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Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber(1910-1992)
Fritz Leiber gets the credit for coining the term “Sword & Sorcery” and for being extremely influential to many writers of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction acknowledged his popularity by dedicating their entire July 1969 issue to him (this was only half-way through his career!). Leiber wrote dozens of award-winning novels, short stories, and collections, but his most popular works are the Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser (Lankhmar) short stories.

Conjure Wife: A great book to curl up with on Halloween!

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

Conjure Wifeis a 1943 horror novel by master fantasist Fritz Leiber, who is best known for his excellent FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER stories. While Conjure Wife is usually labeled as horror, the recently released trade paperback edition from Orb is marketed as "the classic of urban fantasy" — maybe to latch on to the recent surge in popularity of that sub-genre? Regardless of which genre it's placed in, Conjure Wife is an excellent novel that definitely deserved a re-release.

Norman Saylor is a sociology professor at the small — and as far as I can tell, entirely fictional — college of Hempnell. Early on in the novel, Saylor discovers that his wife Tansy has been attempting to practice magic. Saylor, a very rational and cerebral man, attempts to convince Tansy that magic isn't real, but after she destroys all the... Read More

Gather, Darkness!: Hard times in Megatheopolis

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber

By April 1943, Chicago-born author Fritz Leiber had seen around 20 of his short stories released in the various pulp magazines of the day and was ready to embark as a full-fledged novelist. Thus, his first longer work, Conjure Wife, did indeed make its debut in the 4/43 issue of Unknown, the fantasy-oriented sister magazine of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction. In it, a college professor, Norman Saylor, discovers that his wife, Tansy, is nothing less than a practicing witch, leading to increasingly dire and supernatural consequences. Leiber’s second novel, released just a month later, was Gather, Darkness!, and it, too, featured the subject of witchcraft … but in a far-fut... Read More

The Big Time: A concept novella

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

Available free on Kindle.

The Place is a recuperation station outside of space and time where Spider soldiers in The Change War go for rest and relaxation between operations. This war has been going on between The Spiders and The Snakes since the beginning of time and Soldiers have been drafted (resurrected) into "The Big Time" from many points in history. From outside of time, they can plunge in at crucial moments and manipulate events to serve their cause, or they can change things ex post facto, which is why sometimes memory and history don't quite match.

All of the story happens in The Place, which is sort of like a cosmic Cheers except that it's run by an Elizabethan bard instead of a washed-up baseball player. The soldiers and entertainers at The Place spend their time drinking, dancing, singing, and discussing world eve... Read More

The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray has been on his own for a long time when he meets Alice, a woman who’s just as tough as he is. When the two ... Read More

Swords and Deviltry: Adventure, male camaraderie, easy women

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Brilliance Audio and Audible Frontiers have recently produced audio versions of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, so it seemed like a great time for me to finally read them. Within two minutes of putting Swords and Deviltry on my MP3 player and pressing play, I was completely enthralled. The first part of the novel (which is really a compilation of short stories) tells the tale of Fafhrd’s liberation from the taboos, close-mindedness, and “icy morality” of his mother and clan (and the girl he got pregnant) in the northern wastes. He yearns for civilization, and finally gets a chance to “escape this stupid snow world and its man-chaining women” with a beautiful showgirl.

The second section introduces us to Mouse,... Read More

Swords Against Death: Sword and sorcery’s most famous duo

Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber

After a self-imposed exile, our heroes — the legendary Fafhrd and Gray Mouser — are back to their old shenanigans in the sinful city of Lankhmar. Shortly after their return, they find themselves hypnotically drawn across Newhon’s Outer Sea to lands unknown, only to have to survive a perilous journey to again get back to Lankhmar — the closest thing they have to a home. Along with their other misadventures, they finally come to terms with the deaths of their true-loves.

As stated on the book’s back-cover, Fritz Leiber shares the throne as a master of fantasy along with J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and C.S. Lewis. In fact, I’ve heard that Read More

Swords in the Mist: Uneven

Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

All due respect to the late Fritz Leiber, but overall, this book was weak.

The first story, “Cloud of Hate” was good. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser unwittingly take-on Hate embodied in a noxious mist that turns already shady characters into rampaging serial killers. The next one, “Lean Times in Lankhmar”, starts out interesting as the life-long friends go their separates ways, but goes flat. “Their Mistress, the Sea” builds up well but the ending seemed to be missing something. The rest of the book brings Fafhrd and Gray Mouser to our world’s ancient history, which should’ve made for a great read. But contradictions concerning their memory (they supposedly lost all knowledge of their previous life in the world of Newhon, but yet they make references to it), adventures told as second-hand accounts, and a prose that seems meant to be humorous and clever, only made the story confusing a... Read More

Swords Against Wizardry: Leiber’s fantastic imagination on full display

Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber

The time has come for sorcery and swords.

After a somewhat disappointing third volume in the Lankhmar series, Fritz Leiber is back to form in Swords Against Wizardry. This book contains four stories about Fafhrd the big red-headed barbarian, and The Gray Mouser, the small wily magician-thief. Three of the stories come from the pulp magazine Fantastic and the first story was created for this volume as an introduction. The stories fit so well together that they almost feel like a novel.

“In the Witch’s Tent” is a very short introductory story in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser visit a witch who prophesies about the events to come in the next story.

In the novella “Stardock” (1965, Fantastic), our heroes and an ... Read More

The Swords of Lankhmar: I adore those two rogues!

The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

I never get tired of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser — I adore those two rogues! In The Swords of Lankhmar (a full novel rather than the usual story collection), the boys have been hired as guards for a fleet of grain shipments because several ships have recently disappeared. Aboard the ship they meet a couple of enchanting women who are escorting a troupe of performing rats across the sea. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser soon discover that these are not ordinary women, and those are not ordinary rats.

Back in Lankhmar they find that the city is dealing with rats, too. The rodents have become belligerent and troublesome. The Mouser begins to suspect that there might be a connection between those two ladies and Lankhmar’s troubles. With the help of his magical patron, the Mouser goes underground to spy on the rat army.

The Swords of Lankhmar Read More

Swords and Ice Magic: The sixth Lankhmar collection

Swords and Ice Magic by Fritz Leiber

“I am tired, Gray Mouser, with these little brushes with death.”
“Want a big one?”

Swords and Ice Magic is the sixth collection of Fritz Leiber’s stories about Fafhrd the big northern Barbarian and his small thieving companion the Gray Mouser. The stories in the LANKHMAR series have generally been presented in chronological order, so we’re nearing the end of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures in Nehwon and its famous city Lankhmar. The tales in this particular volume were published in pulp magazines in the mid 1970s and were collected in this volume in 1977. They are:

“The Sadness of the Executioner” — Death is required to kill two heroes before time runs out and he’s got Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in mind. But Death is a sportsman and thinks heroes should go out with sty... Read More

The Knight and Knave of Swords: Goodbye, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser!

The Knight and Knave of Swords by Fritz Leiber

The Knight and Knave of Swords is the last collection of Fritz Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories about those two loveable rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I had read all of the LANKHMAR stories up to this point but it took me a while to open this book because I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Neil Gaiman says something similar in his introduction to The Knight and Knave of Swords and I’m sure that most of Leiber’s fans feel the same way. I know I can re-read these stories at any time, but it’s just not the same thing. It’s sad to know that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures are over.

The Knight and Knave of Swords, which has also been titled Farewell to Lankhmar (sniff!), contains these previously published novellas and stories: ... Read More

The Ghost Light: Several of Leiber’s award-winning stories

The Ghost Light by Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber’s The Ghost Light, recently produced in audio format by Audible Frontiers, is a collection of nine short stories and novelettes and an autobiographical essay by Fritz Leiber. Only the first novelette, “The Ghost Light,” and the essay, “Not so Much Disorder and Not so Early Sex: an Autobiographical Essay,” are original to this collection. Most of the previously printed stories were nominated for, or won, major SFF awards. Here’s what you’ll find in The Ghost Light:

“The Ghost Light” — Young Tommy and his parents are visiting Cassius, his estranged grandfather, in California. There’s something creepy about the painting of Tommy’s dead grandmother that hangs in the living room and Tommy knows the bluish green nightlight in his bedroom has something to do with it. This is a spooky tale that I mostly enjoyed, even t... Read More

The Black Gondolier: Horror stories by Fritz Leiber

The Black Gondolier by Fritz Leiber

The Black Gondolier is a collection of horror stories by Fritz Leiber. I love Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories — they’re some of my very favorites in fantasy literature — and I’ve enjoyed several of Leiber’s short stories and one of his horror novellas, so I figured I might enjoy The Black Gondolier.

