Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ranking the William Hope Hodgson stories


I read my first W. H. H. around the same time I read my first Arthur Machen and my first Robert Sheckley. All were experiences of elation at discovering a new favourite author, followed by gradual disappointment when nothing else lived up to that first one.

That's one of the advantages of reading entire bibliographies in strict chronological order, rather than heading straight to the classics; you have to put in the work to earn the highs.

I hadn't read many of Hodgson's short stories though, and since everything of his I had "read" before was in passive audiobook form (probably when distracted by Dizzy or something), I decided to give the novels a fair second hearing reading too. Even The Night Land. People seem to love that one. I must have been mistaken. Why do I do this to myself?

So I don't have to do this a third time, here's The Top 106 William Hope Hodgson Tales.


Key for the sake of a bit of colour:

Novels
Sargasso Sea stories
Carnacki stories
Captain Jat stories
Captain Gault stories
D.C.O. Cargunka stories



106. The Last Word in Mysteries (1914)

One of several fragments comprehensively included in Night Shade Books' five-volume Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, it would have been nice if this came with an introduction so I knew what I was reading.

A captain (which one?) tells the uninteresting story of how his lover was kidnapped once, but then found. It's already taken longer to write this than to read the thing. I appreciate you helping me to bump up the stats, guys, but did you have to include every miscellaneous scrap? Why didn't you include 'Through the Vortex of a Cyclone' anyway?

105. The Girl with the Grey Eyes (1913)

A spoiled young fellow fetishises a dainty young lady. He buys a yacht to impress her, and deliberately capsises it so he can be her hero. Instead of getting his ironic comeuppance, they marry.

104. Kind, Kind and Gentle Is She (1913)

Hodgson's romances enter Mills & Boon territory. The captain's woman gives music lessons to a strong, sinewy private with the voice of an angel, and starts to doubt her fidelity.

Whom shall she choose? Luckily the usurper dies in glorious battle, so she can just carry on as normal.

103. Date 1965: Modern Warfare (1908)

Hodgson's dystopian satire is hardly Orwellian in its prescience or salience. Forget the naive predictions about monorails and flying boats, it's really a scathing criticism of war taken to its illogical conclusion that soldiers will be delighted to eat their enemies.

It was written before World War I and makes the same points about mad generals and futile slaughter as the best trench poetry, but it's not like that won't have been the general sentiment anyway.

102. The Dumpley Acrostics (1914)

This is the bare bones outline that Hodgson or August Derleth would later add Carnacki brand padding to. It's a mildly ingenious bit of detective work, but it really needs a story and characters around it to be anything more than Hodgson's clever note to self.

101. The Find (pub.1947)

One of two posthumous Carnacki stories revised by everyone's favourite weird meddler August Derleth, this likely wasn't intended to be a Carnacki story at all.

The original version, 'The Dumpley Acrostics,' omits the detective's name and only features the denouement. The other clue is that there's nothing supernatural about the case that warrants the Ghost-Finder's presence.

Did Hodgson add the Carnacki branding, or was Derleth taking liberties again? Either way, making it a Carnacki story only serves to make it the worst Carnacki story by a long way, a distracting interlude in the collections.

100. Senator Sandy Mac Ghee (1914)

This fragment in which Captain Gault tells the story of a sneaky jewel heist may have been intended as the start (or middle, or end) of an uncompleted story. More likely a thing Hodgson wrote and didn't find anything to do with.

99. My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer (1911)

His heartwarmers are never as good as his spine chillers. If you're a sentimental sort, you might find something in this tale of a priest helping out his community. But you'll have to struggle through Hodgson's akwahrd attimp's to tr'nscribhe t'Irish accint.

98. The Promise (pub.1996)

Hodgson dusts off the 18th century vernacular (or his imagined version thereof) for a pointless tale of pious superstition.

97. The Smugglers (1911)

Despite his reputation as the grandfather of Weird fiction, Hodgson wasn't above writing trashy romance for cash. He didn't write many of them, but enough to be an annoyance to the comprehensive reader.

There's really not much to recommend in this tale of honest valour, unsurprising betrayal and drawing room harp sessions. If you were a repressed 1911 woman, I suppose there was mild swooning potential.

96. Judge Barclay's Wife (1912)

In this sentimental parable, a callous old nag belatedly learns to value life when she realises condemned men have mothers too. Didn't occur to her before.

95. The Heathen's Revenge (a.k.a. The Way of the Heathen, pub.1988)

Presumably fresh off reading some Weird Tales, Bill was inspired to write a violently sexist and racist little tale of the perils of venturing vaguely East. If you must go, at least have the sense to leave your womenfolk at home. It's just asking for trouble.

94. Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance (1918)

This charming romance of shaky science and anti-Semitism may have been the last story published in Hodgson's lifetime. It's a good thing his wife sorted out all the posthumous stuff to clear the air.

