Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Jake Murchison Series (Updated)

Back in the mid-20th century Cleve Cartmill wrote a series of six stories featuring recurring characters:

   (1) "Salvage" (1949) (below)
   (2) "High Jack and Dame" (1949) (below)
   (3) "Thicker Than Water" (1949) (below)
   (4) "Dead Run" (1950) (below)
   (5) "Little Joe" (1950) (below)
   (6) "No Hiding Place" (1950) (below).

And what were these stories about?

   Romance, Humor and Science Mix in This Space Adventure Classic! Jake Murchison and his crew love to tackle "impossible" problems in space and make incredible rescues. Sometimes the challenges they take on require them to improvise tools and bend the law a little to succeed. But even they can't bend the laws of science — which constantly work against them!
   Cleve Cartmill was beloved by sf fans of the 1940s for his Jake Murchison-Captain Helen Wall series, which ran in the pages of the colorful action-adventure pulp, Thrilling Wonder Stories. Popularly known as the "Space Salvagers" stories, these tales are a science fictional riff on the classic, and highly-popular, "battle of the sexes" comedies of the era, like Bringing Up Baby, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, and The Thin Man. Cartmill's tales of the sparks set off between Jake Murchison and Helen Wall, and their scientifically-premised exploits attempting to salvage abandoned ships and cargo in space, are a delightful change of pace for science fiction fans.
   In this one-volume, complete collection of their adventures Space Salvage, Inc. must retrieve an immensely valuable cargo on a derelict hulk that couldn't be entered; rescue a spaceship trapped by a magnetic asteroid thirty miles in diameter; save ninety-seven people imprisoned under a lake of ooze on which nothing could float; salvage a ship full of fissionable explosives speeding relentlessly toward planetfall; turn a crippled patrol boat as the only available weapon against a pirate fleet; and race unarmed against a deadly enemy to locate one of the greatest scientific secrets of all time!
   — Amazon product description for the Kindle edition of Murchison & Co. - Space Salvagers (HERE).

NOTE: THIS IS A REVISED VERSION of a previous posting. At the time three of the stories (2,3,4) were unavailable online. We recommend that you read them in chronological order (1-6) because they constitute one continuing plotline.

(1) "Salvage."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949.
Illustrator unknown.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

     "Jake Murchison throws his life into the scales of fate when confronted by a derelict with a cargo of riches!"

   A hundred and eighty-five tons of herculium, just the thing to make a warship invulnerable (and anyone possessing it rich beyond imagining), is floating out there in the derelict Astralot's hold, ripe for the taking, and the prospect of salvaging it has Jake Murchison and his friends in Space Salvage, Inc. seeing stars:

   ". . . this Astralot job will put us on Venusberg's main drag for life. Captain Lane and I can retire and live the life of lecherous ease we want. We can pay you back with a tremendous bonus, junk the Dolphin and have fun."

But life follows its own course . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (the narrator): First mate of the Dolphin.
~ Cap: Captain Lane of the Dolphin.
~ Pat: Pilot/navigator on the Dolphin.
~ Carroll: Ship's engineer and, as it turns out, serendipitous scion.
~ Amos T. Grubb: Litigious moneybags.
~ Jenkins: Field technician.


   "What happened was certainly unexpected. I didn't even see it happen. First thing I knew, I was flat on the deck and if my jaw wasn't broken it was a miracle. Quite a number of constellations were flickering behind my eyeballs. I recognized Orion as it flashed past."

   "Inside that vast ship I was going to have myself a job where a sure, quick touch might be necessary to keep me out of the obits."

   "I got the hang of the buttons and played the keyboard like a piano—but plenty pianissimo."

   "I'm not ashamed of the way I feel."

   "I was looking at the greatest fortune perhaps ever assembled in one place. I yelped once."

   "If I tore the hull I would cease to have any interest in—anything."

   "Well, this seemed to be it. I was wedged firmly, couldn't blast loose without wrecking my only protection. And the worst of it was I was going to have plenty of time to think about it. There wasn't going to be anything quick about it. It would be a toss-up which ran out first, my air or my heat. I would either suffocate or freeze or both. And even if I'd had a knife there wasn't room enough for me to get my arm free and cut my throat."

Diverting prose:

   "The hole was there, a great tear that punctured the ship to her vitals for almost all of her mile-long hull. Jagged points of metal along her port beam looked like a mouthful of filed teeth."

   "We had to choose between that and the Valadian drill. There isn't room on this ship for even a runt mouse to stow away."

   "He's going to be more trouble than a tank full of Venusian rock sharks."

   "Did you ever see a hundred bodies suddenly exposed to deep space?"

   "We had broken the contract and in this business, where fulfilling contracts often means saving lives and valuable property, penalties are fantastic. And rightly so."

