melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2010-03-19 07:31 pm

Mymy/Mav/Vyssu, OT3 4eva, srsly.

How about another post about the female characters of Sherlock Holmes fandom? (It's weird how *much* I have fixated on Mary Morstan in this fandom - I'll read the Holmes/Watson if it comes strongly recommended, but I only really get enthusiastic about any given fanwork if it has Mary (or Irene, or Mrs. Hudson but that never happens, so mostly Mary) in it, with the result that I've not been submerged nearly as much as I thought I would be. It's strange to be in a fandom where I'm actually exhibiting *taste* to the extent it limits my reading.)

There is not nearly enough of this sort of story coming through So I have descended to going to the library and checking out these things made of sheets of paper glued together on one edge - apparently, you can get Holmes fanfic in that format, too. And apparently, if you want novels about the women, you're more likely to find them there...

First, though, a few more fic recs:

Scenes from an Unusual Domestic Arrangement, by [ profile] lalaietha/[personal profile] recessional, OT4: If you're reading Holmes fic, you already know to read everything [personal profile] recessional writes, but if you only read one, read this one: it is the OT4 that must exist.

Imagine Me and You (and You and You), by [ profile] flash_indie, OT4: More Mary-heavy OT4 that is awesome! And it's novella-length! This has Mary joining the boys as a full partner in the detectiving, and a really interesting working-out of the poly dynamic over time. Mary is occasionally a bit too modern for my taste, but the story carries you along anyway.

Not A Rational Organ, by [ profile] bluepercy, bookverse, gen-ish with Holmes/Mary and implied OT3: This was written well before the movie and seems to have got very little attention post-movie, which is a shame, because I love it lots, and I believe it happened. Watson is taken captive as a result of one of Watson's cases, and Mary insists on coming with Holmes on the rescue, and they both love Watson enough to let him go, and during the adventure Holmes gets confused, stops seeing Mary as an enemy, and starts having unfamiliarly heterosexual thoughts about her. The only complaint I have about this story is it isn't the beginning of a twelve-book series.

Checkmate, by [personal profile] random_nexus, gen-ish OT3: another story from the pre-movie fandom. This is a short bit that is simply a conversation between Holmes and Mary Watson, in which she out-maneuvers, out-manipulates, and out-deduces him, and he likes it, and she knows he does. If that isn't enough to get you to read, well, we clearly have fundamental differences in our ways of thinking.

And now for the published fic: since this was written and printed for money, I am more comfortable being openly critical of it even when I liked it overall. So these reviews are at, um, somewhat greater length. (but, then, the stories are also of somewhat greater length.)

Good Morning, Irene, aka The Adventuress by Carole Nelson Douglas

Note: this is very much not movieverse Irene. I like this one better. Also, I have no idea why the title was changed in the most recent editions: Good Morning, Irene is far better (though I like the newer cover more.) I started with the second book in this series because it was the one my local library had. I suspect this is actually a series where not reading the first book really does interfere with your enjoyment. At the start of the second one, Irene Adler, her husband Godfrey, and Nell, the last member of the household, a young London typist who has been adopted by Irene and fills the chronicler role, are living in Paris, and they have come into a great deal of wealth, and Irene is allowing herself to be presumed dead for some reason, but does not seem particularly invested in keeping a low profile. I thought that would be all I needed to know, but the further I got in the book, the more it became clear that there were complications carrying over from the first book which it would have helped me to know about, but which I never quite got the picture of.

