The Interstellar Medical Service to the Rescue!

Author Murray Leinster was an award winning American Science Fiction author. “He wrote and published more than 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.” Murray Leinster was born William Fitzgerald Jenkins on June 16, 1896 in Norfolk, Virginia. When Murray was 13, his father lost his job. His family’s straitened financial situation effectively ended his formal education and his hopes for a career in chemistry.

Murray Leinster began his freelance writing career before he was twenty years old when his first story, “The Foreigner” was published in a literary magazine. His first Science Fiction story, “The Runaway Skyscraper” was published in the February 22, 1919 issue of Argosy magazine. While Murray Leinster is most famous for his Science Fiction stories, he also wrote western and cowboy stories, jungle stories, detective and mystery stories, horror stories, and even romance stories (under the name Louisa Carter Lee).

Murray Leinster was an important innovator in the Science Fiction genre. He is quoted as saying “I think of something impossible and then write a story about it.“ Murray is credited with the earliest example of an Alternate History or Parallel Universe story with “Sidewise in Time” published in 1934. The Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established in 1995 and named for Murray’s story. Among his other innovations:

  • Murray’s 1946 short story “A Logic Named Joe” is one of the earliest depictions of personal computers and the Internet.
  • His 1947 story “First Contact” is credited as possibly the first ever depiction of an universal translator. Murray was awarded a Retro Hugo Award for Best Novelette for this story in 1996.
  • The 1947 story “Symbiosis” featured biological warfare.
  • He also won a 1956 Hugo Award for the story “Exploration Team.”
  • Among his non-writing innovations, Murray is the inventor of the front projection process used in special effects.

In his personal life, Murray Leinster worked for the United States Army and the Committee of Public Information during World War I. He married in 1921 and eventually had four daughters. During World War II, Murray served in the Office of War Information.

In his later years, Murray Leinster often wrote television plays and novelizations. He wrote for the TV series Men Into Space (1959 – 1960). Murray’s 1964 novel Time Tunnel was bought by a studio and substantially altered and turned into the TV series The Time Tunnel (1966 – 1967). Murray was then hired to write novelizations of the TV series. Murray also wrote novelizations of the TV series Land of the Giants (1968 – 1970).

Murray Leinster, nicknamed the Dean of Science Fiction, died in Gloucester, Virginia on June 8, 1975. He was 78.

During his writing heyday, Murray Leinster wrote several series. One such series was “The Med Service” stories. This series centers on Med Serviceman Dr. Calhoun and his companion Murgatroyd the tormal. Calhoun and Murgatroyd travel the cosmos stopping at variously scheduled planets to do “planetary health inspections.” Calhoun is a normal human but Murgatroyd is a small, furry, long-tailed animal. Murgatroyd’s species, tormals, are “cherished and respected members of the Interstellar Medical Service because” when “exposed to contagion, it was the admirable talent of his kind to react instantly and violently, producing antibodies so promptly that no conceivable disease could develop.” A walking immune factory is a handy sidekick for an interstellar doctor to have. There are several short stories and novels in the series including:

  • The Mutant Weapon (1959) originally published as Med Service (1957).
  • This World is Taboo (1961) originally published as Pariah Planet (1957).
  • Doctor to the Stars (1964) containing 3 stories: “The Grandfather’s War”, “Med Ship Man”, “Tallien Three” (aka “The Hate Disease”).
  • S.O.S. from Three Worlds (1966) containing 3 stories: “Plague on Kryder II”, “Ribbon in the Sky”, “Quarantine World.”

Two of the “Med Service” stories are in the Public Domain and can be read and / or listened to FREE. They are:

  • Pariah Planet which was later edited and re-released as This World is Taboo. Both versions are available in the Public Domain.
  • “Tallien Three” later re-released as “The Hate Disease.” This story is in the Public Domain as “The Hate Disease.” 

This World is Taboo (aka Pariah Planet)

Both versions of this novel are in the Public Domain. Pariah Planet was edited and re-released as This World is Taboo with some twenty pages of new additional material. The version I read was This World is Taboo.

