Monday, October 21, 2019

"This Is the Trial of a Living Man for the Crime of a Man Who No Longer Exists"

"A Question of Identity."
By Frank Riley (1915-96).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
First appearance: IF — Worlds of Science Fiction, April 1958.

Novelette.
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; 27 pages as a PDF) and Archive.org (start HERE, finish HERE; 22 pages).

     "What is a Man?...A paradox indeed—the world's finest minds gathered to defend a punk killer...."

When do you stop being you?

Major characters:
~ Judge Hayward:

  "Any mule can kick a barn down; it takes a good carpenter to build one."
~ Tony Corfino:

  ". . . a bungling hoodlum who had killed two bystanders in a miserable attempt to rob 
a bank."
~ The D.A.:
  ". . . I'm going to whip you, Jake—and that punk's going to burn!"
~ Jake Emspak:
  "First, we will prove that the law has not kept pace with the progress of science and the forward march of human thought. Second, we will prove that Tony Corfino is not Tony Corfino!"


Typos: "was fasted around Tony's right arm" ["fastened" or "made fast"]; "a complex 
casual series" ["causal"].

Resources:
- REFERENCES: "In the glass-fronted TV booth, where the 80-year-old Edward R. Murrow had created something of a stir by his unexpected appearance a few moments earlier": For a while in the 1940s through the '60s, Murrow (1908-65; Wikipedia; HERE) enjoyed fame as a radio and then later television newscaster, but contrary to our story he died at the age of 57; his age places the story in 1988. "Could Jake Emspak's fee be traced back to Peiping, new headquarters for the Comintern?": A very dated reference to the Communist International (Wikipedia; HERE), an organization dedicated to "struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state." "This looked like an interminable case, even on microfilm.": A now-primitive kind of document reader (Wikipedia; HERE and especially HERE). "From Los Angeles, the 
ebullient old television commentator, George Putnam, still indefatigable in his late 
sixties, reported . . .": Putnam (1914-2008; Wikipedia; HERE) would indeed have been 
that old in 1988. "It was Benjamin Cardoza [sic] who said . . .": Benjamin N. Cardozo 
(1870-1938; Wikipedia; HERE), the lawyer and judge.
- Like all worthwhile human endeavors, organ transplantation (Wikipedia; HERE) can be perverted into criminal activity (Wikipedia; HERE); meanwhile, due to how they were 
abused, lobotomies (Wikipedia; HERE) have since fallen out of favor.
- Frank Wilbert Rhylick adopted the nom de plume of Frank Riley, although his SFF-nal output was quite limited; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb bibliography (HERE), and a collection of his stories on Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Science fiction/fantasy (SFF) has been kicking around the idea of what constitutes humanity for a long time; even Star Trek weighed in on the topic thirty years ago with a Next Generation episode (HERE; Wikipedia; SPOILERS). Long before then, however, the provocative existence of Adam Link gave rise to the notion (HERE), although he wasn't comprised of "meatware" like Corfino and couldn't be classified as a cyborg (Wikipedia; HERE).
- Just this past May we featured another trial-themed Frank Riley story, "The Cyber and Justice Holmes" (HERE).

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Friday, October 18, 2019

"The Trouble Boys Don't Get Paid to Forget"

THANKS TO HOLLYWOOD, just about everybody has heard of Raymond Chandler and his most famous creation, Philip Marlowe, but only a few would recognize Tony Reseck, his solo appearance being in . . .

"I'll Be Waiting."
By Raymond Chandler (1888-1959).
Illustrations by Hy Rubin (1905-60; HERE).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, October 14, 1939.

Collected in Five Sinister Characters (1945), Red Wind (1946), The Simple Art of Murder (1950), Trouble Is My Business (1950), and The Smell of Fear (1965).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (PDF; HERE; 2 illos).
(Note: Text a little smudgy but legible.)

     "I was married to him once. I might be married to him again. You can make a lot of mistakes in just one lifetime."

They say love will find a way—yeah, to get you killed . . .

A few characters:
~ The porter:
  "His hat's way low. You can't hardly see his face. He says, 'Get Tony,' out of the side of his mouth. You ain't got any enemies, have you, Tony?"
~ Tony Reseck:

  ". . . hardly breathed for ten minutes. He just watched her, his mouth a little open. There 
was a quiet fascination in his limpid eyes, as if he was looking at an altar."
~ Eve Cressy:
  "A name waiting for lights to be in."
~ Al:
  "I forgot. Guess you don't want to shake hands."
~ The night clerk:
  "Hurry back, pop. I don't know how I'll get through the time."
~ Carl:
  "Gat under his arm."
~ James Watterson:
  "They never run out of gas—those boys. Early and late, they work. The old firm never sleeps."


