Mike’s Prattle


Fritz Leiber – “Coming Attraction,” “The Dead Man,” “Nice Girl with Five Husbands,” “Cry Witch!”; Lucius Shepard – Life During Wartime; Dead Space

Posted by Mike on October 26, 2009

Am getting a lot of reading done of late.Which is kind of cool, because I go through huge phases where I get very little done, it’s almost as if I have to start a phase to really get things going. And I’m not really sure what got it started this time, maybe some of the easy to read Lansdale stuff helped. It’s almost as if I start to read easier once I get some momentum.

Anyway up front continues my digging in to the Fritz Leiber canon roughly chronologically. Roughly, because I’ve read the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser series twice (except for the seventh collection) and sometimes I have to read some later stories out of order when checking books out from the library. Also, some stories are very hard to come by. “Cry Witch!” brings me current through Spring 1951, barring three stories I haven’t been able to find. There was a really great series of collections going via Darkside or Midnight House press, but there’s been no word on what’s going on with these for several years. These were The Black Gondolier, Smoke Ghost, Horrible Imaginings and Day Dark, Night Bright. I gloomed on to these in time to grab the last two and fortunately there’s a trade paperback of Gondolier, but Smoke Ghost is now prohibitively expensive and the next volume of the series, which I believe was to be One Station on the Way, never came out as if the company just lost interest. I have no idea why and would not only love to see it but see a paperback of Smoke Ghost. The three stories I’ve missed through Spring 1951 are “They Never Come Back” (8/41); The Black Ewe (5/50); and “Martians, Keep Out!” (7-8/50) The first and last were due in Station, the middle was in Smoke Ghost and I haven’t been able to find any other source for them. However I suppose it must be said the rarer stories like this turn out to be pretty minor in the long run. But I find it bizarre that companies like Wildside Press continue to release the same stories that can easily be found in the old collections for affordable used prices when there’s still so many stories that are virtually impossible to find.

The thing is, Leiber’s imagination is truly a sight to behold. I always get the impression reading various stories that he’s often one of the first to play with an idea that later becomes a horror or SF cliché. He also seems to be one of the earlier writers to write seriously about sexuality. “Coming Attraction” posits a future where the taboo on female nudity has changed so the face is now veiled even when the body isn’t. And a British man in New York takes an interest in what seems to be a troubled woman in this future where wrestling appears to be the sport du jour. It seems uncommonly prescient in the present of WWF and the ongoing meddling in the Middle East. I’m not sure the story totally falls together all that well, but I believe this one’s considered one of Leiber’s best and there’s certainly enough of  a reason why with a sad and tragic climax as a result of the dystopia.

“The Dead Man” rings like a precursor of movies like the Reanimator although to be true this is a Weird Tale that obviously had Lovecraft as a major influence. A journalist’s friend has made an amazing discovery in terms of how hypnosis can change the physical state of the rare human being, in this case a man who the protagonist suspects is having an affair on the the friend’s wife. In showing him his experiments tragedy ensues as the friend attempts to put the experimental subject to a temporary death via hypnosis only to be unable to revive him. The story moves forward a couple years as the two meet up again only for the friend to finally remember the signal he had forgotten to revive the patient. When he does finally remember it sets of a chain of events that results in a grisly finale, one that reminded me of a horror movie or two.

“Nice Girl with Five Husbands” is a bizarre little time travel story, a man is whisked a hundred years into his future and runs across what is a sort of polygamist community that couldn’t possible be explained, something of a utopia where morals are completely changed. Yet again Leiber toys with a possible future where sexual ethics are completely different and the protagonist is left with only a memory and mystery in the end.

And “Cry Witch!” which reminds me a lot of my earlier RA Wilson read in terms of the theoretical sexuality of witches. Here a man recounts a tale of finding love in a small village only to realize that the woman he loves is apparently in affairs with just about everyone else. The man attempts to take the woman for himself and moves her outside of the village only to realize after a while that things haven’t changed and he’s been enchanted not to notice. And in the end he perhaps realizes he can’t quite escape the enchantment. This was a story also in “Smoke Ghost” that I managed to find in an anthology called “The Black Magic Compendium,” it apparently exists in no other Leiber collection.

Not only have I been back on the Leiber wagon, but I finally managed to finish what for Mr. Shepard is probably his longest work, an expansion of the classic novella “R&R” and a near future war story about a man who has been trained for psychic warfare and is basically set adrift in a Central America in what seems to be something of a never ending war. While the book almost seems to be a mosaic of different stories, as if R&R seems to be a separate entity, it’s almost a minor point as the language here is just unbelievably rich and evocative, not only recounting a deeply exotic, near-tropic jungle environment in rich detail, but doing the same with the characters, looking at them in utterly unflinching terms as the protagonist finds love and manages to analyze it in a number of different ways as the couple move south to Panama City in order to find the heart of the war and perhaps peace. It’s something of a philosophical treatise in some ways and never seems to forget that war is hell, and that no matter the excuses the various characters use to rationalize their atrocities, that there really is no excuse in the proliferation of human suffering. The juxtaposition of war and environment is much like the descriptions of the landscape itself, vistas of beauty strewn with the detritus of war and suffering. It’s an intense read and undoubtedly anyone with a heart will come face to face with the idea that Americans really never see the full picture of the ravaging of capitalism on the third world outside its borders nor that the original of an ongoing massive war can result from the petty squabblings of two famillies. I doubt it will be long before a book like this is considered literature. And it also manages to freak you out about butterflies which is no mean feat.

Switching to a video game, Dead Space on Xbox 360 has to be considered a landmark of horror science fiction, it was virtually one of the more frightening and harrowing games I’ve ever played. There were literally days where I wouldn’t touch the thing due to the anxiety it caused, the entire game was a series of scare tactics. The plot is you’re  on your way to a mining ship sending out a distress call only to find out that the whole ship has been taken over by horrific alien life forms that mutate nearly everything they come across. The source, an alien artifact taken on board the ship. The graphics are incredible and disgusting all at once, undoubtedly Giger-influenced and the range of the ship is astounding from claustrophic corridors to huge open zero-gravity spaces and all points in between. It’s almost impossible to recount the various activities one undergoes besides laying waste to some of the thorniest and nastiest creatures ever witnessed in a game as one has to resort to blowing off limbs as the hideous aliens come popping out of vents or dropping down behind you at all points of the game . It’s almost enough to give you a heart attack at times and there’s hardly a moment where one wonders if you’ll ever have enough ammunition to deal with what’s about to come at you. Later in the game there are some huge rooms where you walk in and the door shuts and the game throws EVERYTHING at you that insist you strategize carefully, not only in what weapons you’ll use but how to freeze the fast moving ones and where to stand etc. And the bosses in this game are just terrifying, a tribute to the collective genius of the staff here, with dimensions that are just off the chart. When you finally get to the end you’re almost cheering from the relief involved not having to play again while realizing what a great time you had in the end. This is the type of thing the cliché “not for the squeamish” was written for. Most sci-fi horror movies have nothing on this game.


One Response to “Fritz Leiber – “Coming Attraction,” “The Dead Man,” “Nice Girl with Five Husbands,” “Cry Witch!”; Lucius Shepard – Life During Wartime; Dead Space”

  1. Dead Space on Xbox 360 is the craziest spookiest game ever. i won’t play it with my son in the room because it makes too scared. Now that what I’m talking about, really if your going to pay 50.00 for a game, you better get your money’s worth!

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