Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Surely, the Court Cannot Permit Such a Miscarriage of Justice"

"The Trial of Jeremy Owens."
By Peter Roberts (born 1952; ISFDb entry HERE).
Illustration by JACEY.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 14 September 2006.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

     "The biological Jeremy Owens sat alone at the plaintiff’s table. He had been rebuffed by every lawyer he had approached to assist him in this trial; some had laughed in his face. The ridicule only added to his determination to prove that he was the only real, true Jeremy Owens."

How do you conclusively prove you're you when there are other you's running around claiming, truthfully, that they're you?

- Fictional cyborgs (CYBerneticORGanismS) have been around a lot longer than real-life ones; see Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE) for examples from print and film, both predictably hostile and unexpectedly friendly. Cyborg development can be subsumed under cybernetics (HERE), a relatively new scientific field.
Daleks invading Earth
Locutus of Borg
Cover art for Cyborg by Boris Vallejo
From Scanagogo

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Her Faded Blue Eyes Looked More Like the Men's Eyes Among the Ancestors on the Parlor Wall Than Those of the Frail, Pale Little Women"

"The Locked Jewel Case."
By Dillon Anderson (1906-74).
First appearance: Collier's, October 29, 1954.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

     "I aimed to find that $20,000 pin, and I didn't care how hard Claudie had to work."

Clint and Claudie are having cash flow problems as usual and decide that the best way to earn a quick buck is to go into the detective business with Mr. Gissel; a nice income seems assured—until they meet Miss Ernestine . . .

~ Claudie:
  "I looked Claudie right in the eye as I spoke, but he didn't look down the way he usually does. I saw something in his face I wasn't used to at all."

~ Clint:
  "Don't you have some cases you could use a little help on? Some help from me and my associate, Claudie, I mean. Also, we'd prefer murder cases."

~ Rudolph Gissel:
  "He was a short, bald little man in his shirt sleeves, and he had a cigar in his mouth that 

he was not smoking since it had gone out."
~ Miss Ernestine:
  "She wasn't over five feet tall; she was thin as a rail, and I figured she wouldn't weigh seventy-five pounds wringing wet. Her white hair was thin and wispy. She had pale-blue 

eyes and skin so thin I could see the blue veins in her temples and on her hands."

- The Wikipedia article about Dillon Anderson (HERE) mentions his time as one of many National Security Advisors to President Eisenhower but not his humorous fiction.
- This story is one of a series of pieces featuring Clint and Claudie, a sort of George and Lennie without the angst. See FictionMags (HERE) for a list of their magazine adventures. Also see John T. Winterich's review of Dillon Anderson's earlier book, I and Claudie (1951):

   "What happens to the pair is exactly the sort of thing one might expect
—they get into tremendous jams and turn all of them to at least temporary advantage, and a temporary advantage is all they ask for.  . . . Mr. Anderson, who pulls the strings (and obviously has a fine time doing it), is a Houston lawyer, and his legal training stands him in good stead, because Clint and Claudie sometimes run pretty close to the border-line (and not of Texas) 
and could frequently use a good lawyer or any lawyer at all."
   — "Don Quixote in Texas," The Saturday Review, November 3, 1951 (HERE)


Friday, October 12, 2018

"ALAN 3 Is Willing to Break ALL THREE LAWS to Solve a Truly Reprehensible Crime"

(Post-Hurricane Michael Edition)

"RAM Shift Phase 2."
By Greg Bear (born 1951).
Illustration by Jacey.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 15 December 2005.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

     "RAM SHIFT PHASE 2 begins with the fatal breakdown of a shining, chromeplated Rorabot Model 34c nicknamed LULU 18 in a room with no windows and whose door is locked."

In this week's book review: ALAN 3, "a highly RAM-engaged robotic dysfunction investigator," probes the inexplicable nonfunctionality of LULU 18, "an extremely 
desirable machine still well within its operational warranty" . . .

- Gregory Dale Bear is an old pro in SFF circles who's been selling science fiction stories for more than fifty years; see all that Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), his own website (HERE), and the ISFDb bibliography (HERE) have available.
- For what is meant by "The Fourth Law, and beyond," see Wikipedia (HERE) and especially (HERE).
- Our latest run-in with robots, John D. MacDonald's "Nicky and the Tin Finger," is (HERE).

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wilkie Collins: A Crime Fiction Writer Ahead of His Time

(Hurricane Michael Edition)

IT SEEMS AS IF every time we turn around we find out something new about crime/
detective fiction. Today's revelation is the not-so-well-known fact that Charles Dickens's 
good pal Wilkie Collins might have been the first to introduce into crime stories that durable plot element used countless times by pupils enrolled in the Hardboiled School, the femme 
fatale. At any rate, it's certain that W.C. got there long before Hammett, Chandler, Goodis & Co.—1880, to be precise. Judging from what's available in print and on the World Wide Wobbly, we must conclude that, as a mystery/crime fiction author, Collins easily out-
classes Dickens. The story we have in mind in this regard is . . .

"Who Killed Zebedee?"
(a.k.a. "Mr. Policeman and the Cook").
By Wilkie Collins (1824-99).
First appearance: Bolton Weekly Journal, 24 December 1880.
Reprinted in Little Novels (1887; online HERE).
Short story (12-20 pages as a PDF).
Online in many places, including Prof. David Stewart's Library (HERE; PDF) and SFFAudio (HERE; PDF).

A tale of murder with a new twist—new, that is, for the 19th century . . .

Comment: If you streamlined Collins's Victorian prose into 20th century colloquial English and removed his name, you just might think Cornell Woolrich wrote it.

- We've already dealt with William Wilkie Collins several times, particulary with respect to his two classic novels, The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) (HERE), as well as: T. S. Eliot's take on The Moonstone (HERE); how Collins's crime fiction was a good fit for the Victorian frame of mind (HERE); and why, according to one author, The Moonstone is the only piece of detective fiction literature ever produced (HERE).
- Following in Poe's innovative literary footsteps, Collins added soon-to-be-commonplace elements to the detective story in The Moonstone—although there is some uncertainty about whether he was actually the first; see the Wikipedia subsection (HERE).

- Wikipedia has an uncharacteristically spoiler-free page about "Who Killed Zebedee?" (HERE); however, it's still better for you to read the story first.
- For a scholar's understanding of this work, see Ellen Harrington's "Failed Detectives and Dangerous Females: Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Detective Short Story" (2005) (HERE; especially pages 8—13), but, again, only after you've read the story.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Science Fiction Authors Can Follow the Rules Just As Easily As the Authors of Today's Whodunits"

"The Futuristic Detective."
By Robert W. Lowndes (1916-98).
First appearance: Science Fiction Stories, January 1959.
Editorial article (6 pages).
Online at (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE) (scroll down to page 102—note: a slow load is certain).

   A really well-done old-fashioned murder mystery is quite rare these days, but even rarer is one with a science fiction/fantasy (SFF-nal) theme. Back in the '50s, uber-editor Robert Lowndes expressed hope that SFF authors would come up with more of them in the future, basing his conception of what a true-blue SFF-nal detective story should be on S. S. Van Dine's prescriptive rules dating from the '20s, most of which, in Lowndes's estimation, were still viable regarding what ought to and ought not to be used in a story. A worthy goal, certainly, but Lowndes evidently didn't get the memo from the hardboiled "realistic" crowd and their publisher cohorts that, as far as they were concerned, the traditional whodunit was, for all practical purposes, dead and buried . . .

A few excerpts:
   "In following them [Van Dine's rules], the science fiction author can produce a story which, in so far as it is a puzzle for the reader to solve if he can, is as much of a sporting event as the offerings of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout . . ."

   "A 'clue' does not have to be an object: It may be an event, a reaction on the part of some character, or a description of the scenery or setting which the detective has seen—but which he does not identify as a clue at the time."

   "One well-used, but entirely legitimate, device is a character's 'evidence' which appears to be substantiated by someone else, but actually is not—we really only have this character's word for it." [Lowndes cites JDC's The Emperor's Snuff-Box: "the trickery was legitimate."]

   "Van Dine here specifically rules out 'mind reading,' and this necessarily holds for the ordinary murder mystery. But in science fiction 'telepathy' could play a role so long as it 
is properly controlled." [In the '50s and '60s, mind readers were often called "psi's" or "espers."]

