Friday, January 17, 2020

"Spirits Are ze Bunk!"

AT ONE TIME the most popular writer appearing in Weird Tales according to reader voting was Seabury Quinn (1889-1969; Wikipedia HERE), with his most memorable series characters being supernatural sleuth Jules de Grandin ("Le Sherlock Holmes du Surnaturel") and his Watson, Dr. Trowbridge (Wikipedia HERE and the ISFDb HERE). For those of you who didn't know all this, we mention it as a necessary preface to today's story, in which David Wright O'Brien has some fun with Quinn's occult detective, this being . . .
"The Last Case of Jules de Granjerque."
By John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44).
Illustration by Ned Hadley (HERE).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, April 1943.

Short story (15 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL; HTML; HERE).

     "Of a certainty, there is no such thing as the haunted house."

Our narrator, poor man, will have to endure what many "Watsons" have been forced to suffer over the centuries:

   "I nodded, glumly aware that my brilliant little colleague was going to con-

duct this super-supernatural investigation in much the same fashion as he had on all other occasions on which I'd been privileged to accompany him. I would have to wait for the complete story before he gave me any of it other than what became evident as he proceeded with the case."

. . . not to mention a face full of mud.

~ Jules de Granjerque:

  "It is always thus when I, Jules de Granjerque, accept a case involving what other foolish mortals fear to be occultism. Always, I am able to prove their fears are stupid, groundless."
~ Dr. Throwbunk:

  "My limousine was my pride and joy, a master automobile. My little friend de Granjerque drove with all the wild recklessness of a gaucho. The thought of his sitting behind the 
wheel of that car—especially on a night such as this—was more than I could stand."
~ Silas Burton:
  ". . . they say it—the building—is haunted!"
~ The apparition:
  "I was blinking at the ghost, terrified yet, but bewildered by de Granjerque's courageous challenge. It was a huge thing, I saw now, and it was sheeted, completely enshrouded in white, with two black holes for eyes."

Cultural References:
~ "in the manner of the Flying Dutchman piloting a ship through a storm": An enduring legend that popular culture won't turn loose of.

   "The Flying Dutchman (Dutch: De Vliegende Hollander) is a legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "his Wembly-Vickers in his hand": We know Webly made revolvers and Vickers made machine guns; O'Brien seems to be alluding slantwise to Walter Mitty's mythical Webly-Vickers.

  "Walter James Mitty is a fictional character in James Thurber's first short story 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,' first published in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939, and in book form in My World — and Welcome to It in 1942." (Wikipedia HERE).

- David Wright O'Brien wrote under many aliases; see the ISFDb (HERE) for his SFFnal works.
- Last Friday we featured O'Brien's "Dibble Dabbles in Death" (HERE).


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Of All the Cases He Had Ever Handled, This Was to Prove the Most Baffling of Them All"

WHILE OUR AUTHOR isn't nearly as clever as he thinks he is, at least he has given us an entertaining story . . .

"The Impossible Murder."
By Mel Watt (?-?).

Illustrations uncredited.
First appearance: Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, February 1939.

Short story (13 pages; 2 illos).
Online at (HERE).
     "In a word, inspector, give me a murderer with a flair for his work!"

"Most murders," we're told, "are commonplace, as far as detection goes; a good many of them even stupid"; for our amateur sleuth, however, the abrupt demise of the kingpin of District 5 will be the exception that proves the rule . . .

The law in District 5:

~ Kirby Kane:
  "Unburden your troubled soul, inspector."

~ Inspector Laidlaw:
  "If I read it in a book, I wouldn't believe it. But, so help me, it's happened!"
~ Leahy, Connors, and several other cops:
  ". . . heard the scrape of a key and the sound of a bolt as it was yanked back. Then the door flew open . . ."
The boss of District 5:
~ Con Tierney:

  ". . . had a corkscrew mind, a constant grin with just the hint of a sneer back of it . . ."
Innocent bystanders, all except one:
~ Henry Dodd:
  ". . . a man of fifty, looked old before his time. At the moment, the deep furrows of worry were overlaid by the look of a sick dog."
~ Peewee Carr:
  ". . . was a curious little fellow, not much over five feet and scrawny into the bargain. His thin mouth turned down sharply at the corners in a sourish humorous expression."
~ Mark Caswell:
  ". . . you had the notion that behind his pleasant smile and amused eyes lay something quite deadly."
~ Nora Caswell:
  "Pretty, little, trusting Nora, who mistook infatuation for love."
~ "Beau" Broderick:
  ". . . a smooth little weasel dressed like a tailor's dummy."

