Saturday, July 30, 2016

"Why Do You Humans Prey on One Another, in This and So Many Other Phases of Life?"

"Adam Link, Robot Detective."
By "Eando Binder" (Otto Binder, 1911-74).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, May 1940.
Collected in Adam Link — Robot (1965) (available on Kindle; for sale HERE).
TV appearances (2): The Outer Limits ("I, Robot"), November 14, 1964 and (remake) July 23, 1995.
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at Archive.org HERE (if necessary scroll to page 42).
A few pages from the comics version scripted by Binder HERE.
"Adam Link, the strangest character ever to gain the status of a human being, finds a new field for his talents and dons human guise to become a detective."
More human than most humans, Adam Link, the ethical robot, gets himself into a peck of trouble when Eve, his soulmate, is framed for several murders and he must go incognito into a twilight world of human dregs and criminals to ferret out the gang (straight from Central Casting) that set her up. While he's doing that, we'll also learn why, for reasons that should be obvious, Adam makes a superb poker player.

Chapter I:
   "It had begun to rain. Kneeling beside her, I removed my top skull-plate. The rain, pouring into my sensitive iridium-sponge brain, would short-circuit my life current. I would join Eve in blessed non-existence."
Chapter II - My Disguise:
   "Most humans unconsciously glance at someone passing. Their glances at me showed nothing of surprise or suspicion. Only at times, a slight repugnance. A wholly natural reaction, in that I was no debonair fashion-plate, but a seedy, degenerate looking individual."
Chapter III - My First Clue:
   "'You play a mean game, Pete. You sit there like a mummy. You don't even move your eyes. You really concentrate!' I laughed within myself. If they had only known that little more than one-tenth of my brain was on this trivial game. All the while my full mental powers were concentrated on scanning the room and tuning in methodically from conversation to conver-sation."
Chapter IV - I Am "Taken for a Ride":
   "Suddenly two ugly automatics were pointing at me, from both sides at once. The men had come around the boxes. I could have leaped away, easily, even then. But again something warned me not to risk exposure of my identity. Better to act the part of a human, caught like a rat in a trap."
Chapter V - The Crime Ring:
   "As the minutes slipped by, I was amazed at the ramifications of his ring. I began to doubt he could be a human being. He must be a frightful monster, human in name only."
Chapter VI - I Go to the Rescue:
   "Now was the moment. Within me, my distributor clicked over little automatic relays that released a flood of electricity through my steely frame. With one blow of my fist I splintered the door in half. I sprang into the room. Five startled men jerked around."
Chapter VII - I Face a "Monster":
   "But they weren't fools. I had underestimated them. I didn't notice till too late what one held in his hand—a bomb grenade. He pulled the pin and tossed it at my feet. It exploded with a dull thunder. I swayed, then toppled."
Chapter VIII - The Final Hour:
   "Adam Link, detective! This is your first and last case. Goodbye!"
Here are the ten Adam Link stories:
~ "I, Robot," Amazing Stories, January 1939
~ "The Trial of Adam Link, Robot," Amazing Stories, July 1939
~ "Adam Link in Business," Amazing Stories, January 1940
~ "Adam Link's Vengeance," Amazing Stories, February 1940
~ "Adam Link, Robot Detective," Amazing Stories, May 1940
~ "Adam Link, Champion Athlete," Amazing Stories, July 1940
~ "Adam Link Fights a War," Amazing Stories, December 1940
~ "Adam Link in the Past," Amazing Stories, February 1941
~ "Adam Link Faces a Revolt," Amazing Stories, May 1941
~ "Adam Link Saves the World," Amazing Stories, April 1942.
(Note: Four Amazing Stories covers featuring Adam Link on one page are HERE.)
Resources:
- A good short account about Adam Link is on Allreaders.com:
Adam Link is one sadly misunderstood robot. Humans treat him like a monster, but he really is a robot with real human emotions. He has television cameras for eyes, and microphones for ears, with the strength of a machine, but the sensitiv-ity of a man. He saves humans from a burning building, and fights off alien invaders from a distant star, but humans still fear and hate him. They bring him to trial for the alleged murder of his creator, the brilliant but reclusive scientist, Dr. Charles Link. 
After Adam Link is exonerated for the alleged murder, he then seeks United States citizenship and fights for the same rights as humans. 
He tells this story in his own words, telling it matter of factly, without anger or resentment to the humans that hate him. He absolutely refuses to hurt a human being. — Allreaders.com (HERE)
And TV Tropes sums up the character nicely:
Adam comes across as a very sympathetic character, the story being essentially an analysis of what the Frankenstein monster might have become if his creator had acted as a loving and responsible father instead of a jerk. — "Adam Link," TV Tropes (HERE)
- Our last contact with Eando Binder (both of him) was (HERE), while an encounter with another robot private eye was (HERE); and of course we should never forget Commander Data (HERE).

The bottom line: "Robots do not hold on to life. They can't. They have nothing to hold on with — no soul, no instinct. Grass has more will to live than they do."
Karel Čapek

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Locked Room Mystery in the Mid-Twentieth Century (with One from the Twenty-first)

"The Locked Room."
By Donald A. Yates (born 1931).
First appearance: Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, Spring 1957 (pages 218-225).
Article (8 pages).
Online at Google Books HERE.
(WARNING! It's unfortunate that the author reveals the solutions to just about every mystery story he discusses.)
(Note: Special thanks to TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time for reminding us of this article.)
"Ancient Device of the Story-teller, but Not Dead Yet"
Critics have been signalling the death knell of genre fiction, and most particularly the detective story, for a long time, but somehow it just won't roll over. Writing in the late '50s, Donald Yates departs from the usual gloomy Guses in academia and sounds a hopeful note:
I should like to show that even when its death papers are signed and delivered, a genre is capable of lively revolt. That it may throw these papers up in the server's face and suddenly reveal that it has acquired new life and new direction—merely through the stimulation of imagination lent to it by a new individual who has dedicated himself to a fresh treatment of its themes and traditions.
It is interesting to note that there exists today a literary form which actually thrives on limitation, a genre whose structure was determined over a century ago. It is a form, moreover, whose structure has undergone no appreciable change in shape or organization since that distant and still glowing moment of its conception. It is just frosting on the cake, of course, to point up the fact that it is highly unlikely that the external form of this literary classification will ever undergo any significant change.
All these remarks refer, to be sure, to the detective novel.
The author sees in the locked room story, which the critics would condemn along with detective fiction as having too many formal limitations, as one means by which the
detective story could be reinvigorated in the future:
 It is the classic problem [in detective fiction] which makes the purest appeal to logic for its solution; it highlights the "closed" nature of the detective tale and is, unquestionably, its most traditional expression. It is the plot idea which has come to be referred to as "the locked-room mystery."
There is another interesting (and quite pertinent) feature of the locked-room tale: it is distinguished from all other detective story plots in that it possesses, at one and the same time, not only the most glorious past of any detective theme, but the most dubious future as well.
Dubious indeed! The locked-room story has for some decades now been condemned to death. Perhaps I should say with more exactitude that critics have tried to diagnose it out of existence!
The attempt has been unsuccessful, of course—as any present-day mystery fan will tell you. And the reasons for its survival are worth examining. . . .
In 1941 Howard Haycraft cautioned: "Avoid the Locked Room puzzle. Only a genius can invest it with novelty or interest to-day." Based on the evidence from the intervening fifteen years, Yates strongly disagrees:
. . . the time-honored detective-story device is still with us. Part of the explana-tion, I think, lies in the fact that the detective story quite naturally attracts a high proportion of the cleverest and most ingenious writers practising at any given time. The limitations of the locked-room puzzle offer to such writers a challenge which is really rather difficult to resist. And therefore new expressions continue to appear, with a shifting emphasis in each novel from character to atmosphere to incident and even to "gimmick." For it seems that in hand with every new advance in the field of human knowledge there comes a new way to polish off someone inside that wonderfully appealing locked room. Poe had no vacuum cleaner, and we have no penetrating death-ray gun; but it might well be next!
Here, to forewarn you, are the books and stories that Yates discusses (and about most of which he regrettably spills the beans):

~ "The History of Bel"
~ "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
~ "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
~ The Big Bow Mystery
~ The Mystery of the Yellow Room
~ "The Doomsdorf Mystery"
~ The Canary Murder Case
~ The Chinese Orange Mystery
~ "The Mystery of the Fabulous Laundryman"
~ The Door Between
~ He Wouldn't Kill Patience.
~ ~ ~

With the next story, Donald Yates shows that he can not only offer criticism about the locked room mystery but also, on occasion, write one.

"The Wounded Tyrolean."
By Donald A. Yates (born 1931).
First appearance: Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 2012.
Short story (14 pages).
Online HERE.
"The old locked room puzzle—just like in the mystery stories . . ."
Our story begins in a rather Watsonian vein:
When Professor Behring of the Middleton University physics department was found fatally stabbed in his home late one October afternoon, the crime caused an understandable wave of disbelief to sweep over the quiet university town. However, for those whose duty brought them into close contact with the intimate facts of the case, it had an added flavor—of the unreal.
From every conceivable aspect, the murder was an impossible crime.
The only person to arrive at the true explanation of the matter was John Rossi-ter, a bright young senior who was the editor of the student newspaper, the Campus Daily. But having reached the answer through a feat of inspired logic, Rossiter never revealed the solution to a soul. That is why "The Case of the Wounded Tyrolean," as it came to be known, has remained a classic puzzle to the general public and is still preserved in the local police files under "Crimes Unsolved."
The recent death of one of the principal figures involved in the investigation, however, has at last made it possible for the entire story to be told. For the inter-ested reader, it begins one chill afternoon, amid the autumnal splendor of a Midwest college town in the now distant fall of 1948. . . .
(Note: See the author's EQMM article linked below for the origin of "The Wounded Tyrolean.")

Resources:
- Marvin Lachman, writing in The Heirs of Anthony Boucher (2005), notes (HERE):
An issue raised early in TAD's [The Armchair Detective's] history (and still dis-cussed today) is whether it is possible to write intelligent criticism of the mystery story without disclosing vital plot elements and/or the ending. Frank McSherry complained that Donald Yates had given away too many solutions and surprises in his 1970 piece on locked rooms. Hubin devised a compromise, warning before Professor Darwin Turner's article on John B. West that it contain-ed plot disclosures.
- Yates tells us: "My doctoral dissertation . . . dealt with 'The Argentine Detective Story'" (see HERE). Since he's fluent in Spanish (see his Guggenheim autobio HERE) as well as deeply interested in detective fiction (see the Post article HERE), it's no wonder his translations of South American mystery stories (including, of course, Borges) have appeared so often in The Saint Mystery Magazine and EQMM (see his EQMM article HERE), in addition to a few compo-sitions of his own. A YouTube video of Yates discussing translating detective fiction is (HERE) (7 minutes 45 seconds)—for the moment anyway, we hasten to add.
- In at least one instance the locked room mystery is known to have suffered a fatal blow; see (HERE).

Category: Detective fiction criticism

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Will You Tell Us by What Extraordinary Process of Reasoning You Came to Lend a Convicted Train-Robber Your Car?"

