Tag Archive: Arthur Conan Doyle


Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably think of the incredible scope of its collection.  It houses some of the most famous and rare paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other artifacts from ancient times to the present day.  Its collection can be parsed in so many ways to record the history of almost any subject.  So it was a brilliant idea for The Met to open up its collection to focus on imagery for the holidays to illustrate a book about traditional Christmas stories.  Christmas is Coming! Celebrate the Holiday with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes is an ideal single source book of traditional Christmas songs and stories, illustrated with attractive imagery from artists celebrating the holiday across the centuries.  It also includes new poems commissioned for the book and holiday recipes created by the chefs from the restaurant at The Met.  If you’ve ever tried to find that one book with stories to read by the fire, with songs to sing to pull out every year, this is for you.

Along with excerpts of The Christmas Story and The Three Wise Men from the Bible, are historic Christmas stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Leo Tolstoy, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, and poetry from William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, H.P. Lovecraft, E.E. Cummings, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  It includes Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Francis Church’s timeless editorial Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. 

The artwork spans the entire collection of The Met, ranging from religious paintings depicting the Nativity from the 15th century and a winter landscape by Camille Pissarro to a collection of three dimensional holiday-related objects, illustrations of Santa Claus, and several images curated from a collection of vintage holiday cards donated to the museum.  Christmas is Coming! includes sheet music for ten of the most familiar Christmas songs, and recipes hand-selected by chefs at The Met that include Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey Pot Pie, English Toffee, Cranberry-Thyme Shortbread, and more.

Here are some excerpts from The Met’s Christmas is Coming!:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the Victorian holiday tradition of spending Christmas sharing tales of ghosts and other haunts, comes James Lovegrove′s latest novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon Another excellent addition in Lovegrove’s long list of new tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero and his earnest confidante and co-conspirator in sleuthing, Dr. John Watson, here readers encounter the master detective in a tale of murder and high crimes in the yuletide season.  Like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, expect an ample serving of curiosity and cleverness, and perhaps a side of the supernatural.

It’s 1890 and Holmes and Watson are called to Fellscar Keep in Yorkshire by one Eve Allerthorpe, the heir-apparent to a family fortune.  She believes she is haunted by a Krampus-like being, the legendary Christmas demonic spirit known as the “Black Thurrick.”  Holmes and Watson believe she’s being duped–the family fortune will belong to her when she turns 21 this Christmas Eve unless she is found to not be of sound mind.  So who is trying to prove that she is insane?  As the family and extended guests arrive for the holidays, Holmes and Watson ruffle feathers, encounter strange happenings, and investigate the wing of the house where the family matriarch died, as Watson finds himself the next target for the demon.

Lovegrove knows how to take Holmes and Watson for an unusual spin, having wrapped his Holmes trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks this year with the final chapter, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils (reviewed here at borg and just out in paperback).  As with Lovegrove’s previous Sherlock Holmes novels and his Firefly novels Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, the story is rich and funny, and the action clips along to a surprise, satisfying ending.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many genre novels are quick reads, full of action and modern surprises.  Once in a while you stumble upon the slow read–the book that is so smartly written, so exciting and enjoyable you never want it to end, and you force yourself to take it slow and enjoy the author’s use of language.  With his latest book I’ve now added James Lovegrove to my shortlist of authors I will make sure to read as soon as his next work is released.  His new novel is Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, book three of his trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks.  In short, this work has it all–tie-ins, a mash-up, genre-bending, and immersive storytelling in a suspense-filled mystery adventure.  It’s a big feat because the very subject matter and project has much to overcome.  First, it is the third book in a series, not your usual place as a reader to begin.  As it is a new release, I delved in anyway, and discovered Lovegrove crafted a complete end-to-end story requiring no prior knowledge of the first two books in the series.  Second, it’s a tie-in and a mash-up of the most well-known historical characters in all of fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson twisted together with the macabre, dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve reviewed several Watson and Holmes stories written in the past decade and the challenge is always the same–getting two voices just right, voices that are so familiar after reading original Doyle writings, and watching countless modern sequels and a host of television series and movie versions.  One misstep and it’s easy to pull a reader out of the narrative, yet Lovegrove doesn’t skip a beat in this regard.  Whether you’re drawn to the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the classic Basil Rathbone film version, modern retellings, or just Doyle’s own marvelous words, you will feel this book is a believable sequel to the original stories and the voices are spot-on.  Another barrier for Lovegrove to overcome is getting right that rich world of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works and words drip with a uniquely strange brilliance and eerie beauty.  Again, Lovegrove fully captures the spirit of his creations and seaside environments, too, as if he’d conjured Lovecraft for this story.  This strange mash-up of the logical, rational Holmes and Watson and the dark and fantastical Lovecraft probably shouldn’t work so well.  These are opposites, right?  But Lovegrove fuses them into one, evoking the 19th century wonder of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne science fiction and fantasy along the way.  Not merely a fun romp for fans of either world, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils has all the realism and research of a scholarly work, sinking us into the world of England, the nautical life of coastal peoples at the turn of the 20th century.

