Friday, February 16, 2018

"Certainly It Was Impossible — Except That Mr. Gru Was Stone Cold Dead . . ."

WOULD YOU BELIEVE a story set a couple of centuries from now that's also a locked room mystery? Uber-editor John W. Campbell would probably scoff, but, as our sleuth says, "You were wrong about nothing having changed in the past two hundred years. This was a crime which could not have happened then."

"The Closed Door."
By Kendall [sic] Foster Crossen (1910-81).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, August-September 1953.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories (U.K.), December 1953 and Fantastic, February 1969.
Short story (18 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF) and Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

"This is a detective story. Without, we hasten to add, private eyes, blonds, beds, bigamy or bottles of bourbon. The setting is a luxurious interplanetary hotel three hundred years in the future . . ."
They say when one door closes, another opens; in the matter of the murder of the humanoid from Sirius II, it ain't necessarily so . . .
The whos in this whodunit:
~ G. G. Gru:
  "If there's one thing I can't abide, it's practical jokers."
~ Alister Chu, manager of the Planetary Rest Hotel:
  ". . . quickly told of the call he'd received from the guest on this floor. He explained
the whole thing in great detail, including his impression of the guest's falling apart:
'Not literally, of course.'"
~ Chief Inspector Maiset, head of the Solar Department, Terran Division, Interplanetary Criminal Police Commission:
  "It's suspected murder and delicate interplanetary relations."
~ Detective Inspector Jair Calder:
  "If Gideon Fell could have lived to see this . . ."
~ Sub-Inspector Aly Mordette, Provincial Police:
  "Oh, we have our Twenty-second Century gadgets, but everything works just the same
as it did in the Nineteenth or Twentieth Century. You can take my word for it, Inspector."
~ James Bruce, an employee of Plasticorp and chairman of the Acrylic convention:
  "'I do hope, however, that your investigation won't disturb our convention too much.
We have some pretty important men here.' He bore down on the word important just
enough."
~ Cooerl II, a Mercurian:
  ". . . I went to the public visiphone booth at the end of the corridor. But there was no
one there when I answered. Apparently the party had hung up, or it was a practical joke."
Resources:
- Some of Kendell Foster Crossen's writing seems to have been influenced by his experiences as an insurance investigator; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE),
and ISFDb (HERE) for the 411 on him.
- Sundry heavenly bodies get a brief mention in the story: Acrux (HERE), Canopus
(HERE and HERE), Mercury (HERE and HERE), Algenib (HERE), Sirius (HERE
and HERE), Mars (HERE and HERE), Rigel (HERE and HERE), Aldebaran (HERE
and HERE), and Antares (HERE and HERE).
- Silicon-based life forms have been popular in SFF for a long time; see David Darling's Encyclopedia (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and Scientific American (HERE).
- Another story blending SFF and tec fic is Fredric Brown's "Daymare" (HERE).
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Shots Crashed and I Flopped in the Mud"

"The Ride."
By John B. Kennedy (1894-1961).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, October 12, 1929.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE)
.
"He was a decent gunman."
Like those bad guys from Japetus, these mobsters learn just a little too late that honor among thieves goes only so far—and then . . .

Resources:
- John Bright Kennedy was a regular contributor to the major slicks between 1926 and 1938; FictionMags's story listing shows he switched back and forth between nonfiction articles featuring the most illustrious figures of the day and fiction.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The City Dies If Anyone Tries to Tail Us or Pull a Double Cross"

"The Three Thieves of Japetus."
By Mark Reinsberg (1923-81).
First appearance: Imagination, June 1957.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

"Murder is always a cold-blooded crime any way you look at it. But for outright cruelty and barbarism there was no equal to the actions of—The Three Thieves of Japetus."
The Bard basically nailed it when he had Falstaff complain, "A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!"
Typo: "luninescent"

Resources:
- For more about SFF superfan Mark Reinsberg, see the Fancyclopedia (HERE and reference HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
Artwork by Bambam131
- Japetus, Titan, and Hyperion are mentioned in our story. These days the preferred spelling of Japetus, a two-toned natural satellite of Saturn, is Iapetus (HERE); quite a few science fiction writers have used Iapetus in their stories (HERE); a 3-D map of the real Iapetus is (HERE). You can read more about Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in fact (HERE) and fiction (HERE), and the same goes for Hyperion (HERE) and (HERE).
The Earth, the Moon, and (lower left) Iapetus (Japetus).

The bottom line: "The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.”
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Every Burglar in London Was Asking for His Address"

"The Great Green Diamond."
By Gilbert Floyd (1871-1935).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, March 1899.
Short short story (5 pages, 5 illos).

Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Use the "Full Screen" function for better viewing.)
"The subsequent adventures of the great Battersby diamond may yet be traced halfway round the world, in the series of modest headstones which mark the last resting-places of its various lessees—for the jewel brought luck to no man, and people said that to possess it was to court a sudden and painful death."
A hot rock indeed, as dangerous to its possessor as the Blue Carbuncle of recent memory; however, Battersby, the present owner of the diamond ("the eighth wonder of the world"—the stone, not Battersby), evidently likes to live dangerously and remains, to all appearances, unfazed by the diamond's dire reputation—until that heart-stopping moment when it disappears, precipitating a crisis that could almost certainly spell the end of a beautiful friendship* . . .
Resources:
- FictionMags informs us that Gilbert Gover Floyd used two other noms de plume; as Duncan Storm he was a regular contributor of juvenile adventure tales to The Boys' Friend for over a decade, but as Julia Storm had just one story published in Schoolgirls’ Own.

- The story, "Beating the Lights," dealt with a stone of a different hue (HERE).

* . . . which, as you probably know, is spelled t-h-e e-n-d o-f a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l f-r-i-e-n-d-s-h-i-p.
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Monday, February 12, 2018

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-five

"A curious monomaniac. The man seems to believe everybody was acquainted with his mother."
~ ~ ~
"Charles Dickens As Criminologist."
By Paul C. Squires (?-?).
First appearance: The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, July-August 1938.
Article (32 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"He is not a preacher. He is a master analyst in the field of criminology."
As you can tell from the quote just above, our author diverges somewhat from the usual appraisal of Charles Dickens's criminously-related stories (see "Resources," below), giving him high marks for his criminological acumen. Throughout the essay, Freud raises his ugly head (let's face it, Sigmund was no Adonis) in the form of his theories of psychosexual pathology as they might relate to criminality. Since Squires must needs discuss plot details of several of Dickens's books, we're issuing a SPOILERS warning at this point:

  "It is our plan to take up in this paper three of the novels [Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Our Mutual Friend] and consider
the criminalistic aspects in a systematic manner."

Just a few snippets:
  They say you should write about what you know:

  "That he [Charles Dickens], who knew the streets, the law courts,
the lowest haunts of London as intimately as he knew the rooms of
his own house, must have had strong convictions on this subject
cannot be doubted by anyone even casually acquainted with his
novels and miscellaneous writings. He was intensely interested
not only in the common law and chancery, but also and preemi-
nently in the criminal law of England."

  To the charge that Dickens was only a caricaturist:

  "The principal difficulty cast in one's way when endeavoring
to interpret Dickens's characters is this: Dickens takes a single
human trait and constructs a personality out of it. In so doing
he is not, perhaps, as far wrong as some people would try to
argue. After all, are not men and women just so many exagger-
ations of a main, central trait—variations on a theme, we might
say—which determines their destinies? The big task is to break
through the encrustation of caricature covering the dramatis
personae of Dickens, thereby revealing their true essence.
When this is once accomplished, we find that his characters
are 'all too human,' to borrow a title from Nietzsche."

  Not everyone was a deep-dyed villain:

  "Dickens fought for a decent measure of flexibility in the harsh
penal system of his country. He carefully distinguishes between
the various kinds of motivation leading to anti-social conduct.
He always asks himself: Is this man worth saving?"

Social improvement was always Dickens's primary aim:

  "Whereas in Great Expectations we have observed the mature
Dickens at work, in Oliver Twist we see the youthful reformer
in all the white heat of his enthusiasm. Here is the sort of
realism that jarred the prudes of the Victorian era. Oliver
Twist was written not only for the purpose of holding up to
shame and universal condemnation the poorhouse system
of his day, but especially aimed to debunk crime and the
criminal."

Even the middle class couldn't escape Boz's critical gaze:

  "This [Our Mutual Friend], Dickens's last completed novel,
introduces us to a criminal type differing radically from his
preceding portraitures. We refer, of course, to the school-
master Bradley Headstone. As Chesterton insightfully says,
'it was a new notion to combine a deadly criminality not
with high life or the slums (the usual haunts for villains)
but with the laborious respectability of the lower, middle
classes.' Dickens here made a notable voyage of exploration
into one of the most obscure domains of psychiatry and
criminology. His study of Headstone's mental pathology
is so remarkable as in and by itself to assure him a seat
among the great literary psychiatrists."

The author's conclusion:

  "Dickens does not smear a thick, nauseating coat of varnish
over his felons and crooks, as some have done. He refuses to
wax maudlin over them. He insists on tracing out the maze
of causation which produces the individual who breaks the
tablets of the law. The criminal is, for him, a natural and
historical phenomenon."


Typo: "Whether Orlick intended to will Mrs. Joe that night"

Resources:
- Project Gutenberg has Great Expectations (1861) (HERE), Oliver Twist (1837) (HERE), and Our Mutual Friend (1865) (HERE). Interestingly enough, our author doesn't even mention
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), over which much ink has been spilled since its first appearance; go (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- In a related vein, see John Marshall Gest's The Lawyer in Literature (1913) (online HERE; reviewed HERE), especially Chapters I ("The Law and Lawyers of Charles Dickens") and II ("The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick"):

  "As Dickens viewed the law with profound contempt, so he regarded lawyers with scant favor. Most of the lawyers in his books are shysters, as we would call them, or narrow, mean, ignorant pettifoggers. His books are crowded with familiar specimens. . . .
  "He was, as I said, sentimental and emotional; he was sympathetic also. He saw and appreciated the evils of society as they existed in his day, but he lacked the constructive faculty of suggesting practical reforms. His ability consisted in exciting compassion for the poor and oppressed, scorn and contempt for the oppressor, and derision for the laws which, at the time he wrote, favored poverty and oppression, and were the worn-out heritage of

an earlier stage of society. . . .
  "I repeat that in reading Dickens's description of the law and lawyers we must bear in mind that, first and last, his aim was to ridicule, satirize and caricature all that he disliked and despised, and he saw much in the law
and lawyers of England to dislike and despise. He was not, of course, an educated lawyer. I doubt very much if he ever read any law at all."

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Friday, February 9, 2018

"He'll Have Quite a Surprise in Store for Him"

"The Incomplete Theft."
By Ralph Burke (Robert Silverberg, born 1935).
(FictionMags says this story was "ghost written by Randall Garrett").
First appearance: Imagination, February 1957.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

"He walked directly across the well-lighted safety area, and the guards paid not the slightest attention."
It's highly unlikely that a thief ever stops to think that whatever he has set his mind on stealing just might steal him . . .

Characters:
~ Peter Blane:
  "She's a real beauty. When will she be finished?"

~ John Mitchell:
  "This afternoon. The boys are tightening the last bolts and putting in the final wiring now. The job's just about over, Pete."

~ Dr. Harris:
  "An Earthman stepped out, an engineer named Harris who had apparently been making some last-minute adjustments on the ship."


Comment: The self-teleporting starship—a real time-saver:

   "It was simple to operate; all the pilot had to do was set up the coordinates of his target, turn on the hyperkinetic generator, and press the activator button. The generator itself did the rest. The field enclosed the ship, and instantaneously the ship was a hundred or a thousand light-years away."

Resources:
- Robert Silverberg has used the "Ralph Burke" alias at least thirteen times ("three times in collaboration with Randall Garrett," according to the SFE); it was just last month that we

paid a visit to Silverberg (HERE).
- Detailed discussions of teleportation reside on Wikipedia (HERE) and Atomic Rockets (HERE); the U.S. Air Force Research Lab's report (HERE) (PDF, 88 pages) actually consid-ered such a highly unlikely technical development.
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Thursday, February 8, 2018

"I Wouldn't Travel in That Car Not for No Money"

"The Missing Pullman Car."
By W. L. Alden (1837-1908).
First appearance: To-Day, November 10, 1894.
Short short short story (4 pages, 4 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

"Stealing freight cars is something that happens every day, but stealing a Pullman was something new in the stealing line."
A "killer" railroad car? Surely you jest . . .

Comment: What looks like a case of criminality can, on occasion, be the result of a concatenation of innocent events.

Resources:
- Our author, William L. Alden, also wrote SFFnal fiction as well; see Wikipedia (HERE),

the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for more about him and his work.
- Go (HERE) for other railway-related stories.