Locus Magazine – Fritz Leiber ‘In Memoriam’
The November 1992 issue of Locus had a collection of memories from Justin Leiber and several other authors, as well as numerous photos. I have scanned and converted the article so everyone can enjoy it.
Fritz Leiber at Bay, by Justin Leiber
On the evening of Saturday, September 12, 1992, Fritz Leiber lay in an open casket at San Francisco’s Colum barium. The Neptune Society’s compact, several-storied, Romanesque domed building, its walls internally well-nested with name-plaqued brassed and coppered ashes, appropriately bore symbols and titles more redolent of turn-of-the-century tarot pack and Grecian revival than Christianity.
Fritz would have loved the place nearly as much as Alister Crowley, Truman Capote, and Edna Saint Vincent Millay, and Fritz is, I fancy, writing a story about it, some when and where. It was a flittering-and-slinking-room-only event, broad and joyous in its comradely alienation and animality, with tears made mist by laughter and laughter shimmered by tears. The ministerial sentences that initiated the service climaxed with a Eucharist of mead in a horn cup, echoed at the service’s finale by a decorously raucous hymn sung by four members of Fritz’s coven, all this bureaucratically capped by the announcement that the California State Senate in Sacramento had concluded its session in contemplation of Fritz Leiber’s memory.
In between, in poems and readings, and bowel-felt remarks and tears, an ardent and artful multitude successively bore witness to their devotion and delight and despair. It is impossible to imagine that the Columbarium had ever held such a multi-faceted and talented collection of poets and narrators, scientists and sages, enchanters and ethologists — except before we came and Fritz was there alone.
It should be recorded in favor of the open casket that by the end of the reception that followed the service Fritz’s left hand held a champagne glass, latterly filled with the ceremonial mead, whilst his right held an unlit, unfiltered cigarette (below, a box of Rosebud Matches), and his left cheek bore the clear imprint of a young woman’s lips. These minutiae were not sacrilege but sacrament. It was a most famous farewell. Fritz loved it. What sort of person was he? Had he a happy life or a sad one? Was he a success or a failure? Was he proud or humble? Was he courageous or cowardly? Was he confident and outgoing or shy and introverted? Was he self-dramatizing or secretive? Was he a sunny soul or a lurker in the shadows? Gentleman or rogue? How utterly impossible to answer each of these questions with anything but a deadpan “Yes,” for one can line up completely compelling arguments, often most convincingly provided by Fritz himself, for each side of these dichotomies. There is no doubt that he was 6’4″ tall and decidedly handsome in the manner perfectly attuned to the possibilities of each decade of his life. And there’s no doubt that he’s a great writer. What perplexes us is the personal dimension.
The poet Jorge Luis Borges helps us with this puzzle. Like his father, who in his later, Hollywood years did paintings and sculptures of himself as the quite various Shakespearian characters he had played, Fritz was above all Shakespearian in the sense that Borges has given in his brief story, “Everything and Nothing”. Borges tells us of the young Shakespeare’s discovery that there was no one in him; behind his face and his words, which were copious, imaginative, and emotional, there was nothing but a little chill, a dream not dreamed by anyone.
At first he thought everyone was like him, but the puzzled look on a friend’s face when he re- marked on that emptiness told him he was mistaken. Shakespeare naturally, according to Borges, takes up the career of actor and playwright, “so it would not be discovered that he was no one.” Borges’ Shakespeare hints at his condition, he who was as many men and women, as many demons and children, as his plays held: this dramaturgical diaspora concludes in his retirement to Stratford where he played the retired impresario except when friends came up from London, to whom in rapid transmogrification Shakespeare rendered once more the role of poet.
