Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"If the Editor Writes Us Out, He'll Destroy Our Whole Social System"

"Rejection Slip."
By Ben Singer (?-?).
First appearance: Future Science Fiction, May 1952.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: Text fuzzy in places.)
"The story of the desperate scribe who held a gun on the editor is hardly a new theme — but here's a novel twist on it!"
Maybe all writers are crazy and all editors should be shot, and maybe—in this era of political correctness—we're all destined one day for a trip to the social-super-egotorium for evaluation and from there to slander-sublimation-school for re-education. Or maybe we're just dreaming all of this like Zhuangzi's butterfly-man, flapping our way through meta-reality. Or maybe, just maybe, we should take this story as the author intended it and smile . . .

- Just like Frank Banta (HERE), we don't have a clue as to who Ben Singer might have been.

The bottom line:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"We Need Some Plain, Old-fashioned Evidence of a Crime"

"The Happy Homicide."
By Frank Banta (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, March 1962.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"It's not so bad being on trial for murder. Of course it's a little embarrassing — when the principal witness is the corpse!"
You'd think that the more advanced the technology, the less prone to error it would be—a common fallacy, as everyone should know by now. Take, for instance, this man's trial for cold-bloodedly killing his wife:
"John Bork, you have heard the indictment," stated the judge formally. "How do you wish to plead: Not guilty, no contest, or wait and see?"
"I'll wait and see, your honor."
"I thought you would," sighed the judge. "We haven’t had a straight not-guilty plea in ages. Proceed, Mr. Prosecutor."
Infused with unwavering confidence, the prosecutor does proceed:
"In this machine rests the proof of the crime charged against the defendant," he said dramatically, patting the smooth gray side of the machine. "This machine will tell you all you need to know about the murder. Oh, to be sure, I shall show you the corpus delicti presently; but why and how this crime was committed shall be revealed only by this machine’s stimulation of the deceased’s brain. She will herself relate who her killer was!"
There was a shocked gasp from the jurors and the spectators in the court room when the prosecutor pulled back the sheet from the body, uncovering her head and chest. "The jury will note that the government has removed her skull down to her eyebrows so that we could contact her brain’s recordings with the ma-chine’s probe. The jury will also note the four bullet holes in the deceased’s chest, which we intend to prove were put there by John Bork."
"I missed twice," said John Bork, nodding.
Ordinarily the reliability of the defendant's testimony is at issue in a trial for murder, but how much can we rely on what the victim, given the chance, might say?

- With this story we can add another totally anonymous author to our collection.
- Reading somebody's mind, dead or alive, is still a tricky business; some of the implications are discussed in a California Magazine article (HERE): "Catching the Brain in a Lie: Is 'Mind Reading' Deception, Detection, Sci-Fi—or Science?"

The bottom line: "I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells."
Theodor Geisel

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Top 5 in September

ONTOS has been lurking on the Net for several years now. Here are the most popular postings going all the way back to September 2013.

~ September 2016 ~
(1) "I've Got a Score to Settle on Earth" - (HERE)
(2) "No Contributing Factors in the Way of Bullets, Poisons or Blows Were Found—It Was a Perfect Crime" - (HERE)
(3) "How Did He Get Out of the House with a Dozen Detectives Watching Every Possible Exit?" - (HERE)
(4) "The Only Witness Against Him Was Himself" - (HERE)
(5) "It Occurred to Me That Some Unseen Dimension, If One Could but Penetrate It, Would Be the Ideal Place for the Commission of a Homicide" - (HERE)

~ September 2013 ~
(1) Julian Symons Reviews Robert Barnard's A TALENT TO DECEIVE - (HERE)
(2) Detective Fiction — Private Detective vs. Private Eye - (HERE)
(3) A Collection of Edgar Wallace Thrillers - (HERE)
(4) Random Internet Comments by and About Poe - (HERE)
(5) A Shilling Shocker - (HERE)

