Retro Review: “Double-Cross” by James MacCreigh a.k.a. Fredrik Pohl

Planet Stories Winter 1944“Double-Cross” by James MacCreigh is a science fiction short story, which appeared in the winter 1944 issue of Planet Stories and is therefore eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos. The magazine version may be found here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

And in case you’re wondering about the author, James MacCreigh was a pen name Frederik Pohl used several times in the 1940s for his solo stories.

Warning: There will be spoilers in the following!

“Double-Cross” takes us once more to the fog-shrouded. swampy and permanently cloudy Venus that never was that is a familiar setting in pulp science fiction published in Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and similar magazines.

The story starts with some exposition heavy dialogue between Lowrey, Officer of the Deck aboard an Earth spaceship, and the Executive Officer who never gets a name. Lowrey remarks that everything is quiet and that he cannot even note anything in his logbook, because nothing is happening.

The Executive Officer is more sceptical, because he doesn’t trust the “natives”. When Lowrey points out that those “natives” are human just like them, descendants of the crew of the first starship to Venus, the Executive Officer declares that they might have been human once, four or five generations ago, but that Venus has changed them into something else. And so the Venusians have pallid white skin due to lack of sunshine and they have no hair either. That’s not how evolution works, at least not that quickly, but then the Executive Officer is something of a bigot.

Lowrey, on the other hand, thinks that the natives are friendly enough. Some of them are hostile, worried that now humans know that Venus is habitable, the planet will be overrun with immigrants from Earth who will displace the original settlers. There is an underground movement as well, which Lowrey dismisses as paltry and unimportant. Though he is not bothered that settlers from Earth will displace the Venusians. After all, survival of the fittest is the basic law of evolution. We suspect that Lowrey doesn’t know how evolution works either. Lowrey’s musings are interrupted, when the sensors detect that a spy ray is aimed at the Earth ship.

If there was a ranking of “As you know, Bob…” scenes in golden age science fiction, Frederik Pohl’s version in “Double-Cross” would rank higher than Isaac Asimov’s various attempts, if only because Pohl’s dialogue is less clumsy than Asimov’s. On the other hand, Asimov gets points for cleverly using an “As you know, Bob…” scene as a vital clue in a mystery in “The Big and the Little” and just making fun of the convention in “Catch That Rabbit”.

It’s also interesting that Pohl’s “As you know, Bob…” scene takes the form of a conversation between two ship officers. Idle conversations about the plot between random guards, soldiers, crewmembers, etc…, who often will never appear in the story again, are a common convention in space opera and military science fiction (and elsewhere) that predates the pulp era by centuries (you can find variations of this scene in Shakespeare plays) and one that still persists to this day. A recent example, played for laughs, was the scene with the two idiotic Stormtroopers who punched Baby Yoda (Boo, hiss) in The Mandalorian.

At any rate, the scene between Lowrey and the Executive Officer does its job of setting up the central conflict between the original settlers of Venus and the newcomers from Earth neatly enough. Any parallels to historical events are entirely coincidental, I’m sure.

The scene then switches to what is going on at the other end of the spy ray, where the Venusian underground has been listening in on the two Earth officers and are now convinced that the worries about immigrants from Earth displacing the Venusians are justified. We meet Svan, leader of the underground, and also learn that the underground has the support of the Venusian council.

Svan is a militant and wants to make sure that the spaceship never returns to Earth. And in order to ensure that the Earth ship never makes it home, Svan has a handy Atomite bomb. He also has a plan how to plant it aboard the ship. Svan and his co-conspirators will go to see the Earth ship like the rest of the town. On the way back, they will feign a car accident to draw away the ship guards, giving one of the conspirators the chance to get close enough to the ship to plant the bomb.

Svan’s followers are a lot less militant than he is. An old man named Toller has issues with the fact that planting a bomb aboard the Earth vessel is essentially murder. And a young woman named Ingra remarks that their ancestors came from Earth, too, and therefore Venusians and Earthpeople are of one blood. Svan rightly points out that according to the Executive Officer aboard the Earth ship, the Venusians aren’t even human anymore.

Because none of Svan’s followers are volunteering to plant the bomb, Svan has them draw lots. Svan draws a blank, but when he looks around, none of his followers announce that they have drawn the lot that makes them the bomber. Therefore, Svan assumes that one of his followers is a coward or worse, a traitor. But if he accuses his followers of treason an cowardice, the traitor will be warned. So Svan quickly marks his own piece of paper, while the others aren’t watching, and announces that he will plant the bomb. Why Svan didn’t volunteer in the first place, especially since it was his plan and he is the most militant of the bunch anyway, remains a mystery.

Svan’s plan hits a not entirely unexpected snag, when he and his party are stopped by a Venusian guard who announces that no one is allowed near the Earth ship anymore, because Svan’s spy ray warned the Earthpeople that there was something afoot. Svan signals to the guard that he is on Council business. But the guard refuses to budge and is not a fan of the Council (which we learn is not an official administrative body, but the name of Svan’s underground group) either, so Svan attacks and kills the man to the shock of his co-conspirators.

The conspirators go forth with their plan. They drop off Svan at some distance from the ship and drive onwards, unaware that Svan has planted a second bomb in the car. Since he can’t trust his followers anymore, he has decided to blow them up, because an explosion will make a much better diversion than a car accident. He does briefly waver, when Ingra kisses him good-bye and wishes him good luck. But then Svan decides that even if she isn’t a traitor, Ingra is weak, so she must die for the cause with the others. This confirms that Svan is a murderous arsehole, in case there was any doubt.

Svan makes his way to the ship and waits for the explosion to draw the guards away, while fingering the lot he has drawn and wondering once again who the traitor might be. As terrorists go, Svan is certainly unlucky. For once more, his grand plan goes awry, when the car unexpectedly returns, driven by the loyal Ingra. Ingra tells Svan to jump into the car, because the dead Venusian guard has been found and both Earthpeople and Venusians are now after them. Svan just screams, “Go away!”, and Ingra and the car and tries to leg it, because he knows that the bomb is about to go off. But he never makes it.

After the explosion, Lowrey and the ship surgeon find the dying Svan. They also find the second bomb and realise that the Venusians were trying to bomb them.

“Poetic justice if I ever saw it,” Lowrey says. Then he notices the piece of paper that Svan is still clutching in death and frowns.

The surgeon asks him what’s the matter, whereupon Svan shows him the piece of paper and notes that it is marked with a cross on both sides. So there never was a traitor – Svan was just too stupid to turn over the paper.

The Early Pohl by Frederik Pohl“Double-Cross” is a neat science fiction thriller with a surprising, if somewhat contrived conclusion. The title (a good title, which I have used a for science fiction story myself) is also doubly relevant, both the in metaphorical (Svan double-crossing his own followers) and literal (there are two crosses on the piece of paper) sense. It also a good example of the twist ending stories that were so popular during the golden age.

Not a lot of stories surprise me these days – I can usually tell where they’re going in a few pages. “Double-Cross”, however, did surprise me. Initially, I was expecting something along the lines of a Leigh Brackett story about a revolt of native people against the invading Earth capitalists similar to the 1944 Retro Hugo finalist “Citadel of Lost Ships” or the later Eric John Stark stories. Never mind that forty years of Star Wars and its imitators have primed us to inevitably assume that the plucky rebels fighting against overwhelming forces are the good guys. But sometimes, the plucky rebels are just terrorists. And sometimes, those terrorists become paranoid and turn on their own.

Though Lowrey and the unnamed other members of the spaceship crew don’t come across all that well either. And indeed, various remarks made by Lowrey and the unnamed Executive Officer suggest that the Venusians were right to worry about the influx of Earthpeople. “Double-Cross” is a story, where there are no good guys, which shows again that morality was not always black and white during the golden age and that there were shades of grey. Furthermore, “Double-Cross” also belies claims from certain quarters that golden age science fiction was just apolitical fun.

Of the named characters in the story, Svan is the only one who has a personality, though it’s not a very pleasant one. He is domineering, militant and paranoid to boot. Even if the cause of the Venusian underground is justified (and Pohl hints that it might be), Svan’s zeal goes beyond any reasonable boundaries. Svan only lives for the cause and is willing to sacrifice anything and anybody to achieve his aims, whether it’s the innocent crew of the Earth spaceship (and while Lowrey and company might not be the most pleasant people, they haven’t harmed any Venusians), the Venusians guard who gets in his way or his own followers. In short, Svan is a murderous arsehole. His character also rings true, because revolutionary movements tend to attract people who just want to cause mayhem and will turn on their own comrades at the slightest provocation. In many ways, Svan is an interplanetary Andreas Baader (de facto leader of the West German terrorist group Red Army Fraction) or Charles Manson, even though Baader was only one year old and Manson ten, when “Double-Cross” was published.

Frederik Pohl’s left political leanings are well known and he was a member and even chapter president of the Young Communist League for a few years in the 1930s. I wonder whether Pohl encountered types like Svan during his time with the League, especially since Communist groups during the Stalin era were often riddled with paranoia.

The solution with the piece of paper marked on both sides may seem a bit contrived, though it’s not entirely unrealistic, because thankfully, quite a lot of terrorists are stupid and tend to blow up themselves rather than their targets. The ideological bent doesn’t matter, stupid terrorists come in all political and ideological flavours. Here is an article listing some exceptionally stupid Al Qaeda terrorists and here is one about their equivalents in the IRA.

“Double-Cross is short, only six pages long, including an illustration that takes up three quarters of a page. Most of those six pages are dialogue. We get little in the way of description, unlike what you’d find in a Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak or C.L. Moore story. But if you’ve read enough golden age science fiction, you know what Venus looked like during the golden age and don’t really need it. And while Pohl may not have been a particularly poetic writer, his prose is less clunky than Asimov’s.

Like several of the stories I have reviewed for the Retro Reviews project, particularly those originally published in Planet Stories, “Double-Cross” has only been reprinted once, in a 1976 collection entitled fittingly enough The Early Pohl. It consistently surprises me how many of the stories that have rarely or never been reprinted are pretty good, sometimes better than the stuff that was reprinted.

A short and punchy science fiction thriller, that offers no heroes to root for, but some genuine surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some Comments on the 2019 Nebula Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2019 Nebula Awards have been announced today. And thankfully – because I’m tired and not feeling at all well today – this year’s Nebula finalists seem to be largely uncontroversial, unlike last year.

All in all, it’s a very good shortlist. So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

Best novel:

2019 was an extremely strong year for SFF novels and the Nebula shortlist certainly reflects this. I don’t think anybody will be surprised to see A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow on the Nebula ballot, since those were some of the most discussed SFF books of the year. A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker also got a lot of buzz as well and besides, Sarah Pinsker’s short fiction is popular with Nebula and Hugo voters. I am pleased to see Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia on the Nebula ballot, for while it is a very good novel, it generated less discussion than the previous four. The only surprising finalist in this category is Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon, because I at least haven’t heard any discussion about this book at all. However, Gannon’s Caine series is popular with Nebula voters and he has been a finalist in this category several times before.

Diversity count: Five women, one man, one writer of colour, two international writers

Best novella:

The shortlist in this category is a little bit more surprising. That said, This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone was certainly one of the most discussed (and best) novellas of 2019. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark and The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes got a lot of positive buzz as well. Besides, the video to the clipping song on which The Deep is based was a Hugo finalist in 2018. And Ted Chiang is a perennial awards favourite anyway. I am also really happy to see Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan on the shortlist, because it’s an excellent novella which got comparatively little attention. Coincidentally, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is also on my personal Hugo ballot. Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise is the only finalist in this category I hadn’t heard of before. It’s a small press horror novella about weirdness in the Lousiana swamps, which sounds right down my alley, so I’ll definitely check it out, hopefully in time for the Hugo nominations.

Those who worry about such things will also be pleased that Tor.com Publishing’s dominance in the novella category seems to have been broken, as more publishers enter the standalone novella market. And so Tor.com Publishing only has two finalists in the novella category this year, the fewest they’ve had since Tor.com Publishing started its novella line and revitalised the form. Saga also has two finalists. The remaining two hail from a collection published by Alfred A. Knopf and horror small press.

Diversity count (including the clipping members, since they are credited): Three women, six men, one non-binary, five writers of colour, one international writer

Best novelette:

Again, we have a strong ballot in this category. G.V. Anderson is certainly one of the best short fiction writers to have emerged in recent years. Her novelette “A Strange Uncertain Light” is also the only Nebula finalist to have originated in the print magazines. “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll is a lovely little story and I’m happy that it made the ballot. Sarah Pinsker and Caroline M. Yoachim are both excellent writers of short fiction, though I haven’t read these particular stories. I also must have missed “His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light” by Mimi Mondal, even though I usually read the Tor.com stories. However, I have enjoyed other stories by Mimi Mondal that I read. Finally, I’m very happy to see Carpe Glitter by Cat Rambo on the Nebula ballot and not just because we featured it at the Speculative Fiction Showcase last year. This is the first Nebula finalist we’ve featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, by the way, though we have featured finalists and even winners of the Bram Stoker and Sir Julius Vogel Awards.

Diversity count: Six women, two international writers, at least one writer of colour

Best short story:

In this category, many of the finalists are stories that are new to me and there is very little overlap with my personal Hugo ballot. “Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt got a lot of buzz, though I didn’t get around to reading it yet. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen is a story I have read and enjoyed. I’m also glad to see fiction from Nightmare Magazine get some love, because it is often ignored. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas is completely new to me, but then I only read Strange Horizons on occasion, so I may have missed it. Oddly enough, the three finalists from Uncanny, “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne, “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde and “How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise don’t ring a bell, even though I normally read Uncanny regularly. But between being sick last year, doing the July short story challenge, attending WorldCon and dealing with ill parents, I read less short fiction than usual.

Uncanny published a whopping four out of twelve finalists in the novelette and short story categories. Tor.com published two, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Nightmare Magazine, Strange Horizons and Meerkat Press published one each. That’s still a healthy spread, though Uncanny‘s dominance in the novelette and short story categories is notable. And yes, Uncanny is a great magazine, but there are other fine magazines out there as well.

Diversity count: Five women, one man, two writers of colour, two international writers.

Andre Norton Award for Outstanding YA Book:

Another very strong shortlist here. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer is a great novel and also on my personal Hugo ballot. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez and Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee both got a lot of buzz. Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien is the sequel to a popular previous finalist. I don’t know anything about Cog by Greg van Eekhout and Riverland by Fran Wilde, but both authors are popular and well-liked.

Diversity count: Two women, four men, four writers of colour.

It’s quite remarkable that we have four male writers nominated in this category, since YA is very female dominated.

Best Game Writing:

I can’t say much about this category, because I’m not a gamer. Though I spot several familiar names on the ballot.

Diversity count: Five women, three men, at least two international writers

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

I am normally completely out of step with the dramatic presentation categories at the Hugos. Very few of my nominees in those categories ever make it and I am often completely puzzled by what gets nominated (The Good Place – cough). However, the Ray Bradbury Award shortlist very much overlaps with my personal tastes this year. There is only one finalist I don’t care for and another I haven’t seen, but would probably like. Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel are of course the heavy hitters in this category. Though I am a bit surprised that The Rise of Skywalker did not make it, but then the script was something of a mess. Also conspicuous by its absence are the horror movies Us and Midsommar, because both got a lot of positive buzz last year and Jordan Peele, writer/director of Us, is a previous finalist in this category (though both are present on the Stoker ballot). It’s also telling that while the Ray Bradbury Award is normally dominated by movies, this year we only have two film finalists and four TV/streaming finalists, which shows how very good SFF TV has gotten in the past few years.

Though Star Wars isn’t completely absent from the Nebula ballot this year, because everybody’s favourite bounty hunter daddy The Mandalorian is nominated for the episode “The Child”. No huge surprise, because pretty much everybody loves The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. And am I the only one who’s wondering what Baby Yoda would do with a Nebula and/or Hugo Award? The nomination for Good Omens is no surprise, because this was another greatly beloved and good series. I didn’t get around to watching Russian Doll yet, but the series got a lot of positive buzz and seems to be well written. Finally, the nomination for the Watchmen episode “A God Walked into Abar” is no great surprise either, because the Watchmen TV series was popular and much discussed and this particular episode got a lot of attention.

Now I have to admit that I don’t like Watchmen, the comic, and never have. I first read Watchmen at a friend’s house in highschool. The friend was called away and I was left sitting alone in his room, waiting for him to come back. He had the Watchmen trade paperback and because I was bored, I picked it up and started to read. And as I opened the book, literally the first page I saw was the Comedian and Silver Spectre rape scene, which utterly disgusted me. I never warmed to Watchmen after that and am still not sure why it is so much more beloved than other mature readers comics from the same era, which often were much better. So I didn’t bother with the show, because there is so much good stuff to watch that I don’t have to bother with the adaptation/continuation of a story I intensely dislike. And yes, I know that’s not the fault of the TV show and the Comedian doesn’t even appear, as far as I know, though Silk Spectre does. But even though I don’t care for Watchmen, I’m not at all surprised that it was nominated.

No diversity count, it takes too many people to make a film or TV episode.

All in all, the 2019 Nebula shortlist is a strong, if not particularly surprising ballot. Lots of excellent finalists and very few I don’t care for. After last year’s uproar, this is a very pleasant change.

Those who are worried about Tor’s supposed dominance in the fiction categories will be pleased that Tor is not particularly dominant this year (and they only ever dominated the novella category anyway). Those who are worried about the poor widdle menz being shut out of SFF Awards will be pleased that male writers are pretty well represented on the Nebula ballot and that two categories are majority male. Though I foresee wailing and complaining anyway. Those who are worried about former and current SFWA officers getting nominated for Nebula Awards will just have to go on worrying, I guess.

That said, it is notable that while there are small press finalists, no self-published work was nominated this year in any of the fiction categories, unlike previous years. Is this backlash from last year’s 20Booksto50K debacle? Or just that 2019 was an extremely strong year for traditionally published works, so self-published works simply did not have a chance due to their lower average reach?

The final ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards has been announced as well. No detailed dissection, because horror isn’t really my genre. Though as far as I can tell, the ballot looks good. I’m also pleased that another book we featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren, made the Stoker ballot.

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Retro Review: “The Gothic Window” by Dorothy Quick

Weird Tales May 1944“The Gothic Window” is a short story by Dorothy Quick, which was first published in the May 1944 issue of Weird Tales and is therefore eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos. The story may be found online here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Warning: There will be spoilers in the following.

“The Gothic Window” starts off, like so many horror stories and murder mysteries, with four couples or prospective couples spending a rainy weekend at a secluded country mansion. Anne, the protagonist and POV character, has arranged the house party to further her romance with Sheridan “Sherry” Crawford and to fix up her friends Bob and Nancy. However, another friend of Anne’s, Claire Rowley, throws a spanner into the works, when she invites herself and her husband Jim along. Anne isn’t happy about this, for not only does Jim cheat at bridge, he’s also a cad and potential abuser and Claire is clearly afraid of her husband. To make matters even more complicated, Nancy is infatuated with Jim, which endangers her budding romance with Bob. And though Jim is married to Claire, he pursues Nancy as well. There is another couple as well, Lou and Gib Silvers, who are not involved in the romantic polygon developing at the country manor and are only there, because bridge requires four players in two pairs, so they need eight people.

During yet another round of bridge, Jim suddenly becomes fascinated by a stained glass gothic window that doesn’t match any of the other windows in the house. He says that the window makes it difficult for him to concentrate, whereupon Anne offers to tell the story behind the window.

Anne explains that she first saw window during the requisite grand tour of Europe with her parents. Anne and her family stayed at a monastery in Spain, where they admired the gothic architecture and the beautiful stained glass windows. All of the windows are regularly opened except for one. And when Anne or her parents ask about that window, the normally so jolly monks fall silent.

One day, when Anne and her mother are walking along the cloister, they notice that the always closed window stands wide open and that a monk is lying on the floor in front of the window. Initially Anne and her mother assume that the monk is just unconscious, but upon closer examination, he turns out to be dead, an expression of unearthly bliss frozen on his face.

Now the monks finally do spill the beans about what is going on. For when the monastery was first built, a man was immured alive in its walls according to medieval custom. The unfortunate fellow had been sentenced to death for sorcery. Soon after he was immured, he started to haunt the monastery and who can blame him? The focus point of the hauntings was the window closest to the spot where he had been immured.

Soon mysterious accidents began to happen near the window. Furthermore, the monks discovered that passing through the window gave them wonderful visions. By now we realise that this particular window appears to be a French window, which also doubles as a door. Never mind that this makes no sense, because there were no French windows during gothic times. Nor can gothic windows be opened – they are fixed.

Because the visions bestowed by the window were so amazing, the monks kept passing through it, until one by one they were found dead, an expression of unearthly bliss frozen onto their faces.

The abbot did everything he could to keep the monks from using the window, but the monks kept findings ways around his measures and they kept dying. So in the end, the abbot walked through the window himself and promptly died, only that the expression on his face was not one of bliss, but of unbelievable horror.

You’re think that this story, plus the physical evidence in the form of a dead monk lying on the ground in front of the window, would be enough to warn anybody with any shred of sense to keep the hell away from the haunted window. However, Anne’s mother apparently does not possess a shred of sense and so she offers to buy the window from the monks who are only too glad to be rid of it. They also kindly offer to exorcise the window, before it is shipped to its new home.

Once the window has been installed in the house, strange accidents start to happen there as well. Anne sprains her ankle, her mother breaks her arm and her father breaks his leg, all after passing through the window. So Anne’s family locks the window, but they stupidly leave the key in the lock and so it eventually kills a friend of the family. A sudden heart attack, the doctor says, but Anne and her family know better and finally keep the bloody window locked, though they still don’t have enough sense to just tear it out.

After Anne has told her story, everybody gradually retires to their rooms, while the romantic drama continues. Claire confesses to Anne that Jim abuses her, that she knows he is stalking Nancy and that she is afraid of her husband, but that she cannot leave him, because Jim knows certain dark secrets about her. Nancy chances to overhear all this and confesses that she is terrified of Jim, too, but also feels inexorably drawn to him and there is absolutely nothing she can do about it.

Once Nancy and Claire have finally gone to bed, Sheridan finally proposes to Anne and they discuss their future life together until the wee hours. When they finally retire – to separate rooms, of course – they once more pass the haunted window and Anne realises that the key is still in the lock.

“But I thought you said that your father kept it in his desk,” Sheridan points out, whereupon Anne confesses that she made the whole story up to interrupt the bridge game and keep Jim away from Nancy. Anne’s mother really did buy the window in Spain, that much is true, but everything else was pure fiction.

Sheridan praises Anne’s imagination, but he also worries about the psychological effects of Anne’s tale. After all, what if one of the guests accidentally hurts themselves near the window? So Anne promises that she will clear up the whole ruse in the morning. But it never comes to that, for the next morning they find Jim Rowley dead in front of the open window, his face a mix of horror and bliss.

“The Gothic Window” is yet another example of the tale within a tale, usually told in appropriately spooky surroundings, that was very common in Weird Tales. “The Man Who Wouldn’t Hang” by Stanton A. Coblentz from the same year is another example of the type.

