Things Beyond: December 2022

(Cover by Ed Emshwiller. F&SF, July 1969.)

It’s that special time of year, and I’m not just saying that because it’s Christmastime. Truth be told, I’m not crazy about Christmas; I certainly don’t go nuts over it like I do with Halloween—which is why my review roster for this month is not Christmas-themed. My birthday is also this month (it’s the 9th, if you’d like to know), but that’s not why I’m here. Some months thing will be totally normal, but then there are times like this. Oh, we still have the usual rotation, albeit with a little twist (in fact it’s a new department), which I’ll get to in a minute. The real twist is that this will be a single-author lineup, and the guest of honor is Fritz Leiber.

Fritz Leiber was born on Christmas Eve, 1910, and when he made his professional genre debut in 1939, he was about to mark a new era in fantasy writing—although people were not aware of this at the time. His most lasting achievement is the grand episodic narrative of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, one of fantasy’s most daring duos and a landmark in what is now called Sword and Sorcery (the same subgenre which contains Robert E. Howard’s Conan, among other things). Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are by no means his only contribution to the genre, and indeed his turf goes far beyond just fantasy. You know, I really like Leiber, but even with most of my favorite authors I would not dedicate a whole month to reviewing works of theirs; what makes Leiber different from most is his ability to dabble in basically everything, from fantasy to horror to science fiction. Across the half-century of his career, Leiber shfited from genre to genre, mood to mood, not being as easy to pin down as most of his contemporaries.

Since this is a bit of an unusual month for reviews, I decided to go an extra step and introduce another new department—albeit an irregular one. There aren’t too many of them, but there are in fact “complete” novels in the magazines, especially in the ’40s and ’50s. Or rather were, because magazines running novels was basically an attempt to keep paperbacks (which were gaining traction) from biting their heels, an attempt which ultimately and inevitably proved a failure. A lot of “complete” novels being run in magazineare also just novellas, but there are exceptions! Leiber’s 1950 novel You’re All Alone is one such exception, and while it is technically an abridged version of The Sinful Ones (long story), at 40,000 words it’s a bit too long to be comfortably called a novella, at least for my blog. I’ll explain how this new thing will work at the end.

So, we get two serials, two novellas, two short stories, and a complete novel in honoring this bastard. Not the last time I’ll be doing this single-author month deal, but obviously it’s something I’ll only do maybe once a year. But enough! It’s time to reveal what we’ll be reading.

The serials:

  1. Destiny Times Three, first published in the March to April 1945 issues of Astounding Science Fiction. Retro Hugo nominee for Best Novel. Not one of Leiber’s more famous works, if the number of times it’s been reprinted says anything, but then it is quite a short novel—probably too short to sell on its own but also too long to be anthologized easily. One of Leiber’s earliest attempts at depicting alternate timelines, a premise that he would return to fruitfully much later.
  2. Rime Isle, first published in the May to July 1977 issues of Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy. Never heard of Cosmos? Don’t worry, it only lasted four issues. Rime Isle is part of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, being a later entry, as well as one of Leiber’s final appearances in the magazines; thereafter he stuck to original anthologies. Whereas some other Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories are often cited, this is not one of them. I know basically nothing about it.

The novellas:

  1. “Scylla’s Daughter,” from the May 1961 issue of Fantastic. The late ’50s saw a major revival for the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, which was not coincidental considering Fantastic‘s new editor, Cele Goldsmith, clearly sympathized with Leiber and wanted to buy what he was selling, with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser getting at least one story a year in that magazine until Goldsmith left. “Scylla’s Daughter” would later be expanded into The Swords of Lankhmar.
  2. “Ship of Shadows,” from the July 1969 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is a special issue of F&SF, being one of its author tribute issues, with “Ship of Shadows” as the lead novella. Technically a reread, but it’s been long enough that I could use a refresher, and hell, I remember liking it quite a bit. Leiber stories tend to fall into SF, fantasy, or horror, but “Ship of Shadows” ticks all three boxes, and it won a Hugo while it was at it!

The short stories:

  1. “The Hound,” from the November 1942 issue of Weird Tales. The first several years of Leiber’s career saw him dwell primarily in Weird Tales and Unknown, the top fantasy-horror magazines of the early ’40s. Not being the most comfortable with SF, Leiber distinguished himself at first as a young master of terror and the supernatural. “The Hound” is one such early horror effort from Leiber, and hey, it’s apparently a werewolf story, and I love me some werewolves.
  2. “The Moon Is Green,” from the April 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. After being relatively inative in the late ’40s, Leiber came back strong early the next decade, and his return to the field coincided with those explosive first years of Galaxy, the new SF magazine on the market. Leiber became one of Galaxy‘s leading writers in the early ’50s, and “The Moon Is Green” is one of those Galaxy-Leiber tales to get adapted for the legendary X Minus One.

Now, finally, the complete novel:

  1. You’re All Alone, from the July 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures. Apparently the magazine version is an earlier draft that Leiber had tried but failed to get published, since the fantasy market in the latter half of the ’40s was in the dumps, but luckily Fantastic Adventures, previously a second-rate pulp outlet, was under new management. Leiber would then “expand” the novel for book publication under the title The Sinful Ones, but from what I’ve heard the magazine version is better.

About how these complete novel reviews will work. My review schedule is on a rotation basis, switching between short stories, novellas, and serials; depending on how many days there are in a month I would cram in a third novella or short story. The way I have it figured is, if a month has 31 days, and if I’m set to review a novella on the 31st day, I’ll switch that would-be novella out for a complete novel. After all, I wanna save the biggest single review project for last, and I wanna give myself enough time to really digest the extra long material. The resulting review will itself of course be longer than average. Now, how do I separate a complete novel from a novella? How does one tell the difference, especially since magazines, while usually two-columned, have different type sizes and therefore some can pack more wordage into each page? Sometimes magazines give rough word counts, but much of this, admittedly, will come down to my own discretion.

Not making promises, but complete novel reviews will probably be the last department I add to my blog. This is a one-man show, ya know, and I do have a day job to contend with. Still, I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t out of passive, and you also know that I’m a compulsive reader. The more the merrier! Just hope I can do someone as great as Leiber justice with this.

Won’t you read with me?


One response to “Things Beyond: December 2022”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: