Monday, January 16, 2012

The Monster Book for Girls

The Monster Book of Girls includes my story Breaking the Spell. Which, in a shocking move for this particular anthology, features monsters. And girls.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sherlock -- The Hounds of Baskerville

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most filmed Sherlock Holmes story ever which means the plot is pretty well known so I assume that's why Mark Gatiss decided to ditch most of the plot in his adaptation for Sherlock.

Instead of a family curse and an escaped convict we got conspiracy theories and a hidden army base developing secret weapons. Not nearly as satisfying in my opinion. Especially as it robs us of the chance to see what Gatiss would have done with the scene when Holmes and Watson meet Henry Baskerville at a London hotel. Every screen version of Hound that I remember seeing always feels that the pace is starting to slacken at this point and so decides to jazz things up a bit. For example, in the Hammer version Sir Henry is attacked by a tarantula and in the Ian Richardson version Sir Henry is shot at by someone wielding a rifle disguised as a walking stick. Although this definitely makes things more exciting both these adaptations have forgotten that the whole point of the story is that Sir Henry is in fear for his life from a gigantic hound. The story isn't called The Tarantula of the Baskervilles or The Rifle Disguised as a Walking Stick of the Baskervilles.

But if Gatiss changed the plot then at least he kept the characters. Or their names at any rate. Dr Mortimer is now a therapist, Barrymore is an army major, Stapleton a government scientist -- I won't mention who Selden became because it's a bit of a plot twist. So the characters were all completely different in both role and personality despite keeping their original names. Except for Sir Henry Baskerville who became Henry Knight (perhaps the new surname was to make up for no longer having a knighthood.) The other change in name was for the Grimpen Mire which became the Grimpen Minefield which led to a scene which I'm guessing surprised absolutely nobody.

Actually, the Grimpen Mire/Minefield scene highlighted the fact that although Gatiss largely ignored the novel's plot he did occasionally retain certain ideas from the original story. So there was still a mysterious signal being flashed across the moors at night. And Holmes got to deliver his little speech about Watson not being luminous but rather he acts as a conductor of light, stimulating Holmes's genius. There's also a quick reminder (and subversion) of the fact that Holmes actually disappeared off-page for most of the original novel.

There were also various nods to other tales from the Holmes canon. Gatiss's explanation for the "gigantic hound" was inspired by 'The Devil's Foot.' And the idea of Holmes using a fictitious bet in order to get information out of an unwilling witness comes from 'The Blue Carbuncle.' (Gatiss even nicks the bit from the Jeremy Brett adaptation of this story where Holmes is forced to make good on his 'bet' with Watson.) There's a reference to the required "seven per cent" for Holmes's stimulants, although here they were not cocaine. Gatiss also used the famous quote about how eliminating the impossible means that whatever remains, no mater how improbable, must be the truth, although I can't remember which story this comes from offhand. And there's probably loads more references that I'm missing; my knowledge of Holmes trivia isn't as sharp as it used to be.

Anyway, I didn't find The Hounds of Baskerville as entertaining as last week's A Scandal in Belgravia. It wasn't necessarily bad but it wasn't particularly compelling either. The story was X-Files lite; the comedy bits too broad; firearms were as easy to acquire as peppermints; despite being a brilliant detective Sherlock somehow completely failed to find the cigarettes that Watson had hidden in the flat; the "mind palace" bit was just an excuse to use effects that were old hat about five minutes after the credits for Minority Report finished; the constant references to dogs scattered throughout the story (right down to casting Russell Tovey, best known for playing a werewolf in Being Human) became heavy-handed. And the idea of Holmes being shaken by the possibility of the demolition of his perfectly rational world-view after not being able to explain away his sighting of the hound would have been a lot more convincing if it wasn't totally obvious what had really happened. Even I figured it out and I'm an idiot.

But of course the worst thing about The Hounds of Baskerville was the final scene which promised the return of Moriarty next week. Hopefully that wasn't a prison he was released from but a drama school where he received some much needed acting lessons.

