The Nightmare Men: “The Ghost-Seer”

Saturday, October 1st, 2011 | Posted by Josh Reynolds

9781840225396Aylmer Vance, agent of the enigmatic Ghost Circle, made his first appearance on the nightmare stage in 1914. The creation of husband-and-wife writing team Alice and Claude Askew, Vance appeared in eight consecutive issues of The Weekly Tale-Teller between July and August. The stories-“The Invader”, “The Stranger”, “Lady Green-Sleeves”, “The Fire Unquenchable”, “The Vampire”, “The Boy of Blackstock”, “The Indissoluble Bond” and “The Fear”-ranged from grotesque to gentle, and are, by and large, of a slower pace than those featuring Vance’s contemporaries, such as Carnacki. Only one of the stories has been regularly anthologized (“The Vampire”), with the rest languishing in obscurity until the release of recent collections by Ash-Tree Press and Wordsworth Editions respectively.

Like John Silence, Vance inhabits an England of soft spiritual influence, where elementals, ancient memories and ghostly manifestations cling to the unseen corners and visit just long enough to inject the mundane with a booster shot of the strange. Unlike Carnacki’s Outer Monstrosities and Malign Visitors, the apparitions that Vance faces are utterly human in their aspect, if not their motivation. Death is no barrier to the desires of the flesh or the dreams of the determined, and it is when these elements intrude on the hard-won peace of the Edwardian mind that the Ghost-Seer must intervene.

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The Nightmare Men: “The Ghost-Finder”

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 | Posted by Josh Reynolds

Carnacki!William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki outlived his creator with a tenacity that Hodgson, a bantam rooster of a man, would have appreciated. Thomas Carnacki, resident of 472 Cheyne Walk, London, first appeared in a series of five stories (“Gateway of the Monster”, “The House Among the Laurels”, “The Whistling Room”, “The Horse of the Invisible”, and “The Searcher of the End House”) in The Idler Magazine in the January through April, as well as June, issues of 1910. But despite Hodgson’s death in World War I, Carnacki carried on in a further four stories (“The Thing Invisible”, “The Hog”, “The Haunted Jarvee” and “The Find”) retrieved from Hodgson’s papers by his wife. All nine stories are available in a variety of printed, electronic and audio forms.

But that wasn’t the end. Carnacki’s career was further chronicled by other writers, including A. F. Kidd, Andrew Cartmel, Barbara Hambly, Alberto Lopez Aroca, Kim Newman, Willie Meikle and Alan Moore. He battled evil alongside the Second Doctor and Sherlock Holmes, as well as Mina Murray’s League. He appeared on television, played ably by Donald Pleasance. He’s even inspired a concept album! But in each of his incarnations, Carnacki combined ancient sorceries and Edwardian science to face the squealing, swine-faced threats of the Outer Void.

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The Nightmare Men: “The Diehard”

Sunday, August 7th, 2011 | Posted by Josh Reynolds

crerarShiela Crerar, psychic investigator and adventuress, first burst into public view in the pages of The Blue Magazine in 1920 with “The Eyes of Doom”. The obscure creation of the intriguingly enigmatic Ella Scrymsour, Crerar battled ghosts, werewolves and gibbering ghouls of all types from May of 1920 to October of that same year, appearing in a grand total of six stories which vanished into the literary ether when The Blue Magazine folded not long after. Luckily for aficionados of occult sleuths, Ash Tree Press released a lovely collection in 2006, marking the first time these stories were collected or reprinted in any form.

Beginning with the aforementioned “The Eyes of Doom”, in which Crerar confronted the eponymous vengeful spirit, the series progressed with “The Death Vapour”, “The Room of Fear”, “The Phantom Isle”, “The Werewolf of Rannoch”, and “The Wraith of Fergus McGinty”. Unlike her masculine counterparts in the occult detective business, Crerar is a two-fisted phantom fighter, wading into supernatural situations with little more than guts, brains and a distinct lack of fear bolstered by harsh economic necessity. Not for her the remote recordings of Dr. Hesselius or the psychical solutions of John Silence. Instead she pounced willy-nilly on lycanthropes and luminescent manifestations, sinking her teeth into matters both mundane and malevolent with equal determination.

Say hello to Shiela Crerar, the Scottish terrier of the psychic set.

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The Nightmare Men: “Physician Extraordinary”

Sunday, July 24th, 2011 | Posted by Josh Reynolds


‘Rich by accident and a doctor by choice, John Silence took only those cases which interested him.’

The above is from “A Psychical Invasion” (1908), the first of Algernon Blackwood’s stories to feature Dr. John Silence, the ‘psychic doctor’.  Blackwood chronicled six of Silence’s cases, though only five appear in the initial collection, John Silence (containing “A Psychical Invasion”, “Ancient Sorceries”, “The Nemesis of Fire”, “Secret Worship”, and “The Camp of the Dog”; “A Victim of Higher Space”, the sixth story, was included in later collections) released in 1908 (then re-issued in 1942). Even if you can’t get your hands on one of the many reprint collections (or on the 1942 re-issue as I was lucky enough to do), you can rest easy…Blackwood’s work is in the public domain and is freely available from a variety of electronic sources.

