Monday, October 31, 2016

"Is It Conceivable That at One Crucial Moment, He Managed to Think Quickly and Act at Once?"

"The Billiard Ball."
By Isaac Asimov (1920-92).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, March 1967.
Reprinted many times (HERE), including Asimov's Mysteries (1968).
Novelette (18 pages).
Online (HERE) and at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 6).
"What's more, both played for blood, and there was no friendship in the game that I could see."
Possibly—and we emphasize that word—the most sophisticated murder . . . ever.

Main characters:
~ Professor James Priss, theoretician:
   "Of course, Ed Bloom is not really a scientist, and he must have his day in the sun."
~ Edward Bloom, inventor:
   "Listen, I'll tell you what gripes him. Plain old-fashioned jealousy. It kills him that I get what I get for doing. He wants it for thinking."
~ The Tele-News Press reporter:
   ". . . if any reporter then on the scene ever tried to say he remained a cool observer of that scene, then he's a cool liar."
- Wikipedia has a short article about anti-gravity (HERE), and one about our story (HEREWARNING: SPOILERS); Atomic Rockets has a very large page devoted to anti-gravity (HERE).
- We've already spent some time with Isaac Asimov (HERE) and (HERE).

The bottom line: "Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects."
   — Dave Barry

Friday, October 28, 2016

"With the Cunning That Belongs Only to the Insane, He Formulated His Revenge"

"The Waxen Witness."
By M. Ellis Winter (?-?).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, September 1920.
Short story (6 pages, 3 illos).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!"
The lesson is clear: Dead men do tell tales, if we're willing to hear them.

Principal characters:
~ Harvey Denzil:
   "I know that he has been your lover for months, and that you contemplate eloping with him. I am going to save you the trouble."
~ Adam Grimthorpe:
   "From the square bay window Adam Grimthorpe saw them walk away together toward the cliff road leading to the hall."
~ Kathleen Denzil:
   "'They won't hang Grant? They mustn't! I love him!' she said at length, and fell in a dead faint at the inspector's feet."
~ Grant Merrion:
   "Don't go about shouting that!"

Comment: While the author has a tendency to overcooked prose ("He laughed fiendishly"; "All the bitterness that lies in the dregs of the cup of illicit love was hers, and she drained it, perforce"; "there can be no heaven for me without him") and you might have seen this same plot played out in countless movies and TV shows (sometimes with different outcomes), this could be one of the first, if not the first, appearance of this particular storyline—but we could be wrong about that.

- Our author must remain a man of mystery since, apart from two known story credits in Munsey's, we can't find out anything about him.
- Just recently we encountered another love triangle (HERE), but one with a decidedly different resolution.

The bottom line: "Don't let two men fall in love with you, girls. It's not the sort of thing that ends well."
Ally Carter

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"So It’s Going To Be Murder in Cold Blood, Is It?"

"The Man Who Saw Through Time."
By Leonard Raphael (?-?).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, September 1941.
Reprinted in Fantastic Adventures Quarterly, Spring 1942.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Gary Fraxer went into the future and saw something that must not happen. So he came back with a plan to prevent a future crime."
We've heard of going that extra mile for a friend, but this one . . . this one takes the cake.

~ Walter Yale:
   Side A.
~ Gary Fraxer:
   Side B.
~ Carol Lewis:
   The hypotenuse.

Typo: "at that in stint".
- Just about everything you'll need to know about time travel is examined at Winchell Chung's hypersite, Atomic Rockets (HERE).
- As for our author, all that we know about him is what the folks at FictionMags were able to find:
   (1) "The Man Who Saw Through Time," Fantastic Adventures, September 1941 (HERE)
   (2) "The Corpse That Talked," Mammoth Detective, January 1943
   (3) "Mystery of the Crushed Peppermints," Mammoth Detective, March 1943 (HERE)
   (4) "Bad Man’s Picnic," The Saturday Evening Post, February 10, 1951.

The bottom line: "If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don't. It's like a human body, you see. A few cuts and bruises here and there don't hurt it. Not even major surgery if it's done properly. Paradoxes are just the scar tissue. Time and space heal themselves up around them and people simply remember a version of events which makes as much sense as they require it to make."
   — Douglas Adams

Monday, October 24, 2016

"I Can Only Tell You That at That Moment Both My Life and My Reason Rocked Unsteadily on Their Seats"

We don't celebrate Halloween here at ONTOS, but we do love a good scary story once in a while—especially if it's written by a fine author. If you go (HERE) you'll find a summertime review of MORE TALES TO TREMBLE BY (1968), a fine anthology of, not "horror" stories, but "tales of terror."

