Our ongoing series covering sci-fi and fantasy audio dramas continues today with The Strange Case of Starship Iris by Jessica Best. The podcast airs via the Procyon Podcast Network, which was created in the fall of 2016 when a group of audio drama enthusiasts came together on social media to discuss the kind of audio dramas they wished they were hearing.
Together, they raised more than $5,000 on Kickstarter to greenlight the first seasons of their shows, with a promise of stories featuring strong roles for women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
What Starship Iris Is All About
One of their premier shows is Starship Iris, which features characters (and actors) of diverse races, genders, and sexualities, putting traditionally marginalized identities at the center of fun, fresh, exciting genre fiction.
The concept behind The Strange Case of Starship Iris is rich, filled with intriguing characters, set in a well-crafted science fictional world.
In 2189, Earth narrowly won a war against extraterrestrials, but at a tremendous price. Two years later, in a distant patch of space, a mysterious explosion kills nearly the entire crew of the science vessel Starship Iris. The only survivor is Violet Liu, an intrepid, sarcastic, terrified biologist.
But as Violet struggles to readjust to life after the Iris, questions abound. If Violet and her newfound allies want to untangle the truth, they’ll need courage, brilliance, and luck—and honestly, a couple of drinks.
Listeners love the unexpected twists and turns as the plot unfolds, with a strong female lead at the center of the action.
How the Story of Starship Iris Came to Life
Creator Jessica Best began her journey to audio drama the way many writers do—through her studies.
“I majored in creative writing in college, specifically creative non-fiction,” she shares. After tackling humorous essays, food writing, freelance writing projects, and ghostwriting for corporations, she wanted to try her hand at fiction.
“I’ve always been into audio storytelling,” Best explains, citing This American Life as one of her inspirations. “Through fan communities on Tumblr, I found other people who were as intense as I was about audio fiction. We started talking amongst ourselves about what we liked, didn’t like, how we would execute it differently, and somebody said, why don’t we do it ourselves?”
Inspired to tell her own story, Best drew on a variety of science fiction influences, from Animorphs and Space Cases to Star Trek: Voyager.
“I love a good, scrappy team of underdogs united against more powerful, more organized enemies,” she says.
“I write from a very character-centric place, so I try to have the surprising turns that happen coming from the ways that people can be surprising. I’m also trying to convey the feeling about being out in space and not knowing what’s going to happen next because you’re just surrounding by darkness and stars. It’s the enormity of the unknown.”
Best also takes ideas from history to inform her episodes.
“There’s a flotsam and jetsam of ideas in my head. I feel like part of my inspiration comes from the romanticized ideas I have of pirates, such as how they were much more democratic than the navy. You have to get everybody on the same page. The importance of everyone getting along and having to get along struck me as interesting.”
Collaboration Is Key
“When I first started, I thought I’ll have this little project, five episodes, which became ten,” Best says. Now, Starship Iris is in its second season, with a solid fan base that she is excited to share her story with.
To get to that point has required collaboration every step of the way, from the growth of the Procyon Podcast Network to making each episode happen.
“The podcast network is all the original people, and it happened organically. One of our group knew an amazing sound editor. It was very scrappy,” she says.
“We’d read the script out loud, make our friends food and have a reading party, and we would do that for every episode. It was very useful for hearing the script out loud, and getting feedback and shaping the show in a lot of ways.”
The collaboration extends to just about every area imaginable, including bringing in a cousin’s husband to write the season two music, as well as leveraging her roots in fan fiction to find the actor who now plays the role of Arkady.
Fan Support and a Shared Community
“Overall, the audience reaction has been delightful,” says Best. “There’s so much fun art of Krejjh, the purple space alien, which is always fun because I made it a point not to describe that the alien race looks like.”
The sense of community has been there consistently, even when Best took time off in the middle of season one’s arc to focus on some much needed self-care.
“When I took my year-long hiatus, I made it a point to say I have depression and anxiety, and people were absolutely lovely about that. The audience was still there when I came back, which was really affirming. It’s a really supporting, fun community.”
How to Listen
To catch The Strange Case of Starship Iris and the other cool podcasts available through the Procyon Podcast network, you can listen to episodes at procyonpodcasts.com, or on Spreaker. The show is also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and more. Connect with Jessica and her team on Twitter as @StarshipIris and Tumblr at http://iriscasefiles.tumblr.com.
Jessica Best is a freelance writer/editor, an amateur singer/songwriter and a well-intentioned ball of pure quivering anxiety. She is based out of the American Midwest. In addition to her work with Procyon, she is a staff writer on Hartlife NFP’s critically-acclaimed podcast Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery. To stay updated about upcoming projects and occasionally read live tweet threads of her cooking adventures/disasters, follow @jesserbest.