Tag Archives: holmesathon

Book #8…yet more Holmes

Book #8: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Carol-Lynn Roessel Waugh

I took three books with me on my trip to Omaha last month. I read two and gave up on one before I came back to AZ. Determined to continue with Holmes-a-thon, I turned to my mom’s bookshelves. They are populated with three broad categories of books: my mom’s science fiction collection, random works of mid-90s vampire fiction (…she and I went through a phase…), and books I acquired in college and were left at my parent’s house after summer vacations. I’m not talking textbooks, I’m referring to the large amount of (mostly) fiction I bought or picked up from free bins at Lincoln bookstores. So many books that I generally culled the collection each summer, leaving the remainders with Mom. (I have since engaged in the reverse process: bringing books back to Arizona a few at a time after Omaha visits.) There on a shelf, beyond Scooby the Cockatiel’s cage, was The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Most likely, since there is no price in the front cover, I bought it at Page One for $4.50 (half of the cover price). After reading most of it, the better deal would have been a free bin.

The anthology had a few okay stories ("The Final Toast" by Stuart Kaminsky stands out), but most were very exposition heavy (something Doyle really isn’t) or are very concerned with social commentary (something I don’t remember Doyle’s stories being). The characters go on at great length about new technologies, such as the Gatlin gun or women’s suffrage. I didn’t finish a few stories because they bored me or quickly entered the realm of the ridiculous. I reread Doyle’s "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as well, and again, I’m struck with how few descriptions there are. To some extent, I think the modern reader takes the Sherlock Holmes stories as a whole and weaves them together, borrowing details from one to augment all the others. The pastiche author might be left feeling that the entire rug needs to be rewove to accommodate their story.  

After a month of Sherlock Holmes fiction, I am Holmes saturated. I need a break. From the fiction at least.  I am postponing (or maybe replacing) the second anthology of Holmes short fiction on my list with the Doyle biography I bought in Madison.

Home Again, Home Again

Returned to AZ on Sunday night. The flight was bumpy, but generally on-time and uneventful.

For the first time in ages, I missed the Oscar awards. My plane didn’t land until 8pm and by the time we retrieved my luggage and dinner, it was well past 9pm. Not that I could have seen the broadcast anyway. Our HD reception is variable and doesn’t include ABC. But Eric bought me an Oscar night brownie and I followed the last few announcements via Cinematical’s live blog. For our yearly Oscar wager, I bet that the Best Director and Best Picture awards would be split (most likely going to Kathryn Bigelow and Avatar, but any split would win for me). Happily, I lost the bet and Bigelow won the director award and The Hurt Locker won Best Picture.

Yesterday was catch-up clean-up day. I didn’t clear my Task list, but I made a dent. While in Omaha, my website hosting was exploited. I wasn’t sure whether that was due to something on my parent’s computer/network, or due to lack of WordPress upgrade. Dinohost cleaned my pages, but I needed to make sure the VOTS site was a-okay. It *looks* that way and I’m *guessing* old WordPress was the culprit, but I’m not savvy enough to really know what’s going on.

While away, I received my copies of Lucinda at the Window. I was going to shove the copy into my file drawer with my other publications, but I realized something when I saw it together with the other four or so softbacks. I want *more*. Instead of tucked in a drawer, I wanna look up and see them on a shelf and ache for how *lonely* they look without a dozen friends. Call it a vanity shelf if you’d like; for now, for me, it’s motivation.

I’d like to say that being back to work at home is invigorating, and it is, but I know it won’t last long.

Comparing the similar section of Meyer’s The Seven-per-Cent Solution and Doyle’s "The Final Problem," I notice that Doyle uses dialogue (with very few tags) almost exclusively in his telling. And indeed, it is mostly *telling* and not *showing*, but it is the characters that are doing the speaking and as readers we are given more than enough details about what’s going on without getting prose heavy. I had not noticed this about Doyle in the past. 

Book #7 and more Doyle/Meyer

Book #7 – The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

More like a novelette (or a novella, or…whatever) than a novel, it’s a book and it has been read.

There are many similarities between The Final Solution and Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind. Both deal with Holmes in his twilight years; a Holmes with physical maladies that frustrate his ability to function. Chabon’s Holmes has less mental problems. Both have retired from public life and intend to spend the remainder of life quietly keeping bees.  Both novels have small boys that become important to Holmes. Both novels deal with the experience of the World Wars; Chabon’s novelette set before WWII and Cullin’s after. Neither include Watson or the notorious drug abuse. The primary difference is that Chabon’s novel is more direct detective story. A crime occurs; Holmes solves it. Nevertheless, The Final Solution is still a "literary" novel (though Chabon takes some exception to the label). The story does have a serious and poignant historical overlay which is presented more subtly than in Cullin’s book. It’s a lovely, quick read.


Speaking of similarities…

I decided to go back and read a couple classic Doyle stories: "The Final Problem" and  "The Adventure of the Empty House". These aren’t exactly iconic stories in terms of structure, but they are ones that are important in the realm of third-party works. These are where Doyle kills off Holmes and bring him back. It’s often referred to a the Great Hiatus.

It’s been years (a decade?) since I read these two stories. I hadn’t realized the the beginning of The Seven-per-Cent Solution was a direct, in some cases word-for-word, retelling of the beginning of "The Final Problem."* What puzzles me is this: why, if these two pieces of fiction are nearly the same, is Doyle’s compelling and Meyer’s is not? What are the differences? Is it a matter of story immediacy? Is it that I know Meyer has an ulterior motive in setting up that story that way (although I had kind of forgotten about the deranged Holmes being sent to Freud plot)? Doyle’s writing still captured me even though I knew what was going on and had recently read Meyer’s version. Maybe I should investigate that a little more before moving on to the next book.

