Friday, December 6, 2019

"Surprises Had Come Too Fast—Surprise Number One Being That He Was Still Alive"

SCIENCE FICTION often deals with the impact of new developments on society, e.g., if more people have cars, how would that affect the birthrate? (Think about it.) The advent of personal force shields on society at large and social status in particular is the main concern of today's story, appropriately entitled . . .

"Crack in the Shield."
By Arthur Sellings (Arthur Gordon Ley, 1921-68).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1968.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (26 pages).

Online at (HERE).

     "A gun spoke from somewhere."

It seems self-evident—in fact, blindingly obvious—that if everyone is impervious to harm, crime would plummet—and wouldn't that be great? But, then, there are always unintended consequences . . .

~ Randall Gotfryd:

  "Some of you could find yourselves laughing all the way down to the Street."
~ Freda Tawn:
  ". . . had turned on her heel and was stalking off."
~ George Bleckendorf:
  "George had a wicked sense of humor, but he kept it in check at his wife's gatherings."
~ Ray Donovan:
  "All you millions of people behind your smug little personal shields and car shields and house shields are living in a womb."
~ Gloria Paston:
  "Why, hel-lo. Where have you been hiding your gorgeous self all this time?"
~ Philip Tawn:
  ". . . ran amok—such being the world in which he lived—with the utmost probity, within himself."
~ Kim:
  "They didn't solve the problem of violence, only retreated from it."

First sentence:
   "The day—the climactic day in the life of Philip Tawn—began with deceptive normality."
Final sentence:
   "The trumpets sounded fine."

Comment: The Eloi (HERE)-Morlock (HERE) schism flipped over with a few clever tweaks.

- REFERENCES: ~ "Chicago's nurse slayer": A sensational crime that dominated the news at the time of our story's publication:

   "Richard Benjamin Speck (1941-91) was an American mass murderer who systematically tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital on the night of July 13 into the early morning hours of July 14, 1966." — Wikipedia (HERE).

~ "Austin's mad sniper": A mass murderer whose story has attracted the attention of movie and TV producers over the years:

   "On August 1, 1966, after stabbing his mother and his wife to death the night before, Charles Whitman (1941-66), a former Marine, took rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the University of Texas at Austin, then opened fire indiscriminately on people on the surrounding campus and streets. Over the next 96 minutes he shot and killed 14 more people (including an unborn baby) and injured 31 others. One final victim died in 2001 from the lingering effects of his wounds. The incident ended when a policeman and a civilian reached Whitman and shot him dead. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history until it was surpassed 18 years later by the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre." — Wikipedia (HERE).

~ "the riot in 1967": Referring to civil unrest in Motor City:

   "The 1967 Detroit Rebellion, also known as the 1967 Detroit Riot or 12th Street riot was the bloodiest incident in the 'Long, hot summer of 1967'. Composed mainly of confrontations between black residents and the Detroit Police Department, it began in the early morning hours of Sunday July 23, 1967, in Detroit, Michigan. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig, on the city's Near 
West Side. It exploded into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in American history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot 24 years earlier." — Wikipedia (HERE).

~ "he had been without the protection of his shield": An artificial force field:

   "In speculative fiction, a force field, sometimes known as an energy shield, force shield, force bubble, defence shield or deflector shield, is a barrier made of energy, plasma, or particles. It protects a person, area, or object from attacks or intrusions. This fictional technology is created as a field of energy without mass that acts as a wall, so that objects affected by the particular force relating to the field are unable to pass through the field and reach the other side. This concept has become a staple of many science-fiction works, so much that authors frequently do not even bother to explain or justify them to their readers, treating them almost as established fact and attributing whatever capabilities the plot requires." — Wikipedia (HERE).

~ "much more primitive roots of totem and taboo": An oblique allusion to a book by Sigmund Freud (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "guns synchronized to shoot through the sweep of their airscrews": Quite popular for a while:

   "A synchronization gear, or a gun synchronizer, sometimes rather less accurately called an interrupter, is attached to the armament of a single-engine tractor-configuration aircraft so it can fire through the arc of its spinning propeller without bullets striking the blades. The idea presupposes 
a fixed armament directed by aiming the aircraft in which it is fitted at the target, rather than aiming the gun independently." — Wikipedia (HERE).

