Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"You Didn't Expect To See Me"

R. AUSTIN FREEMAN is justifiably remembered for Dr. Thorndyke, his genius medico who solved knotty problems with the greatest of ease. The brilliant Thorndyke, however, is absent from today's story, one in which an overconfident criminal imagines that he can get what he wants with the aid of . . .

"The Ebb Tide."
By R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943).
Illustrations by R. B. M. Paxton.
First appearance: Cassell's Magazine, February 1903.
Short short story (5 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
     "Do you mean to tell me that if I was to tumble overboard here you could make sure of finding my body to-night on the mud at Warden?"

"Floaters," they call them, corpses found in water. Usually they're the result of misfortune, but now and then a floater washes ashore that didn't get there by accident, one that has previously experienced a rough push followed by a big splash . . . .

Main characters:
~ Jonathan Lurcher:
  ". . . a gentleman of antecedents so remarkable that a grateful and appreciative country had for some time past taken upon itself the entire cost of his maintenance
 . . ."
~ Clementina Porpers:
  ". . . another passenger, of the feminine gender, whom he had watched with no little interest as she stood on the pier waiting for the boat."
~ The bargee:
  "By gum, but the tide do run down jest 'ere."
~ The bearded stranger:
  "Feel bad?"

References and resources:
- "The Ebb Tide": It makes a good metaphor:
  "An ebb tide occurs when a tidal current moves away from land. Tidal currents moving toward land are called floods. Ebbs and floods are categorized as reversing currents" (Reference.com HERE).
- "oakum picking": Hardly a pleasant pastime:
  "Oakum was at one time recycled from old tarry ropes and cordage, which were painstakingly unravelled and reduced to fibre, termed 'picking.' The task of picking and preparation was a common occupation in prisons and workhouses, where the young or the old and infirm were put to work picking oakum if they were unsuited for heavier labour. Sailors undergoing naval punishment were also frequently sentenced to pick oakum, with each man made to pick 1 pound (450 g) of oakum a day. The work was tedious, slow and taxing on the worker's thumbs and fingers" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a simple process of inductive reasoning": Sherlock did a lot more of this than he would like to admit:
  "Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying some evidence, but not full assurance, of the truth of the conclusion. It is also described as a method where one's experiences and observations, including what is learned from others, are synthesized to come up with a general truth. Inductive reasoning is distinct from deductive reasoning" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "on the Isle of Sheppey": It has a storied past:
  "The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent, England, neigh-bouring the Thames Estuary, centred 42 miles (68 km) from central London. It has an area of 36 square miles (93 km2). The island forms part of the local government district of Swale. Sheppey is derived from Old English Sceapig, meaning 'Sheep Island'" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The bargee": "(Nautical Terms) a person employed on or in charge of a barge" (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- "the funnel": They come in all shapes and sizes:
  "A funnel is the smokestack or chimney on a ship used to expel boiler steam and smoke or engine exhaust. They are also commonly referred to as stacks" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "sponson": When  a ship is in motion it needs help to stay upright:
  "On watercraft, a sponson is a projection that extends outward (usually from the hull, but sometimes other parts of the vessel) to improve stability while floating, or to act as a securing point for other equipment" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "windlasses rattled": Anchor's away:
  "Windlasses are sometimes used on boats to raise the anchor as an alternative to a vertical capstan" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We were last in touch with R. Austin Freeman with his brain-strainer "The Blue Sequin" (HERE). As for Dr. Thorndyke's multi-media portrayals, see "The Three Dr. Thorndykes" (HERE).

Friday, August 27, 2021

"The 'Degrader' Criminal Requires Specialized Handling"

BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION author Arthur C. Clarke no doubt said and wrote many things in his life, but the only comment of his that we can recall from memory is this one: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." When criminals happen to get their hands (or pincers or tentacles or whatever) on such technology, that's the moment which justifies an intervention by the . . .

"Philosophical Corps."
By E. B. Cole (1910-2001).
First appearance: Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951.
Illustrations by Edd Cartier (1914-2008; HERE).
Short story (16 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 50).
     "The usual methods of detection and capture would serve to apprehend this type of criminal, but the psychological and theological effects he leaves behind, require action by specialized personnel."

How do you overcome the activities of a small group of interstellar criminals who wish to exploit an entire planet full of hapless, easily misled natives for their own personal gain, their m.o. being systematic deliberate cultural contamination? The Philosophical Corps, with their super-high technology, believes they have the answer . . . .