"Five Fateful Words."
By Edgar Wallace (1875-1932).
First appearance: Tit-Bit Novels, June 10, 1915.
Reprinted in Maclean's, July 15, 1929.
Short story (~12 pages).
Online in Roy Glashan's Library HERE.
"A challenge story in which readers were asked to supply five words that would cause the prosecution in a train-robbery trial to lose its case."
Vanity is not the exclusive province of women, and even if you're filthy rich with all of the advantages like Sir George Farringdon, vanity, as he will find out, can only offer as its
reward a long, long prison stretch.

Resources:
- See more about Edgar Wallace on Wikipedia (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE).
- A collection of other stories by Wallace is reviewed (HERE) and reprinted (HERE).

The bottom line: "Virtue would go far if vanity did not keep it company."
François de La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lecanora Tartarea

"Shall Stay These Couriers . . ."
By Nelson S. Bond (1908-2006).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1940.
Reprinted in Adventure Tales #2 (2005).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Archive.org HERE (scroll to page 80).
(Note: Pages are faded but text is readable.)
"The Men Who Plundered the Spacemail Were After Rare Stamps—But Science Cancelled Their Plans!"
Some people collect things for fun and profit, some collect them just for the fun of it, and some do it only for the money. Take Balder Sorenson, for instance, with his odd conversa-tional tics and criminal tendencies; now, he'll steal anything and everything without regard
to its aesthetic value from whatever hapless spacecraft he can stick his tension beam into, which clearly puts him in that last category of collector.

Everybody from Mercury to the gas giants will soon be heaving a collective sigh of relief, however, when Sorenson indulges a childhood hobby, as he plunders the Spica on her way back to Mars from the outpost asteroid Iris; his luck will run out when he comes up against "a thick-headed space-monkey" gifted with just enough botanical smarts to make him wish he'd stayed in jail.
Main characters:
~ Lt. Russ Hodges, Solar Space Patrol (SSP), in 2113 on special detail as pilot-commander of the Patrol cruiser Spica:
   "All I've got to say is, according to Earth standards and Scott's catalogue, you have here about two million bucks' worth of rare stamps!"
~ Zach Wheatley, SSP, astrogator and helmsman of the Spica:
   "He darted eagerly for the panel. This discovery was important enough to warrant rousing the lieutenant from his slumbers. Zach's hand reached for the call button. But he never reach-ed it. At that instant there came a grinding shock, a crash that shivered hollowly through the Spica."
~ Plaice, Superintendent of the IGMC and official postmaster of the Iris station:
   "I'm doing the best I can out here. I don't want anyone to think I'm doing anything unethi-cal."
~ Balder Sorenson, exiled pirate, escapee from the penal colony on Uranus, terror of the spacelanes between Jupiter and Venus, and . . . philatelist?:
   "One knows quite well what they are, Lieutenant. One was a stamp-collector oneself, when one was young. And now, the stamps, please?"
- Resources:
- There's a website (HERE) listing the rarest and most valuable postage stamps in the Known Universe (i.e., Earth).
- The asteroid Iris gets some attention in our story; the author describes it this way:
. . . a tiny, crudely spherical chunk of rock that was the asteroid Iris. Scarcely a hundred and fifty miles in diameter, Iris was a drab and desolate place, a mining outpost of the Intergalactic Metals Corporation.
In the past seventy-six years astronomers have discovered more about Iris, including that it's about one hundred and twenty-five miles across and a hundred and fifty-two degrees below zero Fahrenheit on its surface—unlike the story, however, there's no evidence of any atmos-phere; go (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE) for data on Iris, the seventh asteroid to be found.
Click on image to enlarge. Note Iris (upper left, near Mars).
- For interesting ideas about communications (including the mail) as they might develop throughout the Solar System in the future, go to the "Space Infrastructure" page (HERE) on Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets megasite, and scroll down to "Interplanetary Internet."
- As for "Lecanora tartarea," go (HERE).

The bottom line: "Not philosophers, but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society."
Aldous Huxley

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"An Alibi Rotten All the Way Through"

"The Silent Witness."
By Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust, 1892-1944).
First appearance: Black Mask, March 1938.
Short short story (~6 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library HERE.
"A siren screamed out of the distance and turned loose its howling in Hargreave Street."
When it comes to establishing an alibi, murderers never seem to learn. In this case, the 
killer not only underestimates the sleuth's powers of observation, ability to make logical inferences, and which way his moral compass points, but also fails to allow for a change 
in temperature.

Principal characters:
~ Riddle:
   "At the sixth floor the automatic brake stopped the car softly and the inner door rolled gradually back. This mechanized precision, this mindless deliberation, screwed up Riddle's nerves to a breaking tension. He had to set his lips and his lean jaw and make ready to endure what he knew was ahead of him."
~ Tom Bentley:
   "He needed that strength of spirit when he entered the bedroom and saw Tom Bentley lying on the bed, far over against the wall with his right arm stretched out, pointing an automatic at his friend in the doorway. But Bentley's half-open eyes were drowsily considering something on the white of the ceiling instead of Riddle, and a spot of deep purple appeared on his temple with one thin, watery line of blood running down from it."
~ Gay Bentley:
   "'Oh, Dick,' she whispered, 'think what animals we are! When I found him, my mind stopped, and all I could do was to come out here and go through the motions of mixing a drink ... Think of that! And then I remembered you. Thank God for you! Thank God for you!'"

