“Doctor, Merchant” (Murray Leinster and the February 1959 Astounding; 1-13-1959)

Have you heard of Murray Leinster?

Of course you have, though he also writes under “William F. Jenkins,” which happens to be his real name.  Leinster/Jenkins is one of the few authors with a shot at the title of “Dean of Science Fiction.”  He’s one of the old guard–a veteran of World War One, the pulp era, Campbell’s Golden Age of Astounding, and he’s still going strong.  He won the Hugo in 1956 for his Exploration Team (which I haven’t yet read).  Leinster has an interesting style, unadorned and occasionally repetitive, that I think lends itself well to being read by adults and kids.

Interestingly, I am not as acquainted with Leinster as I feel I should be.  Aside from the juvenile, Space Tug (which I mentioned in an earlier article), I’ve only read some of his short stories.  Sam, this is you, for instance, came out in Galaxy a few years ago, and it was good. 

My favorites have been the short two stories, thus far, in the “Med Series,” (there is also at least one novel, which I should read soon.) Their protagonist, Calhoun, is a “med man.”  That is, he’s a doctor who flies in his one-person ship between planets like a country doctor visiting farms, bringing the latest cures and techniques.  Normally, his trips are routine, but we don’t get to read those stories.

Calhoun does have a companion–the cat/monkey hybrid named “Murgatroyd.”  Not only is the creature incredibly cute, but it has the innate ability to develop antibodies to virtually any disease.  It is thus invaluable for creating vaccine sera.

I like any story where the hero is distinguished by his or her healing rather than combat prowess.  Moreover, Calhoun has to use his brain, which is more fun and interesting than wielding a gun.  Both of the stories came out in Astounding in the last couple of years (Ribbon in the Sky, June 1957; The Grandfathers’ War, October 1957), and I imagine back issues would not be hard to obtain.

What I also like about this series is the universe.  Leinster’s future posits a superluminary drive that goes some 30 times the speed of light.  This is unquestionably an impressive speed, but though it facilitates colonization of other planets, it is too slow to efficiently maintain a galactic empire.  Instead, each planet is left to its own devices, and there are a few loose galactic organizations whose purpose is to facilitate the spread of medicine (the Med Corps) and to mediate interplanetary disputes.

This Ambassadorial Corps is featured in Leinster’s new serialized novel, The Pirates of Ersatz (“A ha!  He’s finally getting to his point!” I hear you say.) The February 1959 issue of Astounding has been sitting on my to-read pile for some time, and I’ve finally gotten to it.  Of course, only the first of three parts has come out, and I don’t want to spoil it issue-by-issue.  Suffice it to say, it looks promising.  It does not feature Calhoun, but rather an enterprising inventor, who suffers for his ingenuity.  In tone and structure, it feels a bit like Heinlein’s recent Astounding serial, Citizen of the Galaxy.  This is not a bad thing.

So stay tuned!  I won’t have a review of Leinster’s novel for another two months, but the other stories in the magazine (blessedly, I don’t think there’s an Anderson or Garrett among them) will be discussed quite soon.

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

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