Monday, April 22, 2019

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Thirty-two

"Murders and Why They Interest Us."
By E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946).
First appearance: The Sunday Mail, Brisbane, Australia, 

4 January 1925 as "Psychology of Crime Discussed by 
Sensational Novelist."
Collected at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE).
Article (8 pages as a PDF).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE; HTML).


     "A profound student of crime from the age (as he now reveals) of eighteen, Mr. Oppenheim is to-day perhaps the best-known writer in the English language in his own particular field."

By the time this article appeared, Sherlock Holmes was very near the end of his career as a crime solver, preparing for his retirement to Sussex to cultivate bees, so that the editorial comment just above has some validity. Oppenheim's main concern is to establish a plausible rationale with the public for his own fictional output by comparing and contrasting it with 
real-life crime.

A few brief excerpts:
   "If you write about crime, you must be able to trace the mental process that led up to it."
   "Our interest is excited and our senses are kindled, for the simple reason that, victor or victim, the thing might have happened to us. This is the inner meaning of plausibility . . ."
   "In any modern criminal case—say a murder trial—the student is compelled to start at the wrong end."
   "There is a man of my acquaintance at the present moment who I am perfectly certain would commit a murder to-morrow if he had the courage."
   "My first personal association with crime was when, at the age of 18, I was spending a few months
on Exmoor—the loneliest part of England."
   "The activities of this order of being have increased since the war, possibly because since those days of wholesale slaughter the value and sanctity of human life have fallen in the scale."
   "[America's] ports, however, are still open, although to a restricted degree, to a constant stream of immigrants anxious to share in her prosperity. Naturally enough, this leaven of hot-blooded denizens of Eastern European countries, many of them newly arrived in the country, makes for a larger percentage of crime."

   ". . . this habitual criminal, this person who commits crime as a matter of business or through sheer moral degeneration, is of very little practical use to the novelist. No one 
wants to read about him and he makes no general appeal."
   "The novelist in his eager probing of life in search of material is attracted wholly and entirely by the second class of criminal, namely, the man or woman who commits an 
offence against society through lack of restraint. This is the man worth talking about, 
worth studying, worth analysing."
   "He was the victim of a code which exists for the benefit of the majority, and from 
which the minority must suffer."
   "A community must be governed by standardised statutes and not by the standard of a variable human intelligence subject at all times to variation of influence. . . . Fixed laws 
are the only practical deterrent."

Typo: "under a give set".

Resources:
- You can read more about Exmoor in Wikipedia (HERE).
- Roy Glashan has compiled an interactive bibliography of E. Phillip Oppenheim's works (HERE); for RGL's comprehensive Oppenheim page go (HERE).
- The IMDb's filmography (HERE) gives Oppenheim 48 screen credits from 1914 to 1973, 
the last being an episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (HERE).

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Friday, April 19, 2019

"I Think That a Guy Like Stilson Was Expecting Too Much"

"Geared for Slaughter."
By John Benton (house pseudonym, possibly Norman A. Daniels).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, March 1939.

Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "I'm a killer. I not only admit it, but I'm proud of it."

It's said we're living in the age of specialization—and apparently that goes for 
criminals, too . . .

Typo: "on the roof of an office buildings".

Resources:
- We're guessing "John Benton" really was Norman Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg), who, as we've noted (HERE), can be regarded as a "nearly forgotten uberpulpster." If mystery stories about steam trains interest you, try Daniels's "Satan Turns the Timetables" (HERE).

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Ours Was the Most Security Conscious Project in the Whole Country; and This Was Where He Had Picked to Get Himself Killed"

TODAY WE RETURN to the golden days of yesteryear when a tape-fed electronic computer could—and often did—occupy the entire floor of a building . . .

"Witness."
By George H. Smith (1922-96).
Illustration by [Frank] Kelly Freas (1922-2005; HERE).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, May 1955.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "Now he couldn't mistreat Edith anymore."

It's abundantly clear that if our killer ever read this precautionary observation from the Bard of Avon, s/he dismissed it: "To be wise and love, Exceeds man's might" . . .

Characters:
~ Dr. Dudley Ballard:

  ". . . had been as inconsiderate in his dying as he had been in his living."
~ Art MacKinney:
  "God! There'll really be a stink about this."
~ Bill Green:
  "I hated Ballard's guts and everyone knew it, so there was no point in being hypocritical now."
~ Edith:
  ". . . was only a computing machine, a mechanical brain, the final result of years of work by the best cybernetics experts in the world."
~ Mr. Thompson:
  "He looked nervous and I couldn't help wondering what he was thinking. There had been stories circulating about Ballard and Thompson's wife and the dome-headed little man must have heard them too."
~ A gray haired, gray suited security agent:
  "Are you nuts?"
~ The coroner:
  "'—and since it could not have been the work of an outsider, it must have been a crime of a private nature.' He looked closely at Thompson, MacKinney and me. 'A crime of a private nature with the motive either revenge, jealousy or ambition.'"

Resources:
- There's more about George Henry Smith at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "Whether we are based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference. We should each be treated with appropriate respect. . . . HAL was told to lie—by people who find it easy to lie. HAL doesn't know how."
   - Dr. Chandra

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Monday, April 15, 2019

"You See, My Health Altered"

"Change of Partner."
By Donald Shoubridge (?-?).
First appearance: Tit-Bits, March 24, 1951.

Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Was a time when even a gun wouldn't have kept you sitting in a chair."

For most of us the absence of familiar people and places might make the heart grow fonder, but in Charlie's case the absence of his partner just makes him angrier—mad enough, indeed, to kill . . .

Resource:
- All we could find about Donald Shoubridge is FictionMags's story listing from the '30s and '40s (HERE), nothing later.


The bottom line:

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Friday, April 12, 2019

"There'll Never Be Anyone Else but You"

"Death Before Dishonor."
By Dobbin Thorpe (Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008).
First appearance: Fantastic, February 1964.

Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; PDF).

     "Rena Arblest was, perhaps, no better than she should be. But she was no worse, either. And therefore deserved less than she received."

If, like Rena, you take a vow, you'd better be prepared for what happens if you don't keep your promise; unfortunately, she wasn't . . .

Resources:
- For over forty years Thomas Michael Disch, a suicide, generated SFF on a consistent basis; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the thorough bibliography at the ISFDb (HERE).
- "It was a for-real tattoo"; see Wikipedia (HERE) for more about the practice.


The bottom line:
  "If I decide to get a tattoo, it'll be a map of where I live on my chest in case I ever get amnesia."
  ― Stewart Stafford

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"Just What Are You Worried About—Your Life or Somebody Spoiling Your Night Club Act?"

LIKE MANY OF ELLERY QUEEN'S adventures, today's story began as a radio script which the author later converted into a short story . . .

"The Case of the Squealing Duck."
By George B. Anderson (1908-85).
First appearance: Mutual Radio Network, April 18, 1944.
First text appearance: Mammoth Detective, July 1947.

Short story (16 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

 
    "Danny Dole tried to put them in the aisles as a comedian, but the Crime File of Flamond said something about murder—and it wasn’t funny . . ."

For Danny the apocryphal story about the terminally ill comic on his deathbed should have a special meaning: "Dying is easy," the moribund comic confesses to a concerned friend, "it's comedy that's hard . . ."

Characters:
~ Danny Dole:

  "And then I remembered the old adage: never shoot into a flock of ducks 'til you can see the whites of their—eyes. I wait. The ducks get closer. The time is ripe. I pull the trigger."

~ Flamond:
  "A gun is a sign of weakness. It's an admission that you aren't able to handle things with your head. It—"
~ Sandra Lake:
  "Flamond’s scared to death of firearms."
~ Sheila Ray:
  ". . . if it wasn’t for her—uh—curves, her voice wouldn’t get her a job callin’ trains in Winapausaukee, North Dakota."
~ Gus Klumb:
  "I’ve got some wonderful friends. They think the world of me. They don’t like people 
who give me bum deals. Sometimes they get sore about it. And when they get mad, 
they do funny things—a lot funnier things than you do in your act."
~ Josef:
  "And it was not attached to any wire, m’sieu."
~ Lieutenant Riordan:
  ". . . of the homicide squad could never have held a job as a movie detective. He simply didn't look the part."

Typos: "nobody could proved it"; "over a Josef's face".

Resources:
- A few then-current allusions crop up in our story:
  ~ When Danny Dole says, "My problem, Mister Ant’ony, is—aw nuts, it ain’t funny," he's referring to a popular personal advice radio program, the Good Will Hour; see (HERE) and (HERE).

  ~ Gus Klumb mentions "bank nights," a Depression-era attraction that ended with the advent of the Second World War (HERE).
  ~ "just like Jolson": That's Al Jolson, a household name at the time (HERE).
- FictionMags lists only two Flamond stories by George B. Anderson, this one and "Case of the Perilous Party," Mammoth Detective, August 1947. Flamond was already known to some readers for his "appearances" on radio (see The Thrilling Detective HERE); the Chicago Trib-une's obit for Anderson is (HERE), from which we quote:

   "In his spare time, Mr. Anderson wrote radio shows. WGN bought his idea for a radio show about a magician turned rackets detective. The hero was Mike Trent and the show was Easy Money, in which Mike beat gamblers and cheats at their game. The successful show, which Mr. Anderson helped write, moved to NBC.
   "He also wrote for such shows as Mystery House, Country Sheriff, Nick Carter and The Crime Files of Flamond. He said he wrote more commercially sponsored mystery shows than any other writer in the world.
   "HE RECEIVED writing credits on hundreds of radio and television shows, including Garroway-at-Large and Welcome Travelers, for which he was chief writer for three year[s]. He also created numerous dramatic shows."


- Old Time Radio has a log of Flamond's adventures (HERE), which debuted in January 1944; note that "The Squealing Duck" was the 16th episode broadcast. OTR also has the original show archived (HERE; MP3; 29 minutes 47 seconds), as well as 8 other shows (HERE) and (HERE).
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Monday, April 8, 2019

"I Played on His Madness to Make Him Do the Things I Wanted Done"

IT'S POSSIBLE THAT not every fan of Perry Mason knows that in his early days as a pulp writer the infallible lawyer's creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, produced several pulpy stories which can easily be considered science fiction/fantasy (SFF); certainly the Internet Science Fiction Database (ISFDb) classifies them as such, with one in particular being . . .

"The Human Zero."
By Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71) (HERE).
First appearance: Argosy, December 19, 1931.

Reprinted in Fantastic, January 1962.
Reprints page (HERE).
Collected in The Human Zero: The Science Fiction Stories of Erle Stanley Gardner (1981; reviewed HERE).
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

(Parental caution: Violence.)
     ". . . he leaped back, just as the panels of the door splintered under a hail of lead which came crashing from the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun."

Caged mice are disappearing—too bad for them—but the same thing is happening to uncaged people, victims who leave behind only their empty clothes . . .

Chapter 1: "A Mysterious Kidnaping"
Chapter 2: "Who Is Albert Crome?"
Chapter 3: "Into Thin Air"
Chapter 4: "A Madman's Laboratory"
Chapter 5: "A Fantastic Secret"
Chapter 6: "Still They Vanish"
Chapter 7: "A Fiend Is Unmasked"


Characters:
~ P. H. Dangerfield:

  ". . . a millionaire member of the stock exchange . . ."

~ Arthur L. Soloman:
  ". . . [had] a dry, husky voice that was as devoid of moisture as a dead leaf scuttling across a cement sidewalk on the wings of a March wind."
~ Bob Sands:
  "What has the bank got to say about how much kidnapers demand?"

~ Sid Rodney:
  "I may have a hunch that's worth while. Will you give me a break on it, captain, if it's a lead?"
~ Captain Harder:
  ". . . nodded wearily."
~ Ruby Orman:
  "Scene one of greatest consternation. Men glanced at each other in an ecstasy of futility."

~ Charles Ealy:
  "Dramatic scene enacted in office of Captain Harder at an early hour this morning."
~ Detective Sergeant Selby:
  "Keep sober."
~ The servant:
  "When I count three, sir, I shall shoot."


Typos: "strength of the mortal"; "that shoes"; "The officer was pined"; "termperature"; "I dont know"; and several lines were chopped up on page 39.

Resources:
- If you're interested in absolute zero see Wikipedia's article (HERE).


(Click on image to enlarge.)
- Empty suits are also a prominent component of one of Anthony Boucher's stories (HERE).
- We recently revisited uberpulpster Erle Stanley Gardner (HERE).
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Friday, April 5, 2019

"I Happen to Know That Someone Plans to Kill You Before Morning"

"Murder Magic."
By Robert Wallace (house pseudonym) (FictionMags HERE).
First appearance: G-Men Detective, Fall 1944.

Reprinted in G-Men Detective (U.K.), Winter 1944.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

     "The Great Gadsden Famous Magician Is Suddenly Confronted by a Grim Murder Mystery Far More Baffling Than His Stage Tricks!"

The show must go on, even if there's a dead body backstage . . .

Characters:
~ John Carter:

  "I know he was stabbed here for there are still a few drops of dried blood on the floor."
~ Froggy Taunton:
  "I wouldn’t use that grease paint. It is probably poisoned."
~ Nancy Gardner:
  ". . . opened the door of the dressing room clad in her costume for the show and there were police behind her."
~ Tony Fairmont:
  ". . . the high wire act."
~ Fred Buckley:
  "That may be why he was killed."


Resources:
- FictionMags tells us that "Robert Wallace," our author, could have been any one of these writers: W. T. Ballard (1903-1980), Robert Sidney Bowen (1900-1977), Edwin Vernon Burkholder (1895-1965), D. L. Champion (1902-1968), Anatole Feldman (1901-1972), Charles Greenberg (fl. 1920s-1960s), W. Ryerson Johnson (1901-1995), or C. S. Montanye (1892-1948). Take your pick.
- FictionMags also informs us that the magazine in which our story appeared ran under the title G-Men "for 53 monthly issues until February 1940 at which point the decline of interest in 'G-Man' stories caused a slight change in title (and emphasis) to G-Men Detective and a shift to a bimonthly schedule (occasionally falling to quarterly), which it maintained for a further 59 issues until the magazine folded in Winter 1953."


The bottom line:
   "It's still magic even if you know how it's done."
   — Terry Pratchett

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"If This Is Your Idea of Detective Work, You Need a New Job"

NOW THAT SPRING is here, let's wind back the clock a few months to a tough case of murder dumped on a not-so-jolly old elf . . .

"Claus of Death."
By Michael M. Jones (born 1974).
First appearance: Slipstreams (2006).

Reprinted in The Dragon Done It (2008); reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Baen Books (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)


     "Within a heartbeat, I knew exactly how she'd been nice, and how she'd been naughty. I knew if she'd been bad or good, and what she'd have gotten
in her stocking . . ."

A lump of coal isn't always enough; at such a time only a lump of lead will do . . .

Resources:

- Our author's homepage is (HERE) and his ISFDb listing is (HERE).

The bottom line:

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Thirty-one

BACK IN THE middle of the 20th century one of the editors of The Strand compiled into a book the notes he made of the time that he had spent with the magazine; while it's of interest to general readers, several chapters do briefly offer some tidbits about crime and detective fiction authors . . .

Mirror of the Century: The Strand Magazine, 1891-1950 (1950; 1966 reprint) (full text HERE).
By Reginald Pound (FictionMags HERE).
Chapter Five: "Enter Sherlock Holmes" (8 pages; HERE).

. . . "the greatest short story writer since Edgar Allan Poe" . . . "a gift from Heaven" . . . "the great defect of most detective fiction" . . . "of infinitely wider appeal than Poe's Dupin and Gaboriau's Tabaret and Lecoq" . . . "the Holmes of Paget's imagination rather than of Conan Doyle's" . . . "Why, there's Sherlock Holmes!" . . . "the deerstalker cap which assisted the fixation of Sherlock Holmes in the public mind" . . . "he bravely tried to restore the historical novel to the popular favour" . . . "as a writer he was unique" . . . "You won't! You can't! You mustn't!" . . . "Poor Holmes is dead and damned" . . . "You brute!" 
. . . "a literary cult of exceptional vitality" . . . "I am weary of his name" . . . "Doyle had devised a new fiction form" . . . "He appeared drained of gener-osity".

". . . he was unique . . ."
. . . . . . . . . .

Chapter Ten: "Famous 'Strand' Story Writers" (17 pages; HERE).

. . . "'Let's Keep Holmes Alive' clubs were formed" . . . "outlying groups dedicated to the perpetuation of Holmes as a figure of awesome regard" . . . "The Turks in 1920 believed him capable of being up to no good" . . . "a vitality that has passed from the surprising to the inexplicable" . . . "to the bookstalls with the fierce resolve of shoppers at the January sales" . . . "credulous and uncritical" . . . "ineptitude in certain matters of scientific detail" . . . "a Holmes furore over there" . . . "closing time at the library was extended by half an hour" . . . "any immediate anxiety for money soon disappeared" . . . "content with the surer profits".

The last story.
. . . . . . . . . .

Chapter Thirteen: "Conan Doyle and the Fairies" (13 pages; HERE).

. . . "he had not distinguished himself as a war historian" . . . "a thinner magazine became inevitable" . . . "foiling the machinations of a German villain named Von Bork" . . . "the sense of humour, concerning which Englishmen tended to behave as if they held the world copyright" . . . "Plots sprang up at a wave of his ridiculously long cigarette holder" . . . "the peak of a fame that eclipsed Conan Doyle's with the new reading public" . . . "He was not so fastidious about firearms as James Bond" . . . "a society for the extermination of unpleasing individuals" . . . "grades of living beyond our dimension" . . . "Conan Doyle's latest psychic obsession" . . . "I can only write what comes to me".

. . . . . . . . . .

Chapter Fourteen: "Farewell to Sherlock Holmes" (11 pages; HERE).

. . . "Wonderful is the atmosphere of war." . . . "the most absurdly memorable fiction character of our time" . . . "The last of the fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand through thirty-six years appeared in the issue for April 1927." . . . "a sterling example of the patience and loyalty of the British public" . . . "Despite many inducements, he had remained faithful to The Strand" . . . "as formula-ridden as their commercial counterparts" . . . "it is inconceivable, incredible and fantastic" . . . "he settled down to write two novels a year by dictating an average of 4,000 words a day, four days a week. He kept it up for thirty years" . . . "the fecundity and inventiveness of Simenon".

. . . . . . . . . .
Resources:
- For more about The Strand, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our last Miscellaneous Monday took a sharp turn into thespian territory (HERE).

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Friday, March 29, 2019

"Everything Was All Right, Except for One Mistake, and He'd Come Back to Rectify That"

"The Murderer."
By Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins, 1896-1975) (FictionMags HERE).
Illustration by C. C. Senf (1873-1949; HERE).
First appearance: Weird Tales, January 1930.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; PDF).


     "He had planned it perfectly. That was the only flaw in the whole plan, and he had only to pick up the monogrammed case of silver to be both safe and rich."

Some people just aren't cut out for murder, never mind the perfect murder . . .

Comment: This time it's the artist and not a blabbermouth editor who vitiates the mystery.

Resources:
- It's been almost exactly a year since we last considered a story by William Fitzgerald Jenkins, "Headline" (HERE), one of his numerous thrillers published under the Will F. 
Jenkins byline.
- For some reason this story makes us think of a famous tale by E.A.P. (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
   — Plátōn

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

"There Are Too Many Facts, and They're Too Conclusive"

NINETY YEARS AGO lie detector tests were generally regarded as very reliable, which the protagonist of today's story exploits for all it's worth . . .

"A Fair Reward."
By Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970; HERE and HERE).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, June 28, 1930.

Novelette (21 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)
. . . and let's not forget his need for the special talents of a burglar, a quarter-inch tube of radium worth five grand, an assortment of dilapidated machinery, and, last but not least, a casket . . .

Chapter I: "A Backwater of Life"
Chapter II: "The Scientific Detective"
Chapter III: "Insult Intentional"
Chapter IV: "What About the Reward?"
Chapter V: "Trick Photography"
Chapter VI: "He Got His Reward"


Characters:
~ Governor Kendall, who is having second thoughts:

  ". . . here's what I'm up against. Unless I sign a pardon or a commutation of sentence that woman is going to die within two weeks. She's a mother, two grown children. She has one grandchild. Hang it, Clint, I don't know how I feel. I don't doubt her guilt, and yet—well."
~ Clint Kale, a really scientific detective:
  ". . . [who, as the Governor tells him, is blessed—or, if your prefer, cursed—with] your cold-blooded efficiency, your ever-present air of supercilious superiority that gets you into trouble!"

~ Boston Blackie:
  "Permanent pessimism was stamped upon his features."
~ Carl Rosamond, of the Middlevale Courier:
  "His brain reeled with the stuff he was permitted to publish."
~ Chief of Police Ellery Hatcher:
  "What's comin' off here?"
~ Thomas Jefferson Train, the D.A.:
  "I understand that you were trying to upset a just conviction in a court of justice . . ."
~ Ezra Hickory:
  ". . . produced a big revolver . . ."


Resources:
- The less popular name for a "lie detector" is the polygraph, the subject of a Wikipedia article (HERE). As to how effective the device is, in the same article we learn:


   "Polygraphs measure arousal, which can be affected by anxiety, anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nervousness, fear, confusion, hypoglycemia, psychosis, depression, substance induced states (nicotine, stimulants), substance withdrawal state (alcohol withdrawal) or other emotions; polygraphs do not measure 'lies'. A polygraph cannot differentiate anxiety caused by dishonesty and anxiety caused by something else."

- Clint Kale improvises an electroscope, the operating principles of which are described in Wikipedia (HERE).

- It has been well over a year since we focused on Erle Stanley Gardner's most famous creation (HERE).

The bottom line:
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Monday, March 25, 2019

"Let Me Erase Further Doubt by Telling You Why I Am Here to Kill You"

"Murder in the Past."
By John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44; info HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Illustration by Julian S. Krupa (1913-89; info HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1941.

Short story.
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML; 22 pages) and (HERE: EPUB; 22 pages).
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)

     "His clothes were extremely and expensively cut—and he carried an automatic pistol in his hand."

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it really helps to know the recipe . . .

Characters (only two):
~ Starman:

  "I'll recite a little personal history for you."
~ Faydon:
  ". . . your scheme will never work."


Comment: The original editor's headnote spoils the plot (editors are bad about blabbing too much), and with it the suspense.

Typos: "Faydon relaxed once moire"; "KM you".

Resource:
- Our last meeting with David Wright O'Brien concerned another time travel tale, "24 Terrible Hours" (HERE), with a faintly similar set-up.

The bottom line:

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Let Us Find Him, Parker—the Murderer of My Sister—the Secreter of Her Body"

IS THERE a better way to welcome spring to the Northern Hemisphere than highlighting a story of madness and murder? Of course there is, but that's not going to stop us from offer-ing for your delectation . . .

"The Case of Euphemia Raphash."
By M. P. Shiel (1865-1947).
First appearance: Chapman's Magazine of Fiction, December 1895.

Collected in The Pale Ape and Other Happenings/Pulses (1911; re-printed in 2006).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story.

Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML; EPUB; 27 pages as a PDF), Prof. David Stewart's Historical Texts (HERE: PDF; 10 pages), and eBooks@Adelaide (HERE: HTML; 17 pages as a PDF).
    "I had gradually arrived at the conviction that each of these two lives was as necessary to the other as the air it breathed."

Stupid criminals are a dime a dozen, but (let us give thanks) the insane, murderous genius is a rarity . . .

Comment: A Gothic thriller which Shiel manages to raise to an even higher than usual pitch.

Resources:
- The first time we encountered Matthew Phipps Shiell (note the extra "l") was over five years ago; see ONTOS (HERE).

- Other sources of info about Shiel are FictionMags (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and the SFE (HERE).

The bottom line:
  Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.
    — Polonius

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"One Touch of My Thumb, Up You Go in a Cloud of Smoke and Come Down in a Shower of Nuts and Bolts"

"The Velvet Glove."
By Harry Harrison (Henry Maxwell Dempsey, 1925-2012).
First appearance: Fantastic Universe, November 1956.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "You are urgently needed on a top secret company project."

When you apply for a job, you never know for sure just where it will lead . . .

Major characters:
~ Jon Venex:

  "He heaved a sigh of relief as the door swung open, it was bigger than he had expected—fully three feet wide by five feet long."

~ Alec Diger:
  ". . . had a profound weakness for puns."

~ Dik Dryer:
  "Nobody will hire me like this, but I can't get repaired until I get a job."

~ The trucker:
  "That's my robot you got there, Jack, don't put any holes in him!"

~ Mr. Coleman:
  "He's the meanest man you ever met . . ."

~ Druce:
  "He carried a little black metal can at arm's length, trying to get as far from it as possible."
~ Wil Counter-4951L3:
  ". . . not that that means much any more."


Typo: "That inferred a complex set" [should be implied].

Resources:
- Could robots kill humans? Our previous story dealt with the notion (HERE).
- Our author assumes what a lot of people did back in the '50s, that Venus was a water world ("The burning desire to see something besides rain and jungle"; "working down on the ocean bottom"), but unfortunately for him and numerous SFF authors of the period (among them Big Names like Anderson, Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein), thanks to interplanetary space probes that's now known to be a "Dead Horse Trope"; for more see Wikipedia (HERE) and TV Tropes (HERE).
- Should robots have rights as per the Robot Equality Act in the story? See Wikipedia (HERE).
- After—not before—you've read "The Velvet Glove" go to Technovelgy (HERE) for the inven-tions mentioned in the story.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Thing Was Out to Kill, in a Deadly, Controlled Manner"

"Insecurity Risk."
By Dan Morgan (1925-2011).
First appearance: New Worlds, January 1959.

Novelette (20 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Many years ago American author Isaac Asimov instituted the three basic laws of robotics within which it was essential such humanoid-type machines should perform their services to Mankind. Since then those basic laws have been adopted by almost every science fiction writer and Dan Morgan uses them here to good effect in a story which combines mystery and detection."

The Cardington nuclear power station, still under construction, suffers a tragedy, the murder of a crane operator, which is bad enough, but there's also strong circumstantial evidence bolstered by an eyewitness that one of the new humanoid robots working alongside the humans is the killer . . .

Characters:
~ Quinn:

  "Some of them are saying that it's your fault that the robots were allowed in here in the first place, that you talked them into it."
~ Curtis:
  ". . . grinned broadly. 'That's fine—we might have an interesting meeting.'"

~ Fenton:
  "Such unfavourable publicity might do a considerable amount of damage to the project. And to your own reputation if it became known that you have a strike on your hands, added Curtis mentally."
~ Read:
  ". . . there was this robot with a big spanner in its hand, standing over Ed. He was lying there on the floor of the cab, his head all bloody."
~ Vane:

  "'We're convinced that eventually such a [humanoid] robot will be able to do anything a human is capable of, with no limitations.'"
  "'Including murder?'"
  "Vane winced."


Comment: The surprise here isn't who the murderer is but how he managed it, by taking advantage of "the unconscious prejudice of all of us."

Resources:
- For more on Dan Morgan, writer and musician, see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Curtis asks a pertinent question: "Who are we to create other thinking beings when we can't handle ourselves?" While he's thinking of the possibility of uncontrollable violence in robots, later thinkers proffer even direr predictions:

   "Physicist Stephen Hawking, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk have expressed concerns about the possibility that AI [Artificial Intelligence] could evolve to the point that humans could not con-trol it, with Hawking theorizing that this could be fatal to humanity: 'The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own 
and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded.'"
   — "Artificial Intelligence," Wikipedia

As for robots (embodied AIs) taking away jobs:

   "The relationship between automation and employment is complicated. While automation eliminates old jobs, it also creates new jobs through micro-economic and macro-economic effects. Unlike previous waves of automation, many middle-class jobs may be eliminated by artificial intelligence; The Economist states that 'the worry that AI could do to white-collar jobs what steam power did to blue-collar ones during the Industrial Revolution' is 'worth taking seriously.' Subjective estimates of the risk vary widely; for example, Michael Osborne and Carl Benedikt Frey estimate 47% of U.S. jobs are at 'high risk' of potential automation, while an OECD report classifies only 9% of U.S. jobs as 'high risk.' Jobs at extreme risk range from paralegals to fast food cooks, while job demand is likely to increase for care-related professions ranging from personal healthcare to the clergy. Author Martin Ford and others go further and argue that a large number of jobs are routine, repetitive and (to an AI) predictable; Ford warns that these jobs may be automated in the next couple of decades, and that many of the new jobs may not be 'accessible to people with average capability,' even with retraining. Economists point out that in the past technology has tended to increase rather than reduce total employment, but acknowledge that 'we're in uncharted territory' with AI."
   — "Artificial Intelligence," op. cit.


- We keep bumping into robots, don't we? Our latest such encounter was Harry Harrison's "Arm of the Law" (HERE).

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