Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"I'm Up Against Something Fantastic"

"Cosmic Hotfoot."
(a.k.a. "To B or Not to C or to D").
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).

Magnus Ridolph No. 8.
First appearance: Startling Stories, September 1950.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE; some pages blurry but readable) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; much cleaner text; slow load; go to magazine page 82).

     "The Threat of Manual Labor Forces a Space Adventurer to Solve the Riddle of Jexjeka!"

Being an investigator does entail certain risks, particularly on a totally airless and deadly planet: "Magnus Ridolph had disappeared as completely as if Destiny had reached back 
in time and erased the fact of his birth . . ."

Major characters:
~ Howard Thifer:

  "First of all, I'll warn you that if you take on this job there's a good chance you'll be killed. 
In fact you'll certainly be killed unless you do better than the last twenty men."
~ Magnus Ridolph (on "the basis of my method"):
  "I examine every conceivable hypothesis. I make an outline, expanding the sub-headings 

as fully as possible. If I am sufficiently thorough, among these hypotheses will be actuality."

Nice phraseology:
  ". . . a forearm the size of a rolled-up welcome mat."
  "Tables, spires, crevasses the human eye had never been designed to see, the human 
brain to grasp."
  ". . . snorted his mastodonic snort."
  ". . . a fist like a small tub."

Typo: "expect [except] there's no air".

- "Fan, Naos VI, Exigencia, Omicron Ceti III, Mallard 42, Rhodope, New Sudan, Formaferra, Julian Wolters IV, Alpheratz IX, Gengillee": The only two recognizably real stars in this list are Omicron Ceti (a.k.a. Mira; Wikipedia HERE and HERE) and Alpheratz (Wikipedia HERE and Universe Guide HERE). "the Gamma Scorpionis planets": Scorpius, a constellation not to be confused with the astrological sign Scorpio. "Scorpius is one of the 48 constellations identi-

fied by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. It is an ancient constellation that pre-dated the Greeks. It lies between Libra to the west and Sagittarius to the east. It is 
a large constellation located in the southern hemisphere near the center of the Milky Way." (Wikipedia HERE and Universe Guide HERE). Noir, "the dark star" in the story, would proba-bly be classified as a brown dwarf today. (Wikipedia HERE).
- The latest Magnus Ridolph adventure was "The Spa of the Stars" (HERE).

Friday, April 3, 2020

"What Made You Suspicious?"

OUR AUTHOR'S REPUTATION rests on his adeptness with wild and woolly science fiction-fantasy-Tarzanesque adventure narratives, so we weren't expecting to find a 
mundane detective story by him, but Roy Glashan did . . .

"An Eye for an Eye."
By Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946).

First appearance: Presumed to be The Australian Worker, 
29 September 1937.
Short short story (8 pages as a PDF).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL) (HERE; HTML).

     "Might have got away with it, but he was a leetle too clever."

Not a whodunit but an efficient five-minute how-we-catch-em in the Dr. Thorndyke/Columbo tradition . . .

Principal characters:
~ Charlie Whiteshirt:

  ". . . was bent on murder."
~ Rance Gordon:
  "Bareheaded, and clad in white polo shirt, and shorts, Gordon was walking straight towards the spot where Charley's boat was hidden, presenting an easy target."
~ Sheriff Abner Peters:
  "I'm going to cut me a ten-foot pole and poke around in the muck."
~ Jack Williams:
  "Why, he had no reason to take his own life! He was forging ahead in his profession, win-

ning a name for himself. Had plenty of money and plenty of leisure."

- "Seminole Indian": A tribe that was never conquered by Europeans. "The word 'Seminole' is derived from the Muscogee word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning 'runaway' or 'wild one'." (Wikipedia HERE).

- All of the reference material about Otis Adelbert Kline focuses on his SFF: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); Fadedpage has a collection of his works (HERE), as does Roy Glashan (HERE).

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"A Spatter of Blood Began To Fall Like Rain"

"The Spa of the Stars."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 7.

Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE)
First appearance: Startling Stories, July 1950.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Ten million munits sunk into the place and three paying guests!"

The flora on the resort planet of Kolama is lush, giving the place an undeniable charm; 
the fauna, on the other hand, are an entirely different proposition, as Magnus Ridolph unpleasantly discovers when he becomes the unwilling subject of an ill-considered experiment: "The dragon opened its maw, darted its head forward, snapped . . ."

Principal characters:
~ Joe Blaine:

  "We don't need a trouble-shooter. We need a dragon-shooter and a water-beetle shooter 
and a flying-snake shooter. Lots of 'em."
~ Mayla:
  "She was a creature of instinct, rather than intellect, and this suited Joe Blaine very well."
~ Lucky Woolrich:
  "I've got the man to help us out if anyone can. He's highly recommended. Magnus Ridolph. 
A well-known genius. Invented the musical kaleidoscope."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "Of course, if you wish to retain me as a consultant, I can outline a simple chemical 

process . . ."

- "the white sun Eta Pisces": To the Babylonians it was basically a fish bucket. "Eta Piscium (η Piscium, abbreviated Eta Psc, η Psc) is a binary star and the brightest point of light in the constellation of Pisces with an apparent visual magnitude of +3.6. Based upon a measured annual parallax shift of 9.33 mas as seen from Earth, it is located roughly 350 light-years distant from the Sun in the thin disk population of the Milky Way." (Wikipedia HERE).

- Our previous Magnus Ridolph adventure was "The King of Thieves" (HERE).

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Timely Dying Clue

"Time Will Tell."
By Robert Arthur (1909-69; Wikipedia HERE and FictionMags Index HERE).

First appearance: Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine, 
May 1940.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "It was a slim reed, but it was all he could give us to go on."

The murder and robbery of an elderly shop owner would seem to have had no witnesses to testify about it—but then there's the testimony of that electric clock, "humming busily on the counter" . . .

Principal characters:
~ Hans Wetzel:

  "The clocks ticked on, but Hans Wetzel lay where he had fallen—behind the curtain that separated the front and rear halves of the store, hands stretched out as if grasping at something that he had not been able to catch or hold."
~ Lucas Lane:
  ". . . stared down at the body and the dried line of blood, and the question mark was mirrored in his mind. Who?—it asked. Why?"
~ The assistant M.E.:
  "If only all these timepieces could tell you something of what happened last night."
~ The suspects:
  ". . . Wetzel's son, and the old German who says he left his jewelry with Wetzel. The lawyer, too. And the lad who claims he only stopped in to have Wetzel look at his watch."
~ Sergeant Jernegan:
  "We've found those four, and they all say they was here, and the times they admit to are close enough to the times as given us so that we think we've got 'em all. That don't prevent, of course, somebody we ain't learned about having been here."

Note: The assistant M.E.'s statement is a perfect example of foreshadowing.

Typo: "Lane agreed with, with".

- "Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight": A slight misquotation of the poem "Rock Me to Sleep" (1859) by Elizabeth Akers Allen, enormously popular during the American Civil War. (Poetry Foundation HERE and Wikipedia HERE).
- "an El at each end of the block": They're still around. "A railway that operates on a raised structure in order to permit passage of vehicles or pedestrians beneath it, especially one 
that is part of an urban mass transit system." (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- "there was no hope of getting any of the value of it out of Germany under the present laws": At the time, remember, Germany was being ruled by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "He had a wide influence among German-Americans . . .": There was a small but persistent undercurrent of sympathy in America during the '30s for the National Socialist cause. (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've already visited with Robert Arthur, Jr. a couple of times: "Midnight Visit" (HERE) and "Too Dumb to Be Fooled" (HERE).


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"King of Thieves—King of Bloodsuckers—Extortioners—That's a Better Name for You!"

"The King of Thieves."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 6.
First appearance: Startling Stories, November 1949.

Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).

Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to page 98; it will be necessary to download the entire issue, 175 MB.)

     "Ridolph's in his element on Moritaba, where petty pilfery is the hall-
mark of citizenry and larceny reigns supreme!"

We've encountered other stories featuring societies where theft and even murder were acceptable, and sometimes actually required, social behavior; consequently, some of 
you may be mildly shocked by how easily Magnus Ridolph fits in with the social scene 
in Challa . . .

Principal characters:
~ Ellis B. Mellish:

  "You see, my friend, that's how I do things. I get what I go after."
~ Tomko:
  "Old Kanditter—that's the king—won't make any concessions whatever."
~ Kanditter, the King of Thieves:
  "He steal crown—he king. That is law of the Men-men."
~ The helicopter pilot:
  "Wouldn't ever have knowed you was a detective. You don't look the type."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "You owe me a hundred thousand munits for the telex you filched from my property. 

I'll take double or nothing."

- "the hot yellow light of Pi Aquarii": It's actually blue. To the Chinese, this star is associated with the tomb, while to the Arabs it's a tent. "Pi Aquarii, Latinized from π Aquarii, is the Bayer designation for a binary star in the equatorial constellation of Aquarius. This system has an apparent visual magnitude of a mean apparent magnitude of +4.57. Based upon parallax measurements, it is located at a distance of roughly 780 light-years (240 parsecs) from Earth." (Wikipedia HERE; also see Universe Guide HERE).
- "somewhere in Argo": A classical constellation, you might say. "Argo Navis (the Ship Argo), or simply Argo, was a large constellation in the southern sky that has since been divided into the three constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela. The genitive was 'Argus Navis,' abbrevi-ated 'Arg.' Flamsteed and other early modern astronomers called the constellation just Navis (the Ship), genitive 'Navis,' abbreviated 'Nav.' It was identified in Greek mythology with the Argo, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts that sailed to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Our latest adventure with Magnus Ridolph was "The Howling Bounders" (HERE).

The bottom line:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Just Like a Story-Book Detective, Aren't You?"

THE STORIES FEATURING Edward "Tiny" David of the Black Horse Troop of the New York State Police written by Robert R. Mill enjoyed a long run in Blue Book during the '30s and '40s, totaling nearly four dozen in number; most (but not all) of them, truth be told, weren't exactly of the breathless action variety, tending more toward pleasant, slice-of-life than pew!-pew! action pieces. We've decided to showcase a couple of "Tiny" David narratives with the word "murder" in them to see how much excitement of the cerebral kind they might generate and let you decide if they do . . .
   "There was a snarl upon the face of the man in tweeds."

"Murder on the Island."
By Robert Mill (1895-1942).
Illustrations by V. E. Pyles (1891-1965; HERE).

First appearance: Blue Book, May 1933.
Lt. Edward "Tiny" David No. 2.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "In the center of the forehead there was a round hole surrounded by an irregular black circle."

Normally in murder mysteries the butler is above suspicion, and so it is in this case—except that he's the suspicious corpse . . .

Major characters:
~ Herbert Jenkins:
  ". . . a tall, thin man dressed in the livery of a butler."
~ Joseph Bahn:
  "I remember smiling as I thought that Jenkins would deliver even securities worth half a million upon the conventional silver tray."
~ Mildred Bahn:
  "My father dislikes publicity. I share that dislike."
~ Sergeant James Crosby:
  "He fell to the path without a sound."
~ Trooper Edward "Tiny" David:
  "He saw curiosity clash with murderous hate, and curiosity won."

~ ~ ~
   "Any fool would know this was an inside job."
   "Maybe any fool would."

"Murder at Dark Lake."
By Robert Mill (1895-1942).
Illustrations by Monte Crews (1888-1946; HERE).

First appearance: Blue Book, February 1935.
Lt. Edward "Tiny" David No. 7.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "Always suspect a male secretary. He's nearly always guilty—in the best magazine stories."

When they consider their own mortality, most people say they'd prefer to die serenely in bed, and the victim in our story probably shared that sentiment; it's also probable, though, that even he never anticipated how he was going to depart this vale of tears . . .

Major characters:
The victim:

~ Gordon Prescott:
  ". . . died instantly. The wound was inflicted with a long, slender knife, and it reached the heart. He was asleep when he was stabbed. You will want an autopsy, of course."
The doctor:
~ Dr. Hinds:

  "I was notified at once, and I was here half an hour later."
The suspects:
~ Louis Hamilton:

  "That's strange. I saw more than a thousand dollars in there this morning."
~ Julia Holmes:
  "I have nothing to say. You can't make me talk."

~ Harold Roberts:
  "I fear I can't duplicate the blind man of fiction."
~ Richard Dobson:
  "He didn't like me."
~ James Blood:
  ". . . the butler. Always suspect the butler. He's usually guilty, when the secretary isn't."

The law:
~ Lieutenant George Homer:
  "As long as I am in this outfit, you'll work."
~ Captain Field:
~ Sergeant Edward "Tiny" David:
  ". . . produced a dagger with a long, slender blade. He held it just beneath the hilt as he placed it on the table before the Lieutenant. There was fresh blood upon the point."

- According to the FictionMags Index, Robert R. Mill's first "Tiny" David story was "Enter: Tiny David" (a.k.a. "The Gilman Case") in the July 1929 Blue Book. PulpFlakes (HERE) fills us in: "Between 1933 and 1942, he [Robert R. Mill] published nearly 75 stories in Blue Book, an average of 8 a year and nearly 45 of them were 'Tiny' David stories. They must have been popular with the readers."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

"Many, Many Men and Women They've Killed"

"The Howling Bounders."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).

Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
Magnus Ridolph No. 5.
First appearance: Startling Stories, March 1949.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "How did you kill them? They're like iron."

The prospect of realizing a handsome profit on his investment leads Magnus Ridolph, always hard up for money, to purchase a ticholama plantation on Naos VI; at first it looks like a good business move, but then comes the growing realization that he has been the victim of a swindle, not to mention the very real threat of the murderous Howling Bounders. However, anyone hoping to get away with scamming him is foredoomed to underestimate the formid-able intellect of Magnus Ridolph . . .

Major characters:
~ Gerald Blantham:

  "When he saw Magnus Ridolph, he shaped his features into a frame of grave solicitude."
~ Chook:
  "Them the Howling Bounders. Very bad. Kill you, kill me. Kill everything."
~ Captain Solinksy of the T.C.I.:
  "Hope you succeed. No one ever has before."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "Is it my end, then, to be fired like a piece of crockery in a kiln? No. I shall undoubtedly suffocate first."

- Our four previous postings about Magnus Ridolph are (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).