Lankhmar

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Category: Interesting things (page 1 of 2)

The Cromcast: A Weird Fiction Podcast

Head over to The Cromcast where you can hear Jon, Josh and Luke chat about several Lankhmar stories, these are funny and engaging as well as interesting listens, (as is the rest of their podcasts) so do yourself a favour and give them a listen, Fritz podcasts are so rare!

http://thecromcast.blogspot.com/2017/12/season-6-episode-01-ill-met-in-lankhmar.html

A rather nice review of the Lankhmar series.

“One of my very favourite books, by one of my very favorite writers, starring two of the most delightful characters in the history of fantastic literature.” – Neil Gaiman I came across Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar while browsing through a random MPH bookstore. Having read a lot of fantasy novels since young, I was keenly intrigued […]

via Book Review: Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber — TAYLOR’S UNIVERSITY BOOK CLUB read more

Fritz Leiber audio files over at cthulhuwho1.com

Over at Cthulhuwho.com they have added a batch of Fritz Leiber recordings from various sources, such as conventions.

I haven’t had a listen yet, but seems well worth investigating, there seems like there is a lot to listen to!

Will Hart has kindly added these links below for all the Fritz Material.

Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch and Others Discussing H. P. Lovecraft in 1963 – A Complete PDF File, with JPG’s Available Too!
https://cthulhuwho1.com/2010/10/07/fritz-leiber-robert-bloch-and-others-discussing-h-p-lovecraft-in-1963-a-complete-pdf-file-with-jpgs-available-too/ read more

Rare Fritz Leiber material available on Independent voices.

Independent voices which hosts thousands of old alterative press tites has lots of Fritz articles and goodies, most notably the story Stonehenge 94101, which featured in a 1976 Issue. The story clearly links to Our Lady of Darkness and paramentals…

I have pulled in the text and formatted below.

Stonehenge 94101, by Fritz Leiber

Old Hawkinsby wouldn’t let me help him carry his telescope to the roof, although it weighed a good 25 pounds and his limp made him drag one foot painfully.

“It’s a scientific instrument and has to be treated with care,” he snarled breathlessly. “You just follow me and concentrate on not making any noise. They don’t like it.”

I thought he meant the old apartment building’s owners or other tenants. Tracy had warned me he’d be difficult, but that, “if it’s crackpot occultists with off-trail theories you want for your book, Fred, then he’s a real dilly. None of the hackneyed black magic and witchcraft stuff, but something about big cities and how by the sheer mass of their concrete and steel they’re developing a life of their own and taking control of us. And he’s somehow worked in Stonehenge, though not the Druidism angle.”

On the top landing was a padlocked door. Hawkinsby explained between gasps, “They did it to keep winos from sleeping up here. But I’ve a key.”

As he stood there interminably, waiting I suppose for his breathing to get regular, I made conversation by saying, “I guess you get some people — the kind who never heard of astronomy — seeing you with a telescope, think you must be a peeping Tom.”

He cocked a hairy eyebrow at me. “You can waste a lot of time that way,” he said shortly, then grew reflective and expository. “Most people don’t do interesting things near lighted windows. Afraid of snipers. And if they do, there’s no guarantee as to their sex, age, or looks. Also, exhibitionists want an audience — they have to know someone’s watching them. The ones you most often see are skinny old men like me, writing at a table or doing other work conspicuously.”

He nodded for a period, opened the door, and the night sounds of San Francisco poured in. A little later he lifted the telescope out onto the roof and motioned me through and shut the door behind us and snapped on the padlock, though leaving in the key.

“Don’t want to be disturbed,” he explained in a hoarse whisper.

I nodded doubtfully and took a few steps. Gravel rutched under my foot. “Shh!” he warned. “They got sharp ears.”

I stopped, though he was making more noise than I was, what with his dragging foot. While he busied himself extending the legs of the tripod and otherwise setting up the telescope, I looked around.

It was one of San Francisco’s rare warm, clear nights. White light striking upward from the canyons of the streets dimmed the stars without extinguishing them. Red lights winked warnings to planes. For a couple of blocks around us there wasn’t anything much taller than our eight storeys. Then came the great irregular circle of high rises, like a giant fence of thick pillars shutting us in — or standing stones, menhirs, it occured to me, remembering what Tracy had said about Stonehenge.

