JOHN D. MacDONALD “Ring Around the Redhead.” First published in Startling Stories, November 1948. First reprinted in Science-Fiction Adventures in Dimension, edited by Groff Conklin (Vanguard Press, hardcover, 1953). First collected in Other Times, Other Worlds (Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original, October 1978).

   I don’t imagine that any young SF reader coming across this story in the (at the time) most recent issue of Startling Stories had any idea that the author would become rich and famous a few years later as the John D. MacDonald you and I know today as, for example, the author of the series of mystery novels for which he is most remembered, thous about “salvage expert” Travis McGee.

   Nor did, I suppose, those fans of the Travis McGee books happen to know that he started out writing SF stories — as well as mysteries — for the pulp magazines of the late 1940s. I don’t know if all of his early SF work were later collected in Other Times, Other Worlds (1978), but there are sixteen of them, and ones MacDonald much have felt worth reprinting at the time.

   â€œRing Around the Redhead” is, well, one of them, and it begins with a defendant in court having been accused of murdering his next door neighbor, and in a most vicious fashion: the dead man had been decapitated as if by a mammoth pair of tin snips. When the defendant, an amateur tinkerer, gets to tell his story to the jury, it really is quite a story. Having strangely discovered a mysterious ring in his workshop in the basement, he learns by trial and error that by reaching through it, he can bring back, among other items, valuable jewels, for example. (This is why he is seen arguing with the neighbor, who has discovered this.)

   One day, then, he brings a beautiful girl back through the ring, a redhead, who is wearing next to nothing but strangely still something.

   Hence the title of the story, which has no other objective than to be fun and amusing. No deep scientific principles are discussed in this tale. What this tale reminded me of, more than anything else, are the SF stories very common back in the early 30s, based on speculation but not a whole lot of down-to-earth physics – but, in this case, a tale that’s a whole lot better written.

   Nonetheless, without a solid background in science, JDM must have decided that science fiction was not a field where he had much of a future. Considering how things worked out for him, this was a wise choice.