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Murray Leinster is one of my favorite pulp writers. I reprinted one of his earliest tales, “The Fifth-Dimension Catapult,” which first appeared in the January 1931 Astounding Stories of Super-Science, way back in Black Gate 9. Fittingly enough, when I kicked off my investigation of the Classics of Science Fiction line, I started with one of the finest volumes, The Best of Murray Leinster. More recently, I looked at his creepy pulp SF tale “Proxima Centauri” on August 15th.
But none of those is nearly as well known as his classic space fantasy The Pirates of Zan. Because, hello, space pirates. Also, it was blessed with a terrific series of covers over the three decades it was in print. So here we are with another fond look at the work of Murray Leinster.
(While we’re on the topic, why aren’t there more novels of space pirates? The only other ones I can think of are H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking, CJ Cherryh’s Merchanter’s Luck, Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant, and maybe A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes novels, at least the ones featuring his recurring adversary Drongo Kane. That’s pretty sad. Seriously, if there are two things that go great together, it’s unexplored space and pirates. Get with it, science fiction.)
The Pirates of Zan was originally serialized (as “The Pirates of Ersatz”) in three parts in Astounding Science Fiction, starting with the February 1959 issue. The famous Kelly Freas cover, featuring a pirate with a slide rule between his teeth, is one of the most beloved Astounding covers of the era. It’s shown at left above.
Don’t ask what a slide rule is, you damn punk kids.
Leinster’s book was nominated for a Hugo Award for best novel that year — along with Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan and Brain Twister by Mark Phillips — but lost out to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
The first paperback edition arrived in 1959 as one half of an Ace Double, with a splendid Emsh cover (second from left, above), backed with Leinster’s short novel The Mutant Weapon. Here’s the inside text:
Warning: buccaneers in orbit!
Because Bron Hoddan was a serious electronics engineer, he didn’t want any part of his particular planetary heritage. For he was from Zan — and Zan’s only occupation was spaceship piracy!
So Bron went to Walden, the most civilized planet of them all. His first step to making himself a good reputation was to invent a machine that would save the government millions.
But when instead he was seized and jailed as the most unspeakable criminal in Walden’s history, he realized that there was only one way open to remedy this “civilized” disaster. And that was by putting into use some of Zan’s old-fashioned buccaneering techniques!
Cast of characters:
He knew what was good for him, but not what was bad.
She may have been sweet, but she wasn’t nice.
His stupidity had a purpose — self-interest.
This sneaky character stopped creeping when he met a bigger sneak.
No one could afford to ignore her, except the man she loved.
Because he was Bron’s best friend, he had to betray him.
The novel returned to print in 1971, again as an Ace Double. The new cover — with what looks suspiciously like the lunar lander from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the background — stays with the space pirate theme; the artist for this one was uncredited (second from right, above).
The final paperback printing (far right) was from Bart Books in March 1989, once again the artist in uncredited. Interestingly, they recycled the inside text (minus the Cast of Characters) as the back cover text for this edition.
I admit I’m rather fond of each of the different editions and I’ve collected them all. The hardest one to come across was, curiously enough, the 1989 Bart edition, but I finally tracked down a copy last month.
After 1989, The Pirates of Zan – and space pirates novels in general — seemed to fall out of favor with readers. It never had another mass market edition.
However, that’s not to say it’s totally unavailable.
The complete novel was included in the excellent Baen paperback compilation, A Logic Named Joe (June 2005), along with two other novels — Gateway to Elsewhere (1954) and The Duplicators (1964) — and three short stories. Sadly, A Logic Named Joe is out of print (though still available in digital format)
If you’re interested in tracking down a copy, you certainly have options. More recently, Wildside Press published a hardcover edition in 2007 and both Resurrected Press and Spastic Cat Press have released trade paperback editions (both under the original title The Pirates of Ersatz).
That’s the Spastic Cat edition at right, with a fine reproduction of the original Freas art.