Murray Leinster

    Murray Leinster
 

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 —

  1. that he and I were ever in the same room, or,

  2. 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.

17 Comments

  1. Bob Sabella says:

    You said you never bought a story by Murray Leinster, but didn’t you publish several during your tenure at Galaxy? “Med Ship Man” in Galaxy and “Lord of the Uffts” in Worlds of Tomorrow come immediately to mind.

    Or where they “old” stories left over from H.L. Gold’s reign as editor?

  2. starlady says:

    Congratulations on your Hugo nomination for best fan writer! :)

  3. Jerry says:

    Leinster has always been a favorite of mine. Thanks for reminiscing about him. I’m a little shocked to hear he admired a Confederate general since you’d never guess that from his stories (I didn’t, anyway), but I’ll get over it. And don’t forget that June 27th is officially Will F. Jenkins Day in Virginia.

  4. Lars says:

    Congrats on the Hugo nomination.

  5. Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey says:

    According to what I’ve read, you are right– Jenkins’s “front-projection” system was EXACTLY what Kubrick was using for those scenes.

    “A Logic Named Joe” has some astonishingly prescient ideas, like worrying about whether a widespread information appliance should make available information on how to build a bomb. (Now that I think of it, I guess public libraries have had the same problem for a long time.)

    The story is available here:
    http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200506/0743499107___2.htm

    By the way, congratulations on your nomination for the Best Fan Writer Hugo!

  6. John Boston says:

    Pohl and Leinster achieved zero degrees of separation not only in the magazines of the 1960s–see

    • Third Planet (nv) Worlds of Tomorrow Apr 1963
    • Manners and Customs of the Thrid (ss) If Sep 1963
    • Med Ship Man (nv) Galaxy Oct 1963 [Calhoun (Med Service)]
    • Lord of the Uffts (na) Worlds of Tomorrow Feb 1964
    • A Planet Like Heaven (nv) If Jan 1966

    clipped from the Miller/Contento CD-ROM, but also in STAR SCIENCE FICTION STORIES #1, where appeared Leinster’s “The Journey.” Proving what? That our host has done so much that he can’t remember it all. Not a bad fate.

    John Boston

  7. Tinkoo says:

    Quite a bit of Leinster’s fiction is now online.

  8. Matthew Sanborn Smith says:

    I just read my first Leinster a couple of weeks ago. Space Tug, orbital adventure written before Sputnik. I especially enjoyed his space travel solutions where they differed from what NASA came up with.

  9. Michael Walsh says:

    Lots of Leinster here:
    First Contacts:The Essential Murray Leinster
    http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Leinster.htm

    And congratulations on the Hugo nomination!

  10. Steven Silver says:

    I came on the scene long after Jenkins died, but I’ve met one of his daughters and her family and have spoken to his other daughters. Their memoirs of him are riveting and I hope they do flesh them out a little more and find a publisher for them.

  11. Omphalos says:

    Ive always wanted to read more by this guy. The only thing I have is the NESFA book. Can’t believe that there are still 1,485 more stories!

  12. Gina says:

    Congratulations on the Hugo nomination for fan writer.

  13. Bill Goodwin says:

    Lincoln trumps Lee in my book (and any book), too. But it\’s worth a footnote that Lincoln himself invited Lee to command the Union forces, and that Lee was an advocate of reconstruction and reconciliation when many southern dissenters wanted to continue fighting a guerilla war.

    I heard an X-1 adaptation of \"A Logic Named Joe\" recently, and was astounded at Leinster\’s prescience! I\’m going to go read the original story, now…thank you for this piece, and for this fantastic blog!

  14. Chris LaHatte says:

    Wasn’t there an article about his forward projection in Analog somewhere-I recall something but it must have 40 years ago

  15. Curt Phillips says:

    That claim about Jenkins considering Robert E. Lee to be the “greatest man who ever lived” apparently comes from an essay that Jenkins wrote for a school competition when he was 10 and for which a local Confederate veteran was so impressed when it was published in the local paper that he sought out the boy to give him $5.00. I don’t think it’s fair to hold such a thing against Will Jenkins no matter how much one might dislike Robert E. Lee.

    Besides, Jenkins was a Virginian from an old time Virginia family as am I and we grow up with a different understanding of Gen. Lee than you probably did having grown up in New York. Lee hated slavery and immediately freed the only slaves he ever inherited (from his father in law). He saw his duty as lying with his native state of Virginia when that war was thrust upon her. From almost the day he rode away from Appomattox to the day he died 5 years later Gen. Lee devoted himself to higher education as the President of Washington College and worked tirelessly to help heal the wounds of the American Civil War.

    President Lincoln, on the other hand, didn’t care about slavery one way or the other “If I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves../some of the slaves…/none of the slaves, I would do it”), violated the Constitution of the United States to conduct the war, (suspension of habius corpus) and utterly and illegally ignored the fact that some of the states had the constitutional right to succeed from the Federal union – including Virginia. (This is why Jefferson Davis was never charged with treason after the war. “Should his case come to trial,” wrote the Chief Justice of the United States in those years, “Mr. Davis’s case would prevail under law”). Assuming that all I’ve written here is true – and you can easily verify it all from on-line sources – would you still prefer Lincoln as the greater man? If so then I have no doubt that you’d have plenty of company. That’s because it’s usually the winners in any struggle who get to write the history books. But I would suggest to you that there’s a lot more to Robert Edward Lee of Virginia than you might be aware of. He was indeed a good and great man and I cannot retreat from that viewpoint no matter how much “political correctness” might press me to.

    Curt Phillips
    Virginia

  16. westprog says:

    I certainly wouldn’t hold an admiration for Robert E. Lee against anyone. He seems to have been a lovable man – who continued to hold the Confederate army together for two years after nearly destroying it at Gettysburg, almost by the sheer force of his personality.

    However, it’s simply not true that he was in any way an opponent of slavery. He never made any public pronouncement against it, and in the letter most often quoted, he specifically refers to abolitionism as an “evil course”. He hoped that slavery would gradually wither away of its own accord, and the only timescale he mentioned was that two thousand years were as a single day. He said that the blacks were vastly better off as slaves than as free men in Africa, and that slavery would be good for their development. It’s all in the same letter which is quoted as showing that he was opposed to slavery. It’s a good idea to read the whole thing, not just the half-sentences usually extracted.

    Lincoln, on the other hand, spent his entire life opposing slavery. The reason that he didn’t abolish it instantly was that he didn’t consider that the President had any power to do so. He regarded it as an unmitigated wrong, and the Civil War happened because of his intention to prevent slavery from being permitted in new states entering the union, which would have reduced the influence of the slave-holding states.

    “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”

    “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”

    “This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave.”

    “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

    Hardly the words of someone who “didn’t care about slavery one way or the other”.

  17. Anton Sherwood says:

    If I had to choose a “greatest man who ever lived” (a task repugnant in itself) I wouldn’t pick him from commanders in a war where both sides were clearly in the wrong.