Friday, November 18, 2011

FFB: YOU'RE ALL ALONE by Fritz Leiber (also published as THE SINFUL ONES) (and a consideration of other 1950 magazine fantastic-fiction)

You're All Alone is the second of Fritz Leiber's three (essentially) no-bones-about-it horror novels (all of them also noirish novels of social observation with considerable philosophical underpinning and literary innovation running throughout, as these are Fritz Leiber novels with him working at the top of his form, and this one perhaps necessarily the most noirish of the trio); it, in its apparently original form (though it might've been trimmed down to long-novella wordcount), was first published in Fantastic Adventures magazine for July 1950.

(Very Long Digression: I took a quick spin through the contents of the fantasy/sf/horror-fiction magazines of 1950, after I decided to write about the Leiber, one of a number of fairly to very important novels to be published in the magazines in that year...the year after Street and Smith folded or sold all their fiction magazines except Astounding Science Fiction [and I suspect they kept that one mostly because they wanted to keep its editor around to edit the aviation and technology magazine they kept launching, folding and relaunching in those years to no sustained success], so such major pulp titles as Detective Story, Western Story, Love Story, Doc Savage and The Shadow bit the dust [or at least the pulp-paper confetti, which Kurt Vonnegut compared to dandruff]. Perhaps that contraction of the market, or other factors, not least that nearly all the fantastic-fiction magazines were being edited by reasonably talented to brilliant editors in 1950, meant that every damned magazine extant in the field in that year had some serious bragging rights, from the ridiculously successful Galaxy [in the black financially after three issues, in fact already apparently with the largest circulation in the field, and fiction including Leiber's "Coming Attraction" and Clifford Simak's novel Time and Again, under the magazine's title "Time Quarry," didn't hurt] to the barely-eking-out little magazine Fantasy Book, which offered, in the first of two issues in 1950, a lead story by Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl, stories by (promising] Alfred Coppel and [old hand and star of the 1930s] Stanton Coblentz and [reliable pulpster] Basil Wells and, mixed in the middle there, "Scanners Live in Vain" by Cordwainer Smith. John D. MacDonald had stories all over Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, including the novel Wine of the Dreamers, along with Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Margaret St. Clair and other major and emerging players...Leigh Brackett and Poul Anderson and Bradbury were featured in Planet Stories [of course] and Bradbury and Robert Bloch and St. Clair and Manly Wade Wellman were prominent in Weird Tales [also of course] and those folks were also in the new Avon Fantasy Reader and/or the newer The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in the latter along with some more crime-fiction amphibians such as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, Miriam Allen de Ford, and Robert Arthur, and this new kid Richard Matheson's first story; an early Matheson story also appeared in Damon Knight's shortlived but impressive 1950 launch Worlds Beyond, despite the stereotype of Knight as a destroyer of Matheson love. L. Ron Hubbard was pretty visible in several magazines, though only Astounding was publishing Dianetics articles by him, while Amazing, now edited by Howard Browne with help from Lila Shaffer and William Hamling, had dumped the comparably enervating "Shaver Mystery" quasi-mystical paranoia fiction--and they moved with former Amazing editor Ray Palmer to his new magazine Other Worlds...but OW also published Gustav Meyrink, Clarke, Bradbury, and others, including the classic Eric Frank Russell (as Richard Moore reminds me) story "Dear Devil". While Amazing remained filled mostly with minor stories, albeit some by Bloch, William McGivern, Simak, and Leiber were better, its companion Fantastic Adventures also featured Theodore Sturgeon's novel The Dreaming Jewels and frequently other more impressive work by Bloch, Simak, McGivern, Philip "William Tenn" Klass and others.

Even the slightest magazines were often readable, and frequently surprising. It's small wonder that the number of titles would briefly but eventually double over the next few years, before the great winnowing by decade's end. And end of digression.)

You're All Alone was originally meant to follow Leiber's first novel Conjure Wife, and such major short fiction as "Smoke Ghost" and his first published sword & sorcery fiction, into the pages of Unknown Fantasy Fiction magazine, but when that magazine folded in 1943, Leiber set the unfinished manuscript aside. It is a delightfully paranoid story, in which the protagonist finds himself dragged out of the clockwork existence he and the vast majority of people are a part of, through an encounter with a terrified and furtive young woman who is trying her best to avoid the murderous gang of other escapees (not Leiber's term) from the automaton existence who are pursuing her. Certainly The Matrix is only the most obvious later elaboration of a similar trope, only there is no conspiracy of evil computers behind the illusory existence here, nor even the kind of Lovecraftian Old Ones the younger Leiber might've been tempted to employ, but instead simply the cold, empty way of the universe...where those who have broken free from going through the motions of life are a very small group, scattered thinly, indeed, and some are very jealous of that freedom (and ability to exploit those still trapped in the clockwork). The rest of the novel involves the man and the woman attempting to come to grips with their status in relation to the grand machine of the universe, and to escape the murderous ones. Some of the setpieces in the story, such as the protagonist's attempt to talk to his wife, who quickly reveals herself to be responding in a conversation he might've been having with her if he hadn't been "pulled out" rather than in the increasingly desperate conversation he is actually having with her, are resonant (the alienation metaphor is deftly employed) and memorable. And, of course, noir fans, not only are the villains out to get our heroes, but (of course) the very nature of the world is, as well.

This short novel had to wait several more years before being accepted for publication in book form, and then the offer came from erotica-oriented Beacon Books (unrelated to the later small press Beacon), who had their editors insert clumsy softcore sex passages and publish it in a "double-novel" as The Sinful Ones with a very forgotten item called Bulls, Blood and Passion. Leiber saw the novella form finally in print from Ace Books in 1972 (in a volume that also included two novelets) and did what he could to rewrite the sexual passages to his taste and republish the longer-form text as The Sinful Ones with Pocket Books in 1980.

While Conjure Wife and his third horror novel Our Lady of Darkness have been reprinted several times, frequently together in an omnibus, You're All Alone has been neglected over the last two decades and more, and that is a pity, given the appeal of its initial conceit and the popularity of similar materials, even when they aren't loosely based on Philip Dick fiction that was probably at least lightly influenced by this. 

Please note the reuse of a certain Victoria Poyser cover painting above at left (Baen Books, 1986) and far above at right (Carroll & Graf, 1990). For more of today's books, please see organizer Patti Abbott's blog. Next week, I'll be compiling the links to other blogs while Patti is traveling, so please let me know if you have an item, particularly if you are an occasional contributor to Friday's Books...thanks.

At left, the 1966 issue of Fantastic which reprints "You're All Alone" from its FA appearance.


George said...

I remember when AMAZING (or FANTASTIC) devoted a whole issue to Fritz Leiber. One of my favorite all-time novels is THE WANDERER. Another great book that's been utterly forgotten.

Todd Mason said...

It was a 1959 issue of FANTASTIC, early in Cele Goldsmith's run. Special issues of F&SF (1969) and WHISPERS (1979) followed. I think that is still unique in the history of fiction magazines, not just the hat trick but the span/anniversary flavor to it, and it couldn't happen to a more deserving writer.

Anonymous said...

Never being much of a horror fan, other than the occasional Phillip K. Dick short story ("The Father Thing"), I skipped these, though I did take a cack at Conjure Wife once, about which I remember very little indeed. I'll stick with Fafhd and Mouser.

Todd Mason said...

I think that if you enjoyed "The Father Thing," you'll particularly enjoy this of the three Leiber novels in the form. CONJURE WIFE starts slow, and builds and builds.

Yvette said...

Since I am not much of a horror reader either, I'm not familiar with any of these names except that of Simak (who, I believe, writes science fiction not horror) which you (as well as Nancy Pearl) recommended eariler.

Just wanted to comment on that fabulous dog with woman in his jaws cover. HA! Love it.

Todd Mason said...

Simak wrote some horror as well, most famously "The Ghost of a Model T"...Peter Nicholls, Brian Stableford, John Clute or someone referred to the woman in that painting, by Robert Gibson Jones, as "more startled than terrified" in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASY. These novels are excellent starting points, for either Leiber or horror that isn't about splatter.

Todd Mason said...

And the folks mentioned in the Long Digression are a very diverse bunch of writers of all kinds of fiction, a whole lot of people best known for crime fiction and many other things...but John D. MacDonald and William P. McGivern, for example, were making sf and fantasy a major part of their careers at this time, and Miriam Allen de Ford and Robert Arthur and Fredric Brown were lifelong amphibians.

Walker Martin said...

There is a book about FANTASTIC ADVENTURES titled THE ANNOTATED GUIDE TO FANTASTIC ADVENTURES by Edward J. Gallagher(Starmont, 1985).

I have a set of the magazine and wish I could say it was a quality title but I've always had problems with the fiction. Ray Palmer in the forties only had an occasional good story by Bloch, Bradbury, Sturgeon. It wasn't until Howard Browne took over in 1950 that the magazine published a better line up of authors. Then we had more stories by Sturgeon, Tenn, Del Rey, Leiber, Bloch, Mack Reynolds, de Camp, Simak, Walter Miller.

Your article has revived my interest in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and I'll have to start looking through my issues again.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, when Palmer started it, it was a home for the Edgar Rice Burroughs fiction he was soliciting from the writer, ERB having lost a fair amount of his cachet. But I suspect big step up in quality in some issues under Browne in 1950 came in part from some items actually purchased for the delayed experiment in upgrading AMAZING's package Ziff-Davis considered doing, as then eventually did in '52 along with launching FANTASTIC (that Browne was considerably less driven to make the magazines popular at any cost helped, too). Certainly, as soon as FANTASTIC was on the scene, FA went back to all routine fiction all the time, till the folding/incorporation with FANTASTIC.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I just picked this one up last month (as THE SINFUL ONES) as CONJURE WIFE is one of my favourite occult novels of the period - great post, thanks, I'll have to go dig it out right away now.


Todd Mason said...

I hope you enjoy it, of isn't as complex as CONJURE WIFE nor certainly as OUR LADY OF DARKNESS (which also saw a shorter magazine version, in F&SF, as THE PALE BROWN THING...while CONJURE WIFE was published I believe at full length, as Leiber's first novel in UNKNOWN, and had to find its variant titles in the film versions...the best of which was issued in the US with an almost irrelevant title stolen from an A. Merritt novel, BURN WITCH BURN!

Nice blog you have...mind if we tap you for Friday's Books? (Friedrich Dürrenmatt is close enough to forgotten in the US, even if we can remember an umlaut, that I felt comfortable doing THE METEOR, which also has some nice memories for me from my youth). Patti Abbott was particularly hoping to do a Canadian lit week this Friday, but both she and I [I'm compiling the links this Holiday Friday while she's roaming the Southwestern US) are quite welcoming of blog entries and other reviews dealing with lit from non-ex-Dominion sources.)

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Dear Todd, please do include the Durrenmatt, that would be a real honour, thank you. Would it be possible for me to contribute to the Tuesday Forgotten Movies next week? Should I send you the link in advance or just post with a link to Sweet Freedom?

Many thanks.


Richard Moore said...

I agree that the story "Dear Devil" is a classic but it wasn't written by Rog Phillips. Eric Frank Russell was the author. The early issues of Other Worlds mixed some very good stories in with the drek.

As for Rog Phillips, I admit to having a soft spot for him and not just his later, more polished, stories such as "The Yellow Pill". Some of his pulp yarns managed a frantic, paranoid touch that made them (for me) compelling.

I do have a weakness for paranoid SF. I remember my stunned reading as a teenager Russell's DREADFUL SANCTUARY.

Todd Mason said...

Well, if playing with paranoia wasn't fun, where would a whole lot of the last century's literature be?

Thanks for catching my mindslip there...indeed, one of Russell's best stories, rather than Phillips's.