Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"Where He Was Going, No Man Had Ever Gone Before"

"The Cosmic Snare."
By Stephen Marlowe (Milton Lesser, 1928-2008).
Illustration uncredited.
First appearance: Imagination Science Fiction, February 1956.
Short story.
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; 13 text pages) and The Lumin-ist Archives (HERE; original text: 14 pages; go down to text page 108).

     "Sub-space was a vast nothingness used for instantaneous travel between stellar worlds. It was uncharted, and—Liddell knew—a death trap!"

In our everyday world the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but in Liddell's universe the shortest distance is between love and death . . . .

Main characters:
~ Liddell:
  "He blinked. And opened his eyes. And stared out on a featureless gray infinity."
~ Linda:
  "I trust you, Lidd. I trust you with my life."
~ John Smith:
  "Why don't we talk about where you're going to send me?"

Typos: "They must be a catch"; "the blank whiteness his head".

References and resources:
- "a hundred parsecs": A long, long walk:
  "The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length used to measure the large distances to astronomical objects outside the Solar System, approximately equal to 3.26 light-years or 206,000 astronomical units (au), i.e. 30.9 trillion kilometres (19.2 trillion miles)" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Sub-space" (often called hyperspace) has been a very useful trope for SFF writers for decades; for the Star Trek versions of sub-space see Memory Alpha (HERE). Wikipedia has an article about "hyperspace" (HERE) and TV Tropes has a more expansive entry about it (HERE), but the idea of using it to get around is lampshaded at Atomic Rockets (HERE).
- "Deneb Twelve": We still don't know for certain how far away it is:
  "[Deneb] is the brightest star in Cygnus and the 19th brightest star in the night sky, with an average apparent magnitude of +1.25. A blue-white supergiant, Deneb rivals Rigel as the most luminous first-magnitude star. However, its distance, and hence luminosity, is poorly known; its luminosity is somewhere between 55,000 and 196,000 times that of the Sun" (Wikipedia HERE and HERE; also see Memory Alpha HERE).
- "the normal space-time continuum": We're not so sure about that "normal":
  "In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model which fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold. Spacetime diagrams can be used to visualize relativistic effects, such as why different observers perceive differently where and when events occur" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Snafu here": For politicians and bureaucrats it's a way of life:
  "It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Zeus wielding a thunderbolt": When that happened superstitious people would look anxiously skyward:
  "Zeus is frequently depicted by Greek artists in one of three poses: standing, striding forward with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand, or seated in majesty" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Two other stories making use of the teleportation plot device have been featured on ONTOS: Larry Niven's "The Alibi Machine" (HERE) and Wendy Nikel's "Glitch" (HERE).
- We've bumped into Milton Lesser using several aliases, including his own name ("Wild Talents, Inc." HERE) and the less common Darius John Granger ("Stop, You're Killing Me!" HERE).

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Two by Worth

EVEN THOUGH WE FIRST encountered our author just about three years ago, we haven't been able to find out anything about him since.

"The Hammerless Heater."
By Rodney Worth (?-?).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, January 1948.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 74).
   "He knew he had forgotten something, but he just couldn't put his finger on it."

It would be more accurate to say that he couldn't put his thumb on it . . . .

Main characters:
~ Knuckles:
  "He dug his hand into his coat pocket and brought out two identical automatics."
~ Joe:
  "A shadowy figure appeared, outlined against the sky. And then another. He raised his gun."
~ The desk sergeant:
  "Yeh, those German Sauers are nice little rods."

- Read more about hammerless handguns (HERE) and Sauer automatics (HERE).
~ ~ ~
The next story doesn't seem to be available online anywhere; as soon as it is we'll supply a link:

"Homemade Murder."
By Rodney Worth (?-?).
First appearance: 10-Story Detective, October 1947.
Short short story (7 pages).

     "This rod may look small, but I can put five bullets just a little smaller than .22’s in your face before you could move two feet."

A police detective is certain he knows whodunit, but there's a snag. He already has motive and opportunity, natch, but it's the means that's proving hard to nail down, since the murder weapon is not only unique but also, as our detective suspects, it's likely that the cunning killer has already destroyed it . . .

Comment: With its humorous buddycop dynamic working for it, this efficient little police procedural wouldn't have been out of place as a Dragnet episode, either radio or TV.