That aside, though, the book was fun. Irene is delicious, Irene's friends are delicious, Godfrey is wonderful; it took me awhile to warm to Nell, but I eventually did. The absolute best thing about this book (and, I hope, the whole series), is that it reverses the gender roles of the story, and does so deliberately. Not reversing gender roles in the world itself - it's still late Victorian Europe, and the women living in it are women who belong in that time - but reversing gender roles in the *story*, just by choosing to make it a story that's about women, and told through a lens in which women are the important people. Women are important, women's views are important, women's work and women's concerns and women's spaces are the important ones; women are powerful, and not just because the women Douglas chooses to write about are powerful women (though some of them are), but because she tells the story from a viewpoint where the power that women have is the important power: partly through Irene, who is determined that a woman can have any power a man does, but wield it better; partly through respectable Nell, who is determined that the power her society assigns to women is all the power anybody needs. Oh, there are male characters, but the important thing about the male characters is their relationships with the women - there's nothing inherently important about them as people.

And yet she does this, and does it intentionally, in a believable Victorian London without changing anything except the POV, with characters (male and female) who are entirely believable and likeable; and it's not a "woman's story" - it's not about romance, family, and household; it's a rollicking murder mystery and treasure hunt set among dangerous and far-flung lands.

Now on to the things I didn't like: the mystery itself never really grabbed my attention; it was certainly quite as baroque as any of Holmes' cases, but I think it's easier to sustain that level of ~mysterious happenings~ when you only have to do it for the length of a short story or novella; in a modern-length novel it gets to be a bit much. And so many of the important characters and events were introduced very late in the novel, so you have to sit through a long build-up and then everything happening at once. Once it did start happening, I was hooked, and everything came together neatly in the solution of the mystery, though the actual solution was one of those classic "let's get all the suspects in a room and explain the deductions" arrangements which just seemed deeply out of place in the story as it was - they can work when you're trying to bluff a confession, but in this one it wasn't all that necessary. Also, the portions that suddenly switch to Holmes POV, while it's nice to have the connection back to Holmes, are really jarringly abrupt, and I think on a re-read I would just skip them with very little loss to the story. (Plus: not enough Watson!) Also, while story manages (by dint of being set mostly in Monaco) to carry over Doyle's love of ~exotic foreign lands~ without ever having to directly address the imperialism of the period; but there is a minor character, a lascar, who manages to really not move very far past what Doyle was doing in his portrayal of "exotic" people from colonized nations. So, I mean, it's not openly horridly offensive, but it was a bit of a disappointment that she didn't do *better*.

Also, Irene's relationship with Nell is really - uncomfortable. That may be intentional, placing them in a rocky period in their friendship that gets explained and involved elsewhere in the series, but in this book as itself, Nell appears to be tagging along after Irene mostly out of a sense of obligation, and Irene appears to be treating her as a useful accessory without actually listening to her as a person. It's not badly done, and I do suspect it's getting set up to be resolved later in the series, but with Nell & Irene as the relationship that ought to be the backbone of the book, it suffuses everything with a not-fun kind of tension.

I did like the postscripts at the end, though, which made the ties with Holmes canon explicit while accounting for the ways in which Holmes canon was contradicted. (Including the continual barbs directed at Sherlock, who isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is; poor dear, he can't help it, he's only a man.)

Verdict: Will not be reading out of order, but will be keeping my eye out for the first book in the series.

Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse, by Martin Davies

Okay, when I heard that this series *existed* - the series in which Holmes is fairly incompetent and Mrs. Hudson is secretly feeding him all the clues - I knew I wanted try it out, even if it was crack-addled and/or just plain bad.

It's not just plain bad! It is not amazingly wondrously good, and this one shows the signs of being a first novel, but it is perfectly competent, and it knows its entire concept is over-the-top and owns that fact thoroughly. Also, Raffles randomly shows up to help out his old friend Mrs. Hudson. :D

However, it is canon fail. Remember where I was annoyed that Irene Norton in the Carole Nelson Douglas series is a soprano, rather than a contralto? Mrs. Hudson makes that look like nothing. To start with, Mrs. Hudson in this series is a hired housekeeper rather than landlady/manager of a boarding house, which makes a rather majorly important difference in who she is, class-wise and backstory-wise. It's necessary to the story - a lot of the detectiving she does involves having access to servants' gossip and back staircases; and (though I'm not sure the author realized it) it's an interesting callback to several of the earliest fictional detectives leading up to Holmes, a number of whom were women in service. But she is *not* the Mrs. Hudson I knew from canon. Having her be hired also overlooks the most interesting thing about Mrs. Hudson in canon, too, that being why she didn't evict them after a month. Connected with that, Davies completely screws up the chronology of Holmes & Watson's early association. And for some inexplicable reason, Watson is an art collector. And while Douglas at least tried to address her divergences from a Watsonian/unreliable narrative perspective, Davies really, really doesn't.

