Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Two Tongues of Flame Spat Forth in Quick Succession, but Only One Contained a Messenger of Death"

OUR author, "Raymond Lester," was, in fact, a lady, Dahlia Trenchant, whose writing career ran from 1919 to 1930—and that's basically all we know about her. "Raymond Lester's" main markets were All-Story Weekly, Argosy, a couple of reprints in The Underworld, and even one in Detective Story Magazine (all data from FictionMags). In both of the following diverting yarns nothing but trouble results from what later proves to be a simple misunderstanding.

"The Fatal Test."
By Raymond Lester (Dahlia Trenchant, 1902-65).
First appearance: All-Story Weekly, October 25, 1919.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"Neither you nor I are cut out for love in a cottage."
Dear rich, kind-hearted Olivia: She has let things go too far between her stepsister and her unfaithful husband, to the point where murder—and suicide—seem the only way out . . .

Typos: "Juliette will find she did not gage my temperament exactly"; "gaged the full significance of his words."
~ ~ ~
"Oh Fanny!"
By Raymond Lester (Dahlia Trenchant, 1902-65).
First appearance: All-Story Weekly, November 15, 1919.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"I am not superstitious, but when the same sleuth-like fellow trails two nice-appearing girls through three stores it is time to think of going home."
Not your typical department store customers, Fanny and Ruth:
"It is my job to watch and yours to pinch," retorted Fanny as they approached the exit. "I’m the eyes and you are the hands . . ."
Yes, they're shoplifters—and near panic because they're certain they've been "made" by a dick with a face like chopped beef:
"He doesn’t care where we live. All he wants to do is to get us on the job and with the goods on us. We might of course get away with it for a day or even a week, but sooner or later he would land us. He’s big and ugly and slow on his feet, but those pig eyes of his are gimlets that bore holes right through my pluck and give me the creeps. I got the smell of the police court and a nasty three by seven cell directly I saw him, I tell you—"
All of a sudden their comfortable existence, the result of their efficiency as thieves, seems to be in jeopardy. Fanny, for one, isn't just going to take it:
 "It is time I got busy. I’m not going without anything to eat to-night, so shut up and let me think. We’ve been up against it before, and when the old game has petered out I’ve generally managed to pull off something or other."
And pull off something they do, momentarily forgetting "the gentleman of the features described by Fanny as genus hamburgian"—but he hasn't forgotten them . . .

Typo: "the gentlemen with the hamburger countenance"

The bottom line: "A Pennsylvania woman convicted for shoplifting was sentenced to wear a badge that reads Convicted Shoplifter. However, her lawyers hope to plea bargain down to a bumper sticker reading I'd Rather Be Stealing."
Jimmy Fallon

Monday, August 22, 2016

"You Were a Fool to Let Ruzza and Me Live"