- Until his fatal heart attack, Arthur Sellings was on a roll to achieve even greater fame in SFF circles; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"He Ran His Eyes Over the Array of Death Weapons and the Heat of Passion Blued His Eyes"

EDWARD WELLEN is remembered primarily for his SFF (science fiction-fantasy), but now and then he would wander confidently into pure crime fiction territory, an example of which 
is . . .

"Bannerman Collection."
By Edward Wellen (1919-2011).
First appearance: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1976.

Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; scroll down to 

text page 59/PDF page 61).

     "Lloyd planned a surprise for his bride's wealthy uncle—but things failed 
to work exactly as planned."

A clichéd plot saved by a neat, but nasty, twist . . .

~ Natalie Bannerman Pollard:

  ". . . had come into millions."
~ Lloyd Pollard:
  ". . . had a right to share in those millions."
~ Roland Bannerman:
  ". . . it would be well if you were to do some reconsidering of your own."

- You might remember Edward Paul Wellen's SFF-crime fiction crossovers that we've featured on ONTOS: "Origins of Galactic Law" (HERE), "Hijack" (HERE), "Mouthpiece" (HERE), and "While-You-Wait" and "Finger of Fate" (HERE).
- The SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE) concern themselves only with Wellen's SFF; his contact with Hollywood seems to have been limited to providing the story for a single episode of Bourbon Street Beat (1960; IMDb HERE).


Monday, December 2, 2019

"A Brilliant, Imaginative Ameboid Criminal at Large on a Planet As Volatile Culturally As Earth!"

TODAY'S AUTHOR was "notable for many stories with satirical elements," and this tale is certainly no exception . . .

"Party of the Two Parts."
By William Tenn (Philip Klass, 1920-2010).
Illustrations by Ashman (HERE).

First appearance: Galaxy, August 1954.
Reprints page (HERE).
Collected in Immodest Proposals: The Complete Science Fiction 

of William Tenn, Volume 1 (2001).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text.)

     "As you've no doubt suspected by now, most of the trouble has to do with that damp and irritating third planet of Sol . . ."

It's amazing how a known criminal could start a fashion revolution . . .

~ Stellar Sergeant O-Dik-Veh, Commander of Outlying Patrol Office 1001625:
  "I notified all our agents in North America to be on the alert and settled back to wait it out with prayerfully knotted tentacles."
~ L'payr:
  ". . . thought about the problem until his nucleus was a mass of corrugations."

~ Osborne Blatch:
  "This elderly teacher of adolescent terrestrials insisted throughout all my interrogations that, to the best of his knowledge, no mental force was used upon him."
~ Stellar Corporal Pah-Chi-Luh:
  "He had never before encountered such complete self-assurance in the face of a perfect structure of criminal evidence."

Comment: "I have," O-Dik-Veh informs us, "to maintain a staff of about two hundred agents on their planet, all encased in clumsy and uncomfortable protoplasmic disguises . . ." Of course it's just a coincidence that the producers of the Men in Black franchise came up with the same basic premise forty-three years later . . .
- REFERENCES: ~ "Vega XXI": So far no planets, much less twenty-one of them, have been confirmed orbiting the star Vega; however,". . . the presence of a planetary system can not 

yet be ruled out. Thus there could be smaller, terrestrial planets orbiting closer to the star. 
The inclination of planetary orbits around Vega is likely to be closely aligned to the equato-
rial plane of this star." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "the planet they call Pluto": At the time our story was published, Pluto was classified as 
a full-fledged planet (and as far we're concerned, it always will be): "Pluto (minor planet designation: 134340 Pluto) is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond 
the orbit of Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered and is the largest 
known plutoid (or ice dwarf)." — Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).
~ "halfway between the third and fourth planets": That is, between Earth and Mars.
~ "reproduce by asexual fission": You have to wonder how much fun that is: "Some organ-isms, all single-celled, can asexually reproduce simply through the act of dividing their cells. When this division creates two identical cells, it is referred to as binary fission. When it creates three or more new cells, it is called multiple fission. Either way, a number of bacteria and protists rely on this form of asexual reproduction to replicate their DNA." — Science Terms (HERE).
~ "the Hercules Cluster M13": If you've got a spaceship and you're on the run from the law, it's a great place to hide: "Messier 13 or M-13, also designated NGC-6205 and sometimes called the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules or the Hercules Globular Cluster, is a globular cluster of several hundred thousand stars in the constellation of Hercules." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "Ganymede, the largest satellite of the planet Jupiter": It's also "the ninth largest object in the Solar System, [and] the largest without a substantial atmosphere." — Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).
~ "the time of Leewenhoek [sic]": That would be Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), "best known for his pioneering work in microscopy and for his contributions toward the establishment of microbiology as a scientific discipline." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "the Rigellian-Sagittarian Convention": "Rigellian" is the adjectival form of Rigel, a star roughly 860 light-years from Earth (Wikipedia HERE and HERE), and "Sagittarian" the adjectival form of Sagittarius, a constellation towards which the center of the Milky Way 
galaxy lies (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "Antares XII": A red supergiant star, this one about 550 light-years distant; current cosmological theory frowns upon the notion that it might have any planets: "Antares 
appears as a single star when viewed with the naked eye, but it is actually a binary star, 
with its two components called α Scorpii A and α Scorpii B." — Wikipedia (HERE and 
~ "the Black Hole in Cygnus": Not a lucky guess on the author's part since the term referring to a gravitational anomaly didn't become commonplace until the next decade; the Black Hole he's referring to is meant as a counterpart to the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta, a dungeon in which "British soldiers, Anglo-Indian soldiers, and Indian civilians were imprisoned over-
night in conditions so cramped that many people died from suffocation and heat exhaustion" (Wikipedia HERE). There is, however, thought to be an unobserved black hole in the Cygnus constellation (Wikipedia HERE): "This hypothesis lacks direct empirical evidence but has generally been accepted from indirect evidence."
- Using both the William Tenn byline for his science fiction and his real name for everything else, Wikipedia (HERE) tells us that "Klass published academic articles, essays, two novels and more than 60 short stories"; the SFE (HERE) notes, "From the first, Tenn was one of the genre's very few genuinely comic, genuinely incisive writers of short fiction." See more at 
his home page (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), the "Official Bibliography" (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE), the last giving him only five story credits.

Friday, November 29, 2019

"There Was No Trail to the Necklace That Vanished, So Ellery Queen Made One"

"The Adventure of the Treasure Hunt."
By Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay, 1905-82 & Manfred B. Lee,
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, September 1935 (as "Treasure Hunt").
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fall 1941; EQMM (Overseas Edition for the Armed Forces), April 1945; and EQMM (Australia), July 1947.

Collected in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940).

Short story (19 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "There was silence for as long as one can hold a breath . . ."

Missing pearls worth twenty-five grand, a hectic treasure hunt, and a thief who's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is—just another day in the life of Inspector Queen's brilliant son . . .

~ Major-General Barrett:

  "You lead a life of armchair adventure, Queen? It must be embarrassing when you poke your nose out into the world of men."
~ Harkness:
  "General's getting ready for the revolution. We live in parlous times."
~ Lieutenant Richard Fiske, USA:
  "The Lieutenant said something, his arms jerking nervously; and the old gentleman paled."
~ Dorothy Nixon:
  "How can you sleep with all those murdered people haunting you?"
~ Leonie Barrett:
  ". . . pounced upon Ellery so quickly that he almost threw his arm up to defend himself."
~ Braun:
  "They found the old pensioner placidly engaged in polishing the brasswork of the General's launch."
~ Magruder:
  ". . . a gigantic old Irishman with leather cheeks and the eyes of a top-sergeant."
~ Ellery Queen:
  "And what do you think I found on the can? Fingerprints! Disappointing, isn't it?"

   "My difficulty is not in sleeping too little, Mrs. Nixon, but in sleeping too much. The original sluggard. No more imagination than an amoeba."
   "In the workshop of the cosmos it had been decreed that he should stalk with open eyes among the lame, the halt, and the blind."
   "Murder will out, but it was never hindered by a bit of judicious investigation . . ."
   "The essence of any investigation, General, is the question of how many possibilities you can eliminate."
   "You know, there's a fat-bellied little god who watches over such as me."
   "When you spend half your life in jungles, the civilized moralities lose their edge."