Principal characters:
The Corps:
~ Jameison, Wells, Dale, Owens, Isaacs, Daws, Miller, and Bowman.
The locals:
~ Lanko, Dasnor, Banasel, and Senemanos.

Here we have Star Trek's Prime Directive and the willing executors of it fifteen years early:

  "As they talked, the sun rose. Sweeping darkness before it, the star glared down—huge, brilliant, dominating. Sharp, harsh shadows and blinding reflections replaced the vagueness of the night. This was a young world—satellite to a young, active star. Quite conceivably, thought Dale, this was its first civilization. Equally conceivably, this new civilization might survive—might grow and mature in a normal manner and emerge, triumphantly successful at the first attempt, rather than coming to a dead, sterile end, as many civilizations, blighted by premature, unlawful contact with more advanced peoples, had done."
  ". . . The three guardsmen rapidly explained the Universal Federation to their prospective recruits. At first, incredulous that the tiny points of light in the sky might contain worlds as great and even greater than their own, the ten gradually came to realize the scope of the Galaxy. Their crude and degrader-distorted philosophy was replaced by positive knowledge of the many civilized worlds in space. Memory pictures projected by the three with the aid of the hypnotizer ray gave them actual views of advanced civilization, and of degrader damage on other worlds. Swiftly, though with care that mental damage did not result, they were given a full view of galactic civilization."
  ". . . you know the peculiar terms of service the Stellar Guard imposes. You know, for example, that no guardsman can associate with any but other guardsmen while on a primitive or undeveloped planet. During your time on this world, you will have no close friends—no wife—no children. You will have to observe a good many other stringent regulations. It is a hard life, but a satisfying one, and after retirement, the reward is high."

Typo: "night [might] of Atakar?"

References and resources:
- There were five stories in the Philosophical Corps series; numbers 1, 3, and 4 below were blended into a fix-up novel, The Philosophical Corps (1961) (ISFDb data).
  (1) "Philosophical Corps" (1951) (short story), Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951 (above)
  (2) "These Shall Not Be Lost" (1953) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, January 1953
  (3) "Fighting Philosopher" (1954) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, April 1954
  (4) "The Players" (1955) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, April 1955
  (5) "Here, There Be Witches" (1970) (novelette), Analog, April 1970.
- The Star Trek series occasionally dealt with the idea of cultural contamination, for example, both unintentional—"A Piece of the Action" (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE)—and criminally intentional—"Devil's Due" (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE).
- Everett Bush Cole was a pulpster in good standing: Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Project Gutenberg's small Cole collection (HERE).

Thursday, August 26, 2021

"The Art of the Detective Story"

LITTERATEURS finally got around to acknowledging that indeed detective fiction could be an art—in the right hands. The following article comes from Cassell's Weekly, July 25, 1923 (HERE):


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"There Came a Wild Scream from the Blackness of the Sea, a Swish of Foamy Water, As If of a Momentary Fight—Then Silence"

"Deep Sea Treasure."
By Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936).
Illustrations by Harold Anderson (1894-1973; HERE).
First appearance: Boys' Life, January 1924.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "He had brought up a skull . . ."

One of the oldest human criminal activities leads a scientific detective to employ one of the newest forensic techniques . . . .

Main characters:
~ Walter:
  "Only a few days before, Kennedy and I had arrived Nassau in the Bahamas on a vacation, the winter following the radio detective episode."
~ Craig Kennedy:
  "You're as fine a gentleman as ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat!"
~ Ken Adams:
  "It looks as if one of the party was double-crossing the others."
~ Erickson:
  "Captain Duval was—murdered!"
~ Harry Davison:
  ". . . had embarked in his father's two-hundred-foot power yacht, Diving Belle, on a treasure hunt with two chums of his college fraternity . . ."
~ Nanette Duval:
  "The girl's eyes flashed dangerously as she spoke."
~ Guy Duval:
  "I tried to be good and brave . . ."
~ Coralie Adams:
  "In her hand was a copy of the same wireless that had come to us."
~ Captain Ray:
  "No good will ever come of that treasure hunt!"
~ Bob Barrett:
  "To our surprise we saw that he was swathed in bandages."
~ Burleigh:
  "It was Burleigh who had organized and engineered the treasure hunt . . ."
~ Colwell:
  "You see, we have a wonderful deep-sea diving outfit which will enable us to go down even fifty fathoms, three hundred feet . . ."

