In the early 1900’s, Maurice Leblanc had his French detective, Arsene Lupin, face off with Herlock Sholmes. I think you know who he’s battling – spelling disregarded. 1965’s A Study in Terror sent Holmes after Jack the Ripper on movie screens and in 1988, and Sax Rohmer biographer Clay Van Ash brought Holmes and Fu Manchu together in Ten Years Beyond Baker Street. Crossovers have become more and more popular over the years. James Lovegrove currently has Holmes interacting with the Cthulhu mythos.
I don’t do a lot of book reviews here at The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes because I generally don’t like to reveal spoilers. And it can be tough to talk about the strong points of a book without giving away key elements. But sometimes, especially with older books, that’s part of the price of the post. So, I’ll try to limit revelations in this one, but be warned: There be spoilers here!
Lovegrove, who has written several non-Holmes books, is part of Titan’s stable of new Holmes authors. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first of a trilogy, with Sherlock Holmes & The Miskatonic Monstrosities due out in Fall of 2017 and Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils to wrap things up in November of 2018.
The basic premise of the book (yea, the trilogy) is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.
I don’t really do horror. Now, I am a huge Robert R. McCammon fan and of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack. Of course, I’ve read a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stuff (man, that creeps me out). And bits here and there from Robert E. Howard, Les Daniels, Anne Rice and a few others. But overall, I don’t really enjoy the genre, so it’s not an area I have a lot of experience with.
However, I have come across several examples of Holmes in the genre. And it being Halloween, let’s take a quick look at few titles that involve horror or the supernatural. Those two things aren’t always the same, you know.
The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (John Taylor) There was a time when Holmes pastiches were relatively uncommon and, pre-Amazon, you grabbed what you could when you saw them on the shelves. I still remember being excited to buy books from Richard Boyer, L.B. Greenwood and Frank Thomas. Another was a short story collection by John Sherwood, a writer for the BBC. “The Wandering Corpse,” “The Battersea Worm,” “The Paddington Witch,” “The Phantom Organ,” “The Devil’s Tunnel” and “The Horror of Hanging Wood” are all supernatural-tinged stories. The last one remains a favorite of mine and something I wish I’d thought up. Taylor wrote four more Holmes adventures, which were read aloud by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve not heard them, but every couple of years, around this time, I read a few stories from his book.
Gaslight Anthologies (edited by J.R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec) In 2008, Canadians Campbell and Prepolec put out Gaslight Grimoire, a collection of eleven creepy Holmes tales. It was followed by thirteen more in Gaslight Grotesque, and finished up with another dozen in Gaslight Arcanum. That’s 36 stories of horror and weirdness. You can certainly tell what you’re getting from the covers of the last two books. If you’re a Holmes fan and really like the horror genre, these three anthologies are just what you’re looking for.
I’ve been thinking about horror again, as a genre. I’ve been trying to read some Cthulhu stuff; I’ve reread some Image and Marvel horror comics; and I’ve also recently read Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #8. Lots to mull over.
And a newer Marvel series I read was Carnage, the first 11 issues, by writer Gerry Conway, artist Mike Perkins and colorist Andy Troy.
Carnage is new territory for me. I’m not much of a post-Ditko Spider-Man reader, and I was slightly too old in the 90s to cotton to those incarnations of Venom and Carnage. So, fast-forward to 2015 and 2016 and me catching up with Venom Space-Knight and Carnage.
If you’ve never met Carnage either, he’s an offspring of that symbiotic black suit that Peter Parker returned home with after the original Secret Wars. The symbiote went on to have its own stories sans Spider-Man by covering a new host.
In the early 1990s, a darker character was needed, so they had the symbiote…. fission… to create a new symbiote that wrapped itself around psychopath and homicidal sadist Cletus Kasady. Carnage played villain for a while and then disappeared with only some minor surfacings until this new series in 2015.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of a series centered on a serial killer. How much can you do with a single serial killer? I decided to give it a try anyway, and was very pleasantly surprised, and in fact, Carnage is turning into one of my favorite Marvel titles.