The stories themselves are in the inimitable Blackwood style, seen at its most effective in “The Wendigo” and “The Willows”, and display the author’s interest in the occult. The horrors that Silence faces are nebulous things, at once more vast than the horizon and smaller than the inside of a cupboard. They range from nightmare assaults out of deep time to unrequited yearnings gone impossibly savage, originating in both human action as well as from events far outside of human understanding. Time and space are suggestions at best, and as in the works of Hodgson and Lovecraft, reality itself comes under assault from outside entities which seek to impose themselves on their victims.

Enter John Silence, MD.

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The Nightmare Men: “A Doctor, Darkly”

Friday, July 8th, 2011 | Posted by Josh Reynolds

800px-carmillaIt’s always best to begin at the start, to quote no one in particular. We’ll start with the introductions: my name is Josh Reynolds and I wanted to be a detective when I grew up…no, not just a detective.

I wanted to be an occult detective. I wanted to be Donald Pleasance hunting down the Horse of the Invisible, or Peter Cushing making a cross out of candlesticks and shoving them right all up in Christopher Lee’s fang-y mug. I wanted to be Carl Kolchak, Thomas Carnacki and Dr. Strange. I wanted to bust up eldritch cults, Draculas and devil-worshipping biker gangs.

Unfortunately, my wife won’t let me. So, instead, I scratch the monster-hunting, ghost-busting itch by writing…well, stuff like this. ‘This’, of course, being ‘The Nightmare Men’ (of which this is the first installment, natch), a series of semi-regular essays on the subject of occult detectives; one part introduction, one part analysis, all awesome, all the time. Basically, if you’ve ever wanted a primer on occult detectives, the Nightmare Men is for you. And we begin with the granddaddy of them all…

Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dr. Martin Hesselius.

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The Stark House Algernon Blackwood, edited by Mike Ashley

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-small The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-back-small
The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-small The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-back-small

I’ve been enjoying the attractive and affordable Stark House reprints of the work of Algernon Blackwood, much of which has been out of print for many decades. If I’ve counted correctly (and no guarantee of that) there have been ten volumes so far, collecting some dozen novels and six collections, all released under their Supernatural Classics banner in handsome trade paperbacks. Two more have arrived recently(ish), a slender collection titled The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings, and an omnibus of two lesser-known novels, The Promise of Air/The Garden of Survival, both edited with fascinating introductions by Mike Ashley. Here’s a snippet from Mike’s intro to the latter.

Unfortunately for Blackwood, no sooner had he completed The Promise of Air, than tragedy struck. His brother, Stevie, who had long been in poor health, died on 16 June 1917 aged only forty-nine. There were deaths of other close friends, along with Blackwood’s every day witness of death working as an Intelligence Agent in Switzerland and as a Searcher for the Red Cross. Blackwood needed to express his innermost feelings and those emerged in a highly personal document later called The Garden of Survival. Blackwood had no intention of publishing it until others who read his manuscript implored him to do so.

The Garden of Survival is more a novella (taking up a mere 52 pages in this edition), but it made an impact. The Bookman called it “A remarkable psychological study,” and the Boston Herald said, “Mr. Blackwood makes the occult seem part and parcel of daily life.”

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A Spooky Trip Back to the Golden Age of Weird: The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin, by Seabury Quinn

Thursday, April 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Horror on the Links The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin Volume One-small The Devil's Rosary The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin Volume Two-small The Dark Angel The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin Volume Three-small

Seabury Quinn’s occult detective Jules de Grandin first appeared in Weird Tales in 1925 and, in over 90 stories published over the next 26 years, he squared off against ghosts, werewolves, satanists, serial killers, and more sinister things. His adventures were among the most popular ever published in that venerable old pulp, surpassing even the legendary exploits of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

Publishers’s Weekly had this to say about the first installment of The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin, The Horror on the Links, released by Night Shade Books in April 2017:

The first volume… is a fun, spooky trip back to the golden age of weird. Each story is narrated by de Grandin’s bemused and long-suffering friend Dr. Samuel Trowbridge, and most include de Grandin’s concluding explanation of the how and why of the events. Each story has its merits, but standouts include the shudder-worthy “The Isle of Missing Ships,” in which de Grandin and Trowbridge’s ship is overtaken by pirates; they end up stranded on an island where a strange man dwells in a lavish underwater cave and “long pork” is on the menu. “The Great God Pan” sees de Grandin and Trowbridge among a bevy of beauties in thrall to a strange guru. In other stories, the duo face werewolves, disembodied hands, and an evil scientist who keeps horrifying “pets” in his cellar. Seabury had a keen imagination and gift for atmosphere, and, even though modern readers may flinch a bit at some of the dated viewpoints and tropes, they’re likely to still have a grand time.

