Described by the creators themselves as a "time-travel tragedy podcast," ars PARADOXICA is a love letter to physics, fiction, and the future. It's a disorienting journey through spacetime and the Cold War. It's a tome of secret history you stumbled across in a library in the dead of night.
It's also a serial audio drama.
When an experiment with an antigravity generator in a time much like our own goes horribly awry, Dr. Sally Grissom finds herself on the grounds of the Philadelphia Experiment, stranded in the 1940s, suspected of being a spy, and entrenched in the activities of a clandestine branch of the US government. With nowhere else to go, and considered a security risk by the government, Dr. Grissom lets herself be taken to the isolated town of Polvo, New Mexico - a research facility owned by ODAR, the Office Of Developed Anomalous Research.
The stated goal of the town is to work on weird science that can tip the balance of power in the 1940s - which, with Grissom's arrival, soon refocuses to fixing the antigravity generator and impromptu time machine. For Science!, and for the betterment of mankind (as America sees fit). It's all fun and games, seemingly, with Sally attempting to fit into the world of the 1940s and get home...
Until it's not, as the podcast deals with the consequences of the actions of Dr. Grissom and those who work with her, the bodies keep coming up, and in the background ODAR is using the time machine for its own profit, reforming itself into something far more sinister as Grissom, our unwitting time traveler, is caught in the mess.
Episodes are, at the behest of the creators, to be listened to sequentially. The podcast can and comfortably has upended the entire status quo at least three times so far, so beware of twists in abundance.
This Podcast contains examples of:
- All There in the Stinger: The codes after each episode.
- Alternate History: Caused by Sally giving ODAR reason to exist beyond World War 2 and the Philadelphia Experiment.
- Back for the Finale Jack Wyatt returns for the final two episodes after being gone almost 2 seasons.
- Black Site: The entire town of Polvo, New Mexico.
- Can't Take Anything with You: The children in Episode 17: Plasticity not being allowed to bring anything from the future with them into the past.
- Coming-Out Story: Sally Grissom and Esther Roberts, albeit accidentally in her case.Sally Grissom: Relax! You dont have to worry about that with me. Im asexual, I get it.
Esther Roberts: Youre a what?
Sally Grissom: Okay. You know how most ladies you meet are really into men? But you, obviously, are into women. Im not really into anyone.
- Conveniently Interrupted Document: Years and classified information is frequently beeped.
- Difficulty Spike: The codes after each episode, which get more complicated and twisted with every iteration.
- Crossover: With The Bright Sessions in an episode called The Intrusion.
- Doom Magnet: Sally sees herself - and by extension the Timepiece - as this, thinking that it's caused nothing but suffering. The disturbing thing is, she might have a point.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Sally encounters a scientist from The Manhattan Project doing this in Las Vegas, the night before the first detonation of the A-Bomb.
- Ensemble Cast: Sally isn't the only protagonist by now - there's a fairly large cast of other characters that've gotten their own focus episodes.
- Experimented in College: Alluded to with Esther and Bridget.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Sally, though she learns to hide it as time goes on.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Chet Whickman went from the petty officer Sally puked on in the pilot to head of ODAR after succeeding Bill Donovan.
- Fun with Acronyms: ODAR (Office for Developed Anomalous Resources).
- Giving Radio to the Romans: Sally's present-day technical expertise causes ODAR and other governments to radically upgrade their technology far beyond what was possible in the 1940s.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The experiment that lands Sally in 1943.
- Government Agency of Fiction: ODAR
- Have We Met Yet?: Quentin Barlowe and his future/past self Ben Quigley
- My Future Self and Me: Several times:
- The two Petras in Episode 22: Dawn.
- Sally and her past self on the radio in Episode 23: Contact.
- New Old Flame: Esther and Bridget.
- No Equal-Opportunity Time Travel: Comes up multiple times due to having multiple time-traveling non-white characters:
Sally: Okay that last [stop] was definitely the worst!
- When Nikhil and Sally go on a road trip together, Nikhil gets some... interesting reactions from the locals.
Nikhil: My favorite!
Sally: Wait, wait, just do the voice again!
Nikhil: Which one, that boy who walked up to us or his mother?
Sally: The kid!
Nikhil: [imitating] Gee, mister. I know about white men and black men but a brown man? Now Ive really seen em all! [laughs]
Sally: [laughs] You were so nice about it! I would have no idea how to respond to that.
Carmen: I cant go. Not because I dont want to. I do, that sounds... amazing but... ODAR can do a lot of good for a lot of people and I, we, could help with that! Think of the perspective we could bring! We could make sure that no kid goes through what we did.