"He's Not the Funny Sort, Is He?"

"The Passing of 'Third Floor Back.'"
By Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, November 19, 1904.
Reprinted in Passing of the Third Floor Back (1908); The Argosy (UK), December 1926; The Golden Book Magazine, January 1927; and AHMM, January 1995.
Play version, 1908 (HERE); filmed in 1918 and 1935 (HERE—WARNING: SPOILERS).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
(Note: Title sometimes listed as "The Passing of 'The Third Floor Back.'")
"Really, the man quite haunts me."
Perfect understanding can make us uncomfortable, even fearful, but while the truth can be awful, the pain never lingers for very long.
Main characters:
~ The stranger, Mrs. Pennycherry, Mary Jane, and the boarders at 48 Bloomsbury Square.
Comment: This one, something of an allegory, never goes where you think it might, with the only mystery being just who—or what—the young stranger is, and the only crimes being how normal it seems for us to mistreat others—and ourselves.
Typo: "'You have been misinformed,' assured him the stranger"

The bottom line: "Fear hath torment."
The Bible

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"If the Editor Writes Us Out, He'll Destroy Our Whole Social System"

"Rejection Slip."
By Ben Singer (?-?).
First appearance: Future Science Fiction, May 1952.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: Text fuzzy in places.)
"The story of the desperate scribe who held a gun on the editor is hardly a new theme — but here's a novel twist on it!"
Maybe all writers are crazy and all editors should be shot, and maybe—in this era of political correctness—we're all destined one day for a trip to the social-super-egotorium for evaluation and from there to slander-sublimation-school for re-education. Or maybe we're just dreaming all of this like Zhuangzi's butterfly-man, flapping our way through meta-reality. Or maybe, just maybe, we should take this story as the author intended it and smile . . .

- Just like Frank Banta (HERE), we don't have a clue as to who Ben Singer might have been.

The bottom line:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"We Need Some Plain, Old-fashioned Evidence of a Crime"

"The Happy Homicide."
By Frank Banta (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, March 1962.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"It's not so bad being on trial for murder. Of course it's a little embarrassing — when the principal witness is the corpse!"
You'd think that the more advanced the technology, the less prone to error it would be—a common fallacy, as everyone should know by now. Take, for instance, this man's trial for cold-bloodedly killing his wife:
"John Bork, you have heard the indictment," stated the judge formally. "How do you wish to plead: Not guilty, no contest, or wait and see?"
"I'll wait and see, your honor."
"I thought you would," sighed the judge. "We haven’t had a straight not-guilty plea in ages. Proceed, Mr. Prosecutor."
Infused with unwavering confidence, the prosecutor does proceed:
"In this machine rests the proof of the crime charged against the defendant," he said dramatically, patting the smooth gray side of the machine. "This machine will tell you all you need to know about the murder. Oh, to be sure, I shall show you the corpus delicti presently; but why and how this crime was committed shall be revealed only by this machine’s stimulation of the deceased’s brain. She will herself relate who her killer was!"
There was a shocked gasp from the jurors and the spectators in the court room when the prosecutor pulled back the sheet from the body, uncovering her head and chest. "The jury will note that the government has removed her skull down to her eyebrows so that we could contact her brain’s recordings with the ma-chine’s probe. The jury will also note the four bullet holes in the deceased’s chest, which we intend to prove were put there by John Bork."
"I missed twice," said John Bork, nodding.
Ordinarily the reliability of the defendant's testimony is at issue in a trial for murder, but how much can we rely on what the victim, given the chance, might say?

- With this story we can add another totally anonymous author to our collection.
- Reading somebody's mind, dead or alive, is still a tricky business; some of the implications are discussed in a California Magazine article (HERE): "Catching the Brain in a Lie: Is 'Mind Reading' Deception, Detection, Sci-Fi—or Science?"

The bottom line: "I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells."
Theodor Geisel

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Top 5 in September

ONTOS has been lurking on the Net for several years now. Here are the most popular postings going all the way back to September 2013.