If I ignore that, though, and take the book on its own terms, I quite like it. I may even like it better than the Irene Adler novel, despite the relative clunkiness of the storytelling. Mrs. Hudson is wonderful, always on top of things and understanding everything, from clues to emotions, several steps ahead of Holmes, and supercompetently managing a household at the same time. And I think I am in love with the relationship here between Holmes and Mrs. Hudson (no, not romantic, though apparently there's a movie somewhere in which it is); Holmes in the Adler novel is a remote and somewhat alien creature, very good at what he does but limited. I think that's great within what Douglas was trying to do, of deliberately reversing the gender roles that Doyle uses, but Holmes is a better character in the Davies novel. He's good but fallible, and willing to admit when he's fallible and accept help and correction from Mrs. Hudson with an astonishing amount of grace for a character who's still recognizable as canon Holmes. It also assumes that at least part of the time that Watson assumes Holmes is out and about doing mysterious detectivey things, he's actually sitting at Mrs. Hudson's kitchen table, stealing baked goods, and willingly learning from her the kind of things a housekeeper knows that might be useful for a detective. (It's really something I can believe from canon - Holmes has to have learned his disguises, and the cultures that go with them, somehow, and there's only a limited amount you can learn from sitting gruffly in a bar without actually being willing to make friends with people who will teach you, of all genders and all classes. That Watson only rarely mentioned this may say more about Watson and his audience than about the circle of Holmes's acquaintance - though I would love, love to see fandom do something awesome with the eccentric naturalist from Sign of the Four. Not to mention the Irregulars, of course.)

And I like Mrs. Hudson's Watson - Flotty, the orphan and former street kid - a lot more than I like Irene's Nell. Oh, Flotty is utterly Dickensianly over-the-top, the starving ragamuffin rescued literally from the gutter by Mrs. Hudson and then taught housekeeping and service as well as reading, writing, 'rithmatic, Latin, chemistry, and for all I know, Ancient Greek poetic composition; also, put on equal terms with (handsome and unconventional) titled aristocracy and the depths of the criminal underworld. I don't really mind, though, because I knew going in that this was crack, and it never gets anything sillier than might show up in a novel from the period. So while Nell's a lot more believable, Flottie's voice is a lot more *fun*. And her mentoring relationship with Mrs. Hudson is warm and deep and sweet.

As to the mystery itself: it's the Giant Rat of Sumatra! Somebody actually wrote the Giant Rat of Sumatra and it wasn't a Princess Bride crossover! And, being about Sumatra, it *did* have to confront colonialism directly. I would love to see a judgement on this from someone with better judgement about it than I; but I think Davies actually managed to do it with minimal fail. You have to be willing to trust through the beginning of the story, where it looks like it's going to be vaguely along the line of Sign of Four, but by the time you get to the end, the story has condemned colonialism and all its evils much more strongly than Doyle could ever have dared (without turning the novel into a sermon about it.) No more details for fear of spoilers, but it almost gave me confidence that it's possible to write Holmes fic that addresses the Empire and do it well without losing the things that make me like Holmesverse.

I think the main reason I like it better, though, is that when you're writing a historical novel about a woman who is awesome and breaks out of expectations, you basically have three choices: a) a woman who has left respectability behind and is quite happy to live outside its protection (movieverse Irene); b) a woman who has come to understand that respectability isn't everything, but it is *something*, and has learned to move between the two roles with grace and impunity (bookverse Irene); and c) a woman who is so thoroughly respectable that she can do almost anything she wants, because anything she does is by definition respectable, because she defines respectable (movieverse Mary).

