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The Hyacinth Disaster is a gripping sci-fi thriller about a crew of doomed asteroid miners

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For fans of The Martian and The Expanse

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There are a ton of podcasts out there, but finding the right one can be difficult. In our new column Pod Hunters, we cover what we’ve been listening to that we can’t stop thinking about.

A couple of years ago, Verge listener David Carlson wanted to help his wife. She had a new job with a long commute, and he wanted her to read some of his favorite articles at The Verge, like All Queens Must Die and Welcome to Uberville, so he recorded audio versions for her to listen to en route. He’s since moved on to a project of his own: The Hyacinth Disaster, a science fiction story told through the black box transmissions of a doomed asteroid mining ship in our solar system.

The story is set in 2151, where Mars and Jupiter have been colonized and major corporations use contract crews to mine the resource-rich asteroid belts in between. One such ship, the MRS Corvus, is taken hostage while working in a rival company’s territory, prompting the crew of the MRS Hyacinth to break regs and mine an unauthorized asteroid in hopes of paying off the ransom by themselves. Once they arrive on the asteroid, Saniss 130991, they find more than they bargained for.

Listen on Carlson’s website, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or PodParadise.

Image: David Carlson

Carlson tells The Verge that he’s always been interested in writing music and recording, and after recording several articles for his wife, creating his own story was a natural next step.

The story, Carlson explains, came from an interesting place: listening to air traffic controllers. “Most of it, I did not understand, because I don’t really know anything about pilots or planes,” he says, “but once in a while something arose that made it interesting to listen to.” Around the same time, he says that he was becoming a bit more of a science fiction fan, reading books like Andy Weir’s The Martian and watching short films like Erik Wernquist’s Wanderers, both of which made him realize that he could tell an interesting story of his own, in the style of those air traffic controllers that he had been listening to.

He set himself a challenge: “to tell a complete story using nothing but the interaction between the crew members,” in which all of the worldbuilding and backstory had to come up naturally in dialogue, and in a way that wasn’t two characters explaining it to each other. After spending six months writing and polishing up the script, he decided that it was worth recording, and taught himself how to create a podcast. He enlisted several friends to voice the characters, mix the sound, direct his actors, and create the sounds that he used in the show. He later wrote out some additional material that fleshes out the world.

The Hyacinth Disaster, Carlson says, was also a bit of a challenge to tell a story that steered clear from some of the more traditional, cinematic stories. We learn right up front that the story is a black box recording from a doomed ship, but Carlson says that he wanted to avoid a typical, gloomy scenario. The story focuses heavily on the characters’ sense of duty and how they find a way to complete their mission and save their friends, even if it means that they sacrifice themselves in the process. “For me, the story was yeah, sometimes when you risk something, you actually lose it, and I wanted to reflect that.” He says that he thought nobody would like it, until he watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which made him realize that it was a theme that was worthwhile.

The story is a self-contained one, set in a much larger world, and Carlson says that he has some plans to explore a bit more of it down the road with one of the other ships mentioned in the story, but not right away. He says that he’s working on focusing on some work and family goals before he dips his toe back in the podcast waters.