Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"I Have Died of Boredom"

"From an Unseen Censor."
By Rosel George Brown (1926-67).
Illustrations by Diane Dillon (born 1933; HERE) and Leo Dillon  (1933-2012; HERE) [as by Dillon].
First appearance: Galaxy, September 1958.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (20 pages; 3 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "You can't beat my Uncle Isadore—he's dead but he's quick—yet that is just what he was daring me to try and do!"

A handsome inheritance awaits Uncle Izzy's nephew, but there's a catch: "I bequeath you my entire fortune. Find it." It's there, all right, hidden among the words of "a ghastly poem" . . . .
Principal characters:
~ Rene:
  "It's out of character for anybody to die. But I've seen a lot of them dead."
~ Uncle Isadore:
  "I have hidden my body to avoid the banality of a decent burial."
~ Mr. Picks:
  ". . . shook his head sadly . . ."
~ The Cha'n of Betelgeuse, Lord of the Seven Planets and the Four Hundred Moons:
  "Call me Charlie."
~ Uncle Izzy's nephew:
  "Nevermore"

Typo: "Uncle Algernon".

References and resources:
- This story is saturated with allusions to Poe's "The Raven" (1845); go to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore page (HERE).
- "why he radared": We can't find any sources that describe how radar can be used in message communications. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Alphard kappa," "Procyon beta," "Sirius beta," and "Aldebaran kappa": These star names seem to be the author's inventions; we're guessing "kappa" and "beta" designate individual planets in these systems:
"Alphard designated Alpha Hydrae (α Hydrae, abbreviated Alpha Hya, α Hya), is the brightest star in the constellation of Hydra. It is a single giant star, cooler than the sun but larger and more luminous. It is about 177 light years away." (Wikipedia HERE).
"As determined by the European Space Agency Hipparcos astrometry satellite, this system [Procyon] lies at a distance of just 11.46 light-years (3.51 parsecs), and is therefore one of Earth's nearest stellar neighbours." (Wikipedia HERE).
"Sirius appears bright because of its intrinsic luminosity and its proximity to the Solar System. At a distance of 2.64 parsecs (8.6 ly), the Sirius system is one of Earth's nearest neighbours. Sirius is gradually moving closer to the Solar System . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
"Aldebaran, designated α Tauri (Latinized to Alpha Tauri, abbreviated Alpha Tau, α Tau), is a giant star measured to be about 65 light-years from the Sun . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Cha'n of Betelgeuse": "Classified as a red supergiant of spectral type M1-2, Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars visible to the naked eye. If it were at the center of our Solar System, its surface would lie beyond the asteroid belt and it would engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and possibly Jupiter." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Not like Edgar Guest": Well-known in his day: "Edgar Albert Guest (1881–1959) was a British-born American poet who became known as the People's Poet. His poems often had an inspirational and optimistic view of everyday life." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Footlooses I used to go to": From the context we infer that they were school dances.
- "the dodo": Although human stupidity caused its extinction, the dodo survives in a way: "The Dodo is a fictional character appearing in Chapters 2 and 3 of the 1865 book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). The Dodo is a caricature of the author." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Nepenthe?": "Nepenthe is a fictional medicine for sorrow – a 'drug of forgetfulness' mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the slidewalks of Brooklyn": A mode of transportation that enjoyed a vogue in 1950s SFF: "A slidewalk is a fictional moving pavement structurally sound enough to support buildings and large populations of travelers. Adjacent slidewalks moving at different rates could let travelers accelerate to great speeds." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "From an Unseen Censor" was the first publication for Rosel George Brown, a talented author, who passed away at far too early an age; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), The Future Is Female! (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
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Saturday, April 17, 2021

"The Therapy Was Complete"

"Comfort Me, My Robot."
By Robert Bloch (1917-94).
Illustration by W. E. Terry (1921-92; HERE).
First appearance: Imagination, January 1955.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (12 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; scroll down to text page 62) and Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Hat tip to dfordoom for alerting us to this story.)
     "I want a murder. Premeditated, and in the first degree."

