Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity by Brian Stableford
Black Coat Press, 2009
I could describe this book as an epic alternative future history, a thought experiment about the consequences of time travel, and an exploration of the effects of fiction writing. Actually, it is very much more than that, but not at all vague or untidy. The use of multiple narrators within a ‘Chinese box’ structure keeps everything under control. As a reader, I felt appreciated as I read, sensing a rhythm to the complicated narration that was pitched so as to help me negotiate it. Just before I was about to loose track of any one narrator’s place in the structure of the story, I discovered that the author had taken steps to remind me where I was. And, just as I started to feel confident in my understanding of what was going on, the plot would deepen and become even more intriguing.
The characters include William Hope Hodgson, Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Alfred Jarry and Camille Flammarion, but also Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. The story is told in such a way as to retain what we usually consider the known ‘facts’ about the historical characters. Yet, at the same time, it illuminates how uncertain we may really be about such facts. History is always fictional, to some extent. This is not a dishonest attempt to confuse readers by passing off invented history as fact. This is a story about how we decide what is real and what is not.
If time travel really could be possible one day, it seems inevitable that someone would want to try and manipulate events and try to control the future through the past. The evidence for this assumption is that such manipulation already takes place in the way that historical events are recorded, unearthed and reported. Similarly, fiction is a means of sending thoughts and ideas into the future. Art takes us forward into the future, even when the greatest artists are unappreciated in their own times.
Review by Sally Startup