- REFERENCES: ~ "in Mrs. Post's book": An allusion to Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home by Emily Post (1922; Wikipedia HERE).
~ "get that Wimpole Street expression off your face": Speaking to Leonie Barrett, Ellery is employing a pun about a famous street in London: "The most famous resident was the poet Elizabeth Barrett, who lived at 50 Wimpole Street with her family from 1838 until 1846 when she eloped with Robert Browning. The street became famous from the play based on their courtship, The Barretts of Wimpole Street." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "All I know about the greenwood tree is that it's something in As You Like It and a novel by Thomas Hardy": "Under the Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published anonymously in 1872. It was Hardy's second published novel, the last to be printed without his name, and the first of his great series of Wessex novels. Whilst Hardy originally thought of simply calling it The Mellstock Quire, he settled on a title taken from a song in Shakespeare's As You Like It (Act II, Scene V)." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "her red hair flowing behind her like a pennon": "The pennon is a flag resembling the guidon in shape, but only half the size. It does not contain any coat of arms, but only 
crests, mottos and heraldic and ornamental devices." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "She was seated defensively astride the sunset gun": Defined as "a cannon fired at 
sunset or as part of the ceremony of lowering the flag at the end of a day." — Merriam-Webster Dictionary (HERE).
~ "like an excited gamine": "A gamine is a slim, elegant young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or sexually appealing." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "this gun, like all guns which fire salutes, uses 'blank' ammunition": "A blank is a type of firearm cartridge that contains gunpowder but no projectile (e.g. bullet or shot), and instead uses paper or plastic wadding to seal the propellant into the casing. When fired, the blank makes a flash and an explosive sound (report), and the firearm's action cycles from the recoil, but the wadding propelled from the barrel quickly loses kinetic energy and is inca-
pable of inflicting any damage beyond an immediate distance." — Wikipedia (HERE).

- Our latest encounters with Ellery Queen were in the form of their radio play, "The Adventure of the Mouse's Blood" (HERE), and before that an audio script adapted to the short story, "The Adventure of the Dead Cat" (HERE).


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

"Those People Sound Like They're Programmed for Murder"

TWENTY YEARS, give or take, before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet Horace lamented, "Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than 
they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt"—which, after 
reading today's story, sounds disturbingly like prophecy . . .

By Tom Purdom (born 1936).
Illustration by Leo Summers (1925-85; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, October 1967.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; slow load; scroll down

to text/PDF page 61).
     "The trouble with unlimited education is that knowledge, per se, bears no correlation with judgment."

Suddenly a hostage situation, but not the kind you might expect: "In the yard of the house itself, in front of the main entrance, a boy was sitting on top of a small elephant. Two dragons were sitting on their haunches with their wings raised and a gorilla and two watchtigers were pacing on the grass." And, despite appearances, they're serious: "Back off, Coppy. Beat it. We've got three hostages and we're armed. Don't push us. We aren't playing . . ."

Major characters:
~ The dispatcher:

  "The reports are coming in now. Ten to twelve children have taken the Rice family hostage."
~ Charley Edelman:
  "The genetic engineers had turned lizards into dragons, but they hadn't turned Charley Edelman into St. George."
~ Helen Fracarro:
  ". . . a girl whose soft, romantic face would have made a Spanish cavalier howl with frustration . . ."
~ Tim Rice:
  "We've been planning this thing for months."

- Thomas Edward Purdom has been publishing SFF since the fifties; there's plenty of info at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), his own webpage (HERE), and the concise bibliography
at the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Double Dose of Jim Thompson

   "Every once in a while I learn that maybe honesty's the best policy. Maybe you'll learn that yourself someday."

"Blood from a Turnip."
By Jim Thompson (1906-77).
Illustration by Anthony Saris (1924-2011).
First appearance: Collier's, December 20, 1952.

Short short short story (1 page).
Online at SFFaudio (HERE; PDF).

     "There on his palm, coated with the unmistakable tarnish of sixty years, lay a small, jeweled strip of metal . . ."

Another biter gets bit . . .