Does jealousy ever justify murder? In the twenty-second century it might depend on who—or what—is being murdered . . . .

Main characters:
~ The Adjustor:
  "And your request is —?"
~ Henson:
  "Simple. I want to kill my wife."
~ Lita:
  "Kiss me first. A real kiss. I like real things."


Typo: "Hensen".


References and resources:
- "Psychotherapy was just like alchemy in those days": "There are over a thousand different psychotherapy techniques, some being minor variations, while others are based on very different conceptions of psychology, ethics (how to behave professionally), or techniques. Most involve one-to-one sessions, between the client and therapist, but some are conducted with groups, including families." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The next crude step was something called the 'psychodrama'": "Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Regarding robots in general, go to the Wikipedia pages (HERE) and (HERE). Regarding the robot types that crop up in our story, go to these TV Tropes pages: "Deceptively Human Robots" (HERE), "Fembot" (HERE), and "Robotic Spouse" (HERE).
- Our latest contact with Robert Bloch was his Cold War thriller "The Past Master" (HERE). Bloch seldom ventured into television, but when he did it could be memorable; see our posting about one of his Star Trek contributions, "Wolf in the Fold" (HERE).
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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"His Eyes, After Glazing for an Instant in an Astonished Stare, Flamed with Hatred"

"Clocked."
By Robert H. Rohde (1889-?).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, January 1, 1930.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "I thought it the proper thing that you should burn them yourself."

It's blackmail, pure and simple, laid on by a man who London Monty knows only too well; consequently, Monty's solution will come as a  surprise to his harried client: "Finesse and not force is our watchword." Indeed, timing is everything . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Hubbard:
  "I've been bled white."
~ Shayde:
  "No one's been able to lay a finger on him since. He knows how to cover himself."
~ Simmons:
  ". . . saw certain possibilities in that imminent suit for divorce, I fancy."
~ Montague:
  "But I'll confess that, though I'm operating as a sort of detective, there's many a law I still don't respect."

References and resources:
- The title, "Clocked," probably refers to the stop watch that Monty uses so advantageously in the story.
- "How would that sound in a newspaper? Don't you suppose somebody'd pay a nice price 
. . .": "Blackmail may also be considered a form of extortion. Although the two are generally synonymous, extortion is the taking of personal property by threat of future harm. Blackmail is the use of threat to prevent another from engaging in a lawful occupation and writing libelous letters or letters that provoke a breach of the peace, as well as use of intimidation for purposes of collecting an unpaid debt." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a thousand-dollar note": "The Federal Reserve began taking high-denomination currency out of circulation and destroying large bills received by banks in 1969. As of January 14, 2020, only 336 $10,000 bills were known to exist, along with 342 remaining $5,000 bills and 165,372 remaining $1,000 bills." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "A dial phone, what?": In 1930 they were still relatively new: "While used in telephone systems of the independent telephone companies, rotary dial service in the Bell System in the United States was not common until the introduction of the Western Electric model 50AL in 1919. From the 1970s onward, the rotary dial was gradually supplanted by DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) push-button dialing, first introduced to the public at the 1962 World's Fair under the trade name 'Touch-Tone'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The Times Square station": Before the bug, it had been billed as "the Crossroads of the World": "Times Square is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination, entertainment center, and neighborhood in the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Brightly lit by numerous billboards and advertisements, it stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "in the name of the exchange": Time was there were living, breathing operators to help you make a call: "Early manual switchboards required the operator to operate listening keys and ringing keys, but by the late 1910s and 1920s, advances in switchboard technology led to features which allowed the call to be automatically answered immediately as the operator inserted the answering cord, and ringing would automatically begin as soon as the operator inserted the ringing cord into the called party's jack. The operator would be disconnected from the circuit, allowing her to handle another call, while the caller heard an audible ringback signal, so that that operator would not have to periodically report that she was continuing to ring the line." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- According to the FictionMags Index (HERE), Robert H. Rohde was a reporter for the New York Tribune; his short fiction publishing career began in 1912 and ran to the late '30s; he had several series characters: Great Macumber (6 stories in The Popular Magazine, 1925), Saxophone Smithers (4 stories in Detective Fiction Weekly, 1928), Mr. Purley (2 stories, DFW, 1929), Reggie (Red Duke) Chivers (21 stories, DFW, 1929-33 and 1937), and Trooper Bradley (4 stories, DFW, 1930-33). Today's narrative, however, doesn't feature any of them.
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Saturday, April 10, 2021

