The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - By John Joseph Adams


by John Joseph Adams

Sherlock Holmes. The name is ubiquitous, familiar to everyone in the world whether or not they've read of his exploits. Pretty impressive for a fictional character created more than 120 years ago.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes in the late-nineteenth century, with the first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, appearing in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. Conan Doyle's entire output of fiction featuring Holmes consists of only four novels and fifty-six stories[1]—a staggeringly small body of work considering the tremendous influence Holmes has had—but something about the detective captured the reading public's imagination like no other character of his era, and he has continued to delight and captivate readers ever since.

Holmes, the world's first (and most famous) consulting detective, was one of the first great literary action-adventure heroes whose defining qualities were his intelligence and deductive reasoning rather than bravery or brawn. Which is not to say that Holmes is a coward or a weakling; being well-versed in the art of boxing and the martial art of Bartitsu[2], he is capable of besting almost anyone in a fight—he'd just rather outwit you than beat you up.

Holmes's devotion to evidence and observation were quite revolutionary in his day, and to Conan Doyle's Victorian readers his methods must have seemed a bit like science fiction. To the modern reader, it's obvious that Holmes is employing rudimentary forensic science—a huge advantage in an age when many people still believed in fairies (as Conan Doyle did) and other supernatural phenomena.

Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was keenly interested in the supernatural, Holmes eschewed such ideas and believed only in what he could prove. And while Conan Doyle did place Holmes into some situations in which a supernatural explanation seemed to be a possibility, in every instance, Holmes managed to find a prosaic solution. After all, as Holmes once said: "The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."[3]

Which leads us to the focus of this anthology and to another of Holmes's famous quotes: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."[4]

As a rationalist, I agree wholeheartedly with Holmes's assessment of the world. But as a science fiction and fantasy reader, I enjoy wondering what if. So that's the question: If Holmes investigates a crime scene and has all of his deduction techniques at his disposal, but one variable has changed—Holmes can't eliminate the impossible—what then?

Well, dear reader, you're about to find out. In the pages that follow you'll find twenty-eight different mystery scenarios, but when you investigate the crimes alongside Holmes you will not be able to eliminate the impossible, for in some of these stories the impossible does happen.

That's the idea behind this volume—to showcase the best Holmes pastiches of the last thirty years, mixing the best straight-up mystery stories with the best of those tales tinged with the fantastic[5]. Meaning that some of the cases you'll read about have prosaic solutions, while others will have a decidedly more fantastic resolution.

Whether you're already quite familiar with the great detective or you're just now going to be reading about him for the first time; whether you're primarily a fan of mysteries or primarily a fan of fantasy and science fiction—welcome. Holmes's world is big enough for all of us.

A Sherlockiana Primer

by Christopher Roden

Fog swirls thickly in the streets, its gloom penetrated from time to time by the weak gleam of a gaslight; a hansom cab grinds its steady way through the murk; there are occasional shouts from vendors and street urchins, whistles as policemen go about their business. It is the London of 1895, the London that will bring a stream of unusual characters to 221B Baker Street seeking help from the world's first and greatest consulting detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

When Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) first created the great detective, little did he know that he was beginning a series of stories that would still be read some 120-odd years later. But Conan Doyle was an inventive writer, and the characters that filled his stories gripped the imagination of his readers, who devoured episode after episode of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In many ways the characters of the Holmes stories are often more interesting than the cases themselves.

So who are the major players on the Baker Street stage? Putting Holmes himself aside (for Holmes is recognisable even to people unfamiliar with the stories themselves), Dr. John H. Watson has to be given pride of place. A veteran of the second Afghan War, Watson, who