~ Jack Arnold, a.k.a. "Jack Fort":
  ". . . looked thoughtful for a moment. 'No, I can’t say that I did. The garbage truck goes by about that time. It’s hard to hear anything,' he replied. 'I didn’t even know this Marlowe had been shot until you told me.'"
~ Charles Marlowe, a.k.a. "Lefty":
  "Yes, that had been a good many years ago. But he had still recognized Lefty when he suddenly showed up two months ago. Lefty hadn’t known him, but that was just as well. This way he would get Lefty for old time’s sake, and not even Lefty would know he had done it."
~ Tommy, a.k.a. "Tommy":
  "Some guy moved in about a month ago. Last night he was shot while he was sitting in front of his window, but they didn’t find him until this morning."
~ Logan, homicide detective:
  "How many times do I have to tell you not to talk when you’re eating?"
~ Monk, Logan's partner:
  ". . . opened his mouth to say something, remembered the apple, and shut it again."
~ Haley, police ballistician:
  "I’m kind of sorry you brought that damned thing in. I won’t sleep for a week wondering about it. If somebody told me about it, I’d say they were nuts. I’ve seen just about every piece of lead a gun can throw, but that thing has got me stumped. I’ll tell you one thing, produce the gun that shot this bullet and I’ll prove to any jury it’s the murder weapon."
~ The landlady:
  "'Oh, Lieutenant, I wish you would find the murderer and take the'—she didn’t say what, but pointed at the corpse on the floor without looking at it—'out of my house.'"

- So far not much has turned up about our author, Rodney Worth; FictionMags lists only two stories by him, this one and "The Hammerless Heater," Ten Detective Aces, January 1948 (above).
- The killer's motive stems from what happened during Prohibition; see the Wikipedia article (HERE). If you'd like to brush up on firearms ballistics, see Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

The bottom line:
   “How simple death without weapons was. How safe for the killer."

Saturday, November 27, 2021

"Alibi in Reverse" (Repost)

"Alibi in Reverse."
By Robert Leslie Bellem (1902-68).
First appearance: Mammoth Detective, March 1943.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 178).

     "Nosey Logan had a peach of an alibi; so perfect it was foolproof. But if he’d been without one, he’d have been safer!"

When hardcore criminals disagree, they tend to do more than just sniff and walk away . . .

~ Tim Jarnegan:
  "'If you’ve got a gun in there, better let it alone. Mine’s already out.' He displayed the snub-nosed .32 special in his fist."
~ Pop Conway:
  "'Sure I remember,' Pop said. 'We sent him up for three years on a bunko rap. It was Ace Cullane, the guy he worked for, whose testimony nailed the lid on him. We figured it was another case of thieves falling out—a big one feeding a little one to the wolves.'"
~ Ace Cullane:
  "Okay. Now get this. I’m gunnin’ for Ace Cullane, see? He ratted on me three years ago, an’ tonight I’m gonna get even."
~ Nosey Logan:
  ". . . swaggered in, a sallow little rat with a certain rodent bravado."

~ Dice Vallardo:
  "'Have it your way, copper,' Vallardo said smoothly. His voice matched his hair, sleek and oily. Sun lamps gave him a healthy tan the year around. He cast a flickering glance at Nosey Logan. 'Hello, skunk.'"

- Sound recording and wiretapping become plot points in the story; for background, consult the following Wikipedia articles: "LP record" (HERE), "Phonograph record" (HERE), "History of sound recording" (HERE), and especially "History of sound recording: The Electrical Era (1925 to 1945) (including sound on film)" (HERE), as well as "Telephone tapping" (HERE).
- A one-man pulp machine, Robert Leslie Bellem wrote literally thousands of stories under at least 45 pseudonyms in addition to his own (FictionMags); since his forte was crime fiction, he was able to enjoy a latter-day career in television script writing (which one may consider as pulp fiction in another medium; see HERE). As Kevin Burton Smith at The Thrilling Detec-tive Website says:

   "In his prime, it was said that Bellem was pumping out a million words annually, and selling almost every single one of them to the pulps. But he was more than merely prolific—he was a riot. The question, though, is did he know it? Was he was trying to parody the hard-boiled detective genre, barely ten years after its birth, with his stories of [Dan] Turner [the Hollywood detective], or (and this is even scarier) was he simply, completely unaware of how funny and original his style was?"
   — "Robert Leslie Bellem," The Thrilling Detective Website

- Also see Wikipedia (HERE) for a brief article about our author and (HERE) for one of Bellem's rare forays into SFF ("Robots Can't Lie").

