Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"One Man's Head Had Been Squeezed Completely Off"

A CYBERNETIC PERRY MASON mounts his own case for the defense . . .

"Robot A-1."
By Oscar J. Friend (1898-1963; HERE and HERE).
Illustration by Alex Schomberg (1905-98; HERE).
First appearance: Startling Stories, July 1939 (cover story).

Short short story (7 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; PDF) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "I plead guilty of making the Tri-octopus, and not guilty of operating it to take human life."

How much culpability do inventors have for their inventions; in other words, just how far does responsiblity extend? For instance, some people would like to bring suit against gun manufacturers whenever such a weapon is used to kill someone, even though the manu-
facturer wasn't there to pull the trigger—and that brings us to the case of Robot A-1, him-
self an invention, on trial for murders committed, in turn, by his own invention . . .

Principal characters:
~ The Forsythe Mechanical Man, a.k.a. Robot A-1:

  "If it please the Court, I will conduct my own defense."
~ The Tri-octopus:

  ". . . a seven-foot tall mechanically motivated machine which stands on three multi-joined legs and has eight cabled arms, and which was used to kill seven persons on the lower subway level at Times Square before it was fortunately knocked off the platform in front of 
an express train and destroyed."
~ Judge McElvery:
  "Is the counsel for the defense invisible or not prepared?"
~ Robert Chaldow:
  ". . . a thin-nosed man with the hands of a skilled mechanic, took the stand, looked nervously at Robot A-1, and gave his testimony in a jerky, high voice."
~ Mr. Martin:
  "I object! The hearsay gossip of the witness has no bearing on the question."
~ Miss Marie Lemar:
  ". . . identified them as particles of the seven-foot monstrosity that had slain several 

people in the subway."
~ Lamkin:
  "I tell you that—that thing has a personality."
~ Robbins:
  "My God, Lamkin! Look!"

- "indicted June twenty-first for the manufacture of . . .": "In criminal law, strict liability is liability for which mens rea (Latin for 'guilty mind') does not have to be proven in relation to one or more elements comprising the actus reus (Latin for 'guilty act') although intention, recklessness or knowledge may be required in relation to other elements of the offense. 
The liability is said to be strict because defendants could be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. The defendants may therefore not be culpable in any real way, i.e. there is not even criminal negligence, the least blameworthy level of mens rea." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "like the locks of a metal Medusa": Never look her way. "In Greek mythology, Medusa ('guardian, protectress') was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed into her eyes would turn to stone." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "rocked into Times Square": Until recently a very busy place. "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, and is sometimes referred to as 'the Crossroads of the World', 
'the Center of the Universe', 'the heart of the Great White Way', and 'the heart of the world'. One of the world's busiest pedestrian areas, it is also the hub of the Broadway Theater District and a major center of the world's entertainment industry." (Wikipedia HERE).
- We have run into robots quite a few times, the latest being Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's far more sophisticated story "Two-Handed Engine" (HERE); Adam Link, the ethical robot, experienced a similar situation to that of A-1 in "I, Robot", except that Adam had a human mouthpiece (more HERE).
- Our first sample of Oscar Jerome Friend's fiction was "I Get Off Here" (HERE).

Friday, April 24, 2020

"Crime Detection Was His Hobby"

"On the Plymouth Express."
By Frank Conly (?-?).

First appearance: The Argosy, December 1912.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 185 from the dropdown menu).

     ". . . they found themselves covered with a revolver, and a tense voice commanded them to be quiet, at the peril of their lives."

The best detectives know (in fiction, at least; no idea how it goes in real life) how to break 
an alibi, and the investigator in our narrative is no exception when jewels worth a hundred thousand pounds vanish at gunpoint . . .

Major characters:
~ Ferguson, a police detective:

  "We don't favor private detectives so much in England as you do in America . . ."
~ Colonel Tomlinson:
  "Really, friend, your joke has gone far enough, don't you think?"
~ Rothwell and Mrs.:
  ". . . invited him to their reserved compartment to continue their chat."
~ Norman Harley, a private detective:
  ". . . a mystery is the best thing that can happen in a big case. It's in the mystery that the clue lies. You know from your own experiences that it is the apparently simple cases that 

so often prove most baffling—the cases where there is no element of mystery."

