by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)
… William Fitzgerald Jenkins, AKA Murray Leinster (1896-1975)!
The award-winning writer of science fiction and alternative history had an absolutely prolific output, including 1500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays. Leinster began his career as a freelance writer before WW1—he was 19—when he published his first story, “The Foreigner” in H. L. Mencken’s lit magazine, The Smart Set. Over the next three years he had ten more stories published in that magazine (not bad for a kid starting out!).
During and after WW1 he began appearing in the pulps, like Argosy, Snappy Stories and Breezy Stories. When the pulps began to diversify into specific genres in the 1920s, Leinster adapted accordingly, selling “jungle” stories to Danger Trails; western yarns to West and Cowboy Stories; detective stories to Black Mask and Mystery Stories; horror stories to Weird Tales; and even romance stories to Love Story Magazine (using the pen name “Louisa Carter Lee”).
Leinster’s first science fiction story (“The Runaway Skyscraper”) appeared in a 1919 issue of Argosy, but was reprinted in the June 1926 issue of the sci-fi pulp Amazing Stories. By the 1930s, Leinster contributed several stories and serials to Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories while still contributing to other magazines, including such mainstream leaders as Esquire and Colliers. But it seemed to be in sci-fi where Leinster had the most lasting impact and influence, including being the originator of such sci-fi staples as “first contact” (with alien species) describing the use of a “universal translator” (the first in sci-fi, hello Star Trek!) and the concept of the “parallel universe.” Leinster was also far ahead of his time when he imagined what we call today as the internet. In the 1946 story, “A Logic Named Joe,” Leinster described a kind of computer, which he called a “logic.” He envisioned logics in every home, linked through a distributed system of servers (called “tanks”), to provide communications, entertainment, data access, and commerce; one character says that “logics are civilization.” Gee, sound familiar?
Leinster would continue to be a constant in Astounding and Analog (writing for Analog from 1930-1966), carrying on well into the 1950s and 1960s in Galaxy Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (and in the parallel universe of mainstream magazines like the Saturday Evening Post). Leinster ended his writing career working on the novelizations of sci-fi television series Men Into Space,The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants.
But we are most grateful for his many science fiction stories that were adapted into the paperback format resulting in brilliantly packaged objects like this one, and many like it, by the great sci-fi and fantasy powerhouse, Richard Powers.
Illustration: Richard Powers
JMR:But people still listen to jazz, and they still listen to the past masters. That being said—and I also make an argument for rediscovery of practitioners like Leinster—that should a great science fiction movie reach the screens that is NOT a trivial summer entertainment, that in itself could spur a revival to a degree. When comic book super hero films are bad or dreary, they don’t help sales of comics/graphic novels at all (even may harm sales). When they are diverting, even exciting, tomics get a little blowback. Sales spike—sometimes enough to reinvigorate a franchise.
But the sci-fi has to be good AND exciting. It’s possible. Yes, fantasy has the edge now, but whoda thunk that a few years ago, before the double whammy of the Harry Potter cultural juggernaut AND the unprecedented quality of the LOTR trilogy? If Paul Verhoeven had handled Heinlein’s Starship Troopers ever so differently (casting, detail—maybe a little less cheeky, a little smarter like his own Robocop) that could’ve been a forward step. But yes, without a favorable environment, a contemporary writer may not emerge. But even then, it’s still possible.
…It says that from STAR WARS to Harry Potter the emphasis on fantastic entertainment has been fantasy-driven (STAR WARS in itself is not sci-fi, it’s science-fantasy, and only because it’s loosely technological—space ships and laser beams, et. al.). The term “science fiction” itself is based on the probability, however fantastic, of space travel, alien worlds, and the promise (or terrors) of future technology. Be it the internet (in 1946) or A.I. and artificial life forms in our relatively near future.
Even the great counterpoint in pop sci-fi, STAR TREK, has been corrupted by what’s “trendy” (thusly the recent J. J. Abrams reboot which uses all manner of concepts NOT rooted in scientific probability—and why I refuse to watch any more of it, the first being sooo loathsome).
It also says that serious sci-fi fans may get their fix elsewhere. Sounds like a group that needs some encouragement.