The Power
by Murray Leinster

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, September 1945

collected in —
Sidewise in Time
The Best of Murray Leinster
First Contacts
September 2010

Science — through lenses of history and magic

"The Power" by Murray Leinster is a little gem of a story about advanced science, historical perspective (the consensus in Europe as of 1482), the religious world-view, and magical symbolism. It is a short story of uncompromising science fiction.

The above is a far from easy combination to achieve, even in part. There are many whole novels of science-fantasy which attempt to explain, or pseudo-scientifically justify, old-fashioned magic more or less in the style of Unknown, the 1939-1943 companion magazine to Astounding Science Fiction. In fact, "The Power" would have fit quite comfortably in Unknown (also titled Unknown Worlds) a few years earlier.

With only a wisp of current-day framing, the story is told via several recently discovered old letters, in Latin, from a fellow who encounters a somewhat manlike being on a hilltop in Italy in the late Fifteenth Century. Here is the power and the richness of magic spells which can be customized to create fair pavilions and gardens which one can walk and live in, or bags of gold and jewels that one can spend, from airy nothing right before our eyes.

From the first letter to his friend:

I leave Padua tomorrow for the realization of all my hopes and yours. This time I am sure. I came here to purchase perfumes and mandragora and the other necessities for an Operation of the utmost imaginable importance, which I will conduct five nights hence upon a certain hilltop near the village of Montevecchio.

I have found a Word and a Name of incalculable power, which in the place that I know of must open to me knowledge of my mysteries. When you read this, I shall possess powers of which Hermes Trismegestus only guessed, and which Albertus Magnus could speak of only by hearsay. I have been deceived before, but this time I am sure. I have seen proofs!

It's quite a fun story as we watch the protagonist (reporting via his letters) struggling to comprehend what he sees, plain as daylight, in front of him; and strives to profit from it. Accompanying this, our own understanding is stretched more than we expected.

This is, in fact, the keys to the Kingdom of the World, as Francis Bacon would have recognized. And we? What do our perspectives allow us to recognize here?

Murray Leinster's style always is smooth, and his thinking is particularly sharp and creative in "The Power". An entire first-rate science-fantasy novel could be built upon this superb miniature if one only had the Leinster magic — or is it science?


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson


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