~ September 2016 ~
(1) "I've Got a Score to Settle on Earth" - (HERE)
(2) "No Contributing Factors in the Way of Bullets, Poisons or Blows Were Found—It Was a Perfect Crime" - (HERE)
(3) "How Did He Get Out of the House with a Dozen Detectives Watching Every Possible Exit?" - (HERE)
(4) "The Only Witness Against Him Was Himself" - (HERE)
(5) "It Occurred to Me That Some Unseen Dimension, If One Could but Penetrate It, Would Be the Ideal Place for the Commission of a Homicide" - (HERE)

~ September 2013 ~
(1) Julian Symons Reviews Robert Barnard's A TALENT TO DECEIVE - (HERE)
(2) Detective Fiction — Private Detective vs. Private Eye - (HERE)
(3) A Collection of Edgar Wallace Thrillers - (HERE)
(4) Random Internet Comments by and About Poe - (HERE)
(5) A Shilling Shocker - (HERE)

~ September 2014 ~
(1) The Three Dr. Thorndykes - (HERE)
(2) "The Melodramatic Development of the Latter Pages Stretches the Rubber Band of Suspense to Its Limit. It Might Snap." - (HERE)
(3) "Beware of Trying to Rouse Our Pity and Terror with a Penny Whistle" - (HERE)
(4) "He Has Discovered At Least One New Trick in the Detective Story Writer's Bag" - (HERE)
(5) "The Book Is Not a Detective Story: The Reader from the First Recognizes the Criminal" - (HERE)

~ September 2015 ~
(1) A Not-So-Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery - (HERE)
(2) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Summer 2015 - (HERE)
(3) True Crime from Craig Rice - (HERE)
(4) FANTASTIC FlashFanFic from the Fabulous Fifties - (HERE)
(5) True Crime from Erle Stanley Gardner - (HERE)

Friday, October 14, 2016

"It Wasn't Worth It"

"The Man from When."
By Dannie Plachta (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, July 1966.
Reprinted quite a few times (HERE).
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"He came out of nowhere — and could never go back!"
The stranger isn't a criminal per se, but human nature being what it is, his victims could justifiably regard what he does as a criminal act.

- We looked but we couldn't find any biographical information about our author, Dannie Plachta; however, the ISFDb does have a short bibliography (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "Well, that's it," I said after we had waited for another five minutes and found ourselves still in a state of pleasantly welcome existence. "The ChronoGuard has shut itself down and time travel is as it should be: technically, logically, and theoretically...impossible."
   "Good thing, too," replied Landon. "It always made my head ache. In fact, I was thinking of doing a self help book for science-fiction novelists eager to write about time travel. It would consist of a single word: Don't.”
   — Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Tales of Big Brother Pale into Insignificance Compared with the Researches an Eidochron Could Do on Your Life"

By Colin Kapp (1928-2007).
First appearance: Galaxy Magazine, March-April 1973.
Reprinted in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine (UK), March/April 1973 and Science Fiction Story Reader 4 (1975).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at HERE.
"The perfect weapon to enforce law and order, and also to end them!"
Can a technology be so protean and so powerful that merely making use of it would be dangerous to both an adversary and the user, too? Crimescan, an extra-legal high-tech group concerned with catching the criminals that the authorities fail to apprehend, has developed the Eidochron, a device that can see both the past and the future with absolute fidelity. What could be wrong with tracking down murderers, as long as the thing works? The Eidochron's developer, Michael Coyne, understands the implications, however, as he explains to his ace technician, Tseudi Hyde:
"Those controls under your fingers contain everything needed to support the most horrifying tyranny in history. The voyeur, the blackmailer, the jealous wife, the market-research man, the tax inspector and the ambitious politician would all use it if they could. That's why they mustn't ever have access to it."
So far Crimescan has been able to operate clandestinely without interference from the government, but Major Spier sees them as a threat to national security and intends to take decisive action, as he tells Chief Inspector Grattan:
"I'm trying to get it through your thick skull, that these people, whoever they are, are a damn sight too clever. There isn't a secret in the country they couldn't find if they wished. And that's far too dangerous a power to leave floating around in the hands of nameless private citizens, no matter how well intentioned."
Grattan, who finds the Major revolting, flatly refuses to go along with Spier's cold-blooded plan to smoke out the group:
"Crimescan is helping to uphold the law and making the world a safer place to live in. For those of you who work above the law I have neither time nor sympa-thy. God help the lot of us if things ever start going all your way."
But Spier won't back down, meaning that someone is going to die . . .

Comment: A thought-provoking little story that ends too abruptly.

Typos: "seemed to excited him further"; "a public phone in at the railroad station"; most or all of a line dropped on page 131.

