Sam, This Is You — Murray Leinster

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Murray Leinster was the pseudonym of Will F. Jenkins (1896-1975). Galaxy magazine published “Sam, This Is You” in its May 1955 issue (cover at right). It tells the story of your average, good-natured fellow–a war vet now telephone lineman in an average job with an average life, whose girlfriend, Rosie, urges him to better himself. Sam takes her advice and begins to study electronics. One thing leads to another and before long old Sam has accidentally concocted a device, a strange new telephone which allows him to call himself from the future, and vice versa. As you might surmise, complications arise, some being those SF readers might expect from the paradoxes involved, but one ramification in particular surprises good old Sam–one he wishes he had never learned.

Longtime readers and SF aficionados know the name Murray Leinster and much of his illustrious history within the genre. But for those who may not recognize the name, here are but a few items of background to help familiarize yourselves with this most remarkable man.

Born in Virginia in June of 1896, Jenkins sold his first story “The Foreigner” while still 19. It appeared in the May 1916 issue of H. L. Mencken’s literary magazine The Smart Set. He would go on to sell detective, jungle, western, and horror stories to a variety of markets (including Weird Tales), even selling romance stories under the pen name of Louisa Carter Lee. His first published SF story was “The Runaway Skyscraper,” which appeared in the February 22, 1919 issue of Argosy (cover at left) and was subsequently reprinted in the third issue of Hugo Gernsback’s (and the genre’s) first SF magazine Amazing Stories (June 1926 cover at right).

Leinster’s June 1934 Astounding story (long before John W. Campbell became the magazine’s editor in 1937), “Sidewise in Time,” is credited as being the first story to come up with the concept of “parallel worlds,” and is the story upon which Steven H Silver christened his Sidewise Awards (created in 1995 to honor the best Alternate History story each year at both the novel and short story length). Leinster’s classic “First Contact” (Astounding, May 1945) is credited with being the first story wherein a “universal translator” is mentioned. “A Logic Named Joe,” another classic (Astounding, March 1946), is so dead-on prescient in its depiction of the computer (“logics”), servers (“tanks”), and the invention of the internet and its uses and drawbacks, that it goggled even Isaac Asimov (see Asimov’s brief introduction to the story in Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 8 (1946), ed. Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg; DAW, November 1982).

Not only an innovator with his science fiction stories, Leinster invented a rear screen projection technique (patent issued on December 20, 1955) for special effects in film still used today (late-50s movie house patrons would no longer have to suffer someone getting up to get more popcorn or a drink and having that person or persons’ shadow(s) move across, and block, the screen; alas, I remember those days quite well; smoking in the theater was then still allowed as well).

Leinster won a Hugo Award for his 1956 novelette “Exploration Team” (Astounding, March 1956) at age 60 (most of his best work being written before the Hugos were first given their official name and awarded on a regular basis in 1955), and in 1996 a Retro-Hugo for “First Contact.” During his lifetime he would pen some 1,500 short stories in various genres and hundreds of radio and tv scripts.  In 1963 he was saluted by SF fans as Guest of Honor at Discon I, the 21st World Science Fiction Convention.

An excellent overview of Leinster’s best short work can be found in The Best of Murray Leinster, edited by John J. Pierce (Del Rey, April 1978). Of its thirteen stories one can find the aforementioned “Sidewise in Time,” “First Contact,” and “A Logic Named Joe.”

Another eminently worthwhile collection of some of Leinster’s work can be found in the more recent collection A Logic Named Joe, edited and compiled by Eric Flint (Baen Books, June 2005). This massive 600-page paperback includes two short novels, one medium-length novel, and three shorter works, including the title story. In his preface, Barry N. Malzberg concludes by remarking that Leinster was “A remarkable, irreplaceable figure. Take him out of the [SF] history and as with Campbell that history might collapse. Fortunately we do not have to speculate; he is here and we are lucky to have him. This collection is both celebratory and as contemporary as this great writer.” 

Leinster’s prolific career spanned some fifty years during which he made his living as a full-time writer, the quality of his work never flagging, always professional, sometimes brilliant. It is no wonder then that he was given the title “the Dean of modern science fiction” by his many fans and contemporaries, and was noted as such by Time magazine.

For those desirous of further information on Murray Leinster we provide the following:

Steven H Silver maintains the official Murray Leinster homepage here.

Robert Silverberg recently wrote “A Logic Named Will” for his monthly Asimov’s “Reflections” column for the magazine’s December 2008 issue. It can be found here. I encourage those of you interested in Leinster’s work, but most particularly those in the computer age in which we now find ourselves, to read this informative essay on Leinster’s uncanny vision, published some 64 years ago.

Here now is X Minus One‘s dramatization of Murray Leinster’s “Sam, This Is You,” which aired on October 31, 1956. A typically entertaining “Leinster” story on the surface, he adds a nice little sting making the tale a memorable one.

Play Time: 27:45