Murray Leinster’s career as a science fiction author spanned five decades beginning with the publication of “The Runaway Skyscraper” in 1919 and running into the 60’s. While the first few decades were dominated by the sort of adventure story popular in the pulp magazines of that period, Leinster, unlike many of the early authors was able to evolve with the changing tastes and demands of editors such as John W. Campbell. By the 50’s, when the stories in this collection appeared, he was at the top of his form, writing stories where the ideas were as important as the action.
One of the ideas that especially intrigued him was that of the first contact between humans and an alien race. He was to explore this idea a number of times, first in the aptly named story “First Contact” from 1945, and later in two stories included here, “The Invaders” and “The Aliens.” While many authors have approached the scenario as an excuse for interstellar mayhem usually resulting in the destruction of one or the other parties, Leinster took a more nuanced and positive view. While recognizing that such a contact would be a source of anxiety with the potential for tragic misunderstandings, he didn’t necessarily feel that the ultimate consequences were preordained to end in violence.
Three of the stories, “Scrimshaw,” “Sand Doom,” and “A Matter of Importance” are of the man against the universe type, where the spaceman hero must overcome some threat by courage and intelligence. But even here, Leinster takes an unconventional tack, creating a situation where enemies are defeated more by their own actions than by those of the hero in “Scrimshaw” and “A Matter of Importance” and in the latter, the enemy doesn’t even realize he’s been defeated.
This is also a theme in the two most serious stories in the collection, “The Machine That Saved the World” and “The Leader.” In the former, a Cold War adversaries attempt at a covert attack is thwarted when the weapon is turned against them. The latter is an alternate reality story in which war is averted when a dictator over estimates his own powers of persuasion.
Leinster also had a lighter side as demonstrated by the remaining three stories in this collection, “Sam, This is You,” “Attention, St. Patrick,” and “The Ambulance Made Two Trips,” The first answers the question “Who do you call when you invent a phone that can call last week?” The last two show a fine sense of Irish blarney, which with a middle name like Fitzgerald, Leinster must have come by honestly.
This diverse group of stories showcases the many sides of Leinster’s talents. Resurrected Press is proud to present them for your enjoyment. Order the book here!