What follows is one part review, one part appreciation, and one part musings on the threads of causality — at least when it comes to the stories I’ve been trying to tell for so many years.
Somewhere around the time 1979 became 1980, two guys in their early twenties, then living in Tampa, Florida, created a radio show. A radio drama, a species that was rare at best and regarded by most folks as having been extinct for 25 years or more. This one was called “Dry Smoke and Whispers,” and it was one part noir dectective story, one part science fiction, and all magic.
At the same time, in a very small town on the northwest coast of California, a girl of thirteen bought her first Dungeons and Dragons book — paid $20 for it, a fortune to her in those days, and hauled it everywhere with her, hoping to find someone to play the game with, to create a fantasy world they could share.
Skip forward to the present day. The guys who created “Dry Smoke and Whispers” are still at it. They had produced almost five dozen shows, then lost the majority of them to a hurricane in 1985. With the help of fans who had taped episodes off community radio stations, they recovered some stories, and ended up remaking a few into even more grand, gorgeous tales than they were before. Also in the meantime, they crossed the country and came to live in Portland, Oregon.
The girl — now a woman “closer to forty, though,” (quoting a line from one of her favorite movies) — also came to Portland. She and her husband still have that very same D&D book, along with dozens of other role-playing books for many different games and settings.
Of all of them, though, the one closest to her heart is called the Chamber of Mystery, set in a pulp-adventure version of our own Earth of the late 1930s. Over the years the world of the game grew into a deep and detailed place, and she tried to create stories to match.
She met the guys who make “Dry Smoke and Whispers,” and got her first chance to actually listen to the show, which she had only vaguely heard of before.
And it was, to put it very simply, mind-blowing.
Joe and I — yes, I’m the thirteen year old that was, who is way too close to forty now — started off by listening to the Season One set: five episodes from the earliest days of the series, enhanced with some interstitals and supplements produced in the last few years. We entered the world of Quaymet, the capital of a vast alien galaxy, “Art Deco catacombs of good times past.” This was the world of Emille Song, Special Detective; of his allies and enemies.
After we listened through the first five stories, while waiting for the opportunity to pick up the next set of three tales (“The ShadowMan Saga”), I listened through the set again. A few episodes once or twice more. One night, I even had a dream of being in Quaymet, overseeing the construction of an addition to its remarkable architecture. The image has faded, but I seem to recall it being some sort of flying, hanging garden …
Then, a few days later, I got to listen to the first story of the Saga, titled simply “The ShadowMan.” By the end of Part 2, I understood why I’d been dreaming about Quaymet, and why this series moved me so.
The creators of “Dry Smoke and Whispers” have done with their stories everything that I have been trying to do with the Chamber of Mystery game since I started it fifteen years ago. They have created stories which are epic in scale and yet deeply, intensely personal for the characters involved. A world where science and technology mix freely with psychic powers, mysticism and magic; where powers beyond the view of ordinary folk watch and try to shape the fate of the world (for good or ill); where both the heroes and villains are not all that they seem; where tales that are very much of their own time and place also speak very clearly to us in the here and now.
It’s all there, painted with layers of sound the way Maxfield Parrish painted in layers of glazes and varnish, with the same rich, multi-dimensional results. If you enjoy audio theater, you will love “Dry Smoke and Whispers.” If you’ve never tried experiencing your tales of adventure in a purely sonic dimension, there’s no better place to begin.
In the words of Kyle Jason, “Do it to yourself because you owe it to yourself.” Go visit Quaymet.
And don’t be too surprised if you dream.