the bookish life

my geeky love for books and bookish things

Category: Podcasts

Book Review – Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

I’ve written about Welcome to Night Vale before – if you’ve read that post, then you already know that I am a huge fan of the podcast. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of Fink and Cranor’s first book. I gave it 3/5, and I still think that’s accurate – it wasn’t quite the Night Vale I know and love. But there is hope – WTNV has released two more books, and they are completely different from the first. Guys – they are awesome!

Night Vale Scripts

Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe are collections of scripts from the first two seasons of the podcast. Each episode features an introduction by either Fink, Cranor, guest writers or actors, and includes eerily beautiful illustrations by Jessica Hayworth. The introductions provide interesting insights into the creative process, and what it takes to make each episode. It surprised me how homegrown it all still is, even with their international success.

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to the first two seasons, so reading these volumes proved to be a nice refresher. They were surprisingly readable, and I think even those who haven’t listened yet will still enjoy and understand them. I blew through both books within a couple days, and I really hope that they continue to release volumes for each season.

What else can I say? These books are just so well put together.

5/5

Book Review – Welcome to Night Vale by Fink & Cranor

Welcome to Night Valis first and foremost a podcast. Like The Red Panda, it’s a fictional drama, but with a really unique twist. It follows the format of a small-town, community radio show – but set in the weirdest town you could possibly imagine.

Night Vale is a small, sleepy desert town, presumably in the US. They have a bowling alley, an Arby’s, and creepy hooded figures that lurk in the dog park. Have I mentioned that no one is actually allowed in the dog park? Strange things happen all the time in Night Vale, and the residents consider it to be completely normal. Radio station management is a roaring beast? Meh, ok. A glow cloud arrives in town, starts throwing dead animals at the populace and then eventually joins the school council? Welcome – and ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD!

The radio host is a honey-voiced local named Cecil (played by an actor of the same name). He’s as oblivious as the rest of the residents, and is cheerfully obtuse at the weirdest times. Each episode follows a repetitive format: news, community calendar/local ads/etc, the report of an unusual event, leading up to a conflict… and then, the weather.

The weather report is always a song, written and performed by a different indy artist for each episode. Once the weather wraps up, the conflict has been resolved, and Cecil closes out the show with a thought provoking statement or two. New episodes can be downloaded on the 1st and 15th of each month, on iTunes or many other podcast platforms.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed – I’m a big fan. I’ve binge-listened to all of the episodes, bought a hoodie and a mug from their store, and saw them live during their last tour. Obsessed? Maybe, but I’m ok with that. But the title of this post mentions a book review… Which is lucky, since Welcome to Night Vale is now a book!

Welcome to Night Vale

The book obviously breaks from the usual radio format, but still follows characters originally established in the podcast.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “King City” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.

Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: “King City”. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures…if they can ever find it. – Goodreads

Apologies for the long quote, but I don’t think there really is a way to describe the plot any more succinctly than that. It’s weird. It’s Night Vale. I bought the book as soon as it came out, and cracked it open immediately. And then… I struggled to finish it. I could see Fink and Cranor attempting to bring the weirdness of Night Vale into the novel format, but it seems to fall a bit flat. Repetitive statements, odd turns of phrase – while sounding perfectly reasonable in the podcast, felt very drawn out and out of place in the book.

Being so used to hearing Cecil describe the local drama, I thought maybe listening to the audio book would make a difference. The audio book is read by Cecil, and features passages read by Carlos as well, another beloved character in the podcast. And I was right – it did improve in that format.

But not all is lost – Fink and Cranor are coming out with two new books in the fall. This time, they will be actual, illustrated scripts from the first two seasons. I’m guessing that I’ll enjoy those a lot more.

Welome to Night Vale the book is available everywhere – just be sure to start with the podcast first.

3/5

Podcast Review – The Red Panda by Decoder Ring Theatre

About 15 years ago, I ‘discovered’ radio serials from the 1940’s and 50’s. Instead of music, I would spend time listening to CD compilations of old Batman, The Shadow and Superman episodes – I swear, they’re more entertaining than TV. So imagine my excitement when I discovered a resurgence of the lost art – through podcasts!

Decoder Ring Theatre is a Canadian labour of love, created by Gregg Taylor. He and his stable of voice actors create really entertaining audio dramas that pay homage to the golden age of radio. By far their biggest title is the ongoing Red Panda series. It’s been running since 2005, and follows the adventures of mystery man The Red Panda and his trusty sidekick The Flying Squirrel.

In the tradition of the great mystery men of radio, pulp fiction and the golden age of comics comes The Red Panda, famed protector of 1930s Toronto! Hiding his true identity as on of the city’s wealthiest men behind a bright red domino mask, The Red Panda dispenses two-fisted pulp justice with strength, courage and eerie hypnotic powers. Joined in his quest by that Famed Fighting Female The Flying Squirrel, this Terrific Twosome holds high the lamp of justice in a dark time! – Decoder Ring Theatre

The Red Panda is like Batman, but not emotionally damaged. Gregg Taylor writes each episode, and gives voice to the Red Panda as well (his voice is PERFECT for the role). The episodes are exciting, entertaining and even suspenseful at times. Binge listening from the beginning is definitely worth it; there are a couple story lines that actually had me sitting in my car in various parking lots, wanting to hear the end of an episode before getting out of the car.

Being ‘on the air’ for 11 years means Decoder Ring Theatre has built quite the fan base. Which means, they have been able to expand into other mediums. Yup – The Red Panda is also a series of books!

The Red Panda

Gregg Taylor writes the books as well, and they are brilliant. Am I gushing? I don’t even care – they are worth it. They flesh out the world he has created, and even introduce new characters that appear in the podcast later. These books are not podcast retellings, but brand new stories. And in 2013, The Red Panda also became a comic book series. You can purchase past issues through Comixology.

So search for Decoder Ring Theatre on iTunes, The Red Panda on Amazon and Comixology and enjoy – trust me, you won’t regret it.

5/5

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