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Beyond The Words
A Science Fiction / Fantasy Column
By P. L. Blair

Lord Darcy Investigates

Picture Sherlock Holmes in a world that operates under the laws of magic.

That's the essence of Randall Philip Garrett's alternate universe – a world in which Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die at Chaluz but recovered, reformed, and ruled England as an exemplary king to the end of his days.

But the history of the Plantagenets – who still rule the Anglo-French empire in the 1960s in Garrett's alternate world – is secondary to Lord Darcy, the genius detective who solves crimes with the aid of forensic sorcerer Master Sean O Lochlainn, Darcy's equivalent of Holmes' Doctor Watson.

Although Garrett improves upon Doyle's formula: Whereas Watson is Holmes' sometimes-bumbling foil, Master Sean is brilliant in his own right, possessed of the Talent and skill required to make magic reveal its secrets.

And that's Garrett's other improvement for those of us who love fantasy. In Darcy's world – Garrett's world – magic is the “science” of all lands, capable of creating “telesons” that allow people to communicate over vast distances (although magic doesn't work over water) and a magical “food preservator” that allows storage of food with a stasis spell.

What our world considers “science” in Garrett's universe is relegated to the sidelines, a primitive and suspect pursuit.

Garrett may be best-known these days for the one novel and several stories chronicling the adventures of Lord Darcy – he won a Special Achievement Award for the series in 1999. But he was already a veteran author, a contributor of stories to Astounding and other science fiction/fantasy magazines in the 1950s and '60s, before he introduced Lord Darcy in 1964.

He collaborated with other authors – among them, Robert Silverberg, with whom he co-wrote as Robert Randall – and wrote as well under a variety of pen names including David Gordon, John Gordon, Darrel T. Langart (an acronym of his name), Alexander Blade, Richard Greer, Ivar Jorgensen, Clyde Mitchell, Leonard G. Spencer, S. M. Tenneshaw and Gerald Vance.

He was a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, adopting the name “Randall of Hightower” – the latter a pun on “garret.” Friends and fans knew him as an unrepentant punster. He himself allegedly defined puns as “the odor given off by a decaying mind.”

Born on Dec. 16, 1967, Garrett suffered an attack of encephalitis in 1979 and reportedly spent the rest of his life in a coma. He died on Dec. 31, 1987.

But Michael Kurland, a friend and fellow author, obtained permission from Garrett's estate and continued Lord Darcy's exploits in two more novels: Ten Little Wizards and A Study in Sorcery.Kurland, who had already established his SF/F credentials (his first novel, Ten Years to Doomsday, was published in 1964), later turned to straight detective fiction – including several novels featuring Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty, as an antihero.

Numbers of authors, inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle, have tried to emulate his success in creating a fictional detective as iconic as Sherlock Holmes. Rex Stout, a writer of straight detective novels, modeled Nero Wolfe on Sherlock's older, more indolent brother Mycroft – and cast the streetwise, wisecracking Archie Goodwin in place of Watson.

August Derleth produced Solar Pons, whose “Watson” was named Dr. Parker.

But in the world of fantasy, I think, Lord Darcy reigns as the best of those who followed in Holmes' footsteps.

2011 Past Columns

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