I noted the Sequoias condominium on Cathedral Hill (which has a college of mortuary science next door, oddly), the glassy bulk of the Federal Building, the towers of the Hilton, St. Francis, Fairmont, and Sir Francis Drake Hotels (the last with its white, five-point, revolving star), the Wells Fargo Building, One Market Plaza, the monstrous hulk of the Bank of America Building, and the up-ward-directed thick dagger of the Transamerica Pyramid completing the circle.

Hawkinsby must have been watching the direction of my gaze, for, “I realized they were a Stonehenge,” the white-haired old man whispered hoarsely, “when I found myself using them to mark the places of the rising and the setting of the stars. And then the idea came to me that men hadn’t built those monstrosities. Things that big build themselves and men just think they’re giving the directions, making the arrangements. Actually, the horizontal pressure gets too great and something has to give, so it gives upward, vertically. This was all first put forward in an old book I could show you: Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities published around 1900 by someone called Thibaut de Castries, a neglected thinker. It tells you all about paranatural phenomena and paramental entities.”

I thought, he gets right into it, doesn’t he? No breaking it gently to me. He’s a superdilly, all right. Buildings building themselves!

For his benefit I nodded wisely and asked, “What do you use the telescope for, now that your interest is in the buildings, not the stars?”

“Why, to watch them generating our replacements,” he said, “the paramental entities, the men of metal and smoke and darkness who will become humanity when the buildings take over completely. Have you ever studied rooftops? They’re a whole world no one bothers to look at. All sorts of little chimneys and ventilators and vent pipes, some with metal hats, and lots of things you can never figure out a purpose for — all sorts of sinister grotesque, stick-figures made of scrap. That’s where they’re generating our replacements who, when the time comes, will take over. It’s already started. Look here!” And stepping aside, he indicated the eyepiece of the telescope.

The instrument was directed toward a dark clump of buildings, not the highest. I noted only one lighted window among them. Hawkinsby had put a zenith prism in the set-up, so I wouldn’t need to squat. I bent over the telescope, put my eye to the eyepiece, careful not to touch it, so as not to jiggle the image.

It was focussed on a wide window somewhere — the one I’d noted, must be. There we’re no shades or curtains. The room was bare with pale blue walls — a little dim or muted because of the magnifica-. tion but distinct. The only thing in it was a narrow tin (or sheet iron) chimney that separated into a T at the top — at least it looked like a chimney. It was such a strange, surreal picture — an indoor chimney in a bare blue room! — that I stared at it quite a while to make sure that the chimney or whatever was behind the window and not in front of it.

I lifted my head. The first thing my eyes lit on was a similar chimney (or whatever) I hadn’t noticed before on the roof where I was. I looked around for Hawinsby and couldn’t see him. I didn’t recall hearing footsteps moving off while I’d been looking through the telescope, but I’d been concentrating. I moved around the roof, calling his name softly and getting nervous. He hadn’t seemed the practical joker sort, but. . .Pretty soon I’d searched all the roof without finding him and I’d ended up at the door down. There seemed to be no brick-set metal ladders down or other ways to leave the roof. The door was still shut by the padlock with the key in it.

I made myself go back to the black telescope waiting there for me on its three legs. I was pretty jumpy by now. I bent over the eyepiece, looked, blinked, gave a start and looked again.

What I thought I saw at first was the blue room with the chimney, but with Hawinsby in it, standing very thin and tall with his arms stretched out in a T, like a crucified man. That was only a flash. When I made myself look again, there were only two metal chimneys in the bare blue room.

My second start must have jarred the telescope, for the third time I tried to look there was only blackness. And now I couldn’t see any lighted window at all in the direction the telescope was pointing.

Also, I couldn’t find the chimney I’d thought I’d noticed on the roof I was on.

And that’s the way it stayed. That’s the furthest I’ve been able to get. Tracy has no ideas either. Hawkinsby has disappeared in a direction where I can see only blackness. read more

A ghostly blast from the past..

Smoke Ghost - my version...

It’s amazing what you find on old disks (in this case a REV drive from 15 years ago) , when i was submitting stories to the Midnight House collections I dreamed of doing some artwork… I never of course submitted it…  but here it is, in all its black and white glory!

Let’s hear it for Ramsey Campbell

BBC Ghost Stories

One of the Christmas presents I received (and have only just watched) was the DVD release of the BBC filmed versions of M.R James =&0=&The DVD is great and I enjoyed both the original and the new interpretation, though I felt the pacing of the Miller versions better suited the story (though I did enjoy the scrabbling fingers under the door in the new version, a distinctly j-horror element that worked rather well.)

One of the extras was Ramsey Campbell reading his story ‘The Guide’, and also a very interesting (if badly shot) introduction by Campbell, where he talks about James, as well as his successors, during which he reads a little of Smoke Ghost, as well as talking about Leiber and his ghost stories.  Campbell has included Leiber’s fiction (including Dark Wings in Superhorror) in the numerous anthologies he has edited.

I am sure most of the readers of this site have read Ramsey Campbell’s excellent work, if you haven’t, then rush out and buy some now! Ramsey is a great admirer of Fritz and his work (and Fritz liked Campbell’s The Doll Who Ate His Mother), and he has spoken of seeing Leiber’s cycle of Chicago and San Francisco horror stories as something of an inspiration.

I first discovered Ramsey Campbell in the late eighties when I purchased Dark Feasts, which has a glorious cover.  I can think of no other author who is so efficient at creating an unsettling mood, whose stories are both dreamlike and pin sharp at the same time.

Dark Feasts is rammed full of fine stories and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  He has has produced a fine array of novels as well, from The doll who ate his mother, right through to The creatures of the pool, which I have only just finished, and thoroughly enjoyed.

I also purchased one of Dark Regions Press beautiful editions of his new collection Holes for Faces, which is as good as anything I have read by him, and copies are still available. My favourite?  Probably his wonderful chap book, Needing Ghosts, a story that has stayed with me since first reading it in the early nineties. So next is Ghosts Know, which is sitting on my bookshelf…

A reader’s journey.

Lost_worlds_Panther


Two weeks of relaxing on holiday in the south west of France, with my wife and children, gave me more time that usual for reading and, of course, some Fritz was part of the feast, I have written this blog entry over the last couple of weeks, and found myself trying to remember how and when I discovered various authors.

The first book I revisited was Lost Worlds vol. 2 by Clark Ashton Smith, and I have to thank it indirectly for my discovery of Fritz Leiber.  I guess I would have been around 15  and was reading typical eighties horror / fantasy and SF.   Stephen King, James Herbert, Harry Harrison and Larry Niven.  Basically what was available at my local bookshop in Peterborough, which in all honesty wasn’t very much; had I lived in Cambridge, I may have had a better range. I was reading through David Edding’s Belgariad series without any huge enthusiasm, so I had a rummage on the bookshelf in our living room.

My Mother read drama and biography, my Dad was a great reader of spy thrillers, Deighton, Le Carre, more general war fact and fiction, as well as lots of books on theatre and drama.  I have come to love Deighton and Le Carre, but they held no interest to my 14 year old self.  There were well thumbed copies of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I had enjoyed the latter and struggled through the former finding in dry and slow in places.  Then I found Lost Worlds Vol.2, to this day I do not know what it was doing there.  I mentioned it to my Dad a few years later and he had never heard of it.

So fate placed this rather tatty paperback in my hand.  The cover was terrific, and inside I found a whole new world !  The texture of the language, the narratives, everything was so far away from what I had been reading, which seemed so much more direct.  I was hooked and decided I was going to find more Clark Ashton Smith.  I also noticed these intriguing names on the back.  H P Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury.  The latter I was aware of, there had been the weird, slightly unsettling TV series, and I knew I had seen some of books for sale.

My hopes of finding Clark Ashton Smith were dashed, nothing to be found in either Sherrat & Hughes, W H Smith or the book stall on the market. But I did find books by H P Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury.  I came home the proud owner of The Small Assassin and The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales of Terror, over the next few years I snatched up everything I saw by Lovecraft, Bradbury and Smith, and on a trip to Brighton, I saw a book by Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death.

