Friday, October 26, 2012

FFB: The Book of Fritz Leiber (and The Second...); The Best of Fritz Leiber; The Worlds of Fritz Leiber

second edition; George Barr cover
Jonquil & Fritz Leiber, with cat, 1937
Fritz Leiber was having a pretty good time of it, professionally at least, in the 1970s. (Personally, he lost his wife, Jonquil, in 1969, after more than three decades of marriage, and had to fight his way out of the alcoholic tailspin her death put him into.) He was almost universally respected and admired by his peers, as well as by discriminating readers of fantastic fiction, and was collecting more awards from that community than anyone else had (Harlan Ellison, whose career more completely coincided with the award-giving years, would eventually surpass Leiber thus). His cycle of stories about characters analogous to himself and his old friend Harry Fischer, who had originally helped him devise Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, were being issued in uniform editions by Ace Books by the turn of the decade, and the stories, which spanned the publishing career of the man who had invented the term "sword and sorcery" fiction, were popular enough to inspire a "mainstream" comic book devoted to them, Sword of Sorcery (Samuel Delany had slipped the two characters into the continuity he was writing for Wonder Woman at the time, encouraging DC Comics to take a flier on letting Dennis O'Neil adapt the stories and write original scripts about the characters); over at Marvel, Gerard Conway was given the go-ahead to start a fiction magazine, rather than a comics title, The Haunt of Horror, and among the new fiction that magazine offered was a two-part serialized reprint of Leiber's first great novel, Conjure Wife (which had been and has been only rarely out of print since first book publication). In yet another medium, several of Leiber's best short stories were adapted, unfortunately not very well ("The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" comes closest to a decent translation), for the television anthology series Night Gallery. While it couldn't've made up much for the loss of his wife, 1969 also saw the second fantasy magazine special issue devoted to Leiber, the July F&SF (even as there had been a Leiber issue of Fantastic in 1959 and would be a Leiber issue of Whispers in 1979); not long after, his novella You're All Alone finally saw book publication in unadulterated form, also from Ace. Leiber continued, if a bit sporadically, to contribute a review column, "Fantasy Books," to Fantastic, which was consistently interesting and enlightening, one of the few such that was on par with the excellent work in F&SF in that decade by James Blish, Joanna Russ, Algis Budrys, Avram Davidson, Gahan Wilson and others. And these four retrospectives of his work were published, by three different publishers, none truly definitive but all indicative of the breadth and depth of his talent.

The Contento indices are the source of content lists in this post:

The Best of Fritz Leiber Fritz Leiber (Nelson Doubleday, 1974, hc)
Ballantine first paperback edition
B/Del Rey reprint 
  • · The Wizard of Nehwon— · Poul Anderson · in
  • · Gonna Roll the Bones · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
  • · Sanity · ss Astounding Apr ’44
  • · Wanted—An Enemy · ss Astounding Feb ’45
  • · The Man Who Never Grew Young · ss Night’s Black Agents, Arkham, 1947
  • · The Ship Sails at Midnight · nv Fantastic Adventures Sep ’50
  • · The Enchanted Forest · ss Astounding Oct ’50
  • · Coming Attraction · ss Galaxy Nov ’50
  • · Poor Superman [“Appointment in Tomorrow”] · nv Galaxy Jul ’51
  • · A Pail of Air · ss Galaxy Dec ’51
  • · The Foxholes of Mars · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Jun ’52
  • · The Big Holiday · ss F&SF Jan ’53
  • · The Night He Cried · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953
  • · The Big Trek · ss F&SF Oct ’57
  • · Space-Time for Springers [Gummitch] · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #4, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1958
  • · Try and Change the Past [Change War] · ss Astounding Mar ’58
  • · A Deskful of Girls [Change War] · nv F&SF Apr ’58
  • · Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-Tah-Tee [Simon Grue] · ss F&SF May ’58
  • · Little Old Miss Macbeth · ss F&SF Dec ’58
  • · Mariana · ss Fantastic Feb ’60
  • · The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity · ss F&SF Mar ’62
  • · The Good New Days · ss Galaxy Oct ’65
  • · America the Beautiful · ss The Year 2000, ed. Harry Harrison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970
  • · Afterword · ms
The selection here is almost frustrating because it comes so close to being a good core sampling of Leiber's best work, but already has jumped the tracks by following strict chronological order of publication, except for the Hugo-winning fantasy that leads off the book, and then going on to a relatively minor if pacifism-flavored story by Leiber (a World War 2 conscientious objector), followed by another, as the earliest examples of his work...ignoring the brilliant, extremely influential "Smoke Ghost" and all the other early stories, including some of the first s&s stories, nearly as good as "Smoke Ghost" and vastly better than "Sanity" or "Wanted: An Enemy". (Presumably because these stories are relatively straightforward science fiction, as only a small portion of Leiber's best work ever was.) The book is strongest in its selections from Leiber's 1950s short stories, managing to gather many of his best sf and fantasy stories from that decade, and then proceeds to fall down again with the 1960s and '70s selections, such as there are.

