Sinister Carnivals

For S.F. and I.K. Follow up to the topic of (evil) carnivals, which arose last night over coffee. I forget how our thought chain arrived at this topic; do either of you remember?

I haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but my understanding is that it’s about a sinister carnival that comes into town. I’ll put it on my list of things to read.

I mentioned that there’s a Philip K. Dick short story that involves an evil carnival. The short story is entitled A Game Of Unchance, and it’s one of my favorites. Martian colonists are visited by a sinister carny ship that promises to entertain them with “FREAKS, MAGIC, TERRIFYING STUNTS, AND WOMEN”. The (male) colonists are strangely drawn to the show, as if they’re being beckoned by the Song of the Siren. They become entranced, and allow themselves to be swindled by the carny. The story may be an allegorical comment on manipulative advertising, which can cause people to do things contrary to their best interests; e.g., the old lottery tag line, “You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play”, encourages people to bet their money on an outcome with a negative expectation, which (it can be argued) is especially harmful to poor people. You can find this story online via this web page; go to the bottom and click on the link “Show full text: 990,314 characters”. Then search the resulting page for the second occurrence of the word “unchance”; this places you right at the beginning of the story.

There’s also a short story by H.P. Lovecraft entitled The Festival.

And then there’s the Festival of Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky. Yeah, it’s not truly “evil”; it’s a totally different way of organizing a civilization, more like an ecology, or even a living creature (like James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis). But before I read far enough into the novel to find out what it really was, the Festival seemed kind of sinister. They promise to give you anything you like, as long as you entertain them. It sounded fishy to me, too good to be true; there must be a catch somewhere, it must be a Faustian bargain! Maybe I had the PKD short story in mind. Maybe that’s exactly the impression that Stross was hoping to get across; perhaps he has read PKD’s Game of Unchance.

And have you noticed that a lot of carnival music is downright creepy? E.g., check out this YouTube video: Creepy Carnival Music. Or check out this music. Also consider the theme from Gremlins (1984).