Resources:
- Here's Mike Grost's assessment of just about all of Max Brand's non-Western crime fiction:
Oddly enough, [his] highly literary style coexists in Brand's fiction with low brow, brutal descriptions of violence. Brand's spy characters are amoral, casually sending each other to their deaths. And his thriller characters are not much better, but are even more brutal: a Brand thriller can consist of thirty pages of his good guy and bad guy doing nothing but fighting it out. The elaborate fight scenes in Brand seem oddly anticipatory of the later fight scenes in Marvel comics.
So far, I have not seen any sign of a mystery plot in Brand's work: it seems to be all action or intrigue, with no puzzle. There can be a mysterious house full of spies that the hero must investigate, but this is hardly the same as a puzzle plot. — Mike Grost, A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE)
- Other sources of information about Brand are (HERE) at Wikipedia and (HERE) at the ISFDb, while you'll find a chronological bibliography (HERE, PDF) of his works, most of it Western fiction, at Roy Glashan's Library.

The bottom line: "It's frightening how easy it is to commit murder in America. Just a drink too much. I can see myself doing it. In England, one feels all the social restraints holding one back. But here, anything can happen."
W. H. Auden

Monday, July 25, 2016

"The Room Seemed to Close in on Me, and the Light Glinting on the Equipment Hurt My Eyes, and the Cables All Looked Like Hangman's Nooses"

"The Transposed Man."
By Dwight V. Swain (1915-92).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, November 1953.
Reprinted in Thrilling Wonder Stories (New Zealand) #102, 1954; Thrilling Wonder Stories (UK), January 1954; and Strange Adventures, January 2006.
Collected in One in Three Hundred/The Transposed Man (1955).
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Note: Some text clipped off on page 26 but still legible.)
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"No matter whose body he inhabited, the traitor in his heart stayed right with him. . . ."
The year 1953 saw the publication of two classic science fiction-mystery hybrids, Asimov's serialized THE CAVES OF STEEL (more HERE) and Bester's novelized THE DEMOLISHED MAN (article HERE—WARNING! NOTHING BUT SPOILERS!), which, in his comments on this story, the Thrilling Wonder editor (Samuel Mines) obviously views as the start of a publishing trend (that, unfortunately, never materialized):

~ SCIENCE AND MYSTERY ~
NOT too many good detective-type science fiction stories have been written and this is a curious thing because they seem to blend rather nicely. An author has to be consistent and logical to curb a standing temptation of solving his difficulties by pulling a scientific rabbit out of a hat whenever the going gets rough. This is unfair to the reader, since one of the precepts of the detective story is that presumably the author gives the reader all the clues he needs to decide whodunit. An author who keeps some magical science up his sleeve is cheating. THE TRANSPOSED MAN may keep you guessing, but plays fair in the main. It's a good sample of the fast moving, exciting type of science-mystery story which may become a staple in the next few years. — The Editor
To Alan, she is always the woman . . . It's been twelve years since Alan and Maurine have been an item, and a lot of fluid has flowed under the viaduct; neither one of them, however, could ever have anticipated the situation they're in now: Alan being an agent for Somex, a resistance group, at the same time Maurine is conducting experiments for FedGov that are meant to help them extirpate Somex once and for all. Rekindling an old flame has its risks, but for these two star-crossed lovers it could end on a funeral pyre . . .