I found The Black Gondolier to be, as we so often say when reviewing a story collection, “a mixed bag.” I love Leiber’s style in all of these stories — he’s got a great ear and I love the way he uses language. But I found that many of the stories in The Black Gondolier managed to push one of my buttons, either as a feminist or a psychologist, and usually both. These stories are full of dumb blondes with big boobs and heaps of Freudian psychobabble. So much of the ol... Read More

Strange Wonders: A Collection of Rare Fritz Leiber Works

Strange Wonders: A Collection of Rare Fritz Leiber Works by Fritz Leiber

Strange Wonders is an eclectic collection of Fritz Leiber's lesser-known stories, poems, fragments, rough drafts, and daily writing exercises collected by Benjamin Szumskyj who, in his introduction, admits that he's not certain Leiber actually would have approved of their publication. He justifies himself by explaining that because Leiber didn't destroy the material (which was mostly printed on cheap typing paper) before his death, he knew it would be found and possibly exposed some day.

The first half of Strange Wonders contains 23 story fragments — some of which appear to be precursors of some of his published fiction (e.g., the hero of "The Tale of the Grain Ships" is The Grey Mouser). The second section is a reprinting of Leiber's In the Beginning, which is a ... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors

Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg & Martin Greenberg

Though hardly a runaway success in its day, and a publication that faced financial hardships for much of its existence, the pulp magazine known as Weird Tales is today remembered by fans and collectors alike as one of the most influential and prestigious. Anthologies without number have used stories from its pages, and the roster of authors who got their start therein reads like a "Who's Who" of 20th century horror and fantasy literature. During its 32-year run, from 1923-1954, and in its 279 issues, Weird Tales catered to a select readership that could not help but be impressed by early efforts from the likes of Robert E. Howard, Read More

Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies

Weird Tales: The Magazine that Never Dies edited by Marvin Kaye

Marvin Kaye's Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies anthology from 1988 takes a slightly different tack than its earlier sister volume, Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors. Whereas the editors of that earlier collection chose to select one story from each year of the magazine's celebrated 32-year run (1923-1954), Kaye has decided here to not just limit himself to the periodical's classic era of 279 issues, but to also include tales from each of the four latter-day incarnations of "The Unique Magazine" (from 1973-87). The result is 45 pieces of generally superb speculative fantasy and horror, including six "Weird Tales Reprints" by such luminaries as Dickens, Poe, Flaubert and Stoker, as well as Otis Adelbert Kline's "Why Weird Tales?," an article that clearly delineated the magazine's goals and intentions in its first anniversary issue, the one dated May/June/July... Read More

Rivals of Weird Tales: Nary a clinker in the bunch!

Rivals of Weird Tales edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg

From 1923 – ’54, over the course of 279 issues, the pulp publication known as Weird Tales helped to popularize macabre fantasy and outré horror fiction, ultimately becoming one of the most influential and anthologized magazines of the century, and introducing readers to a “Who’s Who” of American authors. I had previously read and reviewed no fewer than six large collections of tales culled from the pages of “the Unique Magazine,” and had loved them all. But Weird Tales, of course, was far from being the only pulp periodical on the newsstands back when, as amply demonstrated in the appropriately titled, 500-page anthology Rivals of Weird Tales. In this wonderfully entertaining, generous collection, editors Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (who had put... Read More

Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror: Another wonderful collection from “The Unique Magazine”

Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror edited by John Betancourt & Robert Weinberg

This is the seventh anthology that I have reviewed that has been drawn from the pages of Weird Tales, one of the most famous pulp magazines in publishing history. Each of the previous collections had employed its own modus operandi in presenting its gathered stories. Weird Tales (1964) and Worlds of Weird (1965) had been slim paperbacks featuring previously uncollected stories. The Best of Weird Tales: 1923 (1997) had spotlighted tales solely from WT’s very first year. Weird Tales: A Selection In Facsimile (1990) was a generous hardcover offering photocopied pages from the original magazine. Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terror... Read More

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

I haven’t actually read every page of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, yet I’m giving it my highest recommendation. Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Master and Mistress of Weird, The Weird is 1126 pages long and should really be considered a textbook of weird fiction. It contains 110 carefully chosen stories spanning more than 100 years of weird fiction. Here’s what you can expect to find in this massive volume:

A “Forweird” by Michael Moorcock gives us a brief history of the weird tale, discusses how it has defied publishers’ attempts to categorize it into neatly-bordered genres, and gives examples of writers who are revered by modern readers but whose weird fiction caused them to be ma... Read More

Fantasy Super Pack #1: Something for everyone

Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1 edited by Warren Lapine

Fantasy Super Pack #1 , which is available for 99c in Kindle format, is an enormous collection of 34 stories presumably showcasing the taste of the editor of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, an online magazine. As I'm interested in submitting to the magazine, I picked it up, and thoroughly enjoyed most of the stories, none of which I remembered reading before though I'd heard of several of them.