- According to FictionMags (HERE), "On the Plymouth Express" was Frank Conly's fourth story of six for The Argosy (1912-13); he would go on to write four for Detective Story Magazine (1915-17), two for The Black Mask (1923-24), and an assortment for other magazines of the period up to 1924. As far as we know, this may have been Norman 

Harley's only exploit.
- Eleven years after the events of today's story, Agatha Christie published "The Plymouth Express Affair" (a.k.a. "The Mystery of the Plymouth Express"), a Hercule Poirot adventure, which we featured (HERE).

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

"Copyright Police?"

By Timothy J. Gawne (HERE).

Illustration by Jacey (Jason Cook; HERE).
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 9 October 2019.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Nature/Futures (HERE; PDF).

     "I have been sent here to determine the truth of said allegation."

There's an old legal saying . . .
~ The tall man covered in bright blue feathers:

  ". . . an official of the universal body that deals with intellectual-property violations."
~ Floyd Bromley:
  "And what is being infringed?"
~ The man wearing a striped short-sleeved shirt with khaki trousers and tennis shoes:
  "Tough break . . ."

- As you can see from his ISFDb page, Timothy J. Gawne has seen his SFF getting published since 2012.
- We've already encountered several stories dealing with the underlying premise of today's story: "Schrödinger’s Gun" (HERE), "Third Alternative" (HERE), and "Reversal of Misfortune" (HERE).

The bottom line:

Friday, April 17, 2020

"O'Malley Had a Knack for Handcuffs"

"Bought Silence."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957; HERE).

Illustration by Joseph Sekell.
First appearance: Private Detective Stories, November 1947.

Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)
     "Blackmailing is such a despicable crime. It depended so wholly on the human weakness of its victim."

In stories like this one, the cast list is so small that the only mystery which can be invoked is exactly how the protagonist is going to solve the central problem, blackmail in this case . . .

Principal characters:
~ Robert O'Malley:

  "It was just one of those things—a big, raging, self-confident killer—and O'Malley had misjudged it."
~ Gracie O'Malley:
  "Do you think you can get my bracelet back from him?"
~ Jim Torgson:
  ". . . a swaggering, shifty adventurer, unreliable, unscrupulous . . ."

- Being the uberpulpster's uberpulpster, Raymond King Cummings has and will continue to turn up on this weblog; our latest meeting with Cummings was "Trapped by Astronomy" (HERE) a few months back.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"Everything Considered, It Was a Remunerative As Well As Instructive Investment"

"The Kokod Warriors."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Illustration by [Paul] Orban (1896-1974; HERE).
Magnus Ridolph No. 9.
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1952.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (22 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Financial depletion is as good a weapon as any."

As usual, Magnus Ridolph's bank account is depleted, so when he's offered a chance to shut down a couple of war profiteers Ridolph sees the prospect of "a certain measure of subsidi-
ary profits"—not to mention the personal satisfaction of putting these sleazoids out of busi-
ness, because it just so happens they're the selfsame slimeballs who swindled him in a previous deal . . .

Major characters:
~ Martha Chickering:
  "'Are you acquainted with the world'—she spoke it as if it were a social disease—'Kokod?'"
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "Your problem assumes form."
~ Bruce Holpers and Julius See:
  ". . . have ingeniously made use of the incessant wars as a means of diverting their guests. A sheet quotes odds on each day's battle—a pastime which arouses enthusiasm among sporting visitors."
~ Everley Clark:
  "Do you think I enjoy seeing these little creatures tearing each other apart?"
~ Mr. Pilby, Mrs. Chaim, and Mrs. Borgage, Shadow Valley Inn guests:
  "An old man with a nose like a raspberry,""a heavy woman scented with musk," and "a woman with the small head and robust contour of a peacock."
~ The hangarman:
  "I tell you that tube's good as gold."
~ Captain Bussey:
  "What in God's name happened to you?"
~ The Kokod Warriors:
  . . . remind us vaguely of a planetary culture from a badly mismanaged motion picture franchise. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The sun, Pi Sagittarius": Our author gets the Latin genitive case wrong. "Pi Sagittarii (π Sagittarii, abbreviated Pi Sgr, π Sgr) is a triple star system in the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius. It has an apparent visual magnitude of +2.89, bright enough to be readily seen with the naked eye. Based upon parallax measurements, it is roughly 510 light-years (160 parsecs) from the Sun." (Wikipedia HERE).

