I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Scott Gable asking if I would be interested in reviewing Ghost in the Cogs. I had a lot of commitments on my plate (still do), but since the last steampunk anthology I’d read and the last ghost story anthology I’d read had both been quite enjoyable, I decided to give it a go. This blending of genres seemed a natural combination, and it’s not one I’ve seen done a lot. Now, I’ve not read a large amount of steampunk, primiarily because there’s so much of it and I only have so much time. It seems I made the right decision to read Ghost in the Cogs.
There are 22 stories in this anthology. I’m not going to attempt to provide a quick synopsis of all of them. I’ll do what I usually do and highlight the ones I liked best. But I want to make some general remarks before I do.
The first thing I want to say is that this is one of the more enjoyable anthologies I’ve picked up in a while, and I’m including some short fiction magazines I’ve not reviewed (partly because I haven’t finished them). All of the stories are well written. I liked almost all of them, and the two or three didn’t work for me was because they went places that weren’t to my general taste. Every single story had aspects I did enjoy, so there weren’t any I flat out didn’t like. Steampunk often has a formality to it as well as a gentle humor other subgenres lack, which I think is part of the reason I enjoyed this anthology.
Second, the first thing that comes to (my) mind when you mention ghosts and steampunk is putting a ghost in some type of mechanical contraption. There were some stories that played with that idea. But by and large, I found the strongest stories to be the ones that went in a different direction. There’s quite a wide variety here, including two (count ’em, two) stories featuring William Hope Hodgson’s ghost hunter Carnacki.
So before I forget my manners completely, I’d like to thank Scott Gable for the review copy. Broken Eye Books is a publisher I’ll be keeping my eye on.
“Asmodeus Flight” by Siobhan Carroll concerns a young woman whose airship engine has been stolen. In this story, airship engines contain ghosts. No one thinks they’re actually sentient. What Effie discovers is going to turn her world upside down. There were a lot of hints in this one about a wider world that draws on the science fantasy of the Victorian era I’d like to see more of.
Howard Andrew Jones turns in a solid story with “The Ghost Pearl”, in which a couple of crooks have to rid themselves of a cursed pearl. This was one of the best in the book.
Eddy Webb gives us the first Carnacki story with “The Blood on the Walls”. It’s a top notch tale in which a recently widowed army officer asks Carnacki to investigate the strange goings-on in his new estate.
“Tipping Point” (Nayad Monroe) is the story of a young girl who is a medium. She was put in an asylum because of the ghosts she could see, specifically the ghost of her stillborn twin sister. She’s been “rescued” by a carnival owner who has a means of using her to make the ghosts visible. Only the process is killing her…
“T-Hex” by Jonah Buck is one of those stories which goes in directions you don’t expect but when you reach the end, you realize that everything that happened was inevitable. Here a young woman who exposes psychic frauds discovers that the ghosts conjured by one showman are tragically real. This is another world I’d like to see more of.
There’s an intriguing idea that’s the kernel of Wendy Nikel‘s “The Book of Futures”. A room in a monastary containing all the books of prophecy and prediction ever written. A room that appears to have become haunted. The steampunk elements in this one weren’t as prominent as most of the other stories, but it was a clever tale.
Of the stories in which a ghost is imprisoned/placed/enters a mechanical contraption, this is the one I liked best. “Clockwork of Sorrow” (Spencer Ellsworth) is written is a Rod-Serling type style and concerns the sacrifices siblings make for each other.
Finally, the last story that really stood out to me, Liane Merciel‘s “The Lady in the Ghastlight” concerns a man of reason who pays a high price to understand what animates a dancing woman in a carnival sideshow. He doesn’t realize just what price he’s going to be asked to pay. This one was one of the creepiest stories in the book and doesn’t take the easy ending.
Those are the stories Iiked best. Of course, YMMV. Ghost in the Cogs is an anthology I recommend to fans of both ghost stories and steampunk without reservation. It went on sale yesterday (Halloween), so check it out.
Ghost in the Cogs will be a Featured Book at Adventures Fantastic Books for the next few weeks.