~ ~ ~

The ad for the next story served to introduce an important character to the series:

   "Jake Murchison didn't want to help Helen Wall, beautiful captain of the stranded Andromeda—but according to interstellar law, he had to, even though she called The Dolphin a 'pirate' ship in the fascinating novelet—HIGH JACK AND DAME—Second in the Space Salvage Series by CLEVE CARTMILL."

(2) "High Jack and Dame."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949.
Illustration by [Rafael Jerard Norman] Astarita (1912-94; HERE).
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (12 pages).
Online at (HERE).

It isn't every day your ship gets stuck to an asteroid . . . .

Main characters:
~ Jake Murchison, First mate of the Dolphin:
  "All we want is to call the whole thing off."
~ Helen Wall, Captain of the Andromeda:
  "Derelict? That's no derelict."
~ Cap, Captain Lane of the Dolphin:
  "If we had about fifty tugs and if we could get lines aboard we might be able to haul her off. The way we're fixed it's impossible."
~ Pat, pilot/navigator on the Dolphin:
  ". . . altered course and presently we were describing a traveling sort of circle of forty-mile diameter which formed the base of an imaginary inverted cone, of which the Andromeda was the apex."
~ Carroll, ship's engineer:
  "The seven-foot giant came out of it fighting, snapping his lashings like twine, but I stayed out of reach until he could focus."
~ Amos T. Grubb, litigious moneybags:
  "He's a nasty-dispositioned little man but he's honest."
~ Oliver Clayborne of Solar System Salvage, Limited:
  "I am afraid Solar can't make any such contract. The matter is out of our hands."


   "The way I understood it angels didn't need sex appeal. What she had was more than an appeal, it was a downright command."

   "Funny, how many things she could get into her eyes. They had stars, now."

Typo: "a mighty bad case of smallbox at one time".

- "bosun's chair": "A bosun's chair (or boatswain's chair) is a device used to suspend a person from a rope to perform work aloft. Originally just a short plank or swath of heavy canvas, many modern bosun's chairs incorporate safety devices similar to those found in rock climbing harnesses such as safety clips and additional lines." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "lodestone": "Lodestone is one of only a very few minerals that is found naturally magnetized." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ ~ ~

(3) "Thicker Than Water."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1949.
Illustration by [Rafael Jerard Norman] Astarita (1912-94; HERE).
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; requires a download; scroll down to text page 123).

     "Jake Murchison of Space Salvage, Inc., forgets legalities in a desperate battle against disaster on an Arcton lake!"

Another fine mess, this one involving a shuttle ship jammed with ninety-seven souls on board at the bottom of a slimy lake and a court injunction getting in the way; but not to worry, Jake Murchison is up to the task . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Captain Ezra Cole:
  "Our condition desperate. Six hours maximum before deaths begin. Hurry!"
~ The deputy:
  "Mr. Caar tried but he couldn't force the escape tube down to the shuttle ship."
~ Mr. Caar:
  ". . . looked like a diffident rodent facing an attacker . . ."
~ Prentice McNamy:
  "I don't know what it's all about."
~ Carroll:
  ". . . joined me, smelling like last years's fish."
~ Cap Lane:
  "I think you can do this job without help."
~ Harry:
  "Good eatin', stuffed with babababa berries."
~ Captain Helen Wall:
  "You've got to stop this idiocy at once."
~ Jake Murchison:
  "It's characteristic of any Solar employee to give my outfit a black eye, even at the expense of ninety-seven lives."


   "They came back one by one from the border world between death and paying rent ..."

   "Conditioning stops me from knocking the tar out of you."

Typo: "kicking it furred legs".

~ ~ ~

(4) "Dead Run."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1950.
Image: 'Thrilling Wonder Stories' cover, February 1950
Illustration by [Rafael Jerard Norman] Astarita (1912-94; HERE).
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; requires a download; scroll down to text page 51).

     "Jake Murchison and his gang fight to save a planet from atomic doom!"

Thanks to the continual legal interference by Solar Salvage, Jake and his one-ship salvage company are on the brink of bankruptcy when Helen calls him about an emergency (underlined three times) involving a runaway spaceship. "If the ship hits," he's told, "no planet." A challenge, to be sure, but for nimble-minded Jake it's also an opportunity . . . .

Major characters:
~ Comptroller General Everett:
  "You'll be paid in due course. Perhaps in a couple of days."
~ Jake Murchison:
  "Here I was, potentially one of the richest men in history, and had no cash."
~ The taxi driver:
  "Heard the news? Ship full of dead men and women and fissionable explosives headed right smack for us."
~ Carroll:
  "A tank of cynophthalin, bound for a pest-infested area of Arcton Four, exploded. You know what that means."
~ Cap Lane:
  "He just called me and said that what you said was a dirty insinuation."
~ Oliver Clayborne:
  ". . . occupied a position in Solar that wasn't quite clear but there was no doubt about his authority."
~ Tibbett:
  "I want my gun back."
~ Philemon Wall:
  "You see, Helen, I'm not questioning your loyalty. I'm questioning your judgment."


