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Dr. Cranley is sentenced to exile in space for murdering a rival scientist, and swears revenge... Later, across the world people suddenly start behaving like lunatics, culminating in their being gripped by hysterical laughter until they collapse-dead. It becomes known as the Laughing Plague. Eventually it is learned that the Earth has crossed the path of a spatial cloud of gas that was the result of an ancient cataclysm that blew the one-time moon of Venus to pieces, leaving its poison atmosphere free in space. Then, radio messages are received from Dr. Cranley, now domiciled and living on Venus. He offers to send a Venusian antidote to save humanity. But can he be trusted?
John Russell Fearn (1908-1960)John Francis Russell Fearn was born in Worsley, near Manchester, on 5th June, 1908. As a child he devoured imaginative fiction, beginning to write SF at the age of ten - in imitation of Wells and Verne - on a typewriter he was given for his birthday. Extremely prolific, Fearn used many pseudonyms. During the 1930s he wrote for magazines, including the US Pulp magazines, but during the Second World War he switched to books, becoming a central figure in the post-war paperback boom. He wrote numerous westerns, crime stories and romances as well as SF, most of which appeared under the names Vargo Statten and Volsted Gridban (the latter pseudonym being taken over from E. C. Tubb).
Altogether Fearn published 18 stories in the pre-war Astounding, and went on to write more than 100 other stories in all the leading American pulp magazines through to 1948. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that 'his best work is vigorous and occasionally vivid' and the influential British SF agent and editor, John Carnell, paid this tribute: 'Fearn was one of the Greats of the earlier ages, and his name should be there with Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Murray Leinster, and all the others whose thoughts and works form ulated today's modern science fiction.'