(2016) Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Orbit, £14.99, trdpbk, 281pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50860-3
Nightvale is a podcast fiction series that has managed to build a successful following through social media. It is framed as the regular broadcasts of the community radio programme, hosted by Cecil Palmer, talking about the events and news of Night Vale, a town in the desert. Night Vale regularly has visits from mysterious figures, strange events, several secret societies/local government organisations and regular disasters and losses of life. All of this is described in the dry causal tone of Cecil’s voice. It has had an enormous impact, being one of factors that have led to podcasts being seen as an avenue for long-term storytelling.
The strange American town is a long established trope possibly going back from Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nightvale relishes in this. It has been described as a town where all conspiracies but reading through this, it feels, to me at least as it is more absurdist in its feel. It is a place where the authorities are helpless in the face of vague supernatural events such as sudden outbreaks of forests or Street Cleaning Days despite having a near omnipotent Secret Police and control over its citizens. It is also possible to have an even darker reading of the material with the idea of Night Vale being a metaphor for media coverage of disasters. We cannot do anything to affect them or help, we just wind up hearing a upbeat but still detached narrator talking about the lasts horrific but funny incident.
Nightvale has the backdrop of not seeming to have a consistent continuity, which is not actually a problem because the humour and dark satire is the primary focus. But as the scripts continue from the first year, you realise that recurring characters are emerging as well as Cecil. Carlos, the Faceless woman, Intern Dana, Hiram McDaniels and others. Doing this, shows that Nightvale is moving to an internal consistency based around characters as opposed to events.
The highlight of the book, for me, is the script for ‘The Story of You’ written in the 2nd person. It changes the focus from Cecil’s reports into the account of an unnamed person who ended up in Night Vale. By changing the focus to a person on the ground floor, it becomes even darker with imagery that actually earns that over-used adjective ‘Lovecraftian’ without resorted to standard green slimy tentacles.
While I enjoyed the material within this book, I have my uncertainty about the way it is presented. I’ll explain. Publishing scripts started when the broadcast material either had been erased or was not likely to be repeated or available to the public. This became less important when the video recorder was invented. If you want to listen to Night Vale from the beginning, you can just go onto I-Tunes or other podcast websites and download them.
The book does add additional material with notes about each script and illustrations by Jessica Hayworth. Personally, while the illustrations are intricate and detailed, largely focusing on objects, I am not sure that they fit in with the atmosphere of Night Vale. Maybe a style based around Norman Rockwell or Edward Hopper could work better, but I realise this is just purely my atheistic option.
Despite all the above, this is still entertaining to read. Fans of the podcast series will defiantly enjoy the glimpses of how the series developed. For newcomers, it is a good way to get into the series, although there is still the option of listening to the podcast. Either way, Nightvale is worth visiting for fans of horror, surrealism and dark humour.
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