   "They watched me as if I were a hat and the rabbit long overdue."

   ". . . a voice full of crushed ice . . ."

   "A smile that had 'Mmm, good!' stenciled all over it."

   "I've an idea I don't like some people less than two light years away."

   "He seemed very sincere and harmless but I'm a rotten judge of character."

   ". . . looking like a mother hen with seven lost chicks."

   "She was—well, when a girl stands close to me, looks up at me with almost-tears in her eyes, with moist lips parted, and then takes hold of my hands, my reflexes take over. It's automatic. Fun, too."

   "I watched her walk to the chart table and if she stumbled once and I was pleased nobody can sue me for it."

~ ~ ~

(5) "Little Joe."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950.
Illustrator unknown.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).

     "The Space Salvagers Pit Themselves Against Pirates!"

Jake Murchison sets the scene rather well:

   As we used to say when we were kids in school, more people killed and blood all over the stars.
  That's the way it was, and only my choice of being eaten alive rather than burned to death got me — or what's left of me — off the Piratoid alive. The doc says most of my skin will grow back. . . .

For Jake and Carroll an emergency repair job nearly proves fatal.

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison:
  "I'm just a fair salvage bum, and I feel properly humble, even if I don't show it."
~ Cap:
  "You can run circles around me."
~ Pat:
  "Pat's a kind of lightning calculator. He astrogates in his head."
~ Carroll:
  "Give me one paralysis bomb, and I'm happy."
~ Gray Hardy, Port Patrol Officer:
  "I want you to get that ship into operation. If you can do it quickly, it can seek out the pirates' hiding-place and wipe out the worst band of— Well, you know what they are."
~ Little Joe:
  "There was a name to conjure with. Pirate, murderer, dirty dog. Escapee from Kragor, head of the worst gang of cutthroats in history."
~ Captain Tommy Garfield, Space Patrol:
  "I intend to go into action once we find Little Joe and his crowd. You might be killed. So it's a volunteer job."


   "That was perhaps the deadliest, most vicious voice I've ever heard. Believe me, I did exactly as it ordered. I even wished I could hold back my blood corpuscles until that voice said it was all right."

   "I didn't see the blow start or finish. All of a sudden I collided with a tremendous something I learned later was his fist, and I promptly lost interest in proceedings."

   "I shot a nervous glance at the cage. The pacer seemed to have taken quite a fancy to me. Those smoking yellow eyes never left me . . ."

   [When the bad guy offers Jake a choice of how he will die]: "I choose to have my great-grandchildren stuff me to death with goodies."

   ". . . if your upper lip is as limp as a wet butterfly, you've got to stiffen it somehow."

   "They didn't whine, but their giant bodies shook and cringed, and it seemed there should be whines."

   "I looked around for a club, anything, but you can't fight with panel switches."

   "The guard who had been quick when I last saw him was now dead, his head at an impossible angle to his body."

Typo: "Let's get stared, then."

~ ~ ~

(6) "No Hiding Place."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950. (Cover story).
"I wanted her along so badly I ached."
Illustration by [Paul] Orban (1896-1974; HERE).
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (36 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) (smudgy text).

     "Jake Murchison, Helen Wall and their rollicking crew of space engineers have it out with Solar Salvage in their climactic quest for a herculium hoard lost in the void!"

The long chase across the Universe to find a fabulous invention takes Jake to a savage planet with some very surprising inhabitants:

   "Suddenly they moved in unison in my direction. I say moved but it was more like teleportation. One instant they were a hundred feet away—the next ten feet, arranged in a kind of semicircle before the mouth of the cave, regarding me with unblinking, expressionless great eyes. There was no use to run, not when I was to them like a snail to a rabbit. It wasn't even any use to raise my blaster."

Chapter I - "Hold Everything!"
Chapter II - "Anything Might Happen"
Chapter III - Helpless Sitting Duck
Chapter IV - Cross Fingers!
Chapter V - "More! More"
Chapter VI - "That's what's out there"
Chapter VII - Look out behind you!
Chapter VIII - Remember? Atmosphere?
Chapter IX - I Don't Like Murder
Chapter X - Just Toss 'Em This Way
Chapter XI - Hang On!

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison:
  "If you want to keep right on living you'll have to let me run the show."
~ Cap:
  "I don't like murder, regardless of what the other guy wants to do with me."
~ Pat:
  "Pat, whose face was like baked mud, his nose a lump of red sandstone, and his eyes two dull emeralds deep-set in the muck, was the best pilot and astrogator I'd ever known."
~ Carroll:
  "You're the luckiest guy in the System, Jake."
~ Helen Wall:
  "They're planning to kidnap me to force Jake to tell what he knows. I learned it too late—I couldn't call for help. I was cornered."
~ Oliver Clayborne ("Junior"):
  "Do you think I'm fool enough to commit murder?"
~ Pete:
  "Now look, Mr. Clayborne. Don't get sore. You see, it was like this . . ."
~ Harry:
  "I'm gonna strap myself in my bunk and we're really going places."


