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 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 (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 (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 (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).