Main characters:
~ Alan Lord, our first person narrator:
   "I looked up. Terra hung there . . . Terra, my homeland, the great green ball that forever wheeled slowly in Luna's sky.
   "Maurine Dorsett's homeland, too. Terra and Maurine. They were linked together deep inside me, down where it hurt. Bleakly, I wondered if I'd ever see either of them again. I was glad when the buzzer rang."
~ John Raines:
   "The man at the door looked as greasy as his voice—short, fat, with a sickly smile that was pasted on. 'I—I'm Raines. . . .' He kept dodging my eyes."
~ Raines's secretary:
   "She clawed at me, smearing me with clammy, ill-aimed kisses. Her frizzed hair got in my eyes and nose, and I bumped my chin on her scrawny collarbone. 'I love you, John! I've given you everything! You can't expect me to just stand by quietly while you run after another woman—'"
~ Dr. Maurine Dorsett-Burton:
   "The years had hardly touched her. Girl into woman, she still stood poised and slender. The gesture with which she smoothed and shaped the dark hair that swept down to the nape of her neck in a loose coil was familiar as yesterday.
   "'Well?' Faint scorn tinged her tone, her glance. The cool, intelligent eyes measured me as if I were a laboratory specimen."
~ Mrs. Nordstrom:
   "The sad-faced woman was ahead of me at the counter. A customs man had her stuff spread out all over the counter. An octagonal metal case about eight inches each way stood in the center of it. The inspector was tapping the case and shaking his head."
~ Zero, head of the Mechanists:
   "The Society of Mechanists requires that its members accept strict discipline, Four-four—and for an agent on a mission as vital as Project X the standards are ten, a hundred, a thousand times as rigorous as they are for an ordinary worker. . . .
   "You say a man's human, Four-four. But you're not a man. You're a Mechanist. The Society's works means more than you, more than your feelings. We can't afford to let this project fail. You'll have to go ahead according to plan."
~ Narla Cherritt:
   "I stood there—fists clenched, breathing hard—while she dragged herself up, eyes fearful and uncertain. Her mouth opened as if to speak, then closed again. Without a word, she turned and limped off down the hall."
~ Heffner:
   "Heffner closed the door after me. He was a little man, bent and spindle-thin. His features were pinched, his skull balding. His fingers trembled so much he had trouble with the bolt."
~ General Karl Aneido, chief of the FedGov security system:
   ". . . a heavy-set, middle-aged man in formal FedGov uniform moved into the scope-screen's frame. He walked like a bear. His cuffs bore the triple planets of a general officer, while his shoulder-patch carried the silver shield and black dagger of the Security Service."
~ Fred Caudel:
   "A man came out—the same tall, too-handsome man I'd met—unpleasantly—at Maurine's office. The one she'd called Fred."
~ "Red":
   "A woman stood by the door. She had red hair and a mouth to match, and her short spangled jacket was too small across the chest."
~ Nine-seven:
   "He bent to straighten out a cable. He did it with a neat precision that said order meant a lot to him. So did his appearance, for that matter—every hair in place, clothes that might as well have been a uniform, the bleak lack of color of his face and voice. There were a lot like him in the Society."
Whiz-bang science:
~ The neurotron/pulsator/com-set:
   "I rubbed my elbow past the neurotron taped flat to my ribs; ran my hand over the spare strapped against my belly. A wonderful little invention, the neurotron. Given that, and my pulsator, and my com-set, I could go anywhere. Anywhere!"
~ The Schweidler bipolaroid selector:
   "I clicked down the button without speaking, and got up and went over to the window. It was the usual plasticon, cheap and beginning to warp, but with a Schweidler bipolaroid selector so that you could cut off the outside light when you wanted to go to sleep—a handy thing on a satellite like Luna, where the days seem to last forever."
~ Moonbase:
   "Below me, autotrans spun along the ramp-spanned streets that sliced between the build-ings' dull spun-doloid walls like lines in some complicated geometric problem. Beyond the buildings outside the transparent shell that held the artificial atmosphere, the port spread in a gray-brown desert plain spiked with ramped silver spaceships. Far off I could see the shim-mering green ripples that were the hydroponic tubes."
~ The "shorties":
   "'Our laboratories have a shielding system. It's based on the fact that the human mind is actually an electrical device, a sort of organic computer and selector.'
   "'Yes.'
   "'Our shield is electrical, too. It's keyed to the same frequency as the human brain. When-ever anyone who's not insulated wanders into its field, it throws out tracer charges—not strong enough to kill, but so heavy that they short-circuit the brain synapses.'
   "'Permanently—?'
   "'Permanently.'"
~ Lunar cuisine:
   "They called the place the Moon-Room. A replica of Luna, as seen from Earth, hung like a dim gold crescent against the deep blue of the artificial sky. Stars twinkled, and an aromador brought subtle fragrances of forests and streams and wind-swept hills. A thread of faint, languorous melody sighed and rippled on the climatizer's gentle breeze.
   "I gulped a vidal, then ordered spiked loin of rossa, seared in lorsch, with doralines from Mars and a salad of Ionian tabbat stalks.
   "It was good food. The rossa measured a full two inches thick, deep pink straight through, the fibers so tender from the infradation that my fork sliced them like a knife. The quince-tinted tabbat stalks—not one longer than a tarosette—had been gathered at the peak of their delicate flavor.
   "I ate slowly, savoring every mouthful. Afterwards, there was thick Venusian ronhnei coffee, then more vidal. This time I didn't gulp it."
~ The perceptoscope:
   "Slowly, as the tubes warmed, the scope's screen began to glow. A dim image took form. Humming, I adjusted the focusing dials. The image sharpened, till it was as if I were looking through a window into the adjoining room."
~ Lunar diversions:
   "I wandered among cases and cages where eye-stalks waved and mandibles bumped plasticon as they reached for me. Pseudopodal horrors from the cave-swamps of Mercury's Twilight Zone oozed in and out of crevices. Voices went shrill, and men jumped back. There was even a monstrous, ten-tentacled poison zanat, swimming in a sealed tank of refrigerat-ed ammonia and methane."
~ The projectoscope:
   "Then, in a flash, the scene changed. The same woman, younger this time, stood laughing by a table, holding a candle-sparkling birthday cake. The next instant she lay in bed—old again, eyes and cheeks sunken. . . .
   "Again, Aneido brought up his hand. 'The technical details mean nothing to me, Doctor Burton. As I told you last night, the practical applications are all I'm interested in. If this device will show men's thoughts so that I can uncover secret Meks, that's all I ask.'"
~ The hypnojector:
   "'Such a deep sleep. . . .' Nine-seven whispered. 'So deep, so deep. Your muscles are like water. . . .'"
~  Project Q ("a sort of electro-biochemical pantograph"):
   "'The only part important to us is Kronkite's idea that the weights were subject to change, through metabolism. Complex cellements break down into simple by Katabolism, liberating energy. Simple cellements build up to complex by anabolism, using the energy supplied by catabolism or drawn from such outside sources as sunlight.' . . .
   "'Kronkite's theory is the key,' Nine-seven explained. 'Once you isolate your basic celle-ments, you can metabolize them according to any predetermined pattern by electrosynthe-sis.'"

Typos: "Maurine looked at the case, then at Aneida"; "somewhere near, an autoran droned"; "I grouped for words"; (missing quotation marks in many places).
Resources:
- For more on our author Dwight V. Swain see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- While the results are still far from conclusive, technology is now being applied to reading people's thoughts; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).

The bottom line: "The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office."
Robert Frost

Friday, July 22, 2016

"This Here West Coast Publicks a Bunch a Crooks"

"Poor Economy."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, January 1923.
Reprinted in Thrilling Detective, June 1947.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The story of an amateur in burglary and a novice in detective work"
Here we have a kinder, gentler Ray Cummings crime story from the twenties, this one concerning Jimmy Martin, an ambitious young man looking for the increased income he needs to get married, with only a slippery sneak thief, the self-titled Lead Pencil Willy, standing in the way. In his first case as an insurance investigator, Jimmy must solve what comes to be known as the affair on Queen Anne Hill, a case with Willy's trademark touches all over it—except, that is, for one little detail . . .

