Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Quick Note

OF NECESSITY this will have to be a quick note. You haven't experienced reality in the raw until you've lost your balance and become wedged face down between a toilet and a sink cabinet for a half an hour, partly paralyzed and unable to move your lower body until the EMT's come to the rescue. Such a highly unlikely event happened to us recently, which should explain why there won't be as many ONTOS postings in the near future, our time at the keyboard being severely limited. But we're not closing up shop just yet. The website analytics tell us that ONTOS has a large and faithful audience, some going back to the very beginning of the weblog, and we're extremely grateful to you, as well as you newcomers, for sticking with us. We'll continue doing our randomized Internet search for the good, the bad, and the ugly in SFF and/or crime fiction. Thanks to all of you.

Friday, April 22, 2022

"By Human Values, I Believe This May Be Regarded As Worse Than Physical Murder"

"Mirror Image."
By Isaac Asimov (1920-92).
Illustrations by Leo Summers (1925-85; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, May 1972.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE).

     "A game of intellectual chicken."

The Laws of Robotics (1940):
  First Law:
  A robot my not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  Second Law:
  A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  Third Law:
  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Being a detective, Lije Baley often has to search for the truth under difficult circumstances; but he comes up against a really tough conundrum when what's at stake are professional reputations keyed to maintaining cordial interplanetary relations . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Elijah (Lije) Baley:
  "I'm sorry, R. Daneel, but I see no reason for your having involved me."
~ R. Daneel Olivaw:
  "Consider, friend Elijah, that if you succeed in solving this puzzle, it would do your career good and Earth itself might benefit."
~ Alfred Barr Humboldt:
  ". . . is one of the top three mathematicians, by long-established repute, in the galaxy."
~ Gennao Sabbat:
  ". . . has already established himself as the most remarkable new talent in the most abstruse branches of mathematics."
~ R. Preston:
  "Such cases must be decided on their individual merit, sir. There is no way of establishing a general rule."
~ R. Idda:
  "Such cases must be decided on their individual merit, sir. There is no way of establishing a general rule."

References and resources:
- Our two main characters in today's story have their own Wikipedia pages (HERE) and (HERE). Our author's involvement with robofiction is discussed (HERE).
- "Mirror Image" is dealt with at TV Tropes (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE) and at lesser length on the Math Fiction site (HERE).
- Another case involving prevaricating automata is Robert Leslie Bellem's "Robots Can't Lie" (HERE).

Friday, April 15, 2022

"What a Temptation To Kill Her When There Was a Perfect Fall Guy in the House"

"Revolvers and Roses."
By Q. Patrick (Richard Wilson Webb, 1901-70, & Hugh Callingham Wheeler, 1912-87).
Illustrations by Ben Prins (1902-80; HERE).
First appearance: This Week Magazine, December 7, 1952.
Reprinted in EQMM, March 1956 (as "On the Day of the Rose Show") and Suspense (U.K.), April 1960 (as "Roses and Revolvers").
Short short short story (3 pages).
Collected in The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant (2019).
Online at Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "A very sinister pattern it seemed."

For a smart police detective there's an old French proverb that perfectly fits the problem he's confronted with: "No rose without a thorn."

Main characters:
~ Mrs. Weiderbacker:
  ". . . on the carpet in front of them, large, stately and formidable even in death, lay Mrs. Weiderbacker with a crimson stain on her chintzed bosom."
~ The local law:
  ". . . the tough, round-faced inspector."
~ The butler:
  "An anxious, hovering butler took them both through the living room toward the music room. He had discovered the body."
~ Lieutenant Timothy Trant:
  "As I thought. Not natural grief . . ."
~ Freda Trant:
  "My speech never got to Mrs. Weiderbacker. Thank heavens, Daisy knows shorthand."
~ Miles Groves:
  "So Mrs. Weiderbacker disapproved of your new wife. She threatened to stop your allowance and cut you out of her will."
~ Chloe Carmichael:
  ". . . the late Mrs. Weiderbacker's new and controversial niece-in-law."
~ Daisy Groves:
  "In the hallway, Daisy Groves, her pretty face red and swollen and her eyes wet, rushed toward Freda."
~ Gordon Groves:
  ". . . dark and disturbed, on a sofa, a blanket over the plaster of his leg cast."

References and resources:
- "copied it out in shorthand":
  "Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to longhand, a more common method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greek stenos (narrow) and graphein (to write). It has also been called brachygraphy, from Greek brachys (short), and tachygraphy, from Greek tachys (swift, speedy), depending on whether compression or speed of writing is the goal" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Today's tale is the 23rd of 29 stories featuring Lieutenant Timothy Trant beginning in 1937, stopping and then resuming in 1939-40, taking time out for the war and then going again continuously from 1945-55, pausing until 1959, and finishing up in 1964 (FictionMags data).
- Previous ONTOS encounters with Timothy Trant are (HERE) and (HERE).

Monday, April 11, 2022

"But They Are Capable of Killing?"

"Have You Tried Turning It Off and Turning It Back On?"
By Melissa Olisse.
First appearance: Cabrera Brothers Free Bundle Magazine, November-December 2021.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "She cursed herself for not doing something sooner when she first noticed the problem."

Jason and his Argonauts were fortunate to have Medea along for the ride when they encountered Talos on Crete, for she was able to destroy that bellicose automaton. Maxine, however, isn't so lucky . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Maxine Elliot:
  "Although she managed to even out her breathing, her heartbeat remained erratic. From her spot crouched in the closet corner, she would periodically peer through the gaps between the doors to view her room. She knew it hadn’t made it in yet, as she hadn’t heard anything or seen any signs of movement; however, she wasn't going to take any chances."
~ Jerry:
  "I understand ma’am, but unfortunately I’m not equipped to deal with this situation, I mostly deal with general questions and transferring to other departments."
~ Margaret:
  "Have you called the police, Ms. Elliot?"
~ Juno:
  "Every time she called out 'Juno', she was met with stoic empty eyes."

- On a couple of occasions, a very famous detective has appeared in a form that duplicates the human without actually being human; see (HERE) for what we mean. For more grounding in what our story involves, it wouldn't hurt to refer to (THIS) Wikipedia article.

Friday, April 8, 2022

"His Business, It Might Be Stated, Was Decidedly Unusual"

Precious stones, as beautiful as they are, can cause sorrow, as Sherlock Holmes once observed about one: "It's a bonny thing. Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course, it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed." Indeed, "a nucleus and focus of crime," as when a smart insurance investigator gets embroiled in . . .

"The Star Sapphire Murders."
By Gordon Keyne (H. Bedford-Jones, 1887-1949).
Illustrations by Austin Briggs (1908-73; HERE).
First appearance: Blue Book, April 1935.
Novelette (16 pages; 6 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "Like a flash, the explanation struck him."

If Napoleon had known a century ahead of time what was going to happen to those expensive pearls, he could have given Corsica to Josephine instead . . . .

Main characters:
~ Larry True:
  ". . . my wife's been murdered. I came home half an hour ago, slipped into the house, and found her dead in her room."
~ Dan Murphy:
  "Hello! Get lost?"
~ Anne Masterson:
  "You're the one who has no business here. How dare you walk in like this?"
~ James Calloway:
  "I'm the chauffeur for a lady—she's outside in the car."
~ Sondag:
  "Suddenly his face changed. A hoarse gasp escaped him; his eyes protruded, a mottled white crept into his cheeks."
~ Gloria Charteris:
  "Six months ago Gloria Charteris lost the Bonaparte pearls—the beautiful, historic, valuable pearls that Napoleon gave Josephine."
~ Sanford:
  "Same old story. Cat and dog. Did you ever know police and D.A. men who were anything else?"

References and resources:
- "I can't be vamped": The derivation of this word should be obvious:
  "to practice seductive wiles on" (Merriam-Webster HERE).
- "tore loose the slung-shot": Not to be confused with what the British call a "catapult":
  "The slungshot was often used as a civilian or improvised weapon; however, the rope length became much shorter when used as a weapon. The cord is tied around the wrist, and the weight is carried in the hand or the pocket of the user. A slungshot may be swung in a manner similar to that of a flail. Slungshots were widely used by criminals and street gang members in the 19th Century. They had the advantage of being easy to make, silent, and very effective, particularly against an unsuspecting opponent. This gave them a dubious reputation, similar to that carried by switchblade knives in the 1950s, and they were outlawed in many jurisdictions. The use as a criminal weapon continued at least up until the early 1920s" (Military History Wiki HERE).
- "drove out Sunset": Immortalized in a movie title:
  "Sunset Boulevard is a boulevard in the central and western part of Los Angeles, California, that stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades east to Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles. It is a major thoroughfare in the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood (including a portion known as the Sunset Strip), as well as several districts in Los Angeles" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "this is one of the few cities where the D.A. does investigate":
  "In the United States, a district attorney (D.A.), state's attorney, prosecuting attorney, commonwealth's attorney, or state attorney is the chief prosecutor and/or chief law enforcement officer representing a U.S. state in a local government area, typically a county or a group of counties. The exact name and scope of the office varies by state" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Insurance investigators have been a regular fixture of crime fiction almost from the beginning; if you go to Donald Barr Chidsey's "The Murderer's Left Hand" (HERE), you can check out other similar tales. (Note: Although most of the stories are still accessible, a couple of links have died.)
- H(enry James O’Brien) Bedford-Jones's short fiction career began in 1910 and continued uninterrupted for the next thirty-nine years until his death; not surprisingly, his output was massive, earning him our accolade as an uber-pulpster. To see how massive, consult the FictionMags 5-page bibliography. More info about our author is at Wikipedia (HERE) and the SFE (HERE).
- "The Star Sapphire Murders" is the only appearance of Dan Murphy, insurance investigator, that we've encountered so far. Another Bedford-Jones character, this one of the series variety, was Peter J. Clancy, whom we formerly featured (HERE); the link to his story, alas, has also disappeared.
- You can sample a few examples of Bedford-Jones's voluminous short fiction at Archive.org (HERE).

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

"A Man Was Found Dead in a Sealed Room, Locked from the Inside"

"The Locked Room: Another Fenton Worth Mystery."
By John Sladek (1937-2000).
First appearance: New Worlds, Winter 1972.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; go to page 168).

In his review of "The Locked Room: Another Fenton Worth Mystery," TomCat nicely characterizes what you're getting with this story:

  ". . . [John] Sladek also wrote a parody on the impossible crime genre, aptly titled 'The Locked Room,' which is virtually unknown because it's inexplicably buried in a volume of science-fiction stories – Keep the Giraffe Burning (1978). If you've always wondered what would happen if you tossed Douglas Adams or Monty Python into the blender with John Dickson Carr's 'The Locked Lecture,' a chapter from The Hollow Man (1935), then you have to read this story" (Beneath the Stains of Time HERE; also see HERE for more articles about Sladek).

Main characters:
~ Fenton Worth:
  "For now, I'm going to lock myself in the library, and I don't want to be disturbed."
~ Bozo:
  "I imagine, sir, that a beautiful lady will burst in, begging you to save her life."
. . . plus Inspector Grogan, the debutante, the B-girl, the Brovnian ambassador, the gum-chewing taxi drive, the business tycoon, the spirit medium, the jockey, the playboy, the cop, the black-eyed blonde, the parched adjutant, and the Human Cannonball.

References and resources:
- "that knife with a wavy blade": Spelled "kriis" in our story:
  "Both a weapon and spiritual object, kris are often considered to have an essence or presence, considered to possess magical powers, with some blades possessing good luck and others possessing bad" (Wikipedia HERE).
- John Thomas Sladek is best known to locked room mystery fans for his two Thackeray Phin novels, Black Aura (1974), which we highlighted (HERE), and Invisible Green (1977), reviewed at The Invisible Event (HERE), Tipping My Fedora (HERE), and My Reader's Block (HERE). Just about all you'll need to know about John Sladek is at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the Ansible interview (HERE).

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

"I Submit That Mr. Zangwill Has Provided Us with a Problem in Criminology Worthy of the Sagacity of Mr. Sherlock Holmes"

"A Novel of the Week."
A review of Israel Zangwill's The Grey Wig; Stories and Novelettes.
By Anonymous.
First appearance: T. P.'s Weekly, March 20, 1903.
Article (1 page).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and below.

     "Are people ever tired of stories of mystery?"

In his review of Israel Zangwill's collection, the reviewer really emphasizes "The Big Bow Mystery" while giving short shrift to the other, more or less conventional, stories, not because they're bad but because . . .

  ". . . I think it is significant of Mr. Zangwill to find in a detective story from his pen the qualities of reflective power, of humorous observation, and a complete absence of sentimentality, which seem utterly alien from this class of fiction."

Contents of the book:
  "The Grey Wig"
  "The Woman Beater"
  "The Eternal Feminine"
  "The Silent Sisters"
  "The Big Bow Mystery"
  "Merely Mary Ann"
  "The Serio-comic Governess"

References and resources:
- The reviewer makes oblique references to several well-known (at the time) fiction authors and one politician:
  ~ Eugène Sue (Wikipedia HERE)
  ~ Émile Gaboriau (Wikipedia HERE)
  ~ Fortuné du Boisgobey (Mike Grost HERE)
  ~ Edgar Allan Poe (Mike Grost HERE)
  ~ William Ewart Gladstone (Wikipedia HERE).
- The Grey Wig; Stories and Novelettes is online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE); "The Big Bow Mystery" flies solo at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Other ONTOS articles touching on Zangwill's mystery novel:
  ~ "The First Genuine Locked-Room Mystery" (HERE)
  ~ "I Have Always Had a Suppressed Desire to See a Grave Opened" (HERE)
  ~ A Tongue-in-Cheek Assessment of THE BIG BOW MYSTERY by the Author Himself (HERE)
  ~ The Locked Room Mystery in the Mid-Twentieth Century (with One from the Twenty-first) (HERE).

Friday, March 25, 2022

"I'm the One Who Has to Live and I've Got Nine Years to Go"

"Death in Transit."
By Jerry Sohl (1913-2002).
Illustration by Emsh (1925-90; HERE).
First appearance: Infinity Science Fiction, June 1956.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story.
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text: 17 pages; PDF; scroll down to text page 60) and at Project Gutenberg (HERE; 14 pages as a PDF).

     "There was one, and only one, thing Clifton could do. Even so, he made the worst of 100 possible choices!"

Robinson Crusoe had Friday to alleviate his loneliness and Sleeping Beauty had a handsome prince to bring her love, but Cliff doesn't have Karen, and that makes all the difference . . . .

Principal characters:
~ George Hedstrom:
  ". . . a dark, handsome fellow who wore a quizzical look."
~ Karen West:
  "For one thing there was the stereo room where Karen loved to spend leisure hours. He never saw much in stereo, but she seemed to enjoy it. And there was the music taperoom, the massage parlor, the baths. She seemed to have a need of them . . ."
~ Clifton West:
  ". . . I intended no harm. If only you knew the loneliness—"
~ Portia Lavester:
  "You're always saying things so seriously, Cliff. So—so pontifically. Is that the word?"

References and resources:
- "the hundred people who lay as if dead in neat rows in the sleep locker":
  "Short of a warp or em drive, there is no viable option for keeping humans alive during long-distance space travel, making cryogenic sleep’s possibilities the most tempting, promising way to snooze our way to another planet" (Inverse HERE).
  "Hibernation and suspension are often encountered in SF novels where large numbers of people have to be shipped, e.g., troop carriers, slave ships, and undesirable persons shipped off as involuntary colonists to some miserable planetary colony. Some passenger liners will have accommodations of First-class, Second-class, and Freeze-class (instead of Steerage). There is often a chance of mortality associated with hibernation and suspension. In some of the crasser passenger ships there will sometimes be a betting pool, placing bets on the number of freeze-class passengers who don't make it. Poul Anderson noted that there is probably a limit to how long a human will remain viable in cryogenic suspension (in other words they have a shelf-life). Naturally occurring radioactive atoms in the body will cause damage. In a non-suspended person such damage is repaired, but in a suspended person it just accumulates. He's talking about this damage happening over suspensions lasting several hundred years, during interstellar trips. This may require one to periodically thaw out crew members and keep them awake for long enough to heal the damage before re-freezing them" (Atomic Rockets HERE).
- "the medocenter did most of the work":
  "Sickbay, also known as the dispensary or the medbay, was the main medical center
 . . ." (Memory Alpha HERE).
- "she walked in her sleep":
  "Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism or noctambulism, is a phenomenon of combined sleep and wakefulness. It is classified as a sleep disorder belonging to the parasomnia family. It occurs during slow wave stage of sleep, in a state of low consciousness, with performance of activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "He could have utilized the synthesizer for anything really bad, like a shattered bone. The needles of the organic analyzer would have told him what else he had to do":
  Regarding medicine in science fiction, SFFnal authors have been there for a long time; see Technovelgy (HERE) for a list.
- When it came to incorporating scientific concepts into his fiction, it could be hit or miss 
with Gerald Allan Sohl, Sr.; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE
16 credits).

Monday, March 21, 2022

"The Strange Mystery of the Mayfair Suicides"

UNLIKE SHAKESPEARE'S CLEOPATRA barging up and down the Nile, age can wither and custom stale what was at one time fresh and engaging. Here we have an example of how humorous parodies are often destined to have early expiration dates; while time has been exceedingly kind to Sherlock Holmes, the same can't be said of either The Rover Boys, Michael Arlen, or The Green Hat, the proximate triggers for Corey Ford's piece and all-but-forgotten artifacts from a century ago. With that admonition in mind, you just might want to skip . . .

"The Rollo Boys with Sherlock in Mayfair; or, Keep It Under Your Green Hat."
By Corey Ford (1902-69).
Illustrations by Gluyas Williams (1888-1982; HERE).
First appearance: Three Rousing Cheers for the Rollo Boys (1925).
Reprinted in The Bookman, January 1926.
Book chapter.
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE; 15 pages) and Planetpeschel.com (HERE; 5 pages).

     "You are not a bad woman, Iris March. You are just bad grammar."

From what you often read in your average Jazz Age novel, you might conclude that people with plush bank accounts spent a great deal of their time either lounging in the sun on the Riviera or contemplating suicide—or lounging in the sun on the Riviera and contemplating suicide. Anyhow, the prospect of one of the bright young things that populated those stories who's thinking about doing herself in is what prompts Holmes and the Boys to action . . . .

References and resources:
- "or Mencken":
  "Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, and contemporary movements" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "one for Burbank":
  "Luther Burbank (1849–1926) was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank's varied creations included fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables" (Wikipedia HERE).
- The Rover Boys: At the time just about everybody knew who they were, making a parody altogether possible:
  "The Rover Boys, or The Rover Boys Series for Young Americans, was a popular juvenile series written by Arthur M. Winfield, a pseudonym for Edward Stratemeyer. Thirty titles were published between 1899 and 1926 and the books remained in print for years afterward" (Wikipedia HERE).
- A perfect parody of the Rover Boys was filmed:
  "The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall (also known as The Dover Boys) is a 1942 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. The short was released on September 19, 1942. The cartoon is a parody of the Rover Boys, a popular juvenile fiction book series of the early 20th century" (Wikipedia HERE; also see HERE).
- As Bill Peschel (HERE) notes: "The Green Hat and [its author] Arlen is forgotten today except as a curiosity, but little more than a year after its publication The Green Hat was still worthy of parody."
- Despite its grammatical deficiencies, Michael Arlen's (HERE) novel, The Green Hat (play version HERE), was a smash hit upon publication:
  "The Green Hat perfectly reflects the atmosphere of the 1920s—the post-war fashion for verbal smartness, youthful cynicism, and the spirit of rebellion of the 'bright young things' of Mayfair. Iris Storm, femme fatale, races around London and Europe in her yellow Hispano-Suiza surrounded by romantic intrigue, but beneath the glamour she is destined to be a tragic heroine. A perfect synecdoche, in fact: as the hat is to the woman, so the words of the title are to an entire literary style. The success of the novel when it was first published in 1924 led to its adaptation for the screen, with Greta Garbo starring as Iris Storm" (Goodreads.com summary HERE).
  The book is online at Archive.org (HERE). The ISFDb has a list of Arlen's supernatural fiction output (HERE).
- In making his annotations for Dorothy L. Sayers's (DLS) and Robert Eustace's The Docu-ments in the Case, Dan Drake notes references to Arlen, his novel, and the Rollo Boys in that book:
  "the latest Michael Arlen" . . . "Lady Susan and Ann Hilgeman have filled us in on Mr. Arlen, a popular novelist, author of 'The Green Hat, a "spicy" novel about a lady who is more sinned against than sinning, Iris March (?)', as well as These Charming People, and the screenplays for both." . . . "In The Green Hat some fashionable Mayfair types meet untimely ends seeking Purity. This matter was later investigated by Sherlock Holmes in a bizarre triple-barreled parody, 'The Rollo Boys with Sherlock in Mayfair; or, Keep It Under Your Green Hat,' which appears in Three Rousing Cheers for the Rollo Boys by Corey Ford. While this doesn't count as a Sherlock Holmes reference in DLS, it does take us to a Sherlockian parody so obscure that it didn't make it into The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes" (Dan Drake HERE).
- Corey Ford occasionally dined at the Algonquin Hotel with people whose names are still known (Wikipedia HERE); also see Wikipedia (HERE), the IMDb (HERE; 11 credits), and Wikipedia again (HERE).

Thursday, March 17, 2022

"Siliconeus Asteroidea"

"The Talking Stone."
By Isaac Asimov (1920-92).
First appearance: Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1955.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 107).
     "It may have been the unfinished repair job that kept him alive at that moment. Even more so, perhaps, it was his look of cheerful and almost moronic innocence that stood him in good stead."

It's hard enough to find a lost remote in the couch, so imagine the difficulties in trying to locate a not very large object floating freely in all of those hundreds of billions of cubic miles of emptiness beyond Mars. Never fear, dear friends, because Wendell Urth is on the case . . . .

Main characters:
~ Larry Vernadsky:
  "Three guys, each one bigger than I am, each one armed, and each one ready to kill, I'll bet."
~ The captain of the Robert Q.:
  "Yet he guessed that a man like this captain was not an asteroid miner for the love of solitude alone."
~ Patrolman Milt Hawkins:
  "It makes no sense. Why should he write the coordinates on the asteroid. That's like locking a key inside the cabinet it's meant to open."
~ Inspector H. Seton Davenport:
  "We looked in every place."
~ Dr. Wendell Urth:
  "Don't you see, Inspector, that there is one place on board a spaceship where secret numbers are perfectly safe? Where, although in plain view, they would be perfectly safe from detection? Where, though they were being stared at by a hundred eyes, they would be secure?"
~ The silicony:
  "What after death?"

References and resources:
- "The asteroid belt is large":
  "The asteroid belt is a torus-shaped region in the Solar System, located roughly between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Mars. It contains a great many solid, irregularly shaped bodies, of many sizes, but much smaller than planets, called asteroids or minor planets" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Before his noisy divorce from science fiction, Donald Westlake produced a story about asteroid miners called "The Risk Profession," which we highlighted (HERE).
- "stuttering hyperatomic drive":
  "Hyperatomic motivators were developed in parallel with the hyperatomic drive in Imperial pre-history, during the time that the Earth and Spacer worlds were in conflict. The theory of hyperatomics states that, in a hyperatomic field, an object basically leaves this Universe, entering Universe H1 in the field G1, where all atoms are now tachyonic in character. Naturally, the field starts to ebb in this wild otherspace and, as it does so, the object reenters realspace. As the object had infinite field in H1, it has moved x light years in relation to our own Universe, all in relation to the time spent in H1" (Asimov Universe HERE).
- "pseudo-grav generators cut off":
  "Artificial gravity is the creation of an inertial force that mimics the effects of a gravitational force, usually by rotation. Artificial gravity, or rotational gravity, is thus the appearance of a centrifugal force in a rotating frame of reference (the transmis-sion of centripetal acceleration via normal force in the non-rotating frame of reference), as opposed to the force experienced in linear acceleration, which by the equivalence principle is indistinguishable from gravity. In a more general sense, 'artificial gravity' may also refer to the effect of linear acceleration, e.g. by means of a rocket engine" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "Anti-gravity (also known as non-gravitational field) is a hypothetical phenomenon of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. It does not refer to the lack of weight under gravity experienced in free fall or orbit, or to balancing the force of gravity with some other force, such as electromagnetism or aerodynamic lift. Anti-gravity is a recurring concept in science fiction, particularly in the context of spacecraft propulsion" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "In many science fiction stories, there are artificial gravity generators that create a gravitational field based on a mass that does not exist" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The silicony was flowing slowly":
  "The silicon atom has been much discussed as the basis for an alternative biochemical system, because silicon has many chemical properties similar to those of carbon and is in the same group of the periodic table, the carbon group. Like carbon, silicon can create molecules that are sufficiently large to carry biological information" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "A security officer is killed by the creature, bringing Kirk and Spock to the scene. They see the creature, and fire on it, damaging it, but it gets away, tunneling through the rock with its acid. They examine a piece of the creature, which seems to prove Spock's theory of silicon-based life" (Warning! Spoilers! Memory Alpha HERE; also see Atomic Rockets HERE).
- "lousy with uranium":
  "The main use of uranium in the civilian sector is to fuel nuclear power plants. One kilogram of uranium-235 can theoretically produce about 20 terajoules of energy (2×10^13 joules), assuming complete fission; as much energy as 1.5 million kilograms (1,500 tonnes) of coal" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Hawkins lifted the counter":
  "The first historical uses of the Geiger principle were for the detection of alpha and beta particles, and the instrument is still used for this purpose today. For alpha particles and low energy beta particles, the 'end-window' type of a Geiger–Müller tube has to be used as these particles have a limited range and are easily stopped by a solid material. Therefore, the tube requires a window which is thin enough to allow as many as possible of these particles through to the fill gas. The window is usually made of mica with a density of about 1.5 - 2.0 mg/cm2" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We featured the first Wendell Urth story, "The Singing Bell" (HERE); most recently, we also highlighted one of his positronic robots stories, "Robot AL 76 Goes Astray" (HERE).
By Gary Larson

Saturday, March 12, 2022

"I Came in Here and Found a Dead Man and You, with a Gun Practically in Your Mitt"

THERE WAS A TIME when people looking for entertainment would travel sometimes for miles to a theater to watch live performers on a stage sing, dance, tell jokes, perform acro-batics and magic tricks, and do dozens of other amazing things that these ordinary folks would usually consider to be worth the trip. Vaudeville, it was called, and if vaudevillians wanted to survive in that milieu, they would need specialized skills, a couple of which will come in very handy in today's story, as an ex-vaudevillian solves not just one but two murders with the timely aid of . . .

"The Accusing Corpse."
By Paul Ernst (1899-1985).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, December 12, 1936.
Novelette (18 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; go down to text page 64).
(Note: Text is in bad shape, especially page 73, but still comprehen-sible.)