- Articles about Colin Kapp and his output are at the SFE (HERE), Don Dammassa's extensive essay (HERE), the Web Archive (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Wikipedia (HERE); the only Kapp story to be filmed so far is discussed on the IMDb (HERE).
- The 2002 movie Minority Report (HERE) deals with "precogs" who see crimes before they happen; our story, in contrast, deals with what could be termed "postcog," seeing crime in incredible detail after it has occurred. Another tale with a similar theme is Lewis Padgett's "Private Eye" (1949), previously discussed on ONTOS (HERE).
- Kapp's clever neologism for his time viewer stems from two Greek roots: "eido" = "to know" and "chron" = "time"; he also seems to have intended the term to slyly suggest another word, "eidolon":
In ancient Greek literature, an eidolon (plural: eidola or eidolons) (Greek εἴδωλον: "image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost") is a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form. — Wikipedia (HERE).

The bottom line: "After all, every murderer when he kills runs the risk of the most dreadful of deaths, whereas those who kill him risk nothing except promotion."
Albert Camus

Monday, October 10, 2016

Norman A. Daniels—Nearly Forgotten Uberpulpster

AMAZINGLY PROLIFIC is the best way to describe pulp master Norman A. Daniels, whose total short story and novelette output takes up six full pages in the FictionMags listing (with over fifty of the stories starting with the word "Murder"). Like Erle Stanley Gardner, he created his own series characters, but he also contributed to stories about other authors' creations, among them characters that most of us have never heard of:
Rex Parker (The Masked Detective); Captain John Fury (The Skipper); Jerry Wade (The Candid Camera Kid); Dan Fowler; Neal Burton; Tony Quinn (The Black Bat; see HERE); Richard Curtis Van Loan (The Phantom Detective); Boxcar Reilly; Dynamite Dolan; Robert Clarke (The Crimson Mask); Jim Stanley; Guy Peyton and Slugger Jack Brady; Boris Renouf; Alex Malloy (story HERE); Bill Donovan; Jeff Shannon (The Eagle); Johnny Wells; Rick Trent; Smiths; and Hank McTurk and Jeff Patrick.
From the early '30s to the late '60s, Daniels placed stories in all the important detective publications, including EQMM and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, and even did a couple of novel tie-ins to The Avengers TV series. The IMDb (HERE) has his dozen or so screen credits.

Here are just two of Daniels's massive output, separated by a quarter of a century: "Murderer's Fee," which saw publication in DFW during the heyday of pulp crime 
fiction magazines, and "Left Hand of Justice," the product of a later era.

"Murderer's Fee."
By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, September 19, 1936.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Why Was It That Dr. Evans, of the Coroner's Office, Found Clues That Crack Dicks of the Homicide Squad Couldn't See?"
When a medical doctor who is about to be tried for corporate malfeasance is found dead, the police and most of the world assume he's committed suicide with one of his own operating knives; only the assistant coroner sees the clues that point to it being murder and sets out to find the real killer, even if it means doing an end run around the police, being kidnapped at gunpoint, and getting coshed on the cabeza . . .

Principal characters:
~ Stephen Granard, M.D., the deceased:
   "The man was about forty. Buried within two inches of its entire length, a gleaming scalpel protruded from his breast directly over the heart."
~ Sergeant Abbott of the Homicide Squad:
   "Now listen, doc, you're not going to tell me this wasn't suicide, are you?"
~ Dr. Emory Evans, Assistant Coroner:
   "Dr. Granard didn't kill himself. He was murdered and I'll stake my professional reputation on it. There are two distinct clues right in front of you."
~ Pete, Shane, Mugs, and Zamora—desperados all:
   "How will you take your fee, doc—in the heart or the head?"
~ ~ ~
"Left Hand of Justice."
By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95).
First appearance: Bestseller Mystery Magazine, March 1960.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The lonely island had been a source of peace and seclusion for Ben Slade, until he found himself sole witness to a murder—the only justice available in the form of a madman with a rifle, whose sole thought was of revenge . . ."
Ben Slade is enjoying the simple life on a five-mile-long sliver of an island off the coast of Maine, until, quite by accident:
The ugly scene developed quickly, the characters in it unaware of Ben's pres-ence. He didn't know the people involved and had to identify them only as the murderer and the victim. It was done very cold-bloodedly and deliberately. The murderer merely said, 'Charley,' and the victim turned around, saw the gun and tried to run for it. The bullet got him in the back of the neck. He was in full flight when it struck and he kept going another three or four steps before he seemed to lunge forward, like a man taking a dive into shallow water. He fell on his stomach, arms and legs outspread. The murderer quietly moved out of sight and that was all.
For Ben, as THE eyewitness to the crime, catching the killer shouldn't be a problem, but he hasn't reckoned on the interference of arrogant and wealthy Walt Langdon, who owns everything but Ben's tiny part of the island, and on how Langdon aims to deal with the situation, choosing instead to play what Ben calls "a madman's game" in a warped plan to dispense "left-handed justice" . . .