Borges’ account of Shakespeare concludes with a short paragraph. The story goes that, before or after he died, he found himself before God and he said: “I who have been so many men in vain, want to be one man, myself.” The voice of God replied from a whirlwind: “Neither am I oneself; I dreamed the world as you dreamed you dreamed your work, my Shakespeare, and among the shapes of my dream are you, who, like me, are many persons — and none. Though the same held of him, Fritz, like Borges, had better luck than Shakespeare. Fritz never found himself, powers spent, left only with the arid role of retired impresario. He wrote a last Gummitch cat story this spring and his last Locus column raced his Death to the finish line. Authorship and personhood rode to the stars together, neither deserting the other, for in his case they are one. (Oh yes of course — stop pulling my elbow — he, he was indeed a consummate gentleman and scholar, one who would graciously spend endless hours in conversation or correspondence with even the most importune and untalented wacko, yes, he was a wild, bead-carrying hippy and ardent anti-imperialist demonstrator, finger gently but implacably up the bourgeoisie to the very end and beyond. That was a part he could play falling over backwards (and frequently did). The following lines from what Time Magazine just called the definitive novel of time travel, The Big Time, put Borges’ point in another way, especially if you remember that Fritz is simultaneously author and characters, human and demon, body disappearing into mind.
Illy, appropriately a Lunan, speaks. “Plants are energy-binders — they can’t move through space or time, but they can clutch energy and transform it. Animals are space- binders — they can move through space. Man (Terran or ET, Lunan or non-Lunan) is a time- binder — he has memory. “Demons are the fourth order of evolution, possibility-binders — they can make all of what might be part of what is, and that is their evolutionary function. Resurrection is like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly: a third-order being breaks out of the chrysalis of its lifeline into fourth-order life. The leap from the ripped cocoon of an unchanging reality is like the first animal’s leap when he ceases to be a plant, and the Change World is the core of meaning behind the many myths of immortality.
“All evolution looks like war at first — octopus against monopoids, mammals against reptiles. And it has a necessary dialectic… Remember that the Serpent is your symbol of wisdom and the Spider your sign for patience. The two names are really frightening to you, for all high existence is a mixture of horror and delight… “In binding all possibility, the Demons also bind the mental with the material.
All fourth- order beings live inside and outside all minds, throughout the whole cosmos. Even this Place is, after its fashion, a giant brain: its floor is the brain pan, the boundary of the Void is the cortex of gray matter — yes, even the Major and Minor Maintainers are analogues of the pineal and pituitary glands, which in some form sustain all nervous systems.
“There’s the real picture, Greta girl.”
That’s the real picture, indeed. Our brains are hardware apt to capture by his software. Now we are all Fritz Leiber.
Fritz Leiber’s was the first name I recognized in this field. The circumstances: The year was ’70, ’71. I was just entering high school. My personal net worth was in the neighborhood of $5. My city had no book store, my family no car. Hearing that the local grocery store was selling coverless paperbacks for ten cents each — or 12 for $1.00! I walked two miles to the store and collected a treasure. A couple of the best of the year anthologies. Some gothics, and some books whose titles suggested they might be gothics: Gather, Darkness, Conjure Wife. It had been a productive year for Fritz — he had stories in both of the “best of” anthologies. I liked them. His name was distinctive. I started looking for it, found it, found it more and more often as my book-buying scope expanded.
Around 1978, I made so bold as to write my favorite author a fan letter. Fritz did something no “TV or movie star had ever done — he answered me. A correspondence developed, once I overcame my shock. I learned he attended the World Fantasy Convention, so I made plans to go to Providence, Halloween weekend of 1979. I had just started sending my first book around. It was my first big trip away from home. My first plane ride. Too many firsts — when I spotted Fritz in the dealer’s room — and he was unmistakable — I was too shy to go over and introduce myself even though we had made plans to meet. A friend had to drag me over bodily and perform the introduction — though he was meeting Fritz for the first time too.
We had dinner, and got the tableware confused and wound up with salt in our coffee. We roamed the streets of Lovecraft’s city in search of a mobile coffee shop. We took a Sunday morning tour of the downtown, and I have photos of Fritz standing under one of the high-water marks from a famous hurricane, grinning from ear to ear because he was cheating by standing on tip-toe, knowing I couldn’t see his feet.