  Chapter I: "Out of the Storm"
  Chapter II: "Frame"
  Chapter III: "The Test"
  Chapter IV: "From Dead Lips"

     "He thought it was funny: a stage magician retiring and going into the detecting business. But I was impressed."

Bill Cunningham, a newly minted private eye, is very anxious to divert a beautiful young heiress from what appears to be her inexorable path to the electric chair, the only way being to prove somehow that she didn't murder her uncle for his fortune. Unfortunately for Bill, there's a relentless police detective who's convinced otherwise, a clever cop who actively resents him and wouldn't mind in the least seeing him share the girl's fate . . .

Principal characters:
~ Alvin Curtiss:
  ". . . was in the library, lying near the door. There was a—a bullet hole in his head."
~ Bill Cunningham:
  "So I shot him—with a detective as practically an eyewitness! Be your age, Montgomery."
~ Montgomery:
  ". . . was a blood-hound, devoid of all personal feeling; a law-enforcing machine."
~ Corlene Curtiss:
  "She wasn't there. The room was empty. On the leather davenport was a note, written in eyebrow pencil . . ."
~ Spencer Morgan:
  "Out to marry money, obviously."
~ John Geeza:
  "This is mad—a ghastly joke!"

Typo: "Dosen't".

References and resources:
- "the second-rate vaudeville tours":
  "Vaudeville developed from many sources, also including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary American burlesque. Called 'the heart of American show business,' vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades. References to vaudeville and the use of its distinctive argot continue throughout Western popular culture. Words such as 'flop' and 'gag' were terms created from the vaudeville era and have entered the American idiom. Though not credited often, vaudevillian techniques can commonly be witnessed on television and in movies" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the charges for harboring":
  "Harboring a fugitive refers to the crime of knowingly hiding a wanted criminal from the authorities. Federal and state laws, which vary by state, govern the crime of harboring a fugitive" (USLegal HERE).
- "his safety deposit box":
  "A safe deposit box, also known as a safety deposit box, is an individually secured container, usually held within a larger safe or bank vault. Safe deposit boxes are generally located in banks, post offices or other institutions. Safe deposit boxes are used to store valuable possessions, such as gemstones, precious metals, currency, marketable securities, luxury goods, important documents (e.g. wills, property deeds, or birth certificates), or computer data, which need protection from theft, fire, flood, tampering, or other perils" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "gilt-edged securities":
  "A security is a tradable financial asset. The term commonly refers to any form of financial instrument, but its legal definition varies by jurisdiction. In some countries and languages people commonly use the term 'security' to refer to any form of financial instrument, even though the underlying legal and regulatory regime may not have such a broad definition. They include shares of corporate stock or mutual funds, bonds issued by corporations or governmental agencies, stock options or other options, limited partnership units, and various other formal investment instruments that are negotiable and fungible" (Wikipedia (HERE).
- "a dictaphone in there":
  "Although the name 'Dictaphone' is a trademark, it has become genericized as a means to refer to any dictation machine" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "sold his securities at par":
  "Par value, in finance and accounting, means stated value or face value. From this come the expressions at par (at the par value), over par (over par value) and under par (under par value)" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "settle a dowry on her":
  "A dowry is a payment, such as property or money, paid by the bride's family to the groom or his family at the time of marriage. Dowry is an ancient custom that is already mentioned in some of the earliest writings, and its existence may well predate records of it. Dowries continue to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "produce artificial respiration":
  "Pulmonary ventilation (and hence external parts of respiration) is achieved through manual insufflation of the lungs either by the rescuer blowing into the patient's lungs (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), or by using a mechanical device to do so. This method of insufflation has been proved more effective than methods which involve mechanical manipulation of the patient's chest or arms, such as the Silvester method" (Wikipedia HERE).
- The ISFDb tells us (HERE) that Paul Frederick Ernst was responsible for 24 adventures of The Avenger (1939-42) under the house name Kenneth Robeson and 8 stories in Weird Tales (1935-36) featuring Dr. Satan; also see Wikipedia (HERE) and the SFE (HERE).