Main characters:
~ Ben Slade:
   "If this were anything except murder, I'd tell you to go to hell."
~ Walter Langdon:
   "Any one of you could conceivably get away with murder simply because you have all this money. At the very least, you could stall and dicker and finally come out of it with a whole skin, and maybe just a short prison term."
~ Karen Langdon, Walter's daughter:
   "The emperor. My father's the emperor of this island. So you report to him."
~ Dave Harmon:
  "He wants the murderer dead. That's his ego asserting itself, but he bows to it and he'll have his way unless . . ."
~ Evelyn Harmon:
   "Mr. Langdon means it, you know . . . about making certain whoever killed Charley will die right here on the island."
~ Harry Trevor:
   "You're tough, my friend. Usually, a man who gets clobbered as hard as I hit you, stays out for an hour or so."
~ Paul Griswold:
   "There has to be a motive for a killing like that and whatever it is, it will be seized upon by every big newspaper in the world."

Typo: "the Victorian house which dominated the isand"

- Bibliographies and background on Norman A. Daniels are on Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air."
Raymond Chandler

Sunday, October 9, 2016


"Origins of Galactic Law."
By Edward Wellen (1919-2011).
First appearance: Galaxy Magazine, April 1953.
Reprinted in All About the Future (1955).
"Non-Fact Article" (9 pages).
Online at HERE.
"When you go on an interstellar journey, be sure to take along this handy little legal guide."
Galactic case law being what it is, knowing something about the precedents might be a good idea—just in case you run afoul of the law as you're traveling around in the Great Up and Out.

~ People v. Kilgore, 3380, 84 Un. 793:
   "When the time came for the judge to pronounce sentence, Kilgore asked to be allowed to impose his own punishment."
~ People v. Nica, 3286, 70 Un. 1245:
   "Smiling, he pleaded guilty to both murders and listened eagerly for the verdict."
~ People v. Gund, 3286, 70 Un. 1245:
   "He struck the Vegan down when the cumulative effect of witnessing nearly two hours of the master's cruelty and the pet's pain had proved unbearable."
~ U. of Venus v. Vac. Inc. et al., 2937, 63 Un. 8451:
   "At this point the judge wearily recessed court, declaring that he intended to damp his 
brain waves with tonic chord therapy."
~ Smith v. General Teletote, 3016, 24 Un. 612:
   "General Teletote admitted that its tri-dimensional scanner had reassembled Smith improperly."
~ Based on a quashed indictment, 3426 U.E.:
   "This fetish of theirs, they explained, stemmed from the darkest age of their history . . ."

- "Origins of Galactic Law" was the second in an eight-part series of "non-fact articles" by Edward Wellen in Galaxy that would ultimately be spread over a decade:
   (1) "Origins of Galactic Slang" (1952) (online HERE)
   (2) "Origins of Galactic Law" (1953) (above)
   (3) "Origins of Galactic Etiquette" (1953) (online HERE)
   (4) "Origins of Galactic Medicine" (1953) (online HERE)
   (5) "Origins of Galactic Advice to the Lovelorn" (1955) (online HERE)
   (6) "Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter" (1960) (online HERE)
   (7) "Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad" (1962) (online HERE)
   (8) "Origins of Galactic Philosophy" (1962) (online HERE).
- The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (HERE) tells us that Edward Wellen was a "US writer, almost exclusively of short stories, mostly in the mystery genre" (see the dismissive Kirkus review HERE); but when he essayed SF it "was concise, literate, cynical and frequently anthologized over his forty-year career, and is overdue for collection." See also the ISFDb (HERE), Atomic Rockets (HERE), and Mystery*File (HERE).
- Like Isaac Asimov, sometimes Wellen crossed the genres, as in his Wendell Urth Asimov tribute story, "Murder in the Urth Degree" (1989, for the moment online HERE):
"It's as obvious," Dr. Urth said sharply, "as the nose on my face." Maybe that’s why I don’t see it, Davenport muttered mentally.