93. What Happened in the Thunderbolt (1916)

I thought I was through with the lame romances, but this was one of the worst yet. She's a bonny lass and he has great arms. I wish them all the best.

92. Old Golly (pub.1919)

A murdered man gets his revenge from beyond the grave. He happened to be black, so let's really emphasise that. This wouldn't be one of Hodgson's essential ghost stories, even if it wasn't uncomfortably full of derogatory language.

91. The Heaving of the Log (pub.1988)

Another story of a bullying Second Mate getting his comeuppance, though it goes terminally further than usual. It's only an unpolished, unpublished shortie though, and Hodgson didn't bother to write a proper ending once he'd got his morbid laugh.

90. The Haunting of the Lady Shannon (pub.1975)

This sub-Carnacki "ghost" story took six decades to see print. Combining the common themes of pranking 'prentices and mundane paranormality, it wasn't exactly a lost classic.

89. The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers (1915)

Following Captain Jat convention, the second and final D.C.O. Cargunka story is the weaker of the pair and spoiled by unnecessary racism. These are more light-hearted than Hodgson's typical tales, and it was presumably intended to be hilarious that he blacks up and keeps getting mistaken for an N-word.

88. "Sailormen" (pub.1996)

Another fragment that presumably would have been worked into something more substantial if he'd got round to it, this isn't as evocative as his other stormy encounters.

87. The Getting Even of Tommy Dodd (a.k.a. The Apprentices' Mutiny, 1912)

I don't know much about Hodgson's life, apart from how it prematurely ended in the trenches. But a few of his stories display obvious bitterness about the institutionalised abuse of young 'prentices at sea.

This is the only one that opts for a farcical cross-dressing remedy however.

86. The Mystery of Captain Chappel (1917)

Why Old Cobbler Juk didn't get his own series is beyond me. The literary world is emptier for wont of further cases from the casually racist cobbler-turned-sleuth.

85. Contraband of War (1914)

There are 12 more where this came from, and I'm already not taken with Captain Gault.

There's nothing charming, roguish or otherwise redeeming about him. He's just a despicable criminal, and we're supposed to delight in seeing him get away with all manner of successful smuggling operations.

If this is all leading to a big comeuppance, it might be worth it. It's not going to be worth it.

84. The Home-Coming of Captain Dan (a.k.a. Captain Dan Danblasten, 1918)

There's no one to like or root for in this story of simple greed. A prodigal son returns, loaded with loot, and the whole town naturally desires his ill-gotten gains. None of them deserve it.

83. The Valley of Lost Children (1906)

What starts out as a rustic pastoral idyll darkens abruptly when the child dies. It's Hodgson after all, but this is a speculative spiritual fantasy rather than a horror, and I didn't care for it. Most people choose a comforting fiction to help them deal with their grief, Hodgson just lays another option on the table.

It certainly doesn't help that all the dialogue is rendered really annoyingly as Hodgson strives to accurately transcribe the rural vowels. Maybe this was what inspired Lovecraft to ruin some of his stories doing the same thing.

82. On the Bridge (a.k.a. The Real Thing: On the Bridge, 1912)

I don't know what to make of this. It blatantly alludes to that year's Titanic disaster, least ambiguously in the ever-so-slightly-off date and coordinates at the start, except this ship doesn't hit the iceberg.

Hodgson, or at least his second-person narrator, wants to comfort us that the men in charge of these vessels are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, which is fine. But by making it a literally and figuratively chilling horror story, inviting us to breathe the icy aroma of impending death in our nostrils, it's a tad insensitive. It was never "too soon" in those tough times.

81. The Sharks of the St. Elmo (a.k.a. Fifty Dead Chinamen All in a Row, pub.1988)

I don't know if this Captain Dang has any relation to the character from Hodgson's incomplete 'novel,' but this rip-roaring tale of human trafficking doesn't exactly leave me wanting more.

80. Out of the Storm (1909)

I hate do things the wrong way round, but this is very much the embryonic Lovecraft story.

The anonymous scientist's contraption is only something as simple as a telegraph, enabling him to receive the last words of folk out at sea rather than peering into some other reality. The monstrous visions he describes might just be inclement weather rather than the doings of some ancient god. But the doomed man's testimony is just as far-fetched, right down to him helpfully tapping out the letters to inform us he's dr-ow-ning!

79. The Captain of the Onion Boat (1910)

There's nothing sinister or otherworldly in this straightforward romance of love and longing.

No ambiguous 'act of God' strikes down the nun as she flees her spiritual prison or the ship that carries her and her lover to their new life together. The reader's free to make their own judgement. Good on you.

78. Merciful Plunder (pub.1925)

Kind-hearted Captain Mellor rescues unfairly condemned prisoners from the gallows in this tale of action and self-congratulation. Well done.

77. The Plans of the Reefing Bi-Plane (pub.1996)

The randoly reformed Captain Gault does his patriotic duty and makes some cash in the bargain. This final Gault story wasn't published for decades, but it wasn't exactly worth the wait.

