Friday, September 10, 2021

"This Murderer Can’t Figure It—Can’t Control It”

"The Vanishing Men."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
Illustration by Frank R. Paul (1884-1963; HERE).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, September 1940.
Reprinted in Amazing Future Tales: Short Stories Eligible for the 1941 Retro-Hugos (2016).
Short story.
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; 10 text pages) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text, 9 pages; go down to text page 56).

     ". . . a dark thing came hurtling down from the sky."

A crime novelist once told us that there are eight million ways to die, but somebody has figured out the eight million and first way, a method of committing murder without leaving the slightest trace of incriminating evidence . . . .

Main characters:
~ James Atkins:
  ". . . was gone!"
~ Franklin Grant:
  ". . . the amazing thing happened so lightning-quick that he wasn’t certain how much of what he saw was an actuality, and how much the product of his own startled, horrified imagination."
~ John Wils:
  "I’ve been trying to figure how the thing might be done."
~ Grace Wils:
  "I wanted to tell you what I saw when Henry vanished."
~ Wilma Plantet:
  "He didn’t come past us. I’m certain. Very certain."
~ Henry Plantet:
  "It was Henry Plantet—or if it wasn’t, it was someone who looked so much like him that no living person could have told the difference."
~ Carter Cone:
  "What's all the excitement?"
~ William Rider:
  "Well, there’s some scientific explanation, of course."
~ Jonathan Peterkin:
  ". . . I’ve learned something else. Something quite definite about—what we were talking of. Good God, I can’t believe it!"

Comment: This one is definitely not an example of Ray Cummings's best writing, but the plot does manage to keep the reader involved.

References and resources:
- ". . . the velocities would be added to each other, the total velocity of any given point on the Earth’s surface might be very high": You're going places even when you're not:
  "When, after a long day of running around, you finally find the time to relax in your favorite armchair, nothing seems easier than just sitting still. But have you ever considered how fast you are really moving when it seems you are not moving at all?" (Andrew Fraknoi, "How Fast Are You Moving When You Are Sitting Still?" HERE; PDF).
- "the Banning heat gun spat its pencil-ray of death": Our author featured it in several different stories:
  "Shoots a pencil heat ray" (Technovelgy (HERE).
- We last featured a non-SFFnal story, "The Clue Got Lost," by Raymond King Cummings (HERE).


  1. This one is definitely not an example of Ray Cummings's best writing

    I don't think I've ever come across a more wildly uneven writer.

    1. Agreed. I'd put Cummings in the Hugo Gernsback school of gosh-wow writers who were just carving out their niche in the new specialty publications, when fiction in general migrated into particular areas: Westerns, romances, adventure, and Gernsback's specialty, science fiction. It took the next generation of SFF writers to bring literary quality to the field as a whole.