"Saturn’s Ringmaster."
By Raymond Z. Gallun (1911-94).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"Helplessly Marooned in Space, Earthman and Uranian Devise a Cunning Trap for an Interplanetary Outlaw!"
Korse Bradlow ("greatest rogue within the orbit of Pluto") has ambushed Raff Orethon, a Space Patrol policeman, and his little pal Ruzza of Uranus on their way to Titan, robbed them of their valuable cargo, and left them to die, the dirty cur, on one of the millions of icy rocks that orbit Saturn and make up its beautiful ring system:
The spectacle around them was the most grandly beautiful in the solar system, and perhaps in the entire universe. The large meteor on which they were ma-rooned was one of myriads that were in sight. Their range in size was tremen-dous; some were as massive as small mountains, while an immeasurable host of others were as fine as grains of dust. Glowing silvery with the reflected rays of the distant sun, they formed a tremendous arching pathway, the width of several Earths.
Close at hand, the path was murky, like a haze; but distance sharpened its out-lines until it became a great ribbon curving around the cloud-wrapped bulk of Saturn. Each cosmic lump and particle that composed it was a minute moon of the monster planet.
Beyond the filmy texture of the Rings, the greater satellites glowed sullenly—Mimas, Rhea, Titan, Tethys—Tethys, home of Bradlow’s band. Beyond the moon were the stars, eerily bright against the frigid blackness of infinity.
Under other circumstances Raff Orethon might have found the view even more interesting. But now the harsh grandeur of it only served to emphasize the help-lessness of his position. His spaceboat was wrecked beyond any possibility of repair; a glance through the shattered observation window at its crumpled prow, gleaming in the contrasting lights of many spheres, was enough to tell him that.
And it was not only his life and the Uranian’s that would be lost; many Titan colonists would perish, and many others would be reduced to a state of slavery. Korse Bradlow would have his way now.
The Esar repulsor machine models that Raff was transporting to Titan are definitely worth the attention of a space pirate like Bradlow, constituting a real threat to him:
When a full-sized Esar apparatus had been constructed, its deadly energy shield would screen the domes of the colony, rendering them forever impervious to attack. But meanwhile police craft could continue their assaults on Bradlow’s camp on Tethys without fear of reprisal.
But in his haste to get away—and like so many criminal narcissists who imagine they're untouchable—Bradlow has overlooked something, a small, seemingly unimportant something:
Ruzza was a native of the buried caves of Uranus. It was his bulk, which would have weighed a scant three pounds on Earth, that caused Raff’s pocket to bulge. Ruzza was a grotesquely humorous demonstration of the fact that all intelligent forms of life need not be wrought in human shape. His body was a ball of leath-ery brown flesh, pronged with sensitive prehensile feelers. Four of them, longer and thicker than the others, and covered by protecting sheaths of transparent, cellophane-like material, were thrust ludicrously out of the top of the pocket. They wavered from side to side with a restless motion.
At their tips, looking through the clear texture of his odd space attire, were bright, beady, intelligent eyes. Ruzza was a scientist of note in his own country. His association with Orethon—a matter now of seven Earth months—was an ex-pression of an adventurous yearning in the unnamed soul of the tiny creature. He had paid in bars of priceless actinium for the privilege of traveling around with Orethon on his police duties; and though the young Earthman had often found Ruzza’s constant presence annoying, he had endured it because of the pay. Any enterprising youth would have done so.
In not killing Raff and that three-pound ball of intelligence, Bradlow has made his biggest mistake:
"Wait, Raff Orethon, I have the beginning of a plan. I will explain."
He listened while the Uranian outlined his sketchily conceived scheme in low, buzzing tones. His hard young face, illumined by the contrasting lights of Saturn’s system, underwent many swift changes. First it showed the chagrin of doubt, then dawning wonder, then hope. Finally all his natural enthusiasm and resourcefulness, which had seemed to be drained out of him, returned.
Our author's knowledge of the requirements of spaceflight at first seems a little more sophisticated than that of his contemporary scribblers:
It might have been the fiery wake of any ordinary spacecraft, building up speed. The rockets of vessels that navigate the ether are not continuously active during flight. They flame only when a change in velocity or direction is necessary; otherwise, in the frictionless void, no application of power is required. A ship can coast on at undiminished speed for an indefinite if not infinite distance.
But then:
The golden ship of the Ringmaster executed a quick hairpin turn, its rockets flaming.
- Concerning our author, Ray Gallun: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); at the moment, Project Gutenberg has 8 other titles by Gallun (HERE).
- Concerning Saturn: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- Concerning Uranus: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).

The bottom line: "A man with a briefcase can steal millions more than any man with a gun."
Don Henley

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"The Beloved Fable of Baker Street"

"The Immortal Sherlock Holmes."
The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio play by Orson Welles, adapted from Sherlock Holmes (1899) by William Gillette.
First aired: September 25, 1938. Original running time: 55 minutes 5 seconds.
Script at Generic Radio Workshop HERE; recording at YouTube HERE.
The cast:
   Dr. Watson . . . Ray Collins
   Alice Faulkner . . . Mary Taylor
   Madge Larrabee . . . Brenda Forbes
   James Larrabee . . . Edgar Barrier
   Inspector Forman . . . Morgan Farley
   Craigin . . . Richard Wilson
   Bassick . . . Alfred Shirley
   Leary . . . William Alland
   Billy . . . Arthur Anderson
   Professor Moriarty . . . Eustace Wyatt
   Sherlock Holmes . . . Orson Welles
   Orchestra conductor . . . Bernard Herrmann
   Production supervisor for CBS . . . Davidson Taylor
   Announcer . . . Frank Gallop.
Orson Welles introduces his version of the Great Detective:
Good evening. Well, tonight it's back to Baker Street. Back to that unlikely London of the nineteenth century where high adventure awaits all who would seek it, in a hansom cab or under a gas lamp in an Inverness cape. For tonight we pay tribute to the most wonderful member of that most wonderful world — a gentleman who never lived, and who will never die.
There are only a few of them, these permanent profiles, everlasting silhouettes on the edge of the world. There is, first, the little hunchback with the slap-stick whose hook nose is shaped like his cap. There is now and always will be the penguin-footed hobo in the derby and the baggy pants. And the small boy with the wooden head. And the long rusty knight on horseback. And the fat knight who could only procure a charge on foot. There is also the tall gentleman with the hawk's face, and the underslung pipe, and the fore-and-aft cap. We'd know them anywhere and call them easily by name: Punch; and the Charlies, Chaplin and McCarthy; Quixote; Sir John; and Sherlock Holmes.
Now, irrelevant as this may seem, we of the Mercury Theatre are very much occupied these days with rehearsals for a revival of a fine old American farce a lot of you will remember, if only for its lovely title — which is "Too Much Johnson." Its author was William Gillette, which reminded us, as it reminds you, of Sherlock Holmes. As everybody knows, that celebrated American inventor of underacting leant his considerable gifts as a playwright to the indestructible legend of the Conan Doyle detective and produced the play which is as much a part of the Holmes literature as any of Sir Arthur's own romances.
And, as nobody will ever forget, he gave his face to him. For William Gillette was the aquiline and actual embodiment of Holmes himself. It is too little to say that William Gillette resembled Sherlock Holmes; Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette. Sounds like him, too, we're afraid, and hope devoutly that the Mercury Theatre and the radio will take none of the glamor from the beloved fable of Baker Street; from the pipe and the violin and the hideous purple dress-ing-gown; from the needle and the cigar on the window ledge, and the dry, final, famous lines — "Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary. The mere child's play of deduction."
If you'd like to see what changes were wrought during the live broadcast (some lines were cut), go to the script page at Generic Radio Works, then open another tab and follow along with the recording.

The bottom line: "Sometime when you have a year or two to spare I commend to you the study of Professor Moriarty."
Sherlock Holmes

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"The Creeping, Lurking Death That Darkened the Ship with Its Unescapable Shadow"

"Salvage in Space."
By Jack Williamson (1908-2006).
First appearance: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1933.
Collected in The Early Williamson (1975).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg HERE and at FeedBooks HERE; audio version HERE (1 hour 4 minutes 23 seconds).
"To Thad Allen, meteor miner, comes the dangerous bonanza of a derelict rocket-flier manned by death invisible."
Thad Allen, an independent rock rat trying to eke out a dangerous living prospecting the asteroids, sometimes has to ward off those feelings of alienation that come from being out there, all alone:
The strangeness of interplanetary space, and the somber mystery of it, pressed upon him like an illimitable and deserted ocean. The sun was a tiny white disk on his right, hanging between rosy coronal wings; his native Earth, a bright greenish point suspended in the dark gulf below it; Mars, nearer, smaller, a little ocher speck above the shrunken sun. Above him, below him, in all directions was vastness, blackness, emptiness. Ebon infinity, sprinkled with far, cold stars. Thad was alone. Utterly alone. No man was visible, in all the supernal vastness of space. And no work of man—save the few tools of his daring trade, and the glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him. It was terrible to think that the nearest human being must be tens of millions of miles away. On his first trips, the loneliness had been terrible, unendurable. Now he was becoming accustomed to it. At least, he no longer feared that he was going mad. But sometimes....
Then he comes across the Red Dragon, a galactic derelict:
Could he board her, and take her to Mars? By law, it was his duty to attempt to aid any helpless ship, or at least to try to save any endangered lives upon her. And the salvage award, if the ship should be deserted and he could bring her safe to port, would be half her value. No mean prize, that. Half the value of ship and cargo! More than he was apt to earn in years of mining the meteor-belt.
While that seems like a good idea at the time, Thad doesn't have an inkling of the ordeal he's about to undergo—and certainly not how useful a jar of face powder can be . . .

