Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Something Poked Into My Back and I Knew It Wasn't a Lollypop"

IN THE 1930s and '40s crime stories with cabdrivers (both men and women) as protago-
nists seem to have enjoyed a vogue, but as far as we've discovered Eando Binder might be the first—and for all we know—the last writer to set his cabby's criminous adventure among that tantalizingly tenuous collection of flying mountains commonly called the asteroid belt,
in a hard-boiled pastiche called . . .

"Double or Nothing."
By "Eando Binder" (Otto Binder, 1911-74; HERE).

Illustration by Wallace Saaty (HERE).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1942.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "I can rob a bank in one place, and I can be having a chat with a copper in another, both at the same time."

As we've remarked before, there's a technological arms race going on all the time between the authorities and the criminal classes; Dr. Petrie's new gadget, unfortunately, promises to tip the balance in favor of the bad guys . . .

Principal characters:
~ Carl Mallow:

  "When you see Dr. Petrie, tell him to have his furniture ready for removal."
~ Dr. Petrie:
  ". . . we'll send police there to rescue you."
~ Miss Petrie:
  "I waited long enough to see her eyes flash like blue jewels at me."
~ Scarface:
  ". . . a hard-looking hombre with a pair of twisty lips and a scar across his temple."
~ Moonhead:

  "His gun wavered from one to the other of us, as though he wasn't sure which one 
to plug in case we attacked."
~ Joe Lake, our narrator:
  "A chunk of solidified helium that once was my heart sank down toward my feet."

Comment: If we remember that true science fiction is more than just a shoot-'em-up 
with whiz-bang tech, does our narrative pass muster as SFF? Yes, it does—barely. One requirement is for the story to explore how a technological development affects society, 
and this one qualifies.

- The asteroid belt: ". . . is a torus-shaped region in the Solar System, located roughly between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Mars, that is occupied by a great many 

solid, irregularly shaped bodies, of many sizes but much smaller than planets, called asteroids or minor planets. This asteroid belt is also called the main asteroid belt or 
main belt to distinguish it from other asteroid populations in the Solar System such 
as near-Earth asteroids and Trojan asteroids." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "Ceres": Among the stories that we've already encountered in our quest for mashups of crime and science fiction set on or near Ceres are Edmond Hamilton's "Murder Asteroid" (HERE) and Miriam Allen deFord's "Murder in the Transcontinental Tunnel" (HERE).
- "a curio shop on Ganymede": For SFF scribes a default venue. "Ganymede's size made 
it a popular location for early science fiction authors looking for locations beyond Mars 
that might be inhabitable by humans. In reality, Ganymede is a cold, icy, cratered world 
with a vanishingly thin atmosphere." See Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- "Juno's colorful markets": "3 Juno is a large asteroid in the asteroid belt. Juno was the 
third asteroid discovered, in 1804, by German astronomer Karl Harding. It is the 11th-largest asteroid, and one of the two largest stony (S-type) asteroids, along with 15 Eunomia. It is estimated to contain 1% of the total mass of the asteroid belt." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "Like a movie frame, the human eye sees any flickering faster than thirty-two times a 
second as continuous and solid." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a sixty-cycle electric light": "The utility frequency, (power) line frequency (American En-
glish) or mains frequency (British English) is the nominal frequency of the oscillations of alternating current (AC) in a wide area synchronous grid transmitted from a power station 
to the end-user. In large parts of the world this is 50 Hz [cycles per second], although in 
the Americas and parts of Asia it is typically 60 Hz [cycles per second]." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a Martian spider-silk evening gown": Spiders on Mars? Not likely. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "as deserted as Pluto": It's still a planet to us. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "a fire on Mercury": A hot spot for sure. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "hightailing for Neptune": Are there diamonds there? If so, Scarface might be interested. (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've encountered Otto Binder (a.k.a. "Eando Binder") stories on several occasions: 

"The Moon Mines" (HERE), "Static" (HERE), and "Adam Link, Robot Detective" (HERE).

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