To the extent that August Derleth’s name is famliar to most Black Gaters, it’s in relation to his major role in the Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve read a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft, but frankly, his stuff creeps me out and I’m not too into those stories: nor the ones by other authors – for the same reason. Of course, I am a devotee of Derleth’s Sherlock Holmes-like Solar Pons tales. Within the Pontine Canon, one can find an emerald thread…
Luther Norris was, is and will certainly remain the foremost Ponsian of them all. In his introduction to The Memoirs of Solar Pons, he points out that Pons has a wider range of interests than Holmes, using the titles of their published monographs as his foundation. Now, we can certainly take issue with Norris’ statement that “Holmes..has little concern for topics not related to his ‘little problems.’”
I do not believe that the polyphonic motets of Lassus had anything to do with one of Holmes’ cases. And it’s quite likely that his monograph on the Chaldean roots in the ancient Cornish language was not work-related. However, the majority of his writings were on topics useful to his career as a consulting detective, so we will agree with Norris in principle.
Norris points to two monographs as examples of Pons’ more varied interests: “An Inquiry into the Nan-Natal Ruins of Ponapae” (1905) and “An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others” (1931). The context of Norris’ discussion implies that these are non work-related topics. It is this point regarding the latter that we are addressing.
NOTE: The following article was first published on May 16, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
Robert J. Myers is a study in contradictions. A veteran CIA operative, he became the publisher of The New Republic. In the mid-1970s, Myers authored two sequels to Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein or: The Modern Prometheus (1818). Having a longstanding interest in literary pastiches, I tracked down these two long out-of-print titles and read the first, The Cross of Frankenstein (1975). The prolific nature of the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein movies was understandable, but the original novel has always seemed more challenging to extend – even more so than Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Neither story demands literary sequels, nor did their authors choose to pursue them – a fact that makes the ambitions of prospective continuation authors all the more difficult to realize with any degree of success.
Mary Shelley’s original reads like a modern fable. The scientist who transgresses nature’s laws is destroyed by the abomination he brought into existence with his own hand. It is the same fable Michael Crichton fashioned nearly 200 years later into Jurassic Park. Shelley’s alternate title for the book, The Modern Prometheus is frequently forgotten, but it is critical to an understanding of how the novel differs from the 1931 Universal horror classic that imbued itself in the public consciousness. The monster of Shelley’s novel may be lacking a flat head and neck bolts, but he makes up for it in spades with his philosophical yearning for his own place in the universe and with the father/creator who abandoned him.
Sometimes in the course of growing as a writer, you fluke into a success before you grow the skills to consistently hit that success. My second-ever fiction sale was to Asimov’s Science Fiction in 2008 and over the following two-and-a-half years, I collected nothing but rejections from them.
My 2008 story had accidentally included enough good elements that it made it into the magazine, but I didn’t understand what those science fictional elements were or how to use them properly until about 2011.
I think the same thing happened to me with a story called “Dog’s Paw.” I thought I’d been writing a lit story when in fact, I had included horror elements that eventually got it published in a horror anthology, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and a superb audio version at Pseudopod.org (British people make everything sound extra-good). After my experience with my 2008 Asimov’s story, I was under no illusions that I was a competent horror writer, just a lucky one.
This spring, I decided to try to write a horror story. Knowing my weakness, I deliberately tried to figure out what goes into a good horror story. And when I want to analyze story structure, I go first to movies, because I find it easier to see the moving parts.
NOTE: The following article was first published on February 14, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
It has long been my contention that pulp fiction not discovered by age thirteen was beyond my ability to appreciate later in life. A certain amount of nostalgia seemed essential to enjoying such escapism once age and responsibility have got the better of you. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule in the rare instances where genuine literary talent is in evidence as is the case with the Holy Trinity of hardboiled detective fiction: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Given that I recently covered Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I decided to revisit Peter Tremayne’s three Dracula novels and one short story that I enjoyed so much as a teenager to see how they held up three decades on.
Peter Tremayne is best known today for his long-running Sister Fidelma mysteries. His medieval detective series is sort of a lightweight version of an Umberto Eco doorstop. Although Tremayne’s real world credentials are quite impressive as both an academic and scholar, his fiction is strictly populist in its appeal. Turn back the clock 40 years and one would find Peter Tremayne as a dedicated pulp pastiche writer trying his hand at extending the lifespan of H. Rider Haggard’s She, deliriously combining Shelley’s Frankenstein with Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, and delving deep into Stoker’s Dracula for a trilogy of loosely connected titles published by Bailey Brothers in the UK.
In the annals of early silent film, the name Thomas Edison stands out prominently. The American inventor racked up a series of firsts–building the first film studio in the U.S., registering the first copyright for a film in the U.S., making the first sound film in the U.S. (and arguably the world), and many other innovations.
Edison Studios was launched in 1894 and ran until 1918, when an antitrust lawsuit led Edison to sell the company. In that time, the studio’s host of directors made almost 1300 films. The vast majority were shorts, with the earliest efforts being “actualities” such as The Sneeze (1894) and the historically interesting Sioux Ghost Dance (1894). For the first few years of film, simply seeing people moving on screen was enough, but soon audiences wanted stories. Edison Studios churned out dozens of shorts a month, most of them rather forgettable comedies or dramas as well as a few Westerns such as the very first in the genre, The Great Train Robbery (1903).
Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend Dysprosium, the 66th Eastercon, in London. It was only my second big convention and I was impressed by the number of people, dealers, panels, and events. Big cons are definitely my thing!
The convention was held at The Park Inn at Heathrow Airport, which is appropriately decorated with images of aviation and space pioneers. The elevators have glowing plastic panels that change colors and made me feel like I was in an Italian science fiction movie from the 1960s. The con was stretched out. Two large common rooms were connected by a long corridor. This meant that there was no main dealers room. Instead, each dealer had their own room and they took advantage of this by hosting their own events. Elsewhen Press gets my vote for friendliest dealer for offering plenty of friendly chatter, UFO-shaped candies, and several readings. Another dealer hosted a fascinating talk on Malaysian folklore. This worked out well for the guests but I heard more than one dealer complain they felt isolated from other dealers.
Like last year’s Worldcon, which I reported on here, diversity and inclusion was a central theme. Several of the panels reflected this, such as one on Fencing for Writers, in which two women demonstrated various ways to slash and skewer your opponent. They gave several anecdotes about female swashbucklers in the Renaissance. One French lesbian fought numerous duels with men over women and even saved her lover from a nunnery by burning the place down! That’s just begging to be made into a novel. The presenters made the telling point that, “Historians have dismissed these women as exceptions, but when you look at the sources, there are an awful lots of exceptions.”
See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out.
And so begins the best piece of writing I’ve come across.
In the seventies and the eighties, Robert R. McCammon was a successful horror author. Usher’s Passing (a sequel to Poe’s classic), Wolf’s Hour (World War II werewolf yarn) and Swan Song (post-apocalyptic epic) were among his excellent works. 1990’s Mine was a different kind of terror tale, as was 1992’s Gone South.
To oversimplify, McCammon wanted to move out of horror and into new genres. And he was told to forget it: to not mess with the formula (shades of Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds). So he wrote two historical novels that weren’t published and he quit.
A decade later, that first historical book, Speaks the Nightbird finally saw the light of day in 2002 and has spawned four sequels. McCammon has written a few other novels and novellas, back in the horror genre. But he returned on his own terms, and not with a major publishing house. He has a new novel coming out in May of this year.
Two thousand is probably a pretty low estimate of how many books I’ve read, and the single finest piece of writing I’ve ever come across is in the introduction to 1991’s Boy’s Life. Which isn’t really too surprising, because that is the finest book I’ve ever read; in any genre. It’s not a horror book: it’s a book about the magic of our youth. And what happens to that magic. You ask me for only one book to read (beyond the Bible), and I’m telling you Boy’s Life.
Here’s the rest of that snippet from the opening that has stayed with me for going on three decades: