Friday, January 2, 2009

SF authors born 1894-1903: 1896

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Murray Leinster


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Important American mainstream author. Born St. Paul, Minn. Known for This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), and The Great Gatsby (1925).

* "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Colliers, May 27, 1922; Tales of The Jazz Age, 1922). Benjamin Button, who we now understand looks like Brad Pitt, is born a man of about 70 years of age. Instead of growing older as the years pass, he grows younger. Sometimes anthologized as SF, but actually light fantasy.

* "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" (Smart Set, June 1922; Tales of The Jazz Age, 1922). John T. Unger, of Hades, on the Mississippi, enters St. Midas's near Boston, the priciest school in the world. There he becomes friendly with Percy Washington, who takes him home with him that summer. Percy's father, Braddock, lives in a luxurious domain of about five square miles, hidden in the Montana Rockies. Cartographers have been bribed to keep Washington's hideout off the map. Washington's source of wealth is a mountain of solid diamond, which an ancestor of his discovered during the Civil War. Convincing his slaves that the South had won the war, he built his estate atop the mountain. The slaves' descendants are still enslaved. Washington uses anti-aircraft guns to shoot down planes that fly overhead, and he keeps captured aviators in a pit. Unger discovers that he will be murdered at the end of the summer, and — having fallen in love with Washington's daughter, Kismine — determines to flee with her. Just then, however, an escaped aviator returns with a fleet of avenging bombers, who blow up the domain.


Murray Leinster (William Fitzgerald Jenkins) (1896-1975)

John Clute writes that, of all the candidates from "the prewar years," Murray Leinster deserves more obviously the sobriquet of "the dean of science fiction." (Science Fiction Writers, ed. Bleiler, 2d edition.) For the first decade and a half of his science fiction career (approx. 1919-36), Leinster wrote widely and adeptly for a number of magazines, though never for Gernsback's Amazing Stories.

Leinster is primarily known as a Golden-Age SF writer; the 30 or 40 stories he published between 1942 and 1950 (he didn't write SF from 1936-42) constitute the heart of his work for critics. Among pulp SF writers who got their start before WWII, only Jack Williamson (1908), Clifford D. Simak (1904), and Edmond Hamilton (1904) made anything like as successful a transition to postwar conditions and markets. I consider them Golden-Age writers, not Radium-Age.

Clute makes a left-handed compliment about Leinster:

In a career extending from 1915 to about 1970, Leinster virtually never surprised one (with joy or shock or dismay) by his use of language; and he never indulged in the expression of insights that could in any sense be thought of as psychological or "poetic," either to contemplate the human condition or to speculate upon it... [H]e was able to create — and increasingly, as the years passed, he became trapped in — a whole galaxy safe from alarm... At the heart of his work, as befits the creator of so stable a universe, lies a clear and probably personal horror of metamorphosis, of change. Nothing to which he gives assent in his fiction ever alienates the reader from the values of prewar America.

Leinster was clear about "the nature of the world he wished to create and preserve: a small-town, decent, conservative, hopeful America whose enemies were almost invariably external." (Clute, ibid.) Clute notes in Leinster's work a "comedic drive toward a restoration of stability."

* "The Runaway Skyscraper" (Argosy, 1919). The first of some 1,300 science fiction and fantasy stories by Leinster. Clute says: "a ramshackle effort, without scientific plausibility and almost without plot." (Science Fiction Writers, ed. Bleiler, 2d edition.)

* "The Mad Planet" (Argosy, TK 1920). Leinster's first important SF tale. On a far-future Earth (30,000 years hence), a young man flees through an apocalyptic landscape dominated by proliferating vegetable growths and huge insects. Sequels: "Red Dust" (1921) and "Nightmare Planet" (1953). The three stories were expanded into the 1954 novel The Forgotten Planet.

* "Red Dust" (Argosy, TK 1921). Sequel to "The Mad Planet."




The dream idyll of prewar America continues to shine through these stories.

* "Sidewise in Time" (1934; a "time storm" causes various Earths to intersect on different time tracks -- this story supposedly introduced into the magazine market the concept of parallel worlds) and "Proxima Centauri" (1935) are considered two of Leinster's best stories from his first period, because they violate his comedic drive toward a restoration of stability.


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