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I wasn't sure what to expect from Paul Cornell's Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - I knew it was the third in a series, and I don't usually like to jump into a series midstream, but it had received several recommendations as a potential Hugo nominee, and I do have a thing for Holmesiana, so I gave it a shot.

And discovered that this was definitely one of those situations where not reading the previous books affected my appreciation of the story and my understanding of the characters and their motivations.

The premise of the series, as I understand it from this text, is that there is an "occult London," a layer of London society where people with powers and/or access to magical items go about doing all sorts of occult things, including committing crimes, and solving them. The protagonists are members of the branch of the London police who investigate occult crimes.

Several of these people have been involved in traumatic and in some cases still on-going events that influence their actions and create sub-plots as they go about solving the current crime. And overshadowing everything are the reverberations of a catastrophic event, the memory of which has been erased from the minds of everyone connected, that has thrown the hidden London into disarray.

The current crime, unfolding on both mundane and occult levels, is indeed the murder of Sherlock Holmes. In the mundane world, someone is killing people who have, at some point in their lives, portrayed Holmes - and more, they are being killed in locations and manners very similar to murder cases from the canon set in London. At the same time, the detectives from the occult branch gifted with Sight have witnessed the apparent murder of a "ghost" of Holmes, and all their evidence suggests that these crimes are not only linked, but are part of a ritual that may result in massive consequences for London on all levels. And so, the game is afoot.

I enjoyed the Sherlockian aspects of the story, but at least initially, did not identify with the characters or their overall situations. Perhaps if I'd read the other volumes first my reaction would have been different.

The characters did grow on me as I read further, and I was happy to see what degree of resolution was achieved, but I've little inclination to go back and read the previous books, or to continue with the series.

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"The Great Detective," Delia Sherman; tor.com, February 17, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/02/17/the-great-detective-delia-sherman/

Steampunk and spiritualism, in an alternate literary universe where noted mechanical inventor Sir Arthur Cwmlech and his apprentice Miss Tacy Gof turn to colleague Mycroft Holmes and his masterwork the Reasoning Machine to solve a mysterious theft. A young Doctor Watson, recently returned from Afghanistan, seeks a new life as an inventor. All that is missing from the tale is the Great Detective himself - and if he does not yet exist, then surely someone will have to invent him. A light and witty tale that should appeal to fans of Holmes and the steampunk genre alike.

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," Brooke Bolander; Uncanny magazine, November 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/talons-can-crush-galaxies/

This was a short piece, essentially flash fiction, a stunning gut-punch. Hard to read, hard to breathe afterward. Searing and powerful indictment of male entitlement and rape culture.


"Seasons of Glass and Iron," Amal El-Motar; first published in The Starlit World (2016), reprinted online at Uncanny Magazine
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/seasons-glass-iron/

There are many fairy tales about women. Women who must do impossible things, or accept impossible circumstances, because of men. Men who say they love them, men who want to test them, men who want to woo and win them. Sometimes, though, these women walk out of those tales and live their own lives instead, creating new kinds of tales.


"Lullaby for a Lost World," Aliette de Bodard; Tor.com, June 8, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/06/08/lullaby-for-a-lost-world/

De Bodard has said that of this story that it is "a sort of answer to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (one of my absolute favourite short stories)." It is very much a story about the prices paid for security, stability, and the like - and who makes the decisions on what prices are acceptable, and who pays those prices. A worthy counterpart to the story that inspired it.


"Things with Beards," Sam J. Miller; Clarkesworld, June 2016
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/miller_06_16/

A meditation on monsters and how they walk undetected in the world, both the monsters and evil aliens of speculative fiction (the backstory of the protagonist evokes the classic sf/horror film The Thing), and the monsters that have always been a part of the human race, the callous, the cruel, the killers of those who are labeled less than human.


