Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

fink-nightvaleWelcome to Night Vale is a novel based on the incredibly popular podcast of the same name. The podcast is a way for non-residents of the fictional desert community to listen to broadcasts from the Night Vale Community Radio station—a staple in Night Vale households whether they like it or not—as Cecil tells us about the many mysteries that plague the peculiar town.

The novel adaptation of the podcast primarily follows two specific mysteries (while often deviating onto other strange, tangential narrative paths) and contains all of the bizarre absurdities that lovers of the podcast have come to expect. But that’s not to say you need to be a long-time listener of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to enjoy this book. While those already familiar with the Night Vale community may notice the occasional reference before somebody who is new to this universe, every peculiarity is introduced in a way that provides enough context for all readers to interpret—if not understand—what is going on.

 And not quite understanding is part of the joy of Night Vale.

In this way, I’m sure Welcome to Night Vale is a ‘love it or hate it’ experience. Some people will dislike the unusual narrative style, with a narrator who insists that you imagine something—a teenage boy, for instance—and then tells you that you’re imagining it wrong. The narrative is often derailed by seemingly-irrelevant transcripts of Cecil discussing the traffic or reminding us that librarians are dangerous. Anybody who prefers a narrator who tells a nice, linear story while minding their own business and staying inside their book likely won’t enjoy their adventure through Night Vale.

I only needed to read the foreword of Welcome to Night Vale to know that this novel would quickly become one of my favourites. The book is incredibly clever. Details are revealed and withheld with deliberation and care, leaving the reader with a haunting, lingering mental image of a town that is dissonant when compared to their own, but that is also terrifyingly similar.

I remember being introduced to the principle of ‘Chekhov’s gun’ in a first year creative writing subject at university, and Welcome to Night Vale is the embodiment of that idea. If you’re unfamiliar, this principle suggests that everything included in a story must be relevant to that story, or else should be removed. Even the smallest reference to the strangest thing in Welcome to Night Vale comes up again at one time or another, and the most surprising characters and objects become integral to the overall story. In this way, everything that happens in Night Vale is linked to everything else that happens in Night Vale. Time and space are weird, dude.

As I worked my way through the novel, I encountered innumerable sentences that were so interesting or bizarre that I just wanted to read them aloud to someone. I involuntarily became the annoying person who sits next to you at a movie and points out all the clever parts, but without the benefit of you having any knowledge of the surrounding story. I was so excited by this ridiculous adventure that I just had to share it with the people around me.

I enjoyed being told to imagine things. I even enjoyed being told that the things I was imagining were wrong and that I should try again. I liked being given incredible detail about some of the characters, objects, or settings, but almost none about others. Welcome to Night Vale made me think, made me ask questions, and made me marvel and wonder at the world I was travelling through as well as my own.

At first glance, Welcome to Night Vale seems to be completely distant from the places we inhabit. After all, we don’t have teenage boys who can morph into whatever physical form they want, or a pawn shop where we have to perform strange hand-washing rituals before we can pawn our items, or doors that need to be shouted at before they will open. And yet the residents of Night Vale consider these goings-on entirely normal—or, at least, mostly acceptable.

However, on closer inspection, perhaps there are aspects of our lives that we accept, but that would seem just as unusual to an outsider, looking in. Our teenagers may not be able to transform themselves from human form into that of a wolf-spider or a sentient haze at will, but they are asking similar questions about who they are, how they should look, and how to fit in. We may not need to wash our hands while chanting in order to pawn our possessions, but we have many strange rituals and routines of our own. Often Welcome to Night Vale touches on realities that are a little too relatable, like the strange thoughts many of us seem to miraculously have while in the shower, or the distress that sometimes comes when inhabiting the space between waking and dreaming.

Welcome to Night Vale spends a lot of time exploring the lives of the community’s many and varied characters. Some have flaws, most have peculiarities, and all are relatable in one way or another. While the development of the two female protagonists is evident, many of the side-characters seem to progress very little, acting as symbols for greater issues or signposts for the narrative while lacking their own fully-fledged personalities. But in a lot of ways, that’s the point. Characters struggle to understand the routines they find themselves trapped in, to decide whether they enjoy what they do every day, and to remember how they even came to be where they are. In doing so, these side-characters cause the protagonists—and the reader—to ask themselves: am I a fully-fledged character? Do I know how I came to be where I am? Do I like it here?

Welcome to Night Vale is a wonderful journey into absurdity that will make you ask a lot of questions. At first, you will be wondering ‘What are those strange lights in the desert?’ and ‘How can a house be sentient?’ but before long—before you even notice the questions have changed—you will be asking different things, like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I doing with my life?’

All hail the Glow Cloud.

Bec Stafford

Bec Stafford has a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Queensland. She blogs and interviews for the Escape Club and The Spotlight Report

ac-complete-historyAssassin’s Creed: The Complete Visual History is quite simply one of the most visually stunning books I’ve ever held in my hands. Penned by gaming journo, Matthew Miller, this sumptuous hardback runs to a whopping 320 pages, most of which are filled with extraordinary artwork that you will want to revisit repeatedly. The franchise’s brand art director, Raphael Lacoste, has provided a short foreword in which he informs us that ‘Assassin’s Creed is about reimagining and reliving history, and with every instalment we aim to create plausible worlds and credible immersion for our fans.’ Fans of the game will already be familiar with just what an escapist’s wonderland Assassin’s Creed is, but this beautifully bound hardback takes the reader through the entire history of the game: its conception, development, characters, timelines, and historical inspirations.