~ September 2014 ~
(1) The Three Dr. Thorndykes - (HERE)
(2) "The Melodramatic Development of the Latter Pages Stretches the Rubber Band of Suspense to Its Limit. It Might Snap." - (HERE)
(3) "Beware of Trying to Rouse Our Pity and Terror with a Penny Whistle" - (HERE)
(4) "He Has Discovered At Least One New Trick in the Detective Story Writer's Bag" - (HERE)
(5) "The Book Is Not a Detective Story: The Reader from the First Recognizes the Criminal" - (HERE)

~ September 2015 ~
(1) A Not-So-Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery - (HERE)
(2) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Summer 2015 - (HERE)
(3) True Crime from Craig Rice - (HERE)
(4) FANTASTIC FlashFanFic from the Fabulous Fifties - (HERE)
(5) True Crime from Erle Stanley Gardner - (HERE)

Friday, October 14, 2016

"It Wasn't Worth It"

"The Man from When."
By Dannie Plachta (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, July 1966.
Reprinted quite a few times (HERE).
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"He came out of nowhere — and could never go back!"
The stranger isn't a criminal per se, but human nature being what it is, his victims could justifiably regard what he does as a criminal act.

- We looked but we couldn't find any biographical information about our author, Dannie Plachta; however, the ISFDb does have a short bibliography (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "Well, that's it," I said after we had waited for another five minutes and found ourselves still in a state of pleasantly welcome existence. "The ChronoGuard has shut itself down and time travel is as it should be: technically, logically, and theoretically...impossible."
   "Good thing, too," replied Landon. "It always made my head ache. In fact, I was thinking of doing a self help book for science-fiction novelists eager to write about time travel. It would consist of a single word: Don't.”
   — Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Tales of Big Brother Pale into Insignificance Compared with the Researches an Eidochron Could Do on Your Life"

By Colin Kapp (1928-2007).
First appearance: Galaxy Magazine, March-April 1973.
Reprinted in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine (UK), March/April 1973 and Science Fiction Story Reader 4 (1975).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at HERE.
"The perfect weapon to enforce law and order, and also to end them!"
Can a technology be so protean and so powerful that merely making use of it would be dangerous to both an adversary and the user, too? Crimescan, an extra-legal high-tech group concerned with catching the criminals that the authorities fail to apprehend, has developed the Eidochron, a device that can see both the past and the future with absolute fidelity. What could be wrong with tracking down murderers, as long as the thing works? The Eidochron's developer, Michael Coyne, understands the implications, however, as he explains to his ace technician, Tseudi Hyde:
"Those controls under your fingers contain everything needed to support the most horrifying tyranny in history. The voyeur, the blackmailer, the jealous wife, the market-research man, the tax inspector and the ambitious politician would all use it if they could. That's why they mustn't ever have access to it."
So far Crimescan has been able to operate clandestinely without interference from the government, but Major Spier sees them as a threat to national security and intends to take decisive action, as he tells Chief Inspector Grattan:
"I'm trying to get it through your thick skull, that these people, whoever they are, are a damn sight too clever. There isn't a secret in the country they couldn't find if they wished. And that's far too dangerous a power to leave floating around in the hands of nameless private citizens, no matter how well intentioned."
Grattan, who finds the Major revolting, flatly refuses to go along with Spier's cold-blooded plan to smoke out the group:
"Crimescan is helping to uphold the law and making the world a safer place to live in. For those of you who work above the law I have neither time nor sympa-thy. God help the lot of us if things ever start going all your way."
But Spier won't back down, meaning that someone is going to die . . .

Comment: A thought-provoking little story that ends too abruptly.

Typos: "seemed to excited him further"; "a public phone in at the railroad station"; most or all of a line dropped on page 131.

- Articles about Colin Kapp and his output are at the SFE (HERE), Don Dammassa's extensive essay (HERE), the Web Archive (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Wikipedia (HERE); the only Kapp story to be filmed so far is discussed on the IMDb (HERE).
- The 2002 movie Minority Report (HERE) deals with "precogs" who see crimes before they happen; our story, in contrast, deals with what could be termed "postcog," seeing crime in incredible detail after it has occurred. Another tale with a similar theme is Lewis Padgett's "Private Eye" (1949), previously discussed on ONTOS (HERE).
- Kapp's clever neologism for his time viewer stems from two Greek roots: "eido" = "to know" and "chron" = "time"; he also seems to have intended the term to slyly suggest another word, "eidolon":
In ancient Greek literature, an eidolon (plural: eidola or eidolons) (Greek εἴδωλον: "image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost") is a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form. — Wikipedia (HERE).