76. The Getting Even of "Parson" Guyles (1914)

Usually, Hodgson's downtrodden victims embrace their suffering nobly. Not "Parson" Guyles, he heads straight for the criminal option, Laird bless 'im.

75. The Friendship of Monsieur Jeynois (1915)

I don't know if the monsieur was based on anyone Hodgson knew, but he puts him on an impossible pedestal. Brave, noble and charitable to the end. His hatred of his countrymen even excuses him being French.

74. In the Danger Zone (pub.1919)

Hodgson's naval days were behind him by the time war broke out, but he clearly kept up – this submarine story is every bit as authentic in the details as his steam and sailing yarns.

His war stories tend towards the heroic and patriotic, which is understandable. It's a shame he didn't make it to the other side so he could start writing foolish horror stories again.

73. Jem Binney and the Safe at Lockwood Hall (1916)

Hodgson foreshadows Speed by eight decades with another celebratory criminal caper in which a safe-cracker plays a phonograph recording of himself coughing through the night to provide an air-tight alibi. There's not much more to it.

72. A Timely Escape (pub.1922)

Hodgson's final, posthumously published romance at least has a touch of oddness about it.

Were we supposed to imagine unimaginable horror when a woman's young fiance spends more and more time hidden away at his mentor's house? And comes back exhausted, no less!

Rest assured the explanation is more innocently villainous, as the older man's merely wired him up to electrodes to steal his ideas. Hodgson loved his pseudoscience.

71. How the Honorable Billy Darrell Raised the Wind (1913)

A heartwarming tale of matrimonial love, strife and men beating the shit out of each other. It probably deserves to be a little higher, if I didn't dislike boxing stories so much. Make your own list.

70. The Regeneration of Captain Bully Keller (a.k.a. The Waterloo of a Hard-Case Skipper, 1914)

Another boxing story, and one of at least ten Hodgson stories dealing with the sore issue of victimised ship's boys. You don't have to dig especially deep to psychoanalyse this author.

69. In the Wailing Gully (1911)

A peaceful landscaping session becomes a swashbuckling adventure when our painter chances across some sought-after treasure that no one else ever spotted in their determined treasure-seeking jaunts over the centuries. Just lucky, I guess.

It's one of Hodgson's romances for cash, so they all live uncharacteristically happily ever after.

68. Mr. Jock Danplank (1912)

Two cousins compete to dig up Uncle's fabled treasure from the garden. We're encouraged to side with one of the spoiled, ungrateful brats, which seems completely arbitrary. Especially as he's already got the cottage.

67. The Diamond Spy (1914)

Captain Gault's burdened with bothersome passengers who are getting in the way of good smuggling. But being devious, he finds a way to prank the worst offenders and get rich off the insults at the same time, so we can enjoy this tale of a wretched criminal ruining some innocent people's careers.

This was Hodgson's most prolific character, so I suppose enough people must have enjoyed it.

66. Jack Grey, Second Mate (a.k.a Second Mate of the Buster, 1913)

You're normally safe with Hodgson as far as backwards attitudes go, but he manages to be both sexist and racist in this tale of frail woman pursued by dago.

There are two women in this story: one of them's prone to fainting and the other descends into melancholic madness and throws herself overboard when she isn't needed any more. Things improve when the lustful situation escalates and the survivor's forced to take up arms rather than just relying on her white knight. But she still mainly does that.

65. How Sir Jerrold Treyn Dealt with the Dutch in Caunston Cove (1916)

When news travels down that those devilish Dutch are raping and pillaging villages along the coast, a pair of teenagers seize the chance to prove themselves through killing.

Hodgson's back to pretending he's writing hundreds of years ago, but this is less fun and more violently depressing than those nautical romps.

64. The Ghosts of the Glen Doon (1911)

This feels like a mash-up of the two previous stories: the crafty theft of 'Bullion' and the ingenious stowaways of 'Water-Logged Ship.' I hope he sent them to different mags to make his writer's block a little less obvious.

63. A Fight with a Submarine (1918)

Self-explanatory.

62. The Adventure of the Headland (1912)

The second and final tale in this failed attempt at a series, I can't say it left me longing for more racist treasure hunting adventures with Pippy and the Cap'n. I hope those green ones are better. (Update: Sort of).

61. Captain Dang (pub.1996)

There's a rumour that Hodgson intended the exploits of this latest character to be his fifth novel, but that's probably as fanciful as claims about Poe's 'The Light-House' (that's October's seasonal reading).

But all we get in these 20-odd pages is salty sea dogs telling each other tall tales and beating each other up a bit. Unless there was an incredible turnaround, it's hardly a lost classic. We should feel sadder about the novels he didn't even get the chance to begin.

60. The Drum of Saccharine (1914)

Gault's eternal obsession with avoiding paying petty duties doesn't make him an easy character to warm to. Once again, I found myself rooting for the pesky customs spy who inevitably ends up foiled. Maybe one day.

