Challenger Unbound edited by Michael R Brush and S.G. Mulholland (book review).

February 19, 2016 | By | Reply More

There has been a tradition of writers, especially those honing their skills, to add to the adventures of their favourite characters. Children do it every time they play with the characters and other toys from films and TV programmes, such as ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Frozen’. Most stories either stay under the bed or turn up in fanzines shared with others with the same enthusiasms. Whereas some writers, such as Storm Constantine, encourage such fan fiction and allow the best to be published in books and others, such as ‘Star Trek’, develop a franchise of officially sanctioned novels by respected authors. When a favoured writer has been dead long enough for their work to be out of copyright, there is an opportunity for other enterprises such as ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’.Challenger Unbound’, with the blessing of Conan Doyle’s estate, has taken the irascible Professor Challenger as the centre of a series of short stories.

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While the project is a worthwhile enterprise, I have some issues with this particular book. It is not the fault of the editors that no female writers submitted stories. The question is whether this is a reflection of the appeal of the character or whether enough publicity was done in the right places. What is less forgivable is the typesetting of the book. Anyone who opens a book, real or electronic, will know that you do not leave a line-break between paragraphs. It makes the book very annoying to read and encourages a reader picking it up to put it straight back on the shelf. Proof reading could have been a little more rigorous as well. Challenger’s daughter has different names in different stories.

Those familiar with the original Professor Challenger stories, especially ‘The Lost World’, will have some familiarity with many of the characters that appear in these pages. Anyone meeting them for the first time here may wonder who they are, as there is an ingrained assumption that the reader is in the know. There is an added confusion in that there has been no attempt to put these stories in any kind of chronological sequence. There is also no kind of cohesion in the selection of the stories. Two, including the first in the volume, feature the death of Challenger and of these, the better written is, the second ‘The Death Of Challenger’ by Steve Lockley. The other, which is also the first in the volume, is ‘The Last Expedition’ by Simon Kurt Unsworth. The story has some interesting features, but I wasn’t convinced that this could only be a Challenger story. Change the names and it could easily feature in any other, non-themed anthology. This is a problem I had throughout. Too many of the stories could not honestly say that they could be nothing else but part of the Challenger sequence.

In one of the original Challenger stories, the Professor came up against an inventor, Theodore Nemor, who invents a disintegration machine which Challenger deems too dangerous to exist and so destroys it. Yet, three of these stories make use of this invention. I would be wary of one use of it, but this is too many and causes an internal conflict within the structure of the anthology as a whole. Challenger might have been disingenuous, his chroniclers should not be.

A dilemma that a book like this has is whether the stories should stylistically copy the original or have narrative brought up-to-date with more modern approaches. One positive thing these stories have in common is that they have all tried to keep to the vernacular that Conan Doyle used.

This could have been an interesting addition to the Challenger portfolio if it had had a tighter editorial control on the content of the stories. As it is, it doesn’t work for this reader.

Pauline Morgan

February 2016

(pub: Knightwatch Press, Birmingham UK, 2015. 257 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-51-224024-5)

check out website: http://knightwatch.greatbritishhorror.com/

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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