The story begins a few years after the retirement of Holmes and Watson.  In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow” we learned the character retired to a farm at Sussex Downs taking on beekeeping as a pastime.  Only two original stories take place during Holmes’ retirement.  This is where Lovegrove’s Watson catches up with Holmes: The date is 1910 and as England and the world moves toward war, Holmes and Watson learn the leaders of the famed Diogenes Club are all dead, found under strange circumstances.  When three young women go missing in a nearby town, the detective duo takes on sleuthing out their disappearance as their final case, where they encounter local lore that speaks of monsters from the deep and a foretold legend of the return of a phantom from long ago.  Locals believe that is why the women are missing, and Holmes knows it must all be connected.  How much is real, how much is fantasy?  Is it possible Holmes could discover both worlds might co-exist?  Can Holmes ever escape the specter of his lifelong nemesis Moriarty?  And what of his brother Mycroft?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you’re planning to attend the upcoming return of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to theaters, a new book released this week is going to take readers of all ages on a tour of the history of real dinosaurs and the history of the study of dinosaurs itself.  A fresh look at the science of paleontology and the resulting knowledge about the life, environment, and structure of the major species of dinosaurs is the subject of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom.  Authors Christine Argot and Luc Vivès, researchers at The French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, use the museum’s own paleontology gallery as the starting point to tell how scientists developed the study and reconstruction of dinosaurs since the gallery first opened in 1898.  Everyone has a favorite dinosaur, and whether yours is a stegosaurus, triceratops, diplodocus, allosaurus, iguanodon, brontosaurus, megalosaurus, or tyrannosaurus, you’ll marvel at the spectacular images of their skeletons on display as scientists have updated them consistent with improved knowledge and techniques across the years.

Interlacing the work of paleontologists, geologists, museum curators, and other scientists around the world, and changing views of remarkable fossil discoveries (like placement, stance, and presence of feathers) over nearly 150 years, the authors combine photographs of their collection with images resulting from digs, artists’ interpretations, magazine articles, and museum archives.  From tales of dragons and mythical beasts to speculative works from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, ideas of fantasy have informed science and vice versa.  Movements and individuals have changed our outlook into history, via wealthy benefactors, scholars, educators, and artisans.  From lost displays in the Crystal Palace to the artistry of Charles R. Knight, the history of dinosaurs is also the evolution of the thinking of mankind.  The result will fascinate both young and old readers, whether Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom will be your kid’s first book of dinosaurs or a companion book for a high school or college museum studies course, or simply a resource for you to enjoy.

One story recounts the misidentification of an iguanodon finger bone as a nose bone.  Another story describes the excavation of a pit in Belgium in the 1870s that netted 130 tons of bones.  Preservation and conservation methods are discussed throughout, plus improvements in museum display, like the use of 3D printing to allow an original tyrannosaurus rex from the States to be replicated and put on display at the Paris museum this summer.

Here is a preview of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We first previewed the new series back in January here at borg.com.  The Minky Woodcock story The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is as much a showcase of the creator’s various talents as a mash-up of great story concepts.  Cynthia von Buhler is an artist, performer, playwright, and author.  Her fictionalized tale of the last days of Houdini draws a bit from the modern mainstream shock drama (think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), her unique provocative art style (fans of Stjepan Šejić will love it), her affinity for crime noir, and her own investigation into the death of a relative in the 1930s.  The result is a new, crafty, shrewd, and fiery private detective, the fictional Minky Woodcock, a character who proves she can hold her own against Arthur Conan Doyle, and would make a good lead in an ongoing noir series (in fact a follow-up story is in the works for next year, with Minky investigating the mysterious poisoning death of Ziegfeld Girl Olive Thomas).  The complete The Man Who Handcuffed Houdini is now available in a colorful hardcover edition from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in von Buhler’s story (she both wrote and illustrated the story).  The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is later hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on the magician (a purported philanderer).  The blend of the true and the fabricated is artfully drawn into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

