Tue
Dec 27 2011 1:30pm

Shadows of Sherlock: Analogs of the Detective in SF

Sherlock Holmes’s popularity has spawned a number of other characters who serve as homages to the famous literary detective. I’ve previously looked at some of these “shadows” in modern television. Now let’s look at other such characters in genre fiction.

 

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Sandford Blank

Consulting Detective Sandford Blank is a creation of author Chris Roberson, appearing in two of Roberson’s novels, Here, There, and Everywhere and End of the Century. In Roberson’s world, in an interesting twist of events, Conan Doyle was actually inspired to create the fictional Sherlock Holmes from Blank’s exploits. Blank is a consulting detective who investigates mysteries in much the same way as Holmes. Aiding him in his investigations is Roxanne Bonaventure, a young woman with a mysterious past.

Blanks’s resemblance to Holmes is quite strong. In his first appearance in The End of the Century, Roxanne Bonaventure reads out a description in the paper of a crime in India. With just a glance at his local almanac, Blank solves the crime. Of course he plays the flute instead of the violin, and wears a bowler instead of the (non-canon but famously associated) deerstalker cap, but in most other respects, he’s very much like his Victorian counterpart.

It’s worth noting that Bonaventure, while fulfilling the traditional Watson role, is not only a strong female character, but has an interesting history of her own, as alluded to in a previous post here.

 

Sir Seaton Begg

While Michael Moorcock actually wrote some Holmes stories, his own version of the detective was Sir Seaton Begg, the Metatemporal Detective. Begg’s adventures take place in various times in an alternate reality. Or alternate realities. In typical Moorcock fashion, the delineation isn’t very clear. What is clear is that Begg is a masterful detective. Together with his companion, pathologist “Taffy” Sinclair, he crosses swords with a number of criminals, most notably Monseur Zenith, the albino, also known as Monsieur Zodiac. Begg is part of Moorcock’s multiverse characters, related to the other Beggs and Beqs and von Beks while Zodiac is clearly an alternate version of Elric or Ulrich von Bek, both of whom appear in Moorcock’s other Multiverse stories. Because of their relationship to the Multiverse, it makes sense that their adventures play out across time and space.

Moorcock also draws inspiration from other pulp heroes, most notably Sexton Blake. But in “The Affair of the Seven Virgins,” he comes off as vintage Holmes. This describes an early meeting between Monsieur Zenith and Begg. At that meeting, Begg deduces that Zenith has been having trouble with the E-flat on his fiddle, judging from the callouses on his finger.

Begg also has a brother, Warwick, with considerable influence in the government, similar to Mycroft Holmes. Begg also is a user of Koa-Kaine, a drug to help stimulate his intellect (alternate reality, remember?).  One wonders if it was a seven percent solution.

Seaton Begg’s adventures are coveniently collected in The Metatemporal Detective, from Pyr.

 

Lord Darcy

Created by Randall Garrett, Lord Darcy is the Duke’s Investigator in an alternate reality where an Anglo-French empire rules and where magic is an established practice. Darcy is a skilled investigator with an extensive knowledge, like Holmes, of the most diverse items. For example, in “The Eyes Have It,” one of the earliest stories, he demonstrates his knowledge of firearms manufacture, even being able to identify that despite a replaced barrel on a gun, it was constructed in Edinburgh.

Darcy’s companion, his Watson, is Sean O’Lochlainn, a sorcerer. Though their relationship is a bit different to Holmes and Watson, Sean utilizes his expertise in magic in the same way that Watson uses his medical knowledge. While Darcy’s world is very different from Holmes’s, the technological level of the world is quite similar, and Darcy investigates crimes in the same intense but dispassionate way. Garrett’s system of magic is a strength of the series, almost scientific in the way it’s depicted, and elements like the way that objects relate to one another and the limitations to how the magic can be used, elevate it from other magic systems.  

The collected Lord Darcy stories, including the novel Too Many Magicians, are available in one volume entitled Lord Darcy, from Baen Books.

 

What are your favorite “shadows” of Holmes? Feel free to list them in the comments.


Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and blogger who always considered himself something of an amateur sleuth. He’s still looking for a dependable Watson. His website is www.rajankhanna.com

8 comments
Nina Lourie
1. supertailz
I love that in Lord Darcy, Sean is a "forensic sorceror", because Holmes is credited with creating forensics. :)
Nokomis Florida
2. Nokomis Florida
Don't think this series is a Sherlock Holmes analog, but Jack McDevitt's Chase Kolpath series is a favorite SF mystery series of mine.
Kristin Franseen
4. musichistorygeek
Not sure if it's totally relevant or not, but it might be worth noting that Michael Kurland, more recently known for his humorous series starring Professor Moriarty, continued the Lord Darcy novels with A Study in Sorcery, which owes a great debt to Holmes in both title and plot.
Nokomis Florida
5. rea
Of course, Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress stars a character named Mycroft Holmes . . .
Del C
6. del
William of Baskerville, in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. He's a fourteenth century monk, so long before Sherlock, but his colleagues credit him (as he frequently credits himself) with amazing powers of observation and deduction.
Glenda Wilson
7. glinda
There's a Poul Anderson novella, "The Queen of Air and Darkness", with a main character named... gah. mind like a wossname... either first name or last name is Sherrinford, and that character's a Holmes analog... (my copy's in as carton in my storage locker, my google-fu today is nonexistent).
Nokomis Florida
8. Eugene R.
glinda (@7) - Yes, you are correct; Poul Anderson created Eric Sherrinford as the investigator character in "The Queen of Air and Darkness", clearly riffing on Doyle's original name for the Great Detective. Anderson also created the alien detective Syaloch, who solves the case of "The Martian Crown Jewels" and who lives on The Street of Those Who Prepare Nourishment in Ovens.

One of my favorite alternate Holmes is Sharon Ford (aka Harlequin) from Guy Davis and Gary Reed's alternate punk "Baker Street" comic books, collected as Honour Among Punks.

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