The title for #110 is The Secret of Sigma Seven, which in the book is also the title of a movie stolen from a Hollywood director. But the story might as well be Frank and Joe Go to a Science Fiction Convention.
After Frank and Joe mock Chet’s attempts at cosplay (although they don’t call it that — the term hadn't been popularized in America yet), the boys meet Brian Amchick, a guy from Frank’s trigonometry class. Frank deigns to remember one of the little guys who flit through his life, and Brian agrees to introduce Frank, Joe, and Chet to the ins-and-outs of science fiction conventions and their terminology.
BayCon is being held at the Bayport Inn, which has showed up when Chet worked there in Spark of Suspicion (#98). No one brings up Chet’s previous employment in this book, though. Chet is excited about BayCon’s costume party because the prize for the best costume is “a trip to Florida to watch a space shuttle launch” (2). That’s a nice prize, but it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to Chet since he HAS BEEN TO SPACE in a space shuttle.
Let me repeat that: he, along with Frank and Joe, have been in space. They were able to go in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), the last digest before the year-long hiatus of 1986. But no one mentions this; no one even remembers it either. Joe even says, “Maybe the shuttle will take you along. Then you can become a real space cadet” (3).
Putting aside the undeserved nature of Joe’s putdown, why does no one remember the chums going into space? If I had gone into space, I would never stop talking about it. I’m loathe to hold up The Big Bang Theory as any indication of reality, but after engineer Howard Wolowitz traveled to the International Space Station in that series, he hasn’t shut up about it. Chet should be like that.
Frank and Joe aren’t there for the costume party, though. They have come to BayCon to see The Secret of Sigma Seven, the fifth movie in a sci-fi epic. Sigma Seven is scheduled to make its debut at the convention, and the movie’s director, Simon Devoreaux, has even come with the movie, to give it a brief introduction and serve on a few panels. Frank, Joe, and Chet have enjoyed the previous four installments of the film franchise, and they can’t wait for #5. They end up disappointed, however, as the print of the film that was to be shown at BayCon is stolen before it can be screened.
Frank and Joe decide they aren’t going to investigate unless Devoreaux asks them to, and he’s not interested in talking to them at all. Fortunately for Frank and Joe, Linda Klein, the convention’s organizer, wants them to find the film, so they agree —
Wait. Why is it fortunate for them? They aren’t getting paid, and the person who would benefit the most has no interest in them. Before Klein asks for their help, Frank says, “Maybe we’d better leave this for the Bayport police” (15). He’s right! Well, he would be right, if the Bayport Police could be bothered to do anything, but they don’t appear in the book. In the 21st century, the FBI would probably be called in, either because of the movie studio’s clout or because of copyright infringement concerns, but we don’t see them either. The field is clear for Frank and Joe!
They get their first suspect: someone roaming around Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con wearing different costumes and a green medallion. (Why keep wearing something that identifies him, when he’s in disguise? The answer: He didn’t think it would matter.) The suspect tries to kill Devereaux by giving a real but fake-looking gun to a con-goer and telling him to shoot at Devereaux; he almost tricks Joe into falling down an elevator shaft as well. The suspect seemingly aims a driverless hovercar at Sigma Seven’s special effects director, Jack Gillis. (Gillis tells Chet he has no plans to mass produce the hovercars because he’s “already rich” . If that’s not a reason to suspect him of something, I don’t know what is.)
Frank and Joe wend their way through the convention, accumulating a meager pile of suspects. Acerbic writer Richard Feinbetter hates Devoreaux because he believes Devoreaux’s movies ripped off one of his stories. Feinbetter’s friend, fellow author Arlen Hennessey, hates Devoreaux’s movies in an artistic sense, but he too believes Devoreaux ripped off Feinbetter. The brothers also suspect George Morwood, a “huckster,” as Brian says, who sells video cassettes of movies at the con. He seems shady, and since the Hardys suspect the movie was stolen for the bootleg market, they keep an eye on him. (The author does nail how surly dealers at cons can be, almost like they are reluctant to sell stuff to you.)
I don’t have a suspect for who Hennessey is supposed to represent, but Feinbetter sounds like Harlan Ellison, a cantankerous sci-fi writer who has a propensity for suing those he thinks have wronged him or stolen his intellectual property. (Ellison has claimed the TV show Future Cop and the movie The Terminator were based on his works, and he won damages in those suits. He sued over the movie In Time but later withdrew the suit. He has been involved in numerous other lawsuits and has been extremely critical of how others, like Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, have treated his scripts.)
The fit isn’t exact, though; Feinbetter is a writer from the Golden Age, back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, while Ellison is recognized as part of the vanguard of the ‘60s New Wave. Also, the story Devoreaux is alleged to have stolen from him involves “the Federation of Worlds series of novels”; Ellison has written few novels, and the Foundation / Empire series of Isaac Asimov seems more likely what was being referred to. Of course, “Federation” also calls to mind Star Trek, but that existed as a TV show before it engulfed all media forms.
Also: Feinbetter shoots Frank, Joe, and Brian with a gag gun with a flag that says, “ZAP! You’re star dust!” (55), which I bet Ellison would not do.
Frank and Joe’s detective ethic is less than sterling. They go to lunch without Chet after agreeing to rendezvous with him before the meal, and they don’t even remember him until after they pay the check. Fortunately, Chet’s not in danger; he’s just buying a new costume. After lunch and a panel session, they decide to “take a few minutes off” (65) and visit a sci-fi prop exhibit. When they break into Morwood’s hotel room, they don’t even use their lockpicks: they use a Swiss army knife. In an attempt to get more investigation opportunities, they stay at the Bayport Inn overnight and are introduced to another con tradition by Brian: sleeping on a hotel room floor. (Brian also says staying awake for the con’s full 72 hours is also a tradition; he’s right about both.) Frank and Joe, who are apparently middle-aged, have a rough time sleeping on the floor; Joe even falls asleep during surveillance the next day. (And almost gets stepped on by an elephant, but that’s not important.) With time running out to find the film on the last day of the con, Frank and Joe decide to take a break and watch a movie.
Still, the boys have a high opinion of themselves; Frank says they can perform miracles, although perhaps not on schedule.
After a spear is tossed at Frank, both boys are threatened by a motorcycle gang (not the Flying Skulls from Fear on Wheels, though), and two attempts on Devoreaux’s life, the brothers figure out who did it: Gillis. They aren’t sure why until the FX man tells them he resented Devoreaux; the idea for the movie series was Gillis’s, but Devoreaux relegated him to special-effects director. Gillis paintballs Frank and Joe in the face, which is hilarious to me but should have been painful to Frank and Joe, before fleeing in a hovercar. They recover quickly and pursue Gillis on a low-speed chase in a hovercraft of their own; both vehicles eventually go over the Barmet Cliffs. Somehow, the hovercrafts’ fans take them from terminal velocity to floating on water, and the chase ends when Gillis’s hovercraft is run over by a motorboat.
Brian is impressed by Frank and Joe’s detective work, which Joe claims was, like usual, fueled by “logical thinking and a few brilliant deductions”; Chet cuts him down by saying, “I thought it was usually dumb luck” (147). Joe gets him back on the book’s exit line, though, when Klein insinuates Chet’s about to eat the convention into a financial loss. “‘Chet cut down on his eating?” Joe said with a grin. ‘Now, that’s science fiction!’” (149). I admit: I laughed.