 

The new hardcover compilation edition includes the main cover artwork and variants for the four issues of the series.  Von Buhler balances realism with the surreal.  Her choice of color has the nostalgic flair of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series, her images of real people (like Houdini) are spot-on, and she particularly excels at skintones, which appear almost photo-real in contrast to the book’s comic page designs.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler.  A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him.  The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism.  Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?).  When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English.  Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.

 

Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s.  Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper.  And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.

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We’re back today with the second part of my interview with Nicholas Meyer, director, screenwriter, and storyteller, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and its return to theaters next month as part of the Fathom Events series.  Meyer directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and he was a screenwriter on both movies as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  He chatted with me about his films and more this past week.  If you missed part one of the interview, check it out here.

CB:  You’ve written words spoken on-screen by Lawrence Olivier (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), David Warner (Time After Time, Star Trek VI), and Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI).  Are there any other great actors you maybe fantasize, or would like to write, dialogue for?

NM:  I’ve also worked with Jason Robards and John Lithgow (both in The Day After).  I’ve worked with some really wonderful actors.  Fantasizing about working with actors is interesting.  When I listened to the Chandos recording of the music from Henry V–the Olivier film with Christopher Plummer reciting or acting out the various Shakespeare vocal parts–I thought, “Wow, I’d really love to work with this man.”  And I wrote the part of Chang in Star Trek VI specifically for him.  That’s the first time I’ve ever written for an actor other than the Star Trek cast.  I said to my casting director Mary Jo Slater, “Whatever you do, don’t come back without him.  Because there’s no movie unless it’s him.”  It would take me longer than this conversation to rustle around in my brain other actors I’d love to work with–Benedict Cumberbatch–sure, of course.

Nicholas Meyer directing the production crew, with Christopher Plummer as General Chang, on the Klingon courtroom set of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

CB:  Your Time After Time co-star Malcolm McDowell joined Star Trek in the seventh movie in the series, Star Trek Generations, after you were no longer with the franchise, and it always seemed to me to be an obvious choice to get him into the Star Trek universe.  Did he ever contact you about taking on a Star Trek role?

NM:  No… we never discussed it.  David Warner, who actually has been in two Star Trek movies (as Chancellor Gorkon in The Undiscovered Country and St. John Talbot in Star Trek V: The Final Fronter), was the great post-war Hamlet with the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I think Malcolm at one point was a spear carrier in that company at the time when David was this huge star.  In Time After Time they used to kid each other about those times.  Something about carrying a pack of cigarettes under your costume.

CB:  You have said you see yourself first as a writer and have been writing and telling stories since you were five years old.  Are you as excited today to sit down and craft a story as you were in 1982?

NM:  I think when I get going the answer is yes, and if it’s going well the answer is yes, and the hours can go by and I look up and it’s a week later.  But as I’ve gotten older, the process of actually starting, of facing what used to be a blank page, which is now a blank screen, having done it again and again and again…  Most of the stuff I’ve written has never been produced.  Most of the stuff I’ve written for books I’m happy to say has been published, but I haven’t written that many books.  But most of my screenplays–including probably my best screenplays–have never been done.  So as you get older and you embark on this again and again and again there is a kind of a weariness of picking up the yoke and putting it on your shoulders.  That said, getting paid for telling stories beats work any day.

On the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Engineering set, that’s Catherine E. Coulson (later Twin Peaks’ Log Lady) with the camera, director Nicholas Meyer (in Starfleet captain’s jacket) and James Doohan as Scotty, filming the emotional finale.

CB:  In your memoir The View From the Bridge, you mentioned some of your best ideas or solutions when writing come while doing laundry, while in the tub, or even building a model boat.  What was your biggest revelation and strangest place you found it?

