Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 31, 2021


Let's start the new year off with the comic book version of Monogram Pictures 1938 film Mr. Wong, Detective, featuring Boris Karloff.   

(This was the first of six Mr. Wong films from Monogram, based on the character created by Hugh Wiley who appeared in twenty stories published in Collier's from 1934 to 1955.  Karloff  played the detective in the first five films, while Keye Luke took over the role for the final movie.  [My snarky comment for the day:  It's amazing that they cast a non-white in the role.])

Mr. Wong, Detective appeared in five parts in Popular Comics #38-42 (April 1939-August 1939).


Tuesday, December 28, 2021


 "Mr. Wray's Cash Box:  or The Mask and the Mystery:  A Christmas Sketch" by Wilkie Collins (first published in book form by Richard Bentley, London, in 1851 [although dated 1852]; reprinted in 1852 by the same publisher, but now subtitled "A Modern Story"; first U.S. publication in 1862 as The Stolen Mask: or The Mysterious Cash Box [publisher unknown]; reprinted (finally!) in Richard Dalby's anthology Crime for Christmas, 1991)

The question is why did a story by Wiklie Collins remain unreprinted for 129 years when almost all of his short stories have been reprinted a number of times?  Perhaps because of its length, 176 pages in the original edition; 70 pages in the Dalby)?  Nah, that really doesn't hold water.  Or, perhaps because of its sentimentality?  its  mawkishness reminiscent of some of his good friend Charles Dickens's writing?  Perhaps because it was Collins's only attempt at a Christmas story?  I have not any good answer.

The first few paragraphs give the flavor of the story, if not the plot:

"I should be insulting the intelligence of readers generally, if I thought it at all necessary to describe to them the widely-celebrated town, Tidbury-on-the-Marsh.  As a genteel provincial residence, who is unacquainted with it?  The magnificent new hotel that has grown on to the side of the old inn; the extensive library, to which, not satisfied with only adding new books, they are now adding a new entrance as well; the projected crescent of palatial abodes in the Grecian style, on the top of the hill, to rival the completed crescent of castellated abodes, in the Gothic style, at the bottom of the hill -- are not such local objects as these perfectly well known to any intelligent Englishman!  Of course they are!  The question is superfluous.  Let us get on at once, without wasting more time, from Tidbury in general and High Street in particular, and to our present destination there -- the commercial establishment of Messrs Dunball and Dark.

Looking merely at the coloured liquids, the miniature statue of a horse, the corn pasters, the oil-skin bags, the pots of cosmetics, and the cut-glass saucers full of lozenges in the shop window, you might at first imagine that Dunball and Dark were only chemists.  Looking carefully through the entrance, towards an inner apartment, an inscription; a large, upright, mahogany recepticle, or box, with a hole in it; brass rails protecting the hole; a green curtain ready to draw over the hole; and a  man with a copper  money shovel in his hand, partially visible behind the hole; would be sufficient to inform you that Dunball and Dark were not chemists only, but 'Branch Bankers' as well."

All of this rambling and personal interlocations have little to with the plot, nor do Messrs. Dunball and Dark.  Several paragraphs later, young Alice Wray enters the shop and asks permission to post an advertisement for her grandfather's elocution business in their window; this very indirectly leads to a friendship between the local squire and Alice's grandfather, Reuben Wray.

Reuben Wray had spent his lifetime working in, and enamored of, the theater.  Sadly he had little talent to match his enthusiasm, spending his entire career doing scut jobs behind the curtain and ocassional walk-on roles as an extra.  This did however give him an opportunity to closely observe the speech, cadence, and mannerisms of the great actor John Kemble -- at least Kemble was great as an old-style actor; his method of acting became passe with the appearance of Edmund Kean, the current great Shakespearean actor.  Wray has had three great obsessions in his life:  John Kemble, William Shakespeare, and his beloved granddaughter Alice.  When Kemble left the stage, Wray found himself unemployed and in dire straights.  He reinvented himself as an elocution teacher whose one asset was a knowledge of how Kemble worked and an encyclopediac knowledge of the works of Shakespeare.  It was a precarious living but Wray, Alice, and a large, clumsy handyman nicknamed "Julius Caesar" manage to eke out a substandard living.

Wray's obsession with Shakespeare was overwhelming.  While staying in Stratford, he visited a local church which had on display Shakespeare's death mask.  Sneaking into the church one night, he made his own mold of the death mask.  The next day he heard that the town was outraged that someone had commited a felony on the mask and the town counsel was offering a reward  for this person's capture.  Frightened, Wray fled Stratford with Alice and Caesar, eventually landing in Tidbury.  Wray's copy of the death mask was kept in a cash box which he often would carry with him under his cloak.  The object took a religious-like mania with him, providing him comfort a shelter in this world that held scant scant comfort and security.

Tidbury, despite being a beautiful and well-to-do community, had some dark spots to it.  Two of those dark spots were Benjamin Grimes and Chummy Dick, neer-do-wells from the word go.  One day, Grimes spotted the cash box that Wray carried with him and reasoned that where there is a cash box, there must be cash in it.  Grimes enlisted Chummy Dick, who was hiding in Tidbury to avoid the London police, and the two broke into the rooming house where Wray and his small party were staying.  The thugs expected everyone to be asleep, but found Wray sitting and clutching the cash box.  They tried to wrestle the cash box away but the old man held tightly to it.  With one final burst of power, they succeeded and Wray went down in one direction and the cash box in another.  The impact knocked open the box and the mask fell out and shattered.  The episode caused a loud outburst and the two thugs escaped before the night watch could catch them.

With his beloved mask destroyed, Wray fell into a fugue state.  Listlessly, he responded only to Alice, the only thing he loved more than the mask.  He spent days in the hopeless task of obsessively trying to glue the mask together.  This mania continued for days and the best medical advice brought in my the squire could do nothing.  He weakened and began to shrink into himself until brave Alice comes up with a plan to save him.

Pure melodrama and entertaining as only melodrama could be. 

One side story is Alice's love for Julius Caesar, which they cannot openly acknowledge because of the effect it might have on her grandfather.  I won't tell you how true love prevails, nor how Wray's tiny family was lifted from utter poverty.  For that, you'd have to read the story yourself.  Described as both "heartening" and "sweet" and as "melodramic as only a Victorian Novel can" be, this one is a fun read.  Be warned however, that this Chrstmas tale has little to do with Christmas.

The author needs little introduction,  Collins (1824-1889) was the author of many popular novels, including The Moonstone, which many consider to be the first true English detective novel, and The Woman in White, which I consider to be a far superior book (is there any character more slimy than count Fosco?), as well as a number of classic short stories, the best known probably being "The Terribly Strange Bed."  Born to a strictly religious family, Collins disappointed his painter father by neither becoming an artist or a clergyman; his father then insisted that he study law in order to have a stedy income.  He was called to the bar in 1851 bit never practiced, instead using his law training in his fiction.  Also in 1851, he first met his lifelong friend and sometime collaborator Charles Dickens, of whom he said, "We saw each other every day, and were as fond of each other as men could be."  Dickens was his literary mentor and Collins often took roles in Dickens's acting company.  (Collins's younger brother Charles married Dickens's daughter Kate.)  Many of Collins's works were first published in Dickens's magazines Household Words and All the Year Round.

Collins published his first novel, Antonina, in 1850.  He joined the staff of Household Words in 1856, remaing there until 1862, when his writing became more successful.  During the decade of the 1860s Collins produced his most lasting work -- The Woman in White, Armadale, No Name, and The Moonstone.   In 1853, he had his first attack of gout, which would plague him for the rest of his life.  By 1856 he was beginning his addiction to laudanum, which he was taking for the pain from the gout.  His health declined in the 1880s to the point that he was often unable to leave his home and had difficulty writing.  His eyesight also became increasingly poor.

Collins disliked the idea of marriage, although from 1858 until his death, with one two-year intermission, he lived with the widowed Caroline Graves and her daughter, treating the daughter as his own.  In 1868 he began a liason with 19-year-old Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children.  For the last twenty years of his life Collins divided his time between the two women.  He died on September 23, 1889, of a paralytic stroke. 

"Mrs. Wray's Cash Box" is available to read on the internet, although the audio version on Libravox may be the preferred way to enjoy the story.

Sunday, December 26, 2021


Openers:  ...on this particular day, on the day of the great storm, there was a sudden break in the nearly unbreakabe routine.  Immediatly after midmorning temperatures, the door aat the end of the room swung open, and two nurses, one the hospital superintendent herself, appeared with a male visitor.  This, in spite of the rigid rule that no visitors of either sex were allowed into the free wards after three P.M.

The two nurses glanced sharply and quellingly around them; the little red-faced man, preoccupied and self-conscious, followed them.  All three went directly to Bed Ten.

There was immediately a good deal of excitement.  Bed Ten was the mystery of the ward.  Bed Ten never had any visitors; she showed no interest in her surroundings; she did not nurse her baby, and she never talked to anybody.

The little man, who was evidently a lawyer, spoke pleasantly and quietly and began to spread papers on the bedside table and to shake his fountain pen.  Ann Smith lay wayching him.

(The ward, to one woman, doubted doubted fifteen times a day whether she'd the right to call herself "Mrs." Ann Smith.)

She was a tall girl; very tall.  When her dark hed was propped on the white pillows, her feet almost touched the end of the long iron bed.  In between head and feet there was pracically nothing; she was as thin as a rail.

She was not a pretty girl in the ordinary sense.  Not doll pretty.  Her mouth was too generous for that, her slender hands too long, and the fine bone of cheek and jaw too hard and tense.

But she was rather attractive.  Even with the flannelette hospital gown buttoned high above her thin young neck.  Her eyes, set in deep sockets of fever and pain, burned deeply, darkly blue; her lashes were long; her hair curled flatly about her temples.

"Mrs. Smith," the lawyer began, clearing his throat, as the ward listened.  "Mrs. Smith, are you sure you're reconciled to this?  Do you realize what it will mean?  No communication, you understand, no privileges.  These are rich people."

-- "The Other Woman" [Part 1 of 2] by Ellen Hogue (from All-Story Love Stories, January 19, 1935)

Ann Smith is pitied by the other women in the charity maternity ward for having "been through, in poverty and pain, more than body and spirit can stand; someone who must bid goodby to the prize she had won in anguish."   We suspect (and later find out) that Ann had made a terrible mistake with a man she thought loved him.  Ann, poor but proud, did the responsible thing and placed the baby for adoption.  This broke her heart, because Ann loved children and had already bonded to her son.  But for his sake, Ann gave him up.

The  boy was adopted by Gregory Wallace and his wife.  Wallace was the owner of Wallace and Company's large Bargain Store and Ann, shortly after giving up her child, began working there as a saleswoman.  Greg Wallace had no idea that An was the birth  mother of his son.  For her part Ann cherished the moments when she saw the child the few times he had been brought to the store.  Although Ann had a respectable (well, for the time and the position) salary, she remained very poor because she gave the bulk of her earnngs to needy children.  (Was there ever a more saintly woman working as a Bargain Store sales clerk?)

