Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Arch Enemies

With the announcement of the "Holmes in the Heartland" symposium returning to St. Louis in 2020 (July 24-26! Mark those calendars!), I can't help but dwell a little bit on their planned theme: "Arch Enemies."

For many a happy Sherlockians, Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty are apt to come immediately to mind. For some others, I'd wager, their first or second thought might be of a fellow Sherlockian. Because, despite the grand "Found my tribe!" aspect of our community, it's not that uncommon to encounter someone who, in a Holmes-Moriarty duality sort of way, becomes your mental arch-enemy.

They may not know they're your arch-enemy. (Probably for the best.) And the person they consider their arch nemesis might not be you. (How do I know they probably have an arch-enemy? Because if they were the kind of sweet and lovely person that doesn't, you wouldn't have chosen them, would you?)  Yet even if it goes unspoken on either side, you know it's there.

Is it bad to have an arch-enemy in your hobby?

Well, unless you're actually plotting criminal acts against them, I don't think so. Finding someone who epitomizes all of the things you feel the need to push back against can be a good way to focus your energies, as long as you don't make it personal and go after them as a fellow human. (Surest sign of going to far down that road: The ad hominem argument -- learn it, don't do it.) And, well, recognizing how someone else is an asshole can help you occasionally not do likewise.

Our Sherlockian culture is always going to make us look at our fellow folk and go, "Who are my Watsons? Who are my Mycrofts? Who are my Moriartys?" It can be a worthwhile exercise, especially in considering your Watsons and Mycrofts. Your Moriarty, however, usually won't have to be sought out . . . that person will make themselves known quick enough. And, unfortunately, probably haunt you for most of your Sherlockian career.

I'm sure a few of us will be considering this topic in depth, as we head for July of 2020. It's going to be a very interesting year. (As if they aren't all, of late!)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Size matters, but for ACD, not in the direction one might think.

There is a level of success in the current literary marketplace where word limits no longer exist. You can see it in many a novel series, as the first books are a fairly reasonable length, then later works meander on and on, giving fans more and editors less to do. Digital books have added an egalitarian aspect to the trend, and the massive novel is everywhere.

This isn't to say that the massive novel didn't exist before this century, but when you look at The Complete Sherlock Holmes filling one thick book with four novels and fifty-six short stories, one has to wonder if all those added pages are worth it. Conan Doyle, as we know, wasn't that fond of Sherlock Holmes and treated him a bit like a trip to the bank as time went on -- get in, do what's necessary to get the cash, get back out again. There was never any worry of Conan Doyle dying before he finished anything, as he finished Sherlock Holmes about four or five times.

And it makes you wonder: Would we treasure Sherlock Holmes so much if he had appeared in a sixty-novel series, with at least four of them being epics perhaps worthy of trilogies?

Conan Doyle packed a lot of depth into what he did write, with details and descriptions that Sherlockians have digested for a hundred years so far. (Almost like the fandom is a Sarlacc Pit, and Sherlock a poor Boba Fett.) It's a quality meal worth savoring, not a massive buffet that leaves you wondering what you just went through and why.

Would Conan Doyle be the same writer in the current marketplace? Would he go all J.K. Rowling as the Sherlock books became more popular, eventually giving us a massive-tome version of "Shoscombe Old Place" with tent camping and the actual trout fishing alluded to in the tale? Would The Hound of the Baskervilles had a second half all about Sir Hugo, just as A Study in Scarlet did about Jefferson Hope?

Doyle wasn't so thrilled with Sherlock, so it's hard to imagine him spending all that time writing an eight-hundred page novel when he could get away with a quarter of the length. He'd try screenplays, of course, just to get the cash-to-words ratio maximized as he did as little with Holmes as he could, perhaps, but we recall how well his ventures into theater went. Maybe movies wouldn't have been his thing. (Unless it turned out he had a talent for directing.)

Conan Doyle was such a master of doing more with less in his prose, that it's hard to imagine just where he'd wind up in the current market. Could he single-handedly bring back the short story? (Is it gone? It seems like it is, commercially.) Or would he pull a George R.R. Martin and let HBO finish out Sherlock for him until he got around to it?