Thursday, November 25, 2021

"Murder Spends the Weekend" (Repost)

"Murder Spends the Weekend."
By Donald Bayne Hobart (1898-1970).
First appearance: Triple Detective, Fall 1950.
Reprinted in Popular Detective, September 1952 and 

Triple Detective Novels #2 (U.K.) (FictionMags data).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 53).

     "Uncle Hank liked jokes, but the corpse wasn't a bit funny!"

They shot an arrow into the air
And it fell to earth precisely where
  they aimed it.
But still they have a reason for regret
Because, you see, it
Came to rest inside the wrong @#$%&@ target.

~ Thomas Marshall:

  An insurance salesman.

~ "Mugs" Kelly (narrator):
  "'The name is Kelly,' I said. 'I’m six feet four, weight two hundred and ten, and the last fellow who made cracks about my looks is still recovering.'"
~ Dexter Blake:
  "As I told you in the taxi, I’m an old friend of Mrs. Clayville. She invited me for the weekend. I’ve never met her husband."

~ Fred Steele:
  "If you should ask me, which of course, you won’t, Kelly, you are a fool to go to the Clayvilles’."

~ John Porter:
  "The taxi driver apparently knew everything about everyone. 'Uncle Hank is just a boy at heart, and every time he pulls one of those practical jokes of his he nearly kills somebody.'"

~ Martin Clayville:
  "'Good Lord!' Clayville said. 'Uncle Hank has killed that friend of Nancy’s. He’s murdered Dexter Blake!'"

~ Uncle Hank Dawson:
  "You know that if anything should happen to me Nancy will inherit all my money. How you would enjoy hearing of my execution, Martin!"

~ Nancy Clayville:
  "She gasped as she saw the dead man, but she didn’t scream."

Donald Bayne Hobart, FictionMags tells us, was "born in Baltimore, Maryland; died in New York City." Hobart could be described as one of those reliable, all-purpose pulpsters who churned out stories in many genres; in our author's case he specialized in Westerns and crime fiction, with a few romances tossed in. Hobart hit his stride in the mid-'20s and consistently produced copy for the next three decades, his last credit being "Rainy Night" in the January 1965 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Hobart had several series characters weaving in and out of the pulps in the '20s, '30s, '40s, and '50s: Whistling Waddy (1928, 1933, 1935, 1947), Hal Denning (1930), and Wayne Morgan (The Masked Rider), a character he shared with a lot of other publishing house scribes (19 stories of his own, 1938-42, 1944, 1945, 1951). In addition to those, he had "Mugs" Kelly, the hardboiled dick in today's story, in 23 adventures (the first one, "Suicides Are Saps") spread throughout Black Book Detective, Triple Detective, G-Man Detective, Popular Detective, 2 Detective Novels, Triple Detective, Detective Novel Magazine, Thrilling Detective, Exciting Detective, and Thrilling Mystery (1938-48, 1950, and 1952) (FictionMags data).

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"Dig It Deep" (Repost)

"Dig It Deep."
By David X. Manners (1912-2007).
First appearance: Popular Detective, May 1948.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Detective Carter lets a hunch lead him to a killer!"

This policeman is sure he's got the killer; the killer is sure he's thought of everything. We leave it to you to predict just who's right . . .

- Says FictionMags about our author: "According to his son Tim he wasn’t actually 'David X. Manners' but was 'David X Manners' as the 'X' was his whole name and not an initial."

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"The Murder Was Committed Ten Minutes Before the Otarkian Ship Lifted for the Long Trip Back"

"Mystery at Mesa Flat."
By "Ivar Jorgensen" (Take your pick: Howard Browne, Harlan Ellison, Paul W. Fairman, Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, 
Henry Slesar, or someone else).
Illustration by W. E. Terry (1921-92; HERE).
First appearance: Imagination Science Fiction, June 1956.
Short short story (original text: 9 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 100).

     "A small desert town didn't seem a likely place to encounter murder—especially one that had been planned on a world light years away!"

Are you absolutely certain that the guy standing next to you is who he seems to be? You might want to think about that . . . .

Principal characters:
~ The guard:
  "I came behind him—very quiet. I broke his neck and—and did other things. He never knew what happened."
~ The Commander:
  "But success depends so completely upon secrecy."
~ The Second:
  "When the body is discovered—what will it reveal? Nothing definite. No chain of logic could point to us."
~ Tom Brazier:
  "There's something funny about that town—something wrong."
~ Frank Brooks:
  "I couldn't see anything wrong with it."
~ Frank Sibley:
  "Never did get me a wife so o'course I ain't nobody's pop."
~ The Commanding Officer:
  "The analysis will be interesting."