The bottom line: "I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back."
   — John Florence Sullivan

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Had I Not Been a Philosopher, a Man of Cool, Calm Reasoning, I Should Have Killed Him There and Then"

"The Glen Echo Mystery."
By Walter Wellman (1858-1931).
First appearance: The Black Cat, December 1898.
Reprinted in The Black Cat, December 1908 and Detective Book Magazine, July 1931.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"It was necessary that everything should be done in a prudent and orderly way."
Mr. Sylvester Baldwin is spending a fortnight with his friend and classmate at Harvard, Prof. Edwin Stone, at the latter's home when just after a house party given in his honor Baldwin inexplicably goes missing:
From that moment not the slightest trace of the young lawyer has been secured. The last known of him, he was apparently lying in bed, reading, a happy man. Next morning he was not in his room. All his clothing and effects, save only the pajamas which he wore as a night robe, were in the apartment. He had disap-peared as completely as if the earth had swallowed him up.
A thorough search—and we do mean thorough—is initiated by a squadron of police detectives, but:
They found not the slightest trace of the missing man, dead or alive.
In due course our narrator will tell us why Sylvester Baldwin has disappeared and, just as importantly, the life-and-death significance of a locket containing the portrait of a lovely young woman.
Note: This appears to be the only "mystery" that our author ever had published.

The bottom line: "Jealousy contains more of self-love than of love."
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

"His Finger Tightened on the Trigger"

"Murdered—Yet Alive."
By Jep Powell (James Exham Powell, Jr., 1901-57).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, July 1941.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Dashiel traversed space via etherwave, and arrived twenty pounds underweight. Then a tiny Dashiel followed—and trouble began!"
Suppose there were two of you (of course, we couldn't be that lucky, could we?); our story touches on a question that actually does come up from time to time:
"If you became two men, would it be a crime for somebody to kill your other self?"
In other words, if someone does away with one of "you," is it murder—after all, the other "you" is still alive—or could it be considered something else?

For "Dash" Dashiel this is more than just an academic topic for late-evening college bull sessions, because it has happened to him; a twin Dash shows up during an ill-advised teleportation test run and, as the old saying has it about how opposites attract and likes repel, they can't stand each other. It would be one thing if their feud remained just between themselves, but the mere presence of two disputatious Dashes threatens to undo a lucrative but shady deal that Frank Hoyt of Telatom Transport, Inc. has been planning for some time, a ruthless scheme to gain a monopoly on transportation throughout the Solar System that will crash and burn—unless he disposes of a blackmailer who's demanding way too much, a blackmailer known to everyone as "Dash" . . .

Characters of note:
~ Alexander "Dash" Dashiel, "erstwhile" [read that as "washed up"] "crack pilot of the space lanes" and "the first to travel from Earth to Jupiter—anywhere, for that matter—by electric beam":
   "Well, what are you staring at? Where are my clothes?"
~ Frank Hoyt:
   "We should have known better than to pick a berry-munching hophead when reckless bums are a dime a dozen."
~ Billy Smith, "transportation tycoon whose space ships served every port in the Solar System":
   "Better shoot fast and straight. If you miss me, I'll take that gat and pistol-whip you to a pulp."
~ Percy, atomizer technician:
   "Maybe something went wrong back in Toledo; or possibly some elemental disturbance interrupted the beam. But how he arrived in two installments, identical except in size, is too much for me."
~ Gus, Percy's assistant:
   "Hey, Perce! This ain't no rabbit. It's a human bein'. A brat."
~ Lefty, Hoyt's chauffeur:
   "He was a large man with arms that dangled like an ape's. He had the scarred face of a sparring partner in a heavyweight champion's camp."
~ Mumbo and Jumbo, "gargantuan bodyguards":
   ". . . [they] moved like twin bolts of lightning . . ."

A splendid example of technobabble:
   "The inhabitants of Jupiter, in order to withstand the tremendous gravity of that world, have evolved by environmental influence to tremendous creatures with great density of body structure, and having bones as strong and unbreakable as steel. Earthmen on Jupiter must use anti-gravity shields in their dwellings, and wear gravity-repeller belts when out-of-doors. This is accomplished by a reversal of the force of gravity, associated with magnetism, to the extent of some 40%, which would make a 200 lb. man (Earth Standard) weigh only approxi-mately 250 lbs. If he did not, he would weigh nearly five times as much, and the weight of his body would break his bones.—Ed."

- There's more (but not much more) about our author at the ISFDb (HERE).
- The idea behind this story might have been new in 1941, but it's been replicated quite a few times since; see these related TV Tropes articles: "Doppelgänger" (HERE), "Self-Duplication" (HERE), and "Our Clones Are Identical" (HERE).

