Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ghosts and Tygers

Carnacki the Ghost-finder: written by William Hope Hodgson, containing the following stories: "The Find", "The Gateway of the Monster", "The Haunted 'Jarvee', "The Hog", "The Horse of the Invisible", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Thing Invisible" and "The Whistling Room" (1910-1947; Collected 1974):

One of the earliest recurring paranormal investigators in horror literature, Carnacki remains a delight today, a century after the stories were first written. William Hope Hodgson made him fallible and capable of fear, thus making him a much more interesting protagonist than Algernon Blackwood's nigh-omniscient John Silence or Seabury Quinn's hyper-competent Jules de Grandin.

Science, or at least the appearance of science, plays a big role in Carnacki's investigations. Behold the Electric Pentacle, proof against supernatural powers. Carnacki's theories on what certain supernatural entities actually are give the reader glimpses of the weird world Hodgson has created: the malign, eponymous monster of "The Hog" may look and sound like a giant hog when it manifests on Earth, but it's actually some sort of massive, gaseous enemy from space that's trying to force its way into our world. The cosmic gulfs are haunted by things much worse than ghosts.

There's much quoting from fictional magical texts, and references to the codified and catalogued powers with which Carnacki contends. It all seems about twenty years ahead of its time, Lovecraft before Lovecraft, but with happier outcomes and a more interventionary race of Good Cosmic Beings.

Carnacki tells these tales to a small circle of friends. He refers throughout to his own fears and mistakes, and to his own fallibility. Several of the stories deal with fake hauntings or with explicable events of the natural world which only seem like the supernatural. Throughout, Carnacki marshals science and magic to do his job. Really a fine series of stories. Highly recommended.


The Middle of Nowhere by David Gerrold (1995): David Gerrold wrote the beloved original Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and went on to become a writer of some note, periodically working with the Trek franchise again. This novel, the third of his Star Wolf books, originated as ideas for a new Trek during the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Set hundreds of years in the future, The Middle of Nowhere tells us Gerrold's second story of the Star Wolf, a military 'liberty ship' of humanity's space fleet. Considered a 'Jonah' because of her inadvertant role in the devastating (for humanity) Battle of Marathon, the ship and her crew now race frantically to find a saboteur on-board so that they can join the fleet in its latest battle with the Morthan Authority.

The Morthans (More-than, get it?) are a genetically, biologically, and technologically engineered off-shoot of humanity that no longer consider themselves human. And they've decided to eradicate humanity. Not all Morthans are down with this plan -- the Star Wolf's security officer is a Morthan 'Tyger' named Brik. But enough are. Humanity may be doomed.

One of Gerrold's points in this and other Star Wolf novels is one that he also made in his non-fiction books on Star Trek. The probable distances involved in space combat should make the whole enterprise resemble submarine warfare. This makes for some tense combat scenes.

Portions of the book don't read like a novel so much as they read like technical sections from a 'Bible' for a TV show that never existed -- we learn an awful lot about the technology of the world of Star Wolf. I enjoyed these sections, but they may be tough, technobabble sledding for some. Recommended.

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