Monday, 1 May 2017

Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was OK. It could have been much better had a really good copy editor got rid of the Americanisms, the anachronisms, the misused words (two separate stories use "sojourn" to mean "journey," which is the opposite of what it means), the out-of-character moments, the occasional infodumping, and the cases where some of the authors attempted to sound 19th-century and only managed to sound stiff.

We have many (a great many) different visions of Holmes and his supporting characters here. In a couple, he wears the deerstalker hat, which was introduced by the Basil Rathbone films and never appears in the books. In one, he despises and disparages Gilbert and Sullivan while Watson enjoys it; in another, vice versa, which seemed to me much less like his canon character. In some of the stories, he shows a familiarity with popular literature which, in canon, he explicitly avoided reading; in some, he is much kinder and more polite than canon Holmes; in many, he is prepared to believe in non-rational explanations. In one, he's mistaken for an applicant for a servant's position, which is ridiculous; no British servant in the 19th century would mistake an (undisguised) gentleman for an applicant to be an underbutler, any more than he'd mistake him for a woman, and for much the same reason: cues of voice, dress, and manner proclaimed social class, and everyone was well aware of them from an early age. Not to mention that an applicant to be the underbutler would never knock at the front door.

In one story, a thoroughly OOC Holmes, his desire for a more intimate relationship with Watson thwarted by Watson's marriage, and hiding out in Paris after his apparent death, commits adultery with Irene Adler, who claims to love her husband even as she deceives and betrays him.

Most of the stories are from Watson's POV, though the very British, very Victorian Watson sometimes uses American or modern language that the authors and their copy editor seem oblivious to. A few are from other characters' points of view, such as Mary Robinette Kowal's story, from the POV of someone helped by Holmes and Watson. Although I respect MRK's advice on the Writing Excuses podcast very much, her actual stories usually disappoint me, and this was one example. The POV character has little agency, being mainly an observer, and this is one of several stories which was clearly referencing things outside the Holmes canon with which I'm not familiar - meaning that I missed the significance and that part of the story failed.

There are also several stories in which the author shows far too much of their research, turning Watson into an infodumper.

There were good stories, too. The Stephen King, for example, does a better job of Watson's voice than most of the others (voice is a talent of King's). The Neil Gaiman story, which I'd read in a couple of other collections, skilfully blends Mythos with a deeper familiarity with the Holmes canon than many of the other stories showed. I was amused by the story which took Conan Doyle's The Lost World>/i> as a point of departure for a clever pastiche, involving a dinosaur, trombones, and a ridiculous exaggeration of Holmes' mastery of disguise.

There were some good moments, but not, for me, enough of them to make up for the issues, and it ended up only average on the whole.

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