"But What Have the Polite People To Do with Murder?"

"The Polite People of Pudibundia."
By R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Worlds of IF Science Fiction, January 1961.
Reprinted many times (HERE).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
     "This was a world where minding your manners was more than just a full-time job—it was murder!"

A homicide investigation on Pudibundia? Absurd! "Crime," we're assured, "is unknown" there. Our detective, however, thinks it's worth looking into: ". . . what I am going to find out is this. There have been pilots for many years who have brought back stories of the Puds, and there are still a few—a very few—young pilots alive to tell those stories. What I am going to find out is why there are no old pilots around telling those stories . . ."

Main characters:
~ Marlow:
  ". . . a captain in Homicide on the Solar Police Force . . ."
~ The Pudibundians:
  "They become people only out of politeness."
~ The One-Million-Times-Lesser-Marlow (OMTLM):
  "There is a real reason for it. I cannot tell it to you now, though, and perhaps not ever. But there is a chance that you may be given a demonstration of it just before you leave. And if you are very wise, you may be able then to guess the reason. I believe that there are several who have guessed it."
~ The Miniature Image a thousand-times-removed of the Zestful Irma (Mitzi):
  "But you will not return. Nobody ever does."

References and resources:
- "Not only is the Second Person eschewed out of politeness, but in a way all the other Persons also": It's all about point of view; see Writing Explained (HERE).
- "the Betelgeuse Bar and Grill": Named for a reddish star that's prominent in Earth's sky uncertainly located at a distance of between 500 and 600 light-years; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Today's tale is part of a "universe" of stories called the Habitable Worlds Series; see the ISFDb (HERE) for the full list.
- You could never be certain what you would be getting with a story by R. A. Rafferty, but you could be sure it would be interesting: 

   "Raphael Aloysius 'Ray' Lafferty, the self-described 'cranky old man from Tulsa, Oklahoma,' is a genius: I state that flatly. He is one of the eminent English-language writers of, at the very least, the twentieth century—yet he remains little known, little read, and much misunderstood and underappreciated. Indeed, much of his oeuvre exists only in very limited print runs of cheap paper chapbooks.
   "As the thoughtful will deduce, the problem is that Lafferty is not an easy writer. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that under superficial consideration he looks easy; were he as obviously complex as, for example, James Joyce (and, of course, were he not 'just' an SF&F author), readers and critics would likely have made some effort to look beneath the hood to see what was what; but because his works can, by the careless, be taken for ordinary stuff, his complexities—of both language and meaning—end up dismissed as just nonsensically bad ordinary writing. As a thirsty drinker expecting the taste of a soda pop might well spit out in disgust a mouthful of vintage brut champagne, so might an SF reader expecting typical SF reject vintage Lafferty.
   "Even experienced readers of SF&F, accustomed to unusual and complicated tales and worlds, can find Lafferty puzzling or worse at first blush." (From Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works; see below).

More at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works (HERE), the R. A. Lafferty Devotion Page (HERE), and, of course, the ISFDb (HERE).
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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"He Watched the Mortal Combat That Unrolled Before Him"

SOME DETECTIVE FICTION authors have found the prospect of a crime aboard an airplane to be practically irresistible, Agatha Christie being foremost among them (Death in the Clouds, 1935). In today's story, a veteran aviator becomes an almost helpless witness to what happens in . . .