The first story I read was ‘The Bleak Shore’, there was definitely that strange texture I associated with Lovecraft and Smith, but more but with a healthy dose of realism, and as I read more I discovered an sharp and witty sense of humour too.  I was hooked.

So one small paperback led me to find a whole new area of literature, and a lifelong passion.  I hadn’t read Lost Worlds for many years, but that strange sense of dread and melancholy was still there and for anyone who has not read read Clark Ashton Smith, it is well worth a read.

Christopher Fowler‘s Bryant & May series has become a firm favourite of mine.  I had a week where I was going to be driving backwards and forwards to London so bought the audiobook CD.  I was hooked (for audiobook fans The Bryant and May books are read quite brilliantly by Tim Goodman, I reviewed it several years ago on my radio reviews site), the series has gone from strength to strength and remains a very strong series.  The Bleeding Heart proved to be another excellent novel balancing humour, thrills and fascinating facts with a wonderfully realised cast of characters.  It is lovely to follow a series of books which has not gone down in quality over the course of the books.  If you want to enjoy some great crime fiction, then you have to give these series of books a go.

The Fritz book I chose to revisit was Conjure Wife.  Probably his most famous novel, I am always struck by how easy it is to read.  The opening scene with Norman being somewhat self indulgent and self important immediately set’s one off balance.  If this is our hero, why is he gazing at his navel and spying on his wife…

I don’t want to enter into discussion on the role of the feminine in the novel, I feel it is a very complex issue.  Norman is undercut at several points in the narrative, and only really proves effective when he loses his intellectual arrogance and does what Tansy tells him, so the male hero only arrives at that status by the end of the novel.  The college life is well drawn, and the tension of witchcraft rides well on this bed of mistrust, intrigue and hostility. These are key, it is this life of both the intellect and backbiting and intrigue which give the central thread of the novel such a feeling of realism.

The standout moments are two key sections. The scene where Tansy is using a cats cradle to capture the approaching stone lizard and the following delirious scenes where Norman realises he is destined to die and Tansy drunkenly takes his torments away and places them on herself.

The scenes following Tansy’s emergence from the water are just wonderful, with discussions of souls and the key scene where the ordinary cleaning girl comes in and admits to her own use of magic, her mothers and by implication all women’s knowledge of a far older and more powerful practice than all the science in the world.

The ending is neat and tidy, and is perhaps the most traditional element of the book, but what stays with you is the concepts, the power of key scenes and the genuine sense of unease he generates.  There is a strong feel of Weird Tales to the novel, something that faded from Fritz’s work as his style became more distinct (it is still apparent I feel in Gather Darkness), and that is one of the pleasures of the novel.

Lastly, was the beautiful book, The Art of Ian Miller.  The rather wonderful blog by unsubscriber brought this to my attention, and it is simply captivating.

Ian has done a wide range of SF / Fantasy  / Horror covers, and many of you will recognise his work if you see it.  His spidery organic art is just astonishing and demands attention, and I found myself noticing new details and flourishes in every illustration.

 

Pinnacle Entertainment license Lankhmar for new RPG Game

The Savage World of Lankhmar brings Fritz Leiber’s gritty world of urban fantasy into Savage Worlds, shepherded by Tim Brown (of Dark Sun and Dragon King fame) and Shane Hensley (who wrote the Lankhmar boxed set for TSR back in 1997)!

Watch for Lankhmar: City of Thieves, detailing the city itself and its most important players—including Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Savage Foes of Nehwon brings you the most insidious threats—powerful sorcerers, terrible creatures, and ruthless villains—with adventure seeds and Savage Tales to really fill out a campaign. read more

Art & Mini Review: Midnight by The Morphy Watch

Midnight by The Morphy Watch

I can only admit to being an occasional chess player, at school around 12 or 13 I was in the school team, that was the height of my achievements, Fritz on the other hand was rated expert and chess pops up in many of the stories, indeed a knight can be seen on the cover of his first collection, Adepts Gambit.

Perhaps his most famous, certainly the most collected chess story is ‘Midnight by The Morphy Watch’, written in 1974 and first published in Worlds of If.

Stirf Ritter-Rebil (not one of Fritz’s more tricky names) is a chess player who has risen about as far as he will, and plays casual games and aspires to not much more, til he comes into possession of the famed Morphy Watch, and gets more than he bargained for.

Chess lover or not, it’s a good story well told, and can be seen as a descendent of ‘The Dreams of Albert Moreland’, though that story is more doom laden and was written 30 years earlier.

Fritz cleverly weaves in fact and fiction around Paul Morphy, his watch and his chessmen.  There was indeed a Morphy Watch presented to Paul Morphy on May 25, 1859, Morphy wrote in October of the same year

The American watch, No. 9240, presented me by the New York Chess-Club has proved to be a most reliable and accurate time-keeper

He also was presented with an exquisite  gold and silver chess set, the location of both is still unknown (more info here).

Fritz took this idea, and added a supernatural element, wove in more facts, plus a lot more fiction for a very memorable story

Stirf’s discovery of the pawn and then the watch is a pleasure to read and the shop, I suspect, is one of those disappearing shops we find in fiction, manned by an unexpected owner.

What I also love in the story is that Stirf’s problems are obviously Fritz’s own, the obsessional nature of chess would indeed rob (or frustrate) Fritz of his ability to write, the chess nightmares suffered by Stirf, I suspect come from Fritz’s own experience.  Chess is a strong willed mistress.

As for Stirf’s mini Faustian adventure, I shan’t spoil it for you, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it.

I always loved the idea of the watch, so I spent several hours creating my own version (from Fritz’s description and from the real watch) and you can see that at the top of the page, and more clearly below. The face does use elements from the actual watch face given to Morphy, where as the chess men are just standard.

I no have a nice animation of it spinning around, though what use that is, I am not sure!

The Quill and Keyboard have a good review of the story

The art of Our Lady of Darkness

A cover ideally has to do two things for a book.  Draw in the potential buyer by tantalising them, exciting them,  ideally having sympathy with the content, augmenting the story(s) and adding to the gravitas of the volume.

So how do our covers stack up?

Upon it’s first appearance (as the slightly different ‘Pale Brown Thing’) in F&SF, it was given a mighty fine cover by Ron Walotsky   . Whilst the building is merely a two story, the ambiance of the cover is great, it is daylight, and Corona heights and the TV tower are featured as reflections (with the metropolitan skyline behind).  Paramentals dash and lurk around the composition, with a strong figure leaning out of the window.  I like the realism of the piece, which mirror Franz’s hyper aware state of his environment, the clarity that lets him become aware of the paramental entities.  F&SF did well by Fritz Leiber, and he had a number of fine covers, special mention should be given to the cover of ‘A Deskfull of Girls’ by  Kelly Freas, a fine, fine cover indeed.

The Putnam hardback release (and berkeley paperback) has a strangely retro cover.  People tend to think of the seventies as a rather wild time for graphic design, but this was not really the case.  By the late seventies, advertising and design was drfiting towards the international style, with sans serif typefaces on many designs, often with plenty of whitespace and dominant hero photos or patterns.  This cover would seem to fit more sensibly at the end of the sixties or early seventies, and the ameoba like objects actually have a late fifties feel.  The frustration is I love some of Richard Powers work for Fritz, in fact this prolific artist produced an astonishing array of fine covers for numerous books over a long period of time.   His cover for the ’62 version of The Silver Eggheads is terrific, as is his expressive version of Gather Darkness from the same year.  But looking at Our Lady of Darkness and his Pail of Air cover, one would think they are from the same year.  I suspect this would not matter so much if I saw something in the cover which reflected the story, but it just doesn’t gel for me as a cover.  The paperback cover is slightly better on the typographic font, with the neater text at the top.

The Millington hardback doesn’t really tick any boxes either.  70’s UK hardbacks seemed dominated by photographic covers ( see the Clark Ashton Smith covers as an example).  The cover’s gothic scene at least leads the buyer to the correct general genre, but the very fact the cover invokes graveyards and decaying churches seems to miss the point of Fritz’s decidedly metropolitan story.  I probably still prefer it to the Putnam book, and it certainly is typical of it’s time,  but is not a cover that inspires any real affection.

