Friday, February 10, 2017

"Extra-Sensory Detection"

HERE WE HAVE something of a rara avis, a locked room murder rendered in science fictional terms. Given that it is SFF, is it possible for it to play fair with the reader? 
Decide for yourself.

"The Undetected."
By George O. Smith (1911-81).
First appearance: Galaxy, December 1959.
Several reprintings (HERE).
Novelette (30 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) (text faded), Project Gutenberg (HERE), and Socialpolitan (HERE).
"Nothing can possibly be more baffling than a crime in a sealed room . . . but what if the investigator happens to have an open mind?"
Captain Howard Schnell of Special Detail has been called in to investigate the murder-robbery of "an eccentric old sourpuss who hated to do business with bankers":
I took a quick look around the apartment, even though I already knew what I had to know. Gordon Andrews had been slain in his sleep by the quick thrust of some rapierlike instrument. There was no sign of any struggle. The wall safe stood with its door open and its contents missing. Every door and window was closed, locked, burglar-bugged, and non-openable from the inside; the front door had been forced by the police. Furthermore, it had been raining in wind-whipped torrents for hours, yet there was no trace of moisture on any of the floors.
Of course no one had heard a sound, and naturally there were no fingerprints.
Police Chief Weston spied me and snapped, "What do you make of it, Schnell?"
I shrugged and said, "Completely sealed room."
Call it a hunch, or call it something else, but Schnell knows this crime wasn't committed by just any ordinary thief:
With about ninety-eight per cent of the general public still not quite willing to accept rockets, missiles and space travel, I had a fat chance of convincing anybody that a telepath had kept guard over the slumbering mind of Gordon Andrews, while a perceptive solved the combination to the wall safe, so that a kinematic could twirl the dial; that the imminent awakening of Gordon Andrews had indeed been an imminent physical threat to a delicate extra-sensory under-taking, and that therefore he had been silenced by the kinematic, with a weapon located by the perceptive, after warning from the telepath; after which the crime had continued, with the loot being floated by a levitator along a freeway explor-ed by the perceptive and scouted by the telepath and cleared of barriers by the kinematic who opened and debugged them as he went along—and that the real topper for this whopper was that this operation was not the integrated effort of a clever gang of extra-sensory specialists, but rather the single-handed accom-plishment of one highly talented Psi-man!
A Psi-man ruthless enough to kill before he would permit his victim to watch the turning dial, the floating loot, the opening portal, simply because there stood a probability that one of the two billion persons on Earth might suspect the phenomena as parapsychical activity, instead of the hallucinatory ravings of a rich old eccentric who hated the incumbent political party!
And so begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse contest between Schnell and the Psi-man, someone armed with formidable psychokinetic powers and a willingness to kill again 
if anybody gets too close to the truth . . .

Comment: Some well-known writers of the Golden Age of Detection—Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, and John Dickson Carr—get a mention in the context of an interesting little discussion about what constitutes "the perfect crime" that crops up 
midway through the story.
Resources:
- George O. Smith belonged to the next generation of SFF authors following Hugo Gerns-back; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for just about all that's known about him.
- If you're interested in psionics, we can't think of a better introduction to it than the Atomic Rockets website (HERE).

The bottom line: "In science fiction, telepaths often communicate across language barriers, since thoughts are considered to be universal. However, this might not be true. Emotions and feelings may well be nonverbal and universal, so that one could telepathically send them to anyone, but rational thinking is so closely tied to language that it is very unlikely that complex thoughts could be sent across language barriers. Words will still be sent telepath-ically in their original language."
Michio Kaku

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