Now Wallace's wife had advertised for household help, giving Ann a chance to be near her son.  Alas, Ann -- having given her extra money (and then some) to poor children -- had only a shabby dress to wear to the interview.  A co-worker suggested that Ann "borrow" a dress from the store and return it after her interview.  All the girls had done that, she said.  So Ann tried to borrow a dress and was caught by store security, who rushed her up to Greg Wallace's office before calling the police.  Wallace, sides being rich and handsome, was overwhelmingly kind-hearted.  He took pity on Ann, did not call the police, and hired her for the position.  It also turned out that Wallace's wife had gone to Florida for a month, leaving the baby at home with a nurse and the household staff.

Ann soon becomes a favorite of the household staff and of Greg Wallace.  They develop a friendship that Ann does not want to go any further because of her child -- Greg must never know she was the boy's real mother.  For his part, Greg wants to hold Ann close to him -- in a kind-hearted way, of course, not in a I-want-to-cheat-on-my-wife way.

This has all the makings of a great heart-breaker of a story, unless a deus ex machina happens to kill off the wife and unless Greg can overlook Ann's past and her deception.  What will happen?  I have no idea because I haven't got access to Part 2.  Bummer,

"Ellen Hogue" was the pseudomyn of Mrs. Johnson D. Kerkhoff (nee Eleanor Hogue Stinchclomb (?1897-1940). who had some 70 stories and poems (almost all love stories) published in the pulps from 1927 to 1941; ten of her early contributions were written with Jack Bechdolt, a popiular writer of detective, science fiction, romance, and western stories for the pulps.  I could find little information about Ellen Hogue.  It takes a certain talent to be able to write readable, convincing love stories and such tlent shojld be more appreciated.

All-Story Love Stories ran, under various titles, from October 5, 1929 to May 1955.  Although it was actually a continuation of Munsey's Magazine, as acknowledged by the phrase "Combined with Munsey," The first issue was titled All-Story; it ran for 62 issues before changing its name to All-Story Love Stories on March 1, 1932.   It would run for 224 issues before another name change.  All-Story Love Tales began with the December 18, 1937 issue.  It seems to me that the new title was not an improvement, but what do I know?  Because under ths title, the magazine produced another 92 issues before it drop Tales from its title.  With the January 1, 1940 issue, All-Story Love began a 43-issue run until it became All-Story Love Magazine in February 1942.  This title lasted for six months (6 issues), dropping the Magazine from the title.  All-Story Love ran from August 1942 to its demise in May 1955 after an additional 38 issues.  That's a total of 459 (!) titles, folks.  Along the way it went from a fortnightly publication to twice monthly to weekly to twice monthly again to monthly to bimonthly, changing publishers three times.

Advertising in the pulps was often sold in bulk with a single advertisement appearing in all the magazines from a publisher.  In the case of All-Story Love Stories, published by the Munsey group, this led to some incongruous advertising in what was typically considered a woman's magazine.  There's a baldness cure for men (it supposedly activates dormant hair roots) from Dermolav Lab in New York.  For prostate sufferers there's PROSAGER, an invention that allows men to manage their Prestate Gland in the privacy of their home, "often bringing relief at the first treatment;" this device -- "no drugs of electricity" -- was available from Midwest Products of Kalamazoo.  For a dollar, one could get 5 (count 'm, 5!) recent issues of The Nudist, profusely illustrated and available from Outdoor Publishing Company of New York.  And guys, "Thousands of Women and Girls Are Doing It, Why Not You?"  Yes, men can get information about the amazing "BEAUTFUL NEW SKIN IN THREE DAYS" product from Wm. Witol of New York; include ten cents in stamps or coin.  There are ads for sufferers of kidney problems, asthma, piles, weight, and hearing problems, along with ads for training to be a radio technician and a variety of technical and industrial courses.  You could even own your own potato chip business!  I'd buy the magazine just for the ads.


  • Russell Atwood, Losers Live Longer,  A Paytton Sherwood mystery.  "The death of legendary private eye George Rowell looked like an accident -- but searching for the truth behind it will put down-and-out East Village detective Payton Sherwood on the trail of a runaway investment scam artist, a drug-addicted reality TV star -- and the bewitching beauty whose appearance set it all in motion..."  A Hard Case Crime book with a nifty horizontal cover by Robert McGinnis.
  • Madison Smartt Bell, Straight Cut.  Mystery thriller.  "A freelance film editor, Tracy Bateman goes where the work is.  So when his old partner calls with an assignment, Tracy finds himself on a plane to Rome.  But there are surprises waiting for him -- deadly surprises that will led him on a desperate chase across Europe, into the hands of a pair of brutal drug smugglers, and back to New York City, where the greatest betrayal of all awaits..."  A Hard Case Crime reprint.
  • John Creasey, A Bundle for the Toff.  The fifty-first book (out of sixty) about Richard Rollison -- The Toff.  "Richard Rollison -- the Toff to the police and underworld of  dozen countries-- was not in the habit of stumbling over newborn infants on his doorstep -- and it was even more embarrassing a happening when he was holding a girl in his arms.  But someone seemed intent on removing the male parent club from this life, and the baby was only the opening gun in the deadly game.  The Toff was marked for a paternity suit...was he also marked for death?"  The Toff is an old and comforting friend, like home-made mac and cheese or a good Greek pizza.
  • Gordon R. Dickson, On the Run.  Science fiction novel.  "One day Kil Bruner was a solid Class A engineer in a society of World Police and citizen Files, jet-set migtrants and status-ranking Stability Keys.  But the police ordered Kij to forget about his missing wife Ellen -- and that was a mistake.  Because Kij would move Heaven and Earth to find the woman he loved.  Even when the search leads to slums filled with deformed psychos, blade-wielding giants, crazed sirens and debauched time-warping vast, interlocked warring conspiracies -- each out to rule the Earth or destroy it.  Even when the search costs Kij his freedom, his sanity, the core of his soul -- and reality itself...Because to find Ellen, Kij will have to move Hraven and Earth.  Literally."  This was Dickson's second novel, originally published as Mankind on the Run.  Dickson was one of those writers who never disappointed.
  • Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.  Horror novel.  "Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin in New Hampshire.  A handful of miles from the Canadian border, far removed from the bustle of city life, cut off from the urgent hum of cell phones and from the internet, they are more than two miles away from their nearest neighbors.  On a summer day, as Wen  catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears.  Lwonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen, but he is young and friendly, with a warm smile that wins her over almost instantly,  Leonard and Wen continue to talk and play, until three more strangers come down the road carrying strange, menacing objects.  In a panic Wen tells Leonard that she must go back inside the cabin.  But before she goes, her new friend tells her, 'None of what's going to happen is your fault.  You haven't done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions.  I wish with all my broken heart you didn't have to.'  As Wen sprints away to warn her parents, Leonard calls out, 'Your dads won't want to let us in.  But they have to.  We need your help to save the world.  Please.' "  I really enjoyed the author's Stoker-winning novel A Head Full of Ghosts and thought it was time to add another of his books to Mount TBR.

Christmas:   I hope everyone had a good one, and for those do not celebrate I still hope you had a fantastic Saturday.  Here in Florida we have a very special connection to Christmas:  In the land of Trump signs (still), manic gun rights activists, attempts to restrict voting, Mar-a-Largo, Matt Gaetz, and Ron DeSantis, Florida has the only town in America named Christmas!

Because it is unincorporated, people may not give Christmas, Florida much weight, but it is recognized by the U.S. census and it has its own post office (at least until DeJoy the Grinch decides to abolish it),  It's located on Florida State Road 50, about twenty-five miles east of Orlando and fifteen miles west of the Kennedy Space Center.  It has a population of about 1100.

Two years and two days after the start of the Second Seminole War, U.S. Army soldiers arrived in the area and started building a fort.  The date?  December 25, 1837, in case you are wondering where Fort Christmas got its name.  The two thousand army men and militia built the fort in just two weeks.  A permanent garrison of two companies were stationed there.  In addition to the Seminoles, the fort had to deal with a number of runaway slaves who were given shelter by the Indians.  The fort was abandoned in 1845, with the end of the war.  (Don't get me started on the treatment of the native tribes during this time -- Andrew Jackson has a lot to answer for.)

So what is there to do in Christmas today?

Well, you can go down to the Christmas Post Office and have your Christmas cards postmarked from there.  Sometimes Santa will sit in the post office lobby and personally stamp the cards and packages.  (For those who are interested in details, the zip code is 32709 and the telephone number is 1-800-275-8777.)  The first post office in Christmas was established in 1892.

Then you can go visit the Fort Christmas Historical Park, with a full-scale replica of the original fort built in the 1970s (dedicated in 1977), complete with a museum with pioneer and Seminole artifacts from the time.   The replica of the fort is probably located less than a mile from where the original fort sttod.  The park also has a number of restored Florida "Cracker" homes and barns with period pices that reflect Florida life from the 1870s to the 1930s.  There's a restored 1906 schoolhouse.  There are fields and areas for baseball, basketball, and tennis, as well as a children's playground.  In March, the park hosts a bluegrass music festival.  In December it hosts its annual :Cracker Christmas."

You can also check out the world's "longest alligator," a 200-foot long building made to resemble an alligator.  It's name is "Swampy."  Swampy is home to Jungle Adventures, a natural habitat home for many Florida animals.

And you can check out the grave of Hughlette "Tex" Wheeler (1901-1954), a native of somewhere in the area and a noted cowboy sculptor.  Wheeler's bronze statue of the horse Seabiscuit is on display at the Santa Anita racetrack.

And throughout the area, there are swamps, gators, and air boat rides.

By stretching its parameters, USA Today has come up with nine other towns in America with Chritlas-themed names.  There are three North Poles (Alaska, Colorado, and New York), a Santa Claus (Indiana), one Christmas Valley (Oregon), and one Christmas Cove (Maine).  We can't forget Bethleham, Pennsylvania, although we may have to begrudgedly add Garland, Texas, and try to avoid your eyes when we mention Donner Lake, California (Remember the names of Santa's reindeer?).

But there is only one Christmas in America and Florida has it.

Boxing Day:  The day after Christmas is Boxing Day.  To celebrate, here's a download of the February 1951 issue of Best Sports, with a boxing story by Richard Brister -- "This Rube'll Be Ready!"

Because I am not British, I may have gotten the intent of Boxing Day right.)

Well, That Takes of This Past Weekend, But What About Today?, I Hear You Ask:  Well, today just happens to be the annual Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day!  Always a fun activity.  And, you don't have to leave it to the professionals because no two snowflakes are the same -- which means no matter how you mess up, it's still legit.  To get you started, here's how to make a six-point paper snowflake:


Racing Pell Mell Into the New Year:  For those who look at next year as Twenty-Twenty-Too, you may be pessimistic as well as right.

Here are some predictions culled from all over:
  • Youth will abandon Facebook is droves in protest to their policies; attempts by Meta to draw them back in will be fruitless
  • Inflation will reach beyond 15%, triggering a wage-price spiral
  • The U.S. mid-term election will trigger a constitutional crisis
  • France will be invaded by the east in the spring (Nostradamus)
  • "No abbots, monks, no novices to learn; Honey shall cost far more than candlewax" and "So high the price of wheat, that man has stirred his fellow man to eat in his despair"  (Nostradamus was a sheer budle of delight in his predictions)
  • The Simpsons has come up with five predictions for us:  virtual reality food, colonizing Mars, Ivanka Trump as a presidential candidate, the take-over of the world by robots, and mind control induced by music.
  • Queen Elizabeth and Megan Markle will both have much better years; there's a new virus coming; there will be fears over chicken soup; sadness is ahead for both Madonna and Will Smith;  someone named Jackie will spring from obscurity to superstardom almost overnight; gooseberries will become the new superfood; Poland will want to leave the EU (Poexit?); there will be some kind of miracle in Jerusalem and Christians will claim it for their own; and an asterpid heading for Earth will be deflected  (psychic and past life regression and soul therapist Nicholas Aujula)
  • The first 3D printed car will go into production
  • India turns of the internet to fight fake news on WhatsApp
  • NFTs will be hyped to oblivion and some will ose their shirts
  • Succession will get the Emmy for Best Drama, while Ted Lasso is named Best Comedy; Olivia Rodrigo's "Sour" and Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's "Love For Sale" will battle it out for Album of the Year at the Grammys; Belfast will be named Best Picture; either Green Bay or Tampa will woin the SuperBowl; the Yankees will take the World Series; Brazil will win the World Cup; Bidens approval rating will continue below 50%; and the Re[pubicans will take back both houses (various CNN staffers)

Show Boat:  Based on the Edna Gerber novel, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat premiered on this day in 1927.  Considered the first true American musical, the show and its songs have endured to this day.  The song "Ol' Man River" was written specifically for Paul Robeson who was slated to take the role of Joe, a dock worker.  The opening of the show had been delayed because of the need to find a new theater for Rio Rita, which was currently running at the Ziegfield Theater; the delay conlficted with Robeson's schedule so the role of Joe was first played by baritone Jules Bledsoe, who was one of the first African-American artists to find regular employment on Broadway.  Paul Robeson soon returned to the role and has been closely linked to "Ol' Man River" ever since.

Here's Jules Bledsoe:

And here's Paul Robeson:

Both great performances.  Not so much Frank Sinatra's version:

(By the way, Florentz Ziegfield, who produced the original musical, hated the song "Ol' Man River.")

Obadiah Oldbuck:  Created by Swiss artist Rudolphe Topffer (1799-1846) in 1827, Obadiah Oldbuck first appeared as a comic strip.  His adventures were then collected as Histoire de M. Vieux Bois, considered by many to be the first comic book in 1837; other consider it a proto-comic book.  An English translation with the hefty title The Adventires of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck : wherein are duly set forth the crosses, chagrins, calamities, checks, chills, chnges, and circumgitations, by which his courtship was attended : showing also the issue of his suit and his espousal to his lady-love appeared in 1844 from publisher Wilson and Company of New York, as an 80-page hardcover.

"Alas, contemporary critics -- and to an extent Topffer himself, who considered it a work targeted at children and the 'lower class' -- couldn't see the innovation in all this." [a continuous story, pictures drawn with borders, and the 'interdependence of words and pictures'] "They wrote off Obadiah Oldbuck's harrowing yet strangely lighthearted pictorial stories of failed courtship, dueling, attempted suidice, robbery, drag, elopement, ghosts, stray bullets, attack dogs, double-crossing, and the threat of execution as mere trifles by an otherwise capable artist."  But what did critics of that age know?

See for yourself:

Something to Consider:  "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep hte populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."  -- H. L. Mencken

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Brandon James Diaz, 38, fired from his job as a registered nurse at Lakel;and Regional Health, believed that two instructors at Polk County Colllege were responsoible for his termination.  So Diaz did what any red-blooed Florida Man would do:  he hacked their computers.  Big mistake.  While investigating the hacking, the Polk County sheriff's office found 75 pictures of "very graphic" images of young children and infants being sexually assaulted.  Diaz, married and the father of four children, was booked on 75 charges of enhanced possession of child pornography, using a two-way device to commit a felony, and 10 charges of accessing a computer withut authorization.  I am glad to say that no evidence was found that Diaz had molested his own children.
  • Just a week before Christmas, the Pinella County sheriff's department arrested an unnamed Forida Man during a routine traffic stop at 4 a.m.  The man was arrested ln DUI charges and ;ossession of marijuana.  A search of his car revealed a gun under the front seat.  A search of the man revealed a quantity of cocaine and methamthetamines wrapped around, let's just say his male genitalia and let it go at that.  The man denied the drugs were his, but would not say to whom they belonged.  Maybe he was so earnest that the police believed him; you will not that he was not charged with possession of cocaine and methamphetamines.
  • Nothing says Christmas in Florida like shooting people on Christmas Day.  Florida Man Nicholas
    A. Tucker, of Lake Mary, was arrested for shooting a male victim in the neck and a female vistim in the chest.  The man was treated and released and the woman remains in critical condition.  Details are sketchy, but it appears to have arisen from a domestic dispute.  Tucker appears to have driven to the location to start a fight, police said.  Merry Christmas Mr. Tucker!  Santa brought you 2 counts of attempted homicide and 1 count of burglary and battery for the holidays!
  •  An unnamed (and unknown) Florida Man is on the run after a Christmas Eve drive-by shooting at a Taft residence in Orlando County.  The suspect wounded a male, age 35. a female, age 24, and a six-year-old child.  All were taken to a hospital in stable condition.  Sadly, NORAD's Santa Tracker does not track Florida assailants.
  • Florida Man and Music Critic Zachary Moncada, 31, of Boca Raton, thought his neighbor's Christmas Eve music was too loud, so he shot him in the back.  The victim is listed in stable condition, while Moncada is being held with bail and (presumably) without music.

Good News:
  • In an alternate universe, there was peace on earth and goodwill to men.
  • The Duchess of Cambridge showed off her musical skills while tickling the ivories for British singing starTom Walker
  • Experimental treatment in Spain puts 18 cancer patients in complete remission
  • Monarch butterfly population soars 4900 percent since last year
  • Wind turbines are using cameras and AI to recognize birds -- and shut down when they approach
  • Mystery Santa caught on CCTV sneaking around a British neighborhood and leaving gifts, candy for the kids
  • Rhode Island teens build a bus stop shelter for a five-year-old in a wheelchair, protecting him from harsh weather
  • The first coral IVF babies on Australia's Great Reef are producing the next generation
  • A fusion reaction has produced more energy than was absorbed by the fuel.  Has the holy grail of cold fusion been found?
  • And, in news that makes me happy, a NASA probe has touched the sun's atmosphere     AND The James Web telesope was launched on Christmas Day

Today's Poem:

Remember, the time of year
when the future appears
like a blank sheet of paper
a clean calendar, a new chance.
On thick white snow
You vow fresh footprints
then watch them go
with the wind's hearty gust.
Fill your glass.  Here's tae us.  Promises
made to be broken, made to last.

-- Jackie Kay

Here's wishing all of you a happy, healthy, prosperous, and ineventful New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2021


 Have a fantastic holiday!

From 1942:

From 1943:

Thursday, December 23, 2021


 The Arkam Sampler, Volume 1, Number 1:  Winter 1948, edited by August Derleth.

Arkham House, the legendary publisher of the fantastic, was created by August Derleth and Donald A. Wandrei to preserve the stories of H. P. Lovecraft after his death.  Their first publication was a Lovecraft collection, The Outsider and Others (1939).  Eventually, they would go on to publish all of Lovecraft's fiction plus five hefty volumes of his letters.  To keep the nascent firm afloat, their second title was a collection of Derleth's weird stories, followed by a collection of stories from Clark Ashton Smith, one of Lovecraft's many correspondents.  A second Lovecraft volume followed in 1943, then, in rapid fire, collections by Wandrei, Henry S. Whitehead, and a second collection by Smith before a third collection of Lovecraft's tales appeared -- all in 1944.  Arkham House gained a solid reputation as quality purveyor of the fantastic.  It's early books demand high prices n the collectable market, and it is safe to say that if there were no Arkham House, Lovecraft would never have become the household name and cultural phenomena that he now is.

But Arkham House was a small press with relatively small press runs.  The Outsider and Others had a press run of 1268 copies and, at a hefty list price for the time of $5.00 ($3.50 for pre-orders), the 553-page book took four slow years to sell out of its only printing.  Arkham House was a smll [ortion of Derleth's professional career; it, like his later poetry magazine Hawk and Whippoorwill, was a labor of love and Derleth was hard-pressed to keep the firm financially afloat, going so far as to mortgage his home to the limit.  After publishing 27 books -- including the first books by Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Fritz Leiber, Jr., and stand-out collections from J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Frenk Belknap Long, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Robert E. Howard, H. Russell Wakefield, and Carl Jacobi, as well as A. E. van Vogt's classic science fiction novel Slan -- Derleth deccided to publish a quarterly magazine that would appeal to readers of Arkham House books.

The Arkham Sampler was first planned for one year and would continue into a second year if there was enough demand.  The first issue contained a four-part serialization of Lovecraft's short novel "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," which Derleth had first pubished in the now out-of-print Beyond the Wall of Sleep, hoping this would be an added inducement to keep the magazine running for the first year.  The Arkham Sampler lasted for two years (eight issues), ending with the Autumn 1949 number.  In 1967, Derleth would publish another magazine, The Arkham Collector, running for ten issues from Summer 1967 to Summer 1971; this magazine, smaller and more geared to Arkham House publications than the earlier magazine, was designed to replace the publisher's bulletins announcing new titles from Arkham House; still, as with the Sampler, the Collector included fiction, poetry, and articles, along with news of Arkham House.  In 2010, Arkham House would issued the complete Arkham Sampler in one volume through The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box publishing house; they followed it with a one-volume collection of the complete Arkham Collector.  Both volumes carried a hefty price tag.

The Arkham Sampler was a digest-size magazine of 100 pages with no illustrations.  For one interested "Lamiain the literature of the weird, the first issue (as well as those which followed) is a fascinating to read 74 years on as it must bave been when it was first printed.  

The contents:

  • "Messrs. Turkes and Talbot" by H. Russell Wakefield (from Nash's -- Pall Mall Magazine, February 1932; reprinted in Wakefield's 1932 collection Ghost Stories; Arkham House published two collections by Wakefield)
  • "History and Chronology of the Necronomicon Together with Some Pertinent Paragraphs" by H. P. Lovecraft, with commentary by August Derleth (original to this volume)
  • "Lamia" by Clark Ashton Smith (apparently an original poem, later to be reprinted in Smith's poetry collections The Dark Chateau and Other Poems, 1951, and Collected Poems, 1971)
  • "The Nameless Wraith" by Clark Ashton Smith (apparently an original poem, later to be reprinted in Smith's poetry collections Spells and Philters, 1958, and Collected Poems, 1971)
  • "The City of Destruction" by Clark Ashton Smith (apparently an origional poem, later to be reprinted in Smith's Collected Poems, 1971)
  • "Introduction to Strange Ports of Call by August Derleth (a variant of the introduction to Derleth's anthology Strange Ports of Call, 1948)
  • "A Little Anthology" by Malcolm Ferguson (original to this volume; a collection of miscellany of interest to Arkham House readers; meant to be part of a book to be published by Arkham House with a planned title of Macabre:  A Little Anthology:  never published)
  • "Mara" by "Stephen Grendon" (August Derleth) (original story to this volume; later reprinted in the "Stephen Grendon" book Mr. George and Other Odd Persons, 1963)
  • "A Hornbook for Witches" by Leah Bodine Drake (poem original to this volume; later reprinted in her poetry collection A Hornbook for Witches, 1950)
  • "Checklist:  The Carvings of Clark Ashton Smith" (uncredited; a listing of known weird carvings by writer/poet/artist Smith; a hard-to-appreciate checklist with no description or photos of the works **sigh**)
  • "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Part 1" by H. P. Lovecraft (in four parts; Dunsanyan fantasy that first appeared in Beyond the Wall of Sleep, 1943; this features Randolph Carter, who appears in three -- or is it four? -- stories by Lovecraft)
  • "Two Novels and an Anthology" by August Delerth (reviews of Greener Than You Think  by Ward Moore, Zotz! by Walter Karig, and Men Into Beasts:  Strange Tales of Transformstion, edited by A. C. Spectorsky, all 1947; despite some nitpicking Derleth liked the Moore, detested the Karig, and praised the anthology)
  • "From the Fan Presses" by August Derleth (reviews of The Forbidden Garden by "John Taine" (Eric Temple Bell), Venus Equilateral by George O. Smith, Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, and Of Worlds Beyond:  The Science of Science-Fiction Writing, edited by Lloyd Arthur Eschbach; all 1947; Derleth liked the Taine and the Smith, thought the Serviss was a bit creaky but imteresting historically, and highly recommended Eshbach's symposium.)
  • "The Shasta Checklist" by August Derleth (a review of The Checklist of Fantastic Fiction, Everett Bleiler and Melvin Korshak, an importaan, albeit incomplete. reference book)
  • "Through a Glass, Darkly" by Robert Bloch (reviews of three Arkham House books:  Dark Carnival by Ray Bradbury, Revelations in Black by Carl Jacobi, and Night's Black Agents by Fritz Leiber, Jr.; all 1947; Good stuff all, according to Bloch, and I doubt any would disagree)
  • "A Thorne Off the Old Smith" by Robert Bloch (review of The Grass Is Always Greener by George Malcolm-Smith. 1947: Blocj considered this the best of the "Thorne Smith" fantasy clones)
  • "Three Anthologies" by John Haley (reviews of The Night Side:  Masterpieces of the Strange and Terrible and The Sleeping and the Dead:  30 Uncanny  Tales, both edited by August Derleth, as well as the "Alfred Hitcock" edited The Fireside Book of Suspense; all 1947; all three important collections although, as noted, the Hitchcock includes a number of non-genre stories)
  • "Short Notices" (uncredited brief reviews of The Scarf by Robert Bloch, The American Imagination at Work:  Tall Tales and Folk Tales by Ben C. Clough; Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night by Robert Tallant, The Enchanted Book by Alice Dalgliesh, Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells, Windwagon Smith and Other Yarns by Wilbur Schramm, Two Came to Town by Simeon Strunsky, and The Flames by Olaf Stapledon; all 1947 editions; an interesting choice of books with something to please everyone.  1947 was a golden year for lovers of the fantastic)
  • "Editorial Commentary" (uncredited discusions of books available and in low stock at Arkham House, details about The Arkham Sampler, and general news and information)

Fun and interesting and -- dare I say? -- addictive.

All eight issues of The Arkham Sampler are available to read on the internet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


 "The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated" by Robert Arthur (anonymously published in Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries, 1963)

For Short Story Wednesday I normally post about stories that are free to read on the internet.  In this case it appears to be only availble on the Internet Archive's Open Library to borrow. in the above collection.

Late in his career, writer/editor Robert Arthur (1909-1969) was closely related to the Alfred Hitchcock name.  He ghost-edited ten adult and YA anthologies under the Hitchcock name and created popular The Three Detectives YA mystery series, writing ten books in the series before his death -- all published by Random House.  He edited three another YA anthologies for Random House which, not coincidently, had the same look and feel as the "Hitchcock" YA books; likewise his two collections of short stories.

Then  there was Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries.  Published anonymously but purportedly written by Hitchcock, Arthur (credited in small type for "editorial assistance") wrote all five stories and, presumably the Ellery Queen-ish Challenge to the Reader signe by A.H.  The Library of Congress lists Hitchcock as the author, but what do they know?

In "The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated," Jeff Landrum is a high school student who liked mystery stories, so much so that he spend a month writing one himself.  Jeff discovers that his high school English teacher, Howard Matthews, wrote mystery stories under the name "Daniel Doom," he gave his story to Mr. Matthews to read.  Although Jeff's story was not up to professional standards, Matthews was impressed and invited Jeff to attend an upcoming meeting of the Mystery Writers of America with him.  Jeff met Erle Stanley Gardner ("stocky, energetic"), Ellery Queen ("Two men who worked as a team.  Jeff couldn't remember their real names, so he settled for thinking of one as Mr. Ellery and the other as Mr. Queen"), the Great Merlini (an actual magician, who pulled out a hankerchief which changed into an egg which, when opened revealed "endless yards of colored ribbon"), and Harley Newcomb -- a reclusive author of fifty locked room mysteries.  It turns out that Newcomb lives in a small cottage at a pig farm not far from where Jeff lived.

Newcomb told Jeff and Mr. Matthews that he has just figured out the solution to his current locked rook plot -- a man experimenting with a magic spell is heard to cry, "Help!  Help!  I'm starting to shrink!" from a locked room.  When the police finally break down the door, the man is nowhere to be found.  All the doors and window were tightly barred with lumber from the inside, and the floor and ceiling are solid with no way to get out.  The roof of the cottage has not been disturbed.

An impossible locked room, but Newcomb has just devised a solution.  He soon leaves the MWA meeting to head home and work on the book.

A week later Jeff is helping the annual Lakeview Athletic Association gather donation for their annual rummage sale.  The annual rummage sale  supports a baseball field and a summer camp, and has grown so large it has to held in a barn; thus, it is called a barn sale.  Whose barn, you ask?  It's the barn of Pete Higgins, who had the only empty barn anywhere near Lakeview.  Mr. Matthews volunteered to help Jeff transport some of the donations to Higgins's barn.  While there, they decided to stop by Harley Newcomb's cottage to say hello.

When they got there, the found the mystery writer's mailbox overflowing with mail and, on his front step, bottles of delivered milk that had been there for days.  There was no answer at the door.  When Jeff went around the cottage to peer in a window, he found it blocked with heavy boards from the inside.  The front door was locked.

Breaking their way into the cottage through a forced window, they found no one there and all the exits frm the cottage sealed from the inside.  Harley Newcomb's locked room mystery had become a real-life mystery.

The clues are all there for you to figure out the solution.  Neither Jeff nor Howard Matthews were able to figure it out, but the method of "evaporting" a man is finally revealed and all ends well.

But there is another mystery that bothers me.  The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated is a book referenced in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers and was supposedly published by Random House in 1963.  The book does not appear to exist.  Two other books referenced in St. James that appear to be nonexistent were The Case of the Murderous Mice (Tower, 1933) and The Glass Bridge (Scribner, 1958).  Now, "The Glass Bridge" was a short story that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for July 1957.  The Case of the Murderous Mice first appeared as a short story in The Mysterious Traveler Magazine, Jiune 1952.  (It could also be a rewritten and alternate title for "The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice," a supposedly original tale from Solve-It-Yourself Mysteries -- the "blind mice" in the story attempt murder.  I'll have to check out the 1952 magazine.)

Do these three so-called books actually exist?  If not, why are they listed here?  Inquiring Jerry wants to know.

Monday, December 20, 2021


Caviat:  This truncated edition of Bits & Pieces is brought to you by my back, which I threw out this week, placing both my concentration and my ability to sit at a computer under considerable restraint. 

Openers:  The big seaplane, like a wounded bird, was shooting earthward to its destruction.  The three persons taking that whizzing plunge to death -- the pilot, who sat in his cockpit ahead, frozen to his controls, and the man and girl strapped side by side in the seat behind -- were white-faced, tense, yet it may have been the terrific downward rush through the air that drew the blood from their cheeks, rather than that they were blanched with fear.  They gripped the edge of the fuselage, while eternity seemed to fling itself at them.

Scarcely a minute before the heavy machine, cumbersome with its weighty pontoons, had lifted above the fog-bank which lay like a thick-piled rug above the northern wilderness of mountaain peaks, gigantic chasms, vast stands of spruce, and booming rivers of white water.  Then, with its motor roaring wide open, it had pointed its up-rounded nose at the gunsight notch of a mountain-pass sharply outlined against the horizon.

Through that break in the serrated skyline, a "williwaw," fierce northern gale, was pouring its whirling air currents like water escaping from the lifted gates of a great adam; a torrent of cyclonic force.  It smote the seaplane suddenly, literally stopping the machine in mid-air, so that the craft hung motionless, poised there like a huge bird, a mile high.  So steady was the wind pressure and so heavy the machine that it held its position, doggedly fighting against the invisible stream, while its smoking engine thundered in defiant anger at the unseen obstacle.  For ten seconds the struggle lasted.  Then the "williwaw" demon, riding on the wings of his howling, shrieking courses, played a trump card.  He sent along a vast air-pocket!

-- "The Menace of Mastodon Valley" by Kenneth Gilbert (from Action Stories, September 1926)

From, November 12, 2020:  " of the strangest northernsI have ever read.  Gilbert is best remembered as a writer of adventure and dog stories for children.  Before this he wrote dozens of pieces for the Pulps, primarily for Street and Smith's Western Stories.  Many of his works were westerns and northerns.  With 'The Menace of Masterson Valley' [...] he slipped a little closer toward the Science Fiction magazines, at least the Edgar Rice Burroughs variety..."

It takes another seven purple prose-laden paragraphs for pilot Tom Franklin to land the plane safely to the shore of what Tom thought was a lake, albeit with a lot of damage to the machine.  Tom's two passengers are an engaged couple, Edith Gresham and Lanning Bearslee, who are searching for Edith's missing uncle, an archaeologist who vanished while searching for a supposed "lost valley" in British Columbia.  Safely on the ground, they are attacked by a native with a gun.  Tom subdues the man.  Beardslee does nothing to help.  Tom wonders why a spunky girl like Edith would want to marry such a drip like Beardslee, who happens to be a decade older than Edith.  (Hark!  Do I suspect a potential romance is lurking?)  With their captive tied up in the plane, Tom pushes it into the lake as an Indian shoots at them from the shore.  But -- SPOILER ALERT! -- the lake is not a lake.  It's a river.  A fast  moving river that takes the plane and its (now four) passengers go speeding down the river and into a mountain.

The plane gets stuck on a edge, allowing the four to get out and explore.  Edith knows a little bit of the Indian's native tongue and questions him.  His name is Anak and he warns that they have entered a sacred place -- a volcanic valley.  And what a valley!  They see a sabre-tooth tiger attack a deer; Anak is attacked by a mastodon; an ape-like figure is spotted in the distance.

Tom and Edith find her uncle and he introduces him to the ruler of the lost valley, the ape-like Indian Akut.  Akut, who has befriended the deadly mastodon,  had been banished from Anak's tribe and now is waging was on them.  Edith's uncle tells he that she should not marry Beardslee but refuses to tell her why.   

