Saturday, October 24, 2015

Carnacki: The New Adventures (Ed. by Sam Gafford, Ulthar Press 2014)

I'm still baffled at the fact that there hasn't been a Carnacki the Ghost-Finder movie yet.  I mean, hell, I'm stunned at how little attention William Hope Hodgson gets from horror fans these days - "The House on the Borderlands" is a masterpiece, while "The Night Land" holds the honor of being the second "dying earth" story, preceded only by a few paragraphs from H.G. Wells.  His short story "A Voice in the Night" was adapted in Japan in the 1960s as the eerie MATANGO, but other than that he's largely been ignored by film and television.  Carnacki would seem to be his most approachable character, and given that he's essentially a Steampunk Ghostbuster, you'd think someone would have to capitalize on that - the words "Steampunk Ghostbuster" are like a license to print money, right?

This collection, originally assembled by Sam Gafford in 2013, returns the reader to Carnacki's Cheyne Walk abode with new stories by a variety of authors, detailing new adventures (as the title suggests) in which Carnacki pits his wits, the Sigsand Manuscript and his trusty Electric Pentacles against new nightmares from the Outer Dark.  A couple highlights:

  • "Carnacki: Captain Gault's Nemesis" by William Meikle opens the collection on a very strong note, introducing Carnacki to one of Hodgson's other characters, the morally ambiguous Captain Gault, who has picked up an illicit piece of Babylonian archaeological plunder with intent to sell it to the British Museum.  Unfortunately, the piece in question has other ideas...The story very nicely ties Carnacki together with Hodgson's maritime fiction, and showcases wonderfully the sort of cosmic horror that Hodgson was creating in the years before Lovecraft's career took off.  
  • "Carnacki and the President's Vampire," by Robert Pohle - I'm a sucker for fictionalized Theodore Roosevelt (I've got a short piece I've written in which an encounter between the Bull Moose and a young sasquatch is the "truth" behind the creation of the Teddy Bear) and this story has Carnacki needing to intervene to protect Roosevelt from a bloodthirsty horror on his wedding day.  H.G. Wells also appears in this story, and what he observes in assisting Carnacki proves influential towards his own career in fiction.  
  • "The Haunting of Tranquil House," by Jim Beard (whose work we've read before in Airship Hunters) - Carnacki comes closer to death's door than ever before in this story, and Beard places more focus on the human side of Carnacki's investigations - after all, if a ghost is the restless remains of a human soul...who was that soul in life? Who grieves for them in their wake? The story has a lot of power.  
The collection concludes with the script of a Carnacki stage-play, a format I'm not familiar enough with to comfortably pass judgment on, but it's exciting to see Carnacki appear in another medium.  

My one disappointment with the collection is that none of the stories included are "red herrings" - in Hodgson's original work, there are a couple Carnacki stories where his investigations prove that hauntings are the work of pranksters or thieves looking to scare people away (and thus providing the template for 40-odd years of Scooby Doo), and I was hoping to get a story here along the same lines, because they're a nice palate cleanser and a break like that makes the horrors of the Outer Dark that much more frightening when they next appear.  Unfortunately all the stories here involve the supernatural making an appearance, so maybe if I want Edwardian-era Scooby Doo investigations, I need to write my own Carnacki story.  

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