My life in outer space

Leinster – Murray

Adventures in The Far Future – Donald A Wollheim (Ed) (1954)

acedoubleadventures

‘Excitement beyond tomorrow’s horizons!

Spanning the next million years, this thrilling science-fiction anthology breaks through today’s horizons to explore the wonders of far time and endless space. In five specially selected novelettes, five leading fantasy writers take you through startling adventures on worlds undreamed of.

Trouble-shoot the interstellar airways with Lester Del Rey. Explore a city-sized starship with Chad Oliver. Fight against a galaxy-wide conspiracy with Murray Leinster. Visit the world of 1,000,000 A.D. with Martin Pearson. Sit in on a world’s last day with Poul Anderson.

ADVENTURE IN THE FAR FUTURE is a new science-fiction collection prepared especially for ACE BOOKS by Donald A. Wollheim.

The Wind Between the Worlds
If they could not seal the break in the cosmic life lines, a dozen worlds would die quickly — and ours among them!

Stardust
Though there was bitter mutiny among the crew of that star-travelling Columbus, none guessed that time itself was the chief culprit.

Overdrive
Did that lost space liner hold the only key to the terrible marauders of half a galaxy?

The Millionth Year
It took a traveler from the forgotten past to read the message of the phantoms in the sky.

The Chapter Ends
They drew a line down the middle of the universe — and the Earth was on the wrong side of the boundary!’

Blurb from the 1954 D-73 Ace Double Paperback edition

The Wind Between the Worlds – Lester Del Rey (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)

A matter transmitter portal becomes jammed open and is transmitting Earth’s atmosphere to another world. Scientists race to solve the problem before the Earth is doomed. Fairly lightweight hokum but enjoyable enough.

Stardust – Chad Oliver (Astounding 1953)

An interstellar ship discovers a lost generation ship and have to find a way to set them back on course without revealing their existence and jeopardising their morale or depriving them of their chance to reach their destination on their own. Flawed, but interesting. Generation ships were a big thing in the fifties. The concept seems to have run out of steam of late.

Overdrive – Murray Leinster (Startling Stories 1952)

A passenger ship’s insterstellar drive cuts out leaving the ship stranded. Luckily an insterstellar secret agent of sorts is on board and suspects a sinister plot. Leinster’s mostly very readable, and doesn’t disappoint here, although one suspects that this was planned as a longer piece, or part of an ongoing sequence.

The Millionth Year – Martin Pearson (Science Fiction Stories 1943)

Possibly put in as a page-filler, this rather lacklustre tale from 11 years previously sees a man transported a million years into the future and then is returned in spirit to watch human history over the intervening period.

The Chapter Ends – Poul Anderson (Dynamic Science Fiction 1953)

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the best contribution comes from Poul Anderson. Humanity have spread out to the stars and have come to an agreement with a race who occupy gas giants that they will occupy separate areas of the galactic region. This means that Earth, which only has a small remnant of Humanity, will need to be evacuated, One man, however, has decided to remain and live out his life alone. Poignant and character driven.

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The Brain-Stealers – Murray Leinster (1954)

The Brain Stealers

‘He Alone Defied the Cosmic Vampires!

When the outlawed scientist Jim Hunt leaped from the prison plane, he had no suspicion that he was not the only one falling silently through the midnight sky. But other, stranger exiles were landing at that very moment in the same backwoods region… exiles from the unknown depths of outer space, exiles seeking human food.
When Jim started to make his way back home, he discovered the full horror of that night’s events. For the people he met had become mere flesh-and-blood puppets, mindless creatures doing the bidding of the unseen invaders. And though every man’s hand was against him, both free and enslaved, Jim knew that he alone was humanity’s only hope for survival.

Murray Leinster’s BRAIN-STEALERS is an unusually gripping science-fiction novel of thought transference, invaders from space, and vampirism on a world-wide scale!’

Blurb from the 1954 Ace Double D-79 edition.

This is an expansion of the novella ‘The Man in the Iron Cap’ from Starling Stories (November 1947) and fits right into that subgenre of specifically US novels of the time which feature ‘aliens among us’ which may possibly represent a reflection of the US’ reaction to the cold war and the nationwide paranoia over communism at the time. (see The Puppet Masters and The Body Snatchers)
Leinster has created a future Earth where the Powers That Be – a worldspanning organisation known as Security – have become so obsessed with Human Safety that all dangerous research has been banned.
Jim Hunt was experimenting with thought fields, and was subsequently arrested and charged due to the dangerous nature of his experiments. Jim escapes from a plane, convincing the authorities he is dead.
Meanwhile, a ship of telepathic bloodsucking aliens have landed and have been mentally enslaving the population of an increasingly large area of rural America. Hunt discovers this and narrowly avoids becoming enslaved. He devises a cap made of iron wire that blocks the alien thought signals, then has to escape from the area, somehow warn the rest of the world and design a device that could save mankind.
There are some interesting parallels with Heinlein’s ‘Puppet Masters’, but one cannot say whether either writer was aware of the other’s work at the time, and without reading Leinster’s 1947 novella, I can’t say how much was changed for the 1954 novel, published after Heinlein’s 1951 Galaxy serialisation and novelisation.
The aliens, for one thing, breed though fission, dividing into two and moving on to new hosts. They are not concerned about the health and well-being of their hosts and, as in this novel, were brought to Earth by another enslaved race.
They are however very different novels, Heinlein’s being in any case by far the superior.
It’s very readable however, as Leinster’s work generally is, and has its moments of real drama and suspense, but ultimately is nothing out of the ordinary.


The Wailing Asteroid – Murray Leinster (1960)

The Wailing Asteroid

‘As the earth party wandered through the rock-hewn corridors, they had no doubt about the purpose of the asteroid.

It was a mighty fortress, stocked with weapons of destruction beyond man’s understanding. It seemed as if it was deserted by some ancient race and yet in a room high in the asteroid a powerful transmitter beamed its chilling sounds toward earth. Near it, on a huge star-map of the universe, ten tiny red sparks were moving inexorably toward the center – moving at many times the speed of light; moving on a course that would pass through the solar system.

The unknown aliens would not even see our sun explode from the force of their passing, would not even notice the tiny speck called Earth as it died…’

Blurb from the 1968 Sphere paperback edition

This is an odd little concoction from Leinster which begins when a strange musical message is received from space and identified as originating in an asteroid.
A scientist, hearing the message is shocked, as the music is part of a recurring dream he has had since childhood, The Russians immediately send out rockets to reach the source of the signal, but our valiant hero, with the help of images from his dreams, (and his girlfriend, her friend and his best friend) is able to build a ship in his backyard.
The four end up on the ship (it’s not important why) and blast off to the asteroid.
The asteroid is actually a space-fortress with artificial gravity, its own air system and a bank of screens upon one of which can be seen ten red moving dots.
With the help of some mind-induction educational cubes they learn that the red dots are an ancient enemy of the fortress builders and are on their way to destroy the Solar System.
If one employs a certain suspension of disbelief, it’s enjoyable hokum although certainly not an example of Leinster at his best.
It’s another Origin of Man tale since, as astute readers would have guessed long before Leinster springs the surprise on us, humans are the descendants of the fortress builders, whose last garrison escaped to Earth two million years before.
It is up to our hero to find a way to stop the ships of the mysterious Enemy and prevent the Solar System from being destroyed.


Miners in The Sky – Murray Leinster (1967)

Miners In The Sky

‘Dunne was a crystal miner among the stars until he discovered the biggest strike in space.

Drifting through the rings of Thothmes with a mysterious lady stowaway, the lonely hunter soon realised that every miner in this golden mist was out to get him – and the treasure.

Even as bloodshed spreads across the sky, eyes both inhuman and unseen watched, waiting to close in…’

Blurb from the Sphere 1968 paperback edition.

The Unobtainium in this novel is Abyssal Crystals, found in the rings of gas giants and created under such pressure that they are strong enough to rip diamonds apart. They are immensely valuable and – amongst other things – are used as power conductors in space vehicles.
Dunne is a miner of the rings of Thothmes and has just discovered a rich vein on one of the rocks that drift through the rings. Returning to Outlook, the mining post and leaving his partner behind to guard the find, he discovers that his partner’s sister has turned up demanding to see her brother. When Dunne’s ship is blown up he deduces that someone is after his claim. Borrowing a lifeboat he sets off to rescue his partner, not realising that the sister has stowed away on board.
Someone is trying to kill them. Is it because the other miners suspect they have discovered the legendary Big Rock Candy Mountain, a semi-mythical rock packed with Abyssal Crystals? Or is it the Gooks, the never seen aliens of the miners’ tales who kill the unwary or take them off into the depths of the gas giant?
Leinster conjures up the setting of the Rings very well and manages to establish a sense of scale in a system of rings where a mountain sized rock can be easily lost and never found again.
Presumably based on the lawless American West in the days of The Gold Rush, complete with a rather quaint attitude to women, it’s a short but workmanlike novel with an intriguing setting.


The Greks Bring Gifts – Murray Leinster (1964)

The Greks Bring Gifts (#50 418)

‘The Greks promised a world in which everyone would be rich – provided the Greks were allowed to rule. It was a bargain few Earthmen could resist.

The Greks were people-haters.

They came to earth in their space ship, bearing fabulous gifts – such as machines that did any job automatically, and fertilizer that made plants shoot up overnight. But they presented their gifts with contempt, and with a look in their eyes that made people feel ‘creepy’.
Still, because of the brave new world they promised, the Greks could be forgiven anything – until they left and people discovered that the machines were breaking down. Then their only choice was to beg the Greks to come back, on their own terms. And they knew the terms would be hard…’

Blurb from the 1968 Macfadden-Bartell paperback edition

An enormous ship appears from behind the moon and announces that it houses the Greks, a benevolent race who wish to bring gifts of science to mankind.
The Greks are humanoid, grey-skinned and their technological gifts (such as broadcast power which can run cars and power electricity stations) destroy Earth’s economy and plunge the world into economic and social chaos.
One man, Hackett, and his girlfriend Lucy, suspect from the start that the Greks are up to no good and set out to investigate what is really going on.
It’s a decent enough tale, reminiscent of movies of the previous decade, and suffers in the main from Leinster’s style of excessive reportage rather than providing a narrative composed of action sequences. Leinster tells us, rather than shows us, what is happening in the world.
Additionally, the extended metaphor of the novel – which is an allegory of any superior human culture encountering a more primitive one – is weakened by Leinster’s needless descriptions of what the white man did to the US Native American.
It’s an idea which hasn’t been over-used in SF and it’s a shame that Leinster didn’t rework or revise this into a longer more structured piece since the morality, the message and the parallels with actions of the human race are the stuff of which great SF is made.


