Future Crimes – Mike Ashley, editor

The techniques of forensic science advancing ever further forwards, the likelihood of a chain of evidence being traced to link a theft or murder to the perpetrator is correspondingly greater. Crime fiction an established genre, for much of its history modern methods of detection would have seemed like science fiction, and spanning from 1912 to 1972 the ten stories collected in Future Crimes consider a variety of misdemeanours, how they might be proven and how responsibility and prosecution might be avoided.

The latest anthology of the British Library’s Science Fiction Classics range gathered by editor Mike Ashley subtitled Mysteries and Detection through Time and Space, Anthony Boucher’s Elsewhen of 1943 opens the volume, an inventor’s accident which caused a magnetic field to rotate in a temporal dimension leading to the discovery that it is possible to send an object up to two hours into the past; a man who tried to create his own destiny and instead makes his own fate, the tale of Harrison Partridge is told with wit and the precision of a clock, albeit one running backwards.

First published in 1955, the dawn of the space age, John Brunner’s Puzzle for Spacemen envisions the high pressure of a job in vacuum, the construction of a deep space platform where none of the crew want the presence of a dead body floating into their orbit as a reminder of their own precarious mortality, the appointed investigator convinced without evidence that the individual was murdered; work disrupted until matters are concluded one way or another, there will be a cost in time and money but the greater price will be the uncertainty of leaving the case unresolved.

A tale of the chain of evidence and the men who investigate it, Eric Frank Russell’s Legwork of 1956 is a tangled procedural of a perfect and apparently impossible crime, though the reader is clued in beforehand as to how it was accomplished, investigation broken down as a methodical analysis of data accompanied by the elimination of possibilities, complicated by reports of a UFO sighting.

A professional dispute between two mathematicians who consulted on a revolutionary theory and now both claim to have been the originator, their stories the Mirror Image of each other, it is up to man and robot to take the riddle and the dilemma while dealing with a race alien to both of them, spacers whose attitudes have have changed since leaving the narrow confines of Earth, a series of logical propositions laid out and played out to their conclusion by Isaac Asimov.

Not a crime but a mystery, The Flying Eye is seen in the same place at around the same time, floating menacingly and massively above a lake a few miles outside London, a brief adventure considering the impact of technology on war worthy of Verne or Wells alongside whom Jacques Futrelle might have been remembered has his career not been tragically curtailed, the story published posthumously only months after he boarded the RMS Titanic bound for America.

The aftermath of a crime, an act of sabotage between the worlds which has left seven people crowded into a life shell designed for five, the grievously injured officer on board makes a whispered confession that such capsules serve more to boost morale rather than as a practical measure, the chances of another ship being able to rendezvous and rescue the survivors minute, the first of many misconceptions and harsh lessons of E C Tubb’s Nonentity of 1955.

The contribution of George Chailey the shortest story of the anthology, it is another impossible crime, for how can anyone commit murder when the intended victim can read minds, yet the Death of a Telepath has undeniably occurred. There may be only one suspect, but if the crime should have been impossible, how was it perpetrated in the first place and how can it be proved?

Published in 1970, P D James’ Murder, 1986 is set six years past the arrival of the plague from space, the population divided with the InDICs (Interplanetary Disease Infection Carriers) held in colonies waiting to die. Already under a death sentence, why would there be a reason to murder a young woman? The themes paralleling her later novel Children of Men, while more compact the story is equally compelling in its bleak honesty.

The theft petty in the grand scheme of things, the method used to remove the clothes can only have been telekinesis, the act of a rogue Talent, untrained yet powerful, a bad Apple which spoils the already difficult role of the registered Talents who must investigate and prove they can effectively police their own against a wall of resentment and distrust from the mundanes which blocks their senses in a balancing act of action and genuine emotion from Anne McCaffrey, one of the masters of the genre.

Conceived and executed by Miriam Allen deFord in 1965, the concluding story offers another example of The Absolutely Perfect Murder, the swift tale of the long planned and carefully considered aesthetic deletion of an individual who has tormented the protagonist for years, his despised wife, an assassination out of time using a weapon not yet invented which leads to a brief moment of joyous freedom bought at a heavy price, the ultimate reward the confirmation that attempting to rewrite a personal history is futile.

Future Crimes is available now from the British Library



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