Posts tagged ‘Murray Leinster’

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.

Isaac Asimov, ca. 1934

    Isaac Asimov, ca. 1934.

The way I met Isaac Asimov was the way I met almost everybody else who became not only important to me as a teenager but a lifelong friend. Like every other kid in the world, I met a lot of other kids in those years from, say, 14 to 19 — in school, in the neighborhood, in the YCL, in the (don’t laugh) Olivet Presbyterian Church Thursday afternoon teenagers’ class, which I attended until I was 17. But those friends came and went and were gone, while many of the ones I met through fandom were friends all their lives — Isaac, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie, Dick Wilson. In fact, there are one or two — Jack Robins, Dave Kyle — whom I still count as friends, seventy-odd years later, although none of us are very mobile these days and it’s been a while since we got together.

I digress. (In fact, you may have noticed, I do it often.) In those days, the thing was that we kids had been captured by science fiction. And when a burgeoning fandom gave us a chance to meet other captives, we signed up at once.

Like most of us in the New York area, Isaac’s first clue that there was a way to join others came from reading Hugo Gernsback’s magazine, Wonder Stories. In an effort to improve sales, Gernsback had started a correspondence club, the Science Fiction League, and allowed some members to charter local chapters. One, the Q (for Queens) SFL, was in the New York area and was the point of first contact for most of the area’s newbies because they’d read about it in the magazine.

So the QSFL was where Isaac first showed up, but we Futurians kept an eye on their new blood. Anyone who turned up with an interest in writing sf as well as reading it, we kidnapped; that was one of the reasons the QSFL’s heads, James Taurasi, Will Sykora and Sam Moskowitz, weren’t real fond of us. And Isaac made it clear that he was definitely going to become an sf professional writer, as soon as he figured out how.

At that time Isaac didn’t give many indications that he would achieve that ambition, much less that he would become I*S*A*A*C  A*S*I*M*O*V. He was, if anything, deferential. Isaac was born Russian-Jewish, brought to America as a small child when his father, who had immigrated early, was at last able to send for his family.

Many of the Futurians had already begun to write sf stories, showing the mss. to each other and talking about the stories’ successes (few) and flaws (many). One or two of us had actually made some tiny sales. (Including me. I had had a truly sappy poem published in Amazing Stories.) A few of us had begun teaming up as collaborators. Isaac yearned, but he had to miss most of that. His parents owned a candy store at the eastern edge of Prospect Park, and their children had to help with the work of running it. Isaac got to our meetings when he could, but seldom to the writing sessions.

Continue reading ‘Isaac
Part 1 of I don’t know how many’ »

(*Before Campbell)

Astounding No. 1

Astounding No. 1, January 1930

Astounding/Analog had two (or three) editors before John W. Campbell, Jr., came along with his magnolious “Golden Age” of people like Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein and all. However, none of those original editors were the ones that made the magazine great. That task was left for John Campbell, on his way to becoming what some authorities (ahem!) would call the greatest editor science fiction has ever had. (I’ll say more about that later.)

The original Astounding Stories of Super Science was the creation of a rather small New York pulp magazine publishing company called Clayton, which, sometime in the vertiginous year of 1929, elected to get bigger by adding some new titles. It was a reasonably intelligent decision, considering that they didn’t know what was going to happen to Wall Street that October, but it had one built-in flaw. It was only for eleven new titles. It should have been for twelve.

This requirement was an artifact of the way pulp magazines were printed. The text interiors were printed on the big black-and-white rotary presses on the cheapest available woodpulp paper. The covers, however, were printed in full color on glossy paper, and the most economical way to do that was to print them twelve at a time. If they were to proceed with only eleven titles it would mean leaving the twelfth space on the special paper empty and throwing away the part of that expensive paper not used.

Since printing a cover was a significant fraction of the cost of printing a pulp magazine it would be a pity to waste the cost of one. It made more sense simply to add a twelfth magazine. The question was, what kind of pulp should it be?

I don’t know who suggested that it be science fiction. Most authorities think it was Harry Bates, but I have a hunch that it might have been a man named Douglas Merriweather Dold. He is sometimes referred to in the old records as the editor of the new magazine but in fact was probably only an assistant, and was also the brother of the science-fiction cover artist (William) Elliott Dold. And I think that what Doug said was something like, “Tell you what we could do. We could put out a book” — all pulp editors of a certain vintage called their magazines books, perhaps because they wished they were— “of this scientifiction stuff that old Hugo Gernsback is doing. We could call it something like Astounding Stories of Super Science.”

And so they did, and so the new magazine came out into one of the worst years for publishing (or for almost anything else in the annals of American business.) in history It was the beginning of what they called the Great Depression.

In spite of the calamitous economic conditions, the new magazine survived. The actual editor was that same previously mentioned Harry Bates, who studied the stories in Gernsback’s magazines and the often better ones that from time to time appeared in all-fiction magazines like Argosy, and from them all derived an editorial policy that might have gone something like: “Action-adventure stories that simply could not happen here and now.”

That seemed to be a policy congenial for the writers. Ray Cummings, Murray Leinster, Lilith Lorraine and Captain S.P. Meek helped to fill the issues, and were generally happy to see some of their work in the new Astounding. One reason for that was the fact that all twelve of the new magazines had been planned in the prosperous and optimistic boom times of 1929 before the October crash. So as a matter of policy, the new magazines paid the writers not only well but, even more important, paid them promptly on acceptance.

Given a better economical climate, the Clayton Astounding might have endured a good deal longer, for it had some pretty good stories and even one or two that have to be called classics, like Farewell to the Master” (aka “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” by Harry Bates himself). Indeed, it was not, or at least it was not directly, the Great Depression that did it in, It was only that Clayton, foreseeing that some crippling charges would be coming due from their printer, sought to forestall them by the bizarre expedient of buying up the printing company first. It was a bold move. It didn’t work. It had required signing some notes, and when the notes came due, Clayton didn’t have the resources to meet them. Then they were out of business.

So for a bit, Astounding Stories — the trailing words “of Super Science” had been dropped after the first year — lay dormant. When Harry Bates discovered that there were enough stories in the inventory and enough printing materials, already bought and paid for, for one more issue, he promptly brought it out, dated March, 1933. Then nothing, until the larger — and solvent! — company of Street & Smith decided to buy it, and Astounding was reborn.

To be continued. . . .

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