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The further adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

Titan Books, 2020, 343 p.

 Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace cover

I have mentioned before that the detective story/crime fiction isn’t really my thing – nor Shelock Holmes for that matter. This however is by my friend Eric Brown who, although he has written in the crime genre, started off in the SF field and this certainly counts as Science Fiction. It is, as its title suggests, a mash-up (I was going to say curious mash-up but that is its whole point) of the work of H G Wells and Arthur Conan-Doyle. As is the way of such things we have many references throughout, starting early with the presence of Mr Herbert Wells himself – here a scientific liaison officer in the Martian Embassy to Great Britain and an aspiring writer whose output is deemed too fanciful to appeal to the public – and his love interest, Cicely Fairfield, whose writing efforts have been more successful.

This is a world where the Martians of War of the Worlds have returned, complete with their signature tripods and nightly cries of “Ulla, ulla,” and armed with antibodies to Earthly pathogens, transforming life on Earth with technological advances. This is a good brand of Martian, who came in peace, having overthrown their acquisitive predecessors. Or so they say. Some people on Earth doubt this story and there is an active political resistance to the Martian influence. Among their number are George Bernard Shaw and G K Chesterton.

Holmes, having established his credentials by solving the case of the murder of the Martian ambassador two or so years before the main plot of this tale begins – albeit by concealing the identity of the true culprit – is invited to Mars to investigate the murder of Delph-Aran-Arapna, one of the finest Martian minds of the era. Curiously no reference to this creature can be found in any of the Martian literature which Holmes has read. (The great detective has of course made himself fluent in Martian.) Our narrator, as is customary, is Dr Watson, who in an anti-Martian public meeting has made the acquaintance – or rather by design been made her acquaintance – of a Miss Freya Hamilton-Bell, a prominent member of the anti-Martian faction.

The journey to Mars having been made (also making his appearance here is a certain Professor Challenger,) Holmes and Watson are soon contacted by Miss Hamilton-Bell and told of the Martians’ plan to replace well-known or powerful men from Earth (or mostly men) with simulacra – with all the attributes, memories and brain-power of their originals’ but controllable at a distance – as a means to taking over Earth and eradicating humans entirely. Fortunately there is an underclass of Martians who were recently at war with the dominant aggressive faction who are able to help.

Unsurprisingly in a series of novels trading on the Holmes mythos, Professor Moriarty – indeed a whole series of Moriartys as the Martians have cloned his body multiple times – is a pivotal figure. More surprisingly he is less of an antagonist to Holmes than the reader might have thought.

All first-person novels (all novels, perhaps?) are an act of ventriloquism but that act is surely more difficult if the voice being simulated is not of the author’s own devising. Brown has made a good fist of the mash-up, capturing the stilted, repressed, awkwardnesses of “Watson’s” style and character, but also made it more accommodating to a modern audience. (Words like antibodies, pathogens and feisty seem unlikely for the 1910s. The agency of Miss Hamilton-Bell as active and important in the anti-Martian movement seems also to be a more modern note – but then again the book is set in the age of the suffragettes, who could be an unruly lot – though they are unmentioned.)

Holmes fans might hanker for more of the supposed deductive reasoning powers of Conan-Doyle’s hero (which are used sparingly here) but the Wells influence, the flavour of the scientific romance, is more to the fore. Brown is primarily an SF writer after all.

An enterprise like this is surely not meant to be conceived as a serious work of fiction and should not be read as such. As an entertainment, though, it succeeds admirably.

Pedant’s corner:- “Time interval later” count: substantial, plus variants such as “in due course” etc. Otherwise; Cicely (the real-life Miss Fairfield was named Cicily,) nought (naught,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) smidgen (I prefer ‘smidgin’,) cannister (canister,) imposters (I prefer ‘impostors’,) cicatrise (cicatrice.) “The content of their originals’ minds have been reproduced” (The contents of their originals’minds,) “nine pence” (ninepence,) “the two Miss Fairfields” (the two Misses Fairfield.)

Strange Visitors by Eric Brown

Imaginings 8, NewCon Press, 2014, 158 p.

I ought again to point out that the author is well-known to me: is, indeed, a friend. I hope that this does not colour any appreciation – or lack thereof – of his output nor get in the way of any judgements or comments I make about his work.

 Strange Visitors cover

In any case in his introduction to this collection its publisher Ian Whates relays “stalwart of the British SF community” and former owner of Birmingham’s much-lamented Andromeda bookshop Rog Peyton’s opinion that Brown is our greatest living SF writer – as much for the author’s concentration on the humans in his stories as for anything else. Whatever, Strange Visitors contains an excellent body of stories displaying Brown’s range and it is striking here how often those which reflect humanity and its foibles most directly are the most successful and satisfying. Many of Brown’s perennial concerns are evident (religion surprisingly excepted) but their handling shows Brown’s assurance as a writer.

In Life Beyond…… 1 Brown pays effective homage to SF writer Clifford D Simak. An ageing writer faced with losing his recently orphaned grand-daughter to an adoptive family has a close encounter with a book-collecting alien.

Steps Along the Way2 is set thirty thousand years into the future where humans are effectively immortal, have spread all through the galaxy and can Enstate and Enable people from history.

Brown’s affection for the work of Michael G Coney shines through The Sins of Edward Veron3 where the titular Veron is an artist who has lost his ability to produce good work. Then an alien art collector from Mintaka V arrives at Sapphire Oasis. (SPOILER ALERT. There is a slight flaw in this story in that Veron seems to have been able to leave the Oasis the day after his wife died without engendering either suspicion or investigation.)

In Myths of the Martian Future4 Olinka and Tem, two crab-like cave dwellers on a far-future Mars, set out on their initiation rite on the surface. What they meet encompasses both the past of their species and a description of its future. There is a certain stiltedness in the narration, characteristic of all stories such as this.

The Scribe of Betelgeuse V5 is a tongue-in-cheek account of the invasion of Earth by octopods from Betelgeuse V, whose first act is to cause an episode of mass writers’ block. It manages to name check a couple of Brown’s writer friends as well as poke fun at the publishing industry.

The Rest Is Speculation6. Two and a half billion years into the future representatives of every sentient race that ever existed on Earth are gathered together by the Effectuators to witness its last days.

The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador7 is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche wherein the great detective is invited to investigate the murder of the Martian ambassador at Mars’s London embassy, where the two human employees are a certain Herbert Wells and Miss Rebecca West.

In Bukowski on Mars, With Beer8 Brown imagines how Charles Bukowski would cope after being brought back to life – along with all the greats – on a future Mars. The beer helps.

People of Planet Earth9 is an alien invasion story where the method of body snatching is exceedingly unusual, to say the least.

In P.O.O.C.H.10 Michael is punished for electronically stealing from the rich (but relaying the proceeds to charity) by being given his own Personal Omni-Operational Correction Hound; a robot which mimics a real dog in all respects.

Pedant’s corner:- A total of 20 occurrences of “time interval later” plus one “within seconds”. Each story has its title as a header on odd-numbered pages except The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador appears for both its own story and for The Rest Is Speculation and People of the Planet Earth appears for People of Planet Earth. Otherwise; 1USian spellings – disheveled, defense, etc; but…. manoeuvre. “of legion of thinkers” (of a legion; or, of legions.) “What if they alien” (the alien,) “I am loathe to give them up” (loth, or loath,) 2“men whose contribution to history were steps along the way” (contributions.) 3“accused her of having affair” (an affair,) “the piece in which I had tried to imbue” (the piece which I had tried,) back-peddling (back pedalling,) 4Barington (Barrington.) 5Carstairs’ (Carstairs’s,) stared at MS (the MS,) the BBC were on hand (the BBC was,) “I wil l-” (I will-,) Hemmings’ (Hemmings’s,) “‘I demanded reparations’” (demand.) 6a missing comma before a piece of dialogue, “this absence, this lacunae” (lacuna,) disk x 3 but disc x 1, “‘And they?’ I Kamis asked.” (‘And they?’ Kamis asked.) 7Wells’ (Wells’s,) “‘Was he is the habit….’” (in the habit,) “The slightest frowned marred” (frown,) “‘For a little short for six months’” (of six months,) Madame Rochelle’s (appears as Madame the first twice but subsequently as Madam, but this may have been an authorial distinction between that lady’s establishment and her person,) “‘if any of your ladies in the habit’” (are in the habit,) St Pauls (St Paul’s,) 8“A guy a silver suit” (in a silver suit,) “That last I remembered” (The last?) anther beer (anther beer sounds like great stuff but another beer was meant,) “to keep in breathable” (it breathable,) “and the all fucking” (and all the fucking.) 9the throes delirium (of delirium,) ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Speaker of the House’ (when starting a speech in Parliament the form is, ‘Mr Speaker, honourable members.’) 10”to answer to summons” (the summons,) descendent (descendant,) miniscule (minuscule,) you commands (your,) busses (buses.) Thirty minute (minutes,) banks accounts (banks’ accounts.)

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