Saturday, September 26, 2020

"In the Centre of the Floor, a Body"

 MURDER IS STILL MURDER, even if the victim has a carapace . . .

"The Sound of Death."
By Gareth D Jones.

Illustration by Scott Altmann (HERE).
First appearance: Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, March 2014.
Short story (14 pages as a PDF).

Online (HERE).

"Nothing would deter Ek-Lo-Don from a line of enquiry once he had started ..."

The investigation into the death of a lika addict and a missing intelligencia trophy falls to a very determined Peace Service inspector, himself a recovering lika addict. The most madden-
ing thing for him is pinning down a motive . . .

Main characters:
~ Lak-Do-Sil:

  ". . . had evidently been somewhat of a recluse, even before the lika addiction took control of his life."
~ Ak-Ron-Bar:
  "Inspector, there is no logical reason for me to kill Lak-Do-Sil."
~ The lika trader:
  "He looked ill, why would I want to poison him?"
~ The old male:
  "I didn't like him. I also didn't kill him."
~ Lo-Lo-Ran-Lan:
  "I'm feeling quite upset about the whole thing."
~ Inspector Ek-Lo-Don:
  "He hated this kind of case, the memories it stirred. Se-Se-Lin-Dor's death was an accident; there was nothing to be done about it. The decline of his power, his increasing inability to investigate even the most straight-forward of crimes, the threat of being evicted from the Peace Service. Those were the things that triggered him to break free of lika. Now the pursuit of justice was his addiction."

Resources:
- The adventures of other extraterrestrial detectives have been anthologized by editor Mike Resnick in Whatdunits (1992) (ISFDb HERE) and More Whatdunits (1993) (ISFDb HERE).
- Gareth D Jones's weblog is (HERE) and his ISFDb bibliography is (HERE).
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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

7 Years

TOMORROW MARKS THE 7th anniversary of ONTOS, which premiered on September 24, 2013. When we started ONTOS, we conceived of it as basically a random walk through the Internet; nevertheless, we did have a definite goal in mind, one from which we are yet to deviate:

  "Welcome to Ontos, a weblog for readers with a preference for detective fiction, science fiction, and literature in general. You can expect a lot of information and very little opinion (from me, anyway)."


This weblog got its start from, and is totally dependent on, something called a "hot link." Hard experience has taught us that hot links are risky things at best, as ephemeral as fog on a hot summer morning, which is why, if you're a regular reader of ONTOS, you should go to those links as soon as you can, before they disappear. (The same applies to illustrations; you might have noticed large gaps where pictures used to reside.) Without meaning to, the Internet has shown how old-fashioned print media are still superior. Unless you deliberately destroy it, a book will outlast much of the matter you find on the Interweb. Furthermore, thanks to idiotic copyright laws only a small fraction of the reading matter actually published since the early part of the 20th century is currently available online, which is almost criminal in how it limits access to the world's literary heritage. This unhappy situation forces us to snatch up those few morsels when they appear.


One reaction to some postings that we get from time to time questions the quality of the story we're featuring, insisting that it's not very good. To this we confess: "You're right. We agree." You see, we strongly believe that you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one—sometimes more. While we do offer our own comments on occasion, we're content to leave the final judgment up to you.


Speaking of judgment, which is often another way of saying "personal preference" or "opinion," we steadfastly refuse to engage in controversies about politics or religion; we will discuss those only in relation to the authors' works, if then. And if you want free advertising by clotting up the "Comments" section, forget it; they will be removed. ONTOS operates on a purely out-of-pocket basis, with all costs borne by Ye Olde Editor and no one else. ONTOS is and always will be a travail de l'amour.

Finally, something of a technical nature: If you encounter sentences with awkward line breaks or words that seem to have been divided in the wrong place, we recommend that you make use of the "Zoom" function to enlarge or shrink the page. In most cases the problems often disappear.

