Friday, January 28, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sci-Fi Private Eye Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Editors

Let's get the title out of the way first. I'd be willing to bet a week's pay (not that I get paid these days, what with being a pensioner and all) that the editors had little or nothing to do with it. The "sci-fi" part doesn't bother me. I know it offends many, but not me. What bothers me is that I stupidly judged a book by its cover and assumed that this would be an anthology of SF stories that featured private-eyes. Wouldn't you? I mean, besides the title there's the guy in the futuristic trenchcoat and fedora. What's between the covers, however, is another kettle of goulash.

The first story if Isaac Asimov's "The Singing Bells" in which valuable moon artefacts are stolen. The baffled cops seek out the Great Detective who can solve the case without leaving his home. The next two stories, Poul Anderson's "The Martian Crown Jewels" and Philip Jose Farmer's "A Scarletin Study" are Sherlock Holmes pastiches. In Anderson's story, the Holmesian detective is a Martian creature who looks more like a bird than like Basil Rathbone. In Farmer's tale, the detective is a talking dog.

Then comes Donald Westlake's "The Winner," which is a prison break story. No detectives in sight.

Finally, with Tom Reamy's "The Detweiler Boy," we get what the picture and title promised, minus the fedora and trenchcoat. Reamy's tale is even set in Los Angeles, though his first-person narrator finds a killer who's nothing like anyone Philip Marlowe ever tracked down.

In "Time Exposures" by Wilson Tucker we have cops. No private-eyes to be seen. I got a kick out of this one because while the main character has a camera that can photograph the past, he has to use a slide rule to figure out the settings.

Robert Silverberg gives us a continent-spanning city in "Getting Across," and while a private citizen is asked to find a missing woman, it's a real stretch to call this one a private-eye story.

And there's just no way at all to call Philip K. Dick's "War Games" even a cop story. No cops, no private-eyes, just people who evaluate toys.

The last story is one of Larry Niven's Gil Hamilton stories. The same two editors chose to close out Supernatural Sleuths with a Gil Hamilton story, as well (my review of that book is here). As I mention in that review, Hamilton's not really a p. i. He works for a branch of the U. N. called A.R.M., and he hunts organleggers. But he's close enough to a p. i. to qualify, especially in this company.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the stories aren't good ones. In fact, I liked them all. Niven's is the best of the lot, for me, but they all have something to recommend them. If you're looking for cross-genre crime stories, this book is the place to find some entertaining ones.


George said...

Another case of mis-packaging. But the quality of the stories looks good. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for a copy.

Todd Mason said...


The Asimov "Wendell Urth" stories were frequently given a pass in sf magazines, as were several Black Widowers stories, under Very flimsy pretexts. Was that Farmer published as by Jonathan Swift Somers, III, with Ralph Von Wau Wau as the hero? Wonder if, however distantly, the Anderson might've nudged Michael Chabon into thoughts that led to "The Final Solution"...though that's quite a stretch of wingspan.

Richard R. said...

I've read all of these, in other places, and most of them are good ones. So is the cover of this paperback, though you are right about the mislabeling.

Graham Powell said...

I may have this anthology, as I've read and remember all but a couple of the stories you mention. "Time Exposure" I remember particularly well - a nice story with an unusual setup.

Kerrie said...

Hello Bill. This week's edition of Friday's Forgotten Books is now up at MYSTERIES in PARADISE. Thanks for participating.

Evan Lewis said...

Fun stuff. I remember "A Scarletin Study" from some other collection.