Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winding Down.

Every time I've come up with a post idea in the past few days I've put it aside until after the New Year, because around this time of year everyone else is doing an end of year wrap-up or something about resolutions.

This is a fairly ridiculous impulse, because I never do an end of the year wrap-up. My memory is geared towards things like the exact wording that was used on the phone, a national stock number, or the name of an obscure Wonder Woman villain. I'm not particularly good with dates, as my family (who have seen their birthdays forgotten nearly every year for the past decade) would attest. A year-end wrap-up would require me to remember things from earlier in the year, and even more dauntingly, remember just when in the year they happened.

In the meantime, I don't place much stock in New Year's Resolutions, because anything that requires more than a couple weeks is planning too far ahead for me. I hate planning. I went out of my way to form a lifestyle which excuses long-term planning, I'm not going to muck that up with New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I do End of Year Resolutions and this year I have busted all but one of them.

Still, if anyone is interested in a snapshot of this point in my life:

I have work this weekend, so I'm spending a quiet evening at home rather than going out.

I finished a Dispatches from the Fridge post, and am feeling rather satisfied that I've managed to post most of the weekends since starting it. We've managed 93 posts this year, nearly two per weekend.

I'm sitting in the middle of my uncleaned living (broken resolution number one), watching episodes from the old Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. Lately, that series has been something of an obsession for me, and I'm getting a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I'm chatting with Kalinara about Sherlock Holmes inspectors.

I live in the middle of the village, rather than on the edge this year, so I'm surrounded by people setting off fireworks. I can see them from my window, but I hadn't noticed last year how much like artillery they sound. I didn't have any particularly interesting experiences in Afghanistan, but the sound is a bit unsettling.

I managed to beat the 50-book mark this year again. I used to keep track of every year I tried on Librarything, but sometime in 2011 I decided to delete all of my tags and start over. I wish I hadn't done that. Here is this year's list if you're interested.

The one strange end of year resolution I completed was to read through all of the comments on this post. (Warning: it gets pretty transphobic around the 700s.) Basically, one of the old and rather irritating personalities in the mainstream feminist community, Hugo, was interviewed for that blog. Hugo is quite disliked by a number of readers, and so they discussed that. Hugo's whiny, patronizing, and uninteresting so those who dislike him have ignored his blog for several years, and missed the post where he confessed to attempting to murder his ex-girlfriend and got out of being arrested because the police got the idea that she was suicidal from someone he chooses not to name. (Safe bet it rhymes with Lugo.) Someone who had been paying attention brings this up in the thread, and it is promptly shut down. Begin shitstorm. A post about the virtues of forgiveness follows this, with closed comments. Then an apology post that had reached 956 comments by the time I finished it went up.

I felt compelled to read through the entire thing to get links and elaboration on the murder thing, because it couldn't have been what it sounded like. But yeah, got high, saw her sleeping there, decided he needed to put her and himself out of his misery, tried to gas her. So, what it sounds like. Then it was a matter of disbelief that people were actually defending him. In the end I posted a comment siding with the "Are you kidding me?" faction and left.

On the bright side, through the tangents I read about some interesting comments and found out about some interesting books.

I was also duly reminded why I dislike the main political feminist blogs, and why I stopped reading them, and stopped reading and linking to a lot of the "Big Name Feminists" out there. I ducked out a few years over the whole mess about the tasteless illustrations chosen for Marcotte's book, but I'd been softening since so many of my newer friends who weren't around back then seem to be linking these guys. Much trouble as I've caused, I really don't like to be the one who constantly brings up old shit, especially if the people have finally recanted in the meantime and I just missed it. Based on these events, I'm going to guess nothing has improved.

Anyway, my apologies for the dim tone of this post. I had a long day at work and look forward to a long workday tomorrow. For 2012, I intend to exercise more (for the sake of my job), clear out some of the squalor in which I am living, shoot for the 75 book challenge, and use less profanity in day to day speech.