As always we welcome you to ONTOS.
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ALL-TIME ONTOS ANALYTICS (as of September 22, 2020):
LANGUAGE: English.
WEEKS: 359.
POSTS: 1,527.
PAGE VIEWS: 336,337.
PEAK VIEWING DAY: 14,434 views (November 30, 2016).
TOP LOCATIONS:
United States - 161K Russia - 38.4K Ukraine - 14.2K France - 13.4K United Kingdom - 9.66K
Germany - 8.67K Canada - 6.44K Indonesia - 4.99 K Turkmenistan - 4K Netherlands - 3.44K
China - 3.02K Unknown Region - 2.5K Spain - 2.28K Malaysia - 1.84K India - 1.49K
Taiwan - 1.18K Turkey - 1.09K Poland - 1.07K Japan - 979 Other - 56.8K.

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Saturday, September 19, 2020

"That Door Is Always Kept Locked"

THERE'S AN OLD SAYING: You can choose your friends but not your relatives. Our protagonist is about to discover that, relatively speaking, it's possible to have . . .

"Death from a Family Tree."
By Sam Merwin, Jr. (1910-96).
Illustration by Ed DeLavy (1916-89).

First appearance: Popular Detective, May 1948.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "No man could be alive with the hole he had in his head."

"The love of money," said the preacher, "is the root of all evil." In the process of probating the Lucius Weaver estate, there's plenty of money love at stake—"upwards of half a million dollars"—leading, as you might guess, to evil in the form of a well-deadened bullet and an "infernal nightmare chariot". . .

Principal characters:
~ Leonie Carroll:
  ". . . terrifyingly beautiful . . ."
~ Wilfrid I. Hull:
  ". . . he didn't know what to do about it, so soon after a murder. So he compromised by merely sitting."
~ Orrin S. Gorman:
  "If he hadn't kept everything locked in his own head, we might know who did it."
~ Lieutenant Venner:
  "I get it. In English, this meeting here was a showdown of sorts—right?"
~ Leffords:
  "In the vernacular—yes."

~ Tom Hollingsworth:
  "Weaver left just before the shot."
~ Morgan Weaver:
  "He's not his nephew until he proves it in court."

References and resources:
- "said the jehu": "Originally a commander of chariots for Ahab, king of Israel, Jehu later led a revolt against the throne and became king himself. In the Bible, it is noted of Jehu that 'he drives furiously' (II Kings 9:20). In the 17th century, English speakers began using jehu as a generic term meaning 'coachman' or, specifically, 'a fast or reckless coachman.' Today, we are more likely to use the word in reference to reckless cabdrivers. The phrase drives like Jehu is encountered occasionally, too." (Merriam-Webster HERE).
- "a descendant of Captain Isaac Hull of the Constitution": Hull (1773-1843) was an accomplished sailor, to say the least. "For the infant U.S. Navy, the battle of USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812, at the beginning of the war, was the most important single ship action of the War of 1812 and one that made Isaac Hull a national hero." (Wikipedia HERE). His most famous command (launched in 1797) is still around. "USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. She is the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat." (Wikipedia HERE). As for "Major General Hull": "Hull was also uncle to Isaac Hull, son of his brother Joseph. Joseph died while Isaac was young, so Hull adopted the boy. Isaac commanded the USS Constitution during the War of 1812." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a police positive in his right hand": A venerable sidearm. "The Colt Police Positive is a small-frame, double-action revolver featuring a six-round cylinder, chambered for either .32 or .38 caliber. It was also offered in .22 caliber cartridges. Designed primarily for sale to federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies, the Police Positive was introduced into the firearms market by Colt's Manufacturing Company in 1905." (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've been sampling Samuel Kimball Merwin, Jr.'s fiction for quite a while now, mainly his SFF, such as "Arbiter" (HERE) and "Third Alternative" (HERE).
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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"There Was Another Dead Man Aboard the Constellation"

"Morgue Ship."
By Ray Bradbury (1920-2012).
Illustration by [Joseph] Doolin (1896-1967; HERE).

First appearance: Planet Stories, Summer 1944.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "Two men. Rice and himself. Sharing a cozy morgue ship with a hundred other men who had forgotten, quite suddenly, however, to talk again."

"You never catch up with the war." True enough, but sooner or later the war will catch up with you . . .

