Walter and Matt on the Lovecraft devotee's mordant and predictive work of "social science fiction," describing post-nuclear relations between the sexes
I forget what years I worked for "Locus," the trade magazine for the English-speaking science fiction and fantasy fields. 1978 & 1979? Maybe.
Fritz Leiber lived at that time in one of the seedier hotels along Van Ness Avenue. Every two weeks or so, my boss Charlie Brown used to call on him to make sure Fritz was more-or-less okay, and as Charlie didn't drive, and most of my "assistant editor" duties consisted of chauffering Charlie around, I got to call on Fritz, too.
I don't remember Fritz as particularly derelict. His bread and butter at the time were his sword and sorcery novels, "Fafhrd and Gray Mouser," which the company that was attempting to commercialize Dungeons and Dragons had incorporated into the game, true, but which were also constantly being optioned for movies that never got made. He had a girlfriend, Margo (Skinner???) She on staff at the SF Chronicle. (Was she a film reviewer? Who can remember now!) She kept a pretty sharp eye on Fritz, too.
What I remember was that Fritz was courtly, charming, erudite. Could speak articulately and fascinatingly on a range of subjects.
He _did_ have a macabre streak. As for example: He was always being sent floral arrangements and gift baskets by various admirers. I recall one particular bouquet—a showy thing with peach-colored roses and a single pomegranate. When I came back two weeks later, the bouquet had deteriorated, but it was still in its place of honor, near his chess books. When I came back two weeks after that, the bouquet was still there, but it was now a thing of horror, Miss Haversham's wedding flowers, perhaps.
"Would you like me to throw this away for you?" I asked.
"Oh, no, my dear," he said in his kindest voice. "Dead flowers are so much more interesting than living flowers. Don't you agree?"
And then he threw back his head and howled with laughter. Even as an aging alcoholic, Fritz Leiber was a handsome man. Very tall. Leonine head. Sculpted features.
I wouldn't say Fritz was a "devotee of H.P. Lovecraft" either (though it 's true a year or so before Lovecraft's death, the 26-year-old Fritz—then a player in his famous father's theater company but trying to break out as a fantasy writer—struck up a correspondence with Lovecraft.) Rather, I would say that Fritz and Lovecraft were both devotees of the Big Bad as exemplified by the ghost stories of, say, M.R. James or Arthur Machen.
For Machen and James, the Big Bad had a classic Dionysian foundation. Lovecraft saw the Big Bad as something from outer space. Fritz was smarter and more imaginative than Lovecraft and saw the Big Bad as a feature inherent in certain landscapes. In his San Francisco novel "Our Lady of Darkness," he conjures a Big Bad he calls "megapolisomancy", which uses the geometries and topographies of large cities to summon malevolent creatures.
Some of that "megapolisomancy" is in "Coming Attractions," too.
Sorry to ramble on at such exhaustive length. But since you enjoy Fritz's work, I thought you might be interested. 😀
This is high flying, high brow entertainment by two of America’s freest, coolest minds. These weekly installments of intelligent banter translate for me into some kind of salvation. I’ve started to feel like a churchgoer. An underground church for the sub-stacked and the subterraneans.
Leiber’s short story “Smoke Ghost” is perhaps the best modern American ghost story, a story about what kind of entity might be a ghost in an industrialized, gritty, big city setting.
Fritz Leiber is definitely worth a dive. There is a great delving into the balance of the sexes (at least a 1950's one) in Conjure Wife. And Our Lady of Darkness is part horror, part historical fiction and part Lovecraftian geometry. Both are worth a read if you want to continue with some of his works.
Destroying the ecosystem makes people go crazy. Psychic influence of the trees, who secretly rule the world.
"But as for the general expression, as for the feelings crawling and wriggling across it -"
I didn't get impression he was describing (in the turning over of a rock) how she physically looked, but rather the "feelings" in the expression on her face
I look forward to these discussions every week. I'm pretty well read, but several of the stories you've chosen have been new to me, including this one. Looking at dystopian literature across cultures is interesting, e.g., how Zamyatin differs from Orwell, or how Orwell differs from Bradbury or Leiber. Feral Historian talks about 1984, We, and Things to Come: https://youtu.be/e4Sj3lVYuEk?feature=shared
"If women were to stop wearing masks, in six weeks you wouldn't know the difference. You get used to anything, if enough people do or don't do it."
My favorite line in the story. Captures so much about American society, and maybe human nature in general.
I recommend Lieber's "A Spectre is Haunting Texas," another post-apocalyptic story in which Texas survives and dominates the hemisphere due to LBJ's ABM protection. He does a good job satirizing "Texas" while also having respect for it.
I just have to wonder if anyone caught the mayor of Burbank being publicly spanked? If you don't think what's in this story might be our next "acceptance" need in our spectrum of mandated normal, you might want to revisit the reality of our brave new sex world.
Sorry, it’s a distraction from the major points in the article and I only watched it once, but why does Matt believe the Gimp in Pulp Fiction is an Englishman?
When I saw the video of the crazy Ukranian threat against journalists, at first I thought it was an old Kids In the Hall skit. Very very weird . . . and scary.
I've only seen a few English movies that involve Americans. It is obvious in those few, the English have a low regard of Americans when it comes to sex proclivities.
Hah! Story sounds like the 80s movie Cafe Flesh but there were no British electronics.
Thanks for featuring a Fritz Leiber story. I grew up on the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. From there I moved to his other stories. I knew he was an alcoholic...and got the impression looking at the stars helped him get out of that. I always loved his writing....
You're starting to piss me off, Matt!
I'm subscribed six ways from sideways, and all i can find are the transcripts.
By the time the video with you and Walter shows up, we're hard-fast onto the next thing!