The bottom line: "After all, every murderer when he kills runs the risk of the most dreadful of deaths, whereas those who kill him risk nothing except promotion."
Albert Camus

Monday, October 10, 2016

Norman A. Daniels—Nearly Forgotten Uberpulpster

AMAZINGLY PROLIFIC is the best way to describe pulp master Norman A. Daniels, whose total short story and novelette output takes up six full pages in the FictionMags listing (with over fifty of the stories starting with the word "Murder"). Like Erle Stanley Gardner, he created his own series characters, but he also contributed to stories about other authors' creations, among them characters that most of us have never heard of:
Rex Parker (The Masked Detective); Captain John Fury (The Skipper); Jerry Wade (The Candid Camera Kid); Dan Fowler; Neal Burton; Tony Quinn (The Black Bat; see HERE); Richard Curtis Van Loan (The Phantom Detective); Boxcar Reilly; Dynamite Dolan; Robert Clarke (The Crimson Mask); Jim Stanley; Guy Peyton and Slugger Jack Brady; Boris Renouf; Alex Malloy (story HERE); Bill Donovan; Jeff Shannon (The Eagle); Johnny Wells; Rick Trent; Smiths; and Hank McTurk and Jeff Patrick.
From the early '30s to the late '60s, Daniels placed stories in all the important detective publications, including EQMM and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, and even did a couple of novel tie-ins to The Avengers TV series. The IMDb (HERE) has his dozen or so screen credits.

Here are just two of Daniels's massive output, separated by a quarter of a century: "Murderer's Fee," which saw publication in DFW during the heyday of pulp crime 
fiction magazines, and "Left Hand of Justice," the product of a later era.

"Murderer's Fee."
By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, September 19, 1936.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Why Was It That Dr. Evans, of the Coroner's Office, Found Clues That Crack Dicks of the Homicide Squad Couldn't See?"
When a medical doctor who is about to be tried for corporate malfeasance is found dead, the police and most of the world assume he's committed suicide with one of his own operating knives; only the assistant coroner sees the clues that point to it being murder and sets out to find the real killer, even if it means doing an end run around the police, being kidnapped at gunpoint, and getting coshed on the cabeza . . .

Principal characters:
~ Stephen Granard, M.D., the deceased:
   "The man was about forty. Buried within two inches of its entire length, a gleaming scalpel protruded from his breast directly over the heart."
~ Sergeant Abbott of the Homicide Squad:
   "Now listen, doc, you're not going to tell me this wasn't suicide, are you?"
~ Dr. Emory Evans, Assistant Coroner:
   "Dr. Granard didn't kill himself. He was murdered and I'll stake my professional reputation on it. There are two distinct clues right in front of you."
~ Pete, Shane, Mugs, and Zamora—desperados all:
   "How will you take your fee, doc—in the heart or the head?"
~ ~ ~
"Left Hand of Justice."
By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95).
First appearance: Bestseller Mystery Magazine, March 1960.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The lonely island had been a source of peace and seclusion for Ben Slade, until he found himself sole witness to a murder—the only justice available in the form of a madman with a rifle, whose sole thought was of revenge . . ."
Ben Slade is enjoying the simple life on a five-mile-long sliver of an island off the coast of Maine, until, quite by accident:
The ugly scene developed quickly, the characters in it unaware of Ben's pres-ence. He didn't know the people involved and had to identify them only as the murderer and the victim. It was done very cold-bloodedly and deliberately. The murderer merely said, 'Charley,' and the victim turned around, saw the gun and tried to run for it. The bullet got him in the back of the neck. He was in full flight when it struck and he kept going another three or four steps before he seemed to lunge forward, like a man taking a dive into shallow water. He fell on his stomach, arms and legs outspread. The murderer quietly moved out of sight and that was all.
For Ben, as THE eyewitness to the crime, catching the killer shouldn't be a problem, but he hasn't reckoned on the interference of arrogant and wealthy Walt Langdon, who owns everything but Ben's tiny part of the island, and on how Langdon aims to deal with the situation, choosing instead to play what Ben calls "a madman's game" in a warped plan to dispense "left-handed justice" . . .

