Monday, 30 January 2017

The Aliens

Murray Leinster The Aliens (1960)
This time I'm going to see if I can remember the salient details rather than looking them up on the internet, namely that Murray Leinster was but one alias of many, specifically the science-fiction writing incarnation of some guy who churned them out, one after the other, a million novels a year - westerns, romance, spy thrillers, this stuff. I think I have that right, in so much as that Leinster was a one-man science-fiction sausage machine just squeezing them out, over and over, and therefore arguably the opposite of yer proverbial tortured artiste crying into his typewriter, three months behind on the rent, but - you know - like he wrote this rilly amaaazing stuff, yeah?

Unfortunately the quality of that which Leinster squoze forth from his allegorical creative sausage machine somewhat undermines the romance of the above generalisation; so I assume that a more helpful way of looking at this author might be to consider how hard he clearly worked at his craft, and how much he must have picked up whilst hopping from one genre to another like some sort of pulp mountain goat, and I suggest this because The Aliens is the best collection of short stories I've read in some time.

Leinster reads as you would expect him to read given these originally having appeared in the pages of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Astounding and the like - spacecraft, aliens, sciencey stuff, and men named Burt and Steve frowning ruggedly whilst pondering the mysteries of the universe; and yet Leinster's fiction never quite feels as generic as it probably should. It has a loose, jazzy logic, standing in relation to Heinlein and the rest kind of how Dr. Seuss stood in relation to Disney. Stories are occasionally hung on the weirder points of chemistry or biology without ever feeling like a lecture, and in any case I've a hunch the details are probably as accurate as they need to be for the sake of the story; and on which subject, there's something deeply unpredictable about a Leinster narrative. He's nothing like so extreme as van Vogt in this respect - but his people tend to end up in places they clearly never expected to go, which makes for a tremendously satisfying read.

This guy, I would suggest, is long overdue some lurve; and I don't care if he was technically a hack, because the quality of the writing speaks for itself. If anyone still needs convincing, The Skit-tree Planet ends with a spacecraft called the Galloping Cow making its way back to Earth having been rebuilt so as to resemble a cow galloping across a field, legs in motion and everything. The man was patently a fucking genius.

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