"The Death Window."
By A. S. Gregory (?-?).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, June 1, 1930.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     ". . . there's going to be murder!—in our plane!"

It's a race against time when word comes that an important witness has unexpectedly boarded an airliner with at least one, maybe two, men who intend to shut him up—permanently . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Britten:
  "They think I'm nuts!"
~ Hughes:
  "Another bubble goes flooey! The murder plane!"
~ Harris:
  "Why didn't you lower us a note, or something?"
~ Whitberg:
  ". . . the copilot slid a compartment window open and thrust his head out. What he saw caused his eyes to bulge."

Comment: Too many exclamation marks!!!!!

Interesting verbiage:
  "Britten squinted his eyes until they appeared like the glittering edge of a cavalry sword."

References and resources:
- "thirty-passenger, four-motored airliner": The illustrator doesn't seem to have read the text. The plane in the illo accompanying the story is supposed to be the classic Fokker F.VII Trimotor (Wikipedia HERE), but notice that the cockpit windows are placed too far forward and the third engine that should be in the nose isn't there. Leave it to that engineering genius Igor Sikorsky to design and fly the first four-engined aircraft in history (Wikipedia HERE). (HOWEVER: See Comments below.)
- "It's a man's life we're racing for to-day": Aviation exploits were daily news in the '20s and '30s, when air racing was all the rage. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The Pitots gave the air speed at one hundred and ninety": A useful flying instrument as long as it doesn't ice up; fatal crashes have resulted when it did: "A pitot (PEE-toh) tube, also known as pitot probe, is a flow measurement device used to measure fluid flow velocity. The pitot tube was invented by the French engineer Henri Pitot in the early 18th century and was modified to its modern form in the mid-19th century by French scientist Henry Darcy. It is widely used to determine the airspeed of an aircraft, water speed of a boat, and to measure liquid, air and gas flow velocities in certain industrial applications." (Wikipedia HERE).
-"they shot into my slipstream": Often called "propwash": "Spiral slipstream (also known as spiraling slipstream, propwash in the US, or just slipstream in the U.K.) is a spiral-shaped slipstream formed behind a rotating propeller on an aircraft. The most noticeable effect resulting from the formation of a spiral slipstream is the tendency to yaw nose-left at low speed and full throttle (in centerline tractor aircraft with a clockwise-rotating propeller.) This effect is caused by the slipstream acting upon the tail fin of the aircraft: the slipstream causes the air to rotate around the forward-aft axis of the aircraft, and this air flow exerts a force on the tail fin, pushing it to the right." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the deaf and dumb language": "Sign languages are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and lexicon. Sign languages are not universal and they are not mutually intelligible with each other, although there are also striking similarities among sign languages." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "changed the center of gravity and threw the plane off equilibrium": "The center of gravity may change over the duration of the flight as the aircraft's weight changes due to fuel burn or by passengers moving forward or aft in the cabin." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "no faster than about two hundred and some miles an hour": Otherwise called "terminal velocity": "Higher speeds can be attained if the skydiver pulls in his or her limbs (see also freeflying). In this case, the terminal speed increases to about 320 km/h (200 mph or 90 m/s), which is almost the terminal speed of the peregrine falcon diving down on its prey. The same terminal speed is reached for a typical .30-06 bullet dropping downwards—when it is returning to the ground having been fired upwards, or dropped from a tower—according to a 1920 U.S. Army Ordnance study." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The taut flying wires sounded like a thousand steam whistles": "In aeronautics, bracing comprises additional structural members which stiffen the functional airframe to give it rigidity and strength under load. Bracing may be applied both internally and externally, and may take the form of struts, which act in compression or tension as the need arises, and/or wires, which act only in tension." (Wikipedia HERE).
- We don't know much about A. S. Gregory; we do know that he or she had a penchant for flying stories, publishing 22 aviation tales (including today's) from 1928-37 in magazines like Air Trails, Air Adventures, Sky Riders, and others; see FictionMags (HERE).
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Saturday, April 3, 2021

"It's Murder, Mr. Keller"

BEING ABLE TO read minds would be a huge asset to your average detective, especially a private eye like Keller when, as in today's story, he is confronted with an impossible crime involving . . .

