Out of the Void With William Hope Hodgson
It may have been during the first episode of The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel that William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Carnacki and the series of short stories he appeared in was mentioned.
This was before the documentary gave a little too much screen time to YouTube/podcast conspiracy theorists and deviated from genuinely interesting exploration of a mysterious disappearance and the creepy hotel where it happened, veering into that absurd faked moon landing Room 237 territory.
Or it may have been someone on Twitter who mentioned the stories, if I was scrolling while watching The Vanishing… because I can’t just let myself focus on one thing at a time anymore. I can’t find a tweet from anyone I follow about Carnacki from that time, although a couple authors have mentioned him before.
Whatever the trigger, the author’s name rang a bell. I remembered quoting him before. But I wasn’t familiar with what he’d written. Authors and titles all start to sound familiar after a while, and #gsbauthorquotes has only made the mountain of my to read pile even more dangerous to climb.
Maybe it’s been my recent interest in writing more horror or occult and supernatural themed stories, but the Carnacki stories in particular piqued my interest in a way they hadn’t a few years ago when I first quoted Hodgson.
I had to get a copy of the stories which were originally published in the illustrated magazine The Idler beginning in 1910 with “The Gateway of the Monster.”
In 1913, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder was first published and included six tales. Three of the Carnacki stories were published posthumously, which led to debunked claims that two of them had been authored by August Derleth, the editor of the 1948 Arkham House edition. That edition was the first time all the Carnacki stories appeared together and further editions and collections have typically published all nine.
Hodgson was killed at the Fourth Battle of Ypres when struck by artillery fire. His death is recorded as either the 17th or 19th of April, 1918. Despite his sailing experience Hodgson had insisted on joining the Officer Training Corps and receiving a commission in the Royal Artillery. Reenlisting following a serious injury he returned to the front where he’d be killed.
That’s kind of how I ended up with this amazing, grotesque, pulptastic vintage paperback, or at least reading it now.
Since the exact date of Hodgson’s death in World War I is unknown—either April 17th or 19th—it seemed a good time to pull this one out and read a little.
Oddly, it begins with “The Thing Invisible” and not “The Gateway of the Monster” which was the first to be published. It seems “The Thing Invisible” was the last of the tales to be published in Hodgson’s lifetime, in 1912. When the single volume of stories was published a year later, this story was placed first, perhaps due to its popularity. Readers may have been more likely to recognize that title having just seen it in The New Magazine. That’s how the stories have generally been reprinted since, even with the addition of the three posthumous tales.
I’ve only read the first story so far, but it’s been enjoyable and I’m definitely slipping down the rabbit hole of adaptations and other works inspired by Hodgson’s occult creations.
Given how much of his writing built upon his years of experiences at sea, I’d love to read a fictional story about why he insisted on staying on land. A specter who chased him from the sea and eventually found him in Belgium. Or perhaps I’ve listened to The Magnus Archives’ episode “The Piper” about Wilfred Owen’s death in World War I too many times.
Even if that particular story doesn’t exist, I’m sure there are enough homages and adaptations beyond Hodgson’s original work to keep me entertained for a while.
False Value In the Format Wars
Most readers have a preference for particular format of book they prefer—hardcover vs paperback. And some, like myself, may get deeper into that by saying for certain genres or even series that we love we need them in a particular format. I think it might be tied to the memory associated with how we first read the book, or it may be a love for used books with awesome vintage covers.
With Loren Estleman I started reading his Amos Walker series as mass market paperbacks that I bought used and cheap, and that was so perfect for this character and style of writing. Down the line I ran into problems finding those titles in the smaller paperback size (or the covers were awful, I can’t remember) and got stuck with a trade paper back and a couple hardcovers. It’s awful.
Pulp, private detective mysteries are meant to be read as pocket-sized paperbacks that can beaten to hell. They need to be small enough to stash in the inside pocket of your trench coat when the guy you’re tailing comes out, but thick enough to stop a bullet when you get double crossed.
Oddly enough, the classics like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett I’ll take in the larger trade paperback, probably because that’s all I’ve ever seen them in, but also they’re not huge books. The thin size makes up for it—and they look great on your bookshelf.
I’ve realized today that there’s another level to this bibliopathy that extends to audiobooks. The majority of my reading has been done through audiobooks with only a dozen (if I’m lucky) of the books that I read a year being actual physical books.
I recently finished “Lies Sleeping”, the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London’ series. I started the series when the bookstore I worked at received free promo copies for the first and second books in the series, timed with the second book’s release. This means I have two horrible US publisher covers that don’t match the artwork for the rest of the series, which thankfully switched over to the UK covers for the third book.