~ A simple (too simple) atomic rocket:
   "On the other side of this tiny sphere of hard-won treasure, his Millen atomic rocket was sputtering, spurts of hot blue flame jetting from its exhaust. A simple mechanism, bolted to the first sizable fragment he had captured, it drove the iron ball through space like a ship. Through the magnetic soles of his insulated boots, Thad could feel the vibration of the iron mass, beneath the rocket's regular thrust."
~ No radar, just the Mark One eyeball:
   "He clambered to a better position; stood peering out into space, searching for the tiny gleam of sunlight on a meteoric fragment that might be worth capturing for its content of precious metals. For an hour he scanned the black, star-strewn gulf, as the sputtering rocket continued to drive him forward. . . . He studied the tiny speck intently, with practised eye, as the minutes passed—an untrained eye would never have seen it at all, among the flaming hosts of stars. Skilfully he judged, from its apparent rate of motion and its slow increase in brilliance, its size and distance from him."
. . . and no radio:
   "The officers of interplanetary liners lose no love upon the meteor miners, claiming that their collected masses of metal, almost helpless, always underpowered, are menaces to navigation. Thad could expect nothing from the ship save a heliographed warning to keep clear."
~ Low-tech grappling, no computers:
   "Rapidly he unslung from his belt the apparatus he used to capture meteors. A powerful electromagnet, with a thin, strong wire fastened to it, to be hurled from a helix-gun. He set the drum on which the wire was wound upon the metal at his feet, fastened it with its magnetic anchor, wondering if it would stand the terrific strain when the wire tightened. Raising the helix to his shoulder, he trained it upon a point well ahead of the rushing flier, and stood waiting for the exact moment to press the lever."
~ In space, no one can hear . . . anything:
   "Thad pressed the key that hurled the magnet from the helix. It flung away from him, the wire screaming from the reel behind it."
~ The usual pre-space program Solar System:
   "He climbed on down, feeling for the light button. He found it, as his feet touched the floor. Blue light flooded the hold. It was filled with monstrous things, colossal creatures, such as nothing that ever lived upon the Earth; like nothing known in the jungles of Venus or the deserts of Mars, or anything that has been found upon Jupiter's moons."
~ Zeronel, a super drug whose effects might wear off . . .
   ". . . perhaps in a year, perhaps in a hundred. The purity of my drugs is uncertain, and the injection was made hastily, so I do not know the exact time that must elapse."

Note: Our narrative doesn't fit the usual SF-mystery-crime template that we use to select stories for this weblog, being more of an Alien/Forbidden Planet/It! The Terror from Beyond Space monster hunt mashup thriller; yes, there are mysterious elements, but as a detective our protagonist is remarkably slow on the uptake when it comes to assembling clues that would show him how perilous his situation really is.

- Titania, the largest moon of Uranus (see HERE), figures heavily in our story—although the author's imagination does get a little out of hand, describing it as "the third and largest satellite of Uranus; [having] unearthly forests, sheltering strange and monstrous life . . ."
Whatever you do, don't go there.
- We've already dealt with the notion of salvaging things from the Big Up and Out (HERE).

The bottom line: ". . . I had seen the princess and let her lie there unawakened, because the happily ever after was so damnably much work."
Orson Scott Card

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

July's Top 5

Last month's top post concerned the locked room mystery subgenre, signaling to us an abiding interest among you Dear Readers in impossible crimes that, clueless critics not-withstanding, simply will not go away. We've also added the most popular postings from
the previous two years.

~ July 2016 ~
(1) The Locked Room Mystery in the Mid-Twentieth Century (with One from the Twenty-first) (HERE)
(2) "As He Died—by Accident or Design—or Maybe Just That Bad Luck Which Works Against Every Murderer—He Branded You" (HERE)
(3) "We Both Went Down Onto the Bare Boards of the Stage and Didi Cheri, Still Yelling, Jumped on Top of Both of Us" (HERE)
(4) "This Here West Coast Publicks a Bunch a Crooks" (HERE)
(5) Decisions, Decisions (HERE)

~ July 2014 ~
(1) "Although This Is an Eccentric Book, It Has Plenty of Plus Points" (HERE)
(2) "These Stories Are, Altogether, More Amusing Than Intriguing" (HERE)
(3) "Scenery Is Delightful, Writing Good, Sleuth Clever, and Criminal Elusive" (HERE)
(4) "It Is a Negligible Affair, a Chip in Porridge, an Eloquent Sermon on the Old Text" (HERE)
(5) "Simply One More Instance of an Author Who Shirks a Technical Difficulty" (HERE)

~ July 2015 ~
(1) Two Dozen (Nearly) Detectives All in One Place (HERE)
(2) "All He Could Say Was That He Hadn't Known Miss Bargain Was Like That" (HERE)
(3) "Now, If You Attempt to Stop Him, I Swear Before God I'll Shoot You!" (HERE)
(4) SCRIBNER'S Reviews II (HERE)
(5) "It Was a Rainy Night, and I Heard a Fog-horn Out in the River" (HERE)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"If There’s Shootin’—As I Expec’—You Two Come a Runnin’"

If you define a "series" as being comprised of at least two parts, then we think we've come across another series amateur sleuth character who so far hasn't been designated as such, Jimmy Calton, a creation of our old pal Murray Leinster. We know for a fact that Calton appeared in two stories published in All-Story Weekly pre-1920 (they're featured below); we're not sure, however, if there might have been more. A story entitled "Fingerprints," also in All-Story Weekly prior to these two, could be a Jimmy Calton adventure, but we can't find a copy of it anywhere.