59. The German Spy (a.k.a. He "Assists" the Enemy, 1915)

As those speech marks suggest, and as you'd predict by now anyway if you've been following Captain Gault's escapades, he's up to his old tricks again.

He even develops something of a moral compass when tasked with the care of an enemy spy, but it's too little too late to make me warm to the greedy sod.

58. The Room of Fear (pub.1996)

William Hope Hodgson writes Goosebumps. Willie Johnson (don't snigger) is forced to grow out of his childish fears by sleeping all by himself in the West room. Unfortunately, that room happens to be haunted by giant hands.

57. Carnacki, the Ghost Finder (1910 abridgement)

Copyright has always been confusing. Along with some of his other substantial works, Hodgson was evidently advised to baggsy his Carnacki rights in America by hastily printing up these extracts of the most dramatic bits from four tales.

But he seemed to feel some shame in that, so he added interludes by Carnacki himself who's presenting and titling his cases for our enjoyment like he's the Cryptkeeper or something. The shift from reminiscing summary to copy-pasted extract isn't exactly seamless.

56. A Tropical Horror (1905)

The first in a long line of nautical horrors, this one doesn't waste any time introducing its antagonist as it slides its slithering mass aboard.

What ensues is a realistic examination of what would probably happen if your boat got a sea serpent in it. You'd all hide and hope it goes away. Realistically tense and realistically dull.

55. Terror of the Water-Tank (1907)

When you've read a few Hodgson stories, you know this is going to go one of two ways: a mundane Scooby-Doo unmasking or restrained cryptozoology. This feints in one direction, then commits to the other.

Predictable they may be, but at least he keeps varying the species.

54. By the Lee (a.k.a. The Storm, pub.1919)

The description of the hurricane is as vivid and 4D as Hodgson's best work, but after just a couple of pages, the story's cut short just when it was getting interesting. I assume incomplete rather than leaving us on a tantalising cliffhanger.

53. The Island of the Crossbones (1913)

Hodgson's famous weird works are all behind him at this point. Clearly, writing mainstream high seas adventure, mysteries and romances was more productive. Can't really blame him, but it makes chronological reading a lot less enjoyable.

This might as well have been a third Captain Jat story, if the generic crew had stayed aboard and a plucky young cabin boy had accompanied his cap'n to the island. It distinctly lacks weirdness, unless you count the elusive island itself. Even the eerie mystery of the gradually disappearing crew turns out to have a mundane explanation.

52. The Red Herring (1914)

How is Captain Gault going to smuggle his pearls past customs? Personally, the excitement was in hoping he'd finally get caught, but he had to get all clever and triple-crossing. It's a struggle to get through a series when you loathe the character, even if you have to grudgingly admire his cunning sometimes.

51. The Goddess of Death (1904)

This was Hodgson's first published story, so I'll cut it some slack. It is an entertaining ghoulish mystery, even if there's nothing original about it. (Update: I still ended up liking it better than half the later ones. This hasn't been the most inspiring literary month).

His enthusiasm for the implausibly plausible Scooby-Doo ending is there right from the start. Swap the amateur sleuths for a paranormal pro and you'd have the first Carnacki story.

50. The Case of the Chinese Curio Dealer (1914)

Don't worry, it's only a little bit racist. There's some variety too, as the series heads ashore for an action-packed punch-up featuring secret society intrigue and a mummy. I'm making it sound a lot better than it is.

49. From Information Received (1914)

In Hodgson's least usefully titled story, Captain Gault pulls off a successful cigar smuggling operation right under the noses of those customs dupes. He's a crafty divvil! Apart from writing it all down in his diary for anyone to read.

48. My Lady's Jewels (1916)

Captain Gault's public spirited side comes out when he feels duty-bound to help helpless ladies avoid paying tax on their ostentatious jewellery.

He still gets his commission, plus the chance to wax sexist about the Suffragettes using comparisons that are depressingly familiar when applied elsewhere today.

47. The Adventure of the Garter (1916)

Captain Gault lets his guard down and falls for a dainty female passenger, who turns out not to be quite so sweet and innocent after all.

The deception's more blatant than in most of these stories, but the Cap'n still has a trick up his sleeve, or rather up a borrowed dog collar.

46. Trading with the Enemy (1917)

A wily customs official blackmails Captain Gault into doing some traitorous business on his behalf. Gault still comes out the victor and even becomes a little patriotically heroic. I guess Hodgson finally got sick of writing him as irredeemable.

45. We Two and Bully Dunkan (a.k.a. The Trimming of Captain Dunkan, 1914)

Another story of brutal "hazing" at sea, this time going as far as chaining the poor sods up to learn 'em. They get their revenge by making off with the brute's gold, so I guess that means the balance of the universe is restored.

44. The Problem of the Pearls (1915)

The wily smuggler's more of a cheeky scoundrel in this one, which is an improvement over his usual pedantic thriftiness. Aside from the personality improvement, it's the exact same story as most of the Captain Gault tales. Today's contraband is pearls.

43. Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani (a.k.a. The Baumoff Explosive, pub.1919)

The first posthumously published story is a trippy one that sees the welcome return of Hodgson's insane pseudoscience.

A mad/visionary scientist has a theory about how light works that involves vibrations in the Aether, so that's a good, plausible beginning. He also relates it to Christ's suffering on the cross, which he proceeds to relive. All seems to check out.

42. The Painted Lady (a.k.a. Captain Gunbolt Charity and the Painted Lady, 1915)

Hodgson adds an improbable artistic layer to Captain Gault, which makes him a bit less believable but admittedly more likeable. The bar was set pretty low.

This is the silliest of his stories so far, involving the smuggling of a rather famous painting. He goes to painstaking lengths to detail how the theft and forgery was done, but the conclusion's less credible.

41. The Silent Ship (a.k.a. The Phantom Ship, a.k.a. The Third Mates Story, a.k.a. The Silent Ship Tells How Jessop Was Picked Up, pub.1973)

This is a weird little thing. An alternate take on the epilogue of The Ghost Pirates, which spends more time observing the strange events aboard the haunted ship from afar before bringing its only survivor aboard.

Except this time, Jessop (or his anonymous stand-in) dies before getting the chance to relate his cautionary tale. So it's more likely this was Hodgson trying to get double bubble again, by converting part of his novel into an independent short story. But look at the date. Apparently didn't work.

40. The Horse of the Invisible (1910)

The Carnacki stories are getting tediously repetitive now. It feels like Hodgson's stuck in a contract and doesn't really care, but he was probably just short on ideas. This is basically the same as the first one, but with a ghostly horse hoof instead of a hand.

Since he's already used his "it's a trick!" and "it's a g-g-ghost!" endings, this one tries to confound your expectations again. It's both.

39. The House Among the Laurels (1910)

Sometimes there's a real ghost. Other times, like this one, people are just pretending. We never know until the end. It's not like there's a difference in the stock theatrics.

When it does turn out to be a Scooby Doo story, Carnacki looks like a fool for having taken it so seriously, and his rapt audience even bigger fools for having their time wasted before he promptly shoos them away once he's finished telling his brilliant story.

Carnacki doesn't allow a cat to pointlessly die this time, but he does watch on as a dog's killed and dismisses historic tramp deaths because they got what was coming to them. He's not the easiest protagonist to warm to.

38. The Whistling Room (1910)

Apart from the mysterious events sometimes having a rational explanation, all these Carnacki stories are essentially the same.

This time he's doing his preposterous investigations in a castle. Luckily, it turns out to be a genuine haunting, so he doesn't wind up looking like a gullible fool.

37. The Thing Invisible (1912)

In this final tale of the original batch, the Carnacki series collapses into self-parody. So at least it's entertaining. The highlight is Carnacki hiding inside a suit of armour, patiently awaiting the attack of a ghost dagger.

The denouement sees the immoral investigator being only too happy to hush up the attempted murder of a lowly butler so that a criminally insane old man can avoid unnecessary judicial trouble. Carnacki's such a cock.

36. The Riven Night (pub.1973)

This feels like a less ambiguous take on 'The Shamraken Homeward Bounder' that leaps down off the fence into the garden of the supernatural. It's less impressive as a result, even if its effulgent glows and purple haze create a nice atmosphere.

35. Bullion (1911)

A serviceable little Jonathan Creek tale with mysterious whispers, miraculously disappearing gold and sliding panels.

Hodgson could write decent mysteries when he grounded them in mundane reality, rather than what passes for the real world in the sceptical Carnacki cases.

34. The Gateway of the Monster (1910)

I'm not a fan of the Carnacki stories. This first one's at least moodily Gothic with its standard haunted house setting, but its more distinctive touches are a mixed bag.

The gateway of the title – "a gap in the world-hedge" – is the only clue you're dealing with Hodgson rather than any other hack Conan Doyle wannabe. The electric pentacle's just plain silly, and phrases like "the Second Sign of the Saaamaaa Ritual" (six As) only belong in parody.

Points off for killing the cat too, you dick.

33. 'Prentices' Mutiny (a.k.a. Mutiny, 1912)

Monsters aside, Hodgson's sea stories can be relied on for their realism. But he takes special care to convince us that this tense tale of youthful rebellion is a true one.

Much of it probably is, since it's not the first time he's written about plucky teenage 'prentices getting even with the oppressive officers. The rest may be cobbled together from various accounts or just vivid daydreaming from Hodgson's own time at sea.

32. The Mystery of Missing Ships (a.k.a. Ships that Go Missing, 1915)

That title might make you anticipate another fantastic tale of eerie ghost ships and mutated marine life, but this is one of Hodgson's brutally realistic sea stories, tackling the issue of modern (c.1915) piracy.

It's action-packed and pretty nasty. Presumably more down the casual reader's alley than nonsense about living boats and giant crabs.

