I don't think I ever considered a link between the Sherlock Holmes stories and the world of science fiction, until I stumbled on Dr. Amy Sturgis's article in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine called "Sherlock Holmes and Science Fiction." You can read the article here on Google Books. (I took an online course with Dr. Sturgis about dystopian fiction and the Hunger Games trilogy through Belmont University and thoroughly enjoyed it.) Dr. Sturgis makes the excellent point that detective fiction and science fiction have almost identical roots in the industrial revolution and the Enlightenment. As she points out in the article:
In short, the reader’s introductions to Holmes represent him with the single-minded zeal of a scientist in the familiar setting of a scientist. He is portrayed as a cerebral hero, one whose goal is not to conquer a land, win a girl, or defeat a villain, but rather to know. And, as the reader discovers along with Watson, Holmes employs his own disciplined method with exact precision in order to achieve this goal. His drive to understand, to solve the mysteries of the universe through methodical rationality, reveals Holmes as a distinctly science fictional protagonist.
Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? And that's the point: one theme that pops up again and again in the Holmes stories is that everything, no matter how senseless it may appear, makes perfect sense, once it's understood. As any Sherlockian can quote the famous maxim the detective lived by: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbably, must be the truth." Rationalism and Holmes walk hand in hand.
Dr. Sturgis points out an influence on Sherlock Holmes that the detective himself would not appreciate: the roots of detective fiction in Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. Sherlockians will recall that Holmes found Dupin "a very inferior fellow." I have no idea if Arthur Conan Doyle shared his creation's disdain for Dupin, but there seems to be no denying that Poe's work paved the way for Conan Doyle's. Meanwhile, Conan Doyle was no stranger to science fiction. Sturgis discusses in her article one of ACD's other (slightly less famous) characters, Professor Challenger. Indeed, reading the Sturgis article made me want to delve into a volume I've had on my shelf for years, but never read: a collection of ACD's non-Sherlock works. I've heard of The Lost World, of course, but I'm fairly certain I've never read it. I must remedy that situation.
I strongly recommend Dr. Sturgis's article to all Holmesians, especially those who have an appreciation for science fiction. It's delicious food for thought.
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.