Principal characters:
~ Mr. Gregg:
   ". . . the local manager of the Globe Protective Association, specialists in burglary insurance . . ."
~ Lead Pencil Willy:
   "At the moment, Lead Pencil Willy was the most noted and most elusive criminal on the Pacific Coast. From San Diego to Sitka he was wanted on a hundred different charges. His exploits varied as to time and place, but were almost identical in method. He was one of those freak criminals who become prominent every decade or so—the aristocrats of crime, who originate and perfect their own unique methods, who take an inordinate pride in every successful job accomplished, and who gloat loudly and sardonically at their bewildered pursuers after each successive escape.
   "Lead Pencil Willy's methods were daring but simple. He got into the homes of the wealthy, the merely comfortable, and the poor—how, nobody ever found out, for he never left any evidence of his entrance or his exit—and abstracted whatever valuables happened to be there. His affairs were never marked by violence to human life—possibly not because of any restraint on the burglar's part, but because he was sufficiently clever to avoid being seen or heard at his work.
   "And in order that he might receive proper credit for his skill, in each case he left a sarcas-tic but illiterate note, with a lead pencil stuck through the paper, as a sort of trademark, so that no one might remain in doubt as to his handiwork."
~ Jimmy Martin:
   "The Lead Pencil Willy mystery had fascinated Jimmy. One evening, while he was talking to Alice most despondently about his lack of business prospects, which promised to delay their wedding indefinitely, he suddenly hit upon an idea that seemed like a possible explana-tion of these burglaries about which the whole Pacific Coast was speculating.
   "Jimmy told his theory to Alice. The next morning he told it to the Globe's manager. On the following Monday he went on the company's pay roll, praying in his heart that Lead Pencil Willy would come to Seattle soon."
~ Jonathan Parsons:
   "Skinflint Parsons, as he was frequently called, was an aged bachelor, popularly supposed to be inordinately wealthy, who lived in a comparatively modest home on Queen Anne Hill. He was credited with being the meanest and most parsimonious man on the Pacific Coast. He was not a miser, but merely a maniac on economy. He would buy an automobile in the morning, and in the afternoon he would deplore the fact that he could not sell his newspaper back to a newsboy after he had read it. He would spend a dollar in gasoline driving about town in search of a cigar store, in order that he might save ten cents on a box of cigars.
   "His fetish, in short, was the greatness of little things. He worshiped, not the almighty dollar, but the almighty penny."

Resources:
- If it seems like we were communing with Ray Cummings just the other day (HERE), that's because we were.

The bottom line: "The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company."
Shakespeare

"I Know My Vectors and Alphas"

"Static."
By "Eando Binder" (Otto Binder, 1911-74).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"They Thought They Could Conquer Civilization with Professor Hobson's Invention—but One Unexpected Spark Upset Their Cunning Plans!"
So you really want to take over the world, do you? Kill millions with the flick of a switch? That's basically what two men brandishing guns aim to do when they surprise Professor Hobson:

   "I represent a foreign power. To be melodramatic, I am a spy. In the traditional spy manner, I came in through an open window."

One thing's for sure, though, he won't be leaving that way . . .

Resources:
- Read about "static" (HERE) on Wikipedia. Like Professor Hobson in our story, many scien-tists, including the controversial Nikola Tesla (HERE), dreamed of creating a system to broad-cast electrical energy through the air ("wireless power transfer"), discussed in detail on Wiki-pedia (HERE).

The bottom line: "Electricity is really just organized lightning."
George Carlin

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"There Were Bubbles—Little Silent Things That Might Have Represented an Effort to Scream Under Water"

We've already spent some time with a few of Ray Cummings's memorable characters, Dr. Feather (HERE), an overconfident artist (HERE), and a very nervous fisherman (HERE), but our author also produced other non-series pulp crime fiction, a lot of it. Here we have three such from the pages of Argosy, two of them of the inverted variety sharing a theme that Cummings would return to often: the perfect crime and how, no matter how carefully planned, it never achieves perfection.

"Death by the Clock."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, August 6, 1932.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"'You're my friend, not my servant,' said the aged millionaire; but he was unaware that Franz Karlin had planned his death for ten o'clock sharp, that night"
Eight hundred thousand reasons spur Karlin on to murder, but the one thing he doesn't allow for is an incriminating clock without hands . . .

Apposite passages:

   "Amazing death-strength to this frail, pink-white thing."
   "Who would think that a murderer would dare have a policeman on the scene of the crime?"
   "A big, red-faced, sandy-haired fellow, this Cafferty. Just smart enough to make a good witness."
   "It seemed to Karlin, as he sat among them now in the library, that this captain of the police was an unpleasantly suspicious fellow."
   "And there was a man named Franklyn—a tall, thin fellow in plain clothes. He was not under Gregg, quite evidently. All the policemen seemed to have a great respect for this Franklyn, and Karlin learned that he was a private consulting detective—a fellow with a flair for science. He had solved several notorious crimes by finding some hidden, scientific clue. Karlin chuckled to himself. He could poke around here all he liked."


~ ~ ~
"Hot Goods."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, September 9, 1933.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"It was crook against crook when Pete Leroy met Basker—with the devil after both of them"
There's an old Polish proverb that says, "Where two are fighting, a third one wins." In the instance of Leroy vs. Basker, if it had been obvious from the outset who "the third one" was going to be, they almost certainly would have cut their losses and done a bunk a lot sooner.


~ ~ ~
"The Dead Man Types."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, April 20, 1935.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Even in death, old Professor Wiggans was able to use a typewriter"
Think about it: If the Professor had been using a laptop, the oh-so-careful killer would have gotten away scot-free. (Note: Cummings takes the same basic situation in "Death by the Clock" and gives it a different spin, not murder made to look like an accident but murder made to look like suicide.)