   "The law of averages predicted trouble afoot—we always had trouble. It wasn't intuition, it wasn't premonition. I took a strictly scientific attitude. The facts that my heart began to beat faster, my hands turned clammy and a sense of doom oppressed me, I told myself, was a result of cold appraisal, not fear."

   "Captain Helen Wall, with twin comets on her snazzy uniform. I wondered how I'd look with twin comets."

   "He looked up and grinned, which did awful things to his face."

   "Looks like the fat's in the fission chamber now."

   "She was a Space captain. She knew what it took to run a ship. So she let me strictly alone and I did the same to her, and we were like a couple of animated sticks. Every time I looked at her I wanted moonlight and music on the piccolo and that made me mad."

   "I looked at her. Her eyes were wide and soft, her lush mouth parted, and I knew that whatever she asked me I would say yes."

  "I was a man of mixed emotions to put it mildly. My gal, my chosen woman—whither thou goest and all that stuff, I wanted her along so badly I ached."

   "Part of the make-up of a human male is the desire to protect and comfort his woman and I'm a human male. I wanted to give her a pep talk, to hold her, to murmur nonsense in her ear, tender nonsense. But did you every try it in a space suit, rubbing helmets, clasping mittens? It's no good. I didn't even try."

   "We drifted, in the silent dark, the dim glow of the instrument panels accentuating rather than diminishing the feeling of being lost in a limitless void. I skirted asteroids small and large and bored in toward the center."

   "If looks were lethal it would have been all over with me but the burying."

   ". . . Helen's body, necessarily pressing against mine, was like an angry exclamation point."

   "We looked at each other and laughed. Not because there was anything funny—it just seemed like a good idea."

   "If I hurried we might all go up in a blast—if I didn't we might be caught with our atoms down."

   "A downdraft grabbed us with windy fingers and the planet rushed up at us at sickening speed. My stomach felt as if it had checked out for parts unknown. We were like an eggshell in the hands of a giant."

   "I had only a momentary glimpse of it and though even it failed to penetrate my lethargy I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of vague terror, of things obscene, unfit for the mind to dwell on, of Powers of Darkness beyond the ken of man, repulsive discards of far-off ages of superstition."

   "The blaster lay six feet away. It might as well have been six light years."

   "We struggled with the weakness of dying ants over a burden neither of us could lift alone."

   "I tried to think furiously, brilliantly, but my brain machinery achieved only a labored clanking."

   "I had left the helmet on in the interests of time, but it was good that I did, for I have a glass jaw. Any number of persons have knocked me out with a short jab to my chin, and I didn't know whether or not I was as vulnerable elsewhere."

   ". . .  planets, and especially caves—I now discovered—give me claustrophobia. I like Space, limitless space without a fence around it. You feel free there."

Typos: "I looked as the buildings again and shivered"; "the clumsy inaccurate tools of lanaguage."
More resources:
- Cleve E. Cartmill will be forever associated with one of his stories, "Deadline" (1944), which described the then-top secret atomic bomb in such detail that Cartmill, Astounding, and editor John W. Campbell attracted the unwelcome attention of the FBI; see Wikipedia (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE) and (HERE) (WARNING! SPOILERS! PDF; 26 pages) for more. You can find the ISFDb's reprint page for "Deadline" (HERE).
- Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) all have useful info about Cartmill.
- Sooner or later it could come to this:

   Another interesting idea is the proposal to introduce a law of "Space Salvage." At sea the long-standing law of salvage allows the person who takes control of an abandoned vessel to claim ownership. One of the growing problems in Earth orbit is the amount of "space debris" — abandoned satellites, rocket stages and other pieces abandoned by the governments which launched them. By introducing a law of salvage there would be a strong incentive for businesses to collect together useful objects. Because of the high cost of launch, any mass in orbit is valuable. Even at a launch cost as low as $100/kg, scrap metal would be worth at least $100,000/ton in low orbit! And so we can foresee that recycling is sure to become a major orbital business. — "Space Law," Space Future (HERE).

- In 1979 a short-lived TV series called Salvage 1 (20 episodes) centered on a vaguely similar idea:

   Harry Broderick (Andy Griffith) owns the Jettison Scrap and Salvage Co. and is a specialist in reclaiming trash and junk to sell as scrap. His dream is to recover equipment left on the moon during Apollo Program missions. Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE).

- Portions of this article first appeared on ONTOS (HERE).

The bottom line: "In California, they don't throw their garbage away—they make it into TV shows." — Woody Allen

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"A Nightmare Tale of a Murder in Your Garden"

"Who Killed the Ghost?"
Super Detective Library No. 52.
Characters created by Charles B. Child (Claude Vernon Frost, 1903-93).
Graphic novel (64 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE).

     "Take a dead man's word for it—it's all true about paradise! Black-eyed houris, flowing wine . . ."

After Inspector Chafik's adopted son breathlessly informs his father that he has seen a dead man being buried, Chafik reluctantly initiates an investigation, skeptical of the whole thing. Thanks to "the filing cabinet of his mind" and old-fashioned slogging police work, the Inspector discovers what has all the earmarks of a deadly conspiracy involving a handsome inheritance. Nevertheless, his inquiry encounters baffling stumbling-blocks and strange twists and turns, causing Chafik at one point to admit to his sergeant: "This is the most fantastic case I have ever investigated!"
Major characters:
~ Zaki Attala:
  ". . . the dead one . . ."

~ Faisal:
  "I know he was dead because his head was twisted—to one side."
~ Leila:
  "Allah be merciful! For a boy to see such horror!"
~ Ibrahim:
  "That boy has visions! I, too, sometimes have them!"

~ Jamil:
  "I advise you—take a stick to that boy!"

~ Naomi:
  "My father's temper—you understand?"

~ Aziz Chelebi:
  "You speak of him as if he were an inanimate object!"

~ Lady Rejina:
  ". . . for twenty years Rejina had ruled her brothers with her father's money. She had never married, neither had she allowed them to marry."

~ Malek:
  ". . . does not like talking to policemen—but he has told me that, last night, he took shelter from the storm among the date palms outside this very house. He heard a shot, my father, and then saw a gun thrown over the wall."

~ Sergeant Abdullah:
  "He has a bullet between the eyes; the gun, of small calibre, is missing; it rained when he was buried, and it ceased to rain at midnight. Therefore—"

~ Inspector Chafik J. Chafik:
  ". . . tried to reassure himself . . . He told himself he dealt in facts . . . He would not let an imaginative boy and a moon-mad woman confound the evidence of his eyes . . ."

- Previous encounters with the Super Detective Library's version of Inspector Chafik are (HERE) and (HERE).


Saturday, November 28, 2020

"He Was Halfway Across When the Bullet Came"

MANY WRITERS OPT for beginning their stories in medias res, the middle of things, and gradually backfilling the plot. Today's author wisely does the same when his main character struggles to get . . .

"Out of the Iron Womb!".
(a.k.a. "Holmgang").
By Poul Anderson (1926-2001).

Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Planet Stories, Summer 1955.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "Behind a pale Venusian mask lay hidden the arch-humanist, the anti-tech killer ... one of those who needlessly had strewn Malone blood across the heavens from Saturn to the sun. Now—on distant Trojan asteroids—the rendezvous for death was plainly marked."

On an airless rock floating hundreds of millions of miles in space it's altogether possible to plan committing a murder and hoping to get away with it . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Johnny Malone:
  "Maybe that was what had started it all—the death of Johnny Malone."
~ Einar Lundgard:
  "I volunteered, even suggested the idea, because ... well, it happened during my watch, and even if nobody blamed me I couldn't help feeling guilty."
~ Valeria McKittrick:
  ". . . she had been on Achilles for about a year working on some special project and was now ready to go home. She was human enough, had been to most of the officers' parties and danced and laughed and flirted mildly, but even the dullest rockhound gossip knew she was too lost in her work to do more. Out here a woman was rare, and a virtuous woman unheard-of . . ."

~ Bo Jonsson:
  "Since coming here, on commission from the Lunar lab, to bring her home, Bo Jonsson had given her an occasional wistful thought. He liked intelligent women, and he was getting tired of rootlessness. But of course it would be a catastrophe if he fell in love with her because she wouldn't look twice at a big dumb slob like him. He had sweated out a couple of similar affairs in the past and didn't want to go through another."

Comment: The philosophical discussion among our characters in Chapter III might seem familiar in light of recent events.

Typo: "An iron-drive ship".

References and resources:
- "Vega or Spica or dear old Beetle Juice": Three fairly well-known stars; see Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- "basing on the Trojan asteroids": Despite what the sci-fi programs would have you believe, in space it's all about delta-v; if you can't generate the necessary delta-v then you aren't going anywhere fast enough and you'll probably die before you get there. Anderson himself explains it very well:
   "There are numerous reasons for basing on the Trojan asteroids, but the main one can be given in a single word: stability. They stay put in Jupiter's orbit, about sixty degrees ahead and behind, with only minor oscillations; spaceships need not waste fuel coming up to a body which has been perturbed a goodly distance from where it was supposed to be. The trailing group is the jumping-off place for trans-Jovian planets, the leading group for the inner worlds—that way, their own revolution about the sun gives the departing ship a welcome boost, while minimizing the effects of Jupiter's drag." (Consult Wikipedia HERE).
Some Trojan asteroids are so large they've been given names like Achilles (Wikipedia HERE) and Patroclus (Wikipedia HERE); also see Atomic Rockets (HERE).

