book and a movie, which is fantastic news for the author, and further proof of how it can be really worthwhile to use the internet to build an audience by putting a product out there for free. I remember thinking to myself as I was listening how it might adapt well as a screenplay, so I wasn't actually surprised to hear this development.

Now, the longer review. Yes, I liked Crescent and I listened all the way to the end. I won't toss in any spoilers here, but I will just make mention of a few things I wasn't impressed by.

Admittedly, being hooked on Hoad's Grim - which is absolutely stunning as far as the story, writing, voice talent and audio production go - puts Crescent on a back foot from the word go. The Crescent podcast series utilises music from just one song throughout it's entire length, and this gets a bit repetitive. But it's a good song, so that's not a complaint. It's just that a bit of variety might have been better.

My main niggle with Crescent was that the author, Phil Rossi, made a decision to voice all the characters himself. OK, stop me please if this is common practice for podcasting and audiobooks, but I found it a bit frustrating. Particularly the women's voices all tended to sound the same. Like I've said, the vocal talent on Hoad's Grim leaves you in no doubt whatsoever who is talking at any point in time. I think that it might have been to the author's advantage to have drafted in some other voices for this job, just for the sake of clarity. However, this didn't make the story un-followable, it just made it obscure in places.

It was nice to hear, in the Notes from the Vault, which are a series of short fiction pieces written by the same author, that he did indeed bring in some other voice talent from time to time during their production. The Notes deserve a review too, but it won't be tonight.

As a writer, I felt that in places Rossi might have profited from having a keen editorial hand run over his work. There were occasional pieces of clunky dialogue and prose, and sections of writing which I can imagine working well on the page but which didn't translate to the soundwave very well. Still, this was a free work, a work of passion, and Rossi's writing seems to get better the more I listen to it, so that's a good sign.

I'm now listening to Eden (mp3 promo link), and I have yet to make a judgment. So far, it seems to be about a ... hmmm ... haunted space station ... with ... wait for it ...

No, no spoilers. Suffice to say that I'll be downloading the new chapter very shortly.

My last word on Crescent, after all that good stuff, is sadly one of just the mildest disappointment, not in the work itself, but in an epilogue that was released some time after the final chapter. Crescent ended with a hint of irresolution - of the temerity of the immortal, and the infinite hunger of the unknown, leaving the reader only with the comfort of knowing that our lead characters, whom we have grown to care for, will at least be free and clear of the horrors they have faced, even if those horrors do live on somehow. Then the epilogue unwound this comfort, which replaced that feeling of catharsis with one of frustration, as if we were suddenly back in the middle of a story that had yet to be told.

As underhanded openings to sequels go, this one really kicked sand in the listener's ears. I would rather not have listened to the epilogue. So if you decide to give Crescent the time it's worth, my one piece of advice is this: Don't download the Epilogue. It's a spoiler all of its own.

Apart from all that: 4 Stars from me.