Tuesday, March 9, 2021

REVIEW: The Carnival of Death (anthology) by L. Ron Hubbard

The Carnival of Death is a collection of two of L. Ron Hubbard's pulp fiction stories ("anthology" might not be the right word, but I couldn't think of a better one). 


I got this for free at a conference ages ago. It features a foreword by Kevin J. Anderson, two stories by L. Ron Hubbard ("The Carnival of Death" and "The Death Flyer" - both of which are accompanied by black and white illustrations), a brief preview of Hubbard's "Mouthpiece," a glossary of 1930s and 1940s words and expression used in the stories, and a 9-page overview of L. Ron Hubbard's writing life (nothing negative, and not a single mention of Scientology).

Kevin J. Anderson's foreword had nothing but glowing praise for pulp fiction, which I suppose would have been fine if it hadn't been for the implication that pulp fiction of the 1930s and 1940s was better and more enjoyable than most fiction published today. "These tales will return you to a time when fiction was good clean entertainment and the most fun a kid could have on a rainy afternoon or the best thing an adult could enjoy after a long day at work" (x-xi). That kid and adult are almost certainly white and male, and their "good clean entertainment" has a high concentration of violence and death.

I'd probably have disliked "The Carnival of Death" regardless, but Anderson's foreword certainly didn't help.

"The Carnival of Death"

The longest of the two stories, at almost 70 pages. Bob Clark has been hired as a carnival detective, tasked with investigating a cocaine smuggling ring operating somewhere within the carnival. His work is complicated by the discovery of a decapitated body - the barker who oversaw four captive African headhunters (later specified to be Nigerians). The headhunters are gone, and the initial assumption is that they escaped and killed their captor, but Clark isn't so sure. A little hair left behind at the crime scene leads him to think that the true culprit is a white man who freed the headhunters as a diversion.

This was almost purely action, and it wasn't even very good action. Clark would do a tiny bit of investigating, get attacked or otherwise get in a fight, and then do a little more investigating. It seemed odd to me that Clark kept thinking the blond guy had something to do with the decapitated body when the text specifically referred to the hair he found as "white" rather than "blond," but I'm guessing readers weren't supposed to be thinking about things like that.

Granted, I only have this story and "The Death Flyer" to go off of, but I wonder if any of the women in Hubbard's pulp fiction stories were ever referred to as "women"? I'm guessing only if they were older and/or unattractive. The one in this story was always a "girl." Meanwhile, the young man who I assumed was probably about the same age as her was either "the blond youth" or "the man called Jack."

The Nigerian headhunter aspect was painfully dated, and I cringed every time they were mentioned, which thankfully wasn't quite as much as I expected. Not a single character in this story saw any problems with four Black people held captive and put on display for a white audience (incidentally, Anderson's fawning foreword didn't discuss pulp fiction's handling of race at all).

"The Death Flyer"

A civil engineer named Jim Bellamy is walking along a train track back to his camp one evening, cursing himself for being out so late, when he almost gets run over by a train. The conductor pulls over and offers him a ride, which he accepts, only to discover that he's stepped into a strange, spooky, and probably dangerous situation.

This little ghost story was actually sort of okay, at least in comparison to "The Carnival of Death." Granted, trains can't just casually pull over to take on random passengers, but the supernatural element makes me slightly more willing to let than one slide.

There wasn't much to it - the whole thing was only 20 or so pages. It was a little confusing, and it featured yet another instance of a young woman who I assume was at least in her twenties being referred to as a "girl." I've read and watched better supernatural train stories. Still, it wasn't bad.

Overall, this book wasn't for me, and I have no intention of reading more of Hubbard's works.

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