Fiction Reviews

The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe
Welcome to Nightvale Episodes Volume 2

(2016) Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Orbit, £14.99, trdpbk, 303pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50862-7


This is the second collection of scripts of the widely successful Nightvale podcast. The first volume I have previously reviewed. It follows the format with introductions to the scripts by writers, co-authors and guest voices with illustrations by Jessica Hayworth.

We return to the similar themes of the first volume. The dark detached humour and observation amid the cosmic dread. One thing that it is easy to overlook is the skill used in the economy of language used in the scripting. It is not until you look closely, that you release that the creators have to craft whole scenes and character sketches with just a few words. There is also parodying of the podcast format with the adverts that Cecil reads out. If you listen to a lot of podcasts, you become familiar with the ‘word from our sponsor’ style passages.

At this stage in the history of the podcast, the audience and fandom for the show was going. The creators had an audience and with this the scope of the show began to change. While the history and the structure of Night Vale is vague as part of it’s construction (which is why they say the town outlawed time travel), there is the internal consistency of the characters, as the focus moves into two main plot lines. The first is the mayoral election with the main candidates being Hiram McDaniels, the five headed dragon and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. The second is the town’s takeover by the corporate forces of Strexcorp and subsequent rebellion by various elements of the town, which prefer to be controlled by their familiar shadowy forces.

The question posed by this bordering of the shows focus, is whether it is a good thing for the future of the show overall. On one hand Nightvale is constructed as a nightmare absurdist comedy. It can be augured that it just needs Cecil’s narration to keep going. The risk of establishing characters in a serial is that with having to detail and expand them, and so changing the writing's focus. Also, once you have recurring characters, even if they are as splendidly creepy as the Faceless Old Woman, they still provide a measure of security. Yes, there is always the possibility that they can be killed off, which Night Vale turns into a running joke concerning the station interns. But as characters grow in time allocated and backstory developed and fan popularity increases, this can become harder and harder to do.

On the other hand, establishing a small recurring cast does have the advantage of helping the listener retain their interest. One of things that can happen when you are reading these scripts one after the other, instead of just hearing them once a week is that the effect can be diluted. I spoke about Cecil’s detachment in the narration; this can create a distancing effect with the sheer weight of all the strangeness. Having characters that can act as an identifiable element, could be something that the show needed to establish and keep going, just so that the listener can latch onto them. Then they have a reason to be involved in the show other than just hearing this week’s strangeness. Granted, the majority of the character are strange or have had strange things happen to them, but even then, they do have touches of identifiable, or ordinary, traits which helps the listener engage with them and continue to download the show.

Overall, volume 2 of these scripts show Welcome to Nightvale expanding its scope to be able to tackle a wider range of approaches in the future. While fans of the show will enjoy this, causal newcomers might prefer working their way through the podcast downloads. But whatever is easiest for people to consume this material, it is defiantly worth investigating with its use of language and dark humour.

David Allkins

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