"You'll Surely Drown Here if You Stay," Alyssa Wong;
Uncanny Magazine, May 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/youll-surely-drown-stay/

A young boy with an uncanny heritage to communicate with, and control, the dead is forced to use his powers for the greed of others. A supernatural Western with a deep friendship that survives dead and retribution at its heart.


"An Ocean the Color of Bruises," Isabel Yap; Uncanny Magazine, July 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/ocean-color-bruises/

Five young people, former college friends, take a vacation together to a second-class resort with a tragic past. When that past awakens, the quality of their own lives is called into question.


"A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflower," Alyssa Wong; Tor.com, March 2, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/03/02/a-fist-of-permutations-in-lightning-and-wildflowers-alyssa-wong/

A story about two sisters with unimaginable power, the depth of grief and guilt, and the futility of trying to change the past. Deep truths about grieving, accepting and moving on - and the tragedy of refusing to do so.


"Red in Tooth and Cog," Cat Rambo; originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2016, republished online February 21, 2017
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/2017/02/21/story-red-in-tooth-and-cog/

A young woman frequenting a park has her phone stolen by an unlikely culprit, leading her to discover a new ecosystem in development. An interesting perspective on the definitions of life.


“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 17, 2016
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/blood-grains-speak-through-memories/

Sanford's novelette is set in what seems to be a far distant future, long after the ecological disasters of pollution and the exploitation of natural resources have resulted in massive social change and, one infers, biological engineering on a vast scale. The land is infused with "grains" - semi-sentient beings, possibly organic, possibly cybernetic, it's never made clear - that infect people thereafter known as anchors - who are responsible for protecting the land and its ecosystems. Anyone not part of an anchor's family is doomed to a nomadic existence, destroyed by the anchors and other beings created/controlled by the grains if they tarry to long in one place, or injure the land in any way. Frere-Jones is an anchor dissatisfied with the way the grains control the anchors and limit the lives of the nomadic day-fellows. Her husband, who shared her opinions, was killed by the grains, and if they could replace her, Frere-Jones suspects the grains would kill her too.

I was both intrigued and dissatisfied with this novelette. I enjoyed the themes of rebellion and of sacrifice, but I was frustrated at knowing so little about the grains, the biomorphing of the anchors, and how it all came to be that way. Perhaps a longer format might have allowed more worldbuilding.

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In Annelie Wendeberg's The Devil's Grin, the protagonist, Anna/Anton Kronberg, is a passing woman and a skilled doctor, working at Guy's Hospital in the very new field of bacteriology. When at home, she lives in one of the poorest districts of London and offers what medical help she can to the poor around her - passing in this milieu as a nurse.

She meets Sherlock Holmes when she is called to examine the corpse of a man found in the water treatment works, a possible victim of cholera. When Holmes insists on observing the autopsy, they both realise that there is something very suspicious about the man's death - and the game's afoot.

As Holmesian pastiches go, it was adequate - her characterisation of the world's first consulting detective was better than many, though not the best. As a story about a passing woman trying to hold the disparate pieces of her life together and survive the daily deceit needed to be who she needs to be, It caught my attention and made me care about the protagonist.

The most annoying thing, for me, was Wendeberg's occasionally awkward and anachronistic use of language. Modern slang, inappropriate word choices and clumsy sentence construction - all possibly due to Wendeberg writing in her second language? - these things tended to kick me out of the story from time to time, but not badly enough to keep me from diving back in.

Fun, fast read with some interesting psychological insights into the situation of someone forced to live her life as a constant masquerade in order to be true to herself.

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I first discovered Laurie R. King's Mary Russell historical Holmesian mysteries a few years ago, and devoured most of them in a few reading binges. After reading the earlier Russell/Holmes books in rapid succession, however, the difficulties I encountered in slogging through The Language of Bees, which was quite slow-paced in comparison to the preceding novels, led me to leave off reading the series for a while.

Returning to the series with The God of the Hive rekindled my interest, and as there had been several more books in the series published since then, I decided to see how far my reawakened enthusiasm took me, and I am now fully caught up and eagerly waiting to get my electronic hands on the recently published Dreaming Spies.