Typo: "He5d be crazy".
~ ~ ~
WE'VE EARNESTLY SEARCHED the Interblab for the tenth Magnus Ridolph novelette, "Coup de Grace" (a.k.a. "Worlds of Origin"; reprints page HERE), which first appeared in Super-Science Fiction, February 1958, but haven't had any success locating it. (That is, unless you can read Polish; see HERE).
If you are interested, we regret that you'll have to pay for the privilege, either in paperback (Spatterlight Press edition, 2017; HERE) or in a Kindle e-book collection (Spatterlight Press, 2012; HERE) at Amazon.com; or the paperback (HERE) or NOOK e-book (HERE) at Barnes & Noble. "Worlds of Origin" was reprinted in Tales from Super-Science Fiction (2011; HERE) and elsewhere.
- Here are all of our previous postings about the Magnus Ridolph series:

   (1) "Hard Luck Diggings" (HERE)
   (2) "Sanatoris Short-Cut" (HERE)
   (3) "The Unspeakable McInch" (HERE)
   (4) "The Sub-Standard Sardines" (HERE)
   (5) "The Howling Bounders" (HERE)
   (6) "The King of Thieves" (HERE)
   (7) "The Spa of the Stars" (HERE)
   (8) "Cosmic Hotfoot" (HERE).

Saturday, April 11, 2020

"It Occurred to Him That This Was the First Time in His Two Years' Experience As Medical Examiner That He Had Beaten the Police to a Homicide"

"The Fourth Visitor."
By George Harmon Coxe (1901-84).
Illustration by Earl Cordrey (1902-77; HERE).

Paul Standish No. 1.
First appearance: Cosmopolitan, August 1942.

Reprinted in the one and only issue of Popular Detective Stories, January 1950.
Short story (7 pages).
Online at Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "I didn't do it."

The sudden death of a man who "had a weakness for women, gambling and sharp practice" and owed a lot of money to ungentle people gets our M.E. in a bind as he tries to protect a young woman he's never met . . .

Principal characters:
~ Eddie Tyler:

  . . . is unpleasantly surprised.
~ Jay Arnold:
  . . . is unpleasantly dead.
~ Janet Payson:
  . . . is found hiding in a closet.
~ Paul Standish:
  . . . acts on a hunch.
~ Mary Hayward:
  . . . is Standish's Girl Friday.
~ Captain Cavanaugh:
  . . . isn't fond of our hero.
~ Lt. Ballard:
  . . . is an efficient cop.
~ Leahy:
  . . . is skeptical.

~ Our cast of suspects:
  . . . in addition to Janet includes Henry Ewing, Al Dumont, and Dean Forbes.

- "a dollar-a-year man in Washington": They weren't what you'd call poor. (Encyclopedia.com HERE).
- FictionMags informs us that George Harmon Coxe's Paul Standish shorter adventures ran to nine stories and one novella:
   (1) "The Fourth Visitor," Cosmopolitan, August 1942 (above)
   (2) "The Doctor Makes It Murder," Cosmopolitan, September 1942 (a.k.a. "The Doctor Calls It Murder")
   (3) "The Painted Nail," Liberty, May 5, 1945 (a.k.a. "Murder Makes a Difference," featured HERE)
   (4) "The Canary Sang," Mystery Book Magazine, October 1945 (a.k.a. "Frightened Canary")
   (5) "Murder to Music," Liberty, September 7, 1946
   (6) "Post Mortem," Liberty, November 16, 1946
   (7) "Cause for Suspicion," Liberty, February 1, 1947
   (8) "Death Certificate," Liberty, December 1947 (collected in Four-&-Twenty Bloodhounds, 1950, reviewed HERE)

    (9) "Circumstantial Evidence," Liberty, September 1949
   (10) "Black Target," The American Magazine, March 1951 (a.k.a. "The Appearance of Truth").

- Also see Mike Grost's rundown of Coxe's other series characters (The GAD Wiki HERE) and James Reasoner's article (Mysterious Press HERE). Other books by Coxe, including a Paul Standish novel, are listed on the BookFrom.Net Archive (HERE).

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 Archive.org (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 Archive.org (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).