Types A and B can be lots of fun, but when there's a character who properly embodies C, I adore them deeply. It's harder, I think, because you have to be willing to really look deep in to standard stereotypes and roles, and you have to make the character earn it, but it's a method of working around society's boundaries that I think gets too often overlooked in modern fiction (and I think describes how far more real women survived than the outright, in-your-face rebels.) And Mrs. Hudson, in this story, is type C to her marrow, and you actually get to see the process of her teaching Flotty how to become the same (and what happens when Flotty overreaches and doesn't quite pull it off.)

At any rate: the thing that makes me think that Holmes fandom (and fandom in general) does have a problem with female characters isn't the focus on the slash ship, or the way Mary gets written out: it's the way Mrs. Hudson gets *ignored*. Almost completely, except as a silent pair of hands holding a tea-tray and a sigh in the dark. She's by far the most important (and powerful! She could cast them out in the street at any time- she'd certainly be justified) woman in their lives over the course of canon, the male-majority part of fandom has played with her at least a little, and yet I could find only *one* online fanfic that gave her any significant role at all. :/

(Mrs. Hudson! More people need to write about Mrs. Hudson, yo! If Martin Davies can do it, so can you!)

Verdict: Fun but not life-changing; would read more if I stumbled upon it. Also, very glad it exists.

Their Majesties' Bucketeers, by L. Neil Smith

Remember how I talked about Madelyn Mack as an AU where Holmes and Watson are lesbians living in gaslit New York City?

Their Majesties' Bucketeers is an AU where Holmes and Watson are Lamviin - small, trilaterally symmetrical crustaceans who live on a desert planet that is in their people's equivalent of our Victorian period. Also, they do *everything* in threes, not just symmetry - including sex and gender, so yes, there is, in fact, canon!OT3. It is at *least* as awesome as it sounds.

I found a copy of this book at a yard sale when I was about fourteen, and it's on my list of "books that got re-read dozens of times in high school"; I only found & remembered it a few weeks ago when I was unpacking, and I had forgotten just how much I loved it; and hadn't realized how much of my thinking about SF in recent years has been working from this book as the lost archetype.

Mymisiir Offe Woom, our POV character, is a surmale paracauterist (paramedic/trauma surgeon) in their Majesties' Bucketeer service. In fact, rhe has followed in rher surfather's fingertracks to become one of the first generation of respectable surmale professionals, and is fiercely proud of the independent status that offers rher.

Rhe is friend, admirer, and chronicler of Agot Edmoot Mav, male Inquirer in the bucketeer service, inventor of scientific forensics, and the world's first undercover detective. Mymy is continually beset by Mav's insistence on pickling his brain with dangerous chemicals, and on keeping company with disreputable personages - such as Vyssu, the smart and outspoken female brothel manager (and knitting enthusiast) who eventually completes their trine.

I submit to you, lords, ladies and lurries: is it not *awesome*, the mere fact that this book exists?

Together, the three of them are investigating the dramatic murder of Professor Srafen, an old surmale mentor of Mav's and discoverer of the theory of evolution, and in the process travel between many parts of Lamviin society, including an apocalyptic cult and the mad inventors' club. And, of course, they fall in love with each other. :D

Yes, you can say all you like about various permutations of Holmes/Watson/Irene/Mary, but Mymy/Mav/Vyssu will *always* be my Holmesverse OT3. (Mav is substantially less broken than Holmes in movieverse, but he's broken *enough*, an it's amazing how close M/M/V comes to *being* movieverse OT4, with Watson and Mary neatly combined into one character in the person of Mymy.)

