In anticipation of that upcoming movie with that guy who was in Weird Science, Night Shade Books presents The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The game is afoot! Or perhaps atentacle.
Edgar Allan Poe is usually credited for creating the detective fiction genre but it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that really nailed it with his timeless creation, Sherlock Holmes. The world's first and greatest consulting detective is the model for countless later fictional investigators as disparate as The Batman and television's Dr. Gregory House. And he no doubt inspired as many real-life careers.
There is something that's always been very compelling about an individual of modest birth, who succeeds against every obstacle using naught but pure intellect and a thirst for ever more knowledge. To be sure, Holmes had some major character flaws: he was an utter jerk even to those closest to him, a misanthropic humanist, a recovering drug addict (his cocaine habit was, in later tales, "not dead, but merely sleeping"), and an overly enthusiastic violinist to boot. Still, he uses his immense gifts in aid of a society that he could never quite feel comfortable with. Sherlock Holmes is a Geek God on par with his distant descendant, Mr. Spock.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. " – Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four
A fitting statement indeed for this supreme rationalist. Holmes would only believe what he could observe and prove. This led to some odd quirks in his otherwise encyclopedic knowledge. In the very first Holmes story, the 1887 "A Study in Scarlet", his new acquaintance and faithful chronicler Dr. John H. Watson discovers that Holmes is unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun. It plays no part in his criminal investigations and so he had never considered it. Despite this he used the most current scientific knowledge to solve cases that plumbed the depths of the human psyche and affected the affairs of mighty nations. It is to Sir Arthur's credit as a writer that he created such an amazing character so at odds with the author's own beliefs. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was hopelessly infatuated with the fads of spiritualism and the supernatural. This was the guy totally bamboozled by two young girls and their hoax of the Cottingley Fairies. Yet he made Holmes, that paragon of logic and analysis feel so real.
Take another gander at the above quote. If the Detective ever encountered a case truly unworldly and improbable that he couldn't Scooby-Doo it apart like the Sussex Vampire or the Baskerville Hounds, his trusty Occam's Razor would allow him to deal with it in the same cool dry reason that he used against pickpockets or philandering spouses. This is the basis behind The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.. The original stories of Sherlock Holmes may not be science fiction, they surely belong on the borderlands and have influenced many a speculative genre writer.
Editor John Joseph Adams oversaw this anthology of twenty-eight tales of the Great Detective, involving hard science, the undead, aliens, allohistory, dinosaurs, pirates, Canadians and other weirdness. Click here for a look at the complete Table of Contents.
Nearly all of them are reprints, but it's pretty cool to have them all in one volume, and there are some you might have missed. Shamefully, I must admit I never read Neil Gaiman's oft-reprinted and deservedly popular "A Study in Emerald" before. It really is a must-read for Lovecraft fans. Squamous and rugose notes of the Mythos can also be felt in Tim Lebbon's "The Horror of Many Faces" and Barbara Hamby's "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece".
Another story steeped in the supernatural that caught my bibliophilic eye was Barbara Roden's "The Things that Shall Come Upon Them" wherein Holmes teams up with fellow investigator Flaxman Low. Low was a fictional psychic investigator, perhaps the first, the literary creation of Doyle's friend Hesketh Vernon Hesketh-Pritchard. The 1957 film Night of the Demon was based on one of his stories. In Ms. Roden's story, the two detectives solve a case using wildly differing methods but arriving at the same conclusion. I got a kick out of Holmes' initial dismissal of Low as a cheap imitator and charlatan. Low, of course, is a total Holmes fanboy.
There are significant appearances by the rest of the Holmesian dramatis personae besides the trusty Watson, who solves a case before his friend in a story by Stephen King. Long-suffering landlady Mrs. Hudson gets her moment in the sun at long last in a piece from Laurie R. King's Mary Russell canon. Rat-faced whipping boy Inspector Lestrade is here of course, as is The Woman — sublime Irene Adler, and the formidable older brother Mycroft Holmes. And what Sherlock Holmes collection would be complete without that Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty and his sinister right-hand man Col. Sebastian Moran. We even get a crossover with another Arthur Conan Doyle character, the quintessential early science fiction boffin, Professor Challenger.
Even more of a treat are the stories where Holmes crosses paths with historical figures. A Young H.G. Wells assists in Stephen Baxter's "The Adventure of the Internal Adjustor" Aan elderly Rev. CharlesDodgson helps investigate the cold case of the untimely demise of a student named Doyle many years ago in Tony Pi's "Dynamics of a Hanging". Arthur Conan Doyle himself appears as a client who summons Holmes and Watson to investigate crop circles and strange lights in the night sky over his estate. "The Adventure of the Field Theorems" by Vonda N. McIntyre is a sharp and very funny look at the differences between Sherlock Holmes and his creator.
In the fifty-six stories and four novels penned by Sir Arthur, he alludes to other cases that Dr. Watson was sworn to never reveal. In The Improbable Adventures, we can finally read the truth(s) behind the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland, the criminal Merridew of abominable memory", and others.
Sadly, Mr. Adams did not see fit to include any tales concerning the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Perhaps he felt the world is not yet ready for that tale. For those of you stout of heart, I was always fond of this interpretation of that ghastly case. Okay, it's pretty silly, but I like it. The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen is probably more worthwhile. I also recommend this tragically overlooked film by the great Billy Wilder, it includes midgets, steampunky tech, Christopher Lee as Mycroft, and a certain famous loch.
I should also mention contributions from legends Michael Moorcock and Anthony Burgess or those stories that explore the Fermi Paradox and Everett's many-worlds interpretation. Suffice it to say, this is a great collection of stories that really only samples a wee bit of the shelves and shelves of works that writers and fans of the Great Detective have written. The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a good place to start or rediscover your love for one of the world's greatest literary creations, Sherlock Holmes.
Grey_Area is known to the Baker Street Irregulars as Chris Hsiang. He awaits Guy Ritchie's film with cautious optimism.