- "before the ion drive came in": The perfect thing if you're not in a big hurry:
   "Ion thrusters use beams of ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) to create thrust in accordance with momentum conservation. The method of accelerating the ions varies, but all designs take advantage of the charge/mass ratio of the ions. This ratio means that relatively small potential differences can create high exhaust velocities. This reduces the amount of reaction mass or propellant required, but increases the amount of specific power required compared to chemical rockets. Ion thrusters are therefore able to achieve high specific impulses. The drawback of the low thrust is low acceleration because the mass of the electric power unit directly correlates with the amount of power. This low thrust makes ion thrusters unsuited for launching spacecraft into orbit, but effective for in-space propulsion." (Wikipedia HERE).

- "on Kullen overlooking the Sound, back on Earth": An attractive place in Sweden; see Swedentips (HERE).
- "The Great Bear slid into sight": It does look rather ursine:
   "Ursa Major is primarily known from the asterism of its main seven stars, which has been called the 'Big Dipper,' 'the Wagon,' 'Charles's Wain,' or 'the Plough,' among other names. In particular, the Big Dipper's stellar configuration mimics the shape of the 'Little Dipper.' Two of its stars, named Dubhe and Merak (α Ursae Majoris and β Ursae Majoris), can be used as the navigational pointer towards the place of the current northern pole star, Polaris in Ursa Minor." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "it wouldn't take much of an impetus to throw him off this rock entirely": Asteroids are notorious for having very low escape velocities; you can jump off one and not come down for a long time. See Wikipedia (HERE) for the full skinny about asteroids.
- "once in a Venusian snowfall": If it ever snows on Venus it'll be a cold day in you-know-where:
   "Venus' surface [is] hotter than Mercury's, which has a minimum surface temperature of 53 K (−220 °C; −364 °F) and maximum surface temperature of 700 K (427 °C; 801 °F),even though Venus is nearly twice Mercury's distance from the Sun and thus receives only 25% of Mercury's solar irradiance. This temperature is higher than that used for sterilization." (Wikipedia HERE).

- "a kip in the public barracks": Slang for a place to sleep; a bunk. (Cambridge Dictionary HERE).
- "with a slipstick": Before reliable electronic computers came along, it was the way engineers did their calculations:
   "The slide rule, also known colloquially in the United States as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog computer. As graphical analog calculators, slide rules are closely related to nomograms, but the former are used for general calculations, whereas the latter are used for application-specific computations." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Orion was marching past": "The film distribution company Orion Pictures used the constellation as its logo." (Wikipedia HERE). "The Southern Cross flamed in his eyes": Crux, a southern hemisphere constellation, "is dominated by a cross-shaped or kite-like asterism that is commonly known as the Southern Cross." (Wikipedia HERE). "stark against Sagittarius": The constellation of "Sagittarius is one of the prominent features of the summer skies in the northern hemisphere although in Europe north of the Pyrenees it drags very low along the horizon and can be difficult to see clearly. In Scotland and Scandinavia it cannot be seen at all." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "What would the centrifugal and Coriolis forces be?": See Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE) for detailed explanations.
- The alternate title of our story, "Holmgang," was an ancient tradition: "Holmgang (hólmganga in Old Norse and modern Icelandic, holmgång in Swedish, holmgang in Danish and Norwegian bokmål and nynorsk) is a duel practiced by early medieval Scandinavians. It was a legally recognized way to settle disputes." See Wikipedia (HERE), especially (WARNING! SPOILERS!) the "In popular culture" section.
- Our story is one in a series called "The Psychotechnic League":
  "The Psychotechnic League is a future history created by American science fiction writer Poul Anderson. The name 'Psychotechnic League' was coined by Sandra Miesel in the early 1980s, to capitalize on Anderson's better-known Polesotechnic League future history. Anderson published 21 novels, novellas and short stories set in this future between 1949 and 1957, with a 22nd published in 1968.
  . . . "By the late 1950s, Anderson's political beliefs had altered to the point where he was uncomfortable with the political philosophy underlying the series, and he abandoned it. In particular, he had completely reversed his earlier strong support for the United Nations as the nucleus of a world government, a stance which formed the main plot element of several earlier stories in the series." (Wikipedia HERE).

- An SFF legend and a stickler for scientific accuracy in his fiction, Poul William Anderson's career is well covered on Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), Project Gutenberg's collection (HERE), and the one and only movie adaptation of one of his stories (IMDb HERE).
- The asteroids have proven to be a fertile field for SFF authors to plant their storylines in; see, for examples, Donald E. Westlake's "The Risk Profession" (HERE), Jack Williamson's "Salvage in Space" (HERE), Nat Schachner's "Jurisdiction" (HERE), Eando Binder's "Double or Nothing" (HERE), Malcolm Jameson's "Stellar Showboat" (HERE), and Thorp McClusky's "Little Planet" (HERE). Another story not set on an asteroid but that does involve a battle to the death in an airless landscape is Fritz Leiber's "Moon Duel" (HERE).

