starlady: Mary, Holmes and Watson at home in Baker Street (not impressed OT3)
[personal profile] starlady
Smith, L. Neil. Their Majesties' Bucketeers. New York: Del Rey, 1981.

Depending on your point of view, this book is either a science fiction novel depicting a society of trilaterally symmetrical trisexual sentient crustaceans in the rough equivalent to Britain's Edwardian period, or it's a professionally published Sherlock Holmes Holmes/Watson-Morstan/Adler OT3 AU.

Really of course it's both.

I first heard about this book from [personal profile] melannen, in this long post about subordinate Holmes canons, and all in all Smith does not disappoint. One consequence of all these book reviews is that I have gradually lost the ability to enjoy books wholeheartedly the way I did when I was younger. Their Majesties' Bucketeers does not provide quite that level of awesomeness in the reading experience, largely because I can't turn my brain off completely, but it comes pretty damn close.

Our narrator is Mymy (Mymisiir Offe Woom, to give rher full name), the surdaughter of the Empire's first surmale surgeon; rhe aspires to follow in rher surfather's footsteps, and has elected to join Their Majesties' Bucketeers to train as a paracauterist to that end. Mymy is quite proud of rher achievements in joining the Bucketeers, and in being rher surfather's child: deservedly so, given the gender-based discrimination surmales confront daily and the barriers that rher family's upper-middle class insistence on "decency" also present.

In the Bucketeers Mymy meets Mav, a brilliant Senior Inquisitor who is beginning to devise not only crime scene investigation techniques but also the science of detection, though Mav (a two-thirds-caste ex-Air Navy officer who nonetheless enjoys an unassailable social position in Imperial society) clashes often with his superior officers's traditionalism. When Mav's old friend and teacher Srafen, the devisor of the theory of ascension, is murdered at a public lecture, Mav seizes the chance to put his theories and ideas about detection to the test, with Mymy's help. Along the way Mymy meets Mav's friend Vyssu, a true original who has come up from the capital's mean streets through an unbeatable combination of luck and ingenuity, and comes to value her for her own sake as well.

Smith's xenobiology is…quaint, and his libertarianism worn slightly too obviously on his authorial sleeve, and there are some colonialist tropes in the background begging for explication and explosion in fanfic, but for being thirty years old the book holds up excellently well (particularly the scene in which Mymy completely goes off on a creationist heresiarch, FTW). I could go on a tear here about either the libertarianism or the colonialism, both of which I find execrable, but I'd much rather use my words to encourage every Holmes fan (and I use that word deliberately) to go out and read the book. It's hugely interesting to see Smith redistribute the traits of the major canonical Conan Doyle characters (Holmes, Watson, Morstan, Adler) amongst his crustaceans; to take just one example it's Mav who has the limp, because he's the one who served in a colonial war, because females don't join the military, period, and surmales only serve in the medical branches. It's also hugely interesting to consider what the lamviin's trisexuality means, for society and for queerness; Smith does a decent job of teasing its repercussions out despite the book's brevity, but of course there's always more to say. In the end, of course, one can't help but draw comparisons with humanity, which is definitely part of the point.

Apparently there's another book, set thirty years after this one, in which I have less interest, because I love the idea of independent consulting detective!Mav but am less enamoured with politician!Mav (though if it has more Mav/Mymy/Vyssu interaction, I could probably be persuaded to give it a chance, because they are that awesome) meeting humans. But clearly this needs to be a Yuletide fandom, so go read it! We can always use more awesome Holmes OT3 AUs, Y/Y?

Actually, if you see this post and have read the book, please leave a comment! I'd really like to get a roll-call of people on the interwebz who know it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-27 03:22 (UTC)
fenellaevangela: text: Kirk & Spock & Bones & some guy in a red shirt. (Default)
From: [personal profile] fenellaevangela
I've read it! Also on [personal profile] melannen's recommendation, actually.

It's also hugely interesting to consider what the lamviin's trisexuality means, for society and for queerness; Smith does a decent job of teasing its repercussions out despite the book's brevity, but of course there's always more to say.

I found myself wondering about this, too. Smith made a passing reference to the 'deviance' of non-traditional relationship groupings early on, when Mav and Mymy were in the tavern, but didn't really touch on it afterwards. I would have found further exploration of the topic interesting. And I remember Mymy mentioning that one of rher fellow paracauterists had never quite gotten over being surmale instead of male, as rhe had anticpated, and it started me thinking of how gender identity works in a species that doesn't develop identifiable sexual characteristics until after puberty. So many questions!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-27 04:24 (UTC)
fenellaevangela: text: Kirk & Spock & Bones & some guy in a red shirt. (Default)
From: [personal profile] fenellaevangela
It makes me think a lot of thoughts, that's for sure!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-27 05:23 (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I have this whole elaborate thing built up in my head where Srafen and/or rher spouses were transgender; it would give their somewhat interesting relationship a completely different depth that fascinates me.

And yes, not having a gender until adolescence! On the one hand, that would have to be deeply traumatic when the differentiation did happen; on the other hand, you'd have a childhood behind you that was free of gender expectations... I bet there are a *lot* of dysphoric lamviin, and I bet a *lot* of them pass...

(Also, the way that being trans works in a society that has non-binary gender already, you add cissurmale and fts and mts and stm and stf to the mix and things get even more intersectional, especially since I haven't really figured out how the privilege ladder works re: female vs. surmale.)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-27 05:37 (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I would love for their to be fic exploring unnatural groupings - I read Srafen's relationship with, gah, the old Navy Surgeon whose name I can't remember at this hour - as deeply, deeply queer, because it really was a love story between the two of them, and you get the impression that if it could have been just the two of them it might have worked out; but he couldn't bring himself to consider the possibility, and rhe couldn't bring rherself to wait for him to figure it out, and then life got in the way...

Also, I love the implication that Vyssu knows all about queer groupings and is just denying it to keep from scaring Mymy away. If there were a kinkmeme for this fandom I would so be requesting Vyssu teaching Mymy all about the things that ladies and lurries can get up to when the men are away... :D

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-27 05:32 (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I have! Hi! (ps: the link in your post doesn't work.) Also, if you do read the other book, I really want your opinion on whether it's too painful for me to try. :D

And I'm interested in what you think is particularly fail about the xenobiology; I mean, it was clear he wasn't going for hard science there, and that he came up with Cool Ideas first and then tried to make them passably internally consistent and plausible, but nothing stood out to me as blatantly thoughtlessly wrong. (Some of the in-character opinions about theirl biology were clearly wrong, but then, it was meant to be Victorian science.)

And! Yes! The way the traits are redistributed! I think the queerest thing about the book, from a Holmesian perspective, is Mymy's gender: the way the Watson figure is given a role in between male and female, making the relationship acceptable without making it het, and the way that reflects back on Watson's role in the originals, especially the way Smith gives the manlier bits of of Watson's backstory to Mav while at the same time making Mymy far more active and independent a person than Watson usually is...

(Also, I still can't get over the fact that this basically predicted movieverse Holmes/Watson-Morstan/Adler decades before movieverse!Adler ever existed...)

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