Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 20, 2020


City on the Moon by Murray Leinster (1957)

"Murray Leinster" was the best-known pen-name of Will F. Jenkins (1896-1975), which he used mainly for his science fiction novels and stories.  Jenkins was a prolific writer and published science fiction, mysteries, westerns, horror, historicals, romances, and general mainstream fiction -- over 1500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, hundreds pf radio and television plays, 5 dozen novels, and 20 collections.  He published his science fiction story in 1919, one month ahead of the prolific Ray Cummings, earning him the sobriquet "The Dean of Science Fiction." 

City on the Moon was the third book in a trilogy (following Space Platform and Space Tug, both 1953) which featured Joe Kenmore, a young space pioneer as man began to reach for the moon and one of the early colonists on the moon.  Life on the moon is hazardous.  The one city is a dome buried under moon dust to help protect it from the harsh lunar conditions.  There are also several small tracking stations, secret  military missile bases, and a small orbiting laboratory.  Colonizing the moon is an international effort but each nation has its own hidden agenda and things are not as rosy as they might appear on the surface.  The major purpose of going to the moon is scientific, and the major scientific thrust is taking place on the orbiting lab, peopled by only eight scientists experimenting with atomic energy.  These experiments are so dangerous that they could destroy the moon or the earth if they were held on either of those bodies.  Yet, should the experiments succeed, mankind would have unlimited, safe energy and be able to expand through the solar system; if they fail, mankind will be doomed to an expectedly brief existence on an overpopulated with dwindling resources.  What is at stake is nothing less than the future of humanity.

Some forces do not want the lunar experiment to succeed, placing their short-term political goals ahead of reason.  Kenmore and his partner Moreau have been exploring in a moon jeep, a large adaptable vehicle whose gigantic wheels can move independently up or down when a rock slide engulfs them, damaging one of their wheels.  There is a good chance that the rock slide may have been deliberately triggered.  It's common knowledge that saboteurs have been active in Civilian City -- the city on the moon -- although their efforts have thus far been minor.  At the same time, Kenmore hears a radio call from an incoming ship:  there are no beacons to guide the ship to land at Civilian City.  Begging for help, the ship's radio also announces that they are bringing the first two females to the moon -- a noted newscaster and a girl named Arlene Gray.  Arlene Gray, the daughter of a high space official, happens to be Joe Kenmore's fiance.  Flying blind, the ship tries to land and crashes.  Desperate to find out what happened to the rocket ship, Kenmore manages to limp the moon jeep back to Civilian City, only to find the city completely dark and abandoned.  The sheathing that covers the dome has been slashed and air is leaking out.  The small population of Civilian City have taken all available moon jeeps in an effort to reach a military base.  Kenmore discovers that the moon jeeps have nor reached the base.

That's just the beginning of the troubles.  While Kenmore and Moreau are able to repair the dome's sheathing and have been able to rescue Arlene and others (including the rather imperious female newscaster) from the rocket ship's wreckage, the sabotage continues.  The abandoned colonists are also found safe, but for how long?  On a mission to deliver an important message to the orbiting laboratory, Joe's rocket has been sabotaged and he, Arlene, and supply rocket pilot Mike Scandia crash and are marooned 60 miles from Civilian City.  Things just keep going from bad to worse, especially when the scientists on the orbiting satellite discover that their work could not only destroy the earth and the moon, but the entire cosmos, spreading destruction across the galactic spaces.  Mankind's only hope has been dashed and the colonists are ordered to abandon the moon.

What a melodramatic mess!

Critic John Clute has described the entire Joe Kenmore trilogy as juvenile fare that is "told in melodramatic terms that have not worn well."  Perhaps so, but Leinster writes in a crisp, fast-moving style that never loses sight of the main conflict.  As a great fanboy of the genre, I maintain City on the Moon is 1950s space opera at its finest.  It is not as demanding as Leinster's more inventive, classic short stories (a form perhaps more suited to his talents), but it is a pretty good read, made even better by the author's description's of the moon's stark and desolate beauty.

Give it a try.  Your inner thirteen-year-old thirsting for the sense of wonder will thank you.

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