Tag Archives: horror

Review: 100 Episodes of Night Vale

Welcome to NightvaleFor four years now a surreal horror story has been broadcast over the tangled nodes of the internet. The podcast Welcome to Night Vale has appeared in twice-monthly installments since June 2012, making it one of the longest running fictional podcasts around. The 100th episode has gone live, which is a good excuse to talk about it. This show has everything: Battles, intrigue, revenge, subterfuge, love, philosophical ruminations on the nature of existence, and interns.

The genius of the show is its format. It’s presented as a radio show, which makes Welcome to Night Vale one of those rarest of fictions – a second-person format that works. As a listener, you are presumably within the isolated town of Night Vale, and affected by and involved with everything that happens there. The format lets the story wander between third-person reports of events in the town and first-person commentary by Cecil, the presenter. Although eminently likable, he is an untrustworthy narrator, projecting his emotions and judgments onto whatever he is reporting. It’s fun hearing the monologues of other people in the town and getting completely different perspectives — it’s a good storytelling technique to have people present their own versions of the truth instead of a monolithic narrative agreed to by everybody. The format also allows for repeating segments, such as the existential nihilism of Traffic and the musical tones of the Weather.

Night Vale is a Poeish and Lovecraftian place, ruled by hooded figures, terrorised by glow clouds, invaded by cities hidden under the bowling alley, and generally harassed by secret government agencies. Anything that happens in an episode, no matter how throw-away a punch-line or bizarre a revelation, is maintained throughout the show. The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives In Your Home was introduced as a creepy concept, and Hiram McDaniels, a literal five-headed dragon, was a metaphor taken literally, but they ran against each other in the Mayoral election. This is what allows the show to work – from the viciousness of librarians to the completely forbidden nature of the dog park, everything is retained and becomes a normal part of the Night Vale world.

Cecil is the announcer of Night Vale Community Radio, and it is his dulcet tones which make up the majority of the podcast. The fact that his voice is so nice to listen to is a main element of the success of the podcast. The normal manner of reporting the weird phenomenon is a sublime juxtaposition, used to great effect. He also adds the main personal element to the show, particularly through his relationship with his boyfriend, delightfully revealed in wistful digressions, interviews and phone messages. A good argument could be made that the show is love story.

Like any great fiction, a lot of meaning can be read into Welcome to Night Vale. The show satirises pretty much everything, starting with the terrifying nature of our bosses. For politics there is a huge race for mayor, complete with dirty tactics and outright threats, but the votes are ignored and the winner (spoiler alert) is ultimately decided by pulses coming from Hidden Gorge. There are arbitrary rules of society that must be followed, places that are off-limits for no explained reason, constant manipulation by secretive organisations, and the peppy evil of conglomerating corporations.

All in all, Welcome to Night Vale has a peculiar aesthetic that will enchant fans of folk horror and bizarre circuses … but beyond that it is a marvelous story, that is well-constructed and superbly performed. Start from the beginning and enjoy the show. The podcast is free, with the writers and crew earning a living by touring live shows, selling related merchandise, and soliciting donations. There’s also a book out.


This is adapted from a review I wrote for Radio Monash

The Monsters At 23:59:60

In the slivers of time that slip by unseen and unnoticed, they lurk.

When the world shifts, and the day hiccups, they steal atoms of time from the temporal weave of our lives, collecting them, stockpiling for the moment when they will have enough to rend the fabric of reality and invade.

At that point in time — for it will be only a single, eternal point in time — they will do everything they need to do to ensure our destruction, and everything they want to do to enjoy our agony and despair.

An eternity will pass in a sliver of time none of us even noticed missing.

In these modern times, no-one believes in the monsters in the dark…the deep dark that lacks not light, but time. Nevertheless, the monsters are there, and I can prove it.

Scientists, in their endless desire to dissect and quantify everything, fiddle with the very basis of our civilisation, time itself. Every now and then, when the whim takes them, they announce an extra second to a random day. An extra second that is not a part of time. An extra second that takes us, momentarily, out of our time stream.

You won’t notice any significant difference, for your brain will ignore anything peculiar it encounters, then overwrite it with the familiar and mundane. Most of you will be asleep.

For that second, however, and just for that second, a creepy sensation may invade your being, and in the corner of your eye you may glimpse the monstrous beings that steal and horde shards of our time. They are not patient for they do not wait for there is no time for them to wait in, but they are always there, and for this one second you may detect them.

So as this “leap second” approaches relax, let your mind wander, have a few drinks (though not too many), and roll your head, slightly and slowly. As the clock strikes 23:59:60 on the night of June 30, at the ragged edges of what you see, the edges your brain ignores, they will edge into your sight. You’ll jerk your head, an automatic and irrepressible response to better see the horrors you’ve glimpsed, but that jerk of the head will bring them directly before your eyes, and your meat-brain will steadfastly ignore their existence.

The second will pass, and you won’t see them again. You may laugh to yourself, you may chuckle at your “jumping at shadows”, and your neurons will seek to bury the memory as deep as they can.

But your soul will remember. Forever and always, your soul will remember.

Vampires Are Not Sexy

Most fans of dark fiction and/or horror will have heard of The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (now a TV series). This is a great series with a great mythos and some true horror. It’s a well-told story of an epic battle for the survival of humanity as seen through the eyes of some key fighters, and not a little part of the horror is that the success of the enemy is due to damage-control-PR exercises by politicians who didn’t want to cause a panic.

The following may contain spoilers, but not huge ones.

The main thing I liked about the series was that it treats vampires as the monsters they are, rather than humans with pointy teeth and less moral compunction, or sparkling eye candy. Specifically, the books treat the vampires as a virus, which is what I think this particular monster represents, historically.

If you look at the old vampire mythos (and Bram Stoker is a good place to start) you can clearly see the analogs with disease-causing viruses.

Vampires never used to drain people dry overnight, or go on the hunt murdering people. They snuck in at night, draining a little bit each time, so the victim got weaker and weaker over a period of days, weeks, or even months. A slow decline, no obvious reason, strange marks on the body, unable to be prevented by brute force, usually ending in death.

— Vampires are killed by sunlight; the UV kills virus DNA strands (although not as dramatically as portrayed in The Strain)
— Vampires can’t cross running water; simple washing is a great first line of defence against viruses.
— Vampires are associated with rats and bats, known vectors of disease, especially the black plague.
— Vampires can even become a mist, a recognition of airborne diseases.
— In Bram Stoker’s novel, the vampire came from the East, from Europe, the route of the black plague.

Finally, for those who eroticise vampires, Bram Stoker did it the most accurately. He had female vampires, lovely of form, but inherently repulsive. There was something unseen about them that generated disgust despite the luscious bodies…those are your sexually transmitted diseases. Remember, if you ever fantasise about sex with a vampire, you’re masturbating over syphilis.

So, I was pleased that del Toro and Hogan went back to the concept of vampire as monster, of vampire stories as horror stories, updated to the modern era with the threat of pandemic taking down society because political issues trumped scientific and health ones.

There are reasons humans write about monsters: To remind us that they exist, and to prepare us psychologically and socially should we ever actually encounter them. We can pretend they don’t exist, that science has killed them, but it hasn’t – and they’ll be back one day, in one form or another.

Finally, and back to The Strain Trilogy, I was pleased that the writers (this could be quite a big spoiler, depending on your definition) tied up so many loose ends by making the origin of the vampires supernatural. There were simply too many points that were integral to the story but didn’t make “scientific sense” for the books to succeed as science fiction, but the revelation of supernatural origin tied everything together in a neat and logical way.

The Kindle version is very reasonably priced at a couple of dollars.