The bottom line: "I think it's wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly."
Steven Wright

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"All You Had To Do Was Take the Gun Instead of the Spray, and the Money Was Yours"

By Frank Kane (1912-68).
First appearance: Crack Detective Stories, January 1945.
Reprinted in Verdict, July 1953 and Verdict (UK), September 1953.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"The case was closed until Johnny Liddell arrived to tear it open!"
Johnny Carroll was a big time gambler and something of a hypochondriac who, to all appearances, has blown his own brains out. For the police, it's an open and shut case; 
but for Johnny Liddell, PI, things simply don't add up—the psychology is all wrong, 
the fatal bullet is found in the wrong place, and where there should be money, it's 
conspicuous by its absence. To Johnny Liddell it's plain to see: Carroll is a victim, 
not of a suicide wish, but of someone dead set on committing murder . . .

Main characters:
~ Detective Sergeant Terence Grady:
   "That makes your hunch bat 1,000, doesn’t it, Johnny? Shot through the mouth; no strug-gle; his own gun and nobody else’s prints on the gun. That sure makes it out a good case of murder."
~ Johnny Liddell:
   "Sure, sure. It sounds screwy, but not as screwy as the idea of Johnny Carroll knocking himself off! He wouldn’t give the world a break like that, Terry. He was mean enough to live forever. A guy that has so many birds out gunning for him just naturally doesn’t knock him-self off."
~ The deceased:
   "Nobody’s convincing me that Johnny Carroll killed himself. You might as well ask me to believe that Hitler has underwritten a Jewish asylum."
~ Dr. Matthews:
   "Somehow he got the idea he had a cancer. Insisted on being treated. I prescribed an anti-septic spray and tried to talk him out of it."
~ Emmy Wilson:
   "That must have been the way it happened. I knew you hated him. You always hated him—"

Comment: The author's propensity to use his characters' full names almost every time might become tiresome to some readers.
- This was the third of over fifty Johnny Liddell short stories; the crew at Pulpgen Online Pulps characterize "Suicide" this way:
Not exactly classic noir, but it has all the right ingredients. As a 'police proce-dural' it doesn't stand up, and probably didn't when it was written in 1945. But it is crisply told and the plot hinges on a clever murder method.
- Over time Frank Kane has drawn a lot of interest on the Internet for his hardboiled fiction; see the following online sources, some of which include bibliographies and reviews of other stories by Kane: The Thrilling Detective (HERE) and (HERE); Mystery*File (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); Killer Covers of the Week (HERE); James Reasoner's weblog (HERE); and Tom Rizzo's (HERE).
- According to the IMDb (HERE), Kane was responsible for two dozen episodes of the Mike Hammer TV series starring Darren McGavin (1958-59).

The bottom line: "It takes two to make a murder. There are born victims, born to have their throats cut, as the cut-throats are born to be hanged."
Aldous Huxley

Monday, October 3, 2016

"It Killed Him Like That—Squeezed the Life Out of Him in No Time"

"The Thinking Machine."
By J. J. Connington (1880-1947).
First appearance: Weird Tales, May 1939.
Reprinted in Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, July 1966.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"A strange and curious story about a fantastic weird machine that possessed a brute desire to slay—a startling thrill-tale of an eery invention"
Our narrator, a biologist, is disappointed to find himself sharing a railway carriage with Milton, an old but unpleasant acquaintance and, scientifically speaking, all round dim bulb. When the subject of Prof. Stevenson, an enigmatic physicist colleague whom they both knew, arises, Milton, with some reluctance, launches into an account of what happened to the professor, prefacing it with this caveat:
"Mind, I don't expect you to believe this [he began]. It's a bit out of the common—so much so, that I'd prefer to leave the newspaper story as it stands, rather than contradict it. You'll see why, later on."
And see why the narrator finally does, as Milton unfurls his tale of a brilliant science exper-iment gone radically, fatally wrong; of a genius who, like another scientist (the one named Victor), fails to fully understand his creation and anticipate what it might be capable of . . .

Notable characters:
~ Milton:
   "This machine of Stevenson's was like no machine I'd ever seen before; but its physical appearance wasn't the thing that struck me most about it. It had, somehow, a personality. I can't explain what I mean. It looked wicked, just as a bull looks wicked in comparison with a cow."
~ Prof. Loraine Stevenson:
   "You are the first person to whom I have said anything on the matter. I had not meant to tell you, but I suppose I feel the need of an audience, after all."
~ Narrator (unnamed):
   "A machine of that sort could be made, improbable as it sounds. Science is full of queer things. It's as well to keep an open mind. But if anyone discovers that seacave, I should keep out of it, if I were in his shoes."
- "J. J. Connington" was the nom de plume of Scots-born mystery writer Alfred Walter Stewart; with his scientific training, Stewart was well-equipped to write science fiction, 
but he preferred producing detective fiction novels instead, his only other SFnal work 
being the ecological disaster novel Nordenholt's Million (1923), which is reviewed at 
Vintage Pop Fictions (HERE) and online (HERE). You can find plenty of information 
about him and his mystery fiction at The Passing Tramp (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), 
The Locked Room Mystery (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing."
Emo Philips