As if being 6’5″ wasn’t enough of an advantage, compared to my 5’1 “. I never saw tennis shoes so big as the ones Fritz wore. I went to every WFC thereafter except the one across the Atlantic, and the high point was always getting together with Fritz. By the second time we met I had sold my book, and soon I was a published author — but while Fritz was always one of the biggest boosters of my work, and we always kept one another posted on our current projects, I don’t remember that we ever talked much about the process of writing. There was too much else going on.
A midnight tour of Poe’s gravesite, where Fritz read poetry and I found an excuse to use “eldritch” in a sentence. Folding Fritz into my Honda Civic to make an eventually fruitless search for a non-hotel restaurant in Hunt Valley. The Our Lady of Darkness tour of San Francisco, complete with curse- reading at the top of Corona Heights. I spent a couple of days with Fritz that year, and he graciously slept on the couch so I could have the tiny bedroom. (It was like sleeping in a spaceport — all his Hugos and Nebulas on the bureau, the only other furniture in the room.)
Between east coast conventions, Fritz came to New Castle and spent a week with me. I bought a special coffee mug for the visit. No one else has ever used it, nor ever shall. Fritz probably wished he hadn’t used it either, since it leaked. I have every letter he ever sent me. The pile is huge. One contains a gesture purely Fritz, courtly and theatrical. He sent me a flower. As in plucked a tulip in the park, dropped it into the envelope, and mailed it off to Pennsylvania. It arrived quite flat, and turning brown, but I could see how lovely it had been. The romantic gesture still touches my heart. I treasure it as I treasured his friendship.
Like many of Fritz Leiber’s friends, I never knew the man personally. We were acquainted through the medium of two dozen or so much-read paperbacks, half of them replacements for originals urged on other readers and lost in the tumult of years. That was enough, though. He was a friend, and all his survivors, even those he never met, share in the sadness of his passing.
I once lifted the ending from A Specter is Haunting Texas, that wonderful scene when Scully, forced to choose between the two women he loves, kidnaps them both back to the Sack in arrant defiance of their stated wishes. I dropped one of the wives-to-be, flipped the sexes, and substituted a coffin for the Circuluna shuttle Tsiolkovsky, but it’s, no question about it, the same scene. And it’s still the single part of Vacuum Flowers I like best. It’s true as well that when I was a gonnabe writer, Leiber was one of those Olympians whose work I admired, studied, and assiduously tried to emulate.
There must be legions of us with sincere and hobbling versions of his Change War and Fafhrd-and-Mouser stories buried somewhere deep in our adolescent pasts. Every two or three years I take out his classic story, “Gonna Roll the Bones”, and reread it. “Bones” is a masterful fusion of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It begins: “Suddenly Joe Slattermill knew for sure he’d have to get out quick or else blow his top and knock out with the shrapnel of his skull the props and patches holding up his decaying home, that was like a house of big wooden and plaster and wallpaper cards except for the huge fireplace and ovens and chimney across the kitchen from him.”
Listen to that sentence! Fast and cocky, dancing on the fine line between virtuosity and failure, it evokes folk-tale archetypes and harsh realism both while simultaneously throwing the reader bodily into the story with a quick tour of the protagonist, his house, and his predicament. A bravura performance such as this could be sunk by a misplaced comma. But nothing is out of place, unsure, or unclear. And the rest of the story is every bit as good, every sentence pushed right to the edge but never falling over, every image vivid and real, Joe Slattermill’s face-down with the Devil and desperate gamble for his soul is every bit as gripping as Leiber intended it to be. It’s a glorious story that’s as fresh to the ear and mind now as it was when it was first written a quarter-century ago. I don’t think it’s ever going to age.
I first read “Gonna Roll the Bones” in 1968 in one great swoop of astonishment. Then, when I had caught my breath, I read it again, to see how it was done. I was 18 and it was everything I wanted to write. I read it through a third time to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, sat right down, and tried to duplicate it.
And of course I failed miserably.