I like stories that have a narrative arc, that build tension and then resolve it at the end, more than the currently-fashionable type of story that just stops at a thematic moment (or, I often suspect, when the author runs out of ideas). Based on this collection, Lapine also likes the narrative-arc kind of story. Some of the stories had fairly predi... Read More

More books by Fritz Leiber

fantasy book review Fritz Leiber Destiny Times ThreeDestiny Times Three — (1945) Publisher: How can Thorn fight a dream foe — risking life and sanity, that is exactly what he sets out to do … and his shrewd tactics and reckless daring create a pulse-hammering story against an all to real opponent!

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Green Millennium — (1953) Publisher: Hugo and Nebula award-winning Fritz Leiber is a science-fiction grand master with an unparalleled ability to discern the stranger side of the universe. The Green Millennium is set in a futuristic human society based on our own. The regimented, regulated and bureaucratized life style led by the misanthropic Phil Gish leaves him feeling vaguely dissatisfied and emotionally cut off from other people. He is surprised when a pure green cat appears in his room, a cat who makes him feel happier and more alive than he has ever felt. Phil decides to call the cat Lucky, hoping his life will take a turn for the better. If you consider different as change for the better, then Gish really has got something in Lucky — something that everyone else wants — including the Mob, the FBI, some nude aliens, and a gorgeous mystery woman. When Lucky seems to vanish into thin air, Phil will do anything to get him back, even if it means challenging the very powers that rule his world.

fantasy book review Fritz Leiber The Sinful Ones The Sinful Ones — (1953) Also published as You’re All Alone. Publisher: Carl Mackay had an okay job, a beautiful woman, and a lot of big plains. But one day he met abeautiful, frightened girl who didn’t quite belong in this world…Fritz Leiber The Silver Eggheads A Headlong Riot of Hilarious Science Fiction Satire


The Silver Eggheads — (1961) Publisher: A Headlong Riot of Hilarious Science Fiction Satire.


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Wanderer — (1964) Publisher: THE WANDERER inspires feelings of pure terror in the hearts of the five billion human beings inhabiting planet earth. The presence of an alien planet causes increasingly severe tragedies and chaos. However, one man stands apart from the mass of frightened humanity. For him, the legendary Wanderer is a mere tale of bizarre alien domination and human submission. His conception of the Wanderer bleeds into unrequited love for the mysterious ‘she’ who owns him. Join SF master Fritz Leiber, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as he concocts a powerful allegorical novel that pierces to the heart of the human condition.

Fritz Leiber A Specter is Haunting TexasA Spectre Is Haunting Texas  — (1968)

fantasy book review Fritz Leiber Our Lady of Darkness

Our Lady of Darkness — (1977) Publisher: One of Fritz Leiber’s best novels is the classic dark fantasy Our Lady of Darkness (1978 winner of the World Fantasy Award. Our Lady of Darkness introduces San Francisco horror writer Franz Westen. While studying his beloved city through binoculars from his apartment window, he is astonished to see a mysterious figure waving at him from a hilltop two miles away. He walks to Corona Heights and looks back at his building, to discover the figure waving at him from his apartment window — and to find himself caught in a century-spanning curse that may have destroyed Clark Ashton Smith and Jack London.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Dealings of Daniel Kesserich — (1997) Publisher: Fritz Leiber was one of the most famous fantasy and SF writers of the century, the author of many classics, including the popular Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fantasy series. In 1936, young Leiber, then in correspondence with the famous writer H.P. Lovecraft, drafted this eerie story. Now Tor is pleased to present in its first paperback publication this short novel of cosmic dread and Lovecraftian horror.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWhat’s He Doing in There?  — (2011) Publisher: The Professor was congratulating Earth’s first visitor from another planet on his wisdom in getting in touch with a cultural anthropologist before contacting any other scientists (or governments, God forbid!), and in learning English from radio and TV before landing from his orbit-parked rocket, when the Martian stood up and said hesitantly, “Excuse me, please, but where is it?” He was asking directions to the loo, as it happened. It was the Professor’s Wife, always a perceptive hostess, came to her husband’s rescue by saying, “Top of the stairs, end of the hall, last door.” Oddly enough, it was the start of a puzzling and all but unspeakable misadventure. As it were.