Saturday, July 4, 2020

"Eliminate Distractions (and Humans)"

"The Seven Billion Habits of Highly Effective Robots."
By Aidan Doyle (born 1974).
First appearance: Daily Science Fiction, June 20, 2020.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Daily Science Fiction (HERE).

Even murderous automatons can benefit from suggestions once in while . . .

Resources:
- The title parodies that of one of the most successful self-help books of recent times, 
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Wikipedia HERE).
- Also see Danielle Ryan's article at Fandom.com (HERE).
- Aidan Doyle's weblog is (HERE) and his ISFDb page is (HERE).
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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"It Meant That There Was Murder in the Air"

"Mind Over Matter."
By Ellery Queen (1905-82; 1905-71).
Illustrations by Charles Chickering (1891-1970).
First appearance: The Blue Book Magazine, October 1939.
Reprinted in The 20-Story Magazine, April 1940; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), September 1962; EQMM (U.K.), January 1963; and EQMM (Australia), March 1963.
Other reprints: The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940) and Masterpieces of Mystery, The Golden Age, Volume 2 (1977).
Adapted for radio as "The Fallen Gladiator" (CBS, July 7, 1940; repeated September 16 or 18, 1943; HERE: Scroll down to number 56).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Pages faded but readable.)
(Parental note: Mild profanity.)
     "Specifically, his six-foot body was taut as a violin-string. It was a familiar but always menacing phenomenon."

You'd expect some mayhem in a boxing match, but not when the fight's over—the bloody and highly perforated corpse of the heavyweight champ curled up in a car being eloquent evidence of murder most foul. While clues are sparse, to Ellery Queen, master detective, it's the theft of his own camel's-hair coat that "has everything to do with it" . . .
Cast (in order of appearance):
~ Paula Paris:
  "Aren't you disappointed too, that you can't buy a ticket to the fight?"
~ Inspector Richard Queen:
  "He's afraid somebody will knock somebody off."
~ Ellery Queen (a.k.a. "Master Mind"):
  "Well, doesn't somebody always?"
~ Phil Maguire:
  ". . . picked them up that evening in his cranky little sports roadster and they all drove uptown to the Stadium together to see the brawl."
~ Happy Day:
  ". . . was visible a few rows off, an expensive Panama resting on a fold of neck-fat. He 
had a puffed face the color of cold rice pudding, and his eyes were like raisins."
~ Ivy Brown:
  ". . . was a full-blown female with a face like a Florentine cameo."
~ Ollie Storn:
  ". . . pays a lot of attention in public to the champ's wife."
~ Jim Koyle:
  "He was met by a roar, like the roar of a river at flood-tide bursting its dam."
~ Barney Hawks:
  "His manager, Barney Hawks, followed him into the ring. Hawks too was big, 
but beside his fighter he appeared puny."
~ Mike Brown:
  "They hate his insides because he's an ornery, brutal, crooked slob with 
the kick of a mule and the soul of a pretzel."
~ Storn's chauffeur:
  ". . . a tough-looking customer . . ."
~ Hymie Oetjens:
  "I don't want no trouble, no trouble."
Resources:
- For a detailed run-down on the "sport" of boxing, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the way Firpo was": "Luis Ángel Firpo (October 11, 1894 – August 7, 1960) was an Argentine boxer. Born in Junín, Argentina, he was nicknamed The Wild Bull of the Pampas." (Wikipedia HERE).
"Dempsey and Firpo" (1923) by George Bellows.
- "full of more curves and detours than the Storm King highway": See Wikipedia (HERE).
- Reading Ellery Queen briefly highlights our story (HERE).
- Our last encounter with Ellery Queen the fiction writer rather than Ellery Queen the fiction editor was over a year ago, with a text version of one of their radio plays also featuring a boxing background, "The Adventure of the Mouse's Blood" (HERE).
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Saturday, June 27, 2020

"I'm Going To Blow a Hole Through Your Back Some Night"

"Destination—Death."
By Wilbur S. Peacock (1911/15-1979).
First appearance: Planet Stories, Winter 1943.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
(Parental note: Mild profanity.)

     "One man had to die on Uranus' frozen crust, so that the other 
might live . . ."

The perfect place for murder: millions of miles from the heavily traveled space lanes. The perfect plan: murdering your partner, claiming it was an accident, and cashing in on a fortune in kronalium. The only problem: the unforseen; the unanticipated elements that, 
in this instance, leave "plans in an awful mocking silence" . . .

Major characters:
~ Tom Headley:
  ". . . worked with the quiet sureness of a man whose life had been self-sufficient."
~ Bart Caxton:
  ". . . worked with the grim doggedness of a man who knows that his life hinges 
upon his speed in working."

Typo: "three graves" [probably gravs was meant].

Resources:
- While the planet Uranus hasn't been showcased in SFF as often as Venus, Mars, and so forth, it has appeared surprisingly often; see Wikipedia (HERE) for scientific fact about Uranus and (HERE) for science fiction about same. Does it rain diamonds on Uranus? 
See Wikipedia (HERE) for that speculation.
- The FictionMags thumbnail about Wilbur Scott Peacock: "Editor, writer of short stories and television scripts. Born in Kansas; died in Los Angeles, California." Peacock cruised through the usual pulp venues, ambidextrously producing Westerns, crime fiction, and SFF with equal ease. Also see the ISFDb (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE).
- Another pulpy Planet Stories concoction by Peacock is "Spider Men of Gharr," online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 56 from the dropdown menu).
- Several Hollywood films with somewhat similar situational and character set-ups but entirely different settings and resolutions are discussed (SPOILERS: HERE, HERE, and HERE).
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"This Was Never a Case for Me"

"The House by the Ferris."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008).
First appearance: The Saint Magazine, May 1966.
Reprinted in The Saint Magazine (U.K.), June 1966.
Collected in Leopold's Way (1985).
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "She lives in an old house by the ferris wheel."

Just how credible is a witch's curse? A skeptical Captain Leopold intends to find out . . .

Principal characters:
~ Mrs. Held, the victim's wife:
  ". . . a tearful blonde in her early thirties worth a second look but not a third one."
~ Otto Held, the vic:
  ". . . was killed by that damned witch! They'll all be dead before she's through!"
~ Stella Gaze, the witch:
  "She put a curse on them—all four of them. She said they'd die by earth, air, fire and water."
~ Felix O'Brian, one of Otto Held's business partners:
  "You're here about this witch? And her threats?"
~ Walter Smith, also a business partner:
  "I have reason to believe he was murdered, and I'm requesting a police investi-gation."
~ George Quenton, another business partner:
  "What are you going to do, Captain? Wait until that woman kills Walter and me too?"
~ Sergeant Fletcher:
  ". . . and then the flimsy roof started to give, and he never had a chance."
~ Captain Leopold:
  "Until that moment, Leopold couldn't have put it into words. It was more of a feeling than anything else. He was almost surprised when he heard his voice say, 'Because it rained yesterday'."

Resources:
- "How long ago was this curse put on them?": Many people still believe they work. "A curse (also called an imprecation, malediction, execration, malison, anathema, or commin-
ation) is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to one or more persons, a place, or an object. In particular, 'curse' may refer to such a wish or pronouncement made effective by a supernatural or spiritual power, such as a god or gods, a spirit, or a natural force, or else as a kind of spell by magic or witchcraft; in the latter sense, a curse can also be called a hex or a jinx. In many belief systems, the curse itself (or accompanying ritual) is considered to have some causative force in the result. To reverse or eliminate a curse is sometimes called 'removal' or 'breaking,' as the spell has to be dispelled, and is often requiring elaborate rituals or prayers." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The ferris wheel, as tall as a five-story building": A relatively recent invention. "The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  
The generic term Ferris wheel, now used in American English for all such struc-
tures, has become the most common type of amusement ride at state fairs in the United States." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Labor Day": The action in our story revolves around that particular holiday. (Wikipedia HERE).
- Michael Grost has an entire page devoted to Ed Hoch (HERE), part of which deals with our main character, Captain Leopold (HERE), featured in nearly 100 of his stories: "Hoch's most prolific series deals with Captain Leopold, a policeman in a city that rather resembles Hoch's native Rochester, New York. However, the Leopold stories do not contain the sort of 'local color describing a real city' that is often found in the police procedurals of other writers. Hoch tends to reserve such looks at real life locales for his other series, such as the Rand and Gypsy stories."
- If you're at all familiar with Edward Dentinger Hoch, then you already know about how he was one of the few crime fiction writers who could make a good living off the short story form, still an all but unparalleled achievement. Our latest meeting with Ed Hoch (FictionMags) featured one of his Simon Ark tales, "The Case of the Naked Niece" (HERE).
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Sunday, June 21, 2020

"We Are Going Up the Ladder"

THERE WAS A TIME when America's federal police force, the F.B.I., enjoyed enormous popularity with the public through often highly fictionalized movies and magazines 
devoted to them, a prime example of which is . . .

"Jail-Bait."
By Robert R. Mill (1895-1942).
Illustrations by Austin Briggs (1908-73).
First appearance: Blue Book, September 1939.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Two lines transposed on page 78.)
     "I tell the world what a swell bunch they are to work for, and they tell the world how they hate to lose me. We both are liars . . ."

When civic lawlessness flares up and law enforcement can't do their job because their corrupt bosses won't let them, where do they go for help?