31. The Haunted "Pampero" (1918)

Young Tom Pemberton doesn't have time for superstitious nonsense when he's offered command of a supposedly "haunted" vessel. What do you think is going to happen, readers?

We'll never be sure exactly what happened. Hodgson leaves it ambiguous whether they were shark bites or a simple stabbing. Maybe that phosphorescent fish had human legs and maybe it didn't. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

30. The Searcher of the End House (1910)

This Carnacki story is slightly less exactly the same than its predecessors. It's still about a haunting that turns out to be a mixture of woo-woo and whoo! whoo!, but by telling us Carnacki's origin story, it succeeds in being superficially different.

The multi-sensory apparitions start out eerily atmospheric too. But as Hodgson's obligated to write all these stories to the same length, they lose their effectiveness before too long.

29. The Thing in the Weeds (a.k.a. An Adventure of the Deep Waters, 1912)

This one doesn't really deserve to stand out from the pack in this way. Sargasso seaweed aside, it has more in common with any number of standard sea monster tales than the other cyan stories.

It starts off promisingly, with a foreboding stench and an unseen monstrosity in the darkness, but then they switch the lights on and it becomes your basic monster movie.

28. The Finding of the Graiken (1913)

This is a little different from Hodgson's other Sargasso Sea stories. It's more modern, set aboard a leisure yacht in the (1913) present rather than a creaky naval vessel, and the voyage into the dread weed-world is a deliberate rescue mission, albeit executed by a madman.

But once we get there, it's just another, lesser riff on those early Sargasso stories and his first novel. The octopuses are regular size this time.

27. The Inn of the Black Crow (1915)

Hodgson takes us back to the time of flintlocks and wenches in this macabre murder investigation. We're promised further investigations from John Dory, Secret Exciseman, but none would materialise. Shame, it was more enjoyable than most of his serials.

26. The Island of the Ud (1912)

Hodgson's second crack at creating a profitable serialised character is more fun than Carnacki, but no more original.

We admire the lean and leathery Captain Jat through the eyes of his trusty cabin boy Pippy, who's heard the cap'n spin a yarn or two in his time about treasure, exotic women and frightening monsters. This story has all three.

Hodgson's crab women are no less credible than House on the Borderland's pig men, but this is less a Weird classic and more a cynically crafted adventure to sell to the masses. Enjoyable either way.

25. The Wild Man of the Sea (pub.1926)

Hodgson doesn't want us to fear the sea. We should have a healthy respect for its power to take life, and in this story, we're even encouraged to see its wondrous side.

The Wild Man is one of Hodgson's most memorable characters, an inspiration to cabin boys everywhere. Just make sure you read some of his less savoury stories too, so you get a more balanced perspective on the nautical life.

24. The Real Thing: "S.O.S." (1917)

This pairs with 'On the Bridge' as one of Hodgson's 'real' stories, though a basic google confirms it's noting of the sort. That means it's instantly less disrespectful and easier to enjoy than his contemporaneous Titanic survival horror.

The adversary is fire this time, and real or no, the determined rescue mission to reach the doomed ship in time feels tangibly, sweatily credible.

23. The Hog (pub.1947)

It's dubious how much of this is Hodgson's original story and how much August Derleth's polish. The distractingly Lovecraftian phrasing is the most obvious clue, but there's enough eerie boundary-blurring and ludicrous, straight-faced pseudoscience that I'm happy to accept it as an original.

It's a relief to get to the end of the Carnacki stories. Though in committing fully to the weirdness and not being so preoccupied with the mainstream audience, this one's more enjoyable than most.

It's the sort of story that could mess you up if you're in a chemically altered state of mind, especially if you've got something against pigs. But Hodgson's adept at ruining his potential classics, and Carnacki's methods are more laughable than ever – from colourful disco lighting to rubber suits literally insulating the wearer against the Outer Monstrosities.

22. The Ghost Pirates (1909 abridgement)

Hodgson's third novel was on the short side already, so unlike his fourth, it doesn't benefit from chopping down.

This copyright-securing trailer doesn't really work as a short story. It skips around to some of the best bits, but there's no satisfying ending.

21. The Haunted Jarvee (pub.1929)

The first of the three posthumous Carnackis, I liked this one more than the formulaic published block.

It's full of the same sort of pseudoscientific nonsense, but in sending Carnacki to sea and featuring bizarre, ambiguously natural phenomena, it's more like a fan-made William Hope Hodgson mash-up.

Good vibes literally save the day.

20. The Mystery of the Derelict (1907)

Why do there always have to be oversized animals?

Like all the Sargasso Sea stories so far, this is an exemplary eerie experience until the mysterious sounds and smells coming from the ancient derelict are revealed to be nothing more than giant rats. Then it becomes a scurrying survival tale which isn't anywhere near as compelling.

Even this early on, Hodgson has proved he's got a real knack for suspense. I just wish he didn't feel compelled to solve every mystery.

19. The Mystery of the Water-Logged Ship (1911)

Another night at sea, another foreboding derelict. These stories are formulaic by now, but as Hodgson likes to swing back and forth between the genuinely supernatural and clever tomfoolery, it's fun to try working them out. And usually failing.

The creaky, water-logged wreck is as sinister a setting as any in these stories. He probably didn't intend it to be funny, but I enjoyed how the captain refuses to learn his lesson by sending team after team aboard every time the previous one frustratingly disappears.

18. The Albatross (1911)

An irritated crew make several failed attempts to kill a nuisance albatross, because when has that ever had consequences? But when they finally notice the curious package it's carrying, it becomes a heroic rescue mission.

You never know which way these stories are going to. Sometimes Hodgson's in a good mood and writing to lift spirits, other times he feels duty-bound to make you confront the hopeless darkness. I won't spoil it, but it gets customarily creepy towards the end.

17. The Habitants of Middle Islet (pub.1962)

This eerie ghost ship story feels like a Twilight Zone episode, until the abrupt, monstrous finale when it turns into a modern horror film.

Sometimes Hodgson feels the need to clarify every detail of a seeming 'mystery.' Other times, such as this, crazy shit just happens.

16. The Bells of the Laughing Sally (1914)

"I'm never friends to no man! not till I've knocked the 'ell out of 'im."

Hodgson's final, short-lived attempt at a serial character is probably the best of the bunch, not that there was particularly stiff competition. He's not exactly renowned for his characterisation, but he might finally have been onto something good with the lopsided, sporadically violent aesthete D.C.O. Cargunka.

The plot itself is another seabound rescue mission with hints of strangeness, although these don't amount to anything. It has one of Hodgson's few uplifting endings that aren't compromised by sorrow.

15. The Call in the Dawn (a.k.a. The Voice in the Dawn, pub.1920)

Unpublished in Hodgson's lifetime, this is the best of his Sargasso Sea stories since the two-part opener, and it makes a fittingly reflective epilogue in the collection.

I got the impression this was based on a dream. That would explain its unresolved and pointlessly perplexing mystery, as well as the unusually vivid imagery. It's the only one of these stories where the narrator sees the beauty in the teeming weed continent as well as its horror.

14. The Shamraken Homeward Bounder (a.k.a. Homeward Bound, 1908)

You can draw your own conclusions from this story, depending on how empty/full your half-glass is.

A seasoned sea dog would doubtless cotton on to the more mundane meteorological possibility before we sorry land lubbers have it explained to us. Before that, I saw no reason to doubt that the awe-struck old-timers had indeed sailed into heaven, and I wasn't enjoying it as much. The "magical" mist being literally rose-tinted should have been a clue.

13. The Night Land (1912)

When he wasn't telling sea stories with nautical precision, Hodgson had a fine third eye for eerie imagery. The Last Redoubt, a colossal pyramid housing the last remnants of humanity besieged by unseen terrors under the cloak of eternal night, is his most potent. Mainly because we spend so bloody long there.

He's got a vivid, epic and thought-provoking premise here. It could have been the Dying Earth classic. It's such a shame he went to all the effort to make it unreadable. The Wikipedia description shouldn't be a better read than the actual book.

12. Demons of the Sea (a.k.a. The Crew of the Lancing, pub.1923)

This is classic Hodgson, and could have easily been lost to time if his widow hadn't been so dedicated to ensuring his posterity.

It riffs on similar ideas to his other weird sea stories, but it makes its own unique contributions – namely the boiling ocean and the disturbing humanity of the "demons." When they spy the ship and swarm into the sea in a flurry of approaching tentacles, this becomes one of his most frightening tales.

11. From the Tideless Sea Part Two: Further News of the Homebird (a.k.a. The Fifth Message from the Tideless Sea, 1907)

If you were losing sleep worrying about the fate of Cap'n Philips and his family, stranded in the week-choked sea surrounded by hungry octopuses, this sequel won't ease those doubts.

This is basically a traditional haunted house story transplanted to a creaking ship, but once again, what seem like paranormal phenomena turn out to have a rational explanation. At a stretch.

It's not often that a vintage story succeeds in being as tense and spooky as a horror film, but Hodgson makes sure you feel every thunderous bang and chilling tap.

10. The Ghost Pirates (1909)

That title doesn't mess around; you know what you're getting into. It's also a reliable clue to this being easily the most accessible and least obtuse of Hodgson's novels.

It's the only one that doesn't pretend to be a century or so older than it is, for a start, so you don't have to deal with archaic prose if that's not your thing. The narrator's down-to-earth too, meaning descriptions of the strange happenings aren't over-embellished or over-emotive.

But these points that make it objectively better also make it less distinctive. I have a soft spot for the disjointed episodes and mouldy manuscript gimmicks of Boats and House, this one's a bit too coolly competent.

9. Sea Horses (1913)

Even Hodgson's sweet, sentimental stories have a tendency to darken.