- Carmen through her travels with the rest of the Plasticity kids finds significantly more difficulty living in past decades than the white-passing Petra, demonstrated early on when Petra is able to purchase items freely from a store in the 1980s with no trouble, while Carmen is regarded with extreme suspicion by the store clerk, who tries to "encourage" her to leave the store. This culminates in a particularly tear-jerking example when Petra asks Carmen to leave ODAR to live with her in the 1950s, but Carmen angrily states that she can't because living in the 1950s would be disastrous for her since she looks more obviously Latina than Petra.
Petra: Youre not even going to consider the possibility of coming?
Carmen: What would I do out there, Petra? Look at me. Do you know how difficult itd be for me to find a job? To find a neighborhood that doesnt mind me taking my dog for a walk?
Petra: What do you mean?
Carmen: Jesus, youve never had to think about this because you dont look Latina! I used to have people follow me around stores when we were kids. And as soon as we passed the 60s, it got even worse. So dont tell me its as easy as getting on a bus, and ￼finding some town, and getting some job, and living some life because thats not the reality I live in!
Petra: Carmen, I
Carmen: Didnt know. I get it. I never brought it up because I didnt want you to feel bad but there was a reason I didnt go out as much when we got older and its not because I wanted to continue quizzing myself on Spanish slang of 19-fifty-whatever!
- Numbers Stations: Every episode ends with a sequence of numbers between 1 and 26 being read by an English female voice.
- Politically Correct History: Averted - the bigotry that some characters face for being black, gay, or not American serves as a plot point, with homosexuality being used to blackmail J. Edgar Hoover into keeping ODAR going.
- Reality Ensues: Yep. Wacky sci-fi adventures have consequences in Ars Paradoxica. Head injuries lead to chronic pain and alcohol abuse, continually being a Manipulative Bastard backfires violently on ODAR's leader, increasingly unethical experiments prompt more than one character to declare Screw This, I'm Out of Here!, the Time Travel can cause severe brain damage, handing incredibly powerful new inventions over to the government without considering the fallout leads to the government abusing those inventions, and that's the tip of the iceberg.
- Red Scare: Episode 23: Contact tells of a mission in Moscow, directly mentioning the Red Scare.
- Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Sally, apparently.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Prevalent to the point of perhaps being (part of?) a central theme. Many characters attempt to stay with ODAR for various reasons, hoping that they can change it for the better, use time travel to help the world, and otherwise make a positive impact. This usually fails in some way, with the characters realizing just how little they're capable of doing, or how incapable they are of fixing something that is inherently broken, and leave for something else, eventually finding themselves happier. Examples include:
- Jack Wyatt, deeply afraid of his work, abruptly leaves Point Of Exile with the waitress he loves. Considering what ODAR got up to, this is probably for the best. He only comes back in the last 2 episodes of the show.
- Sally has stepped down from protagonist duties and turned her back on ODAR as of episode 16. She comes back, of course.
- Helen Partridge leaves ODAR behind for good to become a singer.
- Lou Gaines gives up on being an ODAR agent to become a teacher, and finds himself much happier.
- Esther leaves ODAR to be with Bridget
- The ending of the podcast has Petra, Sally, and her time duplicate destroying the Timepiece and ending ODAR before it can ever exist, surmising (perhaps correctly) that the world is better off without it.
- Stable Time Loop: Sally and Dr. Partridge create one in episode 4, accidentally.
- Status Quo Is God: Averted - "eras" of the podcast like Polvo in New Mexico, or Point Of Exile in Colorado, or ODAR being formed could comfortably be their own podcasts. Ars Paradoxica, however, has absolutely no qualms about switching things up a bit.
- Viva Las Vegas!: Anthony drags Sally and her team on a road trip to Vegas to take their minds off a big presentation. Sally ends up teaching them all how to count cards.
- The Conspiracy: ODAR and the Philadelphia Experiment.
- Time Is Dangerous: The entire show revolves around trying to fix problems created by time travel, and more often than not creating more in the process.
- Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Everyone suffering from butterfly syndrome, a form of neurological disorder caused by the brain being incapable of comprehending time travel..
- We Used to Be Friends: Very common in this show - many people's relationships have been broken by the Timepiece's influence.
- Anthony's wife left him.
- Sally's distancing herself as far as possible from ODAR...
- Jack doesn't want anything to do with ODAR either...
- the only remaining Butterfly-immune children from episode 17 have parted ways...
- Wham Episode: Episode 17: Plasticity.
- What Year Is This?: Sally Grissom in Episode 1: Hypothesis.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Anthony Partridge, in the Blackroom.