Friday, February 11, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly Wade Wellman and Son

You might like this book. There's a new edition out, and 8 of 10 people on Amazon gave it favorable reviews.

I wanted to like it. Maybe I did when I read it back in 1975. But this time it struck me as a perfect example of how NOT to turn a short story into a novel.

According to the Intro, the idea to team up Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger during the Martian invasion began with Wade Wellman, a poet, who took it to his pop, the well-known Manly Wade. Together, they sold a short story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. When it was well-received, they wrote a sequel. Those two tales, told by Dr. Watson, form the last quarter of this book, and they're not bad. Not much really happens, but it's interesting to see these two fictional minds ponder the problem of the invaders. The sad thing is, these two stories are the best part of the book, but they're so undermined by all that comes before that it's hard to appreciate them.

The book leads off with a tale called "The Adventure of the Crystal Egg," based on a story by H.G. Wells. This one (along with the next two Parts) is told in third person by Edward Dunn Malone, the journalist who is the narrator of the Professor Challenger books. The story has elements of interest. We see how Holmes comes into possession of the egg and meets Challenger, which is pretty good stuff. Then they sit around gazing into the egg, seeing things taking place on Mars, and theorizing about it. But that's all that happens. There is no "Adventure." Though they are the first to know that ships are coming from Mars, they do nothing about it, and simply part ways, which sets up the next two segments of the book.

Part II, called "Sherlock Holmes versus Mars," is another misnomer. Holmes wanders around, sometimes witnessing events and sometimes gathering hearsay. Eventually he has a brief but inconsequential encounter with an invader. Ho hum. The most interesting part was seeing him walk from the village of Ware, north of the city, back to his digs at Baker Street. This was interesting only because my step-daughter once attended college in Ware, and my wife and I made the drive from London to visit her. It was a long and hairy drive.

The title of Part III, "Professor Challenger versus Mars," is also a lie. Challenger treks from London to the sea to put his wife on a ship to safety. Then he returns. He, too, has a brief encounter with an invader, but nothing comes of it. This part was so mind-numbing I actually skimmed - and when it comes to fiction I am not a skimmer.

In effect, Parts II and III served no purpose at all, save to fill in the time (and the book) between the crystal viewing and the arrival of Challenger at Baker Street, where the first magazine story begins. That tale, by the way, is the most misnamed of all. "The Adventure of the Martian Client," has no adventure, and there is no Martian client. Worst of all, it is now relegated to a recap of what little has happened in the first three parts.

Thankfully, the final segment, "Venus, Mars and Baker Street," is aptly named, presents new information, and actually tells a story. Hallelujah. The book ends on a positive note.

But here's the bottom line: If you already own this, or insist on buying it, read the last two stories first. Then proceed, if you wish, to the stuff about the egg. And then, and only then, if you are so inclined, delve into Parts II and III.

PLEASE NOTE: This week, Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book shoes are being filled by George Kelley, and I'm sure he looks absolutely fabulous in them. Find out HERE.

TOMORROW!  Direct from the hallowed pages of DAPA-EM comes the Worst Short Story of 1982 - - - "A Bullet for Bouchercon."  It's stuffed to the gills with such fictional heroes and villains as Art Scott, Bob Napier, Bill Crider, Walter Albert, John Nieminski, Dorothy Nathan, Kathi Maio, Steve Stilwell and Marv Lachman, with a cameo appearance by Robert B. Parker. Be afraid!


Todd Mason said...

Perhaps happily, I've only read the short fiction that was published in F&SF...and am amused to learn thus that F&SF and FEMINIST IN THE DARK film reviewer Kathi Maio can easily be found at Bouchercons.

Hearing Lenny Bruce in 1949 on the Godfrey show (at about 15 minutes in, his mother introduces him).

Randy Johnson said...

I have this very edition among my Holmes pastiches, a constantly growing set I can never seem to catch up with.

Deka Black said...

"Sherlock Holmes Vs. The Martians" Sounds... weird.

Unknown said...

I did a "Forgotten Books" on this one a good while ago. Definitely not the Holmes I was expecting.

George said...

Manly Wade Wellman has become one of my favorite writers as I work my way through his collected stories from Night Shade Books.

Charles Gramlich said...

I definitely never heard of this one. I wish it was better. It sounds pretty cool. I've found that Manly Wade Wellman is really hit or miss with me. I've liked some of his stuff, although have not adored it. But I've also disliked a fair amount of his stuff too, or at least found it rather flat.

Todd Mason said...

Wellman is one of my literary heroes...he did some so-so sf (along with the brilliant stuff, such as TWICE IN TIME), but it is in his folkloric horror and related materials that he shines like a supernova.

BV Lawson said...

This is buried somewhere in my towering TBR pile (I think I actually loaned it to the hubster). Thanks for the warning about reading the last 2 chapters first! An interesting concept for a book, but it sounds like a wasted opportunity, for the most part.

Jerry House said...

Wellman was a journeyman writer who could produce some great stuff. He's best known for his weird stories, but much of his other work is outstanding. He, like William Campbell Gault, found a lucrative career in juveniles; those with a historic theme are very good. His Find My Killer (a mystery) and Fort Sun Dance (a western) are very entertaining. One of his mainstream novels (I forget the title and I'm too lazy to look it up) features a Sawney Bean-like family of frontier killers and makes for great reading. I think Wellman is at his best, though, when he combines his historical and Southern sensibilities, as he did in his nonfiction book Rebel Yell.

Anonymous said...

I'll skip this one, and thanks you for the frank assessment.

David Cranmer said...

I will pass on this because our tastes are simpatico and I'm pretty sure I would be disappointed as well.