“Plague” by Murray LeinsterJuly 18, 2010
The Book: “Plague” by Murray Leinster from the Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin. Story originally published in 1944 by Astounding Science Fiction. Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.
The Setting: Distant space, a distant planet.
The Story: A massive, entrenched bureaucracy causes a deadly plague and attempts to kill the one man who figures out how to fight it.
The Science: It’s not a plague, really, it’s an electric being that feeds on human energy, but not any human energy, only women! That’s right. It only kills women. Why? I don’t know. So the hero doesn’t have to worry about getting infected, I guess. The story isn’t very clear on that point. The entity prefers materials which conduct better (it can exist outside the female body) but, as far as I know, there should be no appreciable difference between the sexes when it comes to the body acting as a conductor – we’re all mostly water, right? In trying to figure this out, I came across this article abstract- Differences in electrical stimulation thresholds between men and women – which, if I understand it correctly (and I’m not at all sure I do), means women feel pain more quickly than men. SO it’s not really relevant anyway. Mr. Leinster (if that is your real name), I”m afraid this doesn’t make sense.
The Reaction: When I’m not getting hung up on the arbitrary gender binary of plague susceptibility, I was enjoying the story. In fact, I kept thinking of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s series. (Which, if you needed to click the link to know what I was talking about, you need to stop everything, go find a copy of the book and a nice cup of tea and get reading.) The story was interspersed with encyclopedia articles, mentions of not-quite-random simultaneous action, and had a highly entrenched, highly ridiculous, but very much all powerful bureaucracy. In other words, vogons. My husband tells me this is a Foundation rip off, but I haven’t read that yet. And so, I quite like the story. Pretty good stuff.
The Cover: It’s an anthology and clearly this cover has nothing to do with this story, but it’s gorgeous. I mean, look at all those spaceships! And they’re such space age spaceships of the future. Love it. But I’m a sucker for retro-future spaceships and rayguns.
Next Up: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.