It's an entirely different time than when the Sherlock Holmes stories were first published, and one does have to wonder.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Auto-erotic Asphyxiation in the Canon and other Saturday bits

Today was a good day for a drive down to St. Louis to see my friends in the Parallel Case of that same city.

The Saturday afternoon story discussions at their local library inspired me to help start our own Peoria library discussion group a couple of years back, and the Sherlock Holmes Story Society has been doing quite well. It's quite a different animal than our old scion society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, which often suffered from that malady that a few Sherlockian social clubs have passed through over the years . . . socializing overpowering the Sherlock, with members starting to complain that other things were discussed more than the topic we were nominally there to discuss.

The focus upon a story, without the distractions of wait-staff, guests just along for the ride (or to meet the one semi-celeb in the group), or drinking, is one of the most inspirational parts of the Sherlockian life, when a room full of people try to make sense of all those marvelous details that Watson has put to paper for us. This afternoon, for example, "The Resident Patient" --  normally one of the more slender reeds of the Canon -- brought out all sorts of layers I never considered as being in that story before. Missing time. Important letters with content unknown. Victorian cover-ups of the socially unacceptable parts of life, like death due to auto-erotic asphyxiation.

London criminals were up to all sorts of things, and sometimes Scotland Yard just goes with "Oh, they were on a boat that sunk. Cheers!" (I now have to wonder if  even "a curious newspaper cutting reached us from Buda-Pesth" in another tale was just Lestrade passing on another theory that justice was served, even though criminals escaped, and putting another "Case close" check mark in his file.)

I'll let you find the full write-up when it comes to the Parallelogram blog in the next few days, but suffice it to say that the Parallel Case of St. Louis has it pretty well figured out -- Saturday afternoon dedicated discussion followed by a trip across the street to a nearby whiskey house for drinks and an appetizer or two. (Most of us went for a "retired Sherlock" cocktail called "the Bee's Knees," which is the only drink I've ever encountered that just gets better as the ice melts, thanks to its honey-laced ice cubes.)

Good things coming out of St. Louis these days, and an event in one of our old stomping grounds next year. It made for a very pleasant Saturday.

Oh . . . and did I mention that the next Watsonian Weekly got most of its episode recorded there? Coming soon to a pod-player near you!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Are essay collections replacing journals?

After a deluge of notifications for the Kickstarter project of a book entitled Sherlock Holmes is Everywhere, I started to wonder: Is the book of essay collections replacing the journal as a prime place for Sherlockian non-fiction to be published? (I have to use the word "non-fiction" loosely here, because when one writes about how many times Watson gave someone brandy, it could fall into either camp.)

Once upon a time, a journal was the place to get your article published. It hasn't even been that long since The Baker Street Journal has advertised itself as "the journal of record," emphasizing its old role of being the place to get your work seen. The book collecting many articles by many hands, however, is trending pretty hard of late, however, and as I find myself in the role of journal editor for the John H. Watson Society's The Watsonian this summer, that trend's blip is definitely growing larger on my radar.

The article collection book has been an annual event with at least one publisher, at which point it could almost be defined as a "periodical." (Sherlock Holmes started life in an annual periodical, one may recall.) And yet there remains a few definite distinctions between the two that may give the article collection a definite advantage.

Themes, for one. Getting a listing on Amazon, for another. Fitting nicely on a bookshelf, for a third. (We do like our books.) Periodicals of all sorts have definitely suffered at the hands of the internet, where the latest info hits readers faster than paper-and-ink ever could. But a book is usually built with a more timeless goal in mind.

So where do we go with the journal at this point? Do we just depend upon the loyalty of Sherlockian traditionalists, who just like having things as they've always been? How do we make the not-insubstantial investment of a year's subscription worth a newer Sherlockian's money? And what writers do we serve in helping get there ideas in print? That last question might actually be the key.

The journal is still probably the best place for a new Sherlockian writer to see something published, because a.) You get to invite yourself, and b.) You can write the what you want to write. A good journal doesn't box itself in too tightly with expected content, it welcomes the thing that no one saw coming. A decent editor can help you improve your work, if there was some bit you might have overlooked. (Not saying I'm a decent editor, but I've had some good ones along the way.)

Any print publishing is still a waiting game, in a world where blogging and AO3 can put your stuff out there instantly . . . a luxury I've come to love far too much . . . but if you've got the patience to get your work placed in a printed collection that we know collectors and archives are going to hang on to for as long as they can, the Sherlockian journal is a great way to go.