This is a heart-warming tale of an imaginative child and his devoted grandfather, until they head out to sea. The foreboded unpleasantness turns out to be a red herring, but only because the author has something crueller in store.

8. The Voice in the Night (1907) 

With its doomed matrimonial couple waiting out the inevitable in a mysterious region of sea, this is already a familiar story even at this early stage. What makes it different is that it's the first time Hodgson ventures beyond inclement weather and oversized animals, presenting a story of freaky fungus and body horror. It's more like a prescient tale of radiation sickness, but unusually for Hodgson, we're left clueless about what's actually going on.

It's repulsive and depressing and could have been a stone cold classic, if only it didn't end on such an abrupt anticlimax. I guess the boat got away fine?

7. The Stone Ship (a.k.a. The Mystery of the Ship in the Night, 1914)

Hodgson's strange sea stories are usually left as unexplained X-files, but this time he Carnackis it with rational explanations. It's a good thing too, because by the time hair prodigiously sprouted from an impossible statue aboard the impossible ship, I'd started making audible requests for the story to please make some sense.

It's an interesting mix of typical Hodgson tropes (foul smells, phantom lights and strange sounds in the mist) and some distinctive new ones. Its stony deadness makes a great contrast to the monstrous vitality of 'The Derelict.'

6. From the Tideless Sea Part One (1906)

"An interminable waste of weed—a treacherous, silent vastitude of slime and hideousness!"

The retrospectively-curated 'Sargasso Sea Stories' aren't what Hodgson's most famous for today, but it's where he found his sea legs. Narratively, this is just another tragic tale told by bottled manuscript of a ship presumed lost at sea. What makes it so compelling is the otherworldly setting that avoids the temptation to go full-on supernatural.

All the way through, I was worried that some giant Kraken or Cthulhu was going to rise up out of the weeds and ruin things. I even could have done without the more mundane octopus, which feels it's there to satisfy a contractual obligation. Mother Nature's mischief is horror enough.

5. The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" (1907)

Hodgson's "first" novel (supposedly, some or all of the other novels were written before it, shyly unpublished) follows the proud tradition of pulp authors recycling their short stories for a feature-length mash-up. At least in the first half, as the plucky shipwreck survivors fend off various abominations of nature before they find other survivors and it becomes a heroic adventure yarn.

This repetition isn't really annoying, as this is just one of many crews unlucky enough to wind up in these godforsaken regions (timeline-wise, this comes first). The archaic style Hodgson commits to for the whole thing is more palatable than The Night Land's.

4. The House on the Borderland (1908)

This wasn't quite the seminal classic I misremembered it being. Looking back, I wasn't blown away by it at the time either. The only part that stuck in my memory – the great cosmic fast-forward – is still the best part, but even that's just an extrapolation on the same scene in The Time Machine.

If he'd written just that part as a short story, it would probably be number one. The brief episode on a desolate planet's good too. This is what happens when you pad things out with pig men.

3. The Derelict (1912)

He can't very well go back to writing about standard oversized animal "horrors" now. This feels like the end of a journey that began with 'A Tropical Horror,' and its ultimate revelation is unnerving even to a jaded 21st-century reader raised on The Real Ghostbusters.

It's yet another story about a formerly care-free crew chancing across a mysterious, ancient derelict, but this one's a hell of a lot weirder. The narrator's constant dessert comparisons to help us relate to the wobbling textures and sloppy sucking sounds on board set a queasy atmosphere, even before the horrific truth custard-pies you in the face.

It's spoiled slightly by Hodgson presenting it as an old sea dog's tale that tries once again to posit a natural explanation for the supernatural. I had enough of that with Carnacki. He should have done one of those copyright edits and just chopped off those bits.

2. Through the Vortex of a Cyclone (1907)

Hodgson's nautical tales are generally immersive and convincing, but this one goes overboard to the extent that it's likely to get muddled up in your real memories.

Free from anything otherworldly, this is a simple account of weird weather (not Weird weather) that makes it much more approachable to ordinary people. That should mean I dislike it, surely? I can still surprise myself.

The only nagging doubt that it's not a straight-up memoir from his time at sea is that the photos the narrator takes don't seem to have been included in any edition. Pics or it didn't happen.

1. The Dream of X (1912)

I wouldn't normally bother reading an alternate version of something I've already read. Especially when it's something I've already read twice and not enjoyed either time, and which was only hastily published in the first place to baggsy the U.S. copyright for the full-length book.

But since my only beef with The Night Land is its interminable length, I was curious to see just how much it could be improved by chopping out 90% of it. Turns out that 90% was only holding it back.

This merciful and obvious edit retains all the best bits of the ungainly novel and loses the flab. The apocalyptic scene's painted just as potently, the simplistic love story isn't longer than it needs to be, and the kitschy faux-Romantic prose is a charming rather than infuriating feature. Makes you wonder why he went to so much effort to ruin it the first time.

TL:DR



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