Ben Jolson

Created by Ron Goulart
(1933–) 

BEN JOLSON is a rather unique twist on the old master-of-disguise master-detective bit. It seems Ben’s a chameleon, a Special Agent of the Political Espionage Office of the Planet Barnum, part of the Galactic Chameleon Corps, and able to assume the shape of any life species, be it bird, a baboon or even, apparently a piano in a bordello (don’t ask).

Which is, you know, handy for undercover work if your duty is to police the whole universe.

But that was all in the past. After several short stories and novels, Ben seemingly vanished from Ron Goulart’s universe somewhere around 1976, only to return, years later, in Daredevils, Ltd. (1987), the first book in the The Exchameleon series, which finds Ben happily retired. All he wants to do now is run his tidy little ceramics business and take it easy.

Unfortunately, Molly Briggs, of the Briggs Interplanetary Detective Service on the planet Barnum, has other plans. She wants Ben to join her agency and work for her. That way she can also keep an eye on him. Seems she’s had a crush on the guy for, like, ever. Reluctantly, Ben agrees to work part-time for her, and is promptly partnered with Sniffer, a state-of-the-art mechanical dog with a nasty disposition.

An enjoyable enough series, full of Goulart’s typical irreverent, bizarro touches–robot attorneys, android dogs with medical degrees, double entendres, puns and entire worlds populated by catmen, toadmen and birdmen. It’s actually a bit more toned down than much of Goulart’s work.

Author Goulart is quite well-known for his encyclopediac knowledge of comic books, and old-time pulp magazines, and a long string of sci-fi/P.I. hybrids, featuring such gumshoes as Jake and Hildy Pace, Jim Haley, Max Kearney and even Jake Cardigan, allegedly written by William “T. J. Hambone” Shatner. He’s also responsible for “straight” southern California P.I. John Easy.

UNDER OATH

  • “There’s a psycho-philosophical message here but you’ll probably be reduced to silly putty by the time you find it.”
    — Kirkus on The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape-Changers

SHORT STORIES

  • “Chameleon” (September 1964, Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Rake” (June 1965, Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “The Sword Swallower” (November 1967, Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • “Copstate” (May 1969, Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • “Hobo Jungle” (June 1970, Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Sunflower” (December 1970, Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Masterpiece” (May 1972, Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Canned Heat” (December 1972, Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • “At the Starvation Ball” (April 1976, Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • “Ex-Chameleon” (May 1986, Fantasy and Science Fiction)

NOVELS

COLLECTIONS

  • The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape-Changers (1972) Buy this book
    Includes five Ben Jolson of the Cameleon Corps stories.

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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