Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Murray Leinster

The Virginia State Legislature has declared June 27, 2009 as Will F. Jenkins Day, a deserved honor for a man who, writing as Murray Leinster, was one of the true grandmasters of science fiction since his writing not only predated the development of the genre, but who was responsible for many of the iconic ideas in the field.

Although science fiction has always been a fiction of change, only the most talented writers can often keep up with the rapidly evolving eras. Clifford D. Simak first wrote for F. Orlin Tremaine's Astounding in the early 1930s, then adapted his writing to such changing markets as John W. Campbell's Astounding and H.L. Gold's Galaxy. Jack Williamson began his career writing for Hugo Gernsback's Amazing and outlived the "Golden Age," "New Wave," and "Cyberpunk."

But in some ways the most remarkable of all was Murray Leinster whose first published science fiction story appeared in 1919, nearly a full decade before the birth of the science fiction prozines. At that time, the most popular writers of science fiction included such pulp greats as Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Allan England, Garrett P. Serviss, and A. Merritt.

Into this select company came twenty-two year old Murray Leinster with the story "The Runaway Skyscraper". It appeared in Argosy, perhaps the most successful general pulp of the early Twentieth Century. It was quite an imaginative story, far ahead of its time in its depiction of an alternate dimension. Due to the impact of Leinster's story that concept has been a science fiction staple ever since.

For the next dozen years Leinster was one of the leading science fiction writers in Argosy. It did not take him long to discover the science fiction pulps though, and his talent served him well there. Previously he had been used to the freedom of the general pulps, where science fiction was an expansive amalgam of SF, horror and fantasy. The SF pulps were a much more restrictive market, insisting on strict adherence to scientific principles and extrapolation. Leinster adapted smoothly, and by 1930 he was the most notable writer to bridge the gap from the general pulps.

In 1934 F. Orlin Tremaine, editor of Astounding, deliberately tried to nurse the field away from its strict adherence to Hugo Gernsback's scientific extrapolation. Leinster provided Tremaine with many important stories, most notably "Sideways in Time," another innovative story about alternate branches in the time line.

When John W. Campbell, Jr. took over the editorial reins of Astounding, he searched for new, creative writers to write stories reflecting his personal philosophy of the future of mankind and the purpose of science fiction. Leinster, who had no trouble adapting to the SF pulps previously, adapted a second time, and wrote side by side with such younger writers as L. Sprague de Camp, A.E. Van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and Isaac Asimov. In 1945 Astounding published his classic "First Contact," a serious examination of humanity's first meeting with a technologically-superior alien race.

Another decade later, at the age of 60, Leinster published the Hugo-winning novelette "Exploration Team" in Astounding. In 1963 he was the Guest of Honor at the Washington, D.C. World Science Fiction Convention, after which his production decreased drastically. But decreased production did not mean eroded talent. He still published several superb "Med Ship" stories in Galaxy in the early 1960s, and the excellent satire "Lord of the Uffts" in Worlds of Tomorrow.

Several of Leinster’s important works are currently available in paperback through Baen Books, including Med Ship (containing the complete series), A Logic Named Joe (containing the novels The Pirates of Zan, The Duplicators and Gateway to Elsewhere as well as the title short story), and Planets of Adventure (a collection which includes the Hugo-winning “Exploration Team”). You cannot go wrong honoring Will F. Jenkins Day by reading one of these books.

4 Comments:

  • nice overview of a great writer. and you can dowload those three collections for free from the Baen Free Library.

    http://www.baen.com/library/

    By Blogger Jerry Cornelius, At 1:35 PM  

  • I’ve recently published a new 900-page biography about the life and times of Hugo Gernsback. It is available on Amazon. Just follow this link:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steckler+hugo+gernsback

    The manuscript was found while I was in the process of closing down Gernsback Publications Inc. in 2003. It was apparently written some time in the 1950’s. It covers all the areas that Hugo found interesting: wireless communications, science fiction, publishing, patents, foretelling the future, and much more. If you follow this link you can even take a look inside the book and sample its contents.

    Want more info? Contact me at PoptronixInc@aol.com

    By Blogger lartronics, At 4:51 PM  

  • I am now in Paperback Swap after reading your previous posting. Wanted to let you know that I ordered the "Best of Murray Leinster" tonight. Maybe at the end of June we could do a Leinster blog event to bring attention to this forgotten master of sf.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 8:30 PM  

  • A good overview, but some comments: Leinster was too busy writing for the higher paying slicks (Colliers, Liberty, etc.) to write anything for John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction until1942, despite Campbell's repeated requests, as he himself said. "The Wabbler" was published in Astounding in November, 1942. A year after "First Contact," Astounding published "A Logic Named Joe" which was the first story to accurately and in detail predict desktop computers, the internet and the wired word we now know.

    By Blogger Jo-an, At 11:25 AM  

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