All that said, here's the details on The Watsonian, a very fine journal that is looking for articles right now. The new editor might still be figuring some things out, so there might be a little patience required there as well, but as it's currently in its seventh year, there is some evidence that this thing has a little longevity going for it. Give it a try, with whatever your special Sherlockian talent might be!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

2019 wrapped in a pretty ribbon

Well, I finally managed to get the ribbons off the Baker Street Almanac 2019 without cutting them.

It was smaller in height and breadth than I'd imagined, after hearing the legends of such a thing existing, and taking a look online. And somehow that just made it all the more fantastical a thing.

The Baker Street Almanac series, if you have managed not to hear of it yet (and given that it's only in its second year, that's entirely possible), is a 296-page compilation of Sherlockian data for the previous year, as well as specific lists that extend beyond that. I could list all the wonders that lay inside, but even that hardly does it justice. Editor Ross Davies calls it a time capsule of the year, which it definitely is, but that seems a bit humble as well.

"Herculean labor of love" might come a bit closer. This is no mere amassing of material, an act by itself that would be worthy of praise. It's all of that amazing amount of material carefully curated and pleasantly formatted into a volume worth having. Material running from the mundane to the controversial, from all over the world, gives you a real feeling for just how big the world of Sherlockiana has become . . . and the Almanac is even staying mostly on the familiar main roads. When one looks at all that's in it, and then starts to consider all of that Sherlock stuff out there that isn't in it, the mind starts to boggle. Sherlock Holmes has indeed become like the stars in the night sky.

The Baker Street Almanac is one of those glorious books that one would like to see continue on indefinitely and grow to cover even more material, but unless Ross Davies is a timelord or immortal vampire with lackeys to do his bidding, the limits of being human cannot compete with what our minds envision. We have to enjoy such treats while they last, be it two years or twenty, so I'd definitely recommend diving into this one, either in paper form or its massive PDF edition. 

But if you can do the paper, having that physical object to remind you it's there, along with the beautiful wrapping job you'll puzzle at trying not to take a scissors to, it's well worth the thirty bucks.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Still puzzling over season four

"Give the people what they want." -- Season Four John
"Never do that, people are stupid." -- Season Four Sherlock

It probably goes without saying that there was some weird stuff going on in season four of BBC Sherlock at this point. This week, however, I read an unrelated tweet that a writer named Sam Sykes put out there while hammered. Don't know anything about the guy, but this sentence seemed to have a certain insight to it:

"The nerds who spend years writing about relationships with fictional people are in a WAY stronger position than the nerds who spend years writing about magic systems."

Sherlock Holmes had people saying "You are a wizard!" to him long before Harry Potter, so, for the sake of Sherlockian matters, let's take the phrase "magic systems" in the quote above and substitute "consulting detective methods." Sherlock's very own magic, as he pulled off his latest "trick."

Mystery writers have been trying to emulate Conan Doyle's skill at pulling off the Sherlock Holmes trick for more than a century. Now TV and movie writers are trying to get there as well . . . and in almost every attempt, attempts to repeat those tricks.

In the era following Sherlock Holmes, mysteries almost would up with a technical quality to them. Read a book like Murder Ink, and you can see them analyzed all sorts of ways. The legacy of the 1940s murder mystery scene is one of the nerdiest areas one can get into. So what does all this have to do with season four of BBC Sherlock?

I think someone was trying to have it all -- relationship stories AND the Sherlock Holmes magic. And trying way too hard at forcing the two together.

All of the original Sherlock Holmes stories had relationship stories in them -- about the clients. Holmes and Watson came in as the frame around those relationship stories. Sherlock didn't spend a whole story tracking down Mrs. Watson. He did set a "Dying Detective" trap using Watson, but it didn't involve a troubled, grieving Watson who had to fly into cathartic violence. And giving Sherlock Holmes an origin mystery that tears through his entire life . . . well, it's hard to be a "wizard" and amaze the client when you are the client and just unveiling your own personal trauma.

Relationship stories can be great. Mystery stories can be great. Something about trying to do Sherlock-level with both at the same time, however?

I have to wonder if that's a dangerous mix.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Elementary, Season Seven, Episode Seven: Dwy (ya gotta harass) 'er?