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

"And So Constantine's Murderer Must Be Aware That If He Tries To Sell, He Will Be Paid by the Hangman"

"Baghdad Manhunt."
Super Detective Library No. 47.
Characters created by Charles B. Child (Claude Vernon Frost, 1903-93).
Graphic novel (64 pages).

Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE).
     "Where is my escort into the next world?"

It's an old truism: one crime begets another. The theft of valuable antiques in the past culminates in a murder in the present—"a murder," says Inspector Chafik, "carried out, it would seem, to secure this priceless chalice," the color of which, an avid collector informs us, is "the sun-flecked blue of the canopy of heaven's throne!" But this case gets even more complicated when the Inspector's son goes missing and Chafik finds himself beset by a surfeit of street beggars . . . .
Major characters:
~ Esiah Constantine:

  "Battered to death with the club at my feet — a warrior's weapon."
~ George Topalian:
  "I was horrified to find him still here — murdered."
~ David Topalian:
  ". . . who better to buy them than David Topalian?"
~ Shah Murad:
  "His evidence, sir, is that he saw the deceased admitted to these premises."
~ Doctor Mohammed Ghaffari:
  "Value? Do you mean money? Inspector, one does not estimate such a treasure in money!"
~ Leila:
  "I am so afraid that some harm may have befallen him . . ."
~ Faisal:
  "And have you not shown me that one must have compassion for a waif?"
~ Sergeant Abdullah:
  "It is the way of boys . . . I have daughters!"
~ Inspector Chafik J. Chafik:
  "And I do not think it wisdom to enter a murderer's house . . ."
Typo: "Abdulla".

References and resources:
- "When a Sumerian noble was buried": See "Funerary practices" in Wikipedia's "Sumer" article (HERE) and the much more detailed account at Burial Practices of the Ancient World (HERE).
- "this dates to Sheba": It was "a kingdom mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Quran. Sheba features in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, particularly Ethiopian Christian, traditions. It was the home of the biblical 'Queen of Sheba', who is left unnamed in the Bible, but receives the names Makeda in Ethiopian and Bilqīs in Arabic tradition." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Previously we followed the good Inspector as he dealt with a couple of criminous problems in "Inspector Chafik Tackles Two Cases" (HERE).

Saturday, November 21, 2020

"Boss Says You've Had Firearms Training"

By Wendy Nikel.
First appearance: Daily Science Fiction, October 26, 2020.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Daily Science Fiction (HERE).

     "I couldn't go up against T-Port alone."

Sometimes even the simplest jobs can go south in a heartbeat: "I tried to pull myself together, but all I could think of is how much this was not what I signed up for . . ."

~ "a pink-ponytailed, dragon-tattooed college dropout":
  "They'd have me disintegrated before I could say 'ethical responsibility'."
~ Supervisor Seth:
  "Did you press RESET first?"
~ Jeffrey Bloomsburg:
  "Your manager will hear from me!"

- Wendy Nikel has a homepage (HERE); bibliographical data about her SFF is at the ISFDb (HERE).
- We've come across stories that make plot hay out of the idea of teleportation; for example, see Oscar Friend's "I Get Off Here" (HERE), Silverberg and Garrett's "The Incomplete Theft" (HERE), and Larry Niven's "The Alibi Machine" (HERE).

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Inspector Chafik Tackles Two Cases

"Mystery in Baghdad."
Super Detective Library No. 71.
Characters created by Charles B. Child (Claude Vernon Frost, 1903-93).
Graphic novel (64 pages).
Two stories: "The Little Shadow" (pages 3-43) and "A Ghost Walks in Baghdad" (pages 44-66).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE).

     "There is a saying sir. When in doubt, do nothing."

In "The Little Shadow" Inspector Chafik is stymied by an epidemic of crimes related to hashish, while in "A Ghost Walks in Baghdad" he must determine who has murdered an Englishwoman and what is significant about a missing bronze statue.

Principal characters:
(1) "The Little Shadow":

~ A brutal drug addict, Faisal, Sergeant Abdullah, Leila, Najar Helmy, Ali, and Inspector Chafik J. Chafik.

Once more we have "the moment": "A graph! The key! The clue—the formula!" leading to "We have it then! This two week period when the graph flattens—when no hashish came to Baghdad!"

- "The hashish smuggler": "Hashish, also known as 'hash', is a drug made by compressing and processing trichomes of the cannabis plant. It is consumed by smoking, typically in a pipe, bong, vaporizer or joint, or sometimes via oral ingestion. Hash has a long history of usage in eastern countries such as Afghanistan, India, Iran, Morocco, and Pakistan. Hash consumption is also popular in Europe, where it is the most common form of cannabis use." (Wikipedia HERE).

