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Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman (1969)


Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created some of the greatest fictional characters in history and it only seems fair to suppose that some of them would have fought valiantly against the Martians, had only the opportunity presented itself. This in essence is what the father and son team of Manly and Wade Wellman set out to document in a series of short stories subsequently collected together under the title, Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds. It was a viewing of the film A Study In Terror, (which saw Holmes take on Jack The Ripper) that inspired Wellman Junior to imagine what the great detective would have made of the Martians, but on proposing the idea of Holmes battling the invaders to his father, he was persuaded that another famous Doyle character should also be included. So it was that in December 1969, The Adventure of the Martian Client appeared in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction, featuring Holmes, Watson and the pugnacious self-promoting genius, Professor George Edward Challenger.

This first story is told from the perspective of Doctor Watson and as it opens, we find him a helpless refugee in a war-ravaged London. Cleverly, Watson writes in disdain of a certain H.G. Wells, disparaging his account of the war as a "frequently inaccurate chronicle of a known radical and atheist." One can well imagine a straight-laced pillar of the establishment like Watson being appalled at the libertarian pronouncements of Wells, so this sets the scene well. Watson is further annoyed that Wells does not give due credit in his book to those who captured the Martian specimen housed in the Natural History Museum. This and other stories in the collection unfold then against the effectively managed conceit that the invasion was all too real, Wells but one biographer of those events and the Wellman's merely acting as editors of an archive of hitherto unseen historical material.

In The Adventure of the Martian Client, Watson struggles to the door of 221-B Baker Street, where to his relief he finds Holmes in residence and apparently none-the-worse for a serious of perilous adventures in and about London. Not long afterward, Challenger makes a noisy entrance, and together the trio set about the task of capturing a Martian. This apparently impossible mission is aided by the fortuitous existence of a crystal egg, the history of which is related in another story within this collection. The Adventure of the Crystal Egg is told by the person of one Edward Dunn Malone (a journalist for the London Daily Gazette and friend of Challenger) and recounts how Holmes came into possession of the egg, which it transpires is a device of Martian manufacturer that can be used to view events on Mars much like a television receiver. That it can also send pictures back becomes apparent when the Martians come hunting for it. The Crystal Egg is of course a short story by H.G. Wells that features just such a device.

Of course like any story that attempts to fit into an established scenario, it suffers from the fact that we know the ending in advance. It is immutable that the Martians will emerge, set about their murderous assault, and be defeated, so it does become a trifle tedious when in acknowledgement of this essential restriction, Holmes and Challenger are portrayed always one step ahead of the invaders and smugly deduce the established flow of events well in advance. It doesn't so much make them appear clever characters, but rather makes the authors seem a little smug themselves. Look how cleverly we fit all the pieces together they seem to be saying. In essence, a few more surprises (difficult though that is in the circumstances) would have been nice, but if on the one hand there is a criticism to be made, there is equally some fun to be had slotting the various events in this volume into the established lore of H.G. Wells, with fresh perspectives added to some, including a blistering new account of the fight between the Thunderchild and the Martian tripods.

The final story in the series, Venus, Mars and Baker Street, does nicely expand on the original work of H.G. Wells, seizing on a casual observation toward the end of his story that the Martians may have turned their attention to Venus. So there is a lot to recommend in these stories, both as well written adventures in their own right, and as an elaboration and continuation of The War of the Worlds, though I can't speak for fans of Sherlock Holmes, who I imagine felt some disquiet at the revelation that Holmes and his housekeeper were engaged in an affair. However, the Wellman's do have some fun with the idea. One particularly humorous moment sees a poor uncomprehending Watson led away on a false pretence by Challenger (who of course has seen straight through Holmes) in order to give the lovers some much needed privacy.

If you can obtain this out of print book and enjoy it, I would also recommend you read the 4 part Eternity Comic Book series Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Martian, which brings the concept of Holmes fighting the Martians to vivid and effective life.

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Sherlock Holmes in the case of the missing Martian. The Martians were defeated as Wells recorded, but in post war England, Sherlock Holmes must once more face their power.

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