King's The God of the Hive is a continuation of The Language of Bees, in which we discovered the existence of Damien Adler, Holmes' son by Irene Adler, an artist with PTSD from The Great War and a history of drug abuse, who has been living in Shanghai. His wife, Yolanthe, has an unsavoury past which has brought brought them both, and their daughter Estelle, into the orbit of an occult cult - The Children of Light - led by Thomas Brothets, a charismatic Aleister Crowley wannabe. The cult, its leader, and the Adler family have relocated to England, and now Damien's wife and daughter are missing. The Language of Bees followed Holmes' and Russell's adventures following on the discovery of the murder of Yolanthe, and ended up in the aftermath of a magickal ceremony (in which human sacrifice was intended to be part of the ritual) in the Orkney Islands with the words "to be continued."

As The God of the Hive opens, there are warrants out for the arrest of Holmes and Russell, and Mycroft is being held prisoner in an unknown location by persons unknown. Russell, with Holmes' grandaughter Estelle, is trying to make her way south in the company of the aviator she hired to get to the Orkneys in The Language of Bees, while avoiding arrest and the murderous intentions of Brothers' henchmen. Holmes, with Damien - wounded during a confrontation with Brothets - is trying the same thing, aided by a sympathic fisherman and later an even more sympathetic female doctor Holmes more-or-less kidnaps in order to get medical aid for Damien.

Holmes and his group end up in Denmark, Mary and hers in the care of a strange forest-dwelling hermit after their plane crashes during the flight south. And we discover that all of the business with Damien, his family, amd the cult has been a very small part of a very large plot aimed directly at Mycroft.

God of the Hive was quite fast-paced and held my interest well. And it delivered a strong conclusion that made the entire two-volume story arc worthwhile in the end.

The volume that followed, The Pirate King, was a delight for me to read, being set amidst a company of film actors who are making a film about a company of film actors making a film of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. Shot on location, as it were, in Portugal and Morocco, there's a great deal of funny business about show business - showing that things really don't change much in the performing arts despite advances in technology - and a very interesting brush with real pirates.

The novel ends with our heroes Sherlock and Russell in Morocco, unknowing about to embark on a much more important and harrowing adventure.

Garment of Shadows opens with an injured and amnesiac young woman that readers will instantly recognise as Mary Russell, alone but recently tended, waking in an unfamiliar room in what she will soon discover to be the Moroccan city of Fez. Realising that soldiers are about to enter the house, her first instinct is to grab everything useful in her room and flee before she can be found.

A switch in viewpoint to Holmes gives the reader much necessary background about the political situation in Morocco, which will bear heavily on the story. Holmes has been visiting his maternal fifth cousin, Morocco's Resident General, Maréchal Louis Hubert Lyautey while Russell finishes up her work with the film. While visiting Lyautey, Holmes meets former friend and ally, Ali Hazr. Hazr is one of Mycroft's agents but seems to have aligned himself with self-declared Emir of the Republic of Rif, Mohammed bin Abd-el-Krim, the leader of one of the many factions in the current struggle for political control of Morocco, its mineral resources, and its strategic position at the southern side of entrance of the Mediterranean (the northern side being British-controlled Gibraltar).

As the plot unfolds, Ali and Holmes have two important tasks to undertake - arranging a secret meeting between Abd-el-Krim and Lyautey, and finding Ali's brother Mahmoud, last known to have been in the company of the also missing Mary Russell.

In Garment of Shadows, King gives us not only a fine Russell/Holmes adventure in which Russell takes the lead and demonstrates her many skills and competences, but a well researched account of an early attempt to throw off European colonialism in Northern Africa. Naturally, I enjoyed both aspects of the novel, although some readers may be less enthusiastic about Russell and Holmes sharing the stage with the politics of the imperialist project and the struggle to overthrow it.
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Or at least, that's what my choices of anthologies this year would seem to indicate. My beloved Lovecraft mythos and the eternally fascinating Great Detective are part of the mix, as is my perennial interest in seeing alternative sexualities represented in fiction.