The whole book is told in Mymy's first-person POV, and there are no non-lamviin characters at all (though there's an introduction from a human POV that gives the story context as an account of historical events from before their first extraplanetary contact.) The worldbuilding is just so spot-on, with everything taken for granted but introduced slowly and naturally, so that by halfway through what is really a very short novel it seems perfectly normal for Mymy to use the little lurries' room and admire Mav's shapely walking-arms and shudder in disgust at the mention of rain. And the surmale pronouns and words seem natural by about three pages in (I still kind of wonder why the accepted othergender pronouns have ended up being unpronounceable things like xie and sie - what's wrong with rhe and rher? They're good enough for Mymy!) If I can ever write an SF novel that carries off an alien world *this* well, I will be satisfied with my skills.

It's not a perfect book (though it's close): the author L. Neil Smith, who you may recognize as the writer of several of the early Star Wars novels, is a very politically active social liberatarian, and the wonderful, subtle worldbuilding and mystery story is interrupted at several points by extremely *unsubtle* political dialogues, though they're easy enough to identify & skip over; if you can handle Heinlein, it should be no trouble.

And it's got the race and colonialism issues that all Victorian stories must, compounded by the libertarian insistence on individual determination above all, although having them be furry crab creatures who never quite exactly parallel Earth cultures makes it -- at least slightly less personal. Also, I didn't remember this from my earlier readings, but Mav is multiracial - his father was a high-ranking officer in the Imperial military, but his surfather was Podfettian (think German or Russian) and his mother was from a dark-furred colonialized culture several continents over. And Vyssu's antecedents are unclear but she is stated to be recognizably descended from colonized peoples as well. It's hard to say just what that means in the book's context, through the lenses of time and alienness and libertarian doctrine (and despite the characters being mixed-race, there's some clear exoticizing going on, especially of the native-american analogues), but damp does it cry out for fanfic. :D

(I could go on and on about lamn gender too, but I doubt anyone else reading this knows the book, so I will simply reiterate: IT NEEDS FANFIC.)

Apparently some of the lamnviin characters from this book reappear in some of Smith's later novels, post-contact, but those novels sound much more politically doctrinaire so I have been having trouble gaining the enthusiasm to read them, as much as I *love* his worldbuilding skills when he lets the politics go.

Verdict: Will SO be requesting for Yuletide. :D (Also, *so* glad it exists. And Mymy/Mav/Vyssu is still my canon OT3 for all Holmes fandom everywhere. I had forgotten how deeply I loved this book in high school - my copy is falling apart, and I still have stretches memorized, ten years since my last re-read.)

...and while I was returning some of these to the library, I checked out the first Mary Russell book. And one of the Moriarty books (the series where it's Moriarty who secretly solves the crimes and gives Holmes the credit - no, I'm not sure how that works either) so there may be another set of these, after I read those. Also, I checked out Lord John and the Private Matter, Monstrous Regiment, and Pride/Prejudice, for all your Queer Age of Sail needs. I have reviews of those half-written that I'll probably post to [community profile] age_of_sail when they're done.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

[personal profile] holyschist 2010-03-20 12:36 am (UTC)(link)
This is an AU where Holmes and Watson are Lamviin - small, trilaterally symmetrical crustaceans who live on a desert planet that is in their species' equivalent of our Victorian period. Also, they do *everything* in threes, not just symmetry - including sex and gender. )


I cannot believe this is the summary of a REAL BOOK.
sara: Trompe l'oeil painting of a violin (violin)

[personal profile] sara 2010-03-20 01:55 am (UTC)(link)
...trilaterally symmetrical crustaceans. Wow. Humanity is...very human.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

[personal profile] holyschist 2010-03-20 04:44 am (UTC)(link)
I think people who are shocked by fandom's proclivities just haven't read enough pro novels.