The Forgotten Planet – Murray Leinster (1954)

ForgottenPlanet

‘A ship is marooned on a planet whose existence has been mislaid by the galactic bureaucracy. And the planet’s ecology has gone wild, breeding deadly giant insects. the ship’s crew and passengers have no hope of rescue. Can they and their descendents (sic) survive? Tune in next millennium.’

Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition

This is a fix-up novel composed of three rewritten stories ‘The Mad Planet’ (Argosy 1920), ‘The Red Dust’ (Argosy 1921), and ‘Nightmare Planet’ (Science Fiction Plus, June 1953). In the original first two stories, the action was set on a far future Earth. The rewritten novel was first published by Gnome Press in 1954.
The basic premise is that Seeder Ships who have discovered barren Earth-type worlds initially ‘seed’ them with lichen and algae and return in cycles of thousand of years to add fungi, vegetation, insects, fish and finally mammals.
Due to a clerical error a particular world is forgotten once the insects and fish have been delivered. Subsequently a ship crashes on the planet and its crew (surviving by eating mushrooms and evading what have evolved into giant insects) become isolated tribes of nomads.
The plot, if one can call it a plot, involves Burl, a resourceful tribesman who one day decides to employ the remains of a dead beetle’s carapace as a weapon and from there teaches his tribe to go on the offensive against rapacious wildlife. He leads them on a journey through the territories of giant spiders, mantises and poisonous puffballs to a plateau where the environment is rather more like that of forgotten Earth.
The colony is eventually re-discovered and its people given an instant education by means of downloading knowledge directly into their brains. Burl becomes the leader of a hot new tourist planet where jaded humans from rest of the galaxy go on hunting trips with the natives, pitting their wits against the outsize insects.
For its time his concept of terraforming must have seemed like cutting edge science, although the concept of a galactic human society which would have remained static during the thousands of years of the seeding programme is a little implausible. One can’t help also pointing out that for Burl to be the only human to discover these techniques of survival, all in a very short space of time, is even more implausible.
However, despite its juvenile feel it’s enjoyable hokum and kept me entertained through a hefty slice of a nine-hour transatlantic flight.


Planet Explorer (vt Colonial Survey) – Murray Leinster (1956)

The Planet Explorer

‘As humans spread throughout the galaxy, thousands of planets have been colonized.
Often, the colonists discover too late that an apparently hospitable planet
conceals a terrible danger to their survival. The fate of these colonies scattered
across the galaxy rests with one man, whose own fate is to race forever against
looming interstellar disaster.’

Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition

Originally published as ‘Colonial Survey’ by Gnome Press in 1956, and reissued in 1957 by Avon Press as ‘The Planet Explorer’, Leinster’s rather romantic view of humanity’s colonisation of other worlds is tempered by solid scientific theory. Some of the stories here (which have been re-written and combined into a novel format) are merely puzzle problems whereby colonies in mortal danger with no hope of rescue are saved by genial Colonial Surveyor Bordman who employs logic and scientific theory to turn each crisis into a mere drama.
‘Solar Constant’ is set on a planet where Humanity is doomed because of the arrival of a premature ice-age, Bordman uses rockets to scatter sodium above the atmosphere so that more sunlight is captured and reflected back onto the planet.
He works a similar trick in ‘Sand Doom’, set on a hot desert planet populated only by Black people and Amerindians because of their genetic tolerance for sunlight.
Similarly, in ‘The Swamp was Upside Down’ Bordman saves a colony founded on an escarpment which juts out of a world-spanning ocean, and which – due to Man’s stupidity – is sliding back into the sea.
In the longer and slightly less satisfying piece, ‘Combat Team’, Bordman is confronted by an illegal colony on a jungle planet; a man and a family of genetically engineered Kodiak bears. The official colony has been almost wiped out by an indigenous hostile species. Our ever genial and resourceful surveyor uses the bears to help rescue the survivors of an official colony; finds a way of eliminating the hostile species and is also able to authorise the man/bear colony as a viable experiment, thus legitimising their presence on the planet, since the bears function much better than robots in this environment.
Had Leinster been less casual about the genocide of an entire species (see also EE ‘Doc’ Smith) then this tale would be more palatable today. Some views of Humanity and its place in the universe date very badly.
It will be interesting to see what aspects of early 21st Century genre work date as badly.