Typo: "The big police captain sood up."

The bottom line: "Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest."
W. H. Auden

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Imagination. Audacity. Victory."

"Racketeers in the Sky."
By Jack Williamson (1908-2006).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, October 12, 1940.
Reprinted in A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine, October 1950.
Collected in Gateway to Paradise: The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume Six (2008).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"His name, appropriately enough, was Bull. Pompous and round and rosy-faced, he was the King of Quacks—a chiseling faker who had built a patent-medicine racket into a cosmic swindle. Then came the moment when death tapped him on the shoulder, and he knew he had a whole life to pay for. An unforgettably powerful novelet"
"A disreputable little quack doctor" accurately describes Doctor Bull who, luxuriating in la dolce vita on his own personal asteroid bought with the ill-gotten gains of a lifetime of deceiving people, unexpectedly finds himself in a desperate life-and-death struggle with a space pirate with grandiose ambitions: nothing less than a takeover of Terra and the Moon. But ironically enough, for Doctor Bull a lifetime of bamboozling suckers just might be the skill set he needs to save not only his own life but also the lives of everyone on Earth—if only he can get somebody to believe him . . .

Major characters:
~ Doctor Bull:
   "He was thinking back to the very beginning of his career—when he was just a six-dollar-a-week soda jerker, in a dusty small-town drug store, back on Earth, studying a mail-order course in dramatics, propped out of the view of his patrons behind the counter. Dramatics, he had decided, was more important than pharmaceutics."
~ Vera Frame:
   "Doctor, what is your plan?"
~ General Berg:
   "The men in the forts are uneasy. And panic is spreading in the hotels and hospitals—some rumor has got out. The telephones are swamped with questions."
~ Iron Scarr:
   "Your lies, Bull, probably killed more men than my ion-gun ever did. I still kill men honestly, for what I want. But now, I'm looting planets."
~ Lieutenant Carstairs:
   "That was lean young Lieutenant Carstairs, commanding the retreat, taking skilful advantage of clumps of vegetation, the hazards of the golf course, and the very curve of Taurus."
Super-duper science:
~ The geodesic drive:
   ". . . that was used to steer this tiny planet toward Earth from its former orbit."
~ The graviscreen:
   "A graviscreen under the pool halved the force of the gravity generators at the tiny moon's core, so that one swam with an exhilarating and luxurious ease."
~ The Mercurian lightning death:
   "The lightning death was the frightful disease that had denied the mineral riches of the hot planet to all save the one man in thousands who possessed a natural immunity to the virus—the fortunate few who showed a negative reaction to killed cultures could demand fabulous wages from Mercury Mines, Inc."
~ One consequence of an asteroid's low gravity:
   "Stunned, Dr. Bull peered stupidly after the diminishing hum—probably the bullet still exceeded the planetoid's velocity of escape; it would fly on, forever, across the black gulf of space."
~ Futuristic weapons:
   "There was an instant of breathless silence, then every battle-sound seemed amplified. Somewhere a man burned with an ion-beam was screaming with a thin and frightful monotony."
Typos: "General Berg burst furiusly through the crystal door"; "the intense blue needle of an iron-beam"; "crimes against the etchics of the IMA."
Resources:
- Our author refers several times to "ikes," which is short for "iconoscope": "the first practical video camera tube to be used in early television cameras"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our last contact with Jack Williamson (HERE) wasn't that long ago.

The bottom line: "A successful swindler has to be a great salesman even more than a great actor."
David Suchet

Saturday, July 16, 2016

June's Top 5

Last month the most popular posts featured some of the oldest but also some of the newest stories (relatively speaking, of course) available online. To all of you Faithful Readers out there in cyberspace our sincere thanks for tuning into ONTOS, the weblog engaged in a never-ending search for interesting works of detective and science fiction and, best of all, stories that combine the two genres. As usual, we've also included the most visited postings from the two previous Junes.


June 2016
(1) "Deliberately, Cleverly, and Diabolically Murdered" - (HERE)
(2) "In a Flash of Realization, the Whole Puzzle Clicked into Place!" - (HERE)
(3) "It Was Only a Matter of Time Until a Criminal, a Really Clever One, Saw Through the System—and Reverted" - (HERE)
(4) "If One of You Moves Toward the Medicine Cabinet, As God Is in Heaven, I'll Ray You Down" - (HERE)
(5) "I Shot Her First and Then, As He Woke and Sprang Up, I Got Him Too" - (HERE)


June 2014
(1) "A Well-paced Story That's Loaded with Action, Suspense, a Great Puzzle, and a Lot of Humor" - (HERE)
(2) "Both Literal Masterpieces of Sensational Fiction" - (HERE)
(3) Ten by Gladys (and We Don't Mean Mitchell) - (HERE)
(4) Four-in-One - (HERE)
(5) True Crime Roundup II - (HERE)


June 2015
(1) "Reprogrammed to Be a Killing Machine" - (HERE)
(2) Eight Tales of Terror You Might Enjoy - (HERE)
(3) European Pulp Science Fiction - (HERE)
(4) "You Must Conform!" - From "The Beautiful People" to "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" - (HERE)
(5) Was Agatha Christie Unconsciously Using Freud's Theories in Her Mysteries? - (HERE)

Friday, July 15, 2016

True Crime Vignettes from COLLIER'S

These entertaining and well-written short accounts, the Collier's editor assures us, are "taken from life"; since it's likely the names have been changed to protect . . . somebody, we'll just have to take his word for it.

"The Dallam Affair."
By Mark O'Neil (?-?).
First appearance: Collier’s Weekly, January 14, 1928.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Here's an unusual detective story . . ."
"Sir Henry," we're told, "had always been reckless as to how and where he made his enemies"; so when he receives a death threat:
The warning was carefully dated—"London, noon, October 11th." Thin printed characters betrayed a Latin hand in the stiff hooks of the letters.
"Unless," it read, "you abandon trading with our enemies, you have only ten days from this hour to live. Consider."
Sir Henry laughed again as his wife muttered the words.
"Cheap melodrama," he chaffed. "I'm financing a cargo of arms for the Guatemalan government in the revolution there. Some schoolboy evidently thinks he can frighten me with a Deadwood Dick joke."
But it's no joke . . .
~ ~ ~
"The Red Room."
By Mark O'Neil (?-?).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, March 3, 1928.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ beginning HERE and finishing HERE (scroll to page 48).
"An expert locksmith supplies the keys to some of the mysteries of Paris"
An American in Paris finds himself the prime suspect in a murder investigation, his only hope of being cleared reposing in a sharp French detective:
Objects glinted on a sideboard fringed with red tassels. Startled, he saw a black-handled revolver, with a blunt, blue-steeled snout, lying beside the cut stopper of a brandy decanter. He stiffened, glanced apprehensively about him, and wait-ed for a sound. Only the bark of a scurrying cab penetrated the windows. The atmosphere of the room oppressed him. He became aware of a tall mahogany table in a corner to his left. The thing seemed menacing.
"Look out," he warned himself, "this is a plant!"
Typo: ". . . the magistrate flecked his hand toward the clerk . . ."

~ ~ ~
"The Brantland Heir."
By Mark O'Neil (?-?).
First appearance: Collier’s Weekly, March 17, 1928.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE and HERE (scroll to page 42).
"The true story of the kidnapping of a child and how an ice-cream cone led to the solution"
To a perceptive private detective, in this case all is not what it seems:
MRS. BRANTLAND, an aristocratic young woman, was roundly abusing the thick-set chief of detectives when Elbert Grantland, the husband's father, for whom the missing boy was named, motored from his law office. The old man, a wealthy and hard-headed citizen, assumed command the moment he appeared. He instantly ordered the police to confine their attentions to a physical search for his missing grandson, while to the press he announced a reward of $10,000 for the person who discovered the boy or for information leading to the arrest of whoever was responsible for his disappearance. Then he summoned from New York Thomas Coyle, the head of a private detective agency that had served him in many confidential investigations.
If you've read another story by Agatha Christie about a kidnapping (published five years before this one) then you probably won't be too surprised at the ending.

~ ~ ~
"Last Leg."
By Mark O'Neil (?-?).
First appearance: Collier’s Weekly, April 14, 1928.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE and HERE (scroll to page 42).
"The true story of a young detective and a jewel smugger who had never been caught"
The Customs investigation squad in New York gets a warning cablegram from Scotland Yard that a "notorious jewel smuggler and fence, who had smilingly cheated the law and baffled its watchdogs for years" is on his way there with something not rightfully belonging to him:
They reported one of the boldest robberies ever accomplished in staid old London. Lady Waynecliff, wife of an English brewer recently elevated to the peerage, had gone into the London Mansion House for the lord mayor's ball. She had retired to divest herself of her cloak in one of a congeries of women's dressing-rooms, and as she entered was seized by a man, or men, and doused with chloroform. When she recovered to raise an alarm, she found her diamond necklace had been snapped off. Two hundred thousand dollars' worth of stones vanished, an excited old woman knowing no more about their loss than a grip at her throat.
Two hundred grand is certainly a lot, more than enough for our thief to brazenly attempt to fool the authorities; too bad for him, though, when in trying to pull off his deception he makes one small but crucial mistake . . .

Typo: "flecked ashes from his own into a tray"

Resources:
- Concerning our writer named Mark O'Neil, we only know that he had these four pieces published in Collier's in early 1928, and then he just disappeared.

Category: True crime (we think)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Decisions, Decisions

"Twelve Hours to Live!"
By Jack Williamson (1908-2006).
First appearance: Wonder Stories, August 1931.
Reprinted in Startling Stories, March 1946.
Collected in The Early Williamson (1975) and Wolves of Darkness (1999).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll to page 112).
(Note: Some text cut off, but still readable.)
"Captain David Grant is faced with a desperate choice when he is pursued by an implacable vandal in the interstellar void!"
The rocket liner Queen of Night doesn't stand a chance against the heavily armed pirate ship Black Hawk, but as the Queen's captain will find out, there are worse things than dying in the vacuum of space. (Note: Readers might be dissatisfied with this story's conclusion, which, to put it kindly, has been "borrowed" from a story found in a million school textbooks.)

Characters:
~ Captain David Grant:
   "Man the rays!"
~ Nell Grant, newly wed to Captain Grant:
   "Oh, it's lovely! What is it, a comet?"
~ The Black Hawk, ruthless space pirate:
   "What do you think of my hobby?"

Typos: "to disintergrate the atoms"; "disintergrating rays" (at least they're consistent).
Resources:
- On his megasite Atomic Rockets, Winchell Chung has a page devoted to space piracy, where the pros and cons of the idea are discussed:
Space Pirates 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. — Winchell Chung, "Interstellar Piracy" (HERE), Atomic Rockets
- Wikipedia has a couple of articles (HERE) and (HERE) about space pirates, and TV Tropes has fun with the concept (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "How can we sail to an island that nobody can find with a compass that doesn't work?"
   "Aye, the compass doesn't point North. But we're not trying to find North, are we?"
   'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'