In the Jules de Grandin entry of The Nightmare Men, his long-running Black Gate series on occult detectives, Josh Reynolds offered his own thoughtful assessment of this great pulp hero. Here it is.

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The Late October Fantasy Magazine Rack

Sunday, October 29th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Analog Science Fiction November December 2017-rack Knights of the Dinner Table 247-small Lightspeed October 207-small Locus magazine October 2017-small
Luna Station Quarterly 31-small The Dark October 2017-small Weirbook Annual 1 Witches-small Meeple Monthly October 2017-small

There’s a new face in the crowd this week — Luna Station Quarterly, a speculative fiction journal that showcases emerging women authors. I’ve included issue #31 in the mix above; the magazine is now in its 8th year, so it’s high time we paid attention. Here’s the complete list of magazines that won my attention in late October (links will bring you to magazine websites).

Analog Science Fiction & Fact — fiction by BG writer Bill Johnson (“Mama Told Me Not to Come,” BG4), plus Catherine Wells, Scott Edelman, Robert Reed, Sean McMullen, and many others
Knights of the Dinner Table — Issue #247 has 20 pages of strips, plus “Getting the Band Back Together, and Other Campaign Starters” by James Davenport
Lightspeed — issue #89 has an original Dungeonspace novella from BG writer Jeremiah Tolbert (“Groob’s Stupid Grubs,” BG15), plus Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirksy, Adam-Troy Castro, A. Merc Rustad, and Aliette de Bodard
Locus — issue 681 has interviews with James Patrick Kelly and Annalee Newitz, a column by Kameron Hurley, an obituary of Jerry Pournelle, reports from Worldcon 75, and plenty of reviews
Luna Station Quarterly — fresh fiction from Jennifer Lyn Parsons, Maria Haskins, Sandy Parsons, Anna Novitzky, Charity West, and many others
The Dark — new fiction from Darcie Little Badger and Davide Camparsi, plus reprints by Angela Slatter and Maria Dahvana Headley
Weirdbook Annual #1: Witches — new stories by BG writers John R. Fultz and Josh Reynolds, plus John Linwood Grant, Adrian Cole, Paul Dale Anderson, Scott Hutchison, Andre E. Harewood, and others
Meeple Monthly — all the news on the latest SF and fantasy board games, with a Starfinder Miniatures cover story, plus Mountains of Madness, The Mystery of Bluebeard’s Bride, 13th Age Bestiary 2, and tons more

Click any of the thumbnail images above for bigger images. Our early October Fantasy Magazine Rack is here.

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Future Treasures: John Silence–Physician Extraordinary / The Wave by Algernon Blackwood

Saturday, September 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

John Silence Physician Extraordinary - The Wave-back-small John Silence Physician Extraordinary - The Wave-small

I’ve heard a lot of praise heaped on Algernon Blackwood’s 1908 collection John Silence–Physician Extraordinary over the years. In his review of Blackwood’s 1914 collection Incredible Adventures, Ryan Harvey wrote:

Of all the practitioners of the classic “weird tale,” which flourished in the early twentieth century before morphing into the more easily discerned genres of fantasy and horror, none entrances me more than Algernon Blackwood. Looking at the stable of the foundational authors of horror — luminaries like Poe, James, le Fanu, Machen, Lovecraft — it is Blackwood who has the strongest effect on me. Of all his lofty company, he is the one who seems to achieve the most numinous “weird” of all…

In my view, Blackwood achieved his finest work in his earlier collections The Listener and Other Stories (1907), John Silence — Physician Extraordinary (1908), and The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), where he combined his weird adventures with aspects of horror and fear. These earlier classics are supernatural horror, but are also superb works of mood.

Josh Reynolds discussed the collection in detail as part of his occult detective series The Nightmare Men here at Black Gate.

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Unbound Worlds on 7 Great Occult Detectives

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Greywaker Kat Richardson-small Ben Aaronovitch Midnight Riot-small Simon Green Something from the Nightside-small

Matt Staggs seems to be most productive blogger over at Unbound Worlds, the house blog of Penguin Random House. He’s certainly produced most of my favorite stuff over there recently, including 4 Epic Fantasy Novels Written Before The Lord of the Rings, Have a Look at D&D Creator Gary Gygax’s FBI File, and 3 Great Novels to Read After You’ve Seen Wonder Woman.

But the piece I find myself returning to multiple times in the past two weeks is his June 5th article “7 of Urban Fantasy’s Great Occult Detectives,” in which he showcases some of the recent heroes and heroines who’ve followed in the footsteps of famous ghost hunters like Carnacki The Ghost Finder, Jules de Grandin, Aylmer Vance, John Thunstone, Titus Crow, and many others. Staggs proves this proud sub-genre is far from dead, and his proof includes series from Jim Butcher, Daniel José Older, Seanan McGuire, Laurel K. Hamilton, and others. Here’s a few of my favorites from his list.

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