In this novel, Calhoun and Murgatroyd are outside of their normal sector. “Sector Twelve had gotten into a very bad situation. Some of its planets had gone unvisited for as long as twenty years.” Calhoun and Murgatroyd were loaned to help the sector catch up. They arrive at the planet Weald Three and discover its citizens are healthy but they are extremely paranoid about the nearby planet Dara. Dara had suffered a deadly “blueskin” plague years earlier and nearly all the survivors bore blue markings on their skin. The people of Weald are so frightened of the thought of Dara, its long gone plague, and its people, the “blueskins,” that they threaten to shoot down Calhoun when he first arrives.

The Wealdians are a very successful people. They have so much surplus grain that it is stored on immense ships just sitting in orbit. Weald also has a mining colony on the planet Orede (located between Weald and Dara). There are mega-sized herds of wild cattle on Orede from a colonization project that was never followed through on.

Dara, on the other hand, has suffered not only the “blueskin” plague but years and years of planet-wide famine until the entire Dara population is on the verge of starving to death. Weald, however, is so irrational about the “blueskin” plague that they will not trade any of their surplus food nor will they allow Daran ships to go for aid from other planets. Weald lives in absolute unhinged terror over a plague that happened three generations earlier.

In the midst of a welcoming ceremony for Calhoun, a ship arrives from the Wealdian colony on Orede. The ship is crammed full of every miner who was on Orede and who have all suffocated to death because the ship was too small to have an oxygen supply large enough for so many. Immediately Weald is in a wild uproar and determined to attack Dara. They believe the miners were fleeing some kind of threat from Dara and its “blueskin” plague and therefore Dara must be destroyed once and for all.

Calhoun has no patience for such unreasonable behavior. Calhoun and Murgatroyd are determined to help even though both Weald and Dara are determined to destroy each other and they both try repeatedly to kill Calhoun as he gets in their way.

Among my favorite quotes from This World is Taboo are:

  • Calhoun is impatient with overly-official officials. “I hate to put on an official hat, Murgatroyd,” he said, annoyed, “but there are some people who demand it. The rule is, never get official if you can help it, but when you must, out-official the official who’s officiating you.”
  • The explanation for the small size of the Med ship with only two cabins. “Med ships carry only one man because two could not stand the close contact without quarreling with each other.”
  • Calhoun deflates a theory. “There’s never yet been a case of reverse evolution. Maybe Pithecanthropus had a monkey uncle, but no Pithecanthropus ever went monkey.”
  • Calhoun trains four new shipmates. “He’d bossed them and taught them until they felt capable and glamorous and proud. Then he’d pinned their ears back.”
  • Calhoun has a plan. “Of course, for this high heroic action to be successful, it had to be performed with the stealth of sneak thieves.”
  • Calhoun is in danger. “He would not only be killed; he would be destroyed. He would be vaporized by the blue-white flames poured upon him.”
  • Calhoun explains the situation. “All that’s necessary,” said Calhoun warmly, “is an open mind. There’s a misunderstanding to be cleared up, and some principles of planetary health practices to be explained, and a certain amount of prejudice that has to be thrown away. But nobody need die of changing their minds. The Interstellar Medical Service has proved that over and over.”

Will Calhoun and Murgatroyd find a cure for the “blueskin” plague and its vivid markings?
Will Calhoun be able to stop the Wealdian plan to nuke Dara?
Will he be able to find some food for the starving people of Dara?

You have to read the book to find out.

The Hate Disease (aka Tallien Three)

“The Hate Disease” is the only version in the Public Domain. I’m not sure if there were any changes made from the “Tallien Three” version.

In this short story, Calhoun and Murgatroyd arrive to check out the populace of the planet of Tallien Three. Most of the planet is inhospitable and all the flora and fauna is un-usable for humans. The Med Ship is immediately under rocket attack by a group called “paras.” When Calhoun eventually lands and meets with the planet’s officials he discovers that the planet is in the midst of some kind of plague. Most of the seemingly normal people liken it to some kind of demonic possession that causes the “paras” a maniacal craving for the taste of an ugly, disgusting, smelly, slimy, squirming little scavenger. Then the “paras” become irrationally angry at and attack the  “normals.”