Those are only intentions, though. I resolve to drink a little wine and finally write that post about Irene Adler.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: The House of Silk

Because the true canon of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries ceased around 84 years ago, and it was limited to a mere 60 tales plus apocrypha, even fans like me who feel no particular need to seek out fanfiction for other properties have a ravenous appetite for even terrible new stories. Mere faithful film adaptations aren't enough, we crave new tales. We want those stories Watson hinted at. We long for the stories that were too shocking and too entangled with the news of the day to publish. We seek out the confrontation with Jack the Ripper. We need the build-up to The Final Problem. We demand The Giant Rat of Sumatra and the other stories for which the world was not yet prepared.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of writers willing to give us new mysteries. Though the quality varies from time to time. (Do not read any take on The Giant Rat of Sumatra. It is no fault of the ambitious writer who tackles that tantalizing title that it is too much to live up to, but it is simply a fact that no rational explanation could live up to it.)

I've read some truly awful Sherlock Holmes fanfic in my day. And I don't mean awful because we found it on some poor young person's unprotected tumblr, I don't mean the sort of awful that was dashed off in an hour in response to a kinkmeme. I mean stuff people actually got professionals to publish and stock in bookstores.

But I've read some pretty good stuff. I've read some stuff that is pretty good despite falling to the perilous tropes of fanfiction, where the writer's style is aped awkwrdly and there is fanservice thrown in to the detriment of the story momentum.

And I've read some pretty great stuff too, some great stuff that no one has been willing to publish even. (Why is Marcia Wilson's You Buy Bones self-published when the first half is better than most of the stuff put out in the last 84 years?)

So even when I saw that little sticker saying that ACD's descendants have put their stamp of approval on the story, I still consider it fanfiction and I donn't mean that to diminish it. It was professional published by an bestselling writer, so I expected one of the better works I'd seen but I didn't expect it to succeed in capturing the style of the original sixty stories. But to that end, the House of Silk may be one of the finest pieces of fanfiction ever written.

This is probably due to his conscientious avoidance of the habits that annoy me the most about contemporary Sherlock Holmes writers. The mysteries are completely original plots that do not erase any of the canon stories. (Contradictions are okay, ACD did that all the time and we just blamed it on Watson being a bad notetaker, but I can think of a number of works that exist on the premise that entire stories were inventions of Dr. Watson.) All of the dialogue is new, no seeing Sherlock reuse his old phrasing in order to make him sound like himself, but it effectively captures the voice of the original writer. He alludes to other stories, but in a way that seems natural to Watson's train of thought. The characters are true to the original stories, while fitting the nicely into the trends of modern fiction. Horowitz's Watson is familiar and strong enough to carry the plot when Sherlock is out of sight. His female characters live up to modern expectations of character without being unrealistically enlightened for the era. New characters fit nicely into the traditional roles allotted for new characters: clients, villains, and victims, and he doesn't try to introduce a new detective or partner to tag alongside the main attraction. The appearances of fan-favorites like Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes aren't just a favor for the fans, their presence is logical and important to moving the plot along.

That's not to say there aren't continuity errors, contradictions, odd reasonings and other little problems. Thing is, all the little errors in this book are along the same lines of the sorts of errors ACD made back in the day. The real triumph of this work is that he manages to capture the voice so well. I suspect there was meticulous editing and rewriting to make the style match without just copying it. When you read this, you are reading something written in Dr. Watson's voice.

And he does that without sacrificing any of the other necessary elements in the book, the characterization and plotting are all up to par.

I only have one word of warning at the risk of spoilers, and that is that when the promotional materials state that this is a story too shocking to have published a hundred years ago, they aren't exaggerating. The book captures the Watson voice so well I just blew that off because that character has a very different idea of lurid that I do. The events depicted could easily have happened in the 1890s but would never have been published. I recommend this book, but with a trigger warning for sexual assault. True to the Watson voice, though, Horowitz doesn't linger over the details. It's referenced, not explicit, and not against a major character.

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
Mulholland Books
304 Pages