Welcome to Night Vale - Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

You may have heard of Welcome To Night Vale, and then again you might not. Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, it's become something of a iTunes podcast phenomenon since its first episode was broadcast in 2012. If you aren't aware of the bi-monthly broadcasts that Cecil makes on Night Vale Community Radio, well it could be that you just aren't clued in to hot new cultural phenomena, although there are some conspiracy theories going around that it is being blocked by the World Government, and in Night Vale all conspiracies are true.

Night Vale, for the uninitiated, is a small desert town that seems to exist and operate in isolation to obscure and arcane laws of its own. Things work differently in Night Vale. Some things, like Time, don't seem to work at all. Surreal events are all a part of everyday life in this small community, strange creatures are known to exist there, from ghosts to sentient houses. And librarians. Don't EVER go near a librarian. Angels don't exist, the authorities tell us, but best keep away from them just to be on the safe side. All angels incidentally are called Erika. So strange events are just a part of life, but occasionally even more weird things happen in Night Vale, and they are reported on by Cecil ('The Voice of Night vale') in his own inimitable way, along with 'Weather Forecasts' and 'Traffic Reports' (I can't find a suitable text format or description that better conveys what these mean in Night Vale).

I think you get the idea. It's the kind of thing that inspires everyone to make up 'meets' comparisons in order to capture its essence. "Lake Wobegon meets Steven King" is one, for example. Or think a Michel Gondry remake of David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' co-written by Terry Pratchett and Charlie Kaufmann. Quirky is a word that is going to be used a lot in relation to Welcome to Night Vale, but it's not just quirky. If you manage to get caught up in its world, it will all start to make some kind of sense on some level or macabre alternate reality. I don't know if that's something you should be worried about. The Welcome to Night Vale novel is however a good opportunity to see whether a bunch of 25-minute bi-monthly radio broadcasts with a cult following can expand on its format and break the mainstream.

So does Welcome to Night Vale make a successful transition to novel form? Oh, you'd better believe it...

'Welcome to Night Vale - The Novel restricts its interest mainly to just two main characters, Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton, although all the familiar personalities from the radio series (including Old Woman Josie, Steve Carlsberg and of course Cecil's NV Community Radio broadcasts with guest appearances by his scientist boyfriend Carlos) all feature throughout. Jackie, permanently aged 19, has run a pawn shop there for maybe a hundred years (who knows? Time doesn't work in Night Vale). She pays $11 for every object pawned, whether it be a tear on a napkin or a Mercedes car, and pawning involves secret rituals and temporary death. A Man in a Tan Suit however has visited the pawn shop and left her a note with the words 'KING CITY' on it. Even though Jackie can't remember quite what the man looks like or what his name is, the words 'King City' continue to haunt her. And in Night Vale that's not just a manner of speaking.

Diane Crayton for her part is also having problems with a co-worker who has disappeared from her office and who no-one seems to remember or believe he ever even worked there. She's also having problems with her 15 year old son Josh, and not just because Josh doesn't really have a permanent form, transforming into a three-inch spider at inconvenient times, like while he's supposed to be learning to drive. No, Josh is 'of an age', and some notes have lead Diane to wonder whether he's attracted to boys or girls, but Josh is looking for some other answers that are a little more awkward for Diane. As long as those questions don't lead anyone to look up things in the library. Uh-uh. You don't want to go there. Or to 'King City' for that matter.

There's no need to have any previous experience of the inhabitants of Night Vale in order to enjoy the richness of the world that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have developed in the novelisation of their podcast series, but a predisposition for the surreal and macabre is recommended. It's to the advantage of the fan base as well as new readers however that the novel is (relatively) straightforward in its plotting, as the novel gives a lot more detail and history in passing, introducing its characters, using them to enrich a fertile bed with no end of imaginative ideas, and doing so without entirely ruining the mysterious qualities that make it so compelling.

It's more too than just quirkyness or random weirdness. Everything in Night Vale operates to a particular 'absurd logic' of its own (to borrow an oxymoron from the novel itself). It's not too clever for its own good either, but is genuinely clever and inventive with innumerable dazzling little ideas and delightful details tossed out on every page that somehow manage to touch on some deeper reality that is different/better/more disturbing than this one on the surface, but not a million miles away from it when you dig down beneath the surface. Or perhaps you've just been spending too much time in Night Vale recently if you start to think like that. Welcome to Night Vale, you'll be back soon. Particularly if you're travelling to King City.

Welcome to Night Vale - The Novel is published in the UK by Orbit on 10th October 2015.

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