The Book of Fritz Leiber Fritz Leiber (DAW UQ1091, Jan ’74, 95¢, 173pp, pb)
first edition, Jack Gaughan cover

  • 7 · Foreword · fw
  • 11 · The Spider · ss Rogue Jan ’63
  • 24 · Monsters and Monster Lovers · ar Fantastic Mar ’65
  • 37 · A Hitch in Space · ss Worlds of Tomorrow Aug ’63
  • 48 · Hottest and Coldest Molecules · ar Science Digest Mar ’52
  • 52 · Kindergarten · vi F&SF Apr ’63
  • 55 · Those Wild Alien Words: I · ar *
  • 64 · Crazy Annaoj · ss Galaxy Feb ’68
  • 70 · Debunking the I Machine · ar, 1949
  • 72 · When the Last Gods Die · ss F&SF Dec ’51
  • 79 · King Lear · ar, 1934
  • 85 · Yesterday House · nv Galaxy Aug ’52
  • 115 · After Such Knowledge · ar, 1974 Fantastic (about James Blish's triad+ of novels collectively known thus, at least to students of Blish)
  • 118 · Knight to Move [“Knight’s Move”; Change War] · ss Broadside Dec ’65
  • 128 · Weird World of the Knight [“Topsy-Turvy World of the Knight”] · ar California Chess Review Jan ’60
  • 131 · To Arkham and the Stars · ss The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces, Sauk City: Arkham House, 1966
  • 143 · The Whisperer Re-Examined · ar Haunted Dec ’64
  • 148 · Beauty and the Beasts [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · vi *
  • 151 · Masters of Mace and Magic · br
  • 157 · Cat’s Cradle · ss   
The Second Book of Fritz Leiber Fritz Leiber (DAW, Sep ’75, pb)
  • · Foreword · fw
  • · The Lion and the Lamb · nv Astounding Sep ’50
  • · The Mighty Tides [“What Makes the Mighty Tides”] · ar Science Digest Apr ’61
  • · Trapped in the Sea of Stars [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · ss *
  • · Fafhrd and Me · ar, 1963
  • · Belsen Express · ss *
  • · Ingmar Bergman: Fantasy Novelist · br Fantastic Mar ’74
  • · Scream Wolf · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Feb ’61
  • · Those Wild Alien Words: II · ar *
  • · The Mechanical Bride · pl Science Fiction Thinking Machines, ed. Groff Conklin, Vanguard, 1954
  • · Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin · ar The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces, Sauk City: Arkham House, 1966; revised from Shangri-L’Affaires, September 1963.
  • · A Defense of Werewolves [“Fantasy on the March”] · ar Arkham Sampler Spr ’48

These books, in comparison, don't try to present only the best of Leiber's work, but instead wanted to give a measure of the diversity of the man's writing, and as such, they succeed, even if some of the content might not be the best available examples of, for example, his pop-science journalism as an editor of Science Digest in the 1940s or his crime fiction (the books also strive to gather only previously uncollected work); the choice of the Bergman and the Blish trilogy-of-sorts essays from the Fantastic column, along with some of his earlier important literary criticism and belles lettres, was almost inarguably a very good idea. "Belsen Express," the only fiction in either volume to see first publication here, won the Howard/World Fantasy Award for best short story for its year. The play, inspired in part by Marshall McLuhan, is notable as one of the few full-fledged scripts this child of Shakespearean troupers and former professional actor allowed himself to publish (though three of the Leiber's best, most telling and most autobiographical stories of the 1960s are in modified plays-for-voices format).