Crustaceans, wow.
jesse_the_k: The words "Indecision may or may not be my problem" over a blurry background (Indecision)

[personal profile] jesse_the_k 2012-09-04 08:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Can I quote you on this?
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

[personal profile] holyschist 2012-09-05 12:43 am (UTC)(link)
cypher: (:D)

[personal profile] cypher 2010-03-20 01:09 am (UTC)(link)
I, also, cannot believe this is a real book that exists and that somebody decided to publish on real paper.

I'm going to have to see about hunting down a copy. :x
eisen: Black & White (hold on wait a second). (gimme that one-two step.)

[personal profile] eisen 2010-03-20 01:27 am (UTC)(link)
Oh L. Neil Smith. Why are all your books made of id.

At least this one doesn't sound like it will squick me every fourteen pages or so! And it has a potentially non-problematic relationship at its center! That's better than the few other books of his I've read.
pseudo_tsuga: ([Psych] Gus & Shawn)

[personal profile] pseudo_tsuga 2010-03-20 02:06 am (UTC)(link)
It's strange to be in a fandom where I'm actually exhibiting *taste* to the extent it limits my reading.)

I laugh, but it's actually true for me too! I've already gorged myself on Holmes/Watson fic when I first discovered it existed so I'm bored by it now. Bring on the ladies!

Their Majesties' Bucketeers is an AU where Holmes and Watson are Lamviin - small, trilaterally symmetrical crustaceans who live on a desert planet that is in their people's equivalent of our Victorian period did this ever get printed?

starlady: holmes holds his spyglass against watson's chest (intimacy)

[personal profile] starlady 2010-03-20 02:16 am (UTC)(link)
I…I…I…I need that book. NOW.
starlady: holmes holds his spyglass against watson's chest (intimacy)

[personal profile] starlady 2010-03-21 02:00 am (UTC)(link)
I bought it on eBay last night. I'm excited.

[personal profile] kaptainvon 2010-03-20 08:58 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for these. I'm really enjoying 'Imagine Me and You (and You and You)' for its economical sex-writing and careful interweaving with plot (which go a long way for me), and both Madelyn Mack and Their Majesties' Bucketeers sound AWESOME.
copracat: Emma Peel looking up from a newspaper (Emma reading)

[personal profile] copracat 2010-03-20 11:24 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for linking to Library Thing rather than a bookstore. I enjoy your reviews and I like to read other reviews that aren't swamped by the bits and pieces of a sales website.
fenellaevangela: text: Kirk & Spock & Bones & some guy in a red shirt. (Default)

[personal profile] fenellaevangela 2010-03-25 02:00 am (UTC)(link)
I must thank you for this post! I bought Their Majesties' Bucketeers over the weekend and I enjoyed it very much.
law_nerd: Our 1/2 Lab puppy stares intently off into space. (Default)

[personal profile] law_nerd 2010-04-11 01:45 am (UTC)(link)
Read this, and ordered Martin Davies from the local library. Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose was fun.

Also looked for, found, read with delight and am severely addicted to recessional's Mary/Watson/Holmes fics...

Many thanks for the recs!
elspethdixon: (Default)

[personal profile] elspethdixon 2010-05-31 06:07 am (UTC)(link)
This is an AU where Holmes and Watson are Lamviin - small, trilaterally symmetrical crustaceans who live on a desert planet that is in their species' equivalent of our Victorian period. Also, they do *everything* in threes, not just symmetry - including sex and gender.

How did I miss the existance of this post, and thus this book, for two months? I, too, cannot believe it's a real book that was actually published by a real publisher. Or I would, if I hadn't read that one paranormal romance novel where the heroine's half mermaid/half-angel, and at least a dozen other SF novels that could equal any of fandom's crack AUS.

I found Pride/Prejudice somewhat... unbalanced when it came to the slash and femslash aspects. The m/m pairing got NC-17-rated sex scenes, while the f/f one got fluffy fade-to-blacks. On the one had, bisexuality FTW. On the other hand, I felt vaguely cheated at getting all that hot guy-on-guy action but no hot lady action.