(Consider all these Used Book Store reviews as spoilers)
Technically, as I write this, Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor have been out for 4 months. They’re still fairly new releases, by my standards. They are scripts, though, of the hit podcast Welcome to Nightvale that has been around since 2012 so I figure that works well enough for me.
I love Welcome to Night Vale. I got to see their live show Ghost Stories in 2016 and it was amazing. Eerie, funny, and endearing. Welcome to Night Vale hits all the right spots for me. Cecil Palmer, Night Vale’s community radio host who is voiced by Cecil Baldwin, is the best type of unreliable narrator who is impossible to not love. And, for the most part, the books evoke the same response.
The challenge is that I did hear the podcast first. I had heard inflection, tone, and delivery. How would essentially scripts translate in this fashion? There is little in the way of direction, which is the case with most scripts/plays. For the most part, Cecil does most of the talking and his lyric moments are just as exhilarating on the page as the are on air. There are moments, though, where it stumbles.
From The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, Episode 46, “Parade Day”:
We’re getting more updates about those doors. In fact I have a very important scientist on the phone now. He’s at the very top of his field. A really handsome scientist.
CECIL: Hi, Carlos. You said you saw these new doors?
As a listener of the podcast, I know that Dylan Marron(listed as Dylan Warren at one point in the book, then Dylan Marron later), who plays Carlos, delivers this in a playful reproach. And I know that Cecil and Carlos have established a romantic relationship by this point in the series. This is also the case if the episodes are read in order. Still, I had a moment where I was like “Stop? Oh, wait… ~Stop!~” The ~ are an attempt at showing the tone. Don’t mind me. Overall, this is a minor complaint. There are stage directions when necessary and, I think, too much direction would take away from the mystery of the scripts. How weird it would be to be someone, possibly decades from now, finding these books to put them on as a show and not only being bewildered by the content but how to present it. Seems appropriate to me.
I sent these books to my dad and wonder what it’s like for him to read them and not hear the voices as he goes through. And I imagine what future interpretations will do with these moments if they don’t have a chance to listen to them. I think about reading something like Firesign Theatre, which is heavily reliant on the accents and voices delivering the lines, instead of listening to it. Would the humor be the same? Like I said, it’s a little different for Welcome to Night Vale as Cecil is the main voice, with guests gaining more prominence in later seasons. I also feel like Fink and Cranor would welcome new and diverse performances of their work since they have worked very hard to provide a new and diverse world for us to inhabit.
A new addition to the book are brief write ups before each episode. Sometimes it’s Fink or Cranor. Other times it’s a co-writer or a voice actor. They give us a little insight into the episode, into their introduction to the podcast, into their love or astonishment for Night Vale. It’s a lovely bonus.
So, how do you rate a book that came from audio? For this, I asked myself two questions.
Q1. Do they stay faithful to the podcast?
Q2. Do they add anything new or enhance the podcast?
A1. Yes. Absolutely. You can read it an receive the same information as the podcast gives. Quibbles of delivery or tone or inflection are just that. Quibbles.
A2. Yes and no. The write ups before each episode are new and nice. The sweetly uncomfortable illustrations by Jessica Hayworth do enhance the oddness, especially if this were to be a first introduction to Night Vale. Does it enhance the experience as someone who has already heard the podcast? Not really, but I don’t think that’s the point of these two books. They’re not supposed to be anything more than what they are. A book of episode scripts with a little something extra. A way to have Night Vale in your hands. A talisman. A compass.
Now for something that enhances the podcast, there is the novel Welcome to Night Vale. But that’s a review for another day.
Why Now: Like I previously stated, Fink and Cranor work really hard at providing the audience with a diverse cast of characters. They do this in the best way possible: by just including diversity. You notice it because, I think, we’re used to it not being prevalent in our media and when diversity is included, it’s accompanied by a big pat on the back to the writers or creators. Not the case with Welcome to Night Vale. It’s diverse because of course it is.
Also, like most good horror/fantasy/sci-fi, Welcome to Night Vale is a mirror of our times. Their town is outside of space and time, run by a monstrous and cloaked city council that is more ineffectual than it is menacing. There are multiple government agencies policing the townsfolk. The guidance Cecil gives the audience is often the party line as Cecil loves Night Vale and knows nothing different. Yet, Cecil still knows right from wrong and it is in those moments, where he is lead by his conscience to help the citizens of his town, that the audience hears a true call to justice.
In Conclusion: If you love feeling haunted, desire lyric drama to invade your mind and heart, need a laugh when you least expect it, and like conspiracy with your coffee then these are the books and podcast for you.
Quote: This is the moment in the podcast where I knew there was no turning back. From Mostly Void, Partially Stars, Episode 19A, “The Sandstorm”
And now, a look at financial news. A fallow wheat field, gray sky, cut by black Vs of black birds. There is a child dragging a hatchet. His eyes cast down. His eyes tight. His eyes white and red and superfluous. He knows not what he sees, gut he knows what is there. A single black-wingéd beast, beak cracked, feathers rotting, alights roughly on the child’s shoulder. They stop. The bird picks at the cartilage of the boy’s ear, as if biting secrets into it. The boy groans, not unpleasantly. Heavy, slow clouds roll and rise, starkly contrasted against the flickering daguerreotype hills, which stoically keep the poisonous rains at bay. A sudden little river, partially walled by palsied shafts of grain, rolls by. The boy walks to it. He bends forward. His blank eyes stare into his reflection. Neither he nor his mirror knows the other is there. But the bird. The bird knows. The bird cackles. Or perhaps cries. Even the bird is uncertain. The boy takes a palmful of the dark water. Most of it runs out through his long, zigzagging fingers. He licks the remainder from his dusty skin. A sound. Like thunder. Like drums. Like steps. The boy turns and hurls his hatchet behind him. The bird flies up and away. There is a hideous thump. The boy knows not what he has hit, but that it has been wounded. He waits for its retort
This has been financial news.