Friday, July 28, 2006

Fritz Leiber, Skeptic

I just read a delightful little anthology of short writings by Fritz Leiber, one of my favourite authors. Leiber (1910-1992) was an American writer, editor and actor who is most well known for his immortal sword & sorcery stories about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Leiber in fact coined the sub-genre's name, although Burroughs and Howard had of course written in a similar vein before him. As his main literary influences, he named Shakespeare and Lovecraft.

The anthology, The Book of Fritz Leiber (1974), interleaves short fiction, essays and reviews. The last piece is a short story from 1969, "Cat's Cradle", with a wryly painted scene from Leiber's home life.

Helen Hunter, wife of late middle-age sf writer Harry Hunter, invites their attractive new neighbour Eloise Neering for drinks. The young woman turns out to believe in UFOs, and the evening ends with Mr Hunter teasing Neering about her ideas while making clumsy ouvertures to her under his wife's watchful eye. Neering goes home, Mr Hunter passes out from drink in an armchair, Mrs Hunter goes to bed, and the story turns to the Hunters' cats who go out on a nocturnal adventure.

Before falling asleep, Mr Hunter makes a rousing skeptical speech to his wife, who "knew the habit husbands have of berating to their wives any woman to whom they are sexually attracted". Clearly, not much has changed on the nutty fringe since 1969.
"God deliver me from that incredible kook! Not only a saucer nut, but she believes Bacon wrote Shakespeare -- while riding in a saucer over New Atlantis, I suppose. It's the invariable sign of the crackpot -- they believe not just some but all of the guff. Not only saucers and Bacon, but vegetarianism, reincarnation, compost farming, pyramidology, Hollow Earth, instant wisdom through psychedelic drugs, gut-level thinking smarter than Einstein's induced by bongo drums, the whole lot, besides being unalterably opposed to every chemical and engineering discovery that's holding our collapsing civilization together. Did you notice how she didn't turn a hair when I mentioned plutonium in the drinking water, but went pale when I added fluoride? What an ignorant bitch!"
The cats, of course, encounter an actual flying saucer.

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Blogger Dragonet2 said...

Wow. Now I have to go find that in our semi-shelved SF library to read the rest of it.

Thanks for sharing (I linked over from Pharyngula and the Carnival of Skeptics)

04 August, 2006 22:04  
Blogger Martin said...

Welcome here! If you scroll back, you'll find more entries on sf and fantasy.

04 August, 2006 22:16  
Anonymous David Harmon said...

The comic strip "Rose is Rose" features a cat "Peekaboo" who occasionally meets up with flying saucers. "I'm a cat!" "So are we!" :-)

Was it Lieber who wrote "Gather, Darkness!"? There was a subversive little tale....

06 August, 2006 01:32  
Blogger Martin said...

Yep, that was Leiber, serialised in 1943 and later issued as his first novel. That's one of his that I haven't read. Prolific guy.

06 August, 2006 09:19  
Blogger Thursday said...

Personally, I loved the "gods" Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser meet up with. If those two weren't enough proof that Leiber was a skeptic, then this paragraph would!

08 August, 2006 04:19  
Blogger Martin said...

Haha, yeah, Issek of the Jug comes to mind!

08 August, 2006 07:48  

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