Main characters:
~ Sam Burnett:
  "This would be his last trip, or he'd know the reason why!"
~ Rice:
  "Only dead men belong here."
~ Lethla:
  "That's how I did it, Earthman."
~ Kriere:
  ". . . the All-Mighty."

References and resources:
- "majordomo": "A majordomo is a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes charge for another." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "this Venusian here": In 1944 Bradbury, like many SFF writers of the period, could get away with populating Venus with life forms, but science has moved on. "Fictional representations of the planet Venus have existed since the 19th century. Its impenetrable cloud cover gave science fiction writers free rein to speculate on conditions at its surface; all the more so when early observations showed that not only was it very similar in size to Earth, it possessed a substantial atmosphere. Closer to the Sun than Earth, the planet was frequently depicted as warmer, but still habitable by humans. The genre reached its peak between the 1930s and 1950s, at a time when science had revealed some aspects of Venus, but not yet the harsh reality of its surface conditions." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).

- "a new war concerning Io": As with Venus, space probes since our story was published have shown Io to be none too hospitable. "Io, or Jupiter I, is the innermost and third-largest of the four Galilean moons of the planet Jupiter. It is the fourth-largest moon in the Solar System, has the highest density of all of them, and has the lowest amount of water (by atomic ratio) of any known astronomical object in the Solar System. It was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and was named after the mythological character Io, a priestess of Hera who became one of Zeus's lovers. With over 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- Even now, with everything getting flushed down the memory hole, Ray Douglas Bradbury is still widely remembered: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), a tribute site (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE; 104 screen credits).
- We previously featured Bradbury's "The Pedestrian" (HERE), a story with a theme promoting individual freedom that's more timely than ever. (Note: The second off-site link is now dead.)

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Friday, September 11, 2020

"You Know, I Always Think of Everything"

DETECTIVE FICTION AUTHORS seem to delight in setting up impossible crime scenarios, only to show how in every instance they can unravel for an infinity of unanticipated reasons; for example, here's one such showing us an overconfident killer making a . . .

"Fatal Mistake."
By John Basye Price (1906-56).
First appearance: Suspense Magazine, Summer 1951.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "This business coup is my own invention."

You might have heard of "cutthroat" business practices, meaning intense activity to gain a competitive edge, but that can go too far . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jack Morton:
  "Here you see the profit I shall make from this transaction."
~ Vickers:
  ". . . had been too dazed to speak, but suddenly he began to laugh."

References and resources:
- "Murder, Inc., and certain Kefauver Committee witnesses": "Murder, Inc. (Murder, Incorporated) was an organized crime group in the 1930s and '40s that acted as the enforcement arm of the Italian-American Mafia, Jewish Mob, and connected organized crime groups in New York City and elsewhere. The group was mainly composed of Jewish-American gangsters and Italian-American gangsters." (Wikipedia HERE). "The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce was a special committee of the United States Senate which existed from 1950 to 1951 and which investigated organized crime which crossed state borders in the United States. The committee became popularly known as the Kefauver Committee because of its chairman, Senator Estes Kefauver. The term capo di tutti capi was introduced to the U.S. public by the Kefauver Commission." (Wikipedia HERE).
- John Basye Price's very small crime fiction output consisted of just four stories (FictionMags data): 
  (1) "Fatal Mistake," Suspense Magazine, Summer 1951 (above)
  (2) "Murder for Fine Art," The London Mystery Magazine #14 (1952)
  (3) "Death and the Rope Trick," The London Mystery Magazine #21 (1954)
  (4) "The Combination Lock," London Mystery Selection #43 (1959).
- If you're interested in a real life impossible crime of the locked room variety, see our article featuring Ben Hecht's "The Mystery of the Fabulous Laundryman" (HERE).
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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"No Form of Physical Violence Could Succeed"

"Of Those Who Came."
By George Longdon (Francis G. Rayer, 1921-81).
Illustrations by [Gerard] Quinn (1927-2015; HERE).
First appearance: New Worlds, November 1952.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "My sworn duty was to destroy them. Their plan was to eliminate me."