Tom kills a sabre-tooth tiger, Edith hurts her ankle and has to be carried by Tom (there's nothing like a well-turned swollen ankle to excite Tom's passion),  Anak and Akut battle it out, and everyone decides to walk out of the valley.  Along the way, they discover a mastodon "graveyard" that Edith's uncle has been searching for.  Tom rescues Beardslee from the killer mastodon.  Once out of the valley they are captured by Indians, who release them once Tom proves he has slain the big bad mastodon.  They make it safely home.  Beardslee admits that he is a crook and was trying to get rich by finding mastodon ivory; he heads off to somewhere, never to be heard from again.  Tom and Edith get together and snuggle, happy that all is well in the world.

There's a lot to unpack there but "The Menace of Mastodon Valley" is an interesting read.  It's not literature but it sure is a wild ride of pulp.

The idea that some part of this world houses prehistoric animals was a common motif in fiction up to the middle of the twentieth century.  After that point it became fairly evident that there were no hidden corners of the world where such beasts might lurk.  From Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth to Conan Doyle's The Lost World to the many lost kingdoms of Tarzan's Africa (including Pal-Ul-Don, first seen in Tarzan the Terrible) and far, far beyond, this theme may appear to be overworked to those who do not have a thirteen-year-old emotional mentality, but as one who does have a thirteen-year-old emotinal mentality, I say, "Fie on you!"

Action Stories, by the way, did not publish many stories of this type.  Running from 1921 to 1950, with a total of 224 issues, it usually published "real-World" adventure tales -- westerns, sports, sea stories, war stories, and tales of exotic adventure.  It was one of the more reliable magazines for good pulp fiction.


  • Reed Farrel Coleman, Walking the Perfect Square.  Mystery novel, the first in the Moe
    Prager series.  "Recently retired due to a freal accident, NYPD officer Moe Prager is lost.  In pain and without the job he loves, Moe reluctantly settles on the notion of going into the wine business with his brother.  When a suburban college student vanishes off the streets of Manhattan, Prager's universe is turned upside down and his life changed forever.  Hired by the student's desperate family, Moe plunges deep into the world of New York's punk inderground, sex clubs, and biker bars.  Politicians, journalists, and crooked cops seem hell-bent on stopping him in his tracks.  Set on the gritty city streets of the late seventies and the present day, Walking the Perfect Square is a unique mystery that delivers a compelling look at a person's efforts to find a man who was never really there and to protect his family from an unnbearable truth."  Coleman is a master of his art and the third book ib this series, The James Deans won the Anthony, Barry, and Shamus Awards and was nominated for the Edgar, Gunshoe, and Macavity Awards.  The Busted Flush edition I have has an introduction by Megan Abbott.
  • George Harmon Coxe, Death at the Isthmus.  Mystery novel.  "Jim Russell had always known that some day he would have to pay off the debt he owed Max Darrow.  That this obligation, incurred on the island of Luzon in 1945, should take him to Panama City  nine years later didn't seem particularly strange.  Yet once there, Darrow seemed relunctant to talk, and by the time he changed his mind, things had broken wide open.  First there was the slim girl with the high-cheekboned face and the sun-tanned legs.  Then the man with the tinted glasses and his friend with the gun.  Finally there was the indestructable Max Darrow, indestructable no longer, sprawled on the floor of his apartment in front of the rifled safe.  Jim's promise to Darrow was hard to explain to the police, but he was most concerned about the girl.  Emeralds, gun-running and jealousy mixed together make a dangerous brew, and too many people seemed to have sampled it."  Coxe was the creator of "Flashgun" Casey.  He wrote 63 novels over a career lasting 38 years.  In 1964 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.  His quick, facile style made him  popular among mystery readers but he's on the verge of being a forgotten writer today.
  • "Michael Delving" (Jay Williams), Die Like a Man.  A Dave Cannon mystery.  "Dave Cannon, rare book dealer and amateur sleuth, skeptically agreed to buy an ancient wooden cup claimed to be the Holy Grail.  Cannon had no idea that he would be betrayed, attacked, victimized before he could get the Grail out of Wales.  It took a bizarre medieval ceremony to unravel the modern, explosive issue underlying the mystery of the Holy Grail."  Williams wrote five books about Cannon, but is better remembered for the fifteen-book young adult Danny Dunn series written with Raymond Abrashkin (the final ten books were written after Abrashkin's death but Williams insisted he continue to listed as a co-author).
  • Paul Dini, with art by Bruce Timm, Batman:  Mad Love.  Graphic novel, but with a difference.  This is the popular graphic novel, but in black and white, allowing the reader to color the story himself.   "a comic's coloring is a lot like the soundtrack of a movie:  it's something that's subtle yet always present.  It's best when it doesn't draw attention to itself, yet on occasion it can be quite powerful and memorable.  Now you can be your own composer and colorist!  Add your own mood, dimension and depth to this Eisner Award-winning story."  A "Coloring DC" edition of Harley Quinn's origin.  I'm not really going to color the danged thing, but for half a buck I couldn't resist buying it.
  • Peter Haining, editor, True Hauntings.  Assemblage of various articles and newspaper clippings covering over a hundred accounts of ghostly sightings, mostly from the twentieth century.  Contents include a Chronology of Hauntings, Fampus Ghost Hunters, Sexual Encounters with Ghosts, Show Business and the Supernatural, Theories about Ghosts, and an A-Z Glossary of Ghosts.  It's all bushwah, of course, but it can make for interesting reading.
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen (translated by Lisa Hartford), The Keeper of Lost Causes.  The first (of eight, thus far) mystery featuring Carl Morck.  "Carl Morck used to be one of Copenhagen's best homicide detectives.  Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl -- who didn't draw his weapon -- blames himself.  So a promotion is the last thing he expects.  But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl's got a stack of Copenhagen's coldest cases for company.  His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him:  a liberal politican vanished five year earlier and is presumed dead.  But she isn't dead...yet."  This one won the 2012 Bary Award for best novel.
  • John Shirley, Everything Is Broken.  Thriller.  "Twenty-year-old Russ arrives in the northern California town of Freedom to visit his dad.  Freedom has peculiarities other than its odd name:  the local mayor's ideas of 'decentralization' have left it without normal connections to state or federal government and minimal public services.  Russ meets an interesting young woman, Pendra, but before he can get to know much about Freedom or its people, a savage tsunami strikes the West Coast.  The wave of human brutality that soon hits the isolated town proves more dangerous to the survivors than the natural disaster.  Russ, his father, Pendra, and the other townsfolk must tap all their courage and ingenuity -- and find strength they never knew they had -- if they have any hope of living to find real freedom."  Shirley is an award-winning writer of science fiction, horror, and suspense.
  • Andy Weir, The Martian.  Best-selling science fiction novel about survival and potatoes.  "When a dust storm forces his crew to abandon the planet while thinking him dead, Astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars's surface, completely alone.  Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills -- and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength -- Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive.  But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible adds against him?"  Matt Damon played him in the 2015 film.  The book has been translated into 46 languages and translations in Japanese. Hebrew, and Spanish have won major science fiction awards.  A species of Australian bush tomato, Solanum Watneyi, was named after the book's protagonist -- it is a member of the same genus as the potato.

A Christmas Song:  For all you Humbugs out there.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


 The Firefly....grim avenger of the night, and  nemesis of all crimeland.  Long ago, Harley Hudson, brilliant scientist, discovered the secret of the strength of insects.  But the scientific proof of his life-work was destroyed by gangsters.  It was then that he made the resolve to use his new-gained knowledge in the extermination of the vermin of  society and became......THE FIREFLY!

The Firefly was a monthly feature in Top-Notch Comics, beginning with issue #8 (September 1940) and running for twenty issues until #27 (May 1942); after that the publisher changed the format of Top-Notch Comics from a superhero book to a humor book.  The Firefly was the creation of writer Harry Shorten (creator of the syndicated feature There Oughta Be a Law!) and artist Bob Wood.  Wood was the co-creator of Crime Doesn't Pay, the first comic book without continuing characters; Shorten went on to become a book publisher for Leisure Books, BelmontTower Books, Midwood Books, and Midwood-Tower Publications.

Since he was a child, Harley Hudson had the dream of becoming a crime-fighter. devoting himself to becoming  physically a ble to do the job. now -- a few years after his graduation from college, where he majored in biology and chemistry -- Harley made an amazing discovery.  The mighty strength of insects was not due to the square-cube law but totheir ability to coordinate their muscles.  Harley trains himself to coordinate his muscles as the insects do and soon dons the costume of The Firefly, The Enemy of Crime!  Iy should be noted that he has no superpowers -- only his own natural abilities enhanced by trining.  Harley's main squeeze was reporter Joan Burton.  (Being a gal reporter was almost de rigueur for the female intersest in superhero comics.)

The Firefly's costume appears to be a tight-fitting, black, one-piece costume which covered him for toe to neck and a black mask.  The hands and feet of his body suit were orange, each ending in jagged streaks.  At the center of his chest was a blazing orange sun.  He wore a wide blue belt and orange shorts.  And for a special treat, the orange parts of his home-made (?) costume lit up in the dark!  Since he did have any of the powers of insects, he naturally assumed the firefly as his avatar because he would be "lighting up the darkness that shrouds the underworld."  In  his first appearance he is pictured battling (clockwise from the top) Murder, Swindle, Robbery, Blackmail, Arson, and Kidnap -- quite an ambitious agenda, if you ask me.  What he really does in this first case is to come up against a mad (unnamed) professor who has developed mechanical brains to insert into people he has kidnapped, turning them into large, green, disfigured slaves.  He drugs Harley and plans to use him a kidnapped blonde reporter who shows a lot of leg in her short dress into slaves who will create a new race.  (Spoiler alert:  the blonde chick is Joan Burton.)  Harley must overcome the powerful drug, two mean green creaatures, a large ape named Mongo, and the mad professor himself before he and Joan can escape this mad lair.

And the adventures just kept coming...

Just click on the link to follow Harley through all twenty of his adventures.

Friday, December 17, 2021


 Aylmer Vance : Ghost Seer by Alice & Claude Askew  (individual stories first published in 1914; collection first published in 1998)

The occult detective has has a long and distinguished career in literature, going back to the mid-ninetennth century, at least.  Previous to that time others have battled supernatural forces, but none truly specialized in the supernatural.  Fitz-James O'Brien's Harry Escott, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Martin Hesselius, Bram Stoker's Abraham Van Helsing, E. and H. Heron's Flaxman Lowe, Algernon Blakwood's John Silence, William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, Champion de Crespigny's Norton Vyse, Sax Rohmer's Morris Klaw, Dion Fortune's Dr. Taverner, Aleister Crowley's Simon Iff, Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone, Jack Mann's Gees, Margery Lawrence's Miles Pennoyer, and Joseph Payne Brennan's Lucius Leffing...all have paved the way for the current batch of occult detectives such as Dirk Gentley (Dougla Adams), Repairman Jack (F. Paul Wilson), Titus Crow (Brian Lumley), Felix Castor (Mike Carey), Joe Golem (Mike Mignola), Diana Tregarde Mercedes Lackey), Anita Blake (Laurel Hamilton), and Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher), among many others.  I won't even get into the many occult detecives from films, television, and  comics.  Today's occult detectives are many and varied, utilizing different approaches to the genre.

Let's also throw in alternate world detectives such as Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy into the mix.

In 1914, Alice (1874-1917) and Claude (1865-1917) Askew created occult detective Aylmer Vance, an nvestigator for the Ghost Circle, in a story for The Weekly Tale-Teller's July 4,1914 issue.  Vance's saga (such as it was) continued for the next seven issues, ending on August 22.  Then they moved on to something else.  The Askews began collaborating shortly after their marriage in 1900, churning out numerous short stories and (it is said) over ninety novels, many published as seriel stories in popular weeklies.  Supposedly many of their plots were dreamed up, literally.  Upon waking, the plots were written down quickly, before the dream was forgotten.  If Alice had a plot, she would write the first half of a story and her husband would compete it; if Claude had a plot the reverse would happen.  World War I had the couple volunteering for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, where they were at the Belgian front delivering food and warm clothes to the soldiers.  After a brief respite in England, the pair volunteered for the British field hospital attached to the Serbian army.  They were there for several months before the Serbians in their "Great Retreat" during the winter of 1915-16.  Claude was given anhonorary commission as a major in the Serbian army.  Following the Great Reteat, the Askews returned to England briefly before Claude returned to Serbia to work at their Press Bureau, while Alice remained in London, pregnant with their third child.  The child was born in July 1916 and Alice joined her husband later in October of that year.  On October 6,1917, Alice and Claude Askew were aboard an Italian steamship headed from Rome to Corfu when it was sunk by a German submarine just short of its destination.  Both Askews drowned.  Claude's body was never recovered, while Alice's was washed up a little more than three weeks later.

Aylmer Vance was a tall, lean, solitary man who was undoubtly of independent means as he was later described as one who approached his.profession as a dilletante rather than one interested in money, thus taking cases that only appealed to him.  The first of the eight stories began with the narrator, a London Barrister named Dexter, renewing an earlier acquaintance with Vance when both were staying at the Magpie Inn -- Dexter for some pike fishing and Vance for unknowns reasons.  A friendship developed with Dexter unabashedly interested in Vance's cases.  Vance, as noted above, was an investigator for the Ghost Circle -- an organization referred to but never fully explained; as such, Vance was often away at various points of the globe.  Vance agrees to tell Dexter about some of his cases, which are related inthe first four stories of the book.  Dexter, it turns out, has some undiscovered psychic abilities of his own.  He agrees to join Vance in his investigations and, for the remaining four tales, he assists Vance.  (Dexter is also independetly wealthy so he can afford to do so.)

As occult detectives go, Vance is not the top card in the deck.  His cases often could be considered failures, ending in tragic circumstances.  He is often late to the party in investigating strange occurances and his results are not the most praiseworthy.  This does not bother him because no one really knows the ultimate purposes of these pyschic events and what may seem tragic on this plain could be something completely different when viewed from another.  Vance basically views his cases as experiences that may bring him closer to a cosmic truth.  And to top it all off, he is a bit ponderous and dull.  It is no wonder that his cases took 84 years to appear in book form.  This is not to say these stories are unworthy.  They were written at the close of an age that embraced spiritualism and are a product of their time.  The psychic phenomena Vance encounters are various and sometimes ingenious.  These tales may seem plodding at times but they are not pointless.  Some are actually exciting reading.  And at 120 pages, the book goes quickly.

The stories:

  • "The Invader"  Vance relates the case that first got him interested in psychic phenomena.  A good friend finds two gold bracelets while exploring a barrow on his property.  Rather than Roman relics, as he thought, these were once the property of a cruel pagan British queen.  Interested in the paranormal, Vance's friend places his wife under hypnosis in an attempt to channel her spirit.  It works all too well and the queen assumes the wife's body, not giving up its possession.  It ends tragically.  Most of these stories feature a beautiful woman with a tragic flaw.  In this case, the woman is rather dull and subservient -- and it is her beauty that allows her husband (and, we learn later, Vance himself) to fall in love with her.  These beauties are invriably either married or engaged to splendid examples of British manhood.  
  • "The Stranger"  Vance is the guardian of Daphne Darrell, the child of Vsnce's friends who had died when Daphne was only a few months old.  Daphne was raised by her aunt.  Daphne's ftal flaw appears to be stubbornness.  Since a young child she insisted on sleeping outdoors in a hammock and her doting aunt would acquiesce.  Daphne also loved to go knto the nearby woods alone, where, she claimed, she often met a strange man.  A part of Daphne fell in love with this stranger.  Now at age 19, Daphne is engaged to a suitable young man, one whom she likes fondly but does not love.  Her love is reserved for the stranger in the forest, whose name she never knew, whose hand she never touched, but, she admitted privately to Vance, one whom she has continued to see since childhood.  On the eve of her wedding, Daphne runs off to the wood and meets her tragic fate.  The stranger she loved may well have been an old god.
  • "Lady Green-Sleeves"  Vance falls in love with a toung woman sighted at a ball.  The only problem is that she is dead and has been for over a hundred years.
  • "The Fire Unquenchable"  Ewan Trail was a monomaniacal poet, but was unable to sell any of his poetry.  Meeting rejection from publishers, he went somewhat mad, running around the property destroying his manuscripts one by one and then killing himself.  He may be gone, but the fire of his inspiration lived on -- small fires have been popping up unexplainedly.  In an attempot to stop the fires, Vance places Trail's young widow under a trance and gets the poems from the poet's ghost.  And the poems were really good.  Vance arranges to publish the manuscript and Trail is recognized as a modern genius.  The fires stop.
  • "The Vampire"  The most anthologized story in the book.  Paul Davenport, renowned amateur polo player, has been married for about a year.  Now he has awakened with two bloody marks on his neck.  Yep, his beautiful bride has turned into a vampire.  In one of his few successes, Vance comes to the rescue, but Davenport must tear down his home, Blackwood Castle, brick by brick and have every brick ground to pwder and burned.
  • "The Boy of Blackstock"  The boy is actually a young man, a former servant, who acts as a poltergeist.  When he becomes visible, it is only to one person, and that person will die within a few days.  Lord Rystone is a mean and overbearing person.  When his wife has had enough and plans to run off with another man, Rystone goes after them with a gun, but on seeing the Boy of Blackstock collapses from apolexy and dies a few days later.  His widow soon happliy remarries.
  • The Indissoluable Bond"  Pretty Beryl Verriker loves music.  Her parents grow concerned when she locks her bedroom door and escapes out the window.  They have no idea where she is going and she has been acting somewhat strangely lately.  Her fiance is abroad and will soon return to marry Beryl.  Vance places Dexter in a trance so that his astral body can follow the young girl to reveal the truth.  She goes to a local church where a rather disgusting man is playing the organ.  When he plays he is able to control the girl's spirit but not her body.  After death, he says, they can be together forever.  She is repulsed by him but cannot escape his music.  Vance determines that the only thing that might save herwill be her marriage, replacing one affinity with a newer and stronger one.  On the day of her marriage she is again compelled to visit the organist who has just died before his organ.  Can his dead body continue to take control of her soul.
  • "The Fear"  This is a tale of a generations-long rivalry dating back to the day.\ of the Stuarts.  Robert Ballinston has just taken residence at Camplin Castle with his family -- a wife and four children.  From the very first day Ballinston's family and household staff have been attacked by extreme feelings of fear, feelings that can come on with no notice anywhere in the castle.  It has gotten so bad that he was forced to leave Camplin Castle in less than a month from occuying it.  Vance investigates and discovers the residue of a forgotten tragedy.  Once again the nly solution is to raze the building.
Interesting and sometimes plodding, this volume is recommended for fans of occult detectives,  but only after exhausting the tales of other detectives like Carnacki, John Silence, and Jules de Grandin.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021


 The Striding Place by Gertrude Atherton  (originlly published in The Speaker, June 20, 1896, as "The Speaker;" reprinted in the author's collection The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories, 1905)

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton (1857-1948) was an independent, outspoken, sometimes eccentric, oft-times controversial writer of some fifty books over a career that lasted from 1882 to 1946.  She refused to meet Oscar Wilde because she thought he was unattractive, openly questioned Edith Wharton's authorship of The House of Mirth, and famously rejected Andrew Bierce when he tried to kiss her, then embarrassed him publicly by spreading the story.  George Atherton, a man who was courting Gertrude's mother, ended up preferring Gertrude.  After he had proposed to her six times, they eloped in 1876 and moved to San Francisco to live with his domineering mother.  Gertrude was bored to tears and felt stifled.  She began to write to assert some independence.  Her young son died of diptheria and her husband of eleven years died at sea, leaving Gertrude to support herself and her daughter.  Her mother-in-law agreed to raise the daughter and Gertrude was left to pursue an independent life.

Her writing covered novels, short stories, essays, and articles about feminism, politics, and war.  She was a strong feminist and, sadly,  white supremacist.  Her writing about sexual matters were a matter of some talk in her day.  She is perhaps best known today for her then-controversial 1923 quasi-science fictional novel Black Oxen, about a woman who is rejuvenated by X-rays directed to her gonads; the book is supposedly semi-autobiographical.  She felt that the constant (and destructive) battle between the sexes could only be resolved through true sexual equality.

On the trip to England, "after reading up on the local history, she learned of the River Wharfe and a spot known as the Strid.  Its rapids are deceptively narrow and shallow, but the powerful undercurrent is dangerous and hids a vast network of underwater caves and tunnels."  The result of all of this was one of her most powerful stories.  "The Striding Place" is one of her most reprinted stories -- and for good reason.  You can read it at the link,


Monday, December 6, 2021


 Openers:  I have been rather amused by the protests which have come to me regarding the "disparaging" comments I have made, in previous tales of the Space Patrol Service, regarding women.  The rather surprising thing about it is that the larger proportion of these have come from men.  Young men, of course.

Now, as a matter of fact, a careful search has failed to reveal to me any very uncomplimentary remarks.  I have suggested, I believe, that women have, in my experience, shown a sad lack of ability to understand mechanical contrivences.  Perhaps I have pictured some few of them as frivolous and shallow.  If I have been unfair, I wish now to make humble apology.

I am not, as some of my correspondents have indicated, a bitter old man, who cannot remember his youth.  I remember it very well indeed, else these tales would not be forthcoming.  And women have their great and proper place, even in a man's universe.

Some day, perhaps, the mood will seize me to write of my own love affair.  That surprises you?  You smile to think that old John Hanson, lately Commander of the Space Patrol Service, now retired, should have had a love affair?  Well, 'twas many years ago, before these eyes lost their fire, and before these brown, skinny hands wearied as quickly as they weary  now...

-- "Priestess of the Flame" by Sewell Peaslee Wright (Astounding Stories, June 1932)

All I can say is John Hanson better not run across any of the 21st century women I know with that condescending, sexist attitude.

