Monday, September 9, 2013

I Feel Welcome in Night Vale - By Jarys Maragopoulos

     Perhaps you have heard of it, through dark but good humored whispering across Facebook or Twitter. You may even have been lucky enough to hear it, and you know things we were not meant to know, things that make us smile. Either way, the name of one town has howled through your nightly dream scapes and escaped your lips in wakeful moments; Night Vale.

     But what is Night Vale? Night Vale is the (hopefully) fictional town that is the subject of the "Community Radio Program" format podcast, published twice monthly by Common Place books. According to Cecil, the impassioned host of the program, Night Vale is much like any other desert town. They have an Arbys and other chains, they have a library, a city council, a privately owned newspaper, and a brand new Dog Park. The people there have jobs, hobbies, religions, and daily routines. There is normalcy.

     But it is not OUR normalcy.

Do NOT approach the Dog Park.

     Night Vale exists in an unusual trifecta between Lovecraftian horror (think Cthulhu or Weird Fiction), scifi horror (think the X-Files or some Stephen King), and.....humor. The unusual thing is that the humor works. It is neither contrived nor overly dark. If Cecil is the any representative, the populace is just as dis/content as those in any other small town. It is entirely normal to Cecil that the town has an official bloodstone cult, the high school quarterback counts as two players because he grew an extra head, people can only gain entrance to the library by finding themselves waking up there in a drug induced haze, law is enforced by the sheriff's secret (in name only) police, and the immortal city council keeps a tight watch of surveillance on every citizen (to make sure they are not using notebooks and writing utensils, which are normally banned). Much of the delight of Night Vale is the way these elements are all seamlessly intertwined with small town politics, gossip, and minutiae. The show is genuinely funny.

This has been a not-very-special message from the Sheriff's Secret Police

     As a side note, a lot of aspects of living in Night Vale are dissected and examined for interesting philosophical meaning, but Cecil's homosexual or bisexual identity is never commented on. It is only expressed in his increasingly adorable crush on Night Vale's lone "straight" man, a scientist named Carlos. Carlos is a true outsider, he never quit GETS the town he is researching. Perhaps that is why Cecil is drawn to him. Or it could be the hair. Their developing relationship is a part of the show, but never treated in anyway abnormal.

Could this be Carlos? Nope! This is your computer screen.

     What sticks with me after listening to "Welcome to Night Vale" is how well the humor blends into the horror. The scary parts are scary, the funny parts are funny. I wonder if Common Place books has done for horror what Douglas Adams did for science fiction and Terry Pratchett did for fantasy. The podcast often deconstructs and makes fun of horror tropes and shticks. The writing is very impressive, enough to make me recommend the podcast to all of you on that attribute alone. I suggest listening for three episodes, to let the repeating bits sink in. Let yourself get a feel for Night Vale.

And now, the weather.

This is not the weather. 

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