Monday, May 17, 2021

"Tracking Down Crime in the Super-mechanized World of the Future"

RAY CUMMINGS had a good idea with this series; it's too bad that either he, his editors, or all of them together didn't continue with it.

   "The devices of modern detective science work both ways."

"Crimes of the Year 2000."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 6, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (14 pages as a PDF).
Online at Faded Page (HERE), (HERE), and UNZ (HERE).

     "The night of June 20th, 2000, when the power failed and we so unexpectedly trapped 2XZ4—America’s most famous murderer-at-large—
will be a red star always in New York’s criminal records."

Criminals habitually look for the weakest points of their victims; in the world of the year 2000, though, the weakest point is something you can't even see . . . .

Main characters:
~ Jac Lombard, first-person narrator:
  "I am a New York S. S. Man—plain-clothesman of the Shadow Squad of New York’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations."
~ George Trant:
  ". . . my partner."
~ Captain Macfarlan:
  " . . . my immediate superior, Chief of City Night Desk 4."
~ Kenna:
  ". . . had radiphoned that he’d stumbled onto something. That was Kenna’s style—by nature he was a browser. Something that concerned the present whereabouts of 2XZ4."
~ 2XZ4:
  ". . . the man wanted for a score of crimes, from murder up to treasonable plotting. 2XZ4 had never been arrested, never been typed. But we had his olfactory classification; the Bloodhound Machine, as the newscasters luridly call it, had contacted his trail several times, so that the scent of him was mathematically known."
~ Paul Green:
  ". . . for years chief of the power house. All the broadcasted aerial power, from which aircraft traversing this district were operated, was under the night supervision of this Paul Green."
~ Iturbi:
  ". . . had been night operator in charge of the power house for several years."

Typo: "Trent commanded".

References and resources:
- "Palisades Aerial Power House": "The Palisades are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of New York City, forming a canyon of the Hudson north of the George Washington Bridge, as well as providing a vista of the Manhattan skyline. They sit in the Newark Basin, a rift basin located mostly in New Jersey." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "broadcasted aerial power": Not quite as safe as was previously assumed by inventors like Nikola Tesla: "Tesla went on to develop a wireless power distribution system that he hoped would be capable of transmitting power long distance directly into homes and factories." (Wikipedia HERE, HERE, and HERE). A related story, Eando Binder's "Static," is featured (HERE).
- "the moving sidewalk of the Hudson River ramp": A gizmo favored by technophilic SFF writers that just screams "the world of the future"; Isaac Asimov, not one known for a vigorous lifestyle, thought they'd be common in a New York just fourteen years up the line from Cummings's vision: "For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections. They will be raised above the traffic. Traffic will continue (on several levels in some places) only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim. Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city's marvels." (The New York Times HERE). For a critique of Asimov's predictions see Inverse (HERE): "To be sure, moving sidewalks would, under the right circumstances, be markedly easier than buses and trains. One would be able to step onto a constantly moving platform without delays (unless it’s broken down) and save several minutes in walking a short distance every day. But the cost is significant, and the infrastructure problems are many."
- Technovelgy credits Ray Cummings with 39 inventions in his SFFnal career, including the Banning heat-gun and, in today's story, the Bloodhound Machine. (Technovelgy HERE, HERE, and HERE). Ray Bradbury had his own variation. (Technovelgy HERE). In Fahrenheit 451: "Outside he suspects the presence of 'The Mechanical Hound,' an eight-legged robotic dog-like creature that resides in the firehouse and aids the firemen in hunting book hoarders." (WARNING! SPOILERS! Wikipedia HERE).
- "like Mercutio, he’d smile with a mortal wound, and smile as he died": Romeo's good pal: "Before he dies, Mercutio curses both the Montagues and Capulets, crying several times, 'A plague o' both your houses!' (Act III, Sc. 1, often quoted as 'A pox on both your houses'). He makes one final pun before he dies: 'Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the first passing taxi": That would be an air taxi; corporations are getting serious about them: "eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) air taxis have been touted as the future of urban transportation. Many companies, both emerging start-ups and established manufacturers, are developing eVTOL vehicles which are expected to hit the market in just a matter of years." (Simple Flying HERE).
- "giant six-foot power vacuum tubes": "In the 1940s, the invention of semiconductor devices made it possible to produce solid-state devices, which are smaller, more efficient, reliable, durable, safer, and more economical than thermionic tubes. Beginning in the mid-1960s, thermionic tubes were being replaced by the transistor." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Four million platinum dollars": These days you are less likely to buy your car with platinum but, paradoxically, more likely to find it inside it: "During periods of sustained economic stability and growth, the price of platinum tends to be as much as twice the price of gold, whereas during periods of economic uncertainty, the price of platinum tends to decrease due to reduced industrial demand, falling below the price of gold. Gold prices are more stable in slow economic times, as gold is considered a safe haven. Although gold is also used in industrial applications, especially in electronics due to its use as a conductor, its demand is not so driven by industrial uses. In the 18th century, platinum's rarity made King Louis XV of France declare it the only metal fit for a king." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "in the sub-stratosphere": "Near the equator, the lower edge of the stratosphere is as high as 20 km (66,000 ft; 12 mi), at midlatitudes around 10 km (33,000 ft; 6.2 mi), and at the poles about 7 km (23,000 ft; 4.3 mi)." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a sub-sea vessel was lurking here—a freighter engined for speed": "A merchant submarine is a type of submarine intended for trade, and being without armaments, it is not considered a warship like most other types of submarines." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The high-voltage current surged": "High voltage electricity refers to electrical potential large enough to cause injury or damage. In certain industries, high voltage refers to voltage above a certain threshold. Electricity can flow between two conductors in high voltage equipment and the body can complete the circuit. To avoid that from happening, the worker should wear insulating clothing such as rubber gloves, use insulated tools, and avoid touching the equipment with more than one hand at a time. An electrical current can also flow between the equipment and the earth ground. To prevent that, the worker should stand on an insulated surface such as on rubber mats." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ ~ ~

   "I sure am glad you’re there! Why, it’s a perfect alibi!"

"Crimes of the Year 2000, No. 2: The Television Alibi."
(a.k.a. "Studio Crime").
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 20, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Faded Page (HERE) and UNZ (HERE).

     "This television case was a routine job on which supposedly I could work alone, without stress or danger. There were a few moments in it, however, when I could have been killed very easily."

The eternal triangle all too often leads to places where most people wouldn't normally want to go, the least desirable destination being death: "Won’t need a more complete autopsy. We’ve got all the evidence now" . . .

Main characters:
~ Jac Lombard, first-person narrator:
  "It was an unusual case for me, from many angles. Chiefly, it introduced me to the most beautiful and appealing girl I have ever seen. And it tempted me to let a criminal escape."
~ George Trant:
  ". . . the only person so far to whom I have told the full details, has ever since regarded me with ironic admiration—amazed, he says, that I am human enough to be tempted."
~ Captain Macfarlan:
  "Assignment from the Crime Prevention Bureau. A perfectly decent young fellow seems liable to commit murder."
~ Elena Denizon:
  ". . . famous television dancer . . ."
~ Willard Jared:
  ". . . President of the American Television Company . . ."
~ George King:
  ". . . a young law student."
~ Franks:
  "I could see in the mirror-grid over her shoulder the image of Franks’ thin face, with the semi-circle of orchestra players partly assembled behind him. He looked strangely worried."
~ Rankin:
  "Murdered. Obvious who did it. And we’ve got chemical proof. Blood on the body and on the desk and the chair."

References and resources:
- "all that was left of the once great Arizona desert": "The Sonoran Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Sonora) is a North American desert and ecoregion which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona, California, Northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is the hottest desert in Mexico. It has an area of 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq mi). The western portion of the United States–Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "like Lady Godiva enveloped by the long, thick mass of her black hair": History's most famous ecdysiast: "Lady Godiva (died between 1066 and 1086), in Old English Godgifu, was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is relatively well documented as the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and a patron of various churches and monasteries. Today, she is mainly remembered for a legend dating back to at least the 13th century, in which she rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband, Leofric, imposed on his tenants. The name 'Peeping Tom' for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend, in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a princess of Barbary, voluptuous as Venus. Yet chaste as Diana": Barbary: "The terms Barbary Coast, Barbary, Berbery or Berber Coast were used in English-language sources (similarly to equivalent terms in other languages) from the 16th century to the early 19th to refer to the coastal regions of North Africa or Maghreb, specifically the Ottoman borderlands consisting of the regencies in Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis as well as, sometimes, Morocco. The term was coined in reference to the Berbers." (Wikipedia HERE). Venus: "The Romans adapted the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for Roman art and Latin literature. In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus became one of the most widely referenced deities of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality. She is usually depicted nude in paintings." (Wikipedia HERE). Diana: "Diana is considered a virgin goddess and protector of childbirth. Historically, Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god." (Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the healing, germ-killing violet-ray": Maybe he means "ultraviolet," or perhaps he's talking about some sort of laser, decades before its invention: "He [Endre Mester] went on to show that low level HeNe [laser] light could accelerate wound healing in mice." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "But no one saw me there": Evidently in this particular future there are no closed-circuit TV cameras: "By one estimate, there will be approximately 1 billion surveillance cameras in use worldwide by 2021. About 65% of these cameras are installed in Asia. The growth of CCTV has been slowing in recent years. The deployment of this technology has facilitated significant growth in state surveillance, a substantial rise in the methods of advanced social monitoring and control, and a host of crime prevention measures throughout the world." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "when the hundred days are up": Our author adds a new wrinkle to marriage law, which is already complicated enough: "When a marriage is performed and carried out by a government institution in accordance with the marriage laws of the jurisdiction, without religious content, it is a civil marriage. Civil marriage recognizes and creates the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony in the eyes of the state. Some countries do not recognize locally performed religious marriage on its own, and require a separate civil marriage for official purposes." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "We received the image and a voice": They're using a videophone: "The concept of videotelephony was first conceived in the late 1870s, both in the United States and in Europe, although the basic sciences to permit its very earliest trials would take nearly a half century to be discovered. This was first embodied in the device which came to be known as the video telephone, or videophone, and it evolved from intensive research and experimentation in several telecommunication fields, notably electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The hissing stab of heat shot over my shoulder and seared the ceiling": That's your basic pulp SFF ray gun at work: "Ray guns as described by science fiction do not have the disadvantages that have, so far, made directed-energy weapons largely impractical as weapons in real life, needing a suspension of disbelief by a technologically educated audience . . ." (Wikipedia (HERE).

Typo: "her words might make up me".
~ ~ ~

"Crimes of the Year 2000: Death in the Fog Tower."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, August 3, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).

NOTE: We've looked high and low and so far we haven't found this story anywhere in the Interzone; when we do we'll post about it as an update.

~ ~ ~
The "Crimes of the Year 2000" stories:
 (1) "Crimes of the Year 2000" (above)
 (2) "Crimes of the Year 2000, No. 2: The Television Alibi" (above)
 (3) "Crimes of the Year 2000: Death in the Fog Tower" (currently unavailable).
"Be patient, okay? I'm certain my contact lens landed right here."


  1. I've read quite a bit of Ray Cummings. I'd class him as an erratic but interesting writer.

    1. You and I agree, Allan; Cummings is seldom uninteresting and can be all over the place with his plots. His saving grace is his imagination.