"The Man Who Flew."
By Charles D. Cunningham, Jr. (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF Science Fiction, November 1962.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "The Man Who Flew could not exist—but he had committed a foul crime!"

How could there even be a murder in this society? "For thirteen peaceful years there had been no hint of manslaughter other than accidental. It had been conditioned out of humans at the prenatal stage, and unless there was a violent, all-encompassing urge to kill, murder was completely out of the question." But now Keller's first client in three months insists there has been one, and it sounds like a classic locked room problem: "Even if the killer had gotten in some way or other, there was no way he could get out and still leave the doors and windows locked up tight." Oh, but he did, all right . . . .

Main characters:
~ Harold Radcliffe:
  "'Well sir, for this job I need one of the best detectives—' he paused at Keller's grimace—'and since you're one of the few detectives in the city who can read minds, and the only A-2 'tec in the state—' He shrugged, and finished, 'I figured you'd be the man for me'."
~ Sally:
  "He's hiding something. Not intentionally, but it needs to be uncovered."
~ Keller:
  "Radcliffe, I know who killed your wife."

References and resources:
- "advanced extra-sensory perception": There seem to be subtle differences among the claims for mind reading, and different names for them as well: "Extrasensory perception or ESP, also called sixth sense, includes claimed reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses, but sensed with the mind." (Wikipedia HERE).
"Telepathy (from the Greek τῆλε, tele meaning 'distant' and πάθος/-πάθεια, pathos or -patheia meaning 'feeling, perception, passion, affliction, experience') is the purported vicarious transmission of information from one person to another without using any known human sensory channels or physical interaction." (Wikipedia HERE).
However, it pays to be skeptical: "Psionics are mystical powers of the human mind that always seem to be absent when tested for in a research lab. Sort of like Mr. Snuffleupagus. These are powers such as telepathy and psychokinesis. In other words, psionics is Magic with a fancy science-fictional name." (Atomic Rockets HERE).
- Stories that we've highlighted with characters utilizing more than the normal five senses include:
  . . . Lewis Padgett's "Private Eye" (HERE)
  . . . Don Wilcox's "Secret League of Six" (HERE)
  . . . Daniel F. Galouye's "Kangaroo Court" (HERE)
  . . . George Chailey's "Death of a Telepath" (HERE)
  . . . Anne McCaffrey's "Apple" (HERE)
  . . . and Murray Leinster's "The Psionic Mousetrap" (HERE).
- This story is the only one credited to Charles D. Cunningham on the ISFDb (HERE).
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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

"May Die Unless Found Quickly"

"Time To Think."
By Geoffrey Williamson (1897-1976).
Illustration by Ronald Lampitt (?-?; HERE).
First appearance: The Passing Show, August 6, 1938.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     ". . . a kidnapped millionaire who wanted to become a dead loss."

Perfect murders are just about impossible to pull off—and that goes for perfect kidnappings, too . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Castle:
  "Give me time to think."
~ Dixie:
  ". . . the chauffeur, who was likewise armed . . ."
~ Corrigan:
  "You're a wise guy, all right."
~ Sparks:
  "Okay, boss."
~ The doctor:
  "Take us to him."

Resource:
- Not much info is available concerning Geoffrey Williamson; FictionMags's thumbnail: "Died in Shepway, Kent." Williamson's short fiction publications in various genres stretched from 1924 to 1950, his only series character being Silva de Cruz (2 stories in The 20-Story Magazine, 1925); Williamson's final work was in nonfiction articles in the mid-to-late 1960s.
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