~ Al:

  "What a stinking way to make a living! I was thinking this, like always, as I walked into Duffy's."
~ Duffy:

  "When you have a lousy day, it's your tough luck, and he laughs in your face. And when 
you do find gravy, it's Duffy who really collects, and laughs all the harder."
~ Tulsa Slim:
  ". . . he grabbed up the bills and turned toward the door, like he was scared Duffy might change his mind."

~ ~ ~
   ". . . the system rocked right along, permitting no errors, working perfectly. At least, it always had worked perfectly until now."

"The Flaw in the System."
By Jim Thompson (1906-77).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1956.
Reprinted in EQMM (U.K.), July 1956 and EQMM (Australia), October 1956.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; scroll down to 
text page 116/PDF page 118).
     "He was the friendliest, kindliest looking man you ever laid eyes on, 
and he conned only the toughest, hardest, most foolproof installment 
houses in the business. That was the mystery. But how can anyone 
explain the unexplainable?"

Sometimes the system is its own worst enemy, and maybe that's a good thing . . .

~ The man with the worn suit, frayed necktie, and scuffed shoes:

  "He was a dead-beat but, legally speaking, he wasn't a crook."

~ The unnamed narrator:
  "It was like I had to do it to prove something. That I was a person—a human 
being, not just part of a system."
~ Dan Murrow:
  "Dan was our credit manager."

~ Dorrance:
  ". . . however sharp and tough you were, Dorrance was a lot sharper and a lot 
tougher. He had his eye on you all the time, and he made sure you knew it."
- Like Herman Melville, James Myers Thompson had to die before he achieved much recognition for his body of work, with Hollywood eagerly adapting some of his stories; Wikipedia (HERE) tells us:

   "Thompson's stories are about grifters, losers, sociopaths and psychopaths—some at the fringe of society, some at its heart—their nihilistic world-view being best-served by first-person narratives revealing a frighteningly deep understanding of the warped mind. There are few good guys in Thompson's literature: most of his characters are abusive or simply biding time until an opportunity presents itself, though many also have decent impulses.
   "Despite some positive critical notice, only after his best years as a writer did Thompson achieve a measure of fame. Yet that neglect might stem from his style: the crime novels are fast-moving and compelling but sometimes sloppy and uneven. Thompson wrote quickly (many novels were written in a month); using his newspaper experience to write concise, evocative prose with little editing."

- Thompson's IMDb filmography with twenty-one credits is (HERE).

The bottom line:

Friday, November 22, 2019

"It Had Shattered Against Something in the Body"

"A Scraping at the Bones."
By Algis Budrys (1931-2008).
Illustration by Nick Zules (HERE).
First appearance: Analog, May 1975.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; scroll down to magazine page 136).

     "What is the motive for murder in a world where everyone is equal?"

Somebody somewhere arrogantly believes they've gotten away with murder—and so they have, until Ned decides to pay a visit to the grieving widow. "It was funny," he says, "how 
it all fell together . . ."

~ Charles Castelvecchio, deceased:

  "He's still doing business; we reviewed his phone calls. He was part of a story conference half an hour ago."
~ Johnson, the Panorama Tower Wastes Processing foreman:
  "Well, you sure as hell look young to me, to be handling something like this all by yourself."
~ Ned Brosmer:
  "That's right, I do."
~ George Holmeir:
  "I never heard of an MO like this. You're gonna be breaking new ground. They'll give it your name at the Academy—every time it ever comes up again, they'll call it a Brosmer. It'll be good for you when you're tired enough to apply for sergeant."
~ Vermiel:
  "Good heavens, Officer, I don't know every Tom, Dick and Harry who lives here!"
~ Timothy Fortnum:
  ". . . smiled from very far away."
~ Martita Fortnum:
  ". . . sat down at the foot of the circular stairs, one hand over her eyes, the other wandering idly . . ."
~ Dorrie:
  "She reached behind her to fully opaque the window wall."
~ Laurent Michaelmas:
  ". . . nodded. There was a slight flicker."

- The usual reliable places have plenty of data about Algirdas Jonas Budrys: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

- It has been over three years since our last meeting with Budrys, specifically his story, "Blood on My Jets" (HERE).

The bottom line:
  "Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television."
  — Allan Stewart Konigsberg