The Worlds of Fritz Leiber Fritz Leiber (Ace, Nov ’76, pb)
note handsome but generic sf cover
  • · Introduction · in
  • · Hatchery of Dreams · ss Fantastic Nov ’61
  • · The Goggles of Dr. Dragonet [Dr. Dragonet] · ss Fantastic Jul ’61
  • · Far Reach to Cygnus [Dr. Dragonet] · ss Amazing Feb ’65
  • · Night Passage · nv Gnostica Jul ’75
  • · Nice Girl with Five Husbands · ss Galaxy Apr ’51
  • · When the Change-Winds Blow [Change War] · ss F&SF Aug ’64
  • · 237 Talking Statues, Etc. · ss F&SF Sep ’63
  • · The Improper Authorities · ss Fantastic Nov ’59
  • · Our Saucer Vacation · ar Fantastic Universe Dec ’59
  • · Pipe Dream [Simon Grue] · ss If Feb ’59
  • · What’s He Doing in There? · ss Galaxy Dec ’57
  • · Friends and Enemies · ss Infinity Science Fiction Apr ’57
  • · The Last Letter · ss Galaxy Jun ’58
  • · Endfray of the Ofay · ss If Mar ’69
  • · Cyclops · ss Worlds of Tomorrow Sep ’65
  • · Mysterious Doings in the Metropolitan Museum · ss Universe 5, ed. Terry Carr, Random House, 1974
  • · The Bait [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · vi Whispers Dec ’73
  • · The Lotus Eaters · ss F&SF Oct ’72
  • · Waif · nv The Far Side of Time, ed. Roger Elwood, Dodd Mead, 1974
  • · Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me · ss F&SF Jan ’63
  • · Catch That Zeppelin! · nv F&SF Mar ’75
  • · Last · ss F&SF Mar ’57
Now this collection, while managing to mix brilliant fiction with some that were merely decent examples of what Leiber could do, still manages to represent his 1960s and '70s work much better than the Best of volume does.  "237 Talking Statues, Etc." is one of those near-play stories I refer to above (about Leiber's fraught relation with his parents, particularly his father, Fritz Leiber, Sr--who also extremely strongly resembled Leiber), the other two, insanely missing from all these collections, "The Secret Songs" (about Leiber and Jonquil and their at times distant but always mutually-affectionate relation...and their contrasting drug abuse) and "The Winter Flies" (which editor Edward Ferman retitled "The Inner Circles" as he published it in F&SF), about Leiber and his anxieties as a husband and father as well as artist. Leiber, also a ranked chess Grandmaster, is not represented in any of these three books by his chess stories aside from the slight "Knight to Move," rather than, one might suggest, the then-recent "Midnight by the Morphy Watch," fitting snugly into Worlds...but what is present includes such impressive work as "The Nice Girl with Five Husbands" (Leiber was always one of the most pro-feminist men of his time in fantastic fiction, and rarely unwilling to shock a bluenose) and "When the Change Winds Blow"...cheek by jowl with a very minor Fafhrd story in "The Bait"...

Leiber continued to scale heights, as with his last novel, Our Lady of Darkness, in 1977 (after a shorter form of that was serialized in F&SF in late '76/earliest '77 as The Pale Brown Thing), and to publish notable work, including his too-short, elegant autobiography, in the collection The Ghost Light, in the '80s, and would continue publishing up till his passing in 1992. One shakes one's head at the quirks, to say the least, on the part of the publisher's editors who, with Leiber himself, selected the stories and other work in each case, but were unable to give both a reasonably good portrait of the sophistication and innovation of his work in several fields, and present the best of his work even in a more narrow compass...but, then, the more recent The Leiber Chronicles and Selected Stories also fall short of definitive. A vast and visionary talent, hard to corral or synopsize adequately, sometimes willing to do just enough to stroke the fans, but usually swinging for the fences, and more often than not clearing the bases.