So, time to stop the Netflix Stranger Things binge to look in on Joan Watson and her Sherlock for this weekend's Elementary watch. SPOILER TIME!

Hey, we're starting with a speech from Captain Dwyer, as he pays tribute to the returning Captain Gregson is a precinct office ceremony with a giant badge for good old "Tommy" Gregson, handed over by Marcus Bell.

That giant badge thing is kinda weird, really.

And Tommy's officers are already starting to quit. Probably going to join the Odin Reichenbach secret conspiracy of justice. Cut to some obviously doomed lowlife, and his girfriend's homecoming money trail to his obvious corpse. Somebody has to die before the opening credits, right? It's like ritual sacrifice.

No Joan or Sherlock in the show yet. I'm going to miss Captain Dwyer, as ol' Tommy Gregson is just soooo sleepy.

Side thought: One would guess that the ratings on this episode, which ran Fourth of July night opposite all the fireworks everywhere, were probably in the toilet. As the only original programming besides televised fireworks, the episode pulled in 2.94 million viewers, with really wasn't that far behind the 3.09 million of the week before. One could theorize that demonstrates Elementary viewers care more about seeing their show than holiday fireworks.

Uh-oh. Gregson is questioning Joan Watson about Captain Dwyer's history of sexual harassment. WHAT THE HELL?!?! First Bill Cosby and now Captain Dwyer? Just goes to show, you can't have heroes anymore, unless they're fictional and their Canon has been sealed for nearly a hundred years.

Joan is questioning Sherlock about Dwyer's alleged harassment now. The main mystery is about drugs, at first, and now about cat allergies. That's our Elementary, jumping from thing to thing, but drugs and cat allergies are really kind of dull for the show's usual choices.

Since Gregson is blaming his officer quitting on potential sexual harassment by Captain Dwyer, without any actual accusation from the officer, I'm still thinking it's a red herring for her joining Odin Reichenbach's crew. Because Reichenbach isn't getting mentioned at all so far, and something in this episode has to tie to his over-arching season plot.

Drugs to cat-allegies to Russian spies to kindergarten class . . . oh, Sherlock, don't you stripper-shame that kindergarten teacher! That's pretty scummy. But Tommy's going to confront Dwyer about his potential sexual harassment, so moving on, Dwyer seems a little offended by the suggestion. I mean, he gave Tommy that giant badge and all.

Gregson and Marcus Bell and Sherlock and Joan have one of those low-voiced four-way conversations that make this a good nine o'clock show -- it won't disturb the neighbors. Kinda making me sleepy, though, like an episode of a certain low-voiced podcast I occasionally check in on. They do like to talk the quiet talk on this show.

But we have Watson working on a bulletin board of conspiracy photos, and Sherlock's explanation of his system. And I do like a tip on Holmesian method.

Holmes: "You've forgotten my new color coding system already: Red lines indicate ownership, blue is a familial relationship, green denotes a financial connection . . ."
Watson: "Pink is for kissing cousins, purple means two suspects same karaoke duets."
Holmes: "You mock me."

Back to our Russian spy lady and Sherlock at a nice coffee shop, where she has a guy blown up across the street by adjusting her scarf. That's pretty sweet.

Oh, but Tommy Gregson is back to chasing down Dwyer's sexual harassment. And the officer leaving is calling the whole department to task for the harassment. Apparently, Gregson was the only guy NOT harassing people, but at least we have an actual accusal now, instead of Gregson making that giant leap just from having someone quit ten minutes after he was back on the force. The writing of this plot thread has left a little to be desired. Not sure how they're going to bring this home.

And, Joan Watson just solve the case by paying attention to her surroundings while Sherlock wasn't. This is definitely not Rathbone and Bruce.

Oooo, cat hair DNA testing to prove a murder. Seems like a little bit of a reach when it actually comes to trial.

Well, Gregson at least got his departing officer to out Dwyer for sending swimsuit photos of her to other officers. She's quitting anyway, because she likes her new job better than hanging around Gregson's precinct.

With that, the show is over, and Odin Reichenbach is nowhere to be seen. Seemed like a bit of a snoozer this week, but with the fireworks going on outside, one could see why they tucked this episode into this particular week. On to next week.