He knows that one slip-up could cost him his life—and then comes that slip-up . . .

Main characters:
~ "Mr. Smith":
  ". . . it was as good a name as any . . . In my job one seldom used one's own name."
~ The manager:
  "The proprietor of the next town's only hotel greeted me with smiles, and I saw that he remembered my week's stay and large tips."
~ The youth:
  ". . . was frankly asleep, now, and snoring. I passed him and emerged into the street."
~ Diesnar:
  "You know I shall have to kill you."
~ Iago:
  "I do not fear death."
Geewhiz tech:
  The resonant disintegrator ("the piezo-electric and waveform generator"): "I opened my eyes in time to see the last wisps of green mist shred away into nothing and dissipate on the air. . . . Better that I never return at all, than return without it."
  The ship: ". . . the power that sustained it had been turned off, leaving it a fragile tracery of spidery girders almost as thin as wire, and vulnerable now that the lines of force forming the hull had been collapsed."

References and resources:
- "I stopped the saloon": British term for a sedan. "The spanner brought from the car": Another British term for a wrench. "a torch": A commonly used British term for a flashlight. "cove": Australian and British slang for a fellow.
- "bright Sirius": At 8.6 light-years (roughly 51 trillion miles) away, Sirius "designated α Canis Majoris (Latinized to Alpha Canis Majoris, abbreviated Alpha CMa, α CMa) is the brightest star in the night sky. Its name is derived from the Greek word Σείριος Seirios 'glowing' or 'scorching'." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE). Often called "the Dog Star."
- "piezo-electric": "Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure and latent heat." (Wikipedia HERE).
- The basic setup of our story bears more than a passing resemblance to Hal Clement's Needle (serialized in 1949; novelized in 1950), published two years earlier than our story, although plot and character details are different; see Wikipedia (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE).
- What information we have about Francis George Rayer is in Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
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Saturday, September 5, 2020

"They Had Found Nothing At All, Neither the Murdered Nor, Of Course, the Murderer"

"Elusive Witness."
By Georges Simenon (1903-89).
Translated from the French ("Le Témoignage de l’Enfant de Chœur," in Maigret et l’Inspecteur Malgracieux, 1947; translator unknown).
First appearance in English: Suspense Magazine, Summer 1951.
Novelette (18 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "But what became of the body?"

An excellent question under the circumstances; but, equally problematic are the witnesses, who, for reasons of their own, are, to a greater or lesser degree, all unreliable.

Principal characters:
~ Justin:
  "I don't want to go there any more. I'm scared."
~ Besson:
  "Chief, you don't believe a good spanking would lead to a solution?"
~ The judge:
  "And you, if I'm not mistaken, are the famous Inspector Maigret, whom the authorities have deigned to send to our city to overhaul the Mobile Squad . . ."
~ Inspector Jules Maigret:
  "I have a feeling I'm going to solve it in just a few minutes, if I don't lose my 
train of thought . . ."
~ Madame Maigret:
  "I knew you'd find a good excuse."
Resources:
- According to FictionMags, Suspense Magazine was "a second attempt to cash in on the popular CBS radio mystery show of the same name, this version also ran for only four issues but included a wider range of material including a lot of science fiction."
- There's no shortage of info about Georges Joseph Christian Sim, a.k.a. Simenon, on the Interweb: Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), Steve Trussel's huge Maigret website (homepage 
HERE and WARNING! SPOILERS! story page HERE), and Books and Writers (HERE).
- For a while there, Simenon was all the rage, primarily lionized by the intelligentsia for his nearly five hundred novels, principally because they tended to "transcend the genre," never a good idea in our view when you're limiting yourself to the unique genre of detective fiction, which is incapable of being transcended without destroying it. Ellery Queen, the editor, reprinted several dozen Simenon short stories in EQMM (intermittently, 1942-77). Apart from Maigret, FictionMags lists his other series characters: Joseph Leborgne (1929 and 1932), Dr. Jean Dollent (1943 and 1947), G.7 (1932 and 1947), and Monsieur Froget (4 stories in EQMM: 1942, 1944, 1946, 1948).
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