Even before you open this mammoth hardback, the cover is likely to hold you transfixed for several moments with its embossing and arresting image of Ezio, head bowed, blades drawn – stark and dramatic against a pure white background. The comprehensive and jaw droppingly gorgeous concept art within is an absolute delight.

Many of the images have won design awards and make for fantastic posters or prints. The book also contains illuminating interviews with Ubisoft developers and artists who describe the complex planning and evolution behind the outrageously successful franchise. Every detail appears to be underpinned by an underlying philosophy that adds depth and dimension to this impressive artistic vision. Everything, from the logos and costume design through to the background rendering and architectural detail, has been thought through with the aim of preserving iconic design elements and intelligently enhancing the player’s immersion in the Assassin’s Creed universe.

 Assassins-Creed-The-Complete-Visual-History-03It has to be said that you don’t even have to be a gamer to appreciate the beauty of this Insight Editions publication. Designers, artists, history buffs, and anyone who simply appreciates beautiful illustration and art will become equally lost in this incredible world. The book is divided into 11 sections, the initial 9 being devoted to the various historical periods represented in the game, kicking off with the Middle Ages and working through the Renaissance, American Revolution and so forth, right through to the shorter Chronicles games, set in China, India, and Russia, and finally offering insight into the mysterious World Before. Following these info-packed, yet easy-to-read sections, we are presented with a chapter dedicated to the products and spin-offs inspired by the game, including cartoons, novels (and graphic novels), short films, and collectibles.

The background and genesis of each of the franchise’s assassins are explained in satisfying but never overwhelming detail, along with those of a number of secondary characters and adversaries/ Templars. It’s also fascinating to read about which historical characters were chosen to best serve the storyline and reflect each time period (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolo Machiavelli, Paul Revere, and Ben Franklin). The planning behind each of the cities or settings throughout the franchise is also discussed and it has to be said that these reimagined historical places are every bit as fascinating and complex as the characters who inhabit them. Designers discuss having to narrow landmarks down, for example, in order to best represent an area (such as Paris) or having to deliberately add scaffolding to structures in order for characters to scale them. Elsewhere, details such as the shift from day to night throughout a game are described as being key features of the game’s realism. Each individual element has been cleverly engineered to spark our imagination in order that we may, as Lacoste states, ‘travel in time in order to discover epic locations and witness some of the world’s most pivotal moments in history.’

If you’re stuck for Christmas gift ideas this year, this release is highly recommended for fans of the game or anyone who appreciates an astonishingly beautiful coffee table art book.

Assassin’s Creed: The Complete Visual History – Matthew Miller

Insight Editions

320 Pages, hardback

Published 30th October, 2015

  • ISBN10 1608876004
  • ISBN13 9781608876006

 

Maria Ramos

Maria Violet is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy..

scorch trials-maze_runner_2_concept_art_1What YA dystopian fiction doesn’t portray…

Dystopian fiction is designed to highlight societal and political shortcomings that could, if not corrected, lead to a less than ideal future. Historically aimed at a more mature audience, authors and filmmakers in recent years have nonetheless produced a number of books and film adaptations that target a young adult audience. These resulting materials have proven to show large profits and popularity at both book stores and box office.

jennifer-lawrence-katniss-everdeenWhile traditional dystopian fiction wouldn’t seem to appeal to the young adult demographic, many of the currently popular works, such as The Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series, and others, utilize a protagonist who is close in age to the targeted audience in order to make him or her easier to relate to. Katniss, Tris, and Thomas are all described as being in the range of 16 or 17 years old, allowing an audience of similar age to, hopefully, feel a connection to them and to their challenges and struggles.

Unfortunately, while these novels contain plenty of references to what can happen when politics goes bad, there is a glaring hole in their reference to some of the very real problems in existence today, problems such as racism and sexism. I mean, these issues are not likely to miraculously disappear when some bigger global crisis comes along. And yet, that seems to be exactly what we’re expected to believe when either reading or watching these dystopian stories.

A dystopia is what occurs when the world falls to pieces and society’s very real problems are pushed to an extreme. This can be be portrayed in many ways: leading to some form of oppression such as mind control like that found in Divergent and Insurgent, which can both be streamed on Amazon or DTV, or through more direct and brutal means such as the yearly battle to the death in The Hunger Games. However, when society’s real world issues of racism and racial inequality are (at best) downplayed and (at worst) ignored, the risk is very real that entire segments of current society will ignore and/or condemn the books and films that Hollywood is hoping will draw them in.

insurgentFurther, while these novels and films are offering up more in the way of female protagonists, the girls in question more often than not succeed due to their ability to act more like their male counterparts rather than less. They compete on the same level and without any mention of historical inequalities that have beleaguered them i.e. their assumed inferiority, or their being supposedly the weaker sex.

In the Divergent series in particular, we’re led to believe that the powers that be following a catastrophic global event of some sort set up a system where human beings are segregated and identified by faction only. And yet, even recent history has repeatedly shown that we as a people tend to divide along lines of both race and gender when hit with a crisis situation.

On the positive side, some of these novels do a fairly decent job of describing what could happen if, for example, our current environmental issues are left unchecked. This is particularly true for a series such as The Maze Runner, and is especially emphasized in The Scorch Trials, the second film to be adapted from the second novel in the trilogy and in which the Earth has become a desert wasteland. However, leaving out other equally important issues leaves the entire genre feeling a little incomplete.

If this particular subgenre of young adult fiction wishes to continue drawing in the widest audience possible, it’s time that the writers and filmmakers alike consider embracing more diversity within the material they present. Otherwise, they may find that both their popularity and their profits are short lived.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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