"GHOSTS BY GASLIGHT: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense," edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, Harper Voyager, $14.99, 389 pages (f)
“Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense,” edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, is a collection of all new ghost stories, inspired by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The stories, by established authors, infuse a modern fascination with old-fashioned technology into a Victorian setting in a genre called steampunk. While not every contributing author is a short story specialist, each story has some unsettling or haunting aspect to it.
Among the creepiest is John Langan’s “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons,” which explores the sinister aspects of ever-present floating paper balloons that turn out to have malicious intents.
In “Chistopher Raven,” by Theodora Goss, roommates at a boarding school relive the romantic memories of the school’s founder through dreams of her murdered lover.
Not every story is chillingly scary; some are amusing. Garth Nix’s “The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder” features a second cousin of Sherlock Holmes recovering from a mysterious ailment and his almost-doctor Susan, who deal with their strange circumstances as if they were an everyday occurrence.
The stories run the gamut of the supernatural: ghosts, mummies, evil spirits, the devil, travelers from other civilizations and black magic. These elements interact with typical Victorian character types: physiognomists, sick children, prostitutes, investigators and collectors of curiosities.
The collection’s opener, “The Iron Shroud,” by James Morrow, features a vibratologist who must find a way to free golems and manages to be original and unsettling but also amusing. Morrow is fond of pretentious descriptions, describing a lowering coffin as “casting a jagged shadow across the cavity like the gnomon on an immense sundial.” However, other stories were not as compact and sometimes fell victim to having too many characters in too small a space or being plain forgettable.
For fans of steampunk or neo-Victorianism, this collection is an excellent way to find new authors to read as many have written award-winning novels as well as short stories. Those new to the genre might also enjoy the collection if they can get used to the descriptive and flowery prose. Veiled references to sex through Victorian colloquialisms and murderous ghosts make the collection more appropriate for adults and older teens.
Rachel Helps is an eternal English master's student with a passion for old books and video gaming. She is on Goodreads and she has gaming articles on thepretentiousgamer.blogspot.com.