(Photo: Virgil Finlay)
By: Andrianna Veatch, Staff Reporter
Murray Leinster, the pen name of William F. Jenkins, is the man behind many of science fiction’s most commonly known themes, especially “first contact” and parallel universes. Born on June 16, 1896, he quickly became one of the most prominent sci-fi writers of the twentieth century, and he produced hundreds of works in his fifty-year career.
This career of prominence began with The Runaway Skyscraper, published in 1919, though it was by no means his first foray into the writing world. Indeed, a short story titled My Neighbors was published under his Christian name in The Smart Set magazine of Misters H. L. Mencken and George G. Nathan in February 1916. While he genuinely established his name as a science fiction writer, Murray also produced works in other genres, including mysteries, adventure tales, pulp-staple westerns, romance, and movie scripts.
Leinster is mainly known for his Med Ship Saga, chronicling the adventures of Calhoun and his tormal, Murgatroyd, as they battle plagues, poisons and other planetary medical disasters aboard the spaceship Aesclipus Twenty (or just Esclipus Twenty, depending on publication year and magazine).
The old saying goes, and modern readers can afford a chuckle at some of Leinster’s outdated 1900s technology: the spaceship navigation computers in “Ribbon in the Sky” are programmed with punched cards, and every story of the Med Ship series mentions the Aesclipus Twenty’s background tapes and overdrive-breakout tapes. These were not books written just to entertain, but also to foster questioning and thinking in their readers. There are not rare moments where Leinster deals with genuine issues: Pariah Planet discusses the horrific generational effects of racism and fear; The Mutant Weapon reveals a carefully crafted plan for mass genocide.
Leinster’s father died when he was only thirteen, successfully squelching any hopes the boy had about becoming a chemist, but what was denied him in one future delivered in another. He was the father of the “first contact” concept so popular in alien-themed movies today, and his story “Sideways in Time,” published in 1934, first introduced the idea of parallel universes. At the heart of it all, his work has withstood the test of time, and readers willing to delve through the technology of yesteryear will not be disappointed in the solid stories told therein—plus, Murgatroyd will steal your heart