The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cohen_CohenI am an unabashed fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Along with a lot of Carl Hiassen’s work, they are the only reads that cause me to laugh out loud. Unseen Academicals was the first Discworld book that I wasn’t really happy with when I finished it; which isn’t too bad considering it was the thirty-third in the series for me.

Though I have a very fundamental difference with Pratchett’s basic worldview, I think he is an absolutely brilliant satirist. Discworld isn’t nearly as well known generally as The Hitchhiker’s Guides to the Galaxy books, but I tell folks that if you like Douglas Adams, you should like Terry Pratchett.

Genghiz Cohen, better known as Cohen the Barbarian, appears in a few novels. He is Discworld’s greatest warrior, though now he is an old man in his late eighties or nineties, and he leads a band of senior citizen barbarians known as the Silver Horde.

Cohen/Conan. The Silver Horde/The Golden Horde. See? Get it? Discworld is full of this stuff.

Cohen is a skinny old man with a long white beard, a patch over one eye and a dirty loincloth. He has a set of dentures made from Troll teeth, which are pretty much the only things he has left from a wild life.

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Win a Copy of Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Shadows Over Innsmouth-small Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth-small Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth-small

Back in October we gave away free copies of The Madness of Cthulhu, the new horror anthology from Titan Books, to three lucky winners. Contestants submitted short comments on their favorite H.P. Lovecraft story, and we announced the winners alongside all the best entries on Oct 27th, in The Best One-Sentence Reviews of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’m very pleased to report that Titan Books has another horror anthology in the works, and they’ve once again offered us copies to give away. Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones, will be released on January 27. It’s the sequel to two earlier volumes, the World Fantasy Award nominee Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994), and Stoker and World Fantasy nominee Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005). Both were returned to print in matching trade paperback editions by Titan Books in 2013.

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth collects fifteen recent tales of Lovecraftian horror, many of them original to this volume, alongside “Innsmouth Clay,” a 1971 tale by H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, and a poem by H.P. Lovecraft. Contributors include Caitlín R. Kiernan, Kim Newman, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, Brian Lumley, Brian Hodge, Ramsey Campbell, and Adrian Cole.

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The Barbarism of Bullfighting and Archaic Diction in L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Rug and the Bull”

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

One of the many freedoms of Sword and Sorcery, it seems to me, is that it enables the adoption of a world that allows the writer to comment on just about anything on which one would want. One of Robert E. Howard’s purposes in the construction of his own Hyboria was to create a conglomerate of cultures, no matter how anachronistic their juxtapositions, so that his hero Conan might have any kind of adventure that Howard might think up. Whereas for previous tales, Howard perhaps had to construct different heroes for different historical epochs (Bran Mak Morn for the Celtic Picts, Solomon Kane for the sixteenth century, Kull for Atlantis), in the Hyborian Age Conan might be a thief, a soldier, a pirate, and ultimately a king, his adventures all the while providing Howard with powerful commentary on “civilization.”

So, too, writers after Howard have utilized this purpose. Dave Sim, through his creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins by commenting on the Sword and Sorcery genre itself (as well as the mainstream comic books of Sim’s time) and then goes on to explore High Society, Church & State, marriage – and this last, in Jaka’s Story, is as far as my reading has taken me, but I understand that Sim is so far reaching in his exploration of topics that in a much later volume he even explores the life and works of Ernest Hemingway through Cerebus taking on the position of Hemingway’s personal secretary!

Terry Pratchett uses the Sword and Sorcery milieu to ingenious satirical effect, cribbing directly (I believe) from Fritz Leiber in order to forecast to his readers, in the very first pages of the very first Discworld novel, just what tone and material his readers may expect. Pratchett’s initial perspective characters, soon abandoned, are Bravd and the Weasel (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, obviously). I quote the following description in order to give an example of Pratchett’s satirical treatment of Sword and Sorcery and to underscore, specifically, Pratchett’s debt to Leiber. For more humor, one might want to pick up this book and enjoy the way that these characters talk to each other – it’s impressively Leiberesque.

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Doc Savage Meets… The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Doc Savage Grinch-small

Kez Wilson has been publishing Doc Savage fantasy covers at his website for years, and they get more and more creative as the months go by. His December entry this year (#252) sees Doc Savage face off against a diabolical agent of Christmas evil. Here’s his Doctor Seuss-inspired back cover copy:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Then he got a wonderful idea! An awful idea! THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA! Word of his plan to steal Christmas did leak, and the holiday began to look rather bleak. Then Cindy Lou Who took matters in her own tiny hands and got word to the one man who could foil those evil plans. Now when Grinchy Claus slips down the chimney with intent to burglarize, he’ll be face to face with a new holiday protector with glistening bronze skin and golden eyes.

Wilson’s pastiche covers are based on the brilliant work of James Bama and Bob Larkin, who illustrated the original Doc Savage paperbacks from Bantam. Check out his marvelous Doc Savage Fantasy Cover Gallery to see the Man of Bronze face off against Buffy, Ming the Merciless, Cthulhu, 007, The Thing, the Terminator, Sharknado, the Hardy Boys, Barbarella, Doctor Who, Kirk and Spock, and many others.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Watson’s Christmas Trick

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Watson_Chair2I opened the door to our rooms at 221 B Baker Street and entered, careful not to jostle the package I carried. I was immediately engulfed in the warmth of the crackling fire that blazed in our hearth. Sherlock Holmes  was in his favorite chair, looking half asleep. Opening his eyes, he turned his head and greeted me lazily.

“Ah, Watson, you have finished your rounds and holiday shopping and returned too late for Mrs. Hudson’s evening repast. However, I am sure she can be prevailed upon to provide you with some cold meats.”

Here, he stopped, and before I could reply, changed his tack entirely. “But I see that you stopped at your club, where I am sure you supped.”

You can imagine my astonishment, dear reader, to hear this. I had not uttered a word since entering the room, and I saw no way that he could know that I had indeed dined at the club. I was surprised that he hadn’t given the name of the former army colleague who had joined me.

“Holmes, this is outrageous! How could you possibly have deduced that in the few seconds I have been in this room?”

He airily waved a hand of dismissal. “Please, it is obvious.” The look on my face must have shown I was not convinced, so he continued.” Your boots have that dark sheen that is unique to the elderly boot man at your establishment. There are at least three other distinctive marks that tell me as much, but the boots alone were enough to deduce it. It is the merest child’s play. Pray, remove your coat, light your pipe and make yourself comfortable.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Frank Thomas and Holmes

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Thomas_SwordIn the nineteen fifties, thousands of American boys thrilled to the television adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Frankie Thomas, Jr, offspring of acting parents, had been in the business for two decades when he starred in the adaptation of a popular comic strip.

It was a hit, spawning comics, books, a radio show, toys, et al. As with all shows, it ran its course and came to an end. Thomas went on to become one of America’s foremost bridge experts. That’s the card game, not the things that span waterways. His Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective, was a popular book on the subject (as was its sequel).

When I started branching out beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, I think that Thomas was the very first Holmes pastiche writer that I read.

Keep in mind that around 1980, pastiches were relatively uncommon. You bought Holmes books at actual bookstores: no Amazon. Indie-press Holmes stories were rather rare and hard to find. There wasn’t a self-publishing industry to speak of. So, avid Holmes fans gobbled up paperbacks by L.B. Greenwood, Richard Boyer, and Frank Thomas. Yep: same guy.

In 1979, Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird came out, followed the next year by Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Science Fictional Solar Pons

Monday, December 8th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

OffTrail_SnitchA few weeks ago, I wrote about the best of all Holmes pastiches, August Derleth’s Solar Pons. I mentioned that Pons had a more open-minded view towards the supernatural. This was certainly reflected in four stories that Derleth co-authored with noted science fiction writer Mack Reynolds.

Just last week, John O’Neill wrote a post about Anthony Boucher. As he mentioned, Boucher, along with J. Francis McComas, was the founder of the seminal Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

In January of 1953, they wrote to Derleth. Reynolds had submitted “The Adventure of the Snitch in Time,” a pastiche in which Sherlock Holmes receives a visitor from an alternate time-space continuum. The editors loved the idea, but, “Unhappily, Mack did not in any sense of the word recreate Holmes, Watson, or Baker Street! Outside of the plot idea, the story was, to be wholly frank, lousy!”

Also, to avoid trouble from those pesky Doyle brothers, none of the characters were named: wholly unsatisfactory.

So, the two editors wrote to Reynolds, suggesting that they have Derleth rework it into a Solar Pons story. Reynolds loved the idea, sending back, “I’d appreciate it if you’d give Augie Derleth first chance at it. It was after reading his Solar Pons stories that I got the idea for Snitch. Besides that, I’m an admirer of the old Seigneur of Sauk City and it would be a privilege to have a story appear under a collaborative by-line…”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes for Christmas

Monday, December 1st, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HolmesXmas_HolidaysOf the sixty Sherlock Holmes tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, only one is set during the holiday season. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” takes place two days after Christmas and involves a worn bowler hat and a goose worth more dead than alive.

That story doesn’t actually have a whole lot to do with Christmas; it just happens to occur shortly afterwards. However, there are a few books in my Holmes library that definitely qualify as Christmas adventures.

One of my favorite anthologies is 1996’s Holmes for the Holidays, which includes fourteen Christmas-themed adventures. Any Holmes anthology is likely to be a mixed bag. However, I consider this to be among the better of the multiple-author collections on my Holmes bookshelf.

Loren D. Estleman’s (author of Holmes pastiches featuring Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde) “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” is a sequel to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Texan Bill Crider (give his Dan Rhodes mysteries a whirl) also continues the Scrooge story with “The Adventure of the Christmas Ghosts.”

William DeAndrea’s “The Adventure of the Christmas Tree” is a neat piece of Christmas-themed espionage. While Anne Perry’s “The Watch Night Bell” is one of my favorite Holmes holiday stories.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pons_ReturnPinnacleThere have been a few posts here recently about fan fiction. That concept has been taken to its furthest extreme with the character of Sherlock Holmes. Amateur and professional writers have been penning tales about Holmes for about a century.

Parodies are stories that poke fun at Holmes. Many, such as this one I wrote (page 10), utilize Holmes himself and are clearly tongue in cheek. Others use “new” characters, such as Robert Fish’s Schlock Holmes and his Bagel Street Saga.

But the more serious Holmes tales, those that attempt to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective to varying levels, are called pastiches. Just about the earliest ‘serious’ attempt at a Holmes copy was by Vincent Starrett, who wrote “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” in 1920.

The Doyle sons (whom I wrote about here) didn’t like pastiches and they’re relatively uncommon during the first half of the twentieth century as they protected their copyright. The Doyle Estate has been fighting over the copyright right up to this month!

Richard Lancelyn Green’s The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects many of the early pastiches, including several from the nineteen forties. There are thousands of pastiches out there now. Search “Sherlock Holmes” or “Sherlock Holmes anthologies” at Amazon and you’ll get a list too big to go through. A future post will talk about some of my favorite pastiches, such as Frank Thomas’s Sherlock Holmes & the Sacred Sword and Michael Hardwick’s Prisoner of the Devil.

But this post is about the detective that Starrett called “The best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known”: Solar Pons. In 1928, August Derleth, a college freshman at the University Wisconsin, wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking if there were to be any more Holmes tales. Receiving an emphatic reply of “no” scrawled on his own letter, Derleth made a note on his calendar: “In re: Sherlock Holmes.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The List of 7 by Mark Frost

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

List_fullcoverMark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.

John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.

Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.

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