As usual, in all four antholgies there were some great stories, many enjoyable stories, and one or two that just didn't grab me. Special mention goes to Brit Mandelo's fine editing, bringing together a solid collection that presents many perspectives and includes some true classics.


Ross E. Lockhart (ed.), The Book of Cthulhu

Joseph R. G. DeMarco, A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes

Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger (eds.), A Study in Sherlock

Brit Mandelo (ed.), Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

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Sarah Schulman, People in Trouble
Sarah Schulman, The Child
Sarah Schulman, The Mere Future

2011 was the year in which I discovered Sarah Schulman. Her work focuses relentlessly on the lives of lesbians and gay men, and she tackles hard subjects with uncompromising honesty. Her work can be stylistically difficult, and is often controversial, but I have found the three novels I of hers that I have read so far to be both compelling and rewarding.

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

Winterson's classic examination of relationship did not draw me in quite as strongly as some of the other books of hers that I have read, but was still in my mind worth reading.


Laurie R. King, The Language of Bees

My Sherlock fetish, let me show it to you again. I found this volume of King's Mary Russell/Holmes mysteries to be harder to get into than earlier books in the series, but it did start to pick up at the end. And being essentially the first half of a much longer mystery, and thus incomplete, I suppose that makes some sense. On to God of the Hive!


Margaret Atwood, Good Bones

oh my, was this a fun book to read. A slim volume, full of very short fables and vignettes, all of them overflowing with Atwood's delicious and acerbic wit. There is a great deal of critical social commentary and trenchant feminist analysis buried in these small gems.

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I read three anthologies in 2011, all of them theme-based and all quite enjoyable.


Mercedes Lackey (ed.), Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar

What can I say? Lackey's world of Velgarth, and her stories about Valdemar, and its Heralds and their Companions are irresistible to me. I know, telepathic talking horses. But so what?


John Joseph Adams (ed.), The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Holmes is another literary creation that I find irresistible. so if you give me an anthology of stories about Sherlock Holmes facing adversaries more fantastical than most of those Arthur Conan Doyle created, who am I to say no? A really excellent collection (to be expected, given Adams' track record as an editor).


John Pelan & Benjamin Adams (eds.), The Children of Cthulhu

And yet another irresistible topic - the Cthulhu mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft. These are stories inspired by the mythos, and not necessarily drawing directly on elements of the canon, but there are some excellent horror stories here, with all the distinctive flavour of the Lovecraft originals.

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Locked Rooms, Laurie R. King

Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries, about a brilliant young woman of a most determined character and her mentor, partner, lover and eventually spouse, the Great Detective himself, have been captivating me for some time now.

What’s interesting about the structure of the series itself is that, rather than continuing to write novels that are exclusively pastiches of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, King has taken to making each new volume a study in a specific style of mystery writing – the country house mystery, the spy mystery, the adventure thriller, to name a few.

Locked Rooms is a psychological thriller. We’ve long known that there is a tragic incident in Mary’s past, an accident that left her an orphan and has also left her with psychological scars that have been concealed as best as possible but never healed. Now Mary and Holmes have come to San Francisco, Mary’s home and the site of the accident – but as she begins to recover memories that have been suppressed, it becomes clear that there is much more to both the accident that killed the rest of her family, and to her memories of her past, than anyone has suspected. And whatever is buried in her past is enough to make someone willing to commit murder to ensure that it is never uncovered.

Another enjoyable chapter in the Mary Russell story.

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I've been reading more of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell novels, and continuing to enjoy them immensely. This past winter's readings:

A Letter of Mary
The Moor
O Jerusalem
Justice Hall
The Game


It's been interesting reading the series and watching how King uses her character's speciality, theological studies, in the development of some of these novel, particularly A Monstrous Regiment of Women, which I read last year, and A Letter of Mary, which I read in the past few months. A Letter of Mary deals with the mystery surrounding the death of archaeologist Dorothy Ruskin and the provenance of a letter she has found, dated about A.D. 70 and written by someone calling herself Mariam the Apostle to her sister in Magdala. The combination of such broader topics as the Magdalen controversy and the complexities of British political and social investment in the Middle East in the early days of Zionism, combined with the standard Holmsian sleuthing and the continued development of the relationship between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes makes for a better than usual detective story.

The Moor is King's hommage to Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, and is very well done indeed, giving the reader a much deeper grasp of what life on the moors is really like, through the introduction of the real antiquarian scholar and folklorist Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould as a key character in the novel.

The following novel in the series, O Jerusalem, moves back in time to before the marriage of Holmes and Russell, and returns to earlier themes, continuing to explore issues surrounding the British rule in the Middle East as Russell and Holmes travel to Palestine at the request of that greatest of all directors of intelligence services, Mycroft.

Justice Hall finds the pair of consulting detectives back in England, but reunites them with key characters from the previous novel, while giving the reader a fine example of the English country manor murder mystery, with extra Gothic touches.

The last of the novels I've read to date, The Game, takes Russell and Holmes off to Rudyard Kipling's India at the behest of brother Mycroft, to seek for none other than missing English agent Kimball O'Hara. Travelling incognito with a curiously clever and competent young street boy named Bindi, our intrepid detectives soon find themselves caught up in the whims of an eccentric maharajah and the threat of a Communist invasion through the northern passes.

I'm not sure if any of the novels really stand up to the first, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, for sheer delight in characterisation and plot, but they continue to be entertaining and, to my mind, worth reading.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reading quite a few anthologies this year. I seem to have developed a new enthusiasm for the short form, and this has led to some very pleasant and often thoughtful reading adventures.


Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, ed. Justine Larbalestier

What makes this anthology special is that, in addition to collecting 11 of the definitive feminist science fiction short stories of the last century (and one from the early part of this century), it also includes critical essays on each of the stories that examine the themes and context of each story. Also, by presenting stories from eight different decades, the anthology enables the reader to follow the development of feminist themes in science fiction writing. The short stories in this anthology are written by, from earliest to most recently published, Clare Winger Harris, Leslie F. Stone, Alice Eleanor Jones, Kate Wilhelm, Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr, Lisa Tuttle, Pat Murphy, Octavia Butler, Gwyneth Jones, and Karen Joy Fowler. Some stories are very well-known, such as Tiptree’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill Side,” Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” and Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See.” This is a unique addition to the growing body of feminist scholarship of science fiction – or should that be scholarship of feminist science fiction – and a fine collection of stories with a feminist perspective.

I will also direct you to [profile] calico_reaction’s review of Daughters of Earth. I find some of the differences in our responses to the stories in this volume quite interesting, and in some ways indicative of just why such critical studies are so important. While we have similar opinions about the stories that were published before both of our beginnings as readers, especially readers of science fiction, and as feminists, we respond in some ways very differently to some of the later stories, primarily stories that write about, or reference, themes and ideas that I, as a woman who became both a reader of science fiction and a feminist in the early 60s, lived through first-hand and that I read as they were published in the context of their times. I actually think that it’s more the differences in our historical experiences as feminists than the differences in our pasts as readers of sff that accounts for much of the difference, based on what I’ve found in discussion with other younger women about feminist issues, but both are relevant.

For instance, I think that growing up in the era that produced Betty Friedan’s insights as expounded in The Feminine Mystique makes Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” a much more personal narrative for me, despite its experimental and somewhat distancing style and structure. Fowler’s “What I didn’t See” reads as science fiction to me because of the powerful experience of reading Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” at a time when there really were millions of women that men did not see – the references are too immediate for me to see Fowler’s piece as anything other than a direct response to Tiptree and to a culture in which women in fictional products are repeatedly threatened by aliens, big apes and other monsters (in science fiction, and in its predecessors, the exploration adventure – from King Kong to Allan Quartermain - and the romance as a plot device to give men a reason to be oh so very manly.

