1,661 pulp novels as free e-books

I don't remember how I found out about Munseys. It's a website with links to thousands of out-of-print books, with over 1,500 pulp era novels. There's a lot of good stuff to be found here, as well as much that fits somewhere between excellent and awful. I downloaded and read a so-so novel called Alley Girl, by Jonathan Craig. There's no "alley girl" in it, which I didn't care about anyway. It's a about a hard-boiled sociopathic cop who tries to set up an innocent man for the electric chair so he can profit in more ways that one. It took me about an hour and a half to read and it made me forget about my 18-hour plane ride last week.

At the top of the chart, get Charles Willeford's Whip Hand (he ghost wrote it for Frank Sanders, or at least wrote most of it). It's about a kidnapping/murder seen through the eyes of different characters, and takes places in Texas. Willeford is one of the great hardboiled noir writers. I read everything of his I can get my hands on.

Munseys Read the rest

The Silent Wife - mystery in the style of Gone Girl

Like Gone Girl (a novel I liked so much that I interviewed the author, Gillian Flynn, on Gweek), The Silent Wife is told in alternating chapters from the points-of-view of a common-law husband and wife whose union has endured two decades of infidelity and stifled communication.

Jodi is a 42-year-old part-time psychologist who has developed a coping mechanism for her husband Todd's philandering: she gaslights him with little annoyances. For instance, she removes a key from his keyring so he can't enter his office building. But other than the quiet tricks she plays on Todd, she seems to enjoy his company and delights in making gourmet meals that they both enjoy in their high-end Chicago riverfront condominium.

Todd is a fairly well-to-do property developer, and incorrigible pleasure-seeker. He's a charming dinner party host and everyone likes him, in part because he avoids conflict at all costs. He knows that Jodi knows about his frequent dalliances, but neither he nor Jodi ever bring it up in conversation. Read the rest

Genetics: Not a "miracle", but still pretty damn strange

Besides magnetism, there's another thing that the Insane Clown Posse was on-track in categorizing as a mind-blowing mystery — Why do Shaggy 2 Dope's kids look just like him? As with the magnets, this is another situation where the obvious answer (it's genetics!) masks a much more complicated issue that science hasn't totally figured out yet. At Pacific Standard, Michael White explains why genetics is still messing with our heads, almost 150 years after Mendel:

The problem: most of the genetic differences discovered have only a very small effect. And when you add up all those effects, the result can’t possibly explain the full influence of our genes on those traits. For example, researchers have identified hundreds of DNA differences between people that influence the very strongly heritable trait of human height, but the total effect of those differences added together explains only about 10 percent of the genetic influence on height. In other words, we still can’t explain why tall parents have tall children.

Scientists have named this discrepancy the “missing heritability,” and they’ve spent the last half-decade trying to find it.

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Who Owns Omni?

Glenn Fleishman on the legendary science and science fiction magazine's murky proprietorship.

Unsolved mystery: Can you identify this woman?

The woman pictured above (on the left in the early 2000s, on the right in a 1990 passport photo) committed suicide in 2010. When she died, she took with her the knowledge of who she actually was — the private detective hired by her ex-husband's family is now calling her Jane Doe.

When she married, in 2004, she was known as Lori Erica Kennedy. After her death, her ex-husband discovered a lock box containing documents that showed she had changed her name to that from Becky Sue Turner. But here's the twist. She wasn't actually Becky Sue Turner, either. The real Becky Sue Turner had died in a house fire in 1971, at age 2, and her family had never seen this woman before.

So who is Jane Doe? That's what her ex-husband and his family are trying to figure out. When she died, she left behind a young daughter, who is going to want answers someday. Meanwhile, the mystery is seriously curiosity provoking. As far as anyone can tell, her trail goes dead in 1988. Her entire life before then is a great big blank.