   "The culprit, too, must be a major character in the story—not a stranger or bit-part player—and someone in whom the reader takes an interest." [And not doing so is still a common reader complaint these days—except when authors fall in love with their char-
acters and forget they're writing a mystery with a plot.]

   "In this passage, he [Van Dine] rules out '. . . pseudo-science and imaginative and specu-
lative devices'—again, a sound prohibition for the ordinary detective tale. And it is this taboo which has made so many feel that we just can't have a 'fair' murder mystery in science fiction."

   "I think we can agree that the culprit should not be a professional criminal . . . The guilty one must not have any sort of organization to fall back upon that any other ordinary person might not have." ["organization": the Mafia, SPECTRE, and the like.]

   "Like Van Dine, we insist upon murder (although lesser crimes may also be involved) for the main misdeed investigated—and the 'murder' must not turn out to have been accident 
or suicide."

  "The 'sporting' detective story of our times has a fine tradition, which continues, despite 
the accumulation of shoddy imitations . . ."

- Our author, Robert Augustine Ward Lowndes, is remembered primarily these days for his SFF-nal editorial efforts, although he produced a respectable amount of fiction over the years. Like Isaac Asimov before him, Lowndes took it as a challenge to come up with an authentic science fiction detective story; he explains his thinking here:

  "Back in the early '40s, I remember a bull-session that some of us had with John W. Campbell, where he stated definitively that there could never be any such thing as a science-fiction detective story in the traditional 'murder mystery' sense. His reason for this proclamation was that since almost anything can happen in a science-fiction story – the villain can pull any sort of dingus or super-phenomenon out of his hat – the reader would never have a fair chance to solve the mystery. I didn’t quite believe it, yet I couldn’t think of any counter-argument to throw at John at the time. But, as Holmes would have said, it was all so absurdly simple! Of course there can be science-fiction murder mysteries, offering the reader as good a chance to solve the crime as he has in any ordinary murder-mystery where the author is playing fair. And you can have science-fiction wonders and dinguses and super-scientific phenomenon, too: you just make it clear that nothing essential to the solution of the crime is wrapped up in super-science, or intricate phenomenon and extrapolation that only a scientific wizard could be expected to unravel. The motives, methods, and clues must all lie within the range of what is clearly presented to the reader. I hope Puzzle Planet will convince you that the murder mystery does have a place in science fiction."
   — "The Puzzle Planet," Wikipedia (HERE; no major spoilers)

- Lots of information about Lowndes is on the Interweb: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), Fancyclopedia (HERE), and the bibliography at the ISFDb (HERE).
- Lowndes also wrote a "juvenile" space opera for Winston books, Mystery of the Third Mine (1953).
- To our surprise, we've discovered since we started this weblog that quite a few SFF stories involve criminous activities—never fear, we'll continue our never-ending search for them on the World Wide Webbie. Here, picked at random, are just a few of our previous postings about crime-and-science fiction mashups:
   Anthony Boucher's "Public Eye" (HERE), Fletcher Pratt's "Double Jeopardy" and "The Square Cube Law" (HERE)
   Henry Hasse's "We're Friends Now" (HERE), Adam Christopher's "Brisk Money" (HERE)
   Sam Moskowitz's "The Sleuth in Science Fiction" and "The Super-Sleuths of Science Fiction" (HERE)
   Fredric Brown's "Daymare" (HERE), Daniel F. Galouye's "Kangaroo Court" (HERE)
   Sydney J. Bounds's "Time for Murder" (HERE), Guy Archette's "Not As Plotted" (HERE)
   Mike Adamson's "Masques" (HERE), and David Berreby's "The Punishment Fits the Crime" (HERE).

Friday, October 5, 2018

"He Looks More Like a Pickpocket Than a Burglar"

"The Unwilling Burglar."
By E. R. Punshon (1872-1956).

Illustrations by Will Owen (1869-1957).
First appearance: The London Magazine, April 1903.
Short short story (6 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

     "Matey, don't yer reckon as when yer was a-makin' love to that there cook, you might 'ave found out about that, too?"

As Mr. Tompkyns will soon learn, teaching somebody a lesson, even if it's for their own good, is, like all human endeavor, subject to Murphy's Law . . .