References and resources:
- "Nassau in the Bahamas": Tourists seem to love it:
  "The city's proximity to the United States (290 km east-southeast of Miami, Florida) has contributed to its popularity as a holiday resort, especially after the United States imposed a ban on travel to Cuba in 1963. The Atlantis resort on nearby Paradise Island accounts for more tourist arrivals to the city than any other hotel property of Nassau. The mega-resort employs over 6,000 Bahamians, and is the largest employer outside government" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "these here rum-runners": It wasn't all fun and games when it came to evading the 18th Amendment (in force from 1919 to 1933), but it could be lucrative:
  "At the start, the rum-runner fleet consisted of a ragtag flotilla of fishing boats, such as the schooner Nellie J. Banks, excursion boats, and small merchant craft. As prohibition wore on, the stakes got higher and the ships became larger and more specialized. The rum-runners were definitely faster and more maneuverable. Add to that the fact that a rum-running captain could make several hundred thousand dollars a year. In comparison, the Commandant of the Coast Guard made just $6,000 annually, and seamen made $30/week. These huge rewards meant the rum-runners were willing to take big risks. They ran without lights at night and in fog, risking life and limb" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a land haunted by memories of buccaneersBlackbeard, Teach, a host of other scurrilous old worthies": The more flamboyant the criminal, it seems, the more people remember him:
  "Buccaneers were a kind of privateers or free sailors peculiar to the Caribbean Sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. First established on northern Hispaniola as early as 1625, their heyday was from the Restoration in 1660 until about 1688, during a time when governments were not strong enough and did not consistently attempt to suppress them" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "Edward Teach (alternatively spelled Edward Thatch, c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was an English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of Britain's North American colonies. Teach was a shrewd and calculating leader who spurned the use of violence, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response that he desired from those whom he robbed. He was romanticized after his death and became the inspiration for an archetypal pirate in works of fiction across many genres" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the difficult process of reconstructing the faces of human beings": Still being used today:
  "Forensic facial reconstruction (or forensic facial approximation) is the process of recreating the face of an individual (whose identity is often not known) from their skeletal remains through an amalgamation of artistry, anthropology, osteology, and anatomy. It is easily the most subjective—as well as one of the most controversial—techniques in the field of forensic anthropology. Despite this controversy, facial reconstruction has proved successful frequently enough that research and methodological developments continue to be advanced" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "A star shell!": Let there be light:
  "Typically illumination flares burn for about 60 seconds. These are also known as starshell or star shell" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Arthur Reeve teamed his well-known scientific detective Craig Kennedy with Ken Adams, evidently to appeal to a younger demographic, in eight adventures in Boys' Life in 1923-24 (FictionMags data):
  (1) "Craig Kennedy, Radio Detective" (serial), Boys’ Life, October 1923, etc.
  (2) "Deep Sea Treasure" (short story), Boys’ Life, January 1924 (above)
  (3) "A Son of the North Woods" (short story), Boys’ Life, February 1924
  (4) "The Polar Flight of ZR-10" (short story), Boys’ Life, March 1924
  (5) "The Honor System" (short story), Boys’ Life, May 1924
  (6) "The Return of the Bon Homme Richard" (short story), Boys’ Life, July 1924
  (7) "The Ghost Chase" (short story), Boys’ Life, September 1924
  (8) "The Voice in the Dark" (serial), Boys’ Life, November 1924, etc.
- Our latest contact with one of Arthur Benjamin Reeve's stories was "The Curio Shop" (HERE). You might also enjoy Reeve's nonfictional article, "In Defense of the Detective Story," which we highlighted (HERE); the offsite link still seems to work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"Most Famous Detectives in Fiction"

HERE'S AN ARTICLE from the mid-1920s that in its own limited way highlights the zeitgeist with respect to detective fiction. You'll find the usual suspects, but also the occasional oddball that you may never have heard of:


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Farjeon's First Foray

EVERYBODY has to start someplace:

The Master Criminal review, T. P.'s and Cassell's Weekly, May 10, 1924 (HERE) ~
- The GAD Wiki has a listing for Farjeon (HERE).

