Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Greks Bring Gifts

Murray Leinster The Greks Bring Gifts (1964)
The more Leinster I read - although I should probably point out that this is only my third - the more I suspect his legend should loom at least a little larger than is presently the case. I'm not sure if he quite qualifies as a great lost master, but he's seriously fucking readable for someone you've probably never heard of, and I've yet to encounter a Murray quite so disappointing as certain crimes against fiction committed by numerous better established authors - Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson and the rest.

The Greks Bring Gifts is, as you may have guessed from the title, the story of the alien Greks arriving on earth to share the bounty of their advanced technology with us humans, but the gifts come with a price and it turns out that the Greks are complete cunts. It's almost an allegory for everything ever done by white people when arriving in foreign lands populated by persons without television, although I'm not sure the parallels are deliberate so much as that this is a tale hung from the same basic lesson - something it shares with the more recent Singularity Sky by Charles Stross from what I can recall. The story is related in the comfortable tones of an elderly neighbour spinning tales from his stoop on a warm evening, following its protagonists along a detective trail of alien technology, archaeology, and the ethics of slavery. The FBI turn up to lend a helping hand from time to time, contributing to a feeling that The Greks Bring Gifts could quite easily have been an episode of The Outer Limits, I suppose deriving from an era in which government agency was held to be something you could trust at least some of the time.

I may have made the book sound unambitious or even a little dull, but the appeal is in the telling, and Leinster had a wonderful voice. By some terms he might be regarded as a hack or simply a pulp author, churning out genre fiction across the board under a variety of different pseudonyms, one after the other; but then it can hardly be denied that he'd put in the man hours and was very, very good at his craft. His conversational narrative draws you in immediately, and keeps hold for...

Well, I have to admit, this one seemed to slacken off at about the half way mark. It isn't that it lost the plot so much as that I had a feeling of characters trying to keep themselves busy until the big pay off at the end of the book. I wonder if this might be a clue as to Leinster no longer being quite the name he once was, namely that he was simply better at the short form and was less able to sustain momentum at novel length. My previous Murrays have been a short story collection and a novel which turned out to be three short stories utilising the same character. It isn't that The Greks Bring Gifts is in any sense bad, just that it feels a little like the author would have been happier writing something with less of a page count. I'm still going to be keeping an eye out for more from this guy.

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