  * I had also forgotten that Moriarty doesn’t appear in the Holmes cannon until "The Final Problem." He also doesn’t have much more of a direct role in the Holmes stories. It’s interesting how much attention has been given to a character that Doyle only used two or three times. But that’s the nature of these stories. The fans have grasped on to the smallest things…

Storytelling Fails

As is tradition when I’m in Omaha, Tess and I went to a movie. We usually pick something that we like, but really no one else in our family would care for. Which means, often it’s a horror movie. Last summer it was Drag Me to Hell. A couple visits before that it was 28 Weeks Later. Both of those were better than expected. This trip, we saw Legion. Honestly, I had no hopes for this movie other than seeing Paul Bettany angelically kicking ass. Therefore, my first criticism is that there wasn’t enough Paul Bettany angelically kicking ass. There’s some, but it wasn’t really good enough. My other major criticism is that the story was poorly told. Yeah, other people have picked on the "eh" special effects (that weren’t that bad) and the cliche nature of the story (there’s a "fallen" angel and a pregnant woman…what are you expecting really?), but do a good job telling me a story and I’ll forgive those things.

At the beginning of the movie, there was a section of set up for Michael (Bettany’s angel) and background for the human characters. This was unnecessary and boring. They should have started the movie when the old lady walks into the diner. You can give me all the rest after that moment. Second, (and this might be a bit a spoilery) there are two tests: a test of strengths and a test of weaknesses. The latter was handled better than the former, but still could have been tighter. The writers could have used this structure to present all the crappy exposition they forced into the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The ending needs help too, but that’s not surprising without a strong middle. I maintain that this could have been a decent movie with focus and restructuring.


The next book on my reading list was The Seven-per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. I started it and put it down after 32 pages. At some point in my life, the thought of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud "together again for the first time" intrigued me. Unfortunately, now the concept seems cheesy, perhaps because I have my own thoughts on Holmes’ psychology and find Freud to be generally wrong. But I could have gone through with the book if the writing was good. It’s not. The levels of "meta" got in the way. This is Meyer writing, pretending that this was a manuscript of Watson’s, whose psuedonym is Arthur Conan Doyle. There was some effort to justify the inconsistencies in Doyle’s works, through Watson’s voice. To me, that’s un-needed. *That* isn’t an interesting story. My craft lesson? Always be aware of what story you’re telling and how you’re telling it. The telling shouldn’t get in the way.

The next book on the list, the last book that I brought to Omaha with me, is Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution. It’s short and, since I wasn’t feeling good yesterday, I ripped through half of it. Luckily, I have left many books here from my college days and another unread Holmes-by-others anthology was on my mom’s shelves.

Book #6 and Other Reading

I was working my way through the Nebula list and some short fiction from Tor, all online fiction, when I left for Omaha. Since I have neither a mobile computing device nor eReader (which wouldn’t have helped that much), I switched to physical books and started the Holmes-a-thon.

I read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories when I was pretty young. I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I always liked the logic and ratiocination of Sherlock Holmes (and Poe as well when I found out Poe did it first). That logic could infallibly solve crime appealed. Those stories made an impression on me. Unconsciously, I write somewhat like Doyle. I have a soft spot for the Sherlocks, the Spocks, the Austin Jameses of the world (as many women do). I’ve watched many Sherlock Holmes adaptations and liked most of them. In a manner similar to comic book characters, there’s something malleable about the background and continuing exploits of Sherlock Holmes. Strangely, I haven’t read any of the mammoth quantity of Sherlock works by different authors. It never occurred to do so. Okay, I have read Saberhagen’s Holmes-Dracula Files and maybe one or two works were Sherlock Homes, John Watson, or Arthur Conan Doyle were characters. But really nothing *about* Holmes. I had acquired some books, but not read them. Therefore, I decided to have a two month Holmes-a-thon.

First up, Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind (Book #6). I had not heard of this book until Elizabeth Bear mentioned it in her review of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. It sounded good to me.

Considering recent events in my life, this book was a hard read. This Sherlock Holmes is 93 years old and dealing with slight dementia, an old body, and all the questions that might come at the end of a man’s life. Of course, Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be the man that has the answers when he asks questions. What happens when he doesn’t? This is a novel firmly within the literary "genre." We’re examining the inner life of a character, not terribly concerned with discrete events of a plot. I liked this book; it will undoubtedly stick with me, but I can’t say I found it enjoyable. I read most of it in airports and airplanes while traveling to possibly say goodbye to my grandmother. (I had a similar problem with Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres — not reading material when you’re family is going nuts.) Stories are told and retold, both in this book and in my life (and in several of the short works I read).

Of particularly Holmesian things, the novel does not have Watson, drug abuse, or Irene Adler. It does very much have an apiary. I’m noting this because I think it will be interesting what authors decide to focus on or not. Obviously, my next selection, The Seven-per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, is covering the drug abuse angle. I’ll probably have more to say about these things after I’ve read a few more texts.


Short fiction I also read since February 20th:

The best English course I took in high school was called "Stories and the Human Experience". It taught me more about writing than most writing classes. These stories, along with A Slight Trick of the Mind, could be used an alternate syllabus. (Btw, that was the class I read Jane Smiley for.) All of this fiction is about the stories that we tell ourselves or about ourselves and what stories are told about us by our cultures and societies. It’s made for a slightly claustrophobic experience. I really want a popcorn book at this point. Maybe instead of Meyers, I’ll hit my mom’s shelves for a Star Trek novel or something.