And, given the relative skittishness of the publishers of the other retrospectives about Leiber's horror fiction, it finally took Whispers Press to publish a companion focusing on this fiction, in 1978:

Heroes & Horrors Fritz Leiber (Whispers Press, 1978, hc); Edited by Stuart David Schiff.
the pb edition has the better bad cover

  • · Preface · Stuart David Schiff · pr
  • · Fritz Leiber: An Appreciation · John W. Jakes · in
  • · Sea Magic [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · ss The Dragon Dec ’77
  • · The Mer She [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · nv *
  • · A Bit of the Dark World · nv Fantastic Feb ’62
  • · Belsen Express · ss The Second Book of Fritz Leiber, DAW, 1975
  • · Midnight in the Mirror World · ss Fantastic Oct ’64
  • · Richmond, Late September, 1849 · ss Fantastic Feb ’69
  • · Midnight by the Morphy Watch · ss Worlds of If Jul/Aug ’74
  • · The Terror from the Depths · na The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, DAW, 1976
  • · Dark Wings · nv Superhorror, ed. Ramsey Campbell, W.H. Allen, 1976

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

first issue of the comic book
first of 2 issues of the non-comic (title later used on a comics magazine)
1959 Fantastic
1969 F&SF
1979 Whispers



Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Wonderful stuff Todd, thanks for the post which is chock full of amazing detail. Glad to say that I think (need to check when i get home) I have every one fo the books you reference in one edition or another.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Sergio...I aim to provide value for money here (wait...there's no money?). This is one that's been nagging at me to write it about as long as Aickman's COLD HAND IN MINE, and it's amusing that while I finally decided to write the Leiber last night on the drive home, that George Kelley was probably proofing and touching up his review of the the other...

J F Norris said...

Though I own several Leiber titles I've only read CONJURE WOMAN. It is indeed great. The movie version (BURN, WITCH, BURN) is less so but entertaining in its own way. I really should investigate his short fiction and maybe read one of the Fafhrd books. Which is the best of that lot?

Todd Mason said...

It so happens that the best introduction to the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories is the first volume in their internal chronology, in the volume published by Ace as SWORDS AND DEVILTRY, which features the Fafhrd and Mouser origin stories, and the Hugo-winner about their meeting that was also one of the stories Leiber wrote to cope with the loss of Jonquil, "Ill Met in Lankhmar." Otherwise, his first collection, NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS includes the first-written F&GM story, "Adept's Gambit" as well as a selection of his shorter work from WEIRD TALES and UNKNOWN.

There have been two other, looser, film adaptations of CONJURE WIFE, the Inner Sanctum film WEIRD WOMAN (not very good, though Evelyn Ankers helps) and the spoof WITCHES BREW, with Teri Garr, which I still haven't seen.

And you need to read YOU'RE ALL ALONE and OUR LADY OF DARKNESS. You could do worse than the SELECTED STORIES, though THE SECRET SONGS, which I've reviewed here before, is still the best single collection in most ways. (THE BOOKs in others, and THE GHOST LIGHT, also reviewed, in yet others, not least that long autobiographical essay, very comparable to that of Borges in THE ALEPH AND OTHER STORIES).

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

In response to John I'll second everything Todd says, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS is an absolute must and SMOKE GHOST a real classic. I quite enjoyed the Inner Sanctum adaptation of CONJURE while agreeing that it isn't very good as an adaptation. I have only read the second, later version of YOU'RE ALL ALONE retitled as THE SINFUL ONES which when reprinted in the 80s more or less put the text back to the way it was - I say this because Todd says so here:

Todd Mason said...

More or less, though Leiber rewrote the apparently clumsy porn-lite passages the helpful folks at Beacon inserted.

Rick Robinson said...

First, what do you mean, there's no money? What about that check I sent for $5 grand? Oh, I hope I didn't put it in the wrong envelope!

I have about half of these, I was under the impression there was some duplication. I found the contents somewhat uneven in quality, but that may well just have been me at the time (though I doubt it). Non-connoisseur that I am, my favorites remain the Ffard and Mouser stories.

Todd Mason said...

Well, it was written on a napkin, Rick...and no routing number. Made me feel like the Spanish Prisoner, it did.

Nope, not so oddly enough (since Leiber I believe had a hand in each), there's no real duplication between the BOOKs, BEST and WORLDS. There's plenty to Leiber beyond his duo, as great as they are...they were also great aids to helping Leiber ease back into writing when trying to come out the more intense periods of his alcoholism, as well as aging along with him...something I think unique among fantasy characters introduced when they were, in the 1930s.

George said...

Like Sergio, I owned all of these books and magazines (though most reside in the Special Collections at SUNY at Buffalo now). Leiber rewards rereading more that most writers. The Night Shade Press collection is also worth having.

Todd Mason said...

Indeed, Night Shade's SELECTED STORIES is probably closest to definitive, as the excellent THE SECRET SONGS collection is a relatively thin volume. But SELECTED is still not selected quite well enough...

