Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"No, I Don't Know What a Ray-gun Looks Like"

"Mystery of the White Raider."
By Thornton Ayre (John Russell Fearn, 1908-60).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, February 1940.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"Who was the horrible white monster who raided Square 14, in Manhattan, and what was it he sought in the ruins? Was he from an underground world or was he a human freak?"
Chapter titles: "The Work of a Fiend" — "Episode at the Bridge" — "The Decoy Theft" — "Metamorphosis" — Last page: Author's discussion of the story.

In the distant future (1990), a heinous and apparently unmotivated massacre occurs, and the boys from the Scientific Investigation Bureau have their hands full trying to pin down an assailant who, to all appearances, looks unpindownable—and what's with the killer's homicidal fascination with miniature calligraphy?

Principal characters:
~ Chief Inspector Vincent Burke, Head of the Scientific Investigation Bureau's homicide squad:
   "Now get this boys. We're up against either a planetary murderer or else an insane man. If the former, he's the first visitor from another world, but that doesn't make him less dangerous; the opposite, in fact. We've got to find him! . . . Get him—dead or alive!"
~ "Sphinx" Grantham, Burke's personal assistant:
   "This is absurd. Why a ray-gun? We don't even use 'em yet."
~ Arthur Corton, an eyewitness:
   "I—I saw him—for a moment. About six feet tall, nearly naked, color of wet bread—"
~ "Big Boss" Calman, head of the Bureau:
   "But how did the Outcast get in here without being seen?"
~ Dr. Rayfrew, chief medical examiner:
   "You'll see for yourself the organs of this creature are utterly different from ours."
~ Officer Higson:
   "Come right away or it'll be too late."
~ An antique dealer:
   "He stole my rice, my instruments, and—and ransacked the place."
~ Terry Walton of the Salvage Department:
   "This what you were wanting, Burke? We dug it out of the river bed as you ordered."
~ The chief keeper of the safety vault:
   "Good heavens, you don't mean I was drawn off to recite all that stuff and there was nobody listening on the other end!"
~ Bradshaw, a scientist and inventor:
   "I know plenty of war-mongers on this world would like that ray of mine for destructive purposes."

~ The Frequency Detector:
   "The 'fingerprint' instrument of the future, taking the electrical aura of any living body and registering it in so many frequencies. No two bodies can have the same set of frequencies, any more than there can be two identical sets of fingerprints. — Author."
~ Base boxes:
   "The car went on, stopped at last in the middle of the great bridge where there reposed a base box—apparatus not unlike a railway signal box of old. There were seventy of these in the city, all told, from which the various operators of the Bureau controlled their particular quarter of the metropolis. They were in truth the police precinct stations of this advanced year."
- Anybody as prolific as John Russell Fearn simply had to leave behind evidence of his existence: Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... the SFE HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.
- Fearn was fluent in just about all pulp genres, including crime and mystery fiction; see Pretty Sinister Books HERE and HERE, The Locked Room Mystery HERE, and Mike Grost's megasite HERE ("At least a dozen of his [Fearn's] 1940's and 1950's detective novels and stories involve impossible crimes").
- FictionMags has not only a listing HERE for Fearn but also a separate one for his series character Violet Ray, The Golden Amazon HERE ("Fearn frankly admitted that the character of the Amazon was 'Tarzanesque' in origin—an infant lost in the jungle. But Violet Ray had been lost in the jungles of Venus, not Africa, a survivor of a crashed spaceship"); see also a thorough article by Philip Harbottle about this character on The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box site HERE.
- About two dozen of Fearn's SF stories have been collected on an Amazon Kindle Megapack HERE.
- Shapeshifting is an ancient concept found in most cultures; see Wikipedia HERE for a big article about it. Star Trek, for instance, has had more than its share of protean life forms; see Memory Alpha HERE.
- Our story involves Uranus, the first planet to be discovered with a telescope; see Wikipedia HERE for its treatment in fiction and HERE for what we actually know about it.

The bottom line:
   I can add colors to the chameleon,
   Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
   And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
   Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
   — Shakespeare

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