Monday, February 12, 2007

The War with the Gizmos -- Murray Leinster

Murray Leinster was at one time known as "The Dean of Science Fiction," having started writing the stuff before there was any such thing and having continued to write it well past the middle of the 20th century. He wrote a little of everything, including what I'd call horror SF, like this novel that capitalizes on the '50s monster craze. It's a wonder that American-International didn't latch onto this book for a quick B&W cheapie with Ray Milland. It has everything: a small cast, a threat to all life on earth, and invisible monsters, which would have been a huge plus. You can't have a cheaper monster for film than an invisible one.

No doubt current readers would find the book hopelessly dated both in style and content. Leinster begins with eight or so pages of no dialogue, and when the dialogue comes, it's nearly always tagged (at least twice in the book, someone utters something zesfully). Leinster even uses passive voice. He does plenty of telling rather than showing. Some of the phrasing, maybe more than some, is pretty old-fashioned.

None of that bothers me at all, of course. I have no trouble reading books from another era and accepting their various styles. I can read Dickens with pleasure, and Shakespeare too, not that I'm claiming Leinster's in their league. (I sometimes think that when we complain something is "dated" the comment says more about us than about the material.)

As for the plot, well, it's about these sentient gases that started killing animals and are now killing humans. It's quite likely that these are the creatures that our ancestors thought of as demons, and for some reason they've suddenly started to reproduce at an incredible rapid rate. They're discovered by an oddly assorted group, and naturally no one believes them, not even when the deaths begin to multiply alarmingly. It's all fairly ridiculous, but Leinster manages to make it almost believable. I'm sure I must have read this when it first appeared back in 1958, but I didn't remember. It was fun and fast, and I'm glad I read it again. After all, how many books do you read in which smoking can save your life?


Ed said...


"Smoking saves lives"!! You gotta elaborate on that. This sounds like the book for me.

Todd Mason said...

And, to be arguable (as I always am), it was more that Jenkins/Leinster began writing sf before that particularly label was settled upon, and certainly before AMAZING STORIES was founded as the scienfitiction magazine, much less SCIENCE WONDER or WONDER STORIES as the "science fiction" magazine...I wonder, being tired and my memory of this being slight anyway, if ARGOSY was using the "scientific romance" tag for their sf stories (such as Jenkins's), that the British popular magazines used for Wells and colleagues in the 1890s...

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Yeah, Leinster's stories are dated and flawed, but they're still a helluva lot of fun to read.

Bill Crider said...

Yeah, the stories are still a lot of fun to read, for me, at least.

And smoking does save lives when you're dealing with sentient gas bags.

And finally, I have to admit that I should have said that Leinster was writing science fiction before it had a name, or at least the one it currently has.

Richard Robinson said...

It had a name then: Space Opera. That was, and still is, good enough for me. I love Leinster, I read his stuff when it first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction (well, the stuff from 1949 on) and I own, like you, Bill, several collections.

Modern science fiction may be sophisticated and have more writerly attributes, it may reek of cool high-math science and all that, it may be drenched in psychological drama and flavored with the innuendo of importance, but it sure as heck ain't FUN the way it used to be!