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Book Review

Book Cover

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The War of the Worlds


Authors: Manly W Wellman and Wade Wellman
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $9.95, Cdn $12.95
ISBN: 978 1 84856 491 6
Available 23 October 2009

At the dawn of the 20th century, the world changed forever when our planet came under attack from Mars. As the streets of London are devastated by a prolonged alien assault, the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, along with his friends Dr John H Watson and Professor George Edward Challenger, embark upon one of their most dangerous adventures to date: to discover the nature and intent of the extra-terrestrial invaders...

Whereas The Scroll of the Dead, another book in this batch of reprints, sees Sherlock Holmes facing seemingly supernatural forces, which ultimately prove to be nothing of the kind, The War of the Worlds dives headlong into the world of science fiction.

Originally published by Warner Books in 1975 as Sherlock Holmes’s War of the Worlds, the novel places Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, Dr Watson and Professor Challenger in the midst of events described in H G Wells’s short story “The Crystal Egg” and novel The War of the Worlds. Here we see Holmes and Challenger theorising about the aliens as they observe them on Mars via a mysterious gem stone and, later on, as the invaders arrive on Earth. We see our heroes escaping from London with their loved ones as the alien fighting-machines attack, and we see them returning to the devastated city to confront the situation there.

The novel comprises five main sections, three of which are adapted and expanded from previously published short stories. The first three sections, “The Adventure of the Crystal Egg”, “Sherlock Holmes Versus Mars” and “George E Challenger Versus Mars”, are written as though by Challenger’s chronicler Edward Dunn Malone. In the first story, Holmes obtains a curious gem stone identical to the one described in H G Wells’s “The Crystal Egg”. The detective takes the stone to his friend Professor Challenger, and the two men discover it to be an alien communication device. Then the first of a series of cylindrical projectiles from Mars lands in Woking...

Holmes and Challenger make an interesting team. Both are geniuses in their own fields, though Challenger is even less modest than Holmes when it comes to boasting about his own abilities. Physically, the two men could scarcely be more different: whereas Holmes is lean and clean-shaven, Challenger is a big, bearded, barrel-chested bear of a man.

Holmes, as depicted by the Wellmans, has broader horizons than the writings of Conan Doyle would indicate. In A Study in Scarlet he tells Watson that he is wilfully ignorant of the composition and movements of the solar system, yet in The War of the Worlds he demonstrates a remarkable knowledge of neighbouring planets. In “Sherlock Holmes Versus Mars”, he informs Mrs Hudson that he was joking when he told Watson that he knew nothing about astronomy. Sherlockians will probably be more surprised (if not appalled) to find Holmes, who is usually presented as having little or no interest in “the fair sex”, enjoying a romantic affair... with Mrs Hudson! Here the landlady is described as being a few years younger than Holmes (although she is usually assumed to be an older woman, Conan Doyle never actually specified her age or even described her appearance in much detail).

“Sherlock Holmes Versus Mars” tells of Holmes’s experiences during the early days of the invasion, as he witnesses the emergence of the first fighting-machine from the cylinder in Woking, gets Martha Hudson out of London, and then returns to observe and report on the alien occupation. “George E Challenger Versus Mars” takes place within more or less the same time frame, but from the professor’s perspective. While Holmes is escorting his lover to her home village, Challenger takes his wife to the coast and puts her on one of the refugee ships leaving for France. Once again, the professor’s physique comes to the fore, as it is endearingly contrasted with the slight figure of his beloved wife Jessie. He endures various hardships and vigorously defends Jessie from various vagabonds, making this section of the book an uplifting highlight. After witnessing the exciting battle between the warship Thunder Child and three fighting-machines, Challenger heads back to London to be reunited with Holmes and the crystal egg.

Watson is largely absent during the first three sections, but he returns to the fray for the final two, “The Adventure of the Martian Client” and “Venus, Mars, and Baker Street”, which are written from his point of view. By now, the invasion is all but over, as Holmes and Challenger already suspect (and we the readers already know) that the aliens will fall foul of Earth’s bacteria. Nevertheless there is intrigue as Holmes, Challenger and Watson examine one of the invaders, and as Challenger and Watson observe the aliens’ subsequent activities on Venus. There is also amusement to be had as the doctor remains oblivious to Holmes’s affair with Mrs Hudson, which the professor sees through straight away.

The ending is mostly a foregone conclusion, but, unlike Wells, the Wellmans focus upon how exceptional human ingenuity can evade and confuse, if not entirely defeat, an enemy as powerful as the alien invaders. They also expand considerably upon Wells’s fleeting reference to Venus.

The Wellmans are American, and their text is littered with US spellings and terms, such as aluminum, railroad and sidewalk, despite the fact that the fictional writers Malone and Watson are supposed to be British. I found the characterisation of Challenger to be more credible than that of Holmes, but then I am less familiar with the character of the professor, so Challenger devotees may disagree with me. The professor is indisputably more at home in a science-fiction narrative than Holmes is.

All in all, this is an imaginative alternate take on Wells’s The War of the Worlds, though it is a less convincing pastiche of Conan Doyle.


Richard McGinlay

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