Alice Isn’t Dead: First Episode Review

PrintALICE Isn’t Dead is the first podcast from the new podcasting network Night Vale Presents, and is the second podcast by Joseph Fink, creator of the smash hit and longtime most popular podcast Welcome to Nightvale. Its first episode was released March 8th, and new episodes will be released every Tuesday until July 12th. It follows an unnamed truck driver on an otherworldly road trip in search of her wife, Alice, whom she once believed to be dead.

To be frank I have been anticipating Alice Isn’t Dead since it was announced earlier this year, and it did not disappoint. Not only did it not disappoint, it thoroughly impressed me, not an easy feat considering how hotly anticipated it was. It is everything that I hoped it would be and more. The writing is impeccable, every description stunningly evocative in its use of both precision and deliberate imprecision. The narration is also excellent, although it does at time stray into the slightly awkward territory of being overly verbose and lyrical, which while pleasant to listen to and very well done, suiting the tone of the production perfectly, can feel a bit odd when you contemplate a real person actually talking like that in everyday speech. That said, that slight awkwardness may actually make the production stronger, adding to the odd, otherworldly tone.

Tone is very much the central focus here. While giving us a vague sense of the general premise and a plot event, this first episode really excels at setting the tone; it resonates perfectly with the premise and setting, and is masterfully created by these things as well as the narration, sound design, story, writing and general composition. The setting, large stretches of desert road punctuated only by the occasional truckstop, lends itself wonderfully to the almost dreamlike structure and events in the story. Destinations on the road feel almost like beads on a string, through which we, and the driver, move as though trespassing in someone else’s dream. Not only does this lend itself to the episodic nature of the podcast, but the events of the show connect wonderfully with the nature of the road as it extends both ahead of and behind the driver, as she both drives towards her uncertain destination and is followed by a certain yet otherworldly menace (a character whose menace comes from a masterful use of description to create an entity which sits right at the bottom of the uncanny valley, a fact which creates a disquieting, familiar yet unfamiliar menace). While less openly comedic than Nightvale, using a surrealism that errs closer towards the uncanny than the outlandish indescribable horrors mixed with mundanity which characterises Nightvale, it is clear that it uses lessons and techniques refined while working on Nightvale. Its selective and almost scalpel-like use of selective description, knowing well which elements are best described and with which degree of precision – and which elements are best left undescribed and indescribable – create characters and events which are both concrete and unnerving in their unknowableness. This is definitely reminiscent of Nightvale, but seems to be used with greater expertise here.

The sound design is also worth commenting on, given that it has replaced the black tapes as my favourite for the “best sound design in a podcast” award which exists only in my head. Disparition, who previously provided background music for Welcome to Nightvale, has excelled themself, creating a soundtrack which perfectly encapsulates and enhances the mood and tone of the show, masterfully adding intensity to those moments that call for it.

If you are even vaguely interested in fiction podcasts, you should listen to Alice Isn’t Dead. It is already firmly in my top three, along with Nightvale and Limetown. While it is fairly short at 20 minutes it is well worth it and is perfectly paced for its length, seeming neither rushed nor drawn out. Definitely worth a listen.

Alice Isn’t Dead can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, podbay and at http://aliceisntdead.libsyn.com/