Murray Leinster (June 16, 1896 – June 8, 1975) was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, an award-winning American writer of science fiction and alternate history. He wrote and published over 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.
Leinster was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of George B. Jenkins and Mary L. Jenkins. His father was an accountant. Although both parents were born in Virginia, the family lived in Manhattan in 1910, according to the 1910 Federal Census.
He began his career as a freelance writer before World War I; he was two months short of his 20th birthday when his first story, "The Foreigner", appeared in the May 1916 issue of H. L. Mencken's literary magazine The Smart Set. Over the next three years, Leinster published ten more stories in the magazine. During and after World War I, he began appearing in pulp magazines like Argosy, Snappy Stories, and Breezy Stories. He continued to appear regularly in Argosy into the 1950s. When the pulp magazines began to diversify into particular genres in the 1920s, Leinster followed suit, selling jungle stories to Danger Trails, westerns to West and Cowboy Stories, detective stories to Black Mask and Mystery Stories, horror stories to Weird Tales, and even romance stories to Love Story Magazine under the pen name Louisa Carter Lee.
Leinster's first science fiction story, "The Runaway Skyscraper", appeared in the February 22, 1919 issue of Argosy, and was reprinted in the June 1926 issue of Hugo Gernsback's first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. In the 1930s, he published several science fiction stories and serials inAmazing and Astounding Stories (the first issue of Astounding included his story "Tanks"). He continued to appear frequently in other genre pulps such as Detective Fiction Weekly and Smashing Western, as well as Collier's Weekly beginning in 1936 and Esquire starting in 1939.
Leinster is credited with the invention of parallel universe stories. Four years before Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time came out, Leinster published his "Sidewise in Time" in the June 1934 issue of Astounding. Leinster's vision of extraordinary oscillations in time ('sidewise in time') had a long-term impact on other authors, for example Isaac Asimov's "Living Space", "The Red Queen's Race", and The End of Eternity.
Leinster's 1945 novella "First Contact" is also credited as one of the first (if not the first) instances of a universal translator in science fiction.
Leinster was one of the few science fiction writers from the 1930s to survive in the John W. Campbell era of higher writing standards, publishing over three dozen stories in Astounding and Analog under Campbell's editorship. The last story by Leinster in Analog was "Quarantine World" in the November 1966 issue, thirty-six years after his appearance in the premier January 1930 issue.
Murray Leinster's 1946 short story "A Logic Named Joe" contains one of the first descriptions of a computer (called a "logic") in fiction. In the story, Leinster was decades ahead of his time in imagining the Internet. He envisioned logics in every home, linked through a distributed system of servers (called "tanks"), to provide communications, entertainment, data access, and commerce; one character says that "logics are civilization."
After World War II, when both his name and the pulps had achieved a wider acceptance, he would use either "William Fitzgerald", "Fitzgerald Jenkins" or "Will F. Jenkins" as names on stories when "Leinster" had already sold a piece to a particular issue.
Leinster continued publishing in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in Galaxy Magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as The Saturday Evening Post. He won a Hugo Award for his 1956 story "Exploration Team". Leinster ended his writing career writing novelizations of episodes of the science fiction series Men into Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants.
During World War I, Leinster served with the Committee of Public Information and the United States Army (1917–1918). In 1921, he married Mary Mandola, who was born in New York to Italian parents. The two had four daughters. During World War II, he served in the Office of War Information.
Legal action against Paramount Pictures
In 2000, Leinster's heirs sued Paramount Pictures over the film Star Trek: First Contact, claiming that as the owners of the rights to Leinster's 1945 short story "First Contact", it infringed theirtrademark in the term. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Paramount's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the suit. The court found that regardless of whether Leinster's story first coined the phrase, it had since become a generic and therefore unprotectable term that described the genre of science fiction in which humans first encounter alien species. Even if the title was instead "descriptive"—a category of terms higher than "generic" that may be protectable—there was no evidence that the title had the required association in the public's mind (known as "secondary meaning") such that its use would normally be understood as referring to Leinster's story. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's dismissal without comment.
Leinster was also an inventor under his real name of William F. Jenkins, best known for the front projection process used in special effects.