(2) "A Ghost Walks in Baghdad":
~ The boatman, Leila, Sergeant Abdullah, Violet Shaw, Madame Dejano, Daoud Shuman, Mr. Dejano, and Inspector Chafik J. Chafik.


- We've covered Charles B. Child's short stories about The Sleuth of Baghdad before, in 2016 (HERE) and 2019 (HERE); you'll also find links to other online stories in those postings. Child's list of Chafik J. Chafik stories is presently residing (HERE), but that's subject to change. It's no coincidence that there are strong similarities between "The Little Shadow" and Child's Collier's story "He Had a Little Shadow" (1950), which was his sixth published case.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

"They Have More on Their Minds Than Mere Looting"

THE MIXING AND MATCHING of science fictional tropes with hardboiled detective motifs has a long history and is still going on even today; a mid-20th century example of what we mean would be . . .

"S.O.S. Aphrodite!"
By Stanley Mullen (1911-74).

Illustration by A.[lden Spurr] McWilliams (1916-93; HERE).
First appearance: Planet Stories, Summer 1949.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE).

     "This is a well-organized group of saboteurs, pirates and assassins backed by a ring of powerful and unscrupulous men, some of them in high places."

. . . so warns an unsympathetic ISP official. Most of us would think twice (and maybe more than twice) at the mere idea of opposing such people, especially when, as he says, "we can no longer give you official backing"—meaning that, as Lieutenant Steve Coran knows too well, if anything goes wrong he's on his own—and it doesn't help that he already has two black marks on his service record . . . .

Main characters:
~ Steve Coran:
  "I can't stand the smell of perfume around here. And the jobs don't come too tough. Relax, big shot. I'll run your stinking little errand for you. But it's the last one."

~ Gerda Mors:
  "Marry you!"

~ Shalm:
  "The upper part of his head had been blown away by a blaster gun, evidently fired at close quarters."
~ Hamlin:
  "In the frame of the opened doorway stood the purser, mouth open, pointing at the dead man with a trembling finger."

~ Harriman:
  "Where's the gun?"
~ Nalson:
  "Better send for Jomian."
~ Jomian:
  "After twelve years in the Space Patrol, I'm used to handling bad boys."

Typo: "we musn't".

- In our story the colonization of Venus is well underway, but that's the Venus of 1949; what about the actual prospects of establishing Venus colonies? See the Wikipedia article (HERE) that briefly discusses some very ambitious proposals:
  "At least as early as 1971 Soviet scientists have suggested that rather than attempting to colonize Venus' hostile surface, humans might attempt to colonize the Venerian atmosphere. Geoffrey A. Landis of NASA's Glenn Research Center has summarized the perceived difficulties in colonizing Venus as being merely from the assumption that a colony would need to be based on the surface of a planet: 'However, viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet.' . . . . As an alternative to floating cities, it has been proposed that a large artificial mountain, dubbed the 'Venusian Tower of Babel', could be built on the surface of Venus. It would reach up to 50 kilometres (31 mi) into the atmosphere where the temperature and pressure conditions are similar to Earth's. Such a structure could be built using autonomous robotic bulldozers and excavators that have been hardened against the extreme temperature and pressure of the Venus atmosphere." Also consult the Atomic Rockets website (HERE) for more details.

Artwork by Don Dixon.
- "It's 146 days to Venus": From the same Wikipedia article:
  "Venus's relative proximity makes transportation and communications easier than for most other locations in the Solar System. With current propulsion systems, launch windows to Venus occur every 584 days, compared to the 780 days for Mars. Flight time is also somewhat shorter; the Venus Express probe that arrived at Venus in April 2006 spent slightly over five months en route, compared to nearly six months for Mars Express. This is because at closest approach, Venus is 40 million km (25 million mi) from Earth (approximated by perihelion of Earth minus aphelion of Venus) compared to 55 million km (34 million mi) for Mars (approximated by perihelion of Mars minus aphelion of Earth) making Venus the closest planet to Earth."
- "Space Pirates," writes Winchell Chung, "is a science fiction trope that just won't go away. The image of pirate freebooters on the high seas is just too romantic for words, science fiction writers can't resist. Alas, in a scientifically accurate world, they are more or less impossible, much like space fighters and for similar reasons. There ain't no stealth in space, so it is practically impossible for a fat space galleon to be surprised in mid trip by a sinister space corsair flying the Jolly Roger. Or a rude surprise for a space merchant ship whose trajectory passes too near the Somali Asteroids for that matter. It would be several orders of magnitude easier for the 'piracy' to take the form of grand theft from the merchant's warehouses on the ground." See Atomic Rockets (HERE).
- Find out more about Stanley Mullen on Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).