As you read, be prepared for Leinster's not altogether successful attempt at dialect writing, in this case "translating American slang into ’dobe Spanish"; trying to painstakingly reproduce local dialects was once quite popular, especially in Anglo-American fiction, but has since fallen into desuetude.

By Murray Leinster (1896-1975).
First appearance: All-Story Weekly, October 12, 1918.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"Jimmy Calton spends his time discussing how most people observe the world, mentioning Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter in passing. Then he gets the op-portunity to put his observations into practice when he runs into some Mexican bandits."
If you're going to have a revolution, you'll be needing a lot of money. Should your crowd-funding campaign fail, you might try to get a loan from the bank—but there is another method that involves a lot less paperwork: steal it. If, however, you can't grab it outright, then kidnap someone important to whoever does have the money and extort it from them. And that's just what a two-bit border revolutionary does to the wife of a wealthy mine owner; not a brilliant plan, certainly, but one that's usually effective. The whole thing would've worked, too, if Jimmy Calton hadn't got involved.

Jimmy's friend, a newspaper reporter, tolerates Jimmy's sometimes tiresome aw-shucks demeanor, even if it means putting up with his unremarkable thinking:
Jimmy, as a story-teller, was amusing, but as a philosopher he was dull.
You'll have to judge for yourself just how deeply Jimmy's philosophical musings actually go after hearing him say things like:
"When a man is lyin’ he’s pretty sure to be plausible. When he contradicts him-self he knows what he’s talking about."
~ ~ ~
By Murray Leinster (1896-1975).
First appearance: All-Story Weekly, July 12, 1919.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE, ManyBooks HERE, and Jerry's House of Everything HERE.
"Jimmy Calton decides to get involved in a murder case, and takes part in an inquest into the murder. Is there such a thing as too much truth being presented in evidence?"
We're constantly being told that truth is relative, depending on how you look at it. In this instance, Jimmy Calton proves that telling the truth can result in a lie, and that an innocent man could get hanged because of it.

Bonus Story:
Here's a much later and more sophisticated Leinster tale (as by Will F. Jenkins, his real name):
   ~ "Night Drive" (1950), text (HERE, 10 pages, PDF); audio at Forgotten Classics (HERE: 58 minutes 28 seconds—story starts about 19 minutes in).

- "Grooves" takes place during a largely forgotten period of American history known as The Border War (1910-19); see Wikipedia (HERE) for more about that turbulent time. Additionally, the fact of a major character being sinistral and how that helps to resolve the situation should go a long way towards dispelling the mythology that has accrued regarding that condition; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- A lengthy tribute article about Murray Leinster in his SF pulpster mode is (HERE).
- We last met up with Leinster (HERE).

The bottom line: "I've never noticed that being nonsensical keeps things from happening. Don’t you ever read about politics?"
— Will F. Jenkins

Saturday, August 13, 2016

"The Only Sign of Its Presence Was a Trail of Theft and Murder"

"What Happened to Professor Stockley?"
By E. M. Scott (?-?).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, December 1931.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at SFF Audio HERE (PDF).
"IN its very simplification, life is becoming ever more complex. There was a time when a robber could, by just running out of some ambush, stage a hold-up and get away with it by sheer force of arms. Now, however, one is not safe any-where, even armed. There might be any number of inventive geniuses in the midst of vast criminal organizations—therein lies the danger. What the bitter scientist in this story concocted was said by everybody to be absolutely impos-sible—yet read what really happened."
Pittsburgh is under siege, suffering through a crime wave that has all the authorities from the mayor down to the cop on the beat flummoxed; someone, or some agency, is running wild stealing and murdering at will undetected and undeterred, but selectively, plundering only the wealthy.

As if that weren't bad enough, an important individual vanishes:
Professor Lee Stockley, world famous inventor, scientist, philosopher and meta-physician had mysteriously disappeared. What had happened to him? Was he a victim of foul play or had he wandered off under a spell of mental aberration?
Since enquiring minds want to know, when the criminal rampage suddenly goes away, "the newspapers," in looking about "for other circulation boosting material" in place of the crime wave, find it in the Professor's disappearance.

Could Stockley's mysterious vanishment have anything at all to do with the series of crimes Pittsburghers have had to endure? Does a bear go in the woods?
This is the city, Pittsburgh, PA.
Typos: "The mayor, a puritanical nonenity"; "at least not in Pittsburg."

- Whoever "E. M. Scott" was, he didn't write much (under this name, anyway); see the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "The possession of wealth leads almost inevitably to its abuse. It is the chief, if not the only, cause of evils which desolate this world below. The thirst for gold is responsible for the most regrettable lapses into sin."
Jules Verne