References and resources:
- "the flying saucer joke": Some think they were the product of Cold War nerves, but others don't agree:
  "The highly publicized sighting by Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947, resulted in the popularization of the term 'flying saucer' by U.S. newspapers. Although Arnold never specifically used the term 'flying saucer,' he was quoted at the time saying the shape of the objects he saw was like a 'saucer,' 'disc,' or 'pie-plate,' and several years later added he had also said 'the objects moved like saucers skipping across the water.' Both the terms flying saucer and flying disc were used commonly and interchange-ably in the media until the early 1950s" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the slopes and the arroyos": Common to deserts:
  "An arroyo (from Spanish: 'brook'), also called a wash, is a dry creek, stream bed or gulch that temporarily or seasonally fills and flows after sufficient rain. Flash floods are common in arroyos following thunderstorms" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Years before this story was published, Hollywood fell in love with the basic premise underlying "Mystery at Mesa Flat" and produced quite a few films with the same theme; two of the best are discussed in Wikipedia (Warning! Spoilers! HERE) and (Warning! Spoilers! HERE), with the first movie predating our story by several years and the second one by several months (only coincidences, of course).

Saturday, November 20, 2021

"Death Plays Santa Claus" (Repost)

"Death Plays Santa Claus."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
First appearance: Popular Detective, December 1945.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

If there's one kind of case O'Hara hates most, it's a twister, where there isn't an easy and straightforward solution to a murder and figuring it out could take a long, long time . . . and wouldn't you know it, the death of a wealthy benefactor on Christmas Eve turns into one, particularly when the prime suspect, Santa himself, also goes toes up . . .

Pleasing phrase: ". . . an old residential part of the city where imposing mansions sat far back from the street in groves of trees, and expressed the grandeur of an earlier era."

Comment: It looks as if, twelve years later, Rex Stout borrowed a plot element from our story for one of his own (HERE); McCulley did some borrowing, too, lifting the same element from an Agatha Christie novel from seven years prior. (Three guesses as to which book.)

Typos: "Hara asked"; "the side of to"; "I suppose hasn’t been changed" [missing a subject]; "Penny and Bob Blodger and gave gasps."

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

"Slay Bells for Santa" (Repost)

"Slay Bells for Santa."
By Edward W. Ludwig (1920-90).
First appearance: 10-Story Detective Magazine, November 1942.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 92).

"It was curtains for Sam Conway, newshawk, if he didn’t turn in a red-hot story for his city editor. But when Conway’s nose for news made him the goat for a murder rap, his boss was all set to switch Conway’s by-line into an obit item."
Sam figures that one murdered Santa Claus is bad enough, but two does seem a bit excessive:

 ". . . why in hell did everyone dressed as Santa Claus get knocked off?
Was it all the work of some mad misanthrope who wanted to get rid of
all Santa Clauses? If so, Conway pitied all the department store Santas
who’d spring into existence about December first. No, he told himself,
there must be a more logical explanation."

. . . and there is—but every time a jolly old elf bites the bullet, somebody puts Sam squarely in the frame . . .

Dramatis personae:
~ Sam Conway:

  "He felt so low he didn’t even notice the eye-satisfying blonde that strutted ahead of him. All he could think of was what old Monkey-Nose, his city ed, had told him that afternoon . . ."
~ "Old Monkey-Nose":
  "Sure it’s a good story, but don’t expect the paper to get you outa your jam. If you want to kill Santa Clauses for a story, that's great—but you have to take the rap."
~ Dan Harris:
  "His eyes stared glassily at the ceiling. A smear of crimson had crept through the red jacket and stained the lower portion of the white beard."
~ "A blonde with beautiful brown eyes":
  "You're in a spot, sister—a murdered man in your room and only dead a few minutes before you found him."
~ "A wide-eyed little man with a suitcase in his hand":
  "I didn’t exactly see her, but I live in the room next door, and I heard two men and a woman talking in here a while ago."
~ The house dick:
  "Hand over the gun, buddy. You’d better not give me any trouble, see?"
~ "A big man with a scarred chin and a bald head":
  "That's right, brother, but I don't think you'll live long enough to do much about it."

Noteworthy phraseology: "softened the aging doorman’s heart with a fiver"; "A crimson stream trickled from a pencil-hole in his forehead"; "at that particular moment he would have tried getting through the eye of a needle itself"; "jewels shone like tiny eyes in the night"; "the east where the prospective presence of the sun tinged the sky a pale pink."

