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Leinster, Murray

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym – pronounced "Lenster" as in the Irish province of Leinster – under which US author William Fitzgerald Jenkins (1896-1975) was best known in the sf field, and under which he wrote almost all his work in the genre; the exceptions were a few novels as Jenkins [see below] and some stories in magazines, mainly those in the Bud Gregory series as by William Fitzgerald, plus a small number as by Will Jenkins or Will F Jenkins. Leinster began publishing fiction in 1916, and was active as an sf writer from 1919 – the year of his first story of genre interest, The Runaway Skyscraper (22 February 1919 Argosy and Railroad Man's Magazine; 2005 ebook), about a building falling backwards through time (see Timeslip) – until about 1970. Though the posthumous releases of very early work, as assembled in The Silver Menace and A Thousand Degrees Below Zero (coll 2007) and The Runaway Skyscraper and Other Tales from the Pulps (coll 2007), have somewhat alleviated this situation, like most contributors to the pre-World War Two US sf Pulp magazines (including Thrill Book), he published considerable material that either did not reach book form at all, or not until after 1945. But his full integration into the pre-War sf world can be confirmed by his contribution to a well-known Round-Robin sf story solicited by Fantasy Magazine for its September 1935 issue, "The Challenge from Beyond" with E E Smith, Harl Vincent, Donald Wandrei and Stanley Weinbaum.

Leinster's first book, Murder Madness (May-August 1930 Astounding; 1931), though featuring a Mad Scientist who wishes to rule the world through the use of a deadly Drug, was not titled so as to address any sf market (then still nascent in America), and is presented, typically, as a mystery adventure; it is, however, certainly sf – and is only one of many sf novels published in the US before the official beginning of Genre SF book publishing after World War Two. The Murder of the U.S.A. (1946; vt Destroy the U.S.A. 1950) as by Will F Jenkins was again directed as much to the mystery as to the sf market, though its plot (the hero solves the mystery of who has dropped 300 A-bombs on US cities, allowing America to retaliate) is more sf than locked-room. Because of the pile-up of magazine material, many of Leinster's post-World War Two book publications contained or reworked early stories (a process that has not been fully traced), and were often rather dated in plotline and character development; ironically, it was just at this time that he was publishing his best work in the magazines, stories that competed on equal terms with those by writers twenty years newer to the field. For Astounding alone, he placed between 1930 and 1960 a very distinguished array of stories, always (after 1938) in tune with John W Campbell Jr's evolving criteria.

Leinster published some remarkably inventive and clear-sighted stories in the mid-1930s: "Politics" (June 1932 Amazing), "Sidewise in Time" (June 1934 Astounding), "The Mole Pirate" (November 1934 Astounding) and "Proxima Centauri" (March 1935 Astounding; vt Conquest of the Stars, 1952 chap). But his best years as an sf writer were undoubtedly the decade following World War Two, a period during which his finest short stories were published, among them "First Contact" (May 1945 Astounding) (see First Contact), "De Profundis" (Winter 1945 Thrilling Wonder), "A Logic Named Joe" (March 1946 Astounding) as by Jenkins, which eerily anticipates personal Computers and the Internet, "Doomsday Deferred" (24 September 1949 Saturday Evening Post) as by Jenkins, The Lonely Planet (December 1949 Thrilling Wonder; 1954 chap [see Checklist for explanation]), "If You Was a Moklin" (September 1951 Galaxy) and "Exploration Team" (March 1956 Astounding; vt "Combat Team"), which won the 1956 Hugo for Best Novelette and as "Combat Team" became part of Colonial Survey (stories December 1955-September 1956 Astounding; fixup 1956; vt Planet Explorer 1957), perhaps his most enjoyable single volume – his individual short stories are generally superior to his book-length work. Some of the above material is assembled in Sidewise in Time, and Other Scientific Adventures (coll 1950), plus "Sidewise in Time" (June 1934 Astounding) itself – a very early Parallel Worlds tale, possibly the earliest example in the genre of the Alternate History. It lent its name to the Sidewise Award, established in 1995 for the best alternate history story of the year. When Leinster did contrive Fixups of short material, the result was often disappointing. His first classic story, for instance, "The Mad Planet" (12 June 1920 Argosy Weekly), on being incorporated into The Forgotten Planet (1920-1953 var mags; fixup 1954), exposed to view implausibilities that may have been tolerable in a 1920 production but which, thirty-five years later in book form, fail to convince. Good early selections from this work can be found in Monsters and Such (coll 1959) and The Best of Murray Leinster (coll 1978) edited by J J Pierce; more recently, First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster (coll 1998) ed Joe Rico and Planets of Adventure (coll 2003) tellingly focus almost entirely on works published between 1945 and about a decade later, the period of his clear-headed, companionable, formidable prime.