Resources:
- According to The Thrilling Detective Website (HERE), our story, featuring the only appearance of Tony Reseck, was adapted for television in 1993 (IMDb; HERE):


   "As far as I know, TONY RESICK [sic] only appeared in one story, Raymond Chandler's classic, 'I'll Be Waiting', but it was a memorable appearance. Tony is markedly different from Chandler's other detectives, who are either Philip Marlowe or Philip Marlowe-clones (Mallory, Carmady, John Dalmas, etc.)."

- A previous post focusing on one of Raymond Chandler's stories, "A Man Called Spade," is (HERE). While Chandler felt free to criticize other "mystery" writers, he couldn't escape the criticism offered by Joyce Carol Oates ("Dorothy L and Raymond C via Joyce Carol O"; HERE). For comparison and contrast, see also "Random Thoughts about the Classic Detective Story" (HERE), John Kessel's "The Big Dream" (SFF; HERE), and Mary Wertheim's "Philip Marlowe, Knight in Blue Serge" (essay; HERE).
- REFERENCES: "Do you like Goodman, Miss Cressy?": That's Benny Goodman, the musician and band leader, enormously popular in 1939 (Wikipedia; HERE). "Since Vienna died, all waltzes are shadowed.": Then-current history; see "Vienna Under the Nazi Regime" (City of Vienna; HERE). "The Last Laugh. Emil Jannings.": A 1924 silent movie (Wikipedia; HERE). "He could hear the grass grow, like the donkey in The Blue Bird.": Take your pick; there was the 1908 play followed by two silent film versions in 1910 and 1918 and an impending talkie version (1940) with Shirley Temple, but most sources don't mention the donkey (called "the ass" in the play; Wikipedia; HERE). "Then he sat back, relaxed again, his neat fingers clasped on his elk's tooth" and "clasped his hands on his elk's tooth and quietly closed his eyes.": No idea.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"He's Worth a Hundred Times Your Make-Believe Million Dollars"

"Star Light, Star Bright."
By Alfred Bester (1913-87).
First appearance: Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1953.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Some profanity.)

Most geniuses excel in only one area; take Stuart, for example, who can't spell worth a hoot but knows just how to keep from being "it" . . .

Major characters:
~ M. P. Warbeck:

  "You can't imagine how flattering it is for a schoolteacher to be taken for a thief."
~ Walter Herod:
  "I've got 75,000 a year I'm taking out of this and I'm not going to let you chisel."
~ Joe Davenport:
  "There's a million kids a square inch in Brooklyn."
~ Jacob Ruysdale:
  ". . . disliked being separated from his liver & onions but was persuaded by $5."
~ Stuart, Anne-Marie, Tommy, George, and lazy Ethel:
  "Do I have to diagram it? What would the army pay for a disintegration beam? What would an element-transmuter be worth? If we could manufacture living robots how rich would we get? If we could teleport how powerful would we be?"

Resources:
- REFERENCES: "You've got no right to kidnap me and grill me like the MVD," a reference to Soviet Russia's secret police organization (Wikipedia; HERE); "It's a switch on the Spanish Prisoner routine" (Wikipedia; HERE); "He's probably figured out tricks that would make Dutch Schultz jealous," referring to (THIS) "gentleman" (Wikipedia); and "Ringaleevio, Chinese tag, Red-Light and Boxball" (Wikipedia and Dictionary.com; HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

- A similarly themed book and movie adaptation thereof are detailed in Wikipedia (SPOILERS; HERE and HERE), but note that Bester was there first, even beating out another vaguely sim-ilar story by Jerome Bixby (HERE) by half a year.
- Previously in "You Must Be One Lousy Shot" (HERE), we featured the nearly unpindownable SFF that Alfred Bester was capable of.
The bottom line:
  "When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them."
   — Rodney Dangerfield

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Monday, October 14, 2019

"His Leg Buckled and He Stood There on the Other One, Like a Chicken Does on a Cold Frosty Morning, and Just Stared at Me"

   ". . . already blood was showing on the polished stage floor."

STORIES WITH A show business background offer an extra something to the reader, and stories with a crime element offer even more. Our author, being one of the renowned "Black Mask boys," doesn't shy away from violence, but it's not nettlesome enough to overpower 
the plot, which is a serviceable mystery, a shooting in front of hundreds of witnesses . . .

"Murder Backstage."
By Roger Torrey (1901-46).
First appearance: Private Detective Stories, August 1940.

Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild expletives.)

     "Rawlin had been on the stage once, but he’d given up all that to become a private detective. In his acting days, women had been his chief weakness; and right now, the murder that confronted him was causing him no more trouble than the girls in the chorus!"

Being hired to guard expensive jewelry depending from a gorgeous showgirl's neck would seem to be the ideal assignment for a gumshoe who can't get enough of women, but things rapidly go south when somebody decides to take a shot at his beautiful client . . .

Characters:
~ Teddy Rawlin, the narrator, ham actor with a new profession:

  "I’m a private investigator. I played a part like that in that show that folded over at the Grand, and all the guy had to do was walk around and look wise and every now and then say ‘this is a difficult case to solve.’ So I got myself a job with the Arnold Investigation Service. I eat steady now, which is more than I ever did in show business."
~ Leo Marks, stage manager:
  "He just stared at me. I slapped his face hard, first one side and then the other, and the dopey look went out of his eyes and he shook himself a little. He shoved a button on the board . . ."
~ Lois McAvoy, statuesque songbird:
  "She laughed at me in the mirror—and I started wishing the show wouldn’t be on in fifteen minutes or less. She had that kind of eyes and laugh."
~ Mary Mars, "a cat," observes Rawlin, "if ever one meowed":
  "Mary Mars was a demure looking little wench that wasn’t much bigger than a drink of water—and who was hell on wheels."
~ Harry Brice, a fallen angel:
  "If it wasn’t that he’s got more dollars than Mr. Carter’s got pills, they’d have him in jail for chasing kids. He’s a louse! He’s a rat! He’s been nothing but trouble for me and this show since he angeled it."

~ Mitzi Mareaux, in the wrong place at the wrong time:
  ". . . her real name was Mabel Welch and she was born over in Brooklyn. She was running around with a guy named William Morris—we’ve got him downstairs right now, working on him."
~ The doctor:
  ". . . a fussy little bird with a Vandyke and a medical bag came bustling through the crowd, shoving them every which way."
~ Joe Ellers, police detective:
  "If we’re wrong. How in hell can we be wrong?"
~ William Morris, not a nice guy:
  "He beat the girl up, only last week—he’s crazy jealous about her and has threatened her plenty of times. Everybody in the show will testify to that."
~ Carlotta, much put upon:
  "She smacked her in the face a couple of times more, for good measure, and looked up at me . . ."


Resources:
- No self-respecting, rent-paying pulpster would have been without series characters (viz., Erle Stanley Gardner), and Roger Denzel Torrey was no exception: Dal Prentice (Black Mask, 1933-35), George Killeen (Black Mask, 1934-36), Johnny Carr (Dime Detective, 1934), Mike O'Dell (Black Mask, 1935-36), Pat McCarthy (Black Mask, 1936-40), Sean Connell (Black Mask, 1937-38), Irving Kowalski teamed with Mike Hanigan (Detective Fiction Weekly, 1937-41), John Carey, Jr. (DFW, 1937), John Boyle (Private Detective Stories, 1938, 1942), Joe Kent (PDS, 1940), Donovan (Black Mask one-shot, 1940), Bryant (Black Mask, 1940-42), Sam Drake (PDS, 1942), Terry Hannigan (Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, 1943, 1944, 1946), and John Ryan (Speed Detective and PDS, 1943-46). [All data from FictionMags.] Our story, how-ever, doesn't feature any of those guys.

- One character unkindly remarks, "Half the time I think I’m working in Jumbo," a reference 
to (THIS). A "chesterfield" doesn't refer to a cigarette but something comfortable to sit on (HERE).
- The setting and plot of our story remind us of a movie, Lady of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck (HERE and HERE).

- If you'd like to know what Manhattan looked like in the '40s, there's a collection of Charles W. Cushman's vintage photos (HERE) and still more by others (HERE).
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Friday, October 11, 2019

"You're Going to Stand Trial—and These Natives Are Out to Get You"

"Letter of the Law."
By Alan E. Nourse (1928-92).
Illustrations by Rudolph Palais (1912-2004; HERE).

First appearance: IF — Worlds of Science Fiction, January 1954.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; no illos) and Archive.org (HERE; illos).
"So I pulled an old con game," says Harry. "So what?" So this: If he'd done his homework as any sharpster should, he wouldn't be facing the prospect, as his counsel puts it, of having his "blood splattered liberally all the way from here to the equator" . . .

Major characters:
~ The Judge:

  "This—creature—is hereby accused of the following crimes. Conspiracy to overthrow the government of Altair I. Brutal murder of seventeen law-abiding citizens of the village of Karzan at the third hour before dawn in the second period after his arrival. Desecration of the Temple of our beloved Goddess Zermat, Queen of the Harvest. Conspiracy with the lesser gods to cause the unprecedented drought in the Dermatti section of our fair globe. Obscene exposure of his pouch-marks in a public square. Four separate and distinct charges of jail-break and bribery. Espionage with the accursed scum of Altair II in preparation for inter-planetary invasion."

~ The First Witness:
  "I could see that I was face to face with the most desperate of criminal types, even for Terrans. Note the shape of his head, the flabbiness of his ears. I was petrified with fear. 
And then, helpless as I was, this two-legged abomination began to shower me with 
threats of evil to my blessed home, dark threats of poisoning my land . . ."
~ The Second Witness:
  "This one was testifying regarding the butcherous slaughter of eighteen (or was it twenty-three? Oh, yes, twenty-three) women and children in the suburban village of Karzan. The pogrom, it seemed, had been accomplished by an energy weapon which ate great, gaping holes in the sides of buildings."
~ Harry Zeckler:
  "These charges, all of them—they're perfectly true."
~ The Prosecutor:
  "The defendant is obviously lying."
~ Paul Meyerhoff:
  "A lovely frame. Airtight. A frame from the bottom up, and you're right square in the middle."


Resources:
- Trained as a physician, Alan Edward Nourse hit the jackpot with his science fiction; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); not known for his movie and TV work, the IMDb (HERE) informs us that he did nevertheless manage to rack up three acting credits.

- Inevitably, Harry Zeckler puts us in mind of another galactic conman named Harry, Harcourt Fenton Mudd; see the Memory Alpha Fandom entry (HERE).
- Zeckler's defense hinges on a paradox contrived by a 6th-century B.C. Cretan philosopher; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our story takes place on a planet orbiting Altair, a star, which, although just over 98 trillion miles away, is easily visible from Earth; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).  Probably the most well known fictional depiction of Altair is the film Forbidden Planet (1956), details about it being in Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE).

Altair (left) compared to the Sun.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"If I Am Playing with Reasonably Intelligent Men Who Also Have Mastered the Percentages, No One Would Win"

"How Can You Lose?"
By D. L. Champion (1902-68).
First appearance: Mystery Book Magazine, Winter 1950.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Theoretically, everyone would finish absolutely even to the cent."

A friendly game of poker, right? Not quite . . .

Characters:
~ Eben Barkley:

  "I fail to see how even a fool can lose money at poker."
~ Sam Barnes:

  ". . . was possessed of a loud voice. His laugh was a thundering inanity and his 
morals, the professor reflected, would furnish grounds for gossip in a jungle."
~ Maria Barkley Barnes:
  ". . . was putty in Sam's wonderfully manicured hands."
~ Detin:

  ". . . a portly man with a cherubic countenance, regarded the professor oddly 
for a moment . . ."
~ Andrews:
  "This will require some proof."
~ Manners:
  "Gosh, I should have phoned home an hour ago. Excuse me."


Resources:
- If you're not familiar with the game, you can brush up on poker (HERE; Wikipedia).
- Our only encounter with D'Arcy Lyndon Champion so far was his prestidigitationally-themed "Murder Magic" (HERE), but there will be more in the future. FictionMags's thumbnail (which has a two-page listing of his stories): "Writer and creator of the pulp character 'The Phantom Detective'; served with the English during World War II. Born in Melbourne, Australia; died in New York City." Like many longtime professional pulpsters, Champion had series characters, among them: James Quincy Gilmore, a.k.a. Mr. Death (Thrilling Detective, 1932), Rex Sackler (DFW and Black Mask, 1939-50; see The Thrilling Detective Website HERE for more about him), Inspector Allhoff (Dime Detective, 1938-46; see TTDW HERE; not a nice guy: see TomCat's weblog HERE), and Mariano Mercardo (Dime Mystery, 1944-48; TTDW HERE).


The bottom line:
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Monday, October 7, 2019

"Old His Clay May Be, but There Was Still in Him the Ancient Bloodhound Catching a Distant Whiff of a Chase to Come"

"The Adventure of the Extraterrestrial."
By Mack Reynolds (1917-83) and August Derleth (1909-71).
Illustration by John Schoenherr (1935-2010; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, July 1965.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (26 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; anticipate a very slow load; go down to text/PDF page 104).

     "In which the Immortal Detective, despite his great age, proves the advantages of native wit in solving problems . . ."

Places: London and Closton Manor.
Time: October.


The Sage of Baker Street, now officially in retirement, is approached by a young man with a most unusual request, namely to initiate a genuine search (not a fake one) for any space aliens who might happen to be running around London, the intent being to placate the young man's father, who is inclined to believe they're already here. You probably won't be surprised to hear that there's a fortune at stake . . .

Characters (in order of appearance):
~ Dr. Watson, an old, if massively irritated, friend:

  "I suppressed a yawn. Was this to go on forever? What in the world were they getting at?"
~ Sherlock Holmes (or is it Solar Pons?), retired octogenarian consulting detective:
  "I never close a case . . ."
~ Peter Norwood, son of Sir Alexander:
  "Men from Mars. Spaceships, I suppose. All that sort of rot."
~ Mullins:
  A "middle-aged, work bent servant".
~ Sir Alexander Norwood, of Closton Manor:
  "Peter, I am afraid, is of the opinion that I am somewhat around the bend."
~ Alfred:
  "Doing wot?"
~ The man:
  "His eyes came again to me and I had the impression of being quickly weighed and rejected as an element to be considered in this nonsensical verbal duel."


Typos: "introduced us with a flare"; "Sir Aexander"; "for a monent"; "faintily".

Resources:
- This story strongly correlates with "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" (1903), collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes; for more, see Wikipedia (summarized HERE; SPOILERS), the IMDb (filmed in 1985; HERE; SPOILERS), and the full text at Sherlock Holmes Stories (HERE; PDF).
- During the course of the story, mentions are made of "the case of Kaspar Hauser," which Wikipedia details (HERE), as well as "flying saucers" (HERE), H. Spencer Jones (HERE), "a young German chap, Willy Ley" (HERE), Charles Fort (HERE), bug-eyed monsters (HERE), the British Museum (HERE), "The Case of the Cutter Alicia" (HERE), the Great Mogul Diamond (HERE), the Noche Triste (HERE) of Hernando Cortés (HERE), the sarcophagus (HERE) of Alexander of Macedon (HERE), and Roger Bacon's (HERE) Elixir Vitae (HERE).
- For more about Dallas McCord "Mack" Reynolds go to Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE), and for the uncredited August William Derleth (HERE).

- We featured Reynolds's "Gun for Hire" this past January (HERE).
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Friday, October 4, 2019

"Madness and the Cunning of Madness Lie Back of All This"

PROFESSOR AUGUSTUS S.F.X. VAN DUSEN: The mere mention of the name will probably leave you scratching your head and with a perplexed expression on your face 
if you're not familiar with the protostars of the impending Golden Age of Detection. 
Let's leave it to Harlan Ellison, of all people, to put the good Professor into some kind 
of context:

   "Friends, do you long for a respite from the anomie of modern detective fiction? Do you voicelessly cry out for deliverance from tea-cozy melodramas in which varicose-veined elderly matrons unravel nefarious plots among the forsythia? Do you weep, in the gentle, lonely, small hours for a world in which private eyes do not get sapped across the noggin by footpads and yeggs with lisle stockings stuffed with small change? Is your reading fare fairly fruitless? Do you feel hemmed in by homicides and henna-haired 'hoors who use the eff-word to the ultimate degree of shocklessness? If you tremble at my words, take heart: we offer you Escape! The sweet opportunity to fly thee hence, to go back to Edwardian times in genteel Boston, to an era of ominous gaslight and the clatter of Hansom cabs, to the recent invention of the 'phone and the introduction of the auto cab. A time of mystery and mayhem in which the Bertillon System was not yet wholly antiquated, while yet the Fingerprint Method was still in its adolescence. We offer you surcease from the hysteria and hype, the nonsense of nauseous semiliteracy of Modern Times.
  "We offer you Prof. Van Dusen."
   — Harlan Ellison, Introduction to Jacques Futrelle's "The Thinking Machine": The Enigmatic Problems of Prof. Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S. (2003) (HERE)


At the time Van Dusen made his debut, Sherlock Holmes had been resurrected just a few years before, and every scribbler from here to yonder was capitalizing on it by flaunting his own version of Sherlock before a public that couldn't get enough of brainy detectives; Futrelle's Thinking Machine would eclipse, at least for a short while, Doyle's immortal character, until the sinking Titanic would carry an all too mortal Futrelle—and with him 
any future adventures for Van Dusen—to the bottom of the North Atlantic:

   "Futrelle was, like every other writer worth his hire in those skinny times, utterly enthralled by Holmes and the metaphor of a lone, logical, observant savant with an unerring sense of Right vs. Wrong as representative of the most noble striving of the human race. This embodiment of a sort of, well, homo superior, achievable in homo sapiens if one uses deductive logic and strong ethical behavior, has been the dream of our species since prehistory.
   "And here it was, that dream of the rational man. Embodiment: Sherlock Holmes. So Futrelle was not (nor has been) the only conjurer of detective fiction to emulate the Doyle template. . . . But The Thinking Machine was one of the first to manifest that Holmesian metaphor." — Harlan Ellison, op. cit.


What about the stories as a whole, and Futrelle's abilities as a writer in particular?

  "Friends, I will not diddle you. This is not great literature. It is not even the greatest mystery writing . . . It is good, solid, competent writing. [The stories] are good, some better than good, a few just adequate. . . . Though The Think-ing Machine stories were enormously popular in their time, though they still amuse and entertain, they creak more than a little." — Harlan Ellison, op. cit.

. . . with which we find ourselves reluctantly agreeing, but then anything over a hundred years old is bound to develop some creaks, n'est-ce pas?
   At any rate, we now come to Van Dusen's first case; Ellison thought that "The Vanishing Diva" would be a good name for it, but history has decreed that we know it by its original 

title . . .

"The Problem of Dressing-Room A."
By Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912).
First appearance: Associated Sunday Magazine, September 2, 1906.
Reprinted numerous times since.
Short story.
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL): EPUB (HERE) and HTML (HERE).
     "THAT strange, seemingly inexplicable chain of circumstances which had to do with the mysterious disappearance of a famous actress, Irene Wallack, from her dressing room in a Springfield theater in the course of a performance, while the echo of tumultuous appreciation still rang in her ears, was perhaps the first problem which was not purely scientific that The Thinking Machine was ever asked to solve. The scientist's aid was enlisted in this case by Hutchinson Hatch, reporter."

And to think it all comes down to a box of chocolates . . .

Characters (in alphabetical order):
~ Dr. Carlton, surgeon at the Springfield City Hospital.
~ Hutchinson Hatch, the "Watson" of the piece.
~ Detective Mallory, of the Boston Police Department.
~ Gertrude Manning, Miss Wallack's personal maid.
~ Langdon Mason, the leading man.
~ William Meegan, the stage doorkeeper.
~ Stanfield, the manager.
~ The Thinking Machine, a "light-heartedly irritable little genius" (EQ).
~ Irene Wallack, gone but not forgotten.
~ Stanley Wightman, the supporting actor.


Resources:
- The play being performed when Miss Wallack disappears is As You Like It, detailed in Wikipedia (HERE).
- Information about John Heath Futrelle and his most famous character is abundantly available at FictionMags (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), and the IMDb (HERE

15 writing credits, all posthumous). Futrelle's writings sometimes strayed into SF-nal 
territory (his biggest hit, "The Problem of Cell 13," just barely fitting into that genre; 
go HERE); see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Earlier this year we featured "The Problem of the Vanishing Man" (HERE). We'll be returning to the good Professor from time to time simply because some of his adventures are, by and large, fine tales of ratiocination, more Dupinesque than Holmesian—i.e., more pure detective than action hero.
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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Up Above a Blaster Sizzled and Rock Clattered"

"Into the Shop."
By Ron Goulart (born 1933).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), April 1964.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "The disintegrator didn't leave much."

As our editor, Avram Davidson, informs us, "Although this latest Ron Goulart story displays his unmatched talent for the reductio ad absurdam, it is not basically a funny story at all." Proceed with caution . . .

Major characters:
~ Stu Clemens:

  "Watch out. It's not the girl. He may try to make a break now."
~ Lawagon-A-10:
  "Right now Clemens needed the car badly, needed what it could do."
~ Jr. Marshall Kepling:
  "Central verifies the ID on the kidnapper from the prints we found."
~ The repairman:
  "I have just apprehended and tried him. He was disguised as a repairman . . ."


Typo: "said Kipling [Kepling]".
Resources:
- Ronald Joseph Goulart seems to enjoy mixing the detective and science fiction genres (thus "sf-tec"), usually with good results—although, as he admitted in an interview: ". . . none of this plays fair with the reader, I guess, which is why there is some annoyance from some circles"; for more about that go (HERE).

- The usual valuable reference sources: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), Fantastic Fiction (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE; 6 writing credits); as you can see from those, most of his writings can be grouped into various milieus, with "Into the Shop" falling into his Barnum System sequence, which the SFE elucidates as:

   ". . . a Space-Opera venue called the Barnum System which much resembles Southern California: urbanized, helter-skelter, crazed and balkanized, the planets of this system . . . are populated in large part by traditional comic stereotypes or humours, deftly drawn. Again like many of its successors, this pattern-setting tale [one of his novels, The Sword Swallower] features a gangly detective on the trail of a complex crime; his need to search out clues and suspects takes him (conveniently) through a wide spectrum of scenes and characters. Similarities of plot and setting (and numerous cross-references) dog any anatomizer of series in the Goulart universe, but other books specif-ically set within the Barnum System – which Goulart added to throughout the most active years of his sf career – are numerous and enjoyable . . ."

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Monday, September 30, 2019

"With His First Step the Darkness Exploded in a Blasting Roar, and the Oblong of the Window Was Dimly Outlined by a Reddish Flicker"

"Bonds to Burn."
By O. B. Myers (?-?).
First appearance: Dime Detective, May 1941.

(Cover image showcases the story.)
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "The other gun bellowed twice more in abrupt succession, and Ned felt a faint breeze fan his cheek."

When an agent for an insurance company that indemnifies couriers happens to see a 
violent bond robbery, he's doubly involved both as a witness and professionally, leaving 
him determined to do something about it—but he never bargained on a wild shootout 
in the dark . . .

Major characters:
~ Ned Hollister:

  "Doctor, did you notice the way he looked at me? That strange expression, when I told 
him—"
~ Doctor Nelson:
  "They all make faces when they kick off."
~ Joe Voder:
  "He deserves better than potter's field."
~ The detective-lieutenant:

  "If we didn't have a couple of dead men on our hands, I'd begin to think there hadn't 
been any shooting at all, witnesses or no witnesses."
~ The woman:
  "Close behind him came a girl who sprinted lightly on her toes, like a dancer. She had 
striking features with dark eyes under penciled brows which were probably stunning in repose."
~ Officer Hannigan:
  "Don't tell me I got the wrong one this time!"


Resource:
- FictionMags's short fiction list for Oscar B. Myers shows he was a multi-purpose pulpster generating fiction that often had an aviation background (e.g., Battle Birds, War Birds, Flying Aces, Dare-Devil Aces, etc.) or, very rarely, athletics (Dime Sports), but more frequently crime fiction (e.g., Popular Detective, The Phantom Detective, G-Men Detective), seven stories of the latter featuring his series 'tecs Nick Bray, three with Rig Donaldson, and two with John Cummings. "Bonds to Burn" seems to be his only Ned Hollister adventure.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

"Dust Has No Voice"

"Deadly Dust."
By Gerald Vance (a house name used by Randall Garrett, William P. McGivern, Rog Phillips, Richard S. Shaver, Robert Silverberg, Henry Slesar, and someone else; SFE HERE; ISFDb data).
Illustration by "Ed Emsler" (Ed Emshwiller, 1925-90; HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, October 1952.

Novelette (21 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)
     ". . . there was only an untidy bundle of clothes covered with a film of dust as grey as the fog . . ."

A "writer of fact detective articles" goes to his boss with what would normally be considered a cold case, one involving treason, with the prime suspect already having served his time; although at first he can't be sure he can do anything more with it, he will soon discover that everything isn't as cut and dried as everybody claims it is and that judging a book by its cover—or, in this instance, a man by his circumstances—isn't something you should do when that man has "the power to kill" and, when backed into a corner, is willing to use it . . .

Characters (in order of appearance):
~ Fred Dawson, an editor determined to stay in touch with the zeitgeist:

  "I tell you, the public is getting fed up with axe murders, sex cases, hopped-up kid heisters, and so on. I'm looking for a new angle, something that will grab hold of the reader's imagi-nation and make him want to know what's going to happen next."
~ Jay Jones, a dogged reporter (flippantly dismissed by Bill Bryce as a "boy detective"):
  "But, Fred. This isn't fiction I'm writing. It's fact detective. Sure, I'll go along with you on maintaining reader interest. But I don't have the latitude the fiction boys have."
~ Bill Bryce of the F.B.S., prone to mixed metaphors:
  "I'll play ball with you, Jay, until you try to steal home on me. You adopted this baby. Have fun with it."
~ Mario Giarni, the man with a loaded accordion:
  "Why is it that you guys can always prove a guy innocent after he's done his time? What are you going to do, get my job back for me? My wife? The respect I once knew? Do me a favor. Just let me alone!"

~ Lem Mason, the wrong arm of the law:
  "Don't ever let me hear you say you ain't got it, punk!"
~ Tom Sanborn, the projects manager of Bayshore Laboratory:
  "Perhaps there were things he didn't want brought to light."
~ Mark Hartley, lab assistant:
  "What a bum they made outa him . . . but for my money he was a right guy."


Comments: It's just a coincidence, but this one reminds us of Rambo; also, for San Francisco buffs, the action takes us on a brief tour of the town as it was in the 1950s, 
from east to west to south, with the finale in the densest residential section.

Typos: "Sacremento and Kearny"; "Mark Harley" [Hartley]; "a wave of blackness [?] through his brain".

Resources:
- Probably more than you'll ever want to know about the accordion (the kind that isn't loaded) is in the Wikipedia article (HERE); Waldteufel's "The Skaters' Waltz" ("Les Patineurs Valse"; HERE) acquires additional significance in our story.
- "Chevie," as an abbreviation for "Chevrolet," has fallen into disuse since the '50s, with "Chevy" winning out in general use over time: "Due to the prominence and name recog-

nition of Chevrolet as one of General Motors' global marques, Chevrolet, Chevy or Chev 
is used at times as a synonym for General Motors or its products . . ."Wikipedia (HERE)
Jay Jones's car, except it was blue.
- The good folks at FictionMags have been able to identify some of the authors behind the "Gerald Vance" alias (HERE).
- Several other "Gerald Vance" stories are online at Project Gutenberg; links are (HERE).

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

"A Little Matter of a Smooth Operator and an Equally Smooth Private Eye"

"The Goldfish Caper."
By Morris Cooper (?-?).
First appearance: Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, January 1967.

Short story (15 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "IF YOU WANT YOUR GOLDFISH BACK, HAVE A THOUSAND DOLLARS READY IN ONE-DOLLAR BILLS."

Our private eye could've probably made sense of it all a lot sooner, if only people had stopped conking him on the cabeza . . .

Characters:
~ Lorne K. Roberts:

  "I discovered a tribe whose natives worshipped literally hundreds of idols made of pure gold and encrusted with precious stones."
~ Lieutenant Al Clark:
  "You been drinking?"
~ Bertha Clark:
  "I checked at the library and called the university. Everybody said the fish story sounded just like a fish story."
~ Charles Hava:
  "You ought to have your head examined."
~ The medical examiner:
  "He had some pretty rough treatment before he was killed."
~ The lab man:
  ". . . that right index print is a ringer for the one we found on the jewel box."
~ Steve West:
  "Too bad you didn't check the bed sheet while you were waiting for me to show up.
"

Ellery Queen didn't have a monopoly on dying clues, you know:

  "Then I saw the tip of the finger was bloodied—and right next to it on the bedsheet were some red markings. There were two parallel lines, with a wavering slanted line between. Almost as if he'd been trying to make an N but hadn't quite succeeded. I couldn't figure it; but it had to be important. It must have taken everything he had to get his finger to his bloodied chest, and then down again to make those wavering lines."

Typos: "Oh the way out"; "to lend credulity to his story".

Resources:
- You might be surprised how many varieties there are of goldfish, the result of selective breeding in China a thousand years ago; see Wikipedia (HERE).

- FictionMags lists Morris Cooper's stories, but no other details about him and his work 
seem available.
- Since we started this weblog, we've come across quite a few stories (some conventional, some SFnal) that deal with insurance fraud, with one of the most recent being Robert Sheckley's "Double Indemnity" (HERE).

The bottom line:
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