Comment: Here we see a fine detective fiction writer at the very beginning of his career; by all accounts, he vastly improved with time.

~ Mr. William Tompkyns:

  "You must remember, Mollie, and you, too, my dear, that this house is particularly open to attack. Not only are you two women left alone in the house until my late return, but there is my collection of coins."
~ Mrs. Jane Tompkyns:
  "Really, William, I do wish you would not have such horrible ideas."
~ Mollie Tompkyns:
  "I do not think myself that the coin collection would attract the average burglar. He is not, as a rule, possessed of numismatic tastes."
~ The average burglar:
  "It's a ten year stretch, mate. You take my tip and try to get sent to Parkhurst. Portland's just 'orrid."
~ The sergeant:
  ". . . he's done time before, but not the other."

- FictionMags about Ernest Robertson Punshon: "Born in London." Although Punshon wrote some short stories, he's better known for three dozen novels featuring policeman Bobby Owen, which are just now seeing republication after years of neglect; go to the GAD Wiki (HERE) and Mike Grost's Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE) for plenty of additional information. You might also seek out Curtis Evans's articles that focus on or 
touch upon Punshon's detective fiction (HERE).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Summer 2018. Issue #48.
Editor: Arthur Vidro.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
36 pages (including covers).
Cover image: The Amateur Crime by A. B. Cox.

For a rundown of the contents of this issue of OLD-TIME DETECTION (or OTD), go to Steve Lewis's Mystery*File for September 27, 2018 (HERE) and read the article first.

Just below you'll find links to related information for supplemental reading:

  (1) Arthur B. Reeve and Craig Kennedy: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
  (2) Grant Allen and Colonel Clay: Project Gutenberg (Australia) (HERE) and FadedPage (HERE).
  (3) Guy Boothby and Simon Carne: Project Gutenberg (HERE).
  (4) E. W. Hornung and A. J. Raffles: Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
  (5) Maurice Leblanc and Arsene Lupin: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
  (6) E. C. Bentley and TRENT'S LAST CASE: the GAD Wiki (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
  (7) Philip MacDonald and THE RASP: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (8) Ellery Queen and THE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (9) H. F. Heard and A TASTE FOR HONEY: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (10) Vera Caspary and LAURA: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (11) Agatha Christie and A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (12) Ellis Peters and DEATH AND THE JOYFUL WOMAN: Wikipedia (HERE).
  (13) Ngaio Marsh and DEAD WATER: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (14) Dick Francis and NERVE: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
  (15) William S. Baring-Gould and NERO WOLFE OF WEST THIRTY-FIFTH STREET: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE), and Noah's Archives (HERE).
  (16) Freeman Wills Crofts: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE).
  (17) Anthony Berkeley, Roger Sheringham, and Francis Isles: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and (HERE).
  (19) Cornell Woolrich and FRIGHT: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and MostlyFiction Book Reviews (HERE).
  (20) Edward D. Hoch and ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE: the GAD Wiki (HERE) and Mystery*File (HERE).
  (22) Harry Kemelman and ONE FINE DAY THE RABBI BOUGHT A CROSS: the GAD Wiki (HERE).
  (23) Anthony Boucher and THE CASE OF THE SOLID KEY: the GAD Wiki (HERE), Pretty Sinister Books (HERE), Noah's Archives (HERE), and The Green Capsule (HERE).
~ ~ ~
Subscription information:
- Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn.
- Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.
- One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($15.00 for Mensans).
- One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 20 pounds sterling or 25 euros).
- Payment: Checks payable to Arthur Vidro, or cash from any nation, or U.S. postage stamps.
Mailing address:
   Arthur Vidro, editor
   Old-Time Detection
   2 Ellery Street
   Claremont, New Hampshire 03743
Web address:


Monday, October 1, 2018

"Everything's Going to Be All Right"

"The Punishment Fits the Crime."
By David Berreby.
Illustration by Jacey.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 9 March 2006.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

     "This is not a prison, but a facility for research and compassionate care."

"Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage" goes Lovelace's poem, but with somatic-genetic engineering, who needs those silly things . . .

- In our story, the author confines himself to a specific kind of gene manipulation; for more about the whole field of genetic engineering see (HERE; Wikipedia) and (HERE; PDF).

The bottom line: