Category Archives: Synopsis

Peter Phillips for Suspense

astounding_2_1949Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

In “She Didn’t Bounce” by Peter Phillips, a cocksure suitor, enamored with a plump woman in his office plays a cheeky game of seduction in this surprisingly ribald entry in Suspense #1, that runs just three pages.

Phillips (1920–2012) was a UK writer and journalist, with nearly two dozen science fiction and detective stories published in US pulps and digests. His most famous, at least at the time of Suspense #1, was “Manna,” first published in the Feb. 1949 Astounding and “perennially reprinted in anthologies.”

“The Quick and the Bomb” by William Tenn

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

Tenn was the pseudonym writer Phillip Klass used for most of his science fiction stories, reserving his own name for his nonfiction work. Born in London, Klass grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After marriage, the couple moved to Pennsylvania, where he taught comparative literature at Penn State University. Among his students who became writers themselves were David Morrell and Ray Ring.

Tenn’s stories appeared in Astounding, Galaxy, F&SF and many other magazines and collections. In “The Quick and the Bomb” a man rejects city life to build a self-sustaining bomb shelter under his farm to protect his family from the impending nuclear war. It’s a fascinating glimpse into post-WWII anxieties, told with Tenn’s trademark sarcastic wit.

Bombastic Humility

Stories from Universe #1 June 1953

In June 1953 Ray Palmer launched Universe Science Fiction from 139 North Clark Street in Chicago, under the editorial name of George Bell and Bell Publications, Inc. Here’s an excerpt of his opening editorial with typical Palmer grandiloquence:

“We have been a fan and student of science fiction for more than 20 years. We have our ideas of what a good science fiction magazine ought to contain and they are very simple. This first issue of UNIVERSE will show you how well we have met this simple objective. It is only this: To give you the best science fiction stories published in America today!”

Robert Bloch’s “Constant Reader” is first up. A small team of space explorers land on 68/5 planet. “We waited while the roboship did its job. It was our star reporter, our roving photographer, our official meteorologist, our staff geologist, our expert in anthropology and mineralogy, our trusted guide and—most important, on many occasions—our stalking-horse.” It soon discovers 68/5 planet is rather like Earth, oxygen and gravity-wise. But it’s lifeless, its dusty surface a flat, slate-colored desert.

Each crewman has his own quirks. George Dale’s is books. “Yes, real books, the old-fashioned kind that were printed on paper and bound together between leather or board covers.”

When the crew disembarks they relish leaving the cramped space of their ship to bask in the warmth of 68/5 planet’s sun. All is well for at least two paragraphs until all five crewmen simultaneously black out. Despite the robotship’s report, the place is inhabited by an alien intelligence that enjoys a good book, and has the ability to transform the fictive world into reality.

Ray Bradbury’s Small Assassin

Dime Mystery Nov. 1946

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

The idea that a newborn, a tiny baby could be an assassin aiming his sights on his own caregivers, aka his parents, is absurd. Yet, that is the premise of “Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury that was reprinted in the first edition of Suspense Magazine. The story’s first appeared in Dime Mystery (Nov. 1946).

Despite the premise, the story is well-written and has been reprinted in multiple anthologies, including one named for the story. It was adapted for an EC comic book and an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater television series and even has a page on Wikipedia.

Here’s the opening paragraph:
“Just when the idea occurred to her that she was being murdered she could not tell. There had been little subtle signs, little suspicions for the past month; things as deep as sea tides in her, like looking at a perfectly calm stretch of cerulean water and liking it and wanting to bathe in it, and finding, just as the tide takes your body into it, that monsters dwell just under the surface, things unseen, bloated, many-armed, sharp-fanged, malignant and inescapable.”

Image from the Wikipedia page.

James A. Kirch

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

An issue highlight, “The Eyewitness Who Wouldn’t See” by James A. Kirch, concerns the owner of a diner and his girl. Both witness a murder, but only the woman is brave enough to make a statement. Before the case goes to trial, she disappears. The police and a gangster pressure the diner’s owner to reveal the woman’s hiding place. Problem is, he really doesn’t know. A tight plot with good dialogue and mounting tension made this yarn one of the issues best stories.

I didn’t find much about Kirch online. His earliest story listed at Galactic Central is “One-Way Ticket” from Detective Fiction Weekly (Aug. 27,1938). Kirch’s short stories appeared often in detective pulps during the 1940s. His last, “Cops Don’t Run” was published in Argosy (Aug. 1957).

Quest for the City of Gold

Fate #358 Jan. 1980

Fate magazine is well known for the “True Reports of the Strange and Unknown” of its byline, but it also enlightens readers on history and little-known places around the world.

“Quest for El Dorado” by Jane M. Loy was featured in Fate #358 January 1980. It was a reprint that originally ran in Americas, a monthly magazine published by the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States.

The search for El Dorado and its golden treasure rose to feverish heights in the 1500s. Both Germans and Spaniards led expeditions with hundreds of men across mountainous terrain, through torrential rains and dense forrest in hopes of discovering the mythical fortune of “the golden king.” Hundreds of men and dozens of pack animals lost their lives before the fever finally cooled.

“It would seem that by the end of the 16th Century Europeans had proved conclusively that El Dorado was not located in the Ilanos.” As the years progressed, the quest fell to smaller and smaller groups of men, but the legends of the lost city persisted, as did the few who risked their lives against the wilderness to prove its existence.

The El Dorado page on Wikipedia shows a color photograph, with greater clarity than the b&w image, in this issue of Fate. “Discovered in 1969, an exquisitely crafted pre-Columbian gold raft carrying [the] tall gilded chieftain seems to confirm [the] origins of [the] Chibcha legend.”

Crime Lab Mystery Magazine Dec. 1954

I discovered this true crime digest a few years ago and have since seen four issues in total, two from 1954, and two from 1955. No publisher is listed in Vol. 1 #2 Dec. 1954—the indicia states it was published in New York. Editors were Bradford Chambers and C.S. Green.

Despite its lurid covers, uncovering nubile women and desperate thugs, the articles inside this digest are well-written and well-researched true crime reports. This edition opens with one of its two cover stories: “The Black Swan Scandals” by Frank Chapman.

The catalyst for the scandals that followed, was the discovery of a young girl’s body on a beach, ten miles south of Ostia, Italy, on April 11, 1953. Twenty-one-year-old Wilma Montesi had been reported missing by her parents. The initial investigation was swift and quickly concluded the girl’s death by drowning was accidental. Rumors swirled—and nearly settled by the summer of 1953.

Then Silvano Muto, editor of the picture magazine Attualita, broke a shattering new account that claimed the girl had been murdered. “He charged that Wilma Montesi had been a ‘call girl,’ a favorite in high society circles, and that she had not drowned accidentally but had passed out after taking an overdose of drugs while attending an orgy at the waterfront hunting lodge formerly belonging to the royal family.”

Her unconscious body was dumped on the beach where she drown as the tide rose. Muto’s account also accused the local police of closing the case quickly “because of pressure from above.”

The accusations not only stirred public opinion, they landed Muto before the high tribunal of Rome on January 28, 1954, where he was forced to reveal his sources. A woman, Adriana Bisaccia, said she had seen Montesi the evening before her death with three men and another woman at a hunting lodge in Ostia.

A second woman, Anna Maria Caglio, told Muto of Montesi’s cocaine overdose during an orgy. The men there quickly dressed the girl and took her to the deserted beach. It’s not clear if Caglio named the men present, but she did identify the lodge owner, a nobelman, Marquis Ugo Montagna, and later confessed to being his mistress. She also mentioned two of his friends, Piero Piccioni, son of the Italian Foreign Minister and Dr. Tomasso Pavone, Chief of the National Police.

Muto’s testimony convinced the tribunal to suspend his trial while the case of Montesi’s death was reopened. When Muto’s first source, Adriana Bisaccia was brought in for questioning, she flatly denied knowing anything about the case or even talking to Muto.

The Marquis Montagna appeared in court to refute the allegations against him. The police could not locate the star witness, Anna Maria Caglio, who had been dubbed “The Black Swan” by the press. When the fiancé of Adriana Bisaccia declared he would contest her denial of speaking to Muto, he was picked up by police as a drug addict and deposited in an asylum before he could testify.

The press dug in and kept public pressure on the authorities. The fiancé was examined and declared fit. He testified Bisaccia was plagued with nightmares of drowning. He knew she had spoken with Muto and she had several phone conversations with a man whom she addressed as “Ugo,” the Marquis Montagna’s first name.

At this point, the military’s Caribineri police force stepped in to investigate the case. They soon discovered signed testimony Caglio, the Black Swan, had given to the National Police that matched the story Muto had reported, but had been “put to sleep.” They also reported that “…Montagna had been an informer for the Nazi and Facist secret police, a procurer of women, an influence peddler, a blackmarketeer, and a narcotics traffic suspect!”

But apparently Montagna’s influence ran deep. The court, acting on the direction of the District Attorney, ordered the inquiry on Wilma Montesi’s death closed—which meant the resumption of editor Muto’s trial.

But in effect, Muto’s trial kept Montesi’s case alive. By then, the Caribineri had successfully located Anna Maria Caglio, the Black Swan, at a convent on the outskirts of Rome. She testified on Muto’s behalf and more. As Montagna’s mistress she “…implicated him in various real estate swindles, gambling sprees, narcotics transactions, and wild sex orgies. She mentioned several mysterious murders and implied that he was in some way involved.” She had gone with Montagna and Piero Piccioni to the office of Chief of National Police Pavone, where the Chief agreed “to hush up the whole Montesi affair.”

Her testimony sent shockwaves across Italy. The National Police were jeered, the Caribinieri applauded, and the Black Swan, who risked her life to expose the corruption, was celebrated. Although he admitted no wrong-doing, Chief Pavone submitted his resignation.

With Caglio’s accusations, Muto’s trial was again suspended and the Montesi investigation reopened, which is where Crime Lab Mystery Magazine’s report ends. This may have been a bit of a cliffhanger in 1954, but we now know the case was never conclusively settled. There was another theory involving Montesi’s uncle not mentioned in Chapman’s article, but it too was inconclusive. Muto and Bisaccia were tried for slander, but did not serve time. Caglio was also tried for same, but not convicted.

Several books have been written about the murder: All Rome Trembled: The Strange Affair (Murder) Of Wilma Montesi by Melton S. Davis (Putnam, 1957), The Montesi Scandal by Wayland Hilton Young (Doubleday, 1958) and The Montesi Scandal by Karen Pinkus (University of Chicago Press, 2003).

William Hope Hodgson

Cover art by Robert Knox for Sargasso #3

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

In “Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson, the lone survivors of a shipwreck discover a strange fungus on a deserted island. A truly creepy story.

Hodgson (1877–1918) was a writer, photographer, body builder and sailor. His first story, “The Goddess of Death” was published in The Royal Magazine April 1904. His most widely known novels were The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).

Sam Gafford has published three volumes of the Sargasso journal, dedicated to the life and works of Hodgson.

Oliver Saari

Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

“The Deathless Ones” by John Chapman and Oliver Saari
A monolithic space ship transports a crew of two thousand to colonize a new world light years away. Everything aboard the self-sufficient wonder goes exactly as planned until the crew and its expanding population realize the conditions in space have an unexpected effect on them—they are no longer aging and will expend their resources long before they reach their destination.
Oliver Saari (1919–2000) was a fan and writer of science fiction. He was a founder and first Director of the Minneapolis SFL, and Assistant Director for Clifford Simak when the Minneapolis Fantasy Society gathered what was left of the SFL group in 1937. The group’s journal was called The Fantasite.
Saari’s short story “The Cannibals” appeared in Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, Swan American Mags #11 (1948) and his novelette, “Under the Sand-Seas” appeared in Super Science Stories, January 1941. Both Saari and John Chapman had letters of comments published in the February 1935 edition of Amazing Stories (along with Arthur C. Clarke). Chapman and Saari also contributed to the Sky Hook fanzine, published by Redd Boggs during the 1950s. Saari was awarded the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award in 2011, a year after his death.