There are two things which I am notoriously bad at. These things are time management and concentration. Also I’m pretty bad at spelling, social interaction, domestic cleanliness and human emotion. But for the sake of argument let’s ignore those and stick with the first two. Anyway… I find it incredibly difficult to pay attention to more than one thing at once. I seem to be more or less functionally incapable of listening at the same time I’m reading or writing at the same time I’m listening, or any varied composite mixture of similar things. Basically I can’t really do more than one thing at once, and with my simply dire ability to manage my time I generally don’t have a great amount of time to do a lot of things. For this reason I’ve generally shied away from podcasts. They always got put on the back burner, things to look at later, a thing for a tomorrow never to arrive. As time has gone by I’ve been more and more inclined to give them an even wider berth, for the world of podcasts is world that is to me a strange and unknowable place that operates by rules and laws i have not the nous to fathom nor the patience to decipher. That was until now.
Earlier this week a friend of mine was waxing lyrical about something he had been listening to. I was beguiled by a sliver thin glimpse into a world to which I had never ventured before. I was lost the very moment a smooth, rich baritone voice uttered the words “Welcome to Night Vale.”
Welcome To Night Vale is not easy to describe or classify. It is in essence, a short community radio broadcast from the fictional (at least I hope it’s fictional) American city of Night Vale. Night Vale is a surreal nightmarish place, and not just by the standards of comparing the UK to the US. It is a city where law and order is maintained by the Sheriff’s Secret Police, with their black helicopters (though not literally black, they’re actually blue) and all-pervading surveillance; where strange, black, hooded figures roam freely; where an ageless gestalt entity holds the position of city council; where angels live with a little old lady named Josie; where an entrance to a vast underground civilisation can be found beneath the bowling alley; a place which is not entirely normal.
Night Vale is dark and bizarre and made all the more sinister by its union with the mundane and its deadpan delivery. The whole podcast has some fairly heavy Lovecraftian overtones (and undertones and sideways-tones) and let’s be honest, Lovecraft is to fiction as salt is to cooking: Nothing is made worse by a sprinkle of it.
What results is a rich and vibrant narrative of everyday life in brutal, vicious and nightmarish hellscape from which there is no escape. But despite this you can feel a sense of strong community spirit, of solidarity and pride. There’s also something endearing about the honesty with which Night Vale approaches the horror of its existence. It might be a brutal, vicious and nightmarish hellscape; but gosh darn it, it’s their brutal, vicious and nightmarish hellscape. It certainly is preferable to the enforced happiness of the sham Orwellian utopia of Night Vale’s local rival, Desert Bluffs.
In conclusion, Welcome To Night Vale is most assuredly worth the investment of your time (or someone else’s time if you’re one of those temporal-kleptomaniacs.) It’s enjoyable and well written. I’d say it will make you laugh, but I don’t think the warped, distorted and utterly ruined shell that is my sense of humour is really the best judge for that. (Seriously, I once spent 30 minutes laughing at the word “toggles”)
It will drag you in, you will start to yearn for Cecil’s dulcet tones and the manifest impossibility of Night Vale’s current affairs. After a while you might even hear the city calling to you across the voids of time and space, beckoning you towards it. Where it not in the middle of a desert I might give in to its summons, but I really, really don’t think I’d like the climate. I simply cannot abide the heat.