Friday, June 3, 2011
FFB: THE SECRET SONGS by Fritz Leiber (1968)
Contents, courtesy ISFDb:
Contents (view Concise Listing)
Smoke Ghost • (1941) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee • [Simon Grue] • (1958) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Mariana • (1960) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Coming Attraction • (1950) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
A Pail of Air • (1951) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
The Moon Is Green • (1952) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
No Great Magic • [Change War] • (1963) • novella by Fritz Leiber
The Secret Songs • (1962) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
The Girl with the Hungry Eyes • (1949) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
The Winter Flies • (1967) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity • (1962) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Introduction (The Secret Songs) • (1968) • essay by Judith Merril
Contents, courtesy the William Contento Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections:
The Secret Songs Fritz Leiber (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968, 25/-, 229pp, hc); Also in pb (Panther 1975).
· Introduction · in
· The Winter Flies [“The Inner Circles”] · ss F&SF Oct ’67
· The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity · ss F&SF Mar ’62
· Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-Tah-Tee [Simon Grue] · ss F&SF May ’58
· Mariana · ss Fantastic Feb ’60
· Coming Attraction · ss Galaxy Nov ’50
· The Moon Is Green · ss Galaxy Apr ’52
· A Pail of Air · ss Galaxy Dec ’51
· Smoke Ghost · ss Unknown Oct ’41
· The Girl with the Hungry Eyes · ss The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, ed. Donald A. Wollheim, Avon, 1949
· No Great Magic [Change War] · na Galaxy Dec ’63
· The Secret Songs · ss F&SF Aug ’62
Apparently, what we have here is the index to the Hart-Davis hardcover, followed by the index to the Panther paperback. Or so I assume.
However, either way, this is a book of mostly brilliant stories by Fritz Leiber, not all the short stories he wrote which changed the way horror, sf, and fantasy fiction were written in his wake, but a fair sampling of those. And two of the three very autobiographical stories, in dramatic form (actual playlets) which are not sf, fantasy or horror per se, though they deal with tropes from those forms, since they are about Fritz Leiber's life..."The Secret Songs" is mostly about his and his wife Jonquil's addictions, his to downers including alcohol, hers to the commonly available uppers of the time, including over the counter speed. "The Winter Flies," which for some reason Edward Ferman at F&SF retitled "The Inner Circles," is about the Leibers at home with their son, Justin, but mostly about Leiber wrestling with his existential terror. "237 Talking Statues, Etc." is the missing one, about Leiber's relation with his mother and particularly his father, Fritz Leiber, Sr., and both the parents professional actors...Senior, for example, has a key role in the film The Spanish Main, while Junior, who pursued an acting career for a while, has a smaller key role in Camille (the Greta Garbo version).
While it's ridiculous that no Leiber collection so far has put those three plays together, this book helps redress this for its reader, at least, by also including such, it's hard to overstate, epochal stories as "Smoke Ghost" and "Coming Attraction." These are among the stories that Leiber used to demonstrate how little thought too many of his contemporaries were bringing to the fantastic-fiction field, and how obvious that seemed after these stories were published. The latter, a science fiction story which suggested that people really didn't necessarily behave in the ways you might want them to or that they led you to believe they did, and that your "heroism" might just be playing into their little fantasy-games, seems so obvious in retrospect...but was a corrective to entirely too much lazy thinking in the field at the time. As well as being pretty savagely satirical in at least two ways when most of the best fantasticated satire depended on the mostly-"outsider" crew of the likes of Huxley or Orwell...Leiber demonstrated that he was in their league, which he would continue to demonstrate (particularly with the "Change War" stories such as "No Great Magic" and the short novel, a play in prose, The Big Time), but never with more immediate impact. The effect wasn't unlike the cumulative effect of Dashiell Hammett's early short fiction in crime fiction.
"Smoke Ghost" simply created an approach to modern horror, much as Robert Bloch's fiction and that of some of the others in the little post-Lovecraftian knot flourishing in the 1940s did...Shirley Jackson, John Collier, to some extent Cornell Woolrich, certainly Algernon Blackwood and a slew of others were incorporating the advances of the Edwardians (E. F. Benson, Saki, et al.) and the honing of existential terror Lovecraft had taken up (and to some extent his peers, including the young Leiber and Bloch) from the thread HPL traced in Poe and his heirs. But few stories are so blatantly an example of an introduction of a new paradigm as "Smoke Ghost." Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," perhaps. And even as "Smoke Ghost" recast how the supernatural might be dealt with in the modern urban environment, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" helped redefine vampirism, to get past the concretized metaphor that the spilling of blood, or any other body fluid, represented, to get at the elan vital aspect of the predation...and how mass culture might be such a predator's natural tool.
And then there are other simply brilliant stories, less influential but no less a joy to read..."A Pail of Air" (about coping with life on an Earth without the Sun), "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" (connected to the pathbreaking novel Conjure Wife, but not dependent upon it, a dancing bit of wit with the more sinister implications buried deep inside), and such.
This collection was never published in Leiber's native United States. Other slim collections nearly as good were. There's never been a sufficiently representative collection of his work published. He's not alone in this, but it's particularly ridiculous in his case. At the time of his death, he had more major awards for fantastic-fiction writing than any other person...Algis Budrys was genuinely angry, as well as resigned to the answer, when demanding in 1978 as to where was Leiber's National Book Award, his Pulitzer.
Where is Borges's Nobel? Awards, like justice, are only sparingly applied correctly.
For more "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.