Principal characters:
~ Police Commissioner Golted of Bender City:
  ". . . honest at heart, courageous, rough and ready, but a firm believer in the magic of the nightstick, rather than the miracles of science."
~ Special Agent James "Duke" Ashby, F.B.I.:
  ". . . an exponent of the new school: A trained hunter of men, taught to make use of every aid science could extend . . ."
~ Big Steve Howak:
  ". . . runs this city."
~ Chief Inspector Martin Probar:
  ". . . gave an impression of capability and integrity, until the inspection was centered upon his shifty eyes, which were perhaps his outstanding feature."
~ Carl Sherman, head of the F.B.I. crime lab:
  ". . . peered through the glass. 'Plain as an electric sign,' was his verdict."
~ Vi:
  "Do I look like a truck?"
~ Bug-eye Sondus:
  ". . . is the weak sister of the trio . . ."
~ Sock Dracon:
  "What is the rap?"
~ District Attorney Samuel Leden:
  "Keep sitting on your brains, and let me do the thinking."
~ plus Special Agents Block, Holmes, Thomas, and Agent-in-Charge Edwards.
Resources:
- "the policy racket": There are all kinds of illegal rackets; see Wikipedia (HERE) for a list and follow the links therefrom.
- "during Prohibition": Well-intentioned but a very bad idea; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "our ballistics department": Bullets can't tell lies, but people can; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "too hot in Atlanta, too dry in Leavenworth, and too damp in Alcatraz": A short list of well-known federal prisons of the day, the last the "star" of quite a few Hollywood movies and 
TV shows; see Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE and HERE).
- "the hot-squat": "(US, slang) The electric chair": Your Dictionary (HERE).
- "the Director": At the time it was J. Edgar Hoover, who served as the sixth Director of the F.B.I. for almost half a century: "On October 15, 1976, in reaction to the extraordinary 48-year term of J. Edgar Hoover, Congress passed Public Law 94-503, limiting the FBI Director to a single term of no longer than 10 years." See FBI.gov (HERE).
- If you've been following this weblog, then you've already met with Robert R. Mill, primarily through his "Tiny" David stories, the latest of which we featured (HERE).
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Something Shrewd Was Called For"

"Grifters' Asteroid."
By H. L. Gold (1914-96).
Illustration by [Robert Bartow] Lubbers (1922-2017; HERE).
First appearance: Planet Stories, May 1943.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (16 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "There are omnious pleajes of moby-hailegs in sonmirand which, howgraismon, are notch to be donfured miss ellasellabell in either or 
both hagasanipaj, by all means. This does not refly, on the brother 
man, nat or mizzafil saces are denuded by this ossifaligo...."

How do you con a conman? Let me count the ways . . .

Main characters:
~ Joe Mallon:
  "The only thing that needs purifying around here is that blasted mayor's conscience."
~ Harvey Ellsworth:
  "Joseph, the good-natured artist in me has become a hard and merciless avenger. I shall not rest until we have had the best of this colonial con-man!"
~ Angus Johnson:
  "The saloon man removed his dirty apron and came around the bar. 'If that's an apology, 
I accept it. Now the mayor'll discuss filling your tanks. That's me. I'm also justice of the peace, official recorder, fire chief....'
  "'And chief of police, no doubt,' said Harvey jocosely.
  "'Nope. That's my son, Jed'."
~ Jed Johnson:
  "Johnson's eight-foot son, topped by a massive roof of sun-bleached hair and held up by a foundation that seemed immovable, had obviously been born and raised in low gravity. For any decent-sized world would have kept him down near the general dimensions of a man. 
He held out an acre of palm."
~ Genius:
  "With four hands, Genius played deftly upon a pair of mellow Venusian viotars, using his other two hands for waiting on the table."

Comment: Snake oil salesmen used to be a dime a dozen; now government officials have largely supplanted them.

Resources:
- Planetoid 42 would qualify as a minor planet today; see Wikipedia HERE.
Even Edgar Wallace got in on the planetoid craze.
- Also see Wikipedia (HERE) for background on Horace Leonard Gold; as an editor, Gold's greatest creation involved other authors: "In 1950 he started Galaxy Science Fiction, which from the outset he made one of the leading sf magazines, and for the editing of which he remains best known—indeed, notorious. Afflicted with acute agoraphobia as a result of his wartime experiences, Gold worked from his apartment, doing much of his work by telephone. The emphasis of Galaxy reflected his interests in Psychology and Sociology, as well as Humour . . ." (The SFE HERE). For a bibliography, see the ISFDb (HERE).
- Being a true pulpster, Gold wrote in several genres, not just science fiction; he placed seven stories featuring his series character Gilroy in both SFF and crime zines (FictionMags data HERE). (Note: na = novella; nv = novelette; and ss = short story):
  (1) "A Matter of Form" (na), Astounding, December 1938
  (2) "Problem in Murder" (nv), Astounding, March 1939
  (3) "Perfect Murder" (ss), Thrilling Wonder Stories, March 1940
  (4) "I Know Suicide" (ss), Shadow Mystery, June/July 1947
  (5) "Love Ethereal" (ss), Suspense Magazine, Fall 1951 (a.k.a. "Love in the Dark")
  (6) "The Old Die Rich" (na), Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1953
  (7) "At the Post" (nv), Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1953.
All of these were collected in Perfect Murders (2002; see ISFDb HERE and Amazon.com HERE).
- One of Gold's SFF stories passed through EQ's editorial hands: "The Deadly Man," Fantastic, Summer 1952 (as "And Three to Get Ready...") in Ellery Queen’s 
Mystery Magazine, August 1972.
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Friday, June 12, 2020

"Sometimes There Is a Deadly Sincerity in Jest"

HERE WE HAVE a couple of seemingly unrelated short short short stories, one from an American forties pulp and another from a pulpier British pulp from the fifties; what they have in common isn't their pulpiness so much, however, but that venerable crime fiction trope, the perfect murder:

"Two-in-One Murder."
By Edward J. Donovan (?-?).
First appearance: Detective Tales, January 1941.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "He himself was thinking how easy it would be to put cyanide in one of the capsules."

A bitter pill, indeed . . .

Character list:
~ Frank Luster:
  ". . . managed to conceal his feelings better than his cousin . . ."
~ Harry Smokely:
  ". . . alone would know how the murder had been accomplished."
~ Mike Ahearn:
  ". . . grimaced in disgust as he picked up the phone."

Resource:
- Information about Edward J. Donovan is practically nonexistent; what we do know can be found at FictionMags (HERE).
~ ~ ~
"The Mystery of the Tuesday Man."
Author unknown.
First appearance: Radio Fun, October 19, 1957.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 15 from the dropdown menu).
     ". . . they saw they had a murder case on their hands . . ."

While it involves chocolate cakes and scones, there's nothing sweet about this crime . . .

Characters:
~ Arthur Harold Starcroft:
  ". . . seems to have been a neat and methodical man."
~ Mrs. Starcroft:
  "It must have been robbery. No one would have killed Arthur for anything else, because everyone liked him."
~ Inspector Stanley:
  "There's one very significant thing. That Lancaster Avenue—it's very badly lit."
~ Detective-sergeant Horace Bloom:
  "Do you think that change in time had anything to do with the murder, sir?"
~ Superintendent Elton:
  ". . . it is true that his wrist-watch, which was badly damaged, with the glass broken, 
had stopped at ten minutes to nine."
~ Mrs. Browning:
  "I saw his van next door yesterday evening."
~ Mr. Browning:
  ". . . wait a minute, though. He didn't call on Monday."
~ Mr. Walshe:
  ". . . that big bank payroll robbery last week was at Linchborough, and that's only six 
miles from here."

Resources:
- Inspector Stanley was a sort of Sexton Blake knockoff who enjoyed a long career in the British Radio Fun weekly comic, which ran from October 15, 1938 to February 18, 1961. 
Here are the Inspector Stanley adventures that we can find on Comic Book Plus:
  (1) December 7, 1941 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (2) September 24, 1949 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (3) October 29, 1949 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (4) June 12, 1950 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (5) December 2, 1950 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (6) December 9, 1950 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (7) December 16, 1950 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (8) December 30, 1950 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (9) January 13, 1951 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (10) January 13, 1951 (second copy of number 9)
  (11) January 20, 1951 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (12) October 13, 1951 (HERE; pages 14-15)
  (13) February 2, 1952 (HERE; pages 14-15; text faded)
  (14) August 9, 1952 (HERE; pages 14-15; text faded)
  (15) February 5, 1955 (HERE; pages 12-13)
  (16) June 8, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (17) July 6, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (18) July 13, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (19) July 20, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (20) July 27, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (21) August 3, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (22) August 10, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (23) August 17, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (24) August 24, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (25) August 31, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (26) September 7, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (27) September 14, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (28) September 21, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (29) September 28, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (30) October 5, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (31) October 12, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16; text smudged on 16)
  (32) October 19, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16) (see above)
  (33) October 26, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (34) November 30, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16)
  (35) December 28, 1957 (HERE; pages 15-16).
The Inspector also appeared in some of the Radio Fun annuals:
  (36) 1948 Annual (HERE; pages 35-40, 118-122, and 154)
  (37) 1951 Annual (HERE; pages 41-45).
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