Calhoun discovers that society on Tallien Three has broken down. Government officials and anyone else who can be proven “normal” are barricaded in a small section of the city. Everyone else, “paras” and even some “normals” are in the surrounding city which is slowly decaying around them. The “normals” behind the barricades are paranoid and trigger happy. Everyone outside ranges from terrified to murderously angry.

Of course, Calhoun must try to get at the root of the problem. Some of my favorite quotes from The Hate Disease includes:

  • This description of the Med Service: “The Med Service people hit strange problems as routine: if they weren’t weirdos, they weren’t tough enough to merit Med Service attention. Now the essence of a weird problem is that it involves a factor nobody ever thought of before….or the absence of one nobody ever missed….”    
  • Calhoun is worried about  Murgatroyd’s desire for coffee. “It’s become a habit,” Calhoun told him severely. “You should taper off. Remember, when anything in your environment becomes a normal part of your environment, it becomes a necessity. Coffee should be a luxury, to be savored as such, instead of something you expect and resent being deprived of.” Murgatroyd said impatiently: “Chee-chee!”
  • Calhoun worries about an attack. “Calhoun carefully reminded himself that it was not likely that there’d be atomic warheads. The last planetary wars had been fought with fusion weapons, and only the crews of single ships survived. The planetary populations didn’t.”
  • A planetary doctor gets hysterical about the plague. “A contagious madness! A transmissible delusion! An epidemic of insanity! A plague of the unspeakable!”

Will Calhoun manage to avoid the planet’s angry citizens?  
Will he be able to decipher the “para” plague?
Will Calhoun be able to find a cure before he, himself, becomes a “para”?

You have to read the story to find out.

Both of these stories are short, quick reads and very much to the point. Murray Leinster writes Calhoun’s adventures in a no nonsense way, much as Calhoun himself is. These are good, old fashioned, sturdy Science Fiction adventure stories. Calhoun is gruff and determined to help everyone who needs help. Murgatroyd is simply adorable and the reason for his addition to the Med Ship crew is clever. The technology of the Med Ships and the astrogation stands the test of time reasonably well. But some of the medical science is extremely doubtful. Both stories deal with people’s fear of and overreaction to suspected plagues. I would have liked to know a bit more about Calhoun’s personal history but maybe that comes out in the other stories in the series.

Overall, these two stories are fast and adventurous with a touch of humor at times. And, of course, the best thing is that they are both FREE in the Public Domain.

There are multiple versions of both stories available for the modern fan to read, download, listen to:

This World is Taboo
Please click here to go to The Internet Archive to read the book form, originally from Project Gutenberg.
Or you can click here and get the same version from Project Gutenberg
You can also click here for the Feedbooks book version.
For an audiobook version of This World is Taboo, please click here to go to The Internet Archive version read by Mark F, Smith, originally from Librivox.
Or click here and go directly to Librivox.

Pariah Planet

Please click here to go to The Internet Archive to read the book form, originally from Gutenberg.
Or you can click here and get the same version from Project Gutenberg.
There is no Feedbooks version.
For an audiobook version of Pariah Planet, please click here to go to The Internet Archive version read by Phil Chenevert, originally from Librivox.
Or click here and go directly to Librivox.
There is also a second version of the audiobook version read by Mark Nelson on The Internet Archive.
And the second version is also here, on Librivox.

“The Hate Disease”
Please click here to go to The Internet Archive to read the short story, originally from Gutenberg.
Or you can click here and get the same version from Project Gutenberg.
You can also click here for the Feedbooks story version.
For the audiobook version of “The Hate Disease,” please click here to go to The Internet Archive version read by Gregg Margarite, originally from Librivox.
Or click here and go directly to Librivox.

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