My Fritz Leiber Itinerary
The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich: A Study of the Mass-Insanity at
Smithville (1936, 1997).
Clearly a tyro effort, originally written in 1936. Leiber handles the novella length with confidence. Braiding of horror and science fiction would recur throughout the writer's long career.
A Bit Of The Dark World (1962)
A superb story of cosmic horror. Leiber's depiction of uncanny events and atmosphere in Santa Monica Mountains is the equal of Machen and Blackwood. The slow accumulation of small incidents, sensations, anecdotes, and perceptions creates "a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim." A masterpiece.
Our Lady of Darkness (1976)
The utopia of friendship limned on the canvas of a city, San Francisco. This is an astonishing and perfect novel, written by an author who finds and portrays the joyous interconnections of comradely and smart humans with each other. It is also a psychogeographic portrait of Frisco itself, particularly Corona Heights and its secrets. I cannot think of a stronger work suggesting the unnamable lurking under urban surfaces, unless it is the Machen of "The Red Hand" and "A Fragment if Life." The Jamesian is also invoked, but with the knowing breadth of Baudelaire. Megapolisomancy, the novel's black book, recalls arrogance and presumption of the flanuers, but also Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project. The novel ends with wisdom desperately earned: "Everything's very chancy."
Kreativity for Kats (1961)
Klever Kats tolerate humans. A perfect gem of presumed feline nomenclature.
Spacetime for Springers (1958)
Dreams of Albert Morland (1945)
"Beyond the Wall of Sleep" corrected, reimagined and given the essential soupçon of real life: the meat-and-potatoes of broke men, rooming houses, and everydayness.
Coming Attraction (1950)
Nothing attractive about this patriarchal post-atomic misogynistic hell-scape. Margaret Atwood, did you think you invented it?
Nice Girl with 5 Husbands (1951)
An expert time-slip story in which our narrator shifts from a 1950 of atomic paranoia to a 2050 socialist paradise of free love and free intellect.
Gonna Roll the Bones (1967)
Leiber was a writer's writer, and there is no better example than this story. Pure authorial confidence jumps the gap between start and finish: vocabulary, rhetorical exuberance, and gusto do the rest.
The Ship Sails At Midnight (1951)
Four nerdy intellectuals and artists fall into the orbit of a beautiful blond waitress. A Shakespearean "The Big Bang Theory," where drollery shifts to tragedy.
Poor Superman (1951)
Imagine a state where easily duped political leaders are under the sway of a think tank of public intellectuals. Imagine the intellects are actually just clever opportunists. Who but a superman could dream of upsetting such an apple barrel?
The Night He Cried (1953)
A jocular demolition of the brutishly misogynistic Cold War typist Mickey Spillane, tormented by an unsympathetic but inquisitive seven-tentacled researcher.
Smoke Ghost (1941)
"Have you ever thought what a ghost of our times would look like, Miss Millick? Just picture it. A smoky composite face with the hungry anxiety of the unemployed, the neurotic restlessness of the person without purpose, the jerky tension of the high-pressure metropolitan worker, the uneasy resentment of the striker, the callous opportunism of the scab, the aggressive whine of the panhandler, the inhibited terror of the bombed civilian, and a thousand other twisted emotional patterns."
The Power of the Puppets (1942)
Droll epitome of a weird tale, ready-made for an Amicus portmanteau. A detective plumbs the secret of a ventriloquist's startling artistic success.
The Hill and the Hole (1942)
Rural, Machenesque, perfectly proportioned.
The Eeriest Ruined Dawn World (1976)
Perhaps "At the Mountains of Madness," but told by alien explorers about their visit to a planet where only the consequences of unbridled urges and accomplishments remain.
Do You Know Dave Wenzel? (1974)
A truly disturbing tale about a young husband coming to grips with the collapse of his early artistic ambitions. It ripples into a crisis for his wife, as well, as the family is menaced by an unseen "old school friend."
A Visitor from Back East (1961)
A brutal depiction of the way some men discard some women, and a very cold comeuppance.
Dark Wings (1976)
Leiber's stories about women confronting the revelation of their secret selves raises him far above most writers of his generation. His responsiveness and solidarity are beautifully articulate. "Dark Wings" is his finest story, free of all the trappings of genre "horror." The young women are perfectly and sympathetically delineated, as Leiber has them recount some true horrors of everyday life before the sublime finale.
Little Old Miss Macbeth (1958)
A giddy little post-apocalyptic fantasia, something Beckett would appreciate.
The Glove (1975)
San Francisco apartment building life exquisitely outlined: the impact on aquaintances on the same floor when a rape occurs.
The Black Gondolier (1964)
Oil wasn't discovered by man. It was waiting for us, and has its own plans. The black gondolier is its avatar.
Catch That Zeppelin! (1975)
A compelling alternative history of the 20th century, where unprecedented scientific advances, prompted by the military defeat and occupation of Germany in World War One, means the Second Wold War never happened.
Belsen Express (1975)
A perfect tale about a a present-day U.S. suburban commuter more than a little obsessed with the psychological landscape of Nazi Germany. Eventually the gestures of fellow commuters assume a sinister character.
The Girl with the Hungry Eyes (1949)
We don't drink up advertising images. They drink us.
Midnight by the Morphy Watch (1974)
The utopia of chess ajoins the asylum where so many of its masters sleep.
Alice and the Allergy (1946)
Leiber's strength and pioneering influence was in moving the old themes into a new century. "Alice and the Allergy" portrays the undying and cursed violence of a dead rapist and strangler in ways far removed from the sublimated frenzies of a Bram Stoker.
How many "glitches in the matrix" can one woman endure?
Mr. Bauer and the Atom (1946)
Major mind-over-matter miseries of a man convinced he is an atomic bomb.
Diary in the Snow (1947)
We think of Leiber as an urban writer exploring travails of men and women in their offices, homes, and barrooms. "Diary of the Snow" is the opposite. Two writers in an isolated and snow-bound cabin in the far north of the Great Plains
experience a series uncanny events.
Conjure Wife (1943)
The campus novels and young marriage novels of middle class angst and frustration have nothing on Conjure Wife. And he does it all in under 200 pages.
I read Conjure Wife last, but anyone just starting on Leiber should read it first.
10 February 2018