The Seattle Times has the full story, including copies of documents and photos found in the lockbox and a timeline of what we do know about Jane Doe. Read the rest

Read mystery novels to learn chemistry

Deborah Blum — my favorite expert in the fine art of poisoning — writes a fascinating piece about the way mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers approached the chemistry in their stories with an almost mind-blowing accuracy. Not only did they get the symptoms of specific poisons correct, they were actually describe common chemical tests and techniques right in the narrative. Read the rest

Return to Antikythera

The Antikythera shipwreck — source of the famous ancient clockwork Antikythera Mechanism — has remained shockingly unexplored in the 100 years or so that we've known about it. In fact, other than a visit by Jacques Cousteau in 1970s, there hadn't been any official, scientific excavations until last year. Turns out, there's a lot of stuff left to find at the site, from a ship's anchor and storage jars to a collection of bronze fragments — which could either turn out to be something mundane, like nails from the boat, or more clues to the Mechanism. According to The Guardian's Jo Marchant, "little bronze fragments" describes what the gears of the Antikythera Mechanism looked like before they were detached from rock and cleaned of rust. Read the rest

Great mysteries of archaeology

These flat ceramic disks were either playing pieces for an ancient Roman game, or, possibly, really uncomfortable toilet paper. Scientists are investigating. Read the rest

Weird meteor shower to peak tomorrow night

The Geminids are one of the big deal meteor showers that happen every year. In fact, they're regarded as one of the most reliable and impressive. They're also a little strange.

Most meteor showers happen when Earth and a comet cross paths, slingling rocks, dust, and debris from the comet's tail into our atmosphere. The sudden influx of shooting starts that results is a highly noticeable event and humans have been recording them for millennia.

The Geminids are different. They sort of just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, back in 1862. And it wasn't until the 1980s that scientists were finally able to identify the thing that was producing them. At which point, ish got weirder.

That's because the object, known as 3200 Phaethon, is really confusing. It doesn't seem to be a comet. At least, not a normal, healthy, functioning comet. It doesn't even have a tail. In fact, at this point most scientists think it's probably an asteroid, which then leads to still-yet-unexplained question of where all the meteors come from. Asteroids, after all, do not typically accumulate tails of small rocks. So far, the best guess has to do with 3200 Phaethon's orbit, which over the course of about a year and a half takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury and then back out further from the Sun than Mars. Those wild temperature swings might lead to the asteroid cracking and throwing off dust and debris, which then becomes meteors. But, as a NASA info page pointed out in 2010, that explanation doesn't totally cut it. Read the rest

NASA downplays still-unannounced findings from Mars

Just before Thanksgiving, the lead mission scientist for the Curiosity rover told NPR that his team had found something that would "be one for the history books." Naturally, we all began speculating about the presence of life, giant obelisks, and half-buried Statues of Liberty. Yesterday, however, a different NASA spokesman basically asked the world to not get its hopes up too high, revising the level of importance down from "earthshaking" to "interesting". So far, nobody has said what, exactly, was discovered. (Via Colin Schultz) Read the rest

Not-exactly-near-death experiences

In 1990, researchers investigated the stories of 58 people who had had a near-death experience during surgery. Turns out, 30 of those people were never actually near-death, at all. They just thought they were. Read the rest

Big news from Mars coming soon, maybe

The Curiosity rover comes complete with a mini chemistry lab. It's designed to analyze the composition of Martian soils and Martian air. And, right now, that particular piece of equipment is at the center of a giddy storm of activity. Curiosity has turned up something important — big enough for Curiosity's principal investigator to tell NPR, "This data is gonna be one for the history books."

What is it? NASA's not telling just yet. Right now, researchers are in the process of verifying said exciting data, in order to make sure they aren't deceiving themselves into thinking they've spotted something that isn't really there. That's pretty good policy, given the recent flap around over-hyped studies about Earth-like planets and arsenic-based life.

On the other hand, if you're trying to avoid overhyping something, might I suggest that "We have groundbreaking, world-changing data that we can't tell you about yet," is maybe not the best way to do it.

Stay tuned.

Pictured: A 360-degree view of Mars, taken by Curiosity on October 5th, from the location where it first started collecting samples of rocks and dirt. NASA/JPL

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Following a chain of unexplained deaths in Thailand

Over the past few years, multiple people have died in Thailand from what appears to be exposure to some kind of poison. Most of these people have been tourists. And most of them have been young women. The deaths have happened in clusters. Five or so on the island vacation hotspot of Kho Phi Phi. Another group of six at Chiang Mai's Downtown Inn.

Lots of possible explanations have been suggested — ranging from serial killers, to hallucinogenic beach drinks, to overuse of banned insecticides in hotel rooms. But, so far, none of the specific poisons proposed as the culprit totally makes sense in relation to the deaths. And, to make things worse, it seems like Thai authorities are doing their best to make it difficult to actually investigate what has happened in individual cases, and figure out whether the cases are linked or not. At this point, it's hard to even know whether all the people who have died exhibited the same symptoms.

Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has done a lot of reporting on poisons and true crime has been following this story and just published another piece on the still-unfolding mess.

Your daughter died.

Your daughter died thousands of miles from home. In a hotel where no one came to help. In a hospital where she struggled to keep breathing and just couldn’t. In a room where her heart – and somehow you still don’t really believe this – just stuttered to a stop. In a country, where authorities have failed for months, years even, to tell you how or why your daughter died.

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The funniest story you'll ever hear about rabies and undiagnosed illness

Rabies isn't funny. But, somehow, Heather Swain makes her story about her brush with rabies absolutely hilarious.

Now Swain didn't have rabies, but she did have a lot of the symptoms that go along with it. In this Story Collider piece, she talks about her experience being "that patient with a mystery disease" and what it's like when nobody actually figures out what's making you sick. Read the rest

The weird, black, spidery things of Mars

See those weird, black, spidery things dotting the dunes in this colorized photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010? Yeah. Nobody knows what the hell those things are.

What we do know about them just underlines how incredibly unfamiliar Mars really is to us. First spotted by humans in 1998, these splotches pop up every Martian spring, and disappear in winter. Usually, they appear in the same places as the previous year, and they tend to congregate on the sunny sides of sand dunes — all but shunning flat ground. There's nothing on Earth that looks like this that we can compare them to. It's a for real-real mystery, writes Robert Krulwich at NPR. But there are theories:

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, from Hungary, from the European Space Agency have all proposed explanations; the leading one is so weird, it's transformed my idea of what it's like to be on Mars. For 20 years, I've thought the planet to be magnificently desolate, a dead zone, painted rouge. But imagine this: Every spring, the sun beats down on a southern region of Mars, morning light melts the surface, warms up the ground below, and a thin, underground layer of frozen CO2 turns suddenly into a roaring gas, expands, and carrying rock and ice, rushes up through breaks in the rock, exploding into the Martian air. Geysers shoot up in odd places. It feels random, like being surprise attacked by an monstrous, underground fountain.

"If you were there," says Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, "you'd be standing on a slab of carbon dioxide ice.

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Mystery panties incinerated

Two weeks ago, Brazilian legislators rushing into congress left an unusual item in their wake: a pair of women's underwear. No-one has claimed them since, and they were subsequently incinerated. "We have a suspicion as to who the owner is," congressman and professional clown Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva told Reuters' Brian Winter, "but we're not going to turn him in." Read the rest

What the heck is this thing?

[Video Link]

Marine biologists think they can identify this strange, blobby creature that floated up out of the ocean depths and was captured on an oil drill video. That, alone, is not terribly surprising. Marine biologists know a lot of weird ocean creatures.

But would you believe they identified it by its gonads?

Read the rest of the story at Robert Krulwich's NPR blog.

Mark blogged about this critter previously, here on Boing Boing. Read the rest

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