REVIEW: Mostly Void, Partially Stars (Welcome to Night Vale, Episodes Volume 1) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

414sdbffdalMostly Void, Partially Stars is a collection of the first year’s worth of scripts (and the script of the first live show Condos) from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. In addition to the scripts, Mostly Void, Partially Stars contains introductions to every episode featuring behind the scenes tidbits such as the inspiration for the episode or how it was put together. In Mostly Void, Partially Stars, readers are introduced to the town of Night Vale and Cecil Palmer, the host of the local community radio station’s news show. As the story begins, a new scientist, named Carlos, arrives into town, sparking interest from Cecil. Coinciding with this event is the discovery of a civilization underneath one of the lanes in the bowling alley. As the year goes on, these plot threads will collide in a major way. This review will be in two parts; the first reviewing the book itself, the second reviewing the content of the scripts and the first year of the podcast as a whole.

Firstly, the book itself is wonderfully put together. From the moment the forward, written by Cory Doctorow, begins the time and energy put into making sure this book was more than just a collection of scripts is apparent. Doctorow’s forward is insightful and funny, as is the introduction that follows (written by Joseph Fink). Throughout the book are illustrations by Jessica Hayworth that accompany each episode. The illustrations are never too revealing; by that I mean she leaves much to the imagination – as is the M.O. of the podcast – while still offering some fun visual insights to the world of the podcast.

The introductions, written by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, and various members of the cast, are similarly insightful while not being too revealing. They’re interesting little peaks behind the curtain, but never do they wander into the realm of explaining too much. It’s all vague and filled with the trademark humor of the podcast, but also does give the reader an insight into their process and the inspiration behind the episodes. They strike a good balance between offering a behind the scenes look and withholding some of the mystery the series contains.

As for the content of the scripts themselves, the first year (henceforth referred to as the first season) of Welcome to Night Vale is simply fantastic. Moreso in this season than in subsequent seasons, the show really presents itself as a modern day Twilight Zone mixed with The X-Files and H.P. Lovecraft-style monsters. This first season focuses more on world-building and character development than it does on any kind of overarching plot. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching plot; there is – the civilization underneath the bowling alley ends up being the main thread that ties the season together – but it’s not the main goal of the season. The main goal is to get the audience acquainted with Cecil and the other periphery characters and the town of Night Vale itself. In this, Mostly Void, Partially Stars succeeds brilliantly.

The whole first season of the podcast is an example of a smart idea executed with intelligence and artistry. It takes a few episodes to really get into the series, but once you’re into it, its grip on you never weakens. The brilliance of the show is how it gets you to care about all these characters who are experiencing these outlandish horrors (like a Glow Cloud that drops dead animals, or a deadly Valentine’s Day, or a Man in a Tan Jacket that nobody can remember) that we as an audience really can’t relate to. Most of us will never face a Glow Cloud that can control our thoughts and requests our worship. But the characters themselves are so human, and their reactions to these horrors encapsulate humanity so well that we are able to empathize with them and relate to them despite our inexperience with their struggles.

Another strong part of this first season is how it (inadvertently, at times) lays out plot threads that are still being picked up nearly five years later. So much of what later seasons have focused on were introduced in this first season, oftentimes by a throwaway line. The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home becomes a major player in subsequent seasons, as does literal five-headed dragon Hiram McDaniels. The Old Oak Door that John Peters, you know, the farmer, finds becomes important. As does Earl Harlan (scoutmaster for the Night Vale Boy Scouts). Diane Crayton and the Man in the Tan Jacket even get a whole novel written about them down the line. There are so many elements that are introduced in this season that prove to be important later on that it’s hard to believe that Fink and Cranor didn’t have this planned. But, as they’ve said before, if they had actually planned this, it would never have worked as well as it did.

Night Vale really was a stroke of luck on their part. The right writers came together at the right time with the right actors and the right technology and an audience ready for something different (that is representative of people now – including many LGBT characters, disabled characters, and an array of other diverse characters and situations) and created what is truly a work of art. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of coincidence, and Night Vale encapsulates that. So much of life is random happenstance, and in Night Vale that random happenstance can also be deadly.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars is everything that makes Night Vale what it is. It’s full of creepy, clever, funny, and moving scripts. The illustrations and commentary littered throughout the book are insightful, and it’s a collection of intelligently written art that serves as a fantastic companion to the podcast. It’s perfect for both new fans and old fans as everyone will be able to get something out of it.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars gets 5 out of 5 wands.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars is published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available now in paperback and e-book formats.

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