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"We Need Your Planet"

"This Planet for Sale."
By Ralph Sholto (?-?).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, July 1952.
Reprinted in Fantastic, February 1969.
Novelette (25 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language and graphic violence.)
"The alien galaxy had a strange hobby: they collected planets. And now they wanted to make Earth a star specimen!"
What's the difference between a collector and a thief? Permission, of course. Rex and his partner Johnny on the Dog Star are making a cargo run carrying contraband when they literally run into an invisible planet that just happens to be passing through the Solar System; they don't know it at first, but this planet has been stolen and the population murdered to fulfill a purchasing contract without the permission of its inhabitants.

It also just so happens that Colleen and her dad Saul on the Flying Boxcar receive the same rough treatment as the Dog Star, forcing them all to make unscheduled landings on the pur-loined planet, where they'll find trouble aplenty from a homicidal brotherhood, swarms of killer androids, and, in Rex's case, a "red-headed, streamlined hellion" . . .

Characters to note:
~ Rex Moran, captain of the Dog Star, out of Minneapolis:
   "Good lord! It's all city. Completely built up from one pole to the other. Every square mile of this planet has construction on it."
~ Johnny Calhoun, pilot and astrogator of the Dog Star:
   "They ain't human. They keep getting up."
~ Colleen Barnum of the Flying Boxcar, out of Detroit:
   "I told you I don't like you eating in your underwear!"
~ Saul Barnum of the Flying Boxcar, Collen's father:
   "We've been jobbed. Grab a rafter and swing."
~ Brother William:
   "You are a most refreshing bit of femininity. I have plans for you."
~ Lugo and Morkon:
   "We are the sole worry of the Brothers at the moment. We are considered vermin who must be eradicated from the planet . . ."
~ The minions:
   "They are dreadful enemies to have. They are partially human but have the unreasoning tenacity of cold metal. They never sleep. Endlessly, day after day, they hunt us down. They are as implacable as time itself."
A passage from here and there:

   - "THE INSTRUMENTS at Palomar and Wilson registered an alien body crossing the solar orbits. The intruder, whatever it was, pulled Mars forty thousand miles out of its lane. From all indications, the thing would be hauled around by Mercury and would dive straight into the sun."

   - "Suddenly a door flew open and a terrified creature burst into the room. It was almost naked, its skin a sickly, unhealthy white. It had four arms and two legs, with short, bristly black hair covering its skull. Its feet were huge, comically so, but there was nothing comic 
in the terror radiated by this creature. That quality was of a universal nature."

   - "A superficial explanation of Cosmophysics is necessary before you can begin to under-stand. You see, the universe as you know it is a relatively small unit of the infinite. Without the proper transportation equipment, the best you could ever do would be to travel in an ever-lasting circle. At the outer dimensions of this universe, as with all others, time and space become one and form circular boundaries: so the universe you know can be likened to a bubble in which you go around and around. . . . There are time and space spheres so large they could contain this universe a million times over."

   - "You, for instance, have a remarkably soft heart. You are a sentimentalist and as gener-ous as all outdoors. But you won't admit it even to yourself, and you keep it hidden under a cloak of synthetic savageness. . . . Another thing: whatever mistake you have made, whatever sin is eating at your conscience—fear not. You will not follow the path of evil to its ultimate end. You have already proven that."

   - "She hit him like an oversized bumblebee. Her legs went around his waist, her arms around his neck. Her white teeth slashed out and found his ear. With a curse, Rex jerked her free and held her at arm's length while she kicked and struggled. His face was a whirlpool of surprised rage. But gradually the rage faded to give place to a grin. 'You're a hellcat for fair,' he said."

Plothole: That "ancient ray gun that had seen better days."

Typo: "Neither man waited to sat goodbye"


- Whoever "Ralph Sholto" was (our guess is he was the magazine's editor incognito), he didn't produce much fiction under that name; see the ISFDb (HERE).
- TV Tropes discusses examples of the ecumenopolis (HERE).

The bottom line: "Guns are dangerous. You can get hurt that way."
— Saul Barnum