Cultural References:
~ "Just like the crowd collecting again around the Bastille": Any patriotic Frenchman can tell you all about it.

   "[The Bastille] played an important role in the internal conflicts
France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the 
kings of France. It was stormed by a crowd on 14 July 1789, in the 
French Revolution, becoming an important symbol for the French 
Republican movement. It was later demolished and replaced by 
the Place de la Bastille." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "a smug French king": Louis XVI.

   "Some accounts of Louis's beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely, since the blade severed Louis's spine. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, testi-
fied that the former king had bravely met his fate." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "the Napoleon complex": It could be a misnomer.

   "The Napoleon complex is named after Emperor Napoleon I of France. Common folklore Napoleon supposes that Napoleon compensated for his lack of height by seeking power, war, and conquest. This view was fostered and encouraged by the British, who waged a propaganda campaign to diminish their enemy in print and art, during his life and after his death. In 1803, he was mocked in British newspapers as a short-tempered small man. According to some historians, he was actually 5 feet 7 inches tall, an inch or so above 

the period's average adult male height, depending on the source chosen. 
Other historians assert that he was 5 feet 2 inches because he was measured on a British island 28 years after the French adopted the metric system. Napoleon was often seen with his Imperial Guard, which contributed to the perception of his being short because the Imperial Guards were tall men. Other names for the purported condition include Napoleonic complex, Napoleon syndrome and Short man syndrome." (Wikipedia HERE).

Typo: "for several moment".

- Except for his bibliography, concerning "Mel Watt" we know absolutely nothing. Clearly our author enjoyed steady employment during the Great Depression years turning out numerous stories for Detective Story Magazine (later Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine); accord
ing to The FictionMags Index his output there ran continuously from 1928 to 1937, skipping 1938 and returning in 1939, with occasional sidetrips to Western Story, All Detective, Super-Detective, Pocket Detective, Popular Detective, Detective Tales, Dime Detective, and ultimately finishing up his career with five stories for Crack Detective in 1944-45 and 1947-48. Watt seems to have shied away from using series characters, making limited use of only two: Monot (Detective Story; 2 stories, 1929 and 1930) and Professor "Mephisto", Jonathan Tack (Detective Tales; 2 adventures, 1943). 

Monday, January 13, 2020

"That's Why I Killed Them"

"Lever of Destruction."
By Tom Erwin Geris (Mortimer Weisinger, 1915-78).

Illustration by Frank R. Paul (1884-1963; HERE).
First appearance: Science Fiction, December 1939.
Reprinted in Science Fiction (U.K.), December 1939.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "He gave me a hard, suspicious look, like a jealous mother guarding an only child, perhaps."

Cameron doesn't even try to hide his crime, but, as always in such matters, there's more to the story, much more . . .

~ Professor Eugene P. Ericson:

  ". . . collapsed like a pricked balloon. He gave a long, moaning gasp, and fell to the floor 
and lay still."
~ Dr. Franklin Cameron:
  "He tossed the gun aside, careless of the fact that it contained his fingerprints. Then he went upstairs to the room where Mrs. Ericson was sleeping—there was work ahead of 
him yet."
~ Johnny Wade:
  ". . . drew in his breath sharply. This was page one, right hand column, top line!"
~ Sergeant Byrnes:
  "Believe me, he'll get the hot squat for this."
~ Captain Judson:

  "I think Cameron is telling the truth. He sure sounded real convincing—and I don't like 
the looks of that machine."
~ Mrs. Ericson:
  ". . . lunged at me and seized the gun out of my hand."

- Cameron tells us: "Uranium disintegrates very slowly into radium, and radium disintegrates into lead": He's describing radioactive decay (Wikipedia HERE); he adds: "the disintegration, like that of uranium, is very slow—so slow as to be imperceptible. The thing to find was a means to hasten it," which was the problem that the Manhattan Project scientists faced six years later and ultimately overcame when they developed the first atomic bomb (Wikipedia HERE). The likelihood that a weapon powerful enough to "burn up" the Earth's solid rock structure, as posited in our story ("the whole terrestrial globe would be consumed"), is zero, but one of the project scientists was concerned that the bomb might set the atmosphere on fire; calculations predicted that wasn't possible, and subsequent tests confirmed it.

- "It's worthy of Harry Stephen Keeler": Notorious for his outrageous mystery plots. "In his later career, Keeler's fiction and writing style grew increasingly bizarre, often substituting action or plot with laboriously lengthy dialogues and diatribes between characters. These events led his American publisher, Dutton, to drop him in 1942. The next eleven years were difficult for Keeler, as his writing drifted even further beyond the norm . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- According to FictionMags, Mort Weisinger used the "Tom Erwin Geris" alias for just three stories:

  (1) "Tell-Tale Ticket," Super-Detective Stories, January 1935
  (2) "Murder Mates," Thrilling Detective, December 1935
  (3) "Lever of Destruction," Science Fiction, December 1939 (above).

- More about our author, better known for his editorial influence than his fiction, is available 
at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), Fancyclopedia (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE), which thumbnails his career this way:

   "As part of the staff of Standard Magazines, Weisinger edited Thrilling Wonder Stories (1936-1941), Startling Stories (1938-1941), Captain Future (1940-1941). He served as a sergeant in World War II. After the war he became editor in chief of Superman Comics, and also served as story editor 

of the Superman television show. Also edited the comics Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space with Julius Schwartz. As editorial director of DC Comics, he brought in a number of writers from the SF field, including Alfred Bester, Otto Binder, H. L. Gold, Edmond Hamilton, and Manly Wade Wellman."

- Our only other encounter with Weisinger so far was his wartime SFF short short, "Thomp-son's Time-Traveling Theory" (HERE).

Friday, January 10, 2020

"Be Natural or Be Dead"

HERE WE HAVE what could be called a shorts story . . .

"Dibble Dabbles in Death."
By David Wright O'Brien (1918-44).

Illustration by Richard M. Fletcher.
First appearance: Mammoth Detective, February 1945.

Short story (14 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL; HTML; HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     "It came to him, very suddenly, that he was looking at murder for the first time in his life."

In the end, you might say, Dibble proves he's a cut above the average gentleman—although, to be strictly accurate, it should be a cut below . . .

~ The body:

  "The man's head and torso lay across a mass of old newspapers, and the newspapers 
were stained with something reddish purple that oozed slowly from a gaping hole in the man's forehead."
~ Delbert Dibble:
  "A middle-aged executive, with a middle-aged paunch, balding head, and round cherubic face, Delbert Dibble could, on occasion, present a rather forceful dynamic-businessman 
sort of appearance. Unfortunately, however, this was not such an occasion for it."
~ The man in charge and the house dick:
  "With him was the thin, nervous little hotel manager and a bulking, indolent, triple-chinned person named Fagin, who was the house detective."
~ The visitor:
  "He saw his visitor as he reached the end of the hall and the threshold of the bedroom. The man was sitting in an armchair. He had a glass in his hand, and at his elbow was a bottle of Dibble's bourbon."
~ The detective and the man from the Federal Bureau:
  "A businesslike, gray-haired homicide lieutenant" and "a serious young man with blond hair and wide shoulders and glasses."

- "Much like cordite": At least he didn't write "gunpowder."

   "Gunpowder, an explosive mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre), was the original propellant employed in firearms and fireworks. It was used from about the 10th or 11th century onwards, but it had disadvantages, including the large quantity of smoke it produced. With the 19th-century development of various 'nitro explosives', based on the reaction of nitric acid mixtures on materials such as cellulose and glycerine, 
a search began for a replacement for gunpowder." (Wikipedia HERE).

- A dead body that just won't stay put was also the premise for an Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Trouble with Harry (1955); see Wikipedia (HERE; SPOILERS) and the IMDb (HERE; also SPOILERS).
- David Wright O'Brien's untimely death in World War Two cut short what would undoubtedly have been a long and successful career as an author.
- Our latest posting featuring O'Brien was his SFFnal "The Money Machine" (HERE).
- Roy Glashan's still-growing collection of David Wright O'Brien's works is (HERE).


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

"We May Be Just Dropping Into a Bigger and Better Mousetrap"

BY SOME MIRACLE the six-decade-long Cold War never went hot, but there were plenty 
of occasions when it could have, such as the one involving . . .

"The Psionic Mousetrap."
By Murray Leinster (William Fitzgerald Jenkins, 1896-1975).

Illustration by [Paul] Orban (1896-1974; HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1955.

Reprinted in Fantastic, September 1966 (today's text).
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (25 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text faded but readable.)

     "We ought to be dead."

There are times when the best man for the job isn't James Bond . . .

~ Gordon:
  "This was the place where the Russians expected to win the next war. Gordon had been prepared to learn that it was already won. He'd been sent as a last resort to make them 
lose it. That, succinctly, was that."
~ The other man:
  ". . . grunted and fled into the blackness."
~ The Russian:
  ". . . we do not study anaesthetics here! Quite the reverse!"
~ Woodbury:
  "He had given them psionic principles . . ."

Typo: "dynitol" or "dynatol"?

Cultural References:
~ "This part of Siberia": Not a country in itself, but it might as well be.

   "Worldwide, Siberia is well known primarily for its long, harsh winters, with a January average of −25 °C (−13 °F), as well as its extensive history of use by Russian and Soviet governments as a place for prisons, labor camps, and internal exile." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "proximity fuses would make quite sure": One of those secret weapons that helped the Allies win the Second World War.

   "With a proximity fuze, the shell or missile need only pass close by the target at some time during its trajectory. The proximity fuze makes the problem simpler than the previous methods." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "The science of psionics was bound to make as much difference in human culture—and war—as the discovery of fire or metals": Or so everyone thought at the time.

   "In American science fiction of the 1950s and '60s, psionics was a 
proposed discipline that applied principles of engineering (especially 
electronics) to the study (and employment) of paranormal, or psychic, phenomena, such as telepathy and psychokinesis. The term is a port-
manteau of psi (in the sense of 'psychic phenomena') and the -onics 
from electronics. The word 'psionics' began as, and always remained, 
a term of art within the science fiction community . . ."
(Wikipedia HERE).

~ "the sound of piston engines in the sky": Not as common now as they were in the '50s.

  "A reciprocating engine, also often known as a piston engine, is typically a heat engine (although there are also pneumatic and hydraulic reciprocating engines) that uses one or more reciprocating pistons to convert pressure 
into a rotating motion." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "and probably a commissariat":

   "1: a system for supplying an army with food 2: food supplies 3: [borrowed from Russian komissariat, borrowed from German Kommissariat, borrowed from Medieval Latin commissāriātus]: a government department in the U.S.S.R. until 1946." (Merriam-Webster Dictionary HERE).

~ "a lack of information at Counter-Intelligence back in Washington": That seems to happen way too often.

   "Counterintelligence is an activity aimed at protecting an agency's intelligence program against an opposition's intelligence service. It 
likewise refers to information gathered and activities conducted to 
counter espionage, sabotage, assassinations or other intelligence 
activities conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organiza-
tions or persons, international terrorist activities, sometimes includ-
ing personnel, physical, document, or communications security pro-
grams." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "It could be observing him by infra-red even in the dark": Completely unknown until 1800.

   "Infrared radiation (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than
those of visible light. It is therefore generally invisible to the human eye, although IR at wavelengths 
up to 1050 nanometers (nms) from specially pulsed lasers can be seen by humans under certain conditions. IR wavelengths extend from the nominal 
red edge of the visible spectrum at 700 nanometers (frequency 430 THz), 
to 1 millimeter (300 GHz). Most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects 
near room temperature is infrared." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "the men who kidnapped honest scientists and brainwashed them": Even after all these years there's still some doubt about it.

   "Brainwashing (also known as mind control, menticide, coercive persuasion, thought control, thought reform, and re-education) is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject's ability to think critically or inde-
pendently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas 
into the subject's mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "contrary to dialectical materialism": The "ten commandments," one might say, of the Communist religion.

   "Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science and nature developed in Europe and based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. . . The formulation of the Soviet version of dialectical and historical materialism 
(such as in Stalin's book Dialectical and Historical Materialism) in the 1930s 
by Joseph Stalin and his associates, became the official Soviet interpretation of Marxism." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "behind a copper Moebius strip": It seems to be an obsession with science fiction authors.

   "A Möbius strip, band, or loop, also spelled Mobius or Moebius, is a surface with only one side (when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space) and only one boundary." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "a device which projects ultrasonic waves in air": Sound itself can be weaponized.

   "Ultrasound is sound waves with frequencies higher than the upper audible limit of human hearing. Ultrasound is not different from 'normal' (audible) sound in its physical properties, except that humans cannot hear it. This limit varies from person to person and is approximately 20 kilohertz (20,000 hertz) in healthy young adults. Ultrasound devices operate with frequencies from 20 kHz up to several gigahertz." (Wikipedia HERE; also see HERE).

~ "the members of the Politburo": At the end of the day, they were just sycophantic bureau-crats.

   "Politburo, in Russian and Soviet history, the supreme policy-making body 
of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Politburo until July 1990 exercised supreme control over the Soviet government; in 1990 the Politburo was enlarged and was separated to a certain degree from control over the Soviet government. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent banning of the Communist Party in Russia (1991), the Politburo also was effectively dissolved." (Encyclopaedia Britannica HERE).

- The notion of people possessing special mind powers is an old one in science fiction; we've featured the idea in a couple of previous posts: George O. Smith's "The Undetected" (HERE) and Anne McCaffrey's "Apple" (HERE). Be assured that we will return to psi powers in future articles.
- This past Christmas we highlighted another Cold War thriller, Hayden Howard's "Murder Beneath the Polar Ice" (HERE).
- Murray Leinster (one of his noms de plume, pronounced "lenster") is a legend in
(science fiction-fantasy); we're including links to webpages that might have been up-
dated recently: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the SFsite (HERE), and the ISFDb 
- Last March we featured one of Leinster's non-SFFnal stories, "The Murderer" (HERE).

Monday, January 6, 2020

"Are You Thinking You Might Find the Answer in the Stars, Dr. Feather?"

THE READERS of Popular Detective in the 1930s seem to have regarded Ray Cummings's series about brainy Dr. Feather (the scientific sleuth extraordinaire) and hardy Kit (his daughter with whom it is best not to mess) as a congenial mix of cerebration and hard-
boiled action. Below is the 16th Dr. Feather adventure, in which a malefactor gets . . .

"Trapped by Astronomy."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Popular Detective, March 1938.

Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

     "An Alibi is Smashed as the Stars Look Down and Spell a Murderer's Guilt."

This case proves that scientists are human, too . . . unfortunately . . .

~ Horace Clyde:

  ". . . the well known, aged amateur astronomer, discoverer of Clyde’s Comet some 
twenty years before, had been murdered."
~ Sergeant Dolan:
  "He’s lyin’ in his observatory right by the telescope, they say."
~ Murray Porter:
   "Yes, he's dead, shot through the head."
~ Kit:
  "He could have been sitting at this finder eye-piece when he was shot."
~ Conway Nash:
  "Good Lord, a thing like this to happen to us."
~ Judith Porter:
  ". . . gave a little cry of terror . . ."
~ Jelks:
  ". . . the grey-haired, smallish butler . . ."
~ Dr. Feather:
  "You asked me if I was reading the answer to this in the stars. Well, that implies 

astrology, Sergeant. But this was the cold, hard mathematical facts of astronomy."
Typo: "to get it put".

- "A new planet, a planetoid, a new little world encircling our Sun, out between Mars and Jupiter. Good gracious, if you could appreciate the importance of such a discovery!": 

That's where most planetoids (i.e., "minor planets") are found. "Historically, the terms 
asteroid, minor planet, and planetoid have been more or less synonymous. This termi-
nology has become more complicated by the discovery of numerous minor planets 
beyond the orbit of Jupiter, especially trans-Neptunian objects that are generally not considered asteroids." (Wikipedia HERE).
(Click on image to enlarge.)
- "a cablegram he was planning to send tomorrow to the Royal Astronomical Society": "The society was founded in 1820 as the Astronomical Society of London to support astronomical research. At that time, most members were 'gentleman astronomers' rather than profession-als." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Background info about Raymond King Cummings is at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); more of his works, both short and long, are at Fadedpage (HERE); 
and an annotated list of his "inventions" is on the Technovelgy site (HERE).
- It's been almost four years since we discussed several other Dr. Feather adventures (HERE).

Friday, January 3, 2020

"There May Be Others"

By Clifford D. Simak (1904-88).
Illustration uncredited.
First appearance: Science Fiction Stories, July 1943.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

Ray Bradbury wasn't the only one to find something sinister about a traveling carnival . . .

Major characters:
~ Constable Chet Newton:

  "This is Chet. Seems we been missing something. We got a murder on our hands."
~ The barker:
  "And inside this tent are the things that he brought back . . . animals that he captured 

on the red deserts of the ancient planet Mars. Animals that are alien to this world . . ."
~ Pop Hansen:
  ". . . I got better animals than that in my little old shack."
~ Jake Carter:
  "They don't fit in with nothing ever found on earth."
~ Paul Lawrence:
  "We are dealing with a thing beyond our depth."
~ The dwarf:

  "And while they're packing 'em in, look at us. A good honest freak show and we haven't 
had a full house for weeks."
~ Benny Short:
  "I'll get some sleep tonight."
~ William F. Howard:
  "Here we stand arguing when we should be trying to catch it."
~ Sheriff Alf Tanner:
  "Chet, you get the machine gun and let's get going . . ."
~ Mr. and Mrs. Jones:
  "It's already gone through the chicken house."
~ Abner Hill:
  "He poisoned my bull."
~ Louie Smith:
  "Hell's broke loose out here."

Typo: "on our a hands".


~ "Even the slight winds of Mars will blow it many hundred miles a day": "The low density 

of the Martian atmosphere means that winds of 18 to 22 m/s (65 to 79 km/h) are needed to 
lift dust from the surface, but since Mars is so dry, the dust can stay in the atmosphere far longer than on Earth, where it is soon washed out by rain." (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "We have drained the cages of air until they are almost a vacuum, we have introduced 
ozone, we have lowered the temperature": "The estimated mean volume ratio of molecular oxygen (O2) in the Martian atmosphere is 0.174%. It is one of the products of the photolysis 
of CO2, water vapor and ozone (O3)." (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "A siliceous form of life. Formed of silica instead of carbon": "The element silicon has been much discussed as a hypothetical alternative to carbon." (Wikipedia HERE; also see Memory Alpha Fandom HERE).

~ "A good honest freak show": Until recently such a sideshow was a regular feature of traveling carnivals and county fairs. (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "With a cough of triumph he lunged at the netting. It parted and he plowed onward, 

snapped off a tent pole, ripped through the canvas wall, trotted cockily down the center 
of the midway": The image of a terrifying monster traipsing through an amusement park turned up in a movie a decade later; see Wikipedia (SPOILERS; HERE) and the IMDb (SPOILERS; HERE).
~ "Fifth column": A term that's still in use but not as commonly as it once was. "A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in 
favor of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth column can be overt or 
clandestine." (Wikipedia HERE),
- The science fiction of Clifford Donald Simak characteristically shies away from the usual milieus of SFF, as noted on the webpage devoted to him (HERE):

   "His short stories and novels tell mostly about 'ordinary people,' farmers 

or small town habitants who unexpected[ly] get into situations which are unclear at the beginning. Often [these] people open a door, a door to other dimensions or times. Simak's humanity and his subtle humour are typical characteristics of his novels and stories. Despite there [being] space ships, robots and other genre-typical devices of science fiction, he was never much interested [in] how these technical devices [work]. For him they were just instruments for the purpose [of telling] (mostly) good stories."

- If you're interested in reading more about Simak, consult Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the IMDb (six film credits; HERE), and the thorough-going ISFDb bibliographical page (HERE).