No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010/29: Shadows Over Baker Street ed. Michael Reeves and John Pelan

"My dear Lestrade. Please give me some credit for having a brain. The corpse is obviously not that of a man -- the colour of his blood, the number of limbs, the eyes, the position of the face -- all these things bespeak the blood royal ... I would hazard he is an heir, perhaps -- no, second to the throne -- in one of the German principalities."
..."This is Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia. He was here in Albion as a guest of Her Majesty Victoria. Here for a holiday and a change of air ..."
"For the theatres, the whores and the gambling tables, you mean." ('A Study in Emerald', Neil Gaiman: p.8)

An anthology of fanfiction transformative works bringing together Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and various of H. P. Lovecraft's creations. The list of contributors is impressive, including Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Bear, Poppy Z Brite, Brian Stableford and Barbara Hambly.

The quality of the stories is variable. I bought this on the basis of my admiration for Gaiman's Hugo-winning 'A Study in Emerald' (available at Gaiman's site as an illustrated PDF). Sadly, few of the other stories display the same playful inventiveness, though all capture the spirit, or tone, or style of one or other original. I did like Bear's 'Tiger! Tiger!' which features Irene Adler in India. And Steven-Elliot Altman's 'A Case of Royal Blood' is notable for pairing Holmes with that other intrepid Victorian, H. G. Wells.

Given the supreme rationality of Holmes and his disdain for superstition, there could've been more made of the resounding clash of world-views implicit in the premise of this anthology. Some authors confront this directly, with Holmes encountering some new (though ancient beyond the ken of humanity) evil: some, like Gaiman, are effectively writing in an alternate universe where supernatural horror is and has always been part of the warp and weft of the world.

Incidentally, Shadows over Baker Street -- which I enjoyed, though suspect is better taken in small doses -- reminded me of another book that features Holmes and Lovecraftian horror: Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, in which the Great Detective pulls off his most ambitious disguise ever. That's a novel with the same sense of play as Gaiman's story -- I don't mean that the subject's (necessarily) humorous, but rather that there's a sense of the author's relish in another creator's sandbox. That's something I enjoy in transformative works and I didn't find as much as I'd hoped in Shadows over Baker Street.

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