NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

REVIEW: Sherlock and the Case of the Cocaine [Full link to blog for email clients.]

[Sarah Hoyt and I are coordinating several blogs this week.  This is either late Wednesday blog, or early Friday blog as part of a book launch for our friend Stephanie Osborn.  Sarah is also running an essay of mine on how to research and write a disease in your stories.  I'll rerun that article here tomorrow.]

In a previous blog (, I mentioned a recent book series by my friend Stephanie Osborn, detailing the adventures of The Displaced Detective. So far, Twilight Times has published the first two books of the series: The Displaced Detective: The Arrival and The Displaced Detective: At Speed. Stephanie is one of the scientist writers that I feel have so much to contribute to modern Science Fiction, with graduate and undergraduate degrees in astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics as well as over 20 years in the civilian and military space programs, she knows the value of research. A recent guest blog at Sarah Hoyt's According To Hoyt ( describes her process of research into the character of Sherlock Holmes. Suffice it to say that Steph delved much deeper into her characters mannerisms than many of us would ever consider. Please go back and read this blog, you should find it interesting.

On the subject of Sherlock Holmes research, the Gathering of Southern Sherlockians was last weekend in Chattanooga, TN. Stephanie Osborn (a member of the Nashville Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem) presented a talk entitled, "Sherlock, Sheilas, and the Seven Percent Solution." I mention it here, because the paper is now a 99¢ eBook on Amazon ( and soon to be available for Nook and Kobo as well.

Holmesians and Osborn fans alike will find this an interesting read. To start with, consider that although the stories we know were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories read much more as transcripts of real life than fiction. Thus, much of the "Holmesian" culture treats discussion of Sherlock Holmes as investigations into history. Along the way, they actually shed some light on the real history of the Victorian Age.

In the current example, Stephanie Osborn explores rationale for Holmes' cocaine habit: Cocaine was well known in the 18th century for both its stimulant and topical anesthetic effects. Coca extract was used as a numbing agent for facial procedures due to its ability to deplete neurotransmitters in the oral, nasal and ocular (eye) region; as a drink, it was a "refreshing tonic" that stimulated mental processes. While many might argue that Holmes injected cocaine for the stimulant effects, "Sherlock, Sheilas, and the Seven Percent Solution" presents another possible reason for Holmes' use.  In this monograph, Osborn explores not just the effects of cocaine during acute intoxication but the lingering effects between administrations of the drug. She even notes (with the assistance of a certain neuropharmacologist of mutual acquaintance) that the "rebound" of GABA neurons suppressed by cocaine might even assist with the near obsessive concentration with details of a case.

In short, "Sherlock, Sheilas, and the Seven Percent Solution" is an interesting read, a great example of not just scholarly work, but also bringing real science into Science Fiction. The monograph is worth the low price to gain more insight into the world of Sherlock Holmes and the stories of Stephanie Osborn.

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