Leinster's first series was the set of four off-beat Masters of Darkness or Preston-Hines superscience-blackmail stories contributed to The Argosy in 1929-1930 and never collected in book form. The more widely known Bud Gregory series comprises three 1947 Thrilling Wonder Stories stories, as assembled in Out of this World (fixup 1958), plus "The Seven Temporary Moons" (February 1948 Thrilling Wonder); all originally appeared as by William Fitzgerald. Bud is a hillbilly whose intuitive knack with high technology allows him to solve various superscience problems. Of more interest is the Med Service sequence, S.O.S. from Three Worlds (coll 1967), The Mutant Weapon (1959 dos), Doctor to the Stars: Three Novelettes of the Interstellar Medical Service (coll 1964) and This World Is Taboo (1961); all but Doctor to the Stars were assembled as The Med Series (omni 1983). In these stories and novels, Calhoun and the "being" Murgatroyd act as troubleshooters in various far-flung crises; the tales are robust and adventurous, but rudimentary compared to the inventiveness of James White's Sector General tales (see also Medicine). The Joe Kenmore novels – Space Platform (1953; rev 1965), Space Tug (1953) and City on the Moon (1957) – make up a Juvenile Series about the crisis-ridden first years of the Near Future US space effort, told in melodramatic terms that have not worn well.

His novels, which were frequently unambitious and repetitive, generally stretched beyond their proper span, and seemed written for a less demanding market than either his best stories or his series. The last decade of Leinster's career boasted numerous publications of this sort, but no substantial works were conceived after the mid-1950s – though The Pirates of Zan (February-April 1959 Astounding as "The Pirates of Ersatz"; 1959 dos; vt The Pirates of Ersatz 2007 ebook), a competent but unremarkable Space Opera, won some praise. In this book, and in almost every full-length title Leinster published after World War Two, the Galaxy – vaguely delineated in terms consistent with a broad-church understanding of the Galactic Empire – serves as a template which scamps and engineers tinker with to their own advantage, and to the advantage of small communities on Earth or elsewhere. In the light Space Opera Talents, Incorporated (1962), for example, the cheerful freelance organization of the title provides assistance via Psi Powers and other special gifts (the most useful operative being a mathematical prodigy) to an embattled colony world that seems doomed to be overrun and oppressed by the local evil interplanetary empire: the tables are rather swiftly turned. "According to the fiction tapes," as Leinster puts it in The Pirates of Zan, "the colonized worlds of the galaxy vary wildly from one another. In cold and unromantic fact, it isn't so. Space travel is too cheap and sol-type solar systems too numerous to justify the settlement of hostile worlds." It is remarkable how much this domestic vision of the universe differs from that of Leinster's greater contemporaries, like Edmond Hamilton or E E Smith, and how lacking it is in Anthropology riffs or plunges into Conceptual Breakthrough typical of writers like Clifford D Simak who also reached their prime after World War Two.

The similarities in background from one late novel to another were sufficiently numerous for these books to make up one loose series – but through sameness, not through any articulated central conceit. Allied to this template view of the Universe was a deepening political simplicity of view, rather right-wing in orientation (a viewpoint common to many sf writers of his generation), which led to the frequent depiction of cartoon-like confrontations between the USA and underhand enemies, in the resolving of which means tended to dominate ends. But the paradox between fiat and freedom seems unconscious. His novel, Time Tunnel (1964), features a Wormhole connecting the years 1904 and 1964. It depicts an Alternate History in which Napoleon establishes a permanent rule in Europe. The rights were bought by 20th Century Fox, which produced the television series The Time Tunnel (1966-1967), only very loosely based on the book. Leinster was then commissioned to write novelizations of this series – including Timeslip!: A Time Tunnel Adventure (1967) and The Time Tunnel (1967), in which the past is restructured by executive fiat to make life safe for democracy. He was also commissioned for inconsequential novelizations of a later series from the same producer, Land of the Giants, beginning with Land of the Giants (1968; vt Land of the Giants: The Trap 1969).

The high and only superficially simple competence of the stories remains as Leinster's memorial. In this work he speaks with a directness to the heart of magazine sf and its readership with a craftsmanship and consistency that warrant the nickname he was given: the Dean of SF. [JC]

see also: Aliens; Amazing Stories; Asteroids; Colonization of Other Worlds; Crime and Punishment; Faster Than Light; Great and Small; Hive Minds; Invasion; Invisibility; Living Worlds; Longevity in Writers; Machines; Matter Penetration; Moon; Outer Planets; Parasitism and Symbiosis; Psionics; Space Flight; Spaceships; Time Paradoxes; Time Travel; Titanic.

William Fitzgerald Jenkins

born Norfolk, Virginia: 16 June 1896

died Gloucester, Virginia: 8 June 1975



Joe Kenmore

Med Service

Time Tunnel

Land of the Giants

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor

about the author


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