In any case, no matter what your background as a reader of sff and as a feminist, I think you will find much to think about in this volume.



Shadows over Baker Street (eds) Michael Reaves, John Palan

The blurb on the back cover says it all:
What would happen if Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s peerless detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his allies were to find themselves faced with Lovecraftian mysteries whose solutions lay not only beyond the grasp of logic but beyond sanity itself?
Holmes vs. Cthulhu! The battle of the aeons! What more can you ask for?

Assuming that you are a fan of both the Great Detective and of the Lovecraftian mythos, that is. I found something to enjoy in every one of these stories, but I do have a few particular favourites, most notably Neil Gainman’s “A Study in Emerald,” Elizabeth Bear’s “Tiger! Tiger!”



The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1, ed. Jonathan Strahan

This is a new “year’s best” anthology series being published by Night Shade Books, and I bought it primarily because it contains stories by a number of authors that I’ve heard spoken of very highly, but have not read much – or in some cases, anything, of their work before now. And, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, an anthology is a good place to get to know new authors.

I enjoyed many of the stories collected in this volume, with special notice to Ellen Klages’ “In the House of the Seven Librarians,” Geoff Ryman’s “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy),” Kelly Link’s “The Wizards of Perfil,” Robert Charles Wilson’s “The Cartesian Theatre,” Peter S. Beagle’s “El Regalo,” and… well, the more I look at the table of contents’ the more I start thinking “you know, that one was really worth a notable mention… and so was that one… and that was a really interesting take on the subject matter… and that one was really powerful…” and so on.

Which tells you that Strahan is a very good editor, and this is a collection worth reading.



DAW 30th Anniversary: Fantasy, eds. Elizabeth R Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert

I had a specific reason for buying this anthology: it includes Michelle Sagara West’s “The Memory Of Stone.” You see, I’ve recently discovered West’s brilliant Sun Sword series and I’m trying to collect all of her short stories placed in the Empire of Essalieyan and the Dominion of Annagar.

But of course, what I got was so much more. New short stories by Andre Norton, Tanith Lee, Jennifer Roberson, Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Melanie Rawn, Deborah J. Ross, and others.



Sirius the Dog Star, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Alexander Potter

This is another of the anthologies I acquired because it includes a story by Michelle Sagara West – this time, “Huntbrother” which in many ways completed her Sacred Hunt duology.

I must admit that I’m not a dog person, and had West’s story not been collected here, I probably wouldn’t have bought the book. And that would have been a bad thing, because then I would have missed such deeply moving stories as Tanya Huff’s “Finding Marcus,” Julie E. Czerneda’s “Brothers Bound,” Fiona Patton’s “Heartsease,” Rosemary Edghill’s “Final Exam,” Jane Lindskold’s “Keep the Dog Hence,” Kristine Kathryn Rasch’ “After the Fall” and Mickey Zucker Reichert’s “All the Vitues.”

It might not have turned me into a dog person, but it certainly made me appreciative of dogs as central characters in the hands of a skilful writer.



Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, ed. John Joseph Adams

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a fascination for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction – a fascination with tales that spring from the notion “This is the way the world ends…” And so I must thank John Joseph Adams for making an anthology just for me (and, I suppose, the many others who share my fascination with the subgenre).

Books with apocalyptic themes are rarely funny, and this volume is no exception to the rule, even though, in some stories, there is hope: hope that some will survive whatever mess we’ve made of the world we live in, hope that we might learn something and go on to do it better. In others, there is only the telling of the downfall, and the rest is silence – possibly a silence that we who have not yet seen an apocalypse on a scale that could end all of our worlds can ponder on and use to look for paths that do not end that way. For every The Postman, there is an On the Beach.

