June 2, 2020

Review: Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann.

An expanding genre in the realm modern Sci-Fi is the retro-science fiction novel. More appropriately classified as an alternate history work of fiction, this sub-sub genre has been christened with the sleeker term of Steampunk as of late. Hollywood movie goers have been exposed to Steampunk via such flicks as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow and may not even have known it. Of course, most trace the genre to William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s 1990 landmark book The Difference Engine, but we would contend that you could trace the look and style back to the 1927 film Metropolis, or even the works of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells…of course, they lived in the steam era, and were instead writing what they thought of as future fiction…

Which brings us to this weeks’ review, Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann out next month from Pyr Books, Ghosts melds Steampunk sensibilities with Golden Age comics’ action and adventure. The setting is the roaring 20’s in a postwar USA. Enough is familiar in this alternate universe; prohibition is in full swing, and tommy-gun toting mobsters rule the land. Cars, however, are coal powered, and biplanes soar by use of rocket boosters. Enter the Ghost, a mysterious super-vigilante set on evening out the score. The Ghost harkens back to such DC oldies as Dr Midnite or the Sandman, and of course a certain Dark Knight hailing from Gotham City comes to mind. In fact, it’s hard not to hear the score from Tim Burton’s original film running through our head as we read the fight scenes.

The Ghost has in his arsenal infrared goggles, a wrist-strapped flechette gun, and skills honed during the Great War. Speaking of which, the US is currently enmeshed in a cold war standoff with great Brittan in this retro- alternative universe. The Ghost is pitted in battle with the Roman, an equally mysterious mobster who has only recently surfaced. No shortage of action exists as the Ghost dukes it out with mafia henchmen, morbid golems, and ultimately the Roman himself. The Roman’s calling card is leaving two ancient coins on the eyelids of his victims, hence the moniker. We would have liked to perhaps seen more on the origins of the Ghost, but perhaps the traditional “origin story” will occur in the sequel that this first installment has set up.

Ghosts would make for an excellent graphic novel (or do you say comic book?) adaptation, as would many items in the Steampunk genre. Has Pyr thought of venturing into this? Are you listening, Marvel? Read Ghosts of Manhattan for a good tale worthy of Golden Age superhero-dom, or a flashback to an alternate future that never was. It’s interesting to see that the whole superhero genre is taking its place in respectable Sci-Fi as more authors begin to explore the realm of the lone crime fighter…perhaps “Comicpunk” will become a sub-genre of its own?


  1. [...] of this space will remember our review of the first book in the series by Mr. Mann, entitled the Ghosts of Manhattan. In this latest installment, flechettes once again fly from strap-on wrist launchers as we follow [...]

  2. [...] Today, “super-hero fic” is a fast growing sub-sub genre of science fiction, with books such as Ghosts of Manhattan and films such as The Avengers, Green Lantern and The Watchmen. Earlier this year, we came across a [...]

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