Main characters:
~ Ben Slade:
   "If this were anything except murder, I'd tell you to go to hell."
~ Walter Langdon:
   "Any one of you could conceivably get away with murder simply because you have all this money. At the very least, you could stall and dicker and finally come out of it with a whole skin, and maybe just a short prison term."
~ Karen Langdon, Walter's daughter:
   "The emperor. My father's the emperor of this island. So you report to him."
~ Dave Harmon:
  "He wants the murderer dead. That's his ego asserting itself, but he bows to it and he'll have his way unless . . ."
~ Evelyn Harmon:
   "Mr. Langdon means it, you know . . . about making certain whoever killed Charley will die right here on the island."
~ Harry Trevor:
   "You're tough, my friend. Usually, a man who gets clobbered as hard as I hit you, stays out for an hour or so."
~ Paul Griswold:
   "There has to be a motive for a killing like that and whatever it is, it will be seized upon by every big newspaper in the world."

Typo: "the Victorian house which dominated the isand"

- Bibliographies and background on Norman A. Daniels are on Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Daniels is well represented on the Pulpgen Online Pulps site (HERE) and (HERE).

The bottom line: "She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air."
Raymond Chandler

Sunday, October 9, 2016


"Origins of Galactic Law."
By Edward Wellen (1919-2011).
First appearance: Galaxy Magazine, April 1953.
Reprinted in All About the Future (1955).
"Non-Fact Article" (9 pages).
Online at HERE.
"When you go on an interstellar journey, be sure to take along this handy little legal guide."
Galactic case law being what it is, knowing something about the precedents might be a good idea—just in case you run afoul of the law as you're traveling around in the Great Up and Out.

~ People v. Kilgore, 3380, 84 Un. 793:
   "When the time came for the judge to pronounce sentence, Kilgore asked to be allowed to impose his own punishment."
~ People v. Nica, 3286, 70 Un. 1245:
   "Smiling, he pleaded guilty to both murders and listened eagerly for the verdict."
~ People v. Gund, 3286, 70 Un. 1245:
   "He struck the Vegan down when the cumulative effect of witnessing nearly two hours of the master's cruelty and the pet's pain had proved unbearable."
~ U. of Venus v. Vac. Inc. et al., 2937, 63 Un. 8451:
   "At this point the judge wearily recessed court, declaring that he intended to damp his brain waves with tonic chord therapy."
~ Smith v. General Teletote, 3016, 24 Un. 612:
   "General Teletote admitted that its tri-dimensional scanner had reassembled Smith improperly."
~ Based on a quashed indictment, 3426 U.E.:
   "This fetish of theirs, they explained, stemmed from the darkest age of their history . . ."

- "Origins of Galactic Law" was the second in an eight-part series of "non-fact articles" by Edward Wellen in Galaxy that would ultimately be spread over a decade:
   (1) "Origins of Galactic Slang" (1952)
   (2) "Origins of Galactic Law" (1953, above)
   (3) "Origins of Galactic Etiquette" (1953)
   (4) "Origins of Galactic Medicine" (1953)
   (5) "Origins of Galactic Advice to the Lovelorn" (1955)
   (6) "Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter" (1960)
   (7) "Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad" (1962)
   (8) "Origins of Galactic Philosophy" (1962)
- The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (HERE) tells us that Edward Wellen was a "US writer, almost exclusively of short stories, mostly in the mystery genre" (see the dismissive Kirkus review HERE); but when he essayed SF it "was concise, literate, cynical and frequently anthologized over his forty-year career, and is overdue for collection." See also the ISFDb (HERE), Atomic Rockets (HERE), and Mystery*File (HERE).
- Like Isaac Asimov, sometimes Wellen crossed the genres, as in his Wendell Urth Asimov tribute story, "Murder in the Urth Degree" (1989, for the moment online HERE):
"It's as obvious," Dr. Urth said sharply, "as the nose on my face." Maybe that’s why I don’t see it, Davenport muttered mentally.

The bottom line: "I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back."
John Florence Sullivan