The Fontana paperback on the other hand is a winner for me.  Recreating the Taffy scene from the book is a great idea, and the realisation of ‘Our Lady of Darkness’, with the paper making up her body is spot on.  I also love the glossy ribbon like back hair spilling over figures shoulders.  If that wasn’t enough, there are little details which add to the quality of the cover.  The touch of art deco on the window frame, echoing the time the Thibaut De Castries wrote Megapolisomancy, the snouted face which fits well with Fritz’s description, and the red and white lines behind her, which echo both the TV tower and the abstract art which hangs in Franz’s apartment.  Running behind is the San Francisco skyline, with the green of the hill at the bottom. Despite all these elements, the cover doesn’t feel crowded, and the text is given plenty of room.

The figure positively leans out of the book at you, and carries with it a certain charge of sexuality, something missing from the Putnam and Millington covers.  The cover also seems very modern for 1978, and it is difficult to think the cover is from the same time as the Putnam cover.  The art is by Roy Ellsworth, I cannot find any real information about him or his work, but he absolutely nailed this cover.

The Ace paperback from ’84 sits somewhere in the middle for me.  The nouveau flourishes around the type are attractive and distinctive (the same look was used for the Ace version of Conjure Wife), the head emerging from the book certainly reflects in some ways, the core of Our Lady of Darkness, but the head seems strangely sterile and waxy and gives the sense of a dead body rather than the dynamic paramental of Fritz’s book.  Overall though it is clearly a well laid out cover, and certainly adds some gravitas to the story, though the sub heading is clearly a load of marketing pish…

The TOR paperback of Our Lady of Darkness and Conjure Wife, boasts the talents of Wayne Barlowe, whose art has graced numerous books.  His cover is interesting in that it ignores the feminine nature inherent in both the books (and indeed their titles) and instead draws on the urban horror, essential to both books.  The eruption of the supernatural into the grimy urban background works well for both books (as it would for much of Fritz’s horror fiction) and the rising glow haloing the transamerica pyramid in the center leads to a very nice composition.  This is a cover that has grown on me over the years, the absence of a female at first seemed an obvious mistake, but the more I look at it, the more it seems to have sympathy with the tone of the books, be it the climax of Our Lady of Darkness, or the stone lizard stalking Tansy and Norman in Conjure wife..

Orb’s Dark Ladies paperback is very distinctive with the transamerica pyramid dominating the treated photograph.  But the typography has always felt a little unbalanced, with the stylised author / title at the top, and the more traditional information bx at the bottom.  These two elements letterboxing the skyline make one want something more dramatic, more cinematic maybe, but it is just not there, the moon seems a little too dominant for my liking.  Mainly though, it doesn’t  evoke the sense of urban unease that the TOR cover does so well.

Orbs 2010 paperback is a big improvement.  Chris McGrath is a very talented artist.  His Conjure Wife cover for Orb is superb, but whilst I cannot help but admire the execution of this cover, it does not really echo the story for me.  It has a 20s or 30s feel, so in some ways it works with the idea Thibaut was accompanied by a veiled lady, but more importantly the cover, despite it’s layer of soft grunge, does not give any flavour of the urban horror inherent in the novel.

The Kindle Edition is, by ebook standards, very good indeed.  The Bauhuas typography, the red and black and the diagonals, make one feel it is a WW2 thriller or an adaptation of a Fritz Lang film, but it doesn’t really, in any way, give one a sense of the book itself.  I can’t help liking it, but just not for this novel…

Lastly, we have the Centipede Press HB.  John Stewart is a fine, fine artist, and the spidery ink of The Lady of Darkness skittering across the cover is just perfect.  Stewart’s lady is scary, it infects the entire book, it gets to one of the central points of Leiber’s book, horror literature itself.  Franz builds his scholar’s mistress, but it is the paper and ink of those volumes that makes the frightening monster that Cal defeats.   This book gives on the feeling that these grotesque drawings are leeching their spite from the pages of the book, marvelous indeed, and I feel very lucky to own a copy,

 

 

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