Another thing, which applies to Sherlock as a whole but which I keep forgetting to mention: I'm fed up with everyone mistakenly thinking Holmes and Watson are a gay couple and the way Watson chases anything in a skirt. I know this is an attempt to stop speculation among the viewers that the characters might be gay but it stopped being funny about halfway through episode one of the first series. Moffatt and Gatiss made their point about Holmes and Watson being straight ages ago; they really need to start exploring other aspects of the characters' personalities. And as far as I can recall the whole idea of Watson being a ladies man in the canonical stories comes from a single line in one of the later stories where Holmes says Watson is still married even though it had previously been stated that his wife passed away in an earlier story. For a start this could well be a continuity error of the kind Conan Doyle occasionally made -- exactly where is Watson's old army injury, Sir Arthur? -- and even if it isn't, all it shows is that Watson remarried after becoming a widower. That hardly makes him Russell Brand.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sherlock - A Scandal in Belgravia

The new episode of Sherlock -- 'A Scandal in Belgravia' -- was quite good fun. Yes, Sherlock will no doubt get up the noses of purists but when it comes to Holmes I'm a strange mixture of connoisseur and philistine. On the one hand I love the original Conan Doyle stories, think the Jeremy Brett TV series is the gold standard by which all other screen versions should be judged and will quite cheerfully unleash a swamp adder upon any writer foolish enough to have Holmes tangle with Dracula, Mr Hyde or any other supernatural foe. On the other hand I have a soft spot for Without a Clue and Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear so obviously my judgement should be taken with a grain of salt. Sherlock tends to come down on both sides of the divide for me, depending on how well each individual episode is handled and whether I happen to feel connoisseurish or philistiney when I watch it. Consequently I shall be sticking the boot into Sherlock even as I praise it.

The opening scene, resolving the cliffhanger from series one, has divided viewers. Some found it hilariously inventive, others stupidly anti-climactic. Personally, I'm just glad they got rid of the rubbish actor playing Moriarty so quickly. Presumably he had to rush off to play the villain in the local panto. I actually found myself hoping that he was a flunky pretending to be Moriarty in order to leave the criminal mastermind out of harm's way in case his plan backfired. Unfortunately it looks like we're stuck with an actor who is less scary than the Jim Moriarty off The Goon Show. (To be fair I've not seen the actor in anything else so he may have given brilliant performances in every other role he's played. There's even a chance that his Moriarty will improve as he gets used to the part. Fingers crossed.)

Anyway, on to the main story. I'm not entirely convinced that turning Irene Adler into a morally ambiguous femme fatale was a good idea -- if memory serves she was a lot more sympathetic in the original short story -- but as this allowed Lara Pulver to strut around naked I'm not complaining. Although it did bug me that Sherlock found it impossible to make any deductions about Adler just because she was naked. Surely he could still have made deductions about her hairstyle, make up and the building she was living in. Not to mention the most obvious clue of all -- "Only one beauty salon in the whole of Europe uses that distinctive style of Brazilian!" After all, canonical stories such as 'The Blue Carbuncle' show that Holmes is able to make deductions based upon fashion and grooming. Perhaps one of the cases for which Watson feels the world is not ready is 'The Adventure of the Primped Pussy.'

Still, I was chuffed that Moffatt managed to keep so much of the original 'A Scandal in Bohemia' plot in his adaptation although he did jettison at least one key scene in order to explore the possibility of romance between Holmes and Adler -- an idea which I thought I would hate but which Moffatt managed to handle without compromising Holmes' analytical personality. (I'm not really up on Holmes pastiches but I guess that most writers ignore this scene from 'Bohemia' when they have Adler turn up in their stories as it reminds people that not only did Adler not fancy Holmes but she actually married someone else which rather gets in the way of developing romantic storylines for the two of them.)

Meanwhile, the Holmes geek in me enjoyed the references to other Holmes stories: 'The Greek Interpreter', 'The Speckled Band' and 'The Illustrious Client' (and possibly a whole bunch of others that I missed). Unfortunately the plot got a little bit carried away with its twists and turns and the ending was pretty ludicrous. Also, although Adler got a lot more to do than in the original story she actually came across as less capable -- in 'Bohemia' she scored a decisive victory against Holmes whilst acting completely by herself but in 'Belgravia' she had outside assistance yet still had trouble landing an intellectual KO. And it seemed a bit of a shame for her to end up as a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

Another thing -- and there's a good chance that I've misunderstood all the twists and turns of the plot here -- but Adler seemed willing to sacrifice national security in order to save her own skin. This basically means that she doesn't care if innocent people die so long as she survives. As I say, I may be wrong, she may have been unaware of what she was getting into and was an innocent dupe but such a lack of intelligence just makes her seem less worthy of the title the woman.

Still, overall the episode was enjoyable, appealing more to my inner philistine than my connoisseur.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


My story, Jarly and the Saga of the Snowball, is in the Estronomicon Christmas Special

An epic tale of magic, dragons, ancient myths and dancing pigs. What more could you ask for in a story? Well, okay, seeing as Jarly started off as a comic strip character I suppose you could ask for pictures but this is prose so tough, you're going to have to put up with reading all the words. Even the long ones that you'll have to look up in the dictionary. The same as I did.