"key in the Jock"; "picked pi up"; "I'm I not."

FictionMags's chronological listing for our author (who, incidentally, is not to be confused with the motion picture writer and director) indicates that this was Edward Ludwig's first published story and that only three other tales were strictly crime fiction, most of his output being SFFnal; see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
Fred Smale's story ("Caught Out," HERE; note: story link dead) also features a newspaper-man trying to solve a crime, but he never gets himself into the desperate situations that Sam Conway does in today's story; reporter Edith Johnwell ("His Honor Is Missing," (HERE; note: removed from site), however, has a far different experience. Other newshawks that we've encountered include brainy Marshall T. Custer ("The Girl with the Burgundy Lips," HERE) and shrewd Jimmie Silverdale ("Silverdale of Brain Street," HERE).

The bottom line:
  "Ah, but you must have a Christmas uncomplicated by murder."
  ― Christie

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

"Round About Rigel" (Repost)

"Round About Rigel."
By J. Harvey Haggard (1912-2001).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1937.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE).
"Raiders Meet Grim Starlight Justice in the Interstellar Void"
There's an old expression about going to the well once too often; in this instance, going to the same planet once too often can be just as risky . . .

~ Lieutenant Eon Hermer of the Space Guard:
   ". . .  don’t get me wrong. I’ve never heard of you, and I’d never have been on Vaporia 
if I hadn’t been shoved off, very much against my will."

~ Jewel Collahan:
   "Shoved off! You were marooned! And I’ve been waiting for two years to get off this biological madhouse."
~ Alf and Mope, the Mason brothers:
   "Two grotesque figures, clad in transparent bell-like helmets with shoulder tanks, came cautiously out of a low airlock, each with dissembler at hip."

Typo: "a small dissembler revolver" ("disassembler" is probably meant).

Monday, November 15, 2021

"The Corpse That Played Dead" (Repost)

 "A Motive Was Shaping Itself in My Mind, but I Couldn't Tie the Strings Together"

"The Corpse That Played Dead."
By A. Boyd Correll (1905-87).
First appearance: Thrilling Mystery, Winter 1943.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 78).

"Murder Closes Down on a Hollywood Lot When a Pompous Actor Gives Up the Ghost in the Midst of a Machine-Gun Melodrama!"
Film actor Ronald Edwards's movies always lose money, so why does Panamint Studios boss Emil Friml keep making films with Edwards in them? For Friml, the main concern is that somebody is trying to kill Edwards while he's making a war movie, falling sandbags and flame-throwers blasting real flames at his leading man being enough for Friml to call in the studio's unofficial detective, Jimmy Lee, our first-person narrator. In spite of Lee's presence right there on the sound stage, though, someone succeeds in doing Edwards in just as they're filming a battle scene on a bridge:

   "I jumped up from the pile of scenery and started for the prop bridge, with Jane and her brother close behind. I leaned over the actor. A dark red worm of blood was jerking and twisting from his temple, and his throat moved convulsively. He sighed and gurgled. Then the blood stopped jumping, and merely seeped as though no more was left in his body. . .

   "As I started for the door, the background lights, casting their eerie glow of red, suddenly blinked out. The stage was in total darkness. I let out a yelp of surprise, and was smacked flat as someone rushed past me. Jane screamed—a long, piercing cry that echoed and reechoed through the building.

   "I heard a thumping as I pushed to my feet and held my hands out to avoid another collision. There was a swishing, grating noise as though a body were being dragged across the floor, then a bump—and silence. . .

   "I started, when I glanced at the spot where the corpse had been. The body was gone."

Lee doesn't realize it at the time, but the apparently pointless act of the body being dragged across the floor is the key that will unlock how—and who—murdered failed 
matinee idol Ronald Edwards.

Here's a nice bit of descriptive writing that also serves to delineate the character of the studio boss:

   "One moment he wasn’t there, and the next he was. In the ghostly light of the background flares, he looked like Scrooge and the devil rolled into one. His withered leg swung like a pendulum between his good one and the mahogany crutch which supported him. His head, a tremendous load for such a scrawny neck, was covered with a fuzz of colorless hair. His ears were pointed, and belonged on a character from a child’s fairy story book. I had seen him often, but I was always startled when I faced him."

- As mystery writers love to tell us time and again, making movies can be murder; take, for instance, "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario" that Ellery Queen and his dad get to have (HERE).