Hanson was the hero of ten short stories that ran in Astounding 1930 to 1933.  The author (1897-1970) published another ten stories in the science fiction and fantasy fields and was one of the most popular writers in the genre.  I don't know much about the author, but all ten John Hanson stories are available on the internet for you purusal:

  • "The Forgotten Planet" (Astounding Stories, July 1930)
  • "The Terrible Tentacles of L-472" (Astounding Stories, September 1930)
  • "The Dark Side of Antri" (Astounding Stories, January 1931)
  • "The Ghost World" (Astounding Stories, April 1931)
  • "The Man from 2071" (Astounding Stories, June 1931)
  • "The God in the Box" (Astounding Stories, September 1931)
  • "The Terror from the Depths" (Astounding Stories, November 1931)
  • "Vampires of Space" (Astounding Stories, March 1932)
  • "Priestess of the Flame" (Astounding Stories, June 1932)
  • "The Death-Traps of FX-31" (Astounding Stories, March 1933)

Incoming:  A box of books from George Kelley, one of nature's noblest:

  • Poul Anderson, Ensign Flandry.  Classic science fiction novel.  (Just about everythinng Anderson wrote should be labeled "Classic.")  "Dominic Flandry had a great future ahead of him as savior of the civilized universe.  In later years his talent for swift action would be unmatched, his reputation fabulous.  But here he is at the age of nineteen:  fresh out of the Naval Academy, naive...and in terrible trouble.  The Mersian Empire had sworn to chew Earth to bits and spit out the pieces.  The attack had already been launched...but no one knew how or where the ravening power of the savage green-skinned aliens would strike.  Only Ensign Flandry had the the form of a code that he might or might not be able to decipher.  The Mersians were after Flandry with every weapon in their fantastic arsenal.  And just to make it worse, Earth's armada's were after him, too, for desertion, high treason, and more.  Where could he begin?"  Part of Anderson's vast Technic Civilization series.
  • Tony Hillerman, editor; Otto Penzler, series editor, The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century.  Doorstop mystery anthology with 46 stories from 1903 to 1999.  Penzler whittled a primarylist of several thousand stories to the few hundred from which Hillerman selected the final contents.  Many of the usual suspects are here, as well as a number of authors not usually recognized as mystery writers.  The scope and breadth of the anthology is impressive.  Authors are O. Henry, Willa Cather, Jacques Futrelle, Frederick Irving anderson, Melville Davisson Post, Susan Galspell, Dashiell Hammett, Ring Lardner, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Ben Ray Redman, James M. Cain, John Steinbeck, Damon Runyon, Pearl S. Buck, Raymon Chandler, James Thurber, Cornell Woolrich, William Faulkner, Harry Kemelman, Ellery Queen, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Stnley Ellin, Evan Hunter, Margaret Millar, Henry Slesar, Patricia Highsmithh, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O'Connor, Jerome Weidman, Joe Gores, Harlan Ellison, Robert L. Fish, Joyce Carol Oats, Stephen King, Jack Ritchie, Lawrence Block, Stephen Greenleaf, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Donald E. Westlake, James Crumley, Bredan DuBois, Michael Malone, Tom Franlin, and Dennis Lehane.  A line-up so impressive that you don't really mind if a couple of your favorite authors had been omitted.
  • Vladimis Nabokov, Pale Fire.  Literary "novel," with a 40-page Poem in Four Cantos, "Psle Fire," followed by a 244-page "Commentary" on the poem, as well as a brief "Index."  "This centaur work, half-poem, a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth.  Pretending to be a curio, it cannot disguise the fact that it one of the gret works of art of this century." -- Mary McCarthy
  • George Pelecanos, The Double.  Thriller novel.  "The job seems simple enough:  retrieve the valuable painting -- The Double -- that Grace Kincaid's ex-boyfriend stole from her.  It's the sort of thing Spero Lucas specializes in:  finding what's missing and doing it quietly.  But Grace wants more.  She wants Lucas to find the man who humiliated her -- a violent career criminal with a small gang of brutal thugs at his beck and call.  Lucas is a man who knows how to get what he wants, whether it's a thief on the run or a married woman.  Now he's in the  midst of a steamy passionate affair that he knows can't last, and in pursuit of a dangerous man who's got nothing to lose.  Every man has a dark side -- but confronting his own may be Spero Lukas's undoing."  This is the second (and thus far, last) book in the Spero Lucas saga.  It was a finalist for the 2013 Hammett Prize.
  • Robert Sheckley edited by Sharon L. Sbarsky), The Mask of Manana.  A retrospective collection of 41 stories, published to celebrate Sheckley's Guest of Honourship at Interaction, the 2005 World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, Scotland.  The contents cover Sheckley's amazing career from his early story "The Leech" (Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1952; Sheckley published ten stories that first year when he became a professional author -- at least five of them in the December issues of various magazines) to 1992's "Dukakis and the Aliens" (from Mike Renick's anthology Alien Presidents).  Special points to this collection for reprinting all eight wonderful stories about the AAA Ace Decontamination Agency.  Although Sheckley wrote a number of well-respected novels, it is safe to say that his main reputation rests on his short fiction, which should be required reading for all fans of science fiction and of great writing.
  • Harry Turtledove, Advance and Retreat.  Military alternate history novel of sorts, with a good dollop of fantasy, the third volume of The War Between the Provinces trilogy.  "When Avram became King of Detina. he declared he intended to liberate the blond serfs from their ties to the land.  This noble assertion immediately plunged the kingdom into a civil war that would prove long and bloody, and set brother against brother.  The northern provinces, dependent on their serf' labor, seceded, choosing Avram's cousin, Grand Duke Geoffrey, as their king.  To save the kingdom, Avram sent armies clad in gray to go against the slave-hiolding North, battling Geoffrey's army, arrayed in blue.  Though King Avram held more land and wealth than Geoffrey, Geoffrey's men were better soldiers and the North had better and more powerful wizards.  Still, as the war raged on, greater population and superior organization began to tell and the tide turned against the North.  Even so, the war is far from over.  the South still faces two formidable leaders:  General Bell, whose loss of a leg only stengthened his resolve, and Ned of the Forest, whose unicorn riders are the most dangerous force on the Northern side.  And though the Southern sorcerors have become more adept at war spells, use of sorcery is unpredictable -- as the North leaarned earlier when its forces held an almost impregnable position, but retreated in terror when an overconfident soceror's spell went awry.  Though victory seems in sight for the South, its armies must now battle the North on its own ground, ground which will prove treacherous and deaadly."  Does anybody write this stuff better than Turtledove?
Thank you, George.

I picked up a few other books last week.
  • Ray Garton, Ravenous and Bestial.  Werewolf horror novels.  In Ravenous, "When Emily Crane's car breaks down on a dark. lonely road at night, she is attacked and raped by a man she kills in self defense.  That night, the dead rapist walks out of the morgue.  Later, Emily begins to experience strange cravings and her body undergoes terrifying changes.  When brutal killings leave victims partially eaten in the northern California coastal town of Big Rock, Sheriff Arlin Hurley scoffs at the talk of werewolves...until a tuft of wolf's fur is found on a victim.  It soon becomes clear that whatever is responsible for the killings, it's not alone.  There are more than one.  And they are doing something much worse than killing and eating people.  Nearly 25 years ago, Ray Garton reinvented the vampire mythos with his erotic novel Live Girls.  Now he has updated the curse of the werewolf in Ravenous."  In the sequel, Bestial, "Something dark and sinister is spreading through the California town of Big Rock.  Something more brutal and animalistic than normally lurks in the shadows of our daily lives.  And its numbers are growing exponentially.  Werewolves have arrived like an epidemic.  This time, though, the outbreak is careful, planned by the hungry monsters themselves.  Thitime, werewolves have dug their claws in deep and continue to grow even more powerful.  As the infection transfers through grisly violence and horrific sex, the entire town transforms into either starved predator or terrified prey.  This time, there's no escape.  Can the remaining band of humans fight back?  Are there enough left to stop the trail of terror?  Were there ever enough?  This gut-wrenching follow-up to Ravenous by Grand Master of Horror Ray Garton will have you too scared to turn the page -- or too scared to stop, if only to seek refuge in its shocking end."  As you can tell, Garton is an acquired taste.
  • Michael Sims, editor, Dracula's Guest:  A Connoisseur's Collecction of Victorian Vampire Stories.  An anthology with (he-he) some bite.  22 stories and excepts from approximately 1738 -- with a few pre-Victorian examples to set the stage -- to 1897.  Authors include Lord Byron, John Polidari, Johann Ludwig Tieck (reportedly), Theophile Gautier, Alexei Tolstoy, John Malcolm Rymer, Fitz-James O'Brien, Eric, Count Stenbock, Mary Elizabeth Bradden, Hume Nisbet,  Mary E. Wikins-Freeman, M. R. James, and Bram Stoker -- a virtual Who's Who of well-known writers in the genre.  Some tales are familiar, some are not, but this is a cornucopia of vampire stories for the true fan.


Department of First Stories:  One feature of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is their Department of First Stories, featuring the publication of the first professional sales of various authors in the magazine.  EQMM has published over 500 stories by first-time writers, incuding Stanley Ellin, David Morrell, and Robert L. Fish.

That got me thinking:  What about the first stories that have been published in fiction magazines?  By this I mean the very first story published in the very first issue of the magazine.  An idle enterprise sparked by idle curiosity and of no real value whatever.  Nonetheless, here goes:

Action Stories, September 1921 -- "The Limits of Endurance" by Morgan Robertson  (Robertson waas a popular author of sea stories, most notably "Futility:  The Wreck of The Titan," which "predicted" the sinking of the Titanic fourteen years later.  Action Stories ran until 1950.)

Adventure, November 1910 -- "Yellow Men and Gold" [Part One of Four) by Gouverneur Morris  (Morris was the great-great grandson and namesake of the Founding Father.  Although he wrote a number of novels, he was best known for his many short stories in the general ficytion magazines of the time.  Yellow Men and Gold was published in books form in 1911.  The first complete short story in this issue began on page 15 -- "First of All -- The News" by "E. J. Rath," a pseudonym for J. Chauncey & Edith Brainerd.  Adventure continued until 1971.)

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 1956 -- "Here Lies..." by C. L. Moore  (This issue is recorded as Volume 1, Number 12; Numbers 1-11 do not exist.  The following issue, January 1957, was Volume 2, Number 1.  Go figure.  C. L. Moore [Mrs. Henry Kuttner] was best known for her science fiction and fantasy.  AHMM is still going strong.)

Amazing Stories, April 1926 -- "Off on a Comet -- or, Hector Servadac" [Part One of Two] by Jules Verne, translated by Ellen E. Frewer  (A translation of "Hector Servadac," which originally was published in France as a serial in 1877; first book appearnce 1878.  The first complete short story in this issue was "The New Accelrator" by H. G. Wells. a reprint from the Deeember 1901 issue of The Strand MagazineAmazing Stories is recognized as the first true science fiction magazine; it has gone through many changes over the years, but is still limping along.)

The Arkham Sampler, Winter 1948 -- "Messrs Turkes and Talbot" by H. Russell Wakefield  (Wakefield was the author of a number of horror collections several of which were published by Arkham House.  He is also known as the author of two nonfiction studies of crime, The Green Bicycle Case and Landru:  The French BluebeardThe Arkham Sampler was a semi-professional magazine that ran for eight quarterly issues.  Edited by August Derleth, it promoted Arkham House authors and inncluded items of interest [articles, fiction, poetry, and news] to Arkham House readers.)

Astounding Stories of Super-Science, January 1930 -- "The Beetle Horde" [Part One of Two] by "Victor Rousseau" (Victor Rousseau Emmanuel, a popular pulp writer who worked under at least thirteen pseudonyms)  (The first complete short story in this issue was "The Cave of Horror by Capt. S. P. Meek, the first of seventeen stories about Dr. Bird.  Astounding became Analog in 1960 and continues under that name today.)

Argosy, started as The Golden Argosy, December 9, 1882 -- "Do or Dare; or, A Brave Boy's Fight for Freedom" [Part One of Twelve] by Horatio Alger, Jr.  (Do or Dare appears to have been first published in book form sometime in the 1890s.  Alger, of course, was the popular author of Rags-to-Riches juvenile novels.  The first full story in this issue was "The Dogs of St. Bernard" by W. H. W. Campbell.  Argosy began as a boy's magazine, changed its name to The Argosy in 1888, and switched to an all-fiction format in 1896. It became one of the leading pulp fiction magazines.  It absorbed other magazines and was at times titled Argosy and Railroad Man's Magazine and Argosy Allstory Weekly.  Once one of the leading pulp fiction magazine, it became a men's adventure magazine in 1943, and lasted until late 1977.  In 1978, four issues were produced by another publisher and concentrated on articles against the government.  A semi-pro incarnation of Argosy started in 1989 and ran until 1994; another incarnation ran for three issues in 2005-6.  Altus Publications brought the magazine back in 2016 for a single issue.)

Astonishing Stories, February 1940 -- ""Chameleon Planet" by "Polton Cross" (John Russell Fearn)  (Fearn was a prolific writer who used at least 27 pseudonyms on his stories and wrote severaal hundred novels in the science fiction, western, detective, and romance fields.  Astonishing was a very low-budget, short-lived science fiction magazine that published 16 issues, ending in April 1943.  It and its sister magazine, Super Science Stories, was first edited by a teen-aged Frederik Pohl, who used his fan connections -- including his fellow Futurians -- to provide much of the content.

The Atlantic Monthly, November 1857 -- "Sally Parson's Duty," the author, uncredited, was Rose Terry (later, Rose Terry Cooke)  (Terry began as a poet, later becoming a very popular author of stories about New England life.  Her fame was such that at least five different persons attempted to impersonate her.  Other contributors to this first issue of The Atlantic were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and James Russell Lowell.  The Atlantic has always had a strong literary reputation.  It is still being published, although its concentraation is now on reviews and commentary.)

The Avenger, September 1939 -- "Justice, Inc." by "Kenneth Robeson" (Paul Ernst)  The Avenger ws Richard Henry Benson, a millionaire adventurer whose wife and daughter were killed by criminals.  The magazine lasted for 24 issues, each featuring a novel about the crime-fighting title character.  The Avenger also appeared in six short stories ghosted by Emile C. Tepperman.  All 24 Avenger novels were published in paperback in the early Seventies, and were followed by another twelve novels ghosted by Ron Goulart.  In 2008, Moonstone Books began publishing new stories by different authors about The Avenger.)

Baseball Stories, Spring 1938 -- "Smart Money Ball" by Linton Davies  (Sports pulps were once big business.  Davies, who also wrote in other fields, especially aviation stories, was later the editor of Baseball Stories, Football Action, and All-American Football Magazine, as well as the aviation pulp WingsBaseball Stories lasted for 33 quarterly issues, finally breathig its last in 1954.)

Battle Aces, October 1930 -- "Squadron of the Living dead" by Stueart M. Emery  (Emery was the author of many aviation and western pulps stories.  Battle Aces ran for 27 issues before morphing into the character pulp G-8 and His Battle Aces.  G-8 flew the skies for 110 issues before crashing in 1944, leaving three issues unpublished.  All the G-8 stories were written by Robert J. Hogan.)

Battle Birds, December 1932 -- "The Invisible Ace" by Ralph Oppenheim (The 59th story [out of 70] by Oppenheim about The Three Mosquitoes.  Battle Birds changed its name to Dusty Ayers & His Battle Birds in July 1934, concentating on the adventures of the newly titular hero and rrunning for twelve issues until 1935.  Five years later, Battle Birds revived and ran [sans Dusty] for another 66 issues until May 1944.)

Best Western Magazine, September 1935 -- "Range Feud" by "Max Brand" (Frederick Faust)  (Faust wrote a gazillion tightly plotted popular westerns as Max Brand, the name he also used for his Dr. Kildare medical novels.  Not to be a one-trick (or two-trick) pony, he also authored many historical and adventure tales.  His writings are still popular today.  Best Western Magazine underwent several title changes before its final issue in Msrch 1957.)

Beyond Fantasy Fiction, July 1953 -- ...And My Fear Is Great... by Theodore Sturgeon  (Beyond was a short-lived companion fantasy magazine to Horace Gold's Galaxy, rivaling Campbell's Unknown from a decade before.  Sadly, it lasted for only ten issues, going from 160 pages to 128 pages.  But those ten issues were glorious -- publishing stories from top authors such as Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Damon Knight, Frederik Pohl, and Richard Matheson.)

The Black Mask, April 1920 -- "Who and Why?" by J. Frederic Thorne  (Thorne was the author of some twenty stories, according to the FictionMags Index.  He published several books based on legends of the Alaskan Klingats and one book on the manufacture of flax for fiber.  Black Mask began as a general fiction magazine by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan to offset losses from  thier magazine The Smart Set.  The pair sold the magazine after eight profitable issues.  Black Mask soon morphed into one of the first all-detective magazines, pioneering the "hard-boiled" story.  It ran for over thirty years, ending with the July 1951 issue.  Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine then arranged to incorporate Black Mask into its title, including at least one Black Mask- type of story per issue.  Attempts to revive the magazine have been sporadic.)

The Blue Book Magazine began as The Monthly Story Magazine, May 1905 -- "The Ordeal of Fire" by Forrest Crissey  (Crissey was a prolific writer of books and articles during the first quarter of the twentieth century.  Many of his articles were published in The Saturday Evening Post, where he was a staff member from 1901 to 1934.   His best-known book was Tattling of a Retired Politician [1903].  The Monthly Story Magazine had several title changes before it became The Blue Book Magazine in 1907.  It retained that title for 45 years, becoming Bluebook in 1952.  Once one of the top three major general fiction magazines [along with Adventure and Argosy, the magazine switched gears in its final years, adding articles of general interest to a male audience.  [Articles about the war had previously been a staple of the magazine.]  Part men's adventure magazine and part advice for men, Bluebook continued to publish [an ever-decreasing amount of] fiction until its demise in May 1956.  The magazine was revived as Bluebook for Men in 1960 but it had lost all sembllance to the previous incarnations.  According to Mike Ashley, the 613 issues of the original Blue Book were "a wonderful chronicle of the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps more than any other pulp magazine.")

Boy's Life, March 1, 1911 -- "The Lost Express" by John Carisford  (As far as I can tell, this is the only story pubished under that name.  Boy's Life was the magazine of The Boy Scouts of America.  It is still going strong under its new title Scout Life.  For 110 year, it has provided healthy adventure stories for boys, along with articles of interest, humor, and profiles of scouts.  A requirement in my household during my scouting years.)

Breezy Stories, September 1915 -- ""The God Asleep" by Louise Winter  (Winter was a reguar contributor to Breezy Stories, Saucy Stories, and Droll Stories -- all publishers of risque [for the time, but pretty tame now] stories of sex and love, usually involving a lack of clothes.  The title kept changing between Breezy Stories and Breezy Stories and Young's Magazine until its final issue in December 1949.  During the Thirties and Forties, the magazine relied heavily on reprinted stories from past issues.)

...This is more fun than I originally thought!  More to come in future posts.

A Favorite:  I keep going back to this Cathy Fink version of this song:

How to Levitate:  Yeah, right.

Crazy Theories of 2020:  2021 is not quite over, so let's go back to 2020, a time when JFK Jr. did not come back from the dead to join Donald Trump on a presidential ticket.
  • Wayfair's expensive cabinets are used for child trafficking
  • 5G towers cause Covid-19
  • QAnon ( a blanket conspiracy)
  • Anti-malaria drugs cure Covid-19
  • Bill Gates wants to insert microchips in the human body
For further information on these, check out this article:

This is the tip of the iceberg and does not even approach the so-called "Election Steal."  Sometimes I wonder if we are the only sane ones left alive.

Florida Man:
  • Science has not been friendly to 59-year-old Florida Man Ralph Williams,  New technology enabled Florida police to definitively link him to the murder of 21-year-old Carla Lowe 38 year ago.  Williams had long been suspected in the murder but police previously did not have the evidencce needed for an arrest.  Williams, who had more than 20 criminal arrests over the years in Florida, was arrested for the killing on Monday in Jacksonville.
  • Florida Man Brendan Evans, 35, of Broward County, has been sentenced to ten years for animal cruelty.  Evans had been charged with stabbing a pit  bull puppy more than 50 times in 2017.  He then stuffed the puppy in a suitcase and left it to die.  The animal was found and sent to an animal clinic butu died two days later.  A searcch of Evans's apartment revealed cat paws, rats with severed heads, a bloody bathroom shower curtain and toilet, an 18-inch machete, and dried bllod and animal fur in his oven.  (Yech!)  Hundrds of animal lovers offered to adopt the dog before he died.
  • From animal abuse to animal love:  33-year-old Florida Man John Miller of Milton was caught humping dog by the animal's owner.  Miller then attacked the man, punching him in the head and on his body.  Miller followed this by destroying items in the man's house and his garage door before he grabbed a knife and threatened the dog's owner and his wife.  The path of true love (which I generously assume this was) is never easy.   
  • Helpful hint:  If you are going to kill and dismember a persson, remember to pupt the body parts where they cannot be found.  It seems Florida Man Robert Kessler, 69. did not follow that advice when he killed 49-year-old Stephanie Crone-Overholtz and dumped her parts into a bay.  One body part -- a leg with a tattoo of three heart and her son's name -- helped to identify the victim.  Keessler denies the charges (murder and abuse of a body), saying that he had met the Pennsylvania woman at a fast-food restauraant and invited her to stay at his home.  He later told her to leave, he stated.  Police verified that the two had been living together althouogh their exact relationship was unclear.  The victim's blood was found inside Kessler's car and home.
  • Does this count?  Current Florida Man and former California Man Akrum Alrahib, 43, pled guilty to defrauding California of more than $10 million in tobacco taxes in 2016 and 2017.  The crime may have been commited in California, but what the heck, I'll still claim him as a Florida Man.

Good News:
  • Pittsburg woman's food rescue app diverts 20 million pounds of surplus into 17 million meals for those in need
  • English teenager discovers a horde of 3000 year old bronze axes
  • World's first 3-D printed eye focuses gaze on digital prosthetics
  • New solution to ridding oceans of microplastics using acoustic waves
  • Youth hailed for providing renewable energy to 10,000 people with the use of batteries, wind, sun, or water
  • Once biologically dead, London's River Thames rebounds -- with sea horses and seals

Today's Poem:
Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze.  No one thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I lnow?  What did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

-- Robert Hayden