The Pulp Fictioneers: Murray Leinster

Murray Leinster was a pseudonym for William F. Jenkins (1896-1975). He started out writing vignettes for The Smart Set in 1917 and moved from there to stories with fantastic elements. He was one of the great writers for the Munsey magazines during the era of the “scientific romance” when you had Burroughs, Merritt, Brand, Rousseau, Stilson, etc.  A writing career of unusual duration as kept active into the early 1970s!

Leinster’s prose is not fancy but it achieves the purpose. I have found his fiction to hold up very well. Harry Bates, first editor of Astounding Stories said “Thank God for Murray Leinster.” Leinster was the one writer of science fiction who could bring the pulp adventure ethic to the field that epitomized Clayton Magazines.  He was actually a very good writer of space opera though you generally don’t see his name associated with that sub-genre.

Something to keep in mind- Murray Leinster’s output included just about all genres. While remembered as a science fiction writer today, his adventure, westerns, mysteries, and even love stories combined total more than the science fiction. If you were to edit a book entitled The Book of Murray Leinster, I would start with the original version of “The Mad Planet” that originally

appeared in Argosy. Laid in the far future where insects have grown to gigantic proportions and mankind is reduced so small bands of hunted fugitives. It holds up to this day. Robert E. Howard might have read the sequel, “The Red Dust” (Argosy All-Story Weekly, April 2, 1921). Leinster had an adventure series featuring “Malay Collins” from the pages of Short Stories. One of those stories could be used along with some other adventure yarns. A mystery story such as “Gangwar!” from Clues, a western such as “Gunfighter” (All-American Fiction) are representatives of those genres. “Sideways in Time” (Astounding Stories) has been oft reprinted but I like it. It was not so much an alternate history story but a time contininuity disturbance.  He also wrote several future war stories such as “Politics,” “Morale,” “Invasion” etc. Leinster was concerned by the lack of U.S. military preparedness in the 1930s and put those concerns on paper. I would like to say that “Swords and Mongols” from Golden Fleece would be a keeper but it reads like third rate pastiche Harold Lamb. There might be some other good historicals by Leinster out there.  Baen Books has been putting out some collections of Leinster’s science fiction. You can read the fix-up novel of “The Mad Planet” where it is moved from the far future to another planet.

Leinster had this to say about Robert E. Howard:

“He had a stellar talent. I not only lost a contemporary in the death of Robert E. Howard. The world lost a writer of extraordinary gifts.”

In my book, Murray Leinster was pretty cool. Gotta love a writer who smokes a pipe.