Will F. Jenkins, who sometimes chose to sign his stories with the pseudonym Murray Leinster and sometimes didn’t, was one of the most influential science-fiction writers ever, and I want to write something about him. What’s wrong with that simple ambition is that I didn’t know him very well. In fact, I don’t think —
that he and I were ever in the same room, or,
that I ever bought a story from him during the decades in which I was successively working as an editor for Popular Publications, PopularScience/Outdoor Life, Galaxy, Ace and Bantam, and was regularly buying work from just about every other significant sf writer alive.
But I do have some special knowledge of Jenkins/Leinster from other sources. One of them is the same for me as it is for any other fan. I’ve read a lot of his stories, and what stories they are! There’s “Sidewise in Time,” from the June, 1934, Astounding, which was the very first parallel-time story, and so provided interesting new story explorations to be made in all of the hundreds and thousands of paratime stories that followed. There was “A Logic Named Joe,” which got just about everything right about the most important invention of the 20th century except one thing, the name of the logics. (When they came true, we called them computers.) And there was “First Contact,” the first science-fiction story to think through the problems you encounter when your exploration ship comes across a ship of intelligent aliens exploring the same planet.
The thing about Will Jenkins’s stories is that there are so many of them, over 1,500 short pieces, both articles and short stories, that we forget just how good they are. He even started near the top, making his first sale, a short story called “The Foreigner,” to the classiest magazine of the time, the legendary The Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. He kept on appearing in it, too, so frequently — indeed sometimes with more than one story in and issue — that he had to create the pen name “Murray Leinster” to attach to the surplus. Science fiction wasn’t common in America yet, but Will began writing it early with stories for Argosy like “The Runaway Skyscraper,” which canny old Hugo Gernsback reprinted in Amazing as soon as he started it.
As I’ve said, I never met Will Jenkins and, to tell the truth, I’m not at all sure that we would ever have become close friends if I had. After all, his choice for the greatest man who ever lived was the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, while my own would have been President Abraham Lincoln. We might have had to fight The War Between the States over again a few times first.
All the same there’s a lot to admire in Will Jenkins, as I’ve discovered in reading the unpublished biography of the man that two of his daughters, Jo-an J. Evans and Wenllian J. Stallings, have just finished writing. That is my source for a good deal of what I know about him.
What I know is that, in addition to being a talented and seminal writer, he was a good father, a kind human being and a talented inventor. Perhaps his most successful invention was a system of forward-projecting surround scenes when shooting a movie, which sounds to me a lot like what Stanley Kubrick was experimenting with when he shot the opening ape-men scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I’ll tell you one thing. If I were still drudging away as a book editor, I would quickly write a contract for this book, perhaps plumping it out by adding “Sidewise in Time” and “A Logic Named Joe” to show what I was talking about. Then I would get it out in the stores so everybody could read the facts about this commendable man, including his reasons for giving his four daughters such, ah, distinctive names.