Nonetheless, “The Gothic Window” isn’t a typical Weird Tales horror story. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the gothic romance genre that was only just beginning to take off with the great success of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca six year prior. All the elements of the gothic romance are here. We have the secluded country house, we have the Byronic hero who may or may not want to harm the heroine, we have the innocent ingenue he is pursuing, we have the good guy love interest and we have a malicious ghost, seeking revenge for an evil done to him centuries ago.

The romantic entanglements at the house are quite complicated and it took me some effort to remember who was in love with whom, who was married to whom and who was cheating on whom. The fact that all the characters have bland, if period appropriate names like Anne, Nancy, Claire, Bob and Jim doesn’t help either. There also are more characters in the story than are necessary. Okay, so the number of bridge players must be dividable by four, but isn’t there anything else they could have done over the weekend rather than play bridge?

That said, even if “The Gothic Window” has more characters than are strictly necessary, it is also the story with the highest number of named female characters, four in all, I have reviewed so far. Furthermore, “The Gothic Window” is also one of only two stories I have reviewed for the Retro Reviews project so far which passes the Bechdel test, the other being Ray Bradbury’s “Undersea Guardians”. Finally, “The Gothic Window” is also one of only two stories with a female POV character, the other being once again “Undersea Guardians”.

As soon as Anne tells the story about the murderous haunted window, it’s pretty obvious that someone will succumb to its spell and that that someone will be Jim, the villain of the piece. Nonetheless, Dorothy Quick did manage to surprise me, when Anne confessed that the entire story of the haunted window was fake. Coincidentally, this also explains why neither the monks nor Anne and her family ever did the sensible thing and just tore out the window and/or smashed it.

Anne’s revelation also casts some doubt on whether “The Gothic Window” really is SFF. After all, there is no malicious ghost of an executed sorcerer haunting the window – Anne just made the whole story up. As for what killed Jim, that was most likely the power of psychological suggestion rather than a vengeful ghost.

There is some historical evidence that humans were immured as a method of execution throughout history and occasionally, the remains of immured humans have been found. There are also plenty of legends about people – often young women or children – being immured in the walls of new buildings as a sacrifice found all over Europe. On the Balkan, there is a legend about a young bride being immured. And in Theodor Storm’s famous novella Der Schimmelreiter (The Rider on the White Horse, 1888), protagonist Hauke Haien not only has some unacceptably modern ideas about flood protection and the proper way to build dykes, he also refuses to immure a living being (a dog in this case, because there is no child handy) into the new dyke. As a result, the superstitious locals believe the dyke to be cursed and when it breaks during a particularly vicious winter storm, Hauke’s wife and daughter drown and Hauke sacrifices himself to save the village. Come to think of it, The Rider on the White Horse would not have felt out of place in an issue of Weird Tales.

There is no concrete evidence that human beings were ever immured as sacrifices during the Middle Ages or in modern times in Europe, but there is plenty of evidence of animals being immured or buried inside old buildings and yes, dykes. In the 1960s, my parents and some of their friends restored a 17th century farmhouse as a weekend getaway. During the restoration work, they found the remains of an animal, probably a cat or dog, buried under the threshold. A historian carted the remains away and told them it was a building sacrifice and an important find.

I have no idea if Dorothy Quick has ever read The Rider on the White Horse, though it’s not impossible, since the novella was first translated into English in 1914. And she was certainly familiar with the various legends about people immured as sacrifices. Though the choice of Spain as the origin of the haunted window is a bit strange, since Spain is one of the places in Europe, which does not have such legends.

Weird Tales, March 1937Dorothy Quick is another woman SFF author who was clearly popular in her time, but is nearly forgotten these days. She published a science fiction novel entitled Strange Awakening in 1938, though she mainly seems to have specialised in horror fiction. She published twenty-three stories and twenty-seven poems between 1932 and 1954, mostly in Weird Tales, but also in Unknown, Oriental Stories, Strange Stories and Fantastic Adventures. Dorothy Quick was clearly popular and even contributed the cover story to the March 1937 issue of Weird Tales, illustrated by one of Margaret Brundage’s striking covers.

However, Dorothy Quick rapidly fell into obscurity. As with her fellow Weird Tales contributor Allison V. Harding, very little of her work has ever been reprinted. Nowadays, she is remembered not so much for her writing but for striking up a friendship with Samuel Clements a.k.a. Mark Twain in 1907, when Quick was eleven and Twain was seventy-two and both were passengers aboard the SS Minnetonka. Dorothy Quick frequently talked about her youthful friendship with Mark Twain, who encouraged her to write, and even penned a memoir entitled Mark Twain and Me.

The only place where I found some biographical information about Dorothy Quick was Sisters of Tomorrow – The First Women of Science Fiction, edited by Lisa Yaszek and Patrick B. Sharp, which reprints Dorothy Quick’s 1937 story “Strange Orchids”. In their introduction to the story, Yaszek and Sharp note that Dorothy Quick was strongly influenced by domestic fiction and the gothic romance and that her stories frequently have female POV characters at a time when this was exceedingly rare in SFF. These observations certainly fit “The Gothic Window”.

Mark Twain and Dorothy Quick in 1907

Mark Twain and Dorothy Quick in 1907

“The Gothic Window” is well written and Dorothy Quick was clearly a talented writer, but then she did impress the great Mark Twain himself as a precocious girl of eleven. The question is why has she been almost completely forgotten in spite of a twenty-two year career of writing SFF. Is it because her brand of domestic gothics fell out of fashion? But then, Dorothy Quick’s work wasn’t even reprinted when the domestic gothic romance was at the height of its popularity in the 1960s. Is it because Weird Tales is mainly associated with Lovecraftian horror and sword and sorcery these days, even though the magazine’s bread and butter were far more traditional tales of gothic horror as well as proto urban fantasy?

Nonetheless, it is notable that even though Weird Tales was clearly a good market for women (the May 1944 issue alone contains stories by three women writers and both the cover artist and the editor were female as well), the male authors who penned more traditional horror stories for the magazine, writers like Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch and Manly Wade Wellman, are still much better remembered than their female counterparts like Dorothy Quick, Allison V. Harding, Greye La Spina, Alice-Mary Schnirring or Mary Elizabeth Counselman, who penned “The Three Marked Pennies”, one of the most popular stories in Weird Tales history and kept writing and publishing horror right up to her death in 1995.

An effective gothic horror story by an unjustly forgotten woman writer of the golden age. Well worth checking out.

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Star Trek Picard goes forth with “Absolute Candor”

It’s time for my episode by episode reviews of Star Trek Picard again. Previous installments may be found here.

In my review of episode 3 of Star Trek Picard, I said that it seems as if the set-up period was finally over and the show could get going with Picard and friends finally aboard a spaceship. However, episode 4 showed that the set-up wasn’t yet finished, as Picard makes one more pitstop to pick up the last member of the regular cast.

Warning. Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Retro Review: “Undersea Guardians” by Ray Bradbury

Amazing Stories December 1944“Undersea Guardians” by Ray Bradbury is a horror short story, which appeared in the December 1944 issue of Amazing Stories and is therefore eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos. The magazine version may be found here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Warning: There will be spoilers in the following!

“Undersea Guardians” starts with the atmospheric description of the wreck of a sunken ship, the U.S.S. Atlantic, lying on the ocean floor. Soon thereafter we meet a group of what initially seems to be merpeople, led by a man called Conda. The group of merpeople also includes several woman, a brunette called Alita and a blonde called Helene as well as an old woman who never gets a name and clearly has maternal feelings towards Alita.

The swarm of merpeople is scattered, when “a shadow crosses the ocean surface, quick, like a gigantic sea-gull.” The shadow is an airplane and it drops a depth charge, which is our first hint that this is a contemporary set story, taking place during World War II.

Alita is stunned by the explosion and just wants to sit on the ocean floor, but the others urge her onwards, because they have sighted a German submarine and they have work to do. After all, a US Navy convoy will soon pass by and the German submarine is lying in wait for them.

Gradually, it emerges that Conda, Alita and the other merpeople were aboard the U.S.S. Atlantic, when she was torpedoed and sank. But they had unfinished business, so they did not die, but instead lived on as merpeople. In Alita’s case, that unfinished business is her love for a Navy seaman named Richard Jameson, of whom she sometimes catches a glimpse, when his ship passes the spot where the U.S.S. Atlantic sank.

Conda, who in life was the captain of the U.S.S. Atlantic, and his squad of undead have made it their mission to take out German submarines. They use Alita and Helene, two young, attractive and most importantly naked women, as bait to seduce the crew of the submarine. Though at least in Alita’s case, Schmidt (of course, he’s called Schmidt, being a crewman aboard a German submarine), the poor crewman who happens to see, her believes he’s gone mad from weeks underwater and runs screaming through the submarine and tries to climb out of the hatch. The rest of the crew valiantly try to stop him but fail, since their aim is about as bad as a Stormtrooper’s. But then this is a WWII story written by an American author, so you cannot have competent German sailors.

Now Helene, Conda and the rest get into the submarine via the open hatch and proceed to wreak havoc. Alita doesn’t participate – she clearly dislikes violence. Unlike Helene, who is clearly a mermaid femme fatale driven by hatred, because her lover died inside the U.S.S. Atlantic, while Helene did not. The old woman tells a distraught Alita that yes, they did to the submarine crew what was done to them, but they had to do it, because they saved hundreds of lives. Apparently, the lives of American sailors are the only lives that count.

They are guardians, the old woman says, guardians protecting American ships and convoys. That is why they survive as undead and murderous merpeople, while everybody else aboard the Atlantic died. Because they all have loved ones – husbands, lovers, father, brothers, sons – who are sailors aboard US Navy ships and therefore targets.

The convoy passes by and the destroyer aboard which Richard serves is part of it. Alita flits around the destroyer, trying to catch a glimpse of her lover, when another German submarine appears. But the convoy and Conda and his band of murderous merpeople get lucky, because the crew of this German submarine are crap shots, too, and so their torpedoes keep missing the convoy that is right in front of them.

But the submarine crew finally get their act together and the last torpedo is going to hit the destroyer with Richard on board. But Alita heroically throws herself in the way of the torpedo, sacrificing her not-life to save Richard and the destroyer.

On the bridge of the destroyer, Richard briefly thinks that he saw something just before the torpedo exploded harmlessly. A large fish or maybe a log.

Mysterious Sea Stories, edited by William PatrickOf the four Ray Bradbury stories I reviewed for the Retro Reviews project so far, I liked “Undersea Guardians” the least. It’s an effective little story and – like all Ray Bradbury stories – well written and atmospheric. But I prefer my speculative fiction without a side order of WWII propaganda, thank you very much.

Though to be fair, Alita has her doubts about what she and the other merpeople are doing and is clearly aware of the hypocrisy of condemning others to a fate she so clearly loathes. And indeed, Alita repeatedly has to be coaxed into participating in the raids by the old woman, who never even gets a name. Furthermore, Helene, the mermaid femme fatale, is clearly insane. And Schmidt, the hapless German sailor who happens to spot Alita, is not a xenophobic caricature, just a young man driven nigh crazy from months of isolation. Compared to some of the truly grisly propaganda stuff we’ve seen in the dramatic presentation and graphic story categories at the Retro Hugos in recent years, “Undersea Guardians” is pretty nuanced.

There are also moments where it seems as if Bradbury is aware of the implications of his premise. For if the crews of allied ships survive as murderous undead merpeople bent on revenge, then so should the crews of German ships, which would soon lead to groups of merpeople waging war on each other under the sea. The ambivalence of the story almost suggests that the editor of Amazing Stories, Raymond F. Palmer, pushed Bradbury to make it more patriotic.

And while it’s never explicitly stated, the U.S.S. Atlantic was not a civilian ship, but a US Navy vessel, which makes her a legitimate target in wartime. Alita apparently was on board, because she wanted to work as a nurse in England and see her Richard again. We never learn what Helene and the old woman were doing aboard. Most probably, they were planning to become nurses, too. So what happened to Alita and the others was not some kind of Lusitania, let alone Wilhelm Gustloff incident.

That said, I was pleased that “Undersea Guardians” has three female characters, two of them named, and all of them different from each other. In fact, “Undersea Guardians” is the only story I have reviewed for the Retro Reviews project so far that passes the Bechdel test.

This is the third 1944 Ray Bradbury story I’ve read where a non-combatant saves the day and wins the battle, if not the war. Sam Burnett from “Morgue Ship” is a medic collecting dead bodies after the battle, Click Hathaway from “The Monster Maker” is a news photographer who only tagged along with an Interplanetary Patrolman to shoot the action and Alita from “Undersea Guardians” is a wartime nurse turned undead mermaid. Methinks Bradbury was trying to make a point about the heroic potential of non-combatants.

Ray Bradbury would revisit the concept of drowned sailors turned into a vengeful undead army two years later in “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, his sole collaboration with lifelong friend Leigh Brackett. Only that in “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, the undead army consists of sailors from both sides of a local conflict on Venus and that they turn on their own side as well as the enemy, led by a sinister pied piper figure. And the undersea army of the undead only shows up towards the end of “Lorelei of the Red Mist” and is therefore definitely Bradbury’s work, who finished the novella, when Leigh Brackett was called away to Hollywood to write the screenplay for The Big Sleep.

Soldiers continuing to fight the war they were in even after death also shows up in Richard Lester’s 1967 anti-war film How I Won the War, the climactic scene of which with the undead soldiers marching on to war was filmed near where I live with the Uesen Weser bridge standing in for a Rhine bridge, even though anybody who has ever seen either the Weser in Uesen or the Rhine knows that both don’t look even remotely the same.

Even though Amazing Stories was America’s first science fiction magazine, there is not a hint of science fiction in “Undersea Guardians”. Instead, the story is pure horror and would feel more at home in Weird Tales than in Amazing Stories. Maybe Weird Tales rejected it and since there were no other fantasy and horror magazines on the market in 1944, “Undersea Guardians” ended up in Amazing Stories and even was the cover story of the December 1944 issue with a striking (and accurate) cover courtesy of James B. Settles.

Unlike the much better “Morgue Ship”, “Undersea Guardians” has been reprinted a handful of times over the years, usually in anthologies of maritime horror. And the story is certainly a fitting addition to an anthology like that.

“Undersea Guardians” is an effective horror story somewhat marred by its WWII context. But considering how prolific Ray Bradbury was (he published thirteen speculative stories in 1944 alone plus several mysteries), they can’t all be winners. And even a weaker Bradbury is still better than most of the other SFF stories out there.

 

 

 

 

 

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Retro Review: “Desertion” by Clifford D. Simak

Astounding Science Fiction November 1944

Not Fowler and Towser, but still Killdozer by Theodore Sturgeon.

“Desertion” is a hard science fiction short story by Clifford D. Simak, which was first published in the November 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and is therefore eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos. The magazine version may be found online here. “Desertion” is part of Simak’s City cycle and has been widely reprinted.

This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point!

“Desertion” is something of the odd one out in the City cycle, because unlike the other City stories, “Desertion” doesn’t take place on Earth, but on a human research station on Jupiter. Kent Fowler is head of the Dome No. 3 Jovian Survey Project and has a problem. For none of the four intrepid explorers that he sent out into the wilds of Jupiter, their bodies altered to suit the atmospheric conditions, have ever returned. And now Fowler is about to send out the fifth explorer, one Harold Allen, who most likely won’t come back either.

Fowler is not happy about this, but he feels that he has no choice but to send people out into the deadly Jovian atmosphere, because otherwise the human colonists on Jupiter will be stuck in enclosed domes that are almost impossible to maintain considered the atmospheric conditions as well as the high pressure and gravity of Jupiter. This being a hard science fiction story published in Astounding, we get a detailed description of the conditions on Jupiter with its high pressure and gravity and its corrosive ammonia rains. This being a Clifford D. Simak story, these descriptions are much better written than usual.

Miss Stanley, who is in charge of converting the explorers into their Jupiter-adapted form, is even less happy about the whole mission than Fowler and flat out accuses Fowler of sending young men to their death, while he himself sits safe in his office inside the dome, all so Fowler can become a great man, the one who opened Jupiter to human colonisation.

Miss Stanley is the rare example of an older woman character in a golden age science fiction story who is not someone’s mother, aunt or grandmother, but a highly skilled specialist (the best conversion operator in the solar system) in her own right. Miss Stanley also takes absolutely no shit from anybody, least of all Fowler. She knows a man who’s chasing glory and doesn’t care whom he sacrifices along the way when she sees one. And yes, I’m certain that it is total coincidence that the argument between Fowler and Miss Stanley about the ethics of sacrificing young men for some nebulous greater good was written towards the end of WWII, when the Fowlers of our world were sending young soldiers out to die by the thousands.

To no one’s surprise, Harold Allen does not come back, but vanishes without a trace. Fowler tries to deflect the blame onto the conversion machine and the biologists who programmed it, based on a Jovian lifeform the humans call “Loper”. But Miss Stanley declares that nothing is wrong with her machine and the biologists offer an undoubtedly lengthy explanation why their data is correct that Simak thankfully spares us.

Unlike some of the more bloodthirsty and ruthless WWII generals of the era, Fowler does have a conscience. As a result, Miss Stanley’s accusation that he is sitting there high and dry, while he is sending young men to their deaths has clearly gotten to him. Therefore, Fowler decides that the next person to go out into the Jovian atmosphere will be Fowler himself. Though he won’t be going alone. Instead, he’ll take his faithful dog Towser with him, because Fowler would feel bad about leaving him behind.

City by Clifford D. Simak

The dog may be Towser, but the robot is definitely not Fowles on this 1971 cover of City.

And so Fowler and Towser step onto the Jovian surface in their new bodies. Fowler realises that unlike the hell world his human mind had envisioned, Jupiter is a pleasant and beautiful place, when experienced in the body of a Loper. The massive gales are a light breeze, the corrosive ammonia downpour is a light and gentle rain, the toxic atmosphere smells of lavender.

When Fowler tries to call for Towser, he realises that he’s telepathic and that he can talk to Towser now. And Towser, who’s very happy with his new body, because it is so much better than his aging dog body, can answer him.

“You’re… talking to me”, a stunned Fowler exclaims, whereupon Towser replies that he always talked to Fowler, only that Fowler could never understand him.

Fowler and Towser engage in a friendly race to an ammonia waterfall that crashes over a cliff of frozen oxygen and realise that their minds are changing as well and that they know things they never knew before about Jovian colours and how to make metal withstand the Jovian atmosphere better. “Maybe…” Fowler muses, “…humans are the morons of the universe, naturally slow and foggy.”

Fowler also realises why none of the people he sent out ever came back. Because life is simply so much better as a Loper, the surface of Jupiter is beautiful and there are so many mysteries to explore.

Towser declares that he won’t go back, because they would only turn him into a dog again. Fowler pities the people in the dome who have no idea how wonderful life as a Loper really is. But he also realises that he couldn’t live in his old human body anymore, not even for a short while, because its limitations would simply be too much to bear, now he knows how much better life can be.

And so Fowler and Towser head off into the sunset (or the Jovian equivalent thereof) to have amazing adventures on Jupiter, while back at the dome, Miss Stanley and the others wonder what happened to them.

City by Clifford D. Simak

This might be Fowles and Towser on the cover of the 1952 Gnome Press edition of “City”.

For some reason, I haven’t read much of Clifford D. Simak. At least based on “Desertion”, I should probably remedy that, because “Desertion” is a wonderful story. It’s also that rare beast, a hard science fiction story published in Astounding that manages not to be clunky and filled with infodumps and exposition, but beautifully written. And “Desertion” absolutely is hard science fiction based on what was known about Jupiter at the time, even if the conversion machine is very much handwavium.

In fact, I was stunned that “Desertion” (and the other City stories, for that matter) was published in Astounding, because even though it is hard science fiction, “Desertion” is not at all what you’d expect to find in Astounding and not just because it is better written than approximately ninety percent of the other stories in the magazine. No, “Desertion” also violates John W. Campbell’s famous dictum that humans must always triumph. Because the humans in “Desertion” are not superior at all. Instead, they are small-minded, blinkered and – to quote Fowler – “the morons of the solar system”. Even a random Jovian critter the Earth scientists are not even sure is intelligent is superior to humans.

Add to that Miss Stanley (who’s awesome, by the way, and who I hope gets a Loper body and great and glorious adventures of her own) blatantly criticising men (and they almost always are men) sending out others to die, just so they can make their mark in the world, and I honestly wonder how on Earth this story came to be published by John W. Campbell in Astounding? Was Campbell too busy writing manuals for sonar systems or annoying the FBI that month, so that his assistant Kay Tarrant (who according to contemporary accounts had more than a little of Miss Stanley in her) took over and picked this one out of the slush pile? On the other hand, as I’ve noted before, John W. Campbell published quite a lot of stories that were a far cry from what we now consider Campbellian science fiction.

Stylistically, Simak is much closer to Ray Bradbury as well as Leigh Brackett and C.L. Moore’s solo works than to Isaac Asimov, George O. Smith, A.E. van Vogt and the other mainstays in Campbell’s stable during the war years. And like the Bradbury stories I have reviewed for the Retro Reviews project, “Desertion” feels very timeless and with a few tweaks wouldn’t seem out of place in a contemporary issue of Lightspeed, Clarkesworld or Tor.com. But unlike the various Bradbury stories, “Desertion” is hard science fiction, which usually dates much worse than softer science fiction or outright fantasy.

A beautiful story about friendship, dogs and what it feels like to be alive. Highly recommended.

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Love Through Space and Time 2020 – A Round-up of Indie Valentine’s Day Speculative Fiction

Love through Space and Time banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite Valentine’s Day science fiction, fantasy and horror by indie authors.

These Valentine’s Day stories cover the broad spectrum of speculative fiction. We have urban fantasy, a lot of paranormal romance, paranormal mysteries, science fiction mysteries, science fiction romance, space opera, space colonisation, horror, alternate history, time travel, dragons, werewolves, wizards, ghosts, demons, aliens, robots, magical greeting card writers, crime-fighting witches, crime-fighting ghosts, Viking ghosts, dinners with demons, grumpy cupids, love potions, Valentine’s Day in space and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set on or around Valentine’s Day.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday speculative fiction is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Dinner With a Demon by Iokasti ArgiriouDinner With a Demon: It’s Valentine’s Day After All by Iokasti Argiriou

Apparently it’s Valentine’s day. A day dedicated to love? What in Aphrodite’s name is happening?

Anath – or Leda to Persa as she always refuses to call her by her demonic name – approaches Persa after all this time and she chooses this specific day. Is it a coinsidence? And then, out of the blue, the strangest thing happens. She asks Persa out on a date. A real date.

Ok, it was Persa’s suggestion, actually, but she never thought that Leda would go along with it. Now Persa cannot bow out and…she really hopes that this Valentine dude knows what he’s doing. Please, don’t let him be a sham!

Roses & Tails by Barbara BeRoses & Tails by Barbara Be:

She is an alien with silver-blue skin and a sexy tail, he is human and sometimes she doesn’t quite understand his customs. Like that strange human event of Valentine’s Day. He has something special planned for that day and it involves Zero G. But maybe he hasn’t quite thought this through. Sex in Zero G has some unique challenges.

This short story has previously been published in 2017 as part of the “Red Hots” anthology, which has been unpublished.

 

Valentine's Day by Zack BrooksValentine’s Day: A Charlie The Cupid Short Story by Zack Brooks:

Meet Charles Vefflin. A cupid stuck as a drone within a corporate company run by the Fates in Boston, he is doomed to cause people to fall in love with their soulmates for all of eternity. He hates his job and most people of the world. But a job is a job, and he isn’t going to let a little thing like people ruin the few pleasures in his life.

Join Charlie on the worst day of the year, Valentine’s Day, where he must make a young couple fall in love at a most unconventional party. See him deal with the idiocy of his co-workers, the lunacy of humans, and even run into a perverted old god. But, one thing’s for sure, he’ll see the job through. Even if it takes some liquid courage just to get through the night.

Valentine’s day is short story, about 6,500 words or 22 printed pages

Valentine's Day on Iago Prime by Cora BuhlertValentine’s Day on Iago Prime by Cora Buhlert:

Kai and Maisie are about the celebrate their first Valentine’s Day on the planet Iago Prime. However, the holiday traditions they established back on Earth such as celebrating Valentine’s Day with a picnic on the beach are impossible to maintain in the hostile environment of their new home. But in spite of the many limitations imposed by living on Iago Prime, Kai pulls out all the stops to give Maisie an unforgettable Valentine’s Day.

This is a science fictional Valentine’s Day story of 2200 words or approx. 10 print pages.

A Viking Ghost for Valentine's Day by Jo-Ann CarsonA Viking Ghost for Valentine’s Day by Jo-Ann Carson:

To feed her three children, Widow Abigail Jenkins takes the only job available in Sunset Cove: night cleaner in the notorious, haunted tea-house. She figures the wild, supernatural rumors about the place are pure fiction. After all, ghosts don’t exist.

Eric Eklund a sexy spirit from Sweden is over a thousand years old. Having missed his chance at Valhalla, the Viking spends his time roaming the world and gambling. That is until he sees Abby whose feisty earthly-spirit turns his ghostly world upside down.

When the two meet sparks fly, but their romance is interrupted by a poltergeist hunting children.

What happens when you mix a naughty, Viking ghost built like a Norse god, a strong woman who suffers no fools and a nasty poltergeist? Answer: another fun, Gambling Ghost story.

A Viking Ghost for Valentine’s is a lighthearted novella filled with love, laughter and just enough ghouliness to thrill and chill you to the bone.

Quill Me Now by Jordan Castillo PriceQuill Me Now by Jordan Castillo Price:

What if the words you wrote came true?

Spellcraft isn’t exactly a respectable business, but it does pay the bills. At least, it should. Unfortunately, Dixon Penn failed his Spellcraft initiation. Instead of working in his family’s shop, he’s stuck delivering takeout orders in his uncle’s beat-up Buick.

Winning a Valentine’s Day contest at the largest greeting card company in the tri-state area would be just the thing to get his life back on track—but something at Precious Greetings just doesn’t add up. And despite numerous warnings to quit pestering them about his contest entry, he simply can’t stop himself from coming back again and again.

It doesn’t hurt that the head of security is such a hottie. If Dixon had any common sense, he’d be scared of the big, mysterious, tattooed Russian.

To be fair, no one ever accused him of being too smart….

A Werewolf's Valentine by Zoe ChantA Werewolf’s Valentine by Zoe Chant:

Curvy cat shifter McKenzi Enkel gave up on love after one too many heartbreaks. What’s more, she declared war on Valentine’s Day. But then a handsome, whiskey-voiced stranger comes to town.

Sexy singer West, a lone wolf who lost his pack as a child, never stopped searching for his missing family. He sings when he can, fights when he must, and always moves on—until he meets the scorching hot McKenzi in the diner she reluctantly decorated for Valentine’s Day.

In a small town of shifters where anyone can find a refuge, West and McKenzi still feel alone. But as they begin to open their hearts to each other, he can’t make himself leave… and she can’t let him go. With Valentine’s Day approaching, can West and McKenzi forge a new pack… and find a love even they can’t deny?

My Maggie Valentine by Kate DanleyMy Maggie Valentine by Kate Danley:

Valentine’s Day is terrible. Especially when you’re Maggie MacKay and tasked with chaperoning the local high school Valentine’s dance. Join Maggie and Killian on a holiday, short story adventure. Sometimes you wrestle with demons. And sometimes they just want to cuddle…

A part of the Maggie MacKay: Holiday Special short story series. This stands independently from the main Magical Tracker series and can be read at any time and in any order.

WARNING: This adventure contains cussing, brawling, and unladylike behavior. Proceed with caution.

Love Potion Sold Seperately by Nicole DragonBeckLove Potion Sold Seperately by Nicole DragonBeck:

Maggie Baker can’t think of anyone to ask to wear her corsage at this year’s First Days Celebration. After a visit from her fairy godmother, Maggie concocts her own Prince Charming, but when Charle arrives, things get more complicated than she bargained for.

 

 

 

Vintage Valentine by Cat GardinerVintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner:

Romance and time-travel meet Pride and Prejudice in this utterly romantic modern story. Step back in time to WWII-era for a sweet Valentine’s Day.

What begins as a begrudging visit to Time & Again antique shop turns into so much more than discovering trinkets from the past. The unexpected happens! Love and lessons await Lizzy Bennet when she leaves her mobile device in the future. Travel with her through a portal to timeless romance back in 1943 where she’s looking up into the eyes of one dashing G.I. at U.S.O dance.

An 8,500 word sweet paranormal romance.

A Dragon's Valentine by C.D. GorriThe Dragon’s Valentine by C.D. Gorri:

“She’s given up on love, but he’s just begun…”

After five hundred years of servitude, Dragon Shifter, Callius Falk and his three brothers are finally freed from their bonds. Callius has one mission, to find his true mate.

Winifred Castillo spends her nights tending bar at The Thirsty Dog, a local favorite in Maccon City, New Jersey. After her boyfriend skips town with her rent money, she’s sworn off men. For good!

But what’s a Werewolf to do when a dark-haired stranger with golden eyes and rippling muscles claims her as his mate?

The Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi HolmesThe Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi Holmes:

A romantic weekend at Marlow House Bed and Breakfast turns deadly when Earthbound Spirits founder, Peter Morris, is murdered. Plenty of people had a reason to want the man dead—especially Danielle’s current guests.

But it isn’t Morris’ ghost distracting Danielle on this deadly Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s her late husband Lucas. She has her hands full with suitors coming from all directions—both living and dead—while she tries to figure out if there’s a killer in Marlow House.

 

Ghoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia JaymesGhoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia Jaymes:

It’s time for another Ravenmist Whodunnit! A tiny Midwestern town with charming covered bridges, quirky residents, delightful antique shops, and more than their share of haunted activity.

Tedi has another packed inn of people for the Ravenmist Valentine’s Day Ball. The evening was a complete success until she and Jack find a dead body on the back patio with a Cupid’s arrow through his heart. There’s no shortage of suspects for his murder either. Jack will have his hands full paring down the list.

And Tedi? She’s staying out of this. No way is she going to be pulled into it. Not after last time. She has her own investigation. She and her friend Missy are trying to find why the town has suddenly been infused with paranormal energy. Ghosts are literally getting up and dancing around. It’s all going well too. That is until the investigation starts to hit just a little bit too close to home.

Hop into your ghostmobile and take a ride with Tedi as she meets a spirit who doesn’t think he’s dead, two ghosts in love, and a hard partying specter who just might have witnessed the murder. It’s a hauntingly good time in the little town of Ravenmist and you’re invited to the party.

Bear Valley Valentine by T.S. JoyceBear Valley Valentine by T.S. Joyce:

Colin Cross is a lone bear shifter living on the outskirts of Bear Valley. He likes his reclusive lifestyle, but when he musters the nerve to talk to the woman he has feelings for, being alone just doesn’t seem like enough anymore. When he finds Hadley on an online dating site, it’s the perfect way to build a relationship with her without dragging her into his dark past. Hadley is human, and humans don’t belong in his world, but a little online flirting never hurt anyone.

Hadley Bennett has had it with dating local townies. Determined to cast her net a little wider, she enters the chaotic world of online dating. When she finally secures a face-to-face date with the elusive Bearman28, it’ll be a Valentine’s Day to remember.

And if Hadley can handle his real identity, they just might find what they’ve both been searching for.

Bear Valley Valentine is a 20,000 word story with heart pounding romance, a thoughtful alpha bear, and spicy Valentine’s Day surprises.

For the Love of Cupidity by Raven KennedyFor the Love of Cupidity by Raven Kennedy:

First comes love, then comes mating, then comes the baby and some cupid training.

Cupidville is overrun with new cupid recruits, and it’s up to me to train them in time for Valentine’s Day. Too bad I have four mates who keep insisting that it’s time for me to take a break.

Juggling my role as the cupid boss, being a mate, and handling motherhood isn’t always easy, but it’s sure as hearts worth it. Let’s just hope I can get these cupid flunkies trained in time.

Author’s Note: This is a Heart Hassle novella just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Love Potion, edited by Graceley Knox and D.D. MiersLove Potion, edited by Graceley Knox and D.D. Miers:

A valentines day charity anthology featuring 8 exclusive stories from your favorite bestselling Paranormal and Fantasy romance authors! All proceeds will be donated to Room to Read!

How to Capture a Demon’s Heart – Graceley Knox & D.D. Miers
A Demon’s Plaything (The Elite Guards) – Amelia Hutchins
Deep Blue Sea – Pippa DaCosta
The Hellhound’s Legion: A Kit Davenport Novella – Tate James
The Heart Cantrip: a Family Spells Novella – C.M. Stunich
Eternal Hearts – A Forsaken Gods Series Novella – G. Bailey & Coralee June
A Damsel and a Demigod (The Guild Codex: Spellbound) – Annette Marie
The Fox and the Wolf – Clara Hartley

Moonshine Valetnine by Tegan MaherMoonshine Valentine by Tegan Maher:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Noelle has no idea what to get for Hunter. While she’s getting her hair cut and tossing around gift ideas, Coralee’s long-term boyfriend pops in and declares his undying love via a marriage proposal, breaking rule numero uno of their relationship clause.

He’s only the first to fall, though. When the men of Keyhole Lake start acting like lovesick lunatics, Noelle and Rae have to put their heads together to figure out what happened before the whole town goes loopy in love, or someone ends up in jail.

This story falls in between book 4, Murder and Mayhem, and Book 5, Murder and Marinade, in the Witches of Keyhole Lake Mystery Series.

Heart Attack by Terri MainHeart Attack by Terri Main:

When Smelling Roses, Watch Out for the Thorns

Strange things are happening in Armstrong City right before St. Valentine’s Day. Several women who found roses on their doorstep passed out inexplicably. Carolyn and Mike must figure out how this happened, who is doing it, and why?

A fun little mystery for the holiday of love.

 

Valentines Day Time Patrol by Bob MayerValentines Day: Time Patrol by Bob Mayer:

“The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity—or it will move apart.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What does it take to change history and destroy our reality? Change events on the same date, 14 February, in six different years. The Time Patrol must send an agent back to each day, with just 24 hours for each to defeat the Shadow’s plan to disrupt our time-line, creating a time tsunami and wiping our present out.

Ivar: 1929. Gunmen massacre seven people in the infamous St. Valentines Day Massacre. Al Capone is consolidating his grip on the Outfit in Chicago. But what if it turns out very differently?

Eagle: 1945. President Roosevelt, heading home from the Yalta Conference, stops on the Great Bitter Lake to meet King Idn Saud of Saudi Arabia to discuss a relatively new topic: Arab oil. And a Jewish homeland.

Roland: 1779. Captain Cook, famed explorer of the Pacific, meets his fate in Hawaii.

Scout: 278. Saint Valentine is beheaded near the Milvian Bridge.

Doc: 1945. The Dresden Firebombing. Kurt Vonnegut is in a slaughterhouse as the first bombers appear overheard.

Moms: 1946. The ENIAC computer, programmed by six women, is unveiled to the public. The press thinks the women are simply models.

The mission, as always for the Time Patrol, seems straight-forward: keep history intact. No matter the cost.

But this time, things go very differently than in previous missions and one of the team members must make the ultimate sacrifice.

Rainbow Bouquet, edited by Farah MendlesohnRainbow Bouquet, edited by Farah Mendlesohn:

Authors featured are Harry Robertson, Edward Ahern, Victoria Zammit, Erin Horáková, Cheryl Morgan, Sarah Ash, Kathleen Jowitt, Sean Robinson, Garrick Jones and MJ Logue, and the settings vary from a mediaeval monastery to the ‘final frontier’, give or take the odd supernatural realm along the way. Stories of love in the past, present and future – all as fascinating in their variety as love itself.

 

 

My Bloodiest Valentine, edited by K.A. MorseMy Bloodiest Valentine, edited by K.A. Morse:

Roses are red. So is your blood. It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’ve brought you something good. Abandon the chocolates, forget flowers and wine. Because these authors stories are bloody divine. Demons from Hell or a vampires kiss, this collection of stories you don’t want to miss.

 

 

 

Love Magic by Jesi Lea RyanLove Magic by Jesi Lea Ryan:

“The day I met Derrick while playing my violin in the park was magical. Unfortunately, magic and love together don’t always mix.”

Oliver met Derrick while busking in the park, and they hit it off from the start. At first, Derrick’s “mysterious magician” vibe was intriguing, but after two botched dates, Oliver was ready to call it quits.

Fearing he lost his chance with Oliver, Derrick makes a last-ditch effort to win Oliver’s heart with a romantic Valentine’s date. But when love and magic collide, things tend to go awry. Will these two guys make it through the date unscathed?

Validated by Valentine's by Joynll SchultzValidated by Valentine’s by Joynell Schultz:

Ivory has the perfect man, from his microchip processor to his flesh-like exterior.

Ivory hated that she loved her Christmas gift this year. Her sister gave her the perfect humanoid companion, but there’s just one problem: he’ll never be able to say he loves her, no matter how much Ivory falls in love with him.

Was her dream man a present or a curse?

But when Ethan (Ivory’s Dream Droid) looks at her with those sweet blue eyes and secretly earns enough money to enter her in the city-wide bake-off, she realizes she doesn’t care. He’s hers. And that’s the best gift of all.

Ivory’s perfect world falls apart the closer she gets to the bake-off. It starts with a lost entry and Ethan having a few programming malfunctions, then she discovers someone’s deliberately sabotaging her. What started out to be a dream Valentine’s day, begins to turn into a nightmare. A large supportive family, a caring artificial companion, and the best cupcake recipe in the world might not be enough to uncover who’s setting Ivory up to fail.

My Wicked Valentine by Lotta SmithMy Wicked Valentine by Lotta Smith:

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner… Love is in the air and so are the ghosts!

When Rick’s old friend, up-and-coming celeb psychic Brian Powers is accused of murdering an esthetician at a luxe gentlemen-only spa, Mandy’s cozy afternoon at home goes from cookie-baking to crime solving.

With baby Sophie and ghost-pal Jackie in tow, Mandy and Rick take to haunting the spa where the facials are fab and the intrigue is high-end.

Every suspect has a secret, but who’s willing to kill to keep theirs under wraps? [Seaweed wraps, that is.] Find out in this dangerously funny installment of the Manhattan Mystery series.

Dragon's First Valentine by Emily Martha SorensenDragon’s First Valentine by Emily Martha Sorensen:

There’s a new dragon visiting from Chicago, and she’s green, like Virgil! Unfortunately, this might cause a few small problems nobody anticipated.

As well as a few revelations and surprises.

And all while Rose is trying to figure out what to give her husband for Valentine’s Day.

 

The Draed Arrow by Grigor WeeksThe Dread Arrow by Grigor Weeks:

Dark Space is strange, and so are the hitmen who live there. Strap in sweetheart. Love never hurt so good.

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Love and Crime 2020 – A Round-up of Indie Valentine’s Day Mysteries and Crime Fiction

Love and Crime banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite Valentine’s Day mysteries by indie and small press authors.

The holiday mysteries cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have plenty of cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, culinary mysteries, animal mysteries, paranormal mysteries, historical mysteries, jazz age mysteries, police procedurals, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, amateur sleuths, crime-fighting witches, crime-fighting bakers, crime-fighting socialites, crime-fighting ghosts, crime-fighting dogs, masked vigilantes, missing children, kidnappings, jewel thefts, sleazy lawyers, serial killers, assassins and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set on or around Valentine’s Day.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Death by Baguette by Jennifer A. AldersonDeath by Baguette: A Valentine’s Day Murder in Paris by Jennifer S. Alderson:

Paris—the city of love, lights … and murder? Join tour guide Lana Hansen as she escorts five couples on an unforgettable Valentine-themed vacation to France! Unfortunately it will be the last trip for one passenger…

Lana Hansen’s future is looking bright. She has money in her bank account, a babysitter for her cat, and even a boyfriend. Regrettably she won’t get to celebrate Valentine’s Day with her new beau, Chad. Instead, she will be leading a lovers-only tour in France. Luckily for Lana, her best friend, Willow, and her partner, Jane, will be joining her.

Things go downhill when Lana’s new boyfriend shows up in Paris for her tour—with his wife. Chad is not the website developer he claimed to be, but a famous restaurant critic whose love of women rivals his passion for food.

After Chad drops dead during a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, a persistent French detective becomes convinced that he was poisoned. And the inspector’s sights are set on several members of the tour—including Lana!

While escorting her group through the cobblestone streets of Montmartre, the grand gardens of Versailles, and the historic Marché des Enfants Rouges market, Lana must figure out who really killed Chad before she has to say bonjour to prison and adieu to her freedom.

Introducing Lana Hansen, tour guide, reluctant amateur sleuth, and star of the Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mystery Series. Join Lana as she leads tourists and readers to fascinating cities around the globe on intriguing adventures that, unfortunately for Lana, often turn deadly.

Valentine's Day is Murder by Carolyn ArnoldValentine’s Day is Murder by Carolyn Arnold:

Cupid’s arrow may have missed its mark…

Jimmy finally takes a vacation–and a chance on love–only to be abducted. His female companion originally thinks he had cold feet about their relationship, but Sean and Sara know there’s more to it. Jimmy isn’t the type to just up and disappear, let alone leave a lady stranded.

Setting out on their private jet, Sean and Sara reach the tropical paradise of Ocho Rios, Jamaica with sightseeing as the last thing on their minds.

With a gold coin being their initial tie to Jimmy’s kidnapper, Sean and Sara even speculate about the involvement of pirates. Yet as the hours pass, and there’s no word from Jimmy’s captors, Sean and Sara will need to figure out the real motive before it’s too late.

With help from their friend, Adam, back in Albany, the pieces come together and not a moment too soon.

A Valentine for the Silencer by Cora BuhlertA Valentine for the Silencer by Cora Buhlert:

Valentine’s Day 1938: All Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer wants is to have a romantic dinner with his beautiful fiancée Constance Allen.

But on his way to his date, Richard happens upon a mugging in progress. Can he save the victim and make sure that young Thomas Walden has the chance to propose to his girlfriend? And will he make it to dinner with Constance on time?

This is a short Valentine’s Day story of 7200 words or approx. 24 print pages in the Silencer series, but may be read as a standalone.

He never brings me flowers...He never brings me flowers… by Cora Buhlert

He never brings me flowers…

Waiting for your boyfriend to finally come home from work can be hell, especially if it’s your anniversary and you suspect he forgot – again. But does the ringing of the doorbell promise roses and sex and the long overdue proposal or something far more sinister?

Lovers’ Ridge

A foundling, a newborn, abandoned and left to die. But tonight, he will have his revenge on the parents who deserted him. Tonight, they will pay, at the very place where the story once began, at Lovers’ Ridge…

This is a bumper edition containing two short crime stories of 3200 words altogether. Both stories are also available as part of the collection Murder in the Family.

Valentine's Madness, edited by Beth ByersValentine’s Madness: A 1920s Historical Mystery Anthology, edited by Beth Byers:

Welcome to a very flapper Valentine’s Day!

Are you ready for the roaring twenties? For spunky young women crafting their own lives? If so, you’ll love Violet, Julia, Abigail, Evelyn, and Rosemary.

Inside, you’ll find four short Valentine’s day adventures, 1920s style including roses, chocolates, kisses, and cocktails. With stories from The Violet Carlyle Mysteries, the Piccadilly Ladies Club Mysteries, the Abigail Dutcher Mysteries, the Jazz & Gin Cozy Mysteries, and The Lillywhite Mysteries.

Mystery on Valentine's Day by Beth Byers and Lee StraussMystery on Valentine’s Day by Beth Byers and Lee Strauss:

The worlds of Ginger Gold and Violet Carlyle collide in this fun Valentine Mystery short story by bestselling authors Lee Strauss and Beth Byers.

While both Ginger and Violet had plans for a romantic evening of dinner and dancing to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their husbands, something goes terribly awry. One by one, female patrons discover that they are missing jewelry.

In this closed room mystery filled with a brigade of colorful characters, Violet and Ginger join forces to put their skills of deduction to work. Can they unveil the culprit and solve the mystery in time for dessert?

Don’t miss this delectable bite-sized tale. Pairs perfectly with a box of chocolate and a comfy chair!

The St. Valentine's Day Cookie Massacre by Elisabeth CrabtreeThe St. Valentine’s Day Cookie Massacre by Elisabeth Crabtree:

It’s Valentine’s Day in quiet, cozy Hatter’s Cove, Florida and food columnist, Kat Archer, has been assigned the event of the year, the grand opening of Miss Dolly’s Cookie Jar and Sweets Emporium.

What begins as a run of the mill, albeit tasty, assignment turns into something much more dangerous when one of the Cookie Jar’s employees is poisoned.

Now Kat is chasing the biggest story of her life, while trying to catch the eye of her handsome editor and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

A cozy novella: approximately 44,000 words

Murder on Valentine's Day by P. CreedenMurder on Valentine’s Day by P. Creeden:

It’s Valentine’s Day and 20-year-old Emma Wright just wants her crush to take notice of her. But Colby Davidson, the K9 search and rescue deputy only thinks of her as a kid sister. How will she get him to take her seriously?

When her veterinarian boss calls her to pick up a cat at a potential crime scene, she finds herself at the house of the richest woman in Ridgeway. Her father—the sheriff—and Colby are there. They both dismiss the untimely death as a heart attack, but Emma finds clues that it might be something more. Did the software billionaire die of natural causes, or was it murder?

The Valentine Mystery by Kathi DaleyThe Valentine Mystery by Kathi Daley:

If you love small towns, endearing relationships, food, animals, and a touch of murder, you will love this new mystery series by Kathi Daley, author of the popular Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery Series.

It is Valentine’s Day in White Eagle Montana and Tess and Tilly are busier than ever delivering Valentine Cards along with the daily mail. Of course it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day in White Eagle without a mystery to solve or a holiday adoption party to prepare for.

When Tess happens upon a vehicle accident where one man dies, she gets pulled into a mystery with roots into the past. With Tony’s help she not only tracks down a killer but she looks into the occurrence of a missing person as well.

Tony is still looking into the case of Tess’s father’s disappearance, meanwhile Tess and Tilly team up with Brady to make sure that every animal shelter resident finds their perfect match in time for Valentine’s Day.

A Valentine Murder by Steven DemareeA Valentine Murder by Steven Demaree

In this delightful combination of a whodunit mixed with humor, a woman, who has been celebrating her birthday and Valentine’s Day, is rushed to the hospital complaining of stomach pains and nausea. She grabs the doctor and tells him she has been poisoned, but before she can tell him any more, she dies. When Lt. Dekker and Sgt. Murdock investigate, they find out that no one liked her, with the possible exception of her husband.

 

 

Corridor Man: Valentine by Mark FaricyCorridor Man: Valentine by Mark Faricy:

BETTER CHANGE THE LOCKS. BOBBY DID.

Disbarred attorney Bobby Custer continues to use his main skill set; murder, treachery and perversion in an ongoing effort to increase his personal gains.

Ever the charmer, Bobby provides Emily with an unforgettable valentine that up until now she could only dream about . . . or maybe it was a nightmare. Together they forever mark the day with a memorable secret. Psychotic, sociopathic, always charming– and you thought he was here to help.

The Heartless Valentine by Kacey GeneThe Heartless Valentine by Kacey Gene:

Roses are red; violets are blue
Is a lover from the dead here to kill you?

Valentine’s Day. 2020. Middlebridge, Wisconsin. When the quick-witted second grade teacher and amateur sleuth, Jennifer Hunter, receives a gift from a secret admirer on Valentine’s Day, she heartily investigates who her cupid could be. When she opens the box, though, she doesn’t find chocolates; she finds a human heart wrapped in red tissue paper.

And that’s not all. Her admirer has written a note confessing their desire to watch Jennifer die. That’s when Jennifer’s best friend and Middlebridge’s Police Lieutenant, Jake Hollow, steps in.

Jake and Jennifer put their dynamic duo focus on finding Jennifer’s deranged valentine, and that leads them to the recently deceased body of David Bird IV. He looks like an average dead guy except for one fact — his heart has been removed. Jennifer must investigate this heartless valencrime; otherwise, she fears she’ll be the next victim. Yet, her attempt to protect her own heart leads her to a set of love letters that tell the story of broken hearts from the past.

Valentine’s Day. 1910. Salem, Massachusetts. Clay Trunkett, a twenty year old hard-working journalist, is scheduled to hang for assaulting a man. His accuser? David Bird II, son of the wealthiest man in Salem. Clay’s true crime? Falling in love with Meghan White, the woman David has his heart set on marrying.

The love triangle of 1910 holds the clues Jennifer needs to find the heart snatcher of 2020, but with her own crazed valentine delivering threatening messages and bits of heart like they’re candy, Jennifer struggles to piece together this crime of passion from 1910.

And, Jennifer’s own passions get in the way when she discovers that her best friend, Jake, has a girlfriend — one that he’s been hiding from Jennifer for months. Betrayal runs high as masquerade parties, craft sales, murder mystery dinners, and a strange encounter at the local diner all distract Jennifer from her one mission: To find out who’s making her Valentine’s Day the most horrifyingly heart-filled in history. The problem is, Jennifer’s discoveries may end her friendship with Jake, and that’s a heartbreak she can’t take.

This clean cozy mystery will keep reader’s hearts pounding as they flip through love letters from the past and the alternating stories of Jennifer Hunter and Clay Trunkett. Jennifer’s down-to-earth and lovable personality plunges into new territory as she must assess her relationship with Jake and the type of love she wants in her life. She goes on crochet benders; she attends parties where she gets to be someone other than herself; and all the time she’s piecing together a crime that makes this Valentine’s Day anything but sweet.

Valentine by Celina GraceValentine by Celina Grace:

A respectable, middle-aged housewife. An ambitious young lawyer. A student burlesque dancer. Three women with nothing in common – except for the fact that someone has sent them a macabre Valentine’s Day gift; a pig’s heart pierced by an arrow.

Is this a case of serious harm intended? Or just a malicious prank? Detective Inspector Olbeck thinks there might be something more sinister behind it but his colleague Detective Sergeant Kate Redman is too busy mourning the departure of her partner Tin to New York to worry too much about the case. Until one of the women receives a death threat…

Valentine is a novella in the best-selling Kate Redman Mystery series by crime writer Celina Grace.

The Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi HolmesThe Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi Holmes:

A romantic weekend at Marlow House Bed and Breakfast turns deadly when Earthbound Spirits founder, Peter Morris, is murdered. Plenty of people had a reason to want the man dead—especially Danielle’s current guests.

But it isn’t Morris’ ghost distracting Danielle on this deadly Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s her late husband Lucas. She has her hands full with suitors coming from all directions—both living and dead—while she tries to figure out if there’s a killer in Marlow House.

 

Ghoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia JaymesGhoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia Jaymes:

It’s time for another Ravenmist Whodunnit! A tiny Midwestern town with charming covered bridges, quirky residents, delightful antique shops, and more than their share of haunted activity.

Tedi has another packed inn of people for the Ravenmist Valentine’s Day Ball. The evening was a complete success until she and Jack find a dead body on the back patio with a Cupid’s arrow through his heart. There’s no shortage of suspects for his murder either. Jack will have his hands full paring down the list.

And Tedi? She’s staying out of this. No way is she going to be pulled into it. Not after last time. She has her own investigation. She and her friend Missy are trying to find why the town has suddenly been infused with paranormal energy. Ghosts are literally getting up and dancing around. It’s all going well too. That is until the investigation starts to hit just a little bit too close to home.

Hop into your ghostmobile and take a ride with Tedi as she meets a spirit who doesn’t think he’s dead, two ghosts in love, and a hard partying specter who just might have witnessed the murder. It’s a hauntingly good time in the little town of Ravenmist and you’re invited to the party.

Lady Rample and Cupid's Kiss by Shéa MacLeodLady Rample and Cupid’s Kiss by Shéa MacLeod:

Just when Lady Rample has given up on love, a former flame reappears, bringing with him all sorts of emotions she thought buried. Unfortunately, that flame comes with one very aggressive and rather angry almost-ex-wife. The ensuing catfight is almost worth the price of admission.

When the ex-wife is found dead in Hyde Park, stabbed with a hatpin in the shape of a heart, the police naturally assume the killer is the husband. Our intrepid heroine is not about to allow her love to go down for a crime he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, proving him innocent may put her own neck on the line.

Never one to shirk from danger, Lady R—with the help of her eccentric Aunt Butty—will need all her wits about her if she’s to solve the crimes of the Cupid Killer.

Enjoy the glitz and glamor of the 1930s with the sixth book in the popular 1930s historical mystery series, Lady Rample Mysteries.

Moonshine Valetnine by Tegan MaherMoonshine Valentine by Tegan Maher:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Noelle has no idea what to get for Hunter. While she’s getting her hair cut and tossing around gift ideas, Coralee’s long-term boyfriend pops in and declares his undying love via a marriage proposal, breaking rule numero uno of their relationship clause.

He’s only the first to fall, though. When the men of Keyhole Lake start acting like lovesick lunatics, Noelle and Rae have to put their heads together to figure out what happened before the whole town goes loopy in love, or someone ends up in jail.

This story falls in between book 4, Murder and Mayhem, and Book 5, Murder and Marinade, in the Witches of Keyhole Lake Mystery Series.

Heart Attack by Terri MainHeart Attack by Terri Main:

When Smelling Roses, Watch Out for the Thorns

Strange things are happening in Armstrong City right before St. Valentine’s Day. Several women who found roses on their doorstep passed out inexplicably. Carolyn and Mike must figure out how this happened, who is doing it, and why?

A fun little mystery for the holiday of love.

 

Valentines & Victims by Donna MuseValentines & Victims by Donna Muse:

After being snowbound for much of the winter, amateur detective duo Geneva Pomolo and Iris Reeves are looking forward to a Valentine’s Day getaway with a few older friends at Bittersweet Lodge, a ski resort in the chilly foothills of southern Indiana. Both women are looking forward to a weekend of dance contests, luaus, roasted pigs, and toboggan scavenger hunts. Tensions mount when one of their friends comes down with a sudden illness. Geneva fears the worst: someone is poisoning the lodge’s guests.

The case takes a deadly swerve when Horace Weatherspoon—millionaire head of a railroad empire—dies in a toboggan accident. The old man had been deathly afraid of toboggans and Geneva knows there is malice at work: one of their fellow guests is a murderer. As Iris and Geneva begin to investigate, they uncover a trail of secrets leading back more than thirty years, and one person will kill again to keep those secrets buried.

Be My Valencrime by Amy M. ReadeBe My Valencrime by Amy M. Reade:

It’s Valentine’s Day in Juniper Junction and love is in the air. Or is that just a dark cloud?
Lilly’s shop assistant, Harry, is about to pop the question to his girlfriend, Alice Davenport. He’s got the ring, he’s planned a romantic dinner, and he’s even thought of a gracious escape if Alice says no.

The only thing missing is…Alice.

Lilly wants to do all she can to help find Alice, even if that means interfering with a police investigation. But as she begins to learn more about Harry’s sweet, unassuming girlfriend, she discovers that Alice is hiding a shocking secret that will complicate everything.

And when Lilly suffers a lapse in judgment, the consequences are swift and painful. Can she pull herself together enough to help her daughter through a tunnel of teenage angst, deal with her mother’s dementia-related wanderings, and still help Harry find his Happily Ever After?

Sweet Hearts by Connie SheltonSweet Heart by Connie Shelton:

Will there be Valentine wedding bells for Samantha Sweet and Beau Cardwell? (introduced in this mystery series opener Sweet Masterpiece) Sam’s bakery, Sweet’s Sweets is busier than ever this Valentine week, as she struggles to replicate the magical chocolate-making techniques of the enigmatic chocolatier who boosted her winter holiday sales into the stratosphere. However, candy classes take second place to a new mystery, when Sam meets a woman whose missing son’s case seems to have been dropped by the authorities. Marla Fresques learns that she is dying and needs for her son to come home and raise the daughter he left behind. Sam agrees to help, hoping that Sheriff Beau’s inside connections will bring about a quick and happy resolution.

But what about Sam’s and Beau’s own wedding plans? They may be in jeopardy when an entirely new development appears in the form of Beau’s ex-girlfriend who is determined to win him back.

With the familiar mix of mystery, romance and a touch of magic that has enchanted readers of this series, Sweet Hearts draws the reader even further into the captivating world of Samantha Sweet.

My Wicked Valentine by Lotta SmithMy Wicked Valentine by Lotta Smith:

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner… Love is in the air and so are the ghosts!

When Rick’s old friend, up-and-coming celeb psychic Brian Powers is accused of murdering an esthetician at a luxe gentlemen-only spa, Mandy’s cozy afternoon at home goes from cookie-baking to crime solving.

With baby Sophie and ghost-pal Jackie in tow, Mandy and Rick take to haunting the spa where the facials are fab and the intrigue is high-end.

Every suspect has a secret, but who’s willing to kill to keep theirs under wraps? [Seaweed wraps, that is.] Find out in this dangerously funny installment of the Manhattan Mystery series.

The Draed Arrow by Grigor WeeksThe Dread Arrow by Grigor Weeks:

Dark Space is strange, and so are the hitmen who live there. Strap in sweetheart. Love never hurt so good.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine's Blizzard Murder by Linnea WestValentine’s Bizzard Mystery by Linnea West:

When a minor celebrity staying at the Shady Lake Bed and Breakfast dies of an allergic reaction during a blizzard, it doesn’t seem like it could get much worse. But was it really an accident?

Jake Crawford is a D list celebrity who loves to come back to Shady Lake to be the big fish in a small pond. This time, he brought his new wife back to Shady Lake for his honeymoon and they are staying at the bed and breakfast that Tessa Schmidt helps her family run. Jake is kind of a jerk, but then a blizzard hits and he dies of an allergic reaction. It seems like things couldn’t get any worse for a Valentine’s Day weekend. But Tessa is starting to suspect that the allergic reaction isn’t the horrible accident she had assumed.

As the blizzard stretches on and on, secrets keep coming out. It seems like almost everyone has a motive to kill Jake. Can Tessa figure out who wanted to kill Jake Crawford before the killer strikes again?

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Star Trek Picard realises that “The End is the Beginning” and gets on a spaceship

Since it seems that I’m doing episode by episode reviews of Star Trek Picard, my previous reviews are here.

I initially misread the episode title as “The End of the Beginning”, which would have been highly appropriate, because this third episode of Star Trek Picard seems to be the end of the set-up period and the start of the adventure proper.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Retro Review: “When the Bough Breaks” by Lewis Padgett a.k.a. Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

Astounding Science Fiction November 1944

Not Alexander, but the Killdozer from Theodore Sturgeon’s eponymous story

“When the Bough Breaks” is a novelette by Lewis Padgett, one of the many pen names of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, which was first published in the November 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and is therefore eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos. The story may be found online here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point! We also need a trigger warning for harm done to a child here.

“When the Bough Breaks” is the story of the Calderon family: physicist Joe, his wife Myra and their eighteen-months-old son Alexander. The Calderons are amazed to have found a good apartment close to the university where Joe works and for a reasonable rent, too. Apparently, the housing market was already tight in 1944, even though the US housing stock was not being diminished by World War II bombings, unlike in Europe.

A neighbour informs the Calderons that no one lasts long in apartment 4-D. It’s not exactly haunted, but there are unusual visitors, strange little men who keep asking for a man no one knows. And indeed, the Calderons have barely moved in, when the doorbell rings and four little men with huge heads and wizened faces stand outside.

“Are you Joseph Calderon?” they ask Joe. When Joe says yes, the little inform him that they are the descendants of his son Alexander, that Alexander is a superbaby and that the little men are there to educate him.

Joe doesn’t even have time to react, before the little men storm the apartment and gather around baby Alexander. They claim that they come from the year 2450 and that Alexander himself has sent them back in time to educate him. Oh yes, and Alexander is an immortal superhuman.

The Calderons do what everybody would have done in that situation, they throw the little men out. Or at least they try, for the little men paralyse them with some kind of futuristic technology. Then the little men give Alexander some educational toys from the future. Alexander isn’t particularly keen on the toys, but the little men are extremely patient. Once they’re satisfied that Alexander has learned enough, they leave.

The Calderons are understandably panicked – after all, Alexander is just a baby, a perfectly normal baby and not homo superior. So, to avoid a further visitation by the little men, they go to the nearest theatre to watch a movie, taking Alexander along. But in the middle of the film, Alexander vanishes. The terrified Calderons head home, where they find Alexander happily playing with the little men and one of their educational toys.

The little men try to stun the Calderons again, but Joe says there is no need, they will cooperate. And the little men don’t want to hurt Joe and Myra either, because they know how important a stable home environment is to Alexander’s development.

So Joe and Myra watch as the little men play with Alexander, while Bordent, the leader of the little men, explains that Alexander is the first homo superior, mutated because both his parents worked with radioactive material and were exposed to radiation. Bordent also explains that Alexander’s abilities were not recognised until he was thirty. So the future Alexander sent Bordent and his companions into the past to find his infant self and give him an education suitable for a superhuman.

Bordent also explains that because Alexander is a superhuman, he will mature more slowly than regular human children. Until he is twenty, Alexander will physically remain at the state of an eight-year-old. Mentally, he will be higher developed than his parents, but irrational like a small child.

From that day on, the Calderons resign themselves to the daily visitation of the little men. They also note mental and physical changes in Alexander. After four days, he begins to talk and after a week, Alexander is able to hold conversations, though his speech is sometimes slurred, his baby muscles and teeth not yet ready for talking. Also like any baby, Alexander displays irritating behaviour, made even more irritating by the fact that he can talk. And so he demands milk and assembles the educational toys from the future into strange structures. But when Joe asks what Alexander is building, Alexander just says “No” over and over again. Alexander also decides to practice vomiting and crying and generally turns into a tiny dictator. At one point, he even tells Joe (whom he refuses to call “father”) that he and Myra are primitive biological necessities.

Alexander becomes steadily more difficult to handle. He learns to teleport, communicate telepathically and dispense electric shocks and promptly decides to try out those new skills on his parents. He also stops sleeping – it’s an artificial habit anyway, Bordent explains. By now, we and the Calderons are beginning to suspect that Alexander has a great and glorious future as a comic book supervillain ahead of him. However, Bordent assures Joe and Myra that Alexander is only playing and that he didn’t mean to hurt his parents. And no, spanking Alexander is not the answer.

While on the subject of spanking, the portrayal of parenthood and child rearing in this story are seriously dated. Not only does Joe consider spanking his admittedly tyrannical kid, no, Joe and Myra also drink larger quantities of hard alcohol around their baby (and Joe considers giving Alexander some alcohol at one point, when Alexander demands “a drink”, before Joe realises that he means milk), they smoke around their baby and take him the cinema at one point to see a movie that very likely is not appropriate for young children. To be fair, none of these things were uncommon for parents of young children well into the 1970s and beyond, but viewed from a 2020 POV they are jarring. Though it’s also interesting that Alexander berates his parents for smoking around him, because it’s bad for his lungs, which is probably the most prescient thing in the whole story.

After a few months of living with an ever more dictatorial superbaby, Joe and Myra are at their wits’ end. Human may have a nigh endless supply of parental love and tolerance, but even that has its limits and Joe and Myra have just about reached them.

Myra quietly wonders whether they’re really the first parents to deal with a homo superior baby. She finally decides that no, they’re probably not the first. However, Alexander is the first homo superior, so something must have happened to the others. And Joe and Myra as well as the reader can imagine only too clearly what it was.

The bough finally break one night, when Alexander breaks open a cupboard and retrieves an object, a blue egg, that the little men had locked away, because it might be dangerous to Alexander. Joe and Myra know the object is dangerous and that they should intervene, but somehow they cannot bring themselves to do it. Besides, Alexander probably wouldn’t let them intervene anyway.

And so it happens what has to happen. Alexanders blows himself up and all that remains are his smouldering baby shoes. Joe and Myra realise that Alexander is gone and that since Alexander never grew up into the first homo superior, Bordent and his companions never travelled back in time either and the whole thing ever happened. Joe and Myra are more relieved than anything, while Myra pities the parents of whoever the first homo superior to reach adulthood may be. We suspect that parents of Charles Xavier, Erich Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto and Magnifico a.k.a. The Mule might sympathise.

Line to Tomorrow by Lewis Padgett

On the other hand, the baby on the cover of this Lewis Padgett collection may well be Alexander.

“When the Bough Breaks” is a deeply disturbing story – after all, it is basically a story about parents who kill their kid through neglect. What makes the story even more disturbing by the fact that it’s largely a humorous story closer in tone to Henry Kuttner’s Gallegher stories about an inept inventor than to Kuttner and Moore’s more serious and sombre works such as their other 1944 science fiction novella “The Children’s Hour” or C.L. Moore’s solo works of the period like “No Woman Born” or Judgment Night. The cartoony interior art by A. Williams further reinforces the feeling that “When the Bough Breaks” was intended as a humorous story.

Children, marriage and family life are not a common theme in golden age (or for that matter contemporary) science fiction, though these themes show up quite frequently in the works of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, e.g. in “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”, the 1944 Retro Hugo winner for best novelette. The fact that Kuttner and Moore were a married couple that mostly wrote together certainly has something to do with the marriage and family focus in many of their works. In many ways, Kuttner/Moore stories from the 1940s such as “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”, “The Twonky” or “When the Bough Breaks” already look ahead at what Joanna Russ called Galactic Suburbia science fiction, silver age science fiction with domestic themes often written by women writers. Because thematically and stylistically “When the Bough Breaks” is very reminiscent of the Galactic Suburbia stories of the 1950s and early 1960s, even though the Calderons live in a city apartment rather than a suburb.

There are further parallels between “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” and “When the Bough Breaks”. In both stories, someone from the far future interferes with the development of children in the present. And in both stories, educational toys from the future cause psychological and physiological changes in children that their parents cannot understand. “When the Bough Breaks” is a much darker story than “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”, though. And “Mimsy” is not exactly a happy story. However in “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”, the narrative is on the side of the children. In “When the Bough Breaks”, the narrative is squarely on the side of the parents who wind up killing their child in the end.

We know a lot about Kuttner and Moore’s writing process, but comparatively little about their marriage and family life, when they were not writing. However, in a letter dated May 1943, John W. Campbell mentioned that C.L. Moore had missed deadlines because of a difficult pregnancy, which means that Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore were parents of a baby at the time this story was written. I now wonder whether there isn’t a kernel of truth to this story and whether “When the Bough Breaks” was at least partly inspired by Kuttner and Moore’s experiences with a fussy and difficult baby.

ETA: According to Paul Fraser and Rebecca Lohr, C.L. Moore had a miscarriage, which sheds a different light on the story.

It’s also telling that the behaviour and feelings of the Calderons, though caused by the fact that their child is a superbaby, very much mirrors the symptoms of postpartum depression, a condition that was known long before the 1940s, even if it wasn’t yet referred to by that name. At once point, Kuttner and Moore also use the term “autistic” to describe Alexander’s behaviour in what may be one of the first uses of that term in fiction. As I mentioned in my review of Allison V. Harding’s “Guard in the Dark”, Leo Kanner‘s and Hans Asberger‘s pioneering research into autism spectrum disorder happened in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It’s highly likely Kuttner and Moore (and Harding) were familiar with Kanner’s paper, which was first published in 1943. It’s also telling that the visitation by Bordent and the little men begins when Alexander is eighteen months old, i.e. at the age where symptoms of autism spectrum disorder first manifest.

Another term that is used in connection with Alexander is “homo superior”, a term which was coined by Olaf Stapledon in the 1935 science fiction novel Odd John, though nowadays it is mainly associated with the X-Men comics. It is well known that the silver age Marvel Comics in general and the X-Men in particular were inspired by golden age science fiction and that the literary predecessors of the X-Men may be found in Stapledon’s Odd John, A.E. van Vogt’s Slan, Isaac Asimov’s The Mule and particularly Wilmar H. Shiras’ Children of the Atom. As a fan of both, I have been aware of the connections between the X-Men comics and golden age science fiction for a long time now. However, I found the X-Men at around the same time I encountered The Mule and long before I tracked down Slan or Odd John let alone Children of the Atom. My image of mutants was that of a feared and hated minority – The Mule notwithstanding. And though The Mule is undoubtedly a villain (but then so is Magneto), I was disturbed by the anti-mutant slant of the story. It took me a long time to realise that The Mule was the rule rather than the exception and that homo superior in golden age science fiction were more likely to be supervillains rather than misunderstood heroes and that these were the very stories and tropes that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and later Chris Claremont were reacting to with the X-Men.

Alexander from “When the Bough Breaks” is another example of a negatively portrayed homo superior from golden age science fiction, though he never gets to grow up into a fully-fledged supervillain. And since Alexander unwittingly brings about his own demise by sending Bordent and his companions back into the past, “When the Bough Breaks” is also a very early example of the “grandfather paradox”, which was actually coined in the very same year by French writer René Barjavel in his science fiction novel Le Voyageur Imprudent a.k.a. Future Times Three.

“When the Bough Breaks” is certainly an interesting story. It is also well written, but then we know that Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore could write. And unlike some other stories I reviewed for this project, it has been reprinted several times over the decades and is therefore hardly an obscure story.

However, I really can’t get beyond that fact that “When the Bough Breaks” is essentially a story about infanticide. Worse, the infanticide is not punished, Joe and Myra don’t even feel remorse. And yes, Alexander was well on his way to becoming a total disaster, but Joe and Myra could have done something before he became a fully-fledged baby dictator such as throwing out Bordent and his companions, for example. But instead, they kill their own child through neglect, because he was too difficult to handle.

A highly disturbing story that IMO doesn’t belong on the Retro Hugo ballot, simply because of the highly problematic subject matter and the way it is handled.

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