Actually, the fourth but somehow I have book three in the “good” cover—do you need to know any of this? Yes. Yes, you do, because the same book lovers who are obsessed with the format of their books with not hesitate to buy a new copy of a book they’ve already read of the cover is really cool.
It’s ok though, my wife wants to start reading the series so that means we can rebuy the first two books and set this egregious wrong right.
Now nearly ten years later I’m still reading this series, always in paperback and always taking far longer to read than I expect. But I’ve made a mistake, a horrible mistake that’s made me briefly question my love for the series, the universe and everything. I started listening to book eight “False Value” as an audiobook. And I just can’t do it.
After so long and so many books I have a clear picture of what Peter Grant looks like and sounds like. Listening to it now is somehow off—the voice, the tone, the pacing, the rhythm of Aaronovitch’s writing.
Part of this can be that this book is a departure (at least a couple chapters in—it’s a series about magic, you never know what’s going to happen) from the Faceless Man storyline that’s dominated the previous books. Peter is out of his element, out of much of the world we’ve grown accustomed to over time. Is the change in story jarring to me? Is it the format? Is it just me?
Fortunately, I have a physical copy of the book as well. But it’s a hardcover. So now we’re back to the Amos Walker ‘but I always read them in paperback’ conundrum. We’ll see….
I got to thinking about this, the formats of books and all, because a friend mentioned he was grateful for his insomnia since he’s been able to binge ‘Longmire’ on Netflix.
I told him if he wanted to cure his insomnia all he had to do was read “The Cold Dish”, the first book in the series. I compared reading the slim book to those shots of Walt standing alone on the Wyoming prairie being battered by a frigid, desolate wind.
But then I started thinking about format and added the audiobook to my queue to test this out. Maybe the book just isn’t for me and I’ll give it up, but maybe I’ll enjoy it more as an audiobook.
My wife and I have both listened to and loved Leigh Bardugo’s “Ninth House” about supernatural secret societies that’s told in alternating voices. She spoken with people who have read it and didn’t enjoy it, and encouraged them to listen to it instead. It certainly could be the structure of the book that lends itself to being performed rather than simply read, with the two narrators and flashbacks.
This is similar to how I couldn’t stop listening to “The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” but she’s still working her way slowly through the print copy of it, probably hating me a little bit more every time she picks it up. I found it to be a fascinatingly inventive take on the classic Agatha Christie style whodunit and an addictive audiobook to listen to. But like with “Ninth House” there are multiple voices and characters speaking to the reader—even if in “The 7½ Deaths…” it’s the same narrator speaking through different characters.
Perhaps some books are meant to be experienced and performed, to exist in another medium beyond the page to capture one’s imagination, to trigger that magical response to a story that will resonate within us and keep us as a reader or listener hooked to the unfolding words.
A Tragedy Recreated: Reading “Clap When You Land”
As I was reading the last few chapters of “Clap When You Land” news broke of a horrible plane crash in Pakistan that I can’t help but find similar to the crash that acts as a catalyst in Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel.
The crash that inspired Acevedo was Flight 587, which due to pilot error and mechanical failure, crashed in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens shortly after take off.
The flight was en route to the capital of the Dominican Republic, and as Acevedo writes in her author’s notes at the end of the novel, ninety percent of the passengers were of Dominican descent, many of whom were returning home. She shares her personal experience as a young girl as the New York Dominican community was shattered.
Twenty years later, Acevedo was able to use that tragedy and the stories from her community that came out of the event to craft a poetic novel of family, of resilience and the strength that can be found when one is able to meet their history head on, even if in grief or anger or betrayal, and make it their own.
Now, in a city on the other side of the world, another plane destined for another capital city has crashed into a heavily populated area. Mechanical failure is again seemingly to blame, with reports of malfunctioning landing gear preventing a safe landing at the nearby airport.
But that certainly won’t comfort the families of the 99 people on board or the dozens believed to have been killed on the ground. Families who, like Acevedo’s main characters, will oscillate between denial and hope and heartbreaking grief in the weeks ahead.
One further tragedy of Flight 587 is how it was overshadowed by 9/11 as it occurred two months and one day after that event. When the cause of the crash was ruled pilot error and not terrorism the story seemed to be abandoned by the media and many of us not affected by it probably have little or no memory of it even happening.
I would hope that our memory of Flight PK8303, overshadowed this time by a global pandemic, is not so short as it was in 2001. But as Acevedo proves by so powerfully and poetically capturing the dynamic and turbulent grieving process of her characters, and her own memories and experiences two decades ago, there will always be those who remember, who transform their memory and heartbreak into something tangible and shareable, and in doing so welcome those of us not touched directly by tragedy into their community.