Monday, November 01, 2010


By Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber was one of those freight trains, not easy to start, possible to derail, but hard as hell to stop. This collection showcases some of his best stories, reaching back to work he did in the 1950s and sweeping forward to "The Ghost Light", written in 1984.

The collection is really a curio cabinet of Leiber’s idiosyncrasies, hobbies, and nightmares. His world was part funhouse, part haunted mansion, with large suites dedicated to cats, chess, acting, sex, and alas, alcoholism.

"Space-Time for Springers" is a science-fiction cats & chess fantasy (it won a Hugo, deservedly) featuring Gummitch the kitten (who merited his own series). "A Deskful of Girls" from the Changewar series provides the sex with a creepy scientist who uses the soul-stealing technology of the Spiders and Snakes (mysterious, time-spanning enemies) to create his own personal collection of girlfriends. "Midnight by the Morphy Watch" tells the secret history of why chess-masters are really nuts (Bobby Fischer notwithstanding. Yes I know, playing chess is not really a crime.) Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser have their home at "Bazaar of the Bizarre", one of their best tales ("Lean Times in Lankhmar" edges "Bizarre", IMHO, but isn’t the most typical F&GM story).

The title story is the hardest hitting of the bunch. I believe it is deliberately the opening in order to balance the autobiographical essay "Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex" which closes the book.  While I have seen many writers place themselves into stories, I have seen none who did so with such brutal effect. There are tragedies and there are tragedies, and many writers seem better able to express themselves in fiction than is bare, reductive fact. Leiber’s autobiography, while very revealing in mnay ways leaves much left unsaid. I'm not at all claiming that "The Ghost Light" is autobiographical, but I do beleive it is an act of exorcism, chilling and redemptive in its own way. I am left hoping that Leiber’s brilliant, tormented self found some pain-ease, at a price that could be borne.
-Dave Hardy


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