Richard Moore said...

My introduction to Fritz Leiber was the November 1959 all-Leiber issue of Fantastic. "Lean Times in Lankhmar" is still one of my favorites.

Agree completely with the high praise for OUR LADY OF DARKNESS. His Spillane parody is another favorite (I think it was "The Night I Died" but my memory may be off).
I had the great good fortune two years ago to happen upon signed copies of both of the BOOKS OF FRITZ LEIBER at a reasonable price. What a fine writer.

Unknown said...

The number and breadth of the comments elicited by blog mentions of Fritz Leiber does undermine somewhat the eligibility of any of his anthologies to be considered "forgotten"! As has been noted many time before, Leiber's work ranged across the entire fantasy, SF, and horror firmament. Small wonder that disagreement should continue about the "definitive" collection of his stories. The Ballantine choices appeared in the UK "Best of" volume published by Sphere Books in 1974. But the stories were in strict chronological order of publication and the Poul Anderson intro was replaced by one written by Leiber himself, in which he had something illuminating to say about the history of every story. I wish US readers could have access to this. Near the end of its informative five pages, Leiber said, "So there you have them, the best of my science fantasy stories, in my estimation." He concluded (in 1974, remember), "But I hope to write better ones. I'll never stop writing. It's one occupation in which being crazy, even senile, might help."

Todd Mason said...

Well, there's a reason I don't use "forgotten" on the music and a/v lists I conduct...if they were forgotten, we wouldn't know about them. But entirely too few today will be as cognizant of Leiber as even they were in the mid '70s, in part because of the multimedia presentation of his work and adaptations.

Meanwhile, I suspect Leiber, as frequently he was in his reviews (his criticism of Katherine Kurtz's fiction was as devastating as it was gentle), was being very diplomatic about the selections in THE BEST OF...I don't think he thought they were all his best, or uniformly better than the rest, so much as the ones that Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey thought would be the most likely to appeal to the readers of their line of books for Ballantine.

But you have given me a powerful reason to look past the ugly package of the Sphere book (not worse than the SF Book Club edition, but even worse than the Ballantines) and pick it up...thanks!

Even given Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Carol Emshwiller, Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Algis Budrys, Philip Dick and so many others, I'm not sure anyone to come out of the newsstand fantasy/horror/sf tradition has been better or more influential than Leiber.

Todd Mason said...

Richard--"The Night He Cried"...indeed, pretty hilarious. It's (appropriately) in the BEST OF...and that's an excellent find.

I once chose not to disturb Leiber when visiting San Francisco in 1989, despite the suggestion of the Dark Carnival folks that he would let me know if he didn't want to hear from a stranger...that I never met him was certainly more my loss than his.

Unknown said...

Todd, for availability Leiber still does very well for an FFB writer who may have been achieving his sales peak in the 1970s. Today I notice the online bookseller the Book Depository lists ten titles, all of which are presumably in print. Agreed, I can't walk into a bookshop in Auckland, New Zealand, and expect to see them all, but does offer free delivery worldwide. By the way, the original novella You're All Alone (minus porn insertions) can be read (pdf) at As you've noted previously, this version was also reproduced in Fantastic in 1966, which is where I have always read it.

Todd Mason said...

John Pelan's been doing some interesting small-press collections, it seems, over the last decade or so, but most of what's "in print" in the US is in ebook format only, or in other limited/small press editions...when I'd suggest his catalog as a whole should be read widely, his short fiction particularly as carefully curated as Philip Dick's or Theodore Sturgeon's...

Todd Mason said...

And thanks for the reminder of the posting of the relevant FANTASTIC ADVENTURES issue on

The address:

or, tiny:

Jeff Flugel said...

Fantastic (and exhaustive) post, Todd! Lots of great info to digest here. I've got a few of the editions you mention, but clearly not nearly enough or as comprehensive a selection of Leiber's work as I should have.

I agree with your recommendation of the first Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collection, but I wanted to make special mention of the novella "Stardock" in SWORDS AGAINST WIZARDRY, one of the finest adventure stories I've ever had the pleasure to read.

Todd Mason said...

Indeed, Jeff, there's no lack of impressive fiction in the F&GM series..."Adept's Gambit," the only one (I think) co-written with Harry Fischer, will likely also impress you, if you haven't read it, and it's the first he/they wrote.

Thanks for the benisons!

Unknown said...