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Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan–a member of that fabled Class of 1982’s “best summer of movies”–turned 35 this year, and to celebrate, the film is returning to theaters as part of the Fathom Events series.  It has been said the film’s director and screenplay writer Nicholas Meyer saved Star Trek.  Meyer was well-known as the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and its screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and for directing and writing the screenplay for the fan-favorite, time travel thriller, Time After Time.  After the lukewarm response at the box office to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, executive producer Harve Bennett tapped Meyer to take the franchise in a bold, new direction, and the result, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, became the best reviewed film of the franchise and a classic among all science fiction.  Many details about Meyer’s work have been recounted in Allan Asherman’s The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Meyer’s own memoir, The View from the Bridge.  Meyer has also shared a trove of his thoughts and work on the film in director commentaries accompanying the film’s various home releases.  He’s not quite finished with Star Trek yet–he’s back again as a writer and producer on the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, premiering next month.

I was ecstatic to interview Nicholas Meyer this past week and listen to him reminisce as director and screenwriter of The Wrath of Khan for the approaching anniversary theatrical release, and ask him questions I’ve had for years about his long writing career.  Meyer sees himself first as a storyteller.  In addition to The Wrath of Khan, he wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and he directed and wrote the screenplay for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I think you’ll discover—or rediscover—that in Meyer’s selections of leading stage and screen actors like Christopher Plummer, Meyer provided gravitas to the Star Trek universe, and by infusing classical literature into the voices of characters from the likes of Shakespeare, Doyle, and Melville, he elevated Star Trek’s story beyond mere popular science fiction.  Everything that would come after The Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek franchise exists as a direct result of Meyer’s success on that film.

Director Nicholas Meyer observing final detail work as Ricardo Montalban’s headwrap is applied, filming the first appearance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

CB:  Welcome to borg.com.  Thanks for chatting with me and borg.com readers today and congratulations on the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

NM:  Thank you so much.  It’s a real pleasant surprise—As Kirk said to Scotty, “That’ll be a pleasant surprise.”

CB:  Let’s talk about Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  I have always loved this line: “I’ll chase him ‘round the Moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares Maelstrom and ‘round Perdition’s flames.”  When you write something like that, do you know that you’ve got it, and when you see Montalban saying it and it appears on the screen, do you get any satisfaction of seeing that all come together?

NM:  Absolutely!  I have to say, first of all, I didn’t write it.  Herman Melville wrote it.  I substituted a few planets or something.  This is all Ahab.  I just cribbed it.  I remember with some satisfaction what I took to be at the time my cleverness (which turns out to be the curse of Kirk: “I patted myself on the back for my cleverness”).  It wasn’t until I saw Ricardo actually do it that I got goosebumps, and thought, “Holy cow.  This is wonderful!”  And I said to him actually at some point during the movie, “You really should be playing Lear.”  He sort of looks like Lear–with a big set of pecs.  Because he has been on stage, he was on Broadway, he did legit plays.  He was very touched, I think, that I had told him this, and he made some disparaging remark about his Hispanic accent.  I said, “That’s all bullshit.  You enunciate perfectly.  You could do this.”  I think Khan was as close as he ever got to doing it.

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We’ve seen some celebrities turn to the unlikely medium of comic books to tell their stories recently.  First, we saw Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels turn to comic books to tell his own story under the DMC label.  Then Congressman John Lewis wrote a graphic novel about the civil rights movement called March–winning countless awards this year.  Now basketball legend and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has adapted Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mycroft Holmes into the next best steampunk comic book series.

Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, co-created with writer Raymond Obstfeld, artist Joshua Cassara, colorist Luis Guerrero, and lettered by Simon Bowland, is the ultimate mash-up of 19th century science fiction and fantasy motifs.  Sherlock’s smarter brother has been kidnapped by Queen Victoria, tasked with deciphering a building full of broken doomsday machines capable of doing the unthinkable.  Think Warehouse 13, if a suave Brit (think James Bond), with a quirky analytical mind (think Doctor Who) is plunged into a world-ending event and an impossible task to solve.

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Mycroft Holmes reads like Bill Willingham’s Legenderry–A Steampunk Adventure and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only with five issues to speed through the story the action is quick, the dialogue is brief, and the banter is witty and fun.  Abdul-Jabbar, who became a fan of reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories early in his NDA career, grew to become a connoisseur of 19th century fiction including Holmes and his infamous brother, enough to write the novel Mycroft Holmes–A Novel with screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, published last year.   Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook takes Mycroft on a parallel-world adventure from the Mycroft of Abdul-Jabbar’s novel.

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