Friday, August 20, 2021

"R.L.S. and the Detective"

HERE'S AN ANECDOTE about Robert Louis Stevenson, still regarded as one of the best writers in English. Although he produced some crime fiction (yes, pirates are a criminal organization), we learn here that while he never wanted to commit to a formal detective story, he was capable of reasoning like a detective fiction author:

~ From T. P.'s Weekly, June 23, 1905 (HERE) ~
- A few years ago we highlighted a thesis about R.L.S.'s "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (HERE).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

"I Began To Know a New All-time High of Being Scared"

By Manly Wade Wellman (1903-86).
Illustration by H. W. Wesso (1894-1948; HERE).
First appearance: Dynamic Science Stories, April-May 1939.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "He melted down like a snow man in a heavy thaw."

Funny how almost getting murdered can put a guy on a new career path . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Sam:
  "Something was due to break loose any second, and I'd be in the thick of it."
~ Marjorie:
  ". . . was shrinking back on the settee, her mouth open as if she was trying to scream."
~ Miss Wheatland:
  ". . . the old-maid school teacher, austere but loveable, who was bringing two young sweethearts together . . ."
~ Dillard Harpe:
  ". . . was so close to me that he could have reached out and grabbed me."
~ The chief of detectives:
  "I still don't see how you managed it. All I can call it is insight."

References and resources:
- "Grant's Tomb": That's what everybody calls it:
  "Grant's Tomb, officially the General Grant National Memorial, is the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia Grant. It is a classical domed mausoleum in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City. The structure is in the middle of Riverside Drive at 122nd Street, across from Riverside Church to the southeast and Riverside Park to the west" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a movie serial": An ingenious way to bring audiences back to the theater next week:
  "Each chapter was screened at a movie theater for one week, and ended with a cliffhanger, in which characters found themselves in perilous situations with little apparent chance of escape. Viewers had to return each week to see the cliffhangers resolved and to follow the continuing story. Movie serials were especially popular with children, and for many youths in the first half of the 20th century a typical Saturday matinee at the movies included at least one chapter of a serial, along with animated cartoons, newsreels, and two feature films" (Wikipedia HERE).
- X-ray vision: It's a venerable SFFnal plot device that's been around for centuries; see Wikipedia (HERE) and TV Tropes (HERE).
- Manly Wade Wellman produced decades of high-quality SFFnal writing; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Project Gutenberg collection (HERE), the IMDb (HERE; 6 credits), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- We've met up with Wellman before: "But Our Hero Was Not Dead" (HERE) and "Murder in Silhouette" (HERE).

Monday, August 16, 2021

"I Don't Care What the Evidence Is, If I Don't See the Motive I'm Not Happy"

"The Man Who Shot at Cats."
By J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955).
First appearance: MacKill's Mystery Magazine, September 1952.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Fadedpage (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "He was dead as a doornail. Shot through the heart."

So, is the prime suspect simply non compos in his mentis, or was there a lot more to it?

Main characters:
~ The superintendent:
  "How many more times am I to tell you? If this is going to be a murder charge, I want the motive."
~ Ellington:
  "And I don't care what the motive is, if I see the evidence, I'm content. This is what we've got on him, and it's enough for me."
~ The sergeant:
  "Wonderful how a search warrant helps, sir."
~ Smith:
  ". . . saw someone sitting at the open window just below—namely, Wilfred Ablett . . ."
~ Ablett:
  "Just the momentary gleam of something in Ablett's hand. We know now that it was a revolver."
~ Baines:
  "All I can tell you is that he had a small bag, a cough, and an American accent, that he gave his name as George Baines, and that he paid a month's rent in advance."

Typos: "the poor devils last entry"; multiple punctuation infractions.

References and resources:
- "from Burma": During World War II the British were determined to hold on to all of their colonies regardless of who threatened to take them away, in this instance the Japanese Empire:
  "The Burma campaign was a series of battles fought in the British colony of Burma. It was part of the South-East Asian theatre of World War II and primarily involved forces of the Allies; the British Empire and the Republic of China, with support from the United States. They faced against the invading forces of Imperial Japan, who were supported by the Thai Phayap Army, as well as two collaborationist independence movements and armies, the first being the Burma Independence Army, which spearheaded the initial attacks against the country" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "his chronic neuroticism": The Burma campaign had strong psychological effects on the Europeans who were fighting it, since they weren't used to those kinds of conditions:
  "The campaign had a number of notable features. The geographical characteristics of the region meant that weather, disease and terrain had a major effect on operations" (Wikipedia, op.cit.); also see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).
- "cracked a crib in Canada": "obsolete: To burglarize, especially a home; break into a house. British informal" (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- Joseph Jefferson Farjeon was fairly prolific; see Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), the Faded Page collection (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE; 16 credits).

Friday, August 13, 2021

"For Such a Clever Boy, He Sure Makes a Dumb Corpse"

By William J. Shefski (?).
Illustration by Charles Lang (HERE).
First appearance: Aboriginal Science Fiction, Fall 1993.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)

     "I wondered if Edison ever had any of his inventions come back to haunt him."

When does a dream turn into a nightmare? Lack is about to find out . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Little Bob:
  ". . . had a genius for these thinking machines that control our lives."
~ Lack:
  "The point is, I've never laid my own hands on a computer chip in anger."
~ Police officer:
  "As the coat swung out, I saw her hit a button on a controller at her hip."
~ Second police officer:
  "I caught a glimpse of her partner again, stirring up papers just outside the door."

A deduction that a 21st century Sherlock might make (except for those "cathode rays"):
  "The young man that stood before me showed the pallid skin and thin, under-developed musculature that comes from spending a life in front of computer screens, bathing in cathode rays."

References and resource:
- "Edison": Known in his day as the Wizard of Menlo Park:
  "Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) was an American inventor and businessman who has been described as America's greatest inventor. He developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. These inventions, which include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and early versions of the electric light bulb, have had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Stanley Steamer": Yes, there once was an automobile powered by steam, but it was rendered obsolete by technical innovations:
  "During the mid to late 1910s, the fuel efficiency and power delivery of internal combustion engines improved dramatically and using an electric starter instead of the crank, which had been notorious for injuring its operators, led to the rise of the gasoline-powered automobile, which also was much cheaper" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a born hacker": A term that, since our story was published, has acquired ominous overtones:
  "A computer hacker is a computer expert who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means. Though the term hacker has become associated in popular culture with a security hacker – someone who utilizes their technical know-how of bugs or exploits to break into computer systems and access data which would otherwise be unavailable to them – hacking can also be utilized by legitimate figures in legal situations. Originally, hacker simply meant advanced computer technology enthusiast (both hardware and software) and adherent of programming subculture" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the virtual reality gizmos": Even unreality can be useful in reality:
  "Virtual reality applications are applications that make use of virtual reality (VR), an immersive sensory experience that digitally simulates a virtual environment. Applications have been developed in a variety of domains, such as education, architectural and urban design, digital marketing and activism, engineering and robotics, entertainment, virtual communities, fine arts, healthcare and clinical therapies, heritage and archaeology, occupational safety, social science and psychology" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "brain chemistry": The human brain has been called "the three-pound universe":
  "While neurochemistry as a recognized science is relatively new, the idea behind neurochemistry has been around since the 18th century. Originally, the brain had been thought to be a separate entity apart from the peripheral nervous system. Beginning in 1856, there was a string of research that refuted that idea. The chemical makeup of the brain was nearly identical to the makeup of the peripheral nervous system" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a poison pill virus": Don't talk to me about viruses:
  "The first known description of a self-reproducing program in fiction is in the 1970 short story 'The Scarred Man' by Gregory Benford which describes a computer program called VIRUS which, when installed on a computer with telephone modem dialing capability, randomly dials phone numbers until it hits a modem that is answered by another computer, and then attempts to program the answering computer with its own program, so that the second computer will also begin dialing random numbers, in search of yet another computer to program. The program rapidly spreads exponentially through susceptible computers and can only be countered by a second program called VACCINE" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Messianic then": A desire to help taken too far:
  "A messiah complex (Christ complex or savior complex) is a state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are destined to become a savior today or in the near future. The term can also refer to a state of mind in which an individual believes that they are responsible for saving or assisting others" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "It's been 2050 years": That would put our story in the neighborhood of 2080 A.D.
- "worse than mad scientist": A universal fictional stereotype which isn't always fiction:
  "Mad scientist (also mad doctor or mad professor) is a stock character of a scientist who is described as 'mad' or 'insane' owing to a combination of unusual or unsettling personality traits and the unabashedly ambitious, taboo or hubristic nature of their experiments. As a motif in fiction, the mad scientist may be villainous (evil genius) or antagonistic, benign or neutral; may be insane, eccentric, or clumsy; and often works with fictional technology or fails to recognize or value common human objections to attempting to play God. Some may have benevolent intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental antagonists" (Wikipedia HERE).
- According to the authoritative Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb HERE) this is the only SFFnal story attributed to William J. Shefski.