Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus
by: P.C. Martin
If there are two things that are popular these days, they are Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes. So it should come as no surprise at all that a melding of the two should be produced. Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus by P.C. Martin endeavours to be just that thing. However, as will become clear in the body of this review, it falls short in a few key ways, some more serious than others. I rarely find myself writing particularly negative reviews, but I really have no choice but to crack out the metaphorical red pen and get to work. Brace yourselves.
In an alternative Steampunk universe (c.1885), the plans for Captain Nemo's mysterious Nautilus submarine have been stolen from the British Secret Service. There is only one man who can solve the case, Sherlock Holmes. With his bionic side-kick Doctor Watson, and his brilliant and lethal sister, Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock unravels a mystery that will shake the foundation of the British Empire.
Okay, so to start with, Steampunk as a genre is very tricky. You need to resist the urge to fall prey to what I like to call the “Glue cogs onto every flat surface” problem, which is when you let the elements of Steampunk as a genre overrule what you’re trying to do: tell an engaging story. In this story, Watson has a cyber arm with a gun in it, Holmes drives a high-powered motorcycle (also with guns on it) and there’s a zeppelin (another mainstay of the genre). Other than that, it feels like the elements of Steampunk are completely absent. You’d think, if it was as rare as all that, Watson would get a little more attention for having a massive steel gun-arm, but nobody seems to notice. It felt tacked on and lacklustre for something that even has ‘steampunk’ in the title.
But that’s not all bad is it? If the steampunk elements are downplayed, maybe that means the Holmes elements are top notch! Well, I was definitely thinking as I read through this, that at the very least, they got the baseline elements of ‘A Sherlock Holmes Story’ down pat. It turns out there is a reason for this as well. The basic plotline ofSteampunk Holmes is as follows:
The British Government has a top secret military research facility which has the plans for a powerful submarine, the Nautilus (In steampunk fashion, these plans are in the form of punch-cards for an analytical engine). The plans have gone missing, and a man who works at the office, named Cadbury, is found dead in a trainyard, his head smashed in, and seven of the ten cards in his possession. The three missing ones are the most important, and Holmes needs to solve the murder and recover the plans.
There is a story, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1912 called The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans whose basic plotline is as follows:
The British Government has a top secret military research facility which has the plans for a powerful submarine. The plans have gone missing, and a man who works at the office, named Cadogan, is found dead in a trainyard, his head smashed in, and seven of the ten pages of the plans in his possession. The three missing ones are the most important, and Holmes needs to solve the murder and recover the plans.
While the credit at the start of the work says ‘Adapted by P.C. Martin from the short story’ etc. etc., the adaptation seems like it consisted of ‘Holmes has a fancy motorcycle, Watson has a Gun-Arm and Mycroft (still named Mycroft) is a woman. Also, we changed the names of some characters’ which is really not enough for me to consider this an adaptation so much as an appropriation. If you’re going to take an existing story and change elements, they need to be thoughtful, effective and significant. These were none of those.
In the same way that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was about 80% the literal word-for-word text of Pride and Prejudice, this felt to me more like a novelty gimmick and not a serious intent to adapt the works of Conan Doyle to the Steampunk oeuvre. The only things which were done originally weren’t done very engagingly, and for something so short (only 144 pages in my .pdf copy) you really need to add something more than a few very un-Holmesian chase and action scenes.
All of that being said, if you’ve never read any Conan Doyle, or if you are such a fan of Holmes or Steampunk or both that you’d happily read -anything- that uses those subjects, this is a quick and easy read you might get a kick out of.
Dan was provided a review copy of this book by Noble Beast LLC