I’m not going to single out any stories, because all of them had something important to say about how and why the world – or a world – might end, and what we might do to nudge it in that direction or away from it, and what we could learn from thinking about the issues now, before it really might be too late. Unless of course, it already is and we don’t know it yet.

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A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R. King

This is the second of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries to be published, and I enjoyed it quite as completely as I did the first.

In this novel, Russell, about to finish with university and just on the verge of reaching her majority and gaining control of her fortune, meets an old friend who has become involved with a charismatic woman preacher and social reformer, Margery Childe. Russell, who has taken degree in theology (and in chemistry, but that is much less relevant here) is at first interested in Childe's profoundly feminist but theologically naive interpretation of Scripture, but following an attempt on her friend's life, and the discovery of a series of deaths associated with Childe's organisation, the detective in her takes over.

The Russell/Holmes relationship heats up somewhat - well, quite a bit toward the end - and while I'm not entirely certain that I would have written that aspect of the story the same way the King did, still it worked for me. However, after reading this novel, which is the second in publication order, I read somewhere that O Jerusalem is actually the next novel in chronological order, so I must read that next. Possibly it will fill in the gaps that made a few notes in the advancing Russell/Holmes relation seem not quite in key.

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King

While I am not a rabid Holmesian, I have of course read, on several occasions, all the accounts of the Great Detective’s casework published by his companion, Dr. Watson (with the assistance of that kind gentleman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). As well, I have from time to time enjoyed pastiches written by others who, inspired by the astonishing feats of deduction of which the master was capable, have attempted to recreate the spirit of the true Holmes in some fictional guise.

Recently, in researching the author of a post-apocalyptic novel I read last year (Califia’s Daughters, by Leigh Richards), I discovered that Richards, under the name Laurie R. King, is responsible for the publication of a series of accounts of Holmes’ life after his announced retirement to Sussex Downs to keep bees. Suspicious, naturally, at the news that manuscripts revealing a hitherto unknown picture of Holmes’ life after his retirement had surfaced, I nonetheless was determined to apply myself to the first of these new accounts and see for myself, if I could, whether it was a hoax, a clever fiction, or, unlikely as it might seem, the truth.

And now, having read the first of these books, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I must admit, I do not quite know what to make of it. The narrator of the supposed memoir, Mary Russell, is a young American girl, recently orphaned and heiress to an estate of some size, transplanted to the household of her nearest surviving relative in Sussex, there to remain under said relative’s care until she attains her majority. Her description of herself and her habits sets her apart from many other young persons of her situation and sex, suggesting that she is possessed of a not inconsiderable brilliance of mind combined with, to put it kindly, a significant degree of eccentricity.

As the memoir – if such it is – opens, Miss Russell quite literally stumbles across Holmes observing bees on the downs, and he, seemingly intrigued by her powers of intellect and observation – quite marked in a person so young – assumes the role of her mentor, and eventually begins to train her in his own erstwhile profession of private investigator. Eventually, Miss Russell becomes involved in his investigations – for while he is supposedly retired, it appears that the government of England still has need of Holmes on matters requiring great skill and delicacy, and his own natural curiosity prevails in other instances where a mystery is, as one might say, afoot. One also may read into the account intimations of a tenderer sentiment growing between the two, not unlike that which is known to have flourished for some time between Holmes and his companion Dr Watson.

The account is well-written, and whether fact or fantasy, it cannot be denied that the author has captured the essence of Holmes as he well might have been in the years following his withdrawal from London life. Further, the character of Miss Russell, while quite unusual, does leave the reader with a sense of her being a formidable young woman, and one who, like the detective’s quondam adversary Irene Adler, might pique the interest of a man not otherwise known for an inclination toward the fairer sex.

I know not if this is indeed a true account of Holmes’ later life, but I am resolved to continue reading the story of Mary Russell and her Sherlock Holmes, for it seems to me that, if this be not a true memoir, then it is nonetheless what could have been, and that, for me, is sufficient.

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