If I were to run a quick survey of what I admire in Leiber’s work, I’d have to mention the strong and convincing women of Conjure Wife, written at a time when men by and large wrote women who were neither. I’d have to write about the adult sexuality that runs through his work: the sad and touching visit to a sex-show booth in “Horrible Imaginings”, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s charmingly perverse amours (who could ever forget the rat-lord’s daughter, Hisvet, or the transparently fleshed ghoul Kreeshkra, who for vanity of her bones wore no clothing?), the subtle shifts whereby in a prudish era he managed to imply much more than was then publishable. I’d have to explore his love affair with cities
He may or may not be, as someone has claimed, the man who brought the reality of urban landscapes to three genres — the question of who did what first pales alongside the question of who did it best. But his treatment of cities in “Smoke Ghost”, in those stories set in Lankhmar, in Our Lady of Darknes, is marvelous, special, unsurpassed.
The New York City of “Coming Attractions” with its glowing craters and Cold War ambience may be scientifically dated but it’s still a work that burns on the page with a cold and holy light. I’d have to mention his wonderful sense of humorand his equally wonderful sense of despair. I’d have to try to convey some fractional sense of the beauty and precision of his prose.
But when we come to the actual writing itself, the selecting and ordering and pruning of words, the prospect of synopsizing his virtues collapses under its own weight. The task is too big. Because so long as he could write, Leiber never stopped growing as an artist. He was ever inventive, ever new, always trying something different from what he’d done before. Even his Nehwon stories grew and evolved over the years that he wrote them.
Fritz Leiber took chances. He also had an astonishing number of successes. The one follows upon the other — given the requisite spark of genius — as the night does the day. This is the lesson we ought to take away from Leiber’s career. But we won’t, of course. Because that’s not how a writer’s influence is passed down. It’s passed down by rousing new generations of wannabes and gonnabes and gottabes to awe and envy and ambition. By creating worlds unlike anything anybody has ever imagined before. By writing stories that on their own terms simply cannot be bettered. By astonishing and dazzling and delighting.
Every two or three years I take out “Gonna Roll the Bones” and reread it. And every two or three years I close it with a sigh and admit to myself that I still can’t write like that and get away with it. Not yet.
Looking back, it seems as if Fritz Leiber began writing fantasy fiction as a great writer from the very start of his career in Weird Tales, Astounding, and Unknown. His ability to take on big ideas and present mature characters enmeshed in the real complexities of life, to think about religion, politics, and sex, was there from the beginning. As was the impressively high level of stylistic sophistication. He wrote “The Man Who Never Grew Young”, about the only ordinary man to have eternal life, forced to live it, however, in reverse time, stealing a march on Philip K. Dick, Martin Amis, and Poul Anderson all at once. “I envy those who grow young. I yearn for the sloughing wisdom and responsibility, the plunge into a period of love-making and breathless excitement, the carefree years before the end.” That’s how good he got, and stayed.
I remember reading Fritz Leiber’s stories in the 1950s (my golden age) and being intrigued and impressed, looking for his by-line in back-issue magazines, hunting out the hardcovers in book- stores. I was particularly fond of his stories re- printed by Judy Merril in her Year’s Best volumes, but my two favorites were “Space-Time for Springers”, and The Big Time.
He was one of the big names in sf, but most of his books were hard to find. It wasn’t till 1962 that I got a copy of Gather, Darkness and wrote my first sf review. By that time I had been reading for a decade and knew most of the standard things we all thought were the true history of sf. I knew, he was “of the Lovecraft circle,” that he was a big name from Unknown Worlds and Astounding in the ’40s, that he had started writing again in the ’50s but was not, basically, a novelist. And that he was a little suspect to true sf types because of his major commitment to fantasy and horror (then firmly ranked lower on the evolutionary ladder than sf.
I used my spiffy new college education to discuss the book in terms of Jacobean drama, with some admiration. Fritz was kind enough to write an interested reply. It was my first review and I was pleased and proud. His response helped make me the review junkie I am today. I saw him for the first time at Discon I in 1963. It was my first Worldcon and I was constantly excited by glimpses of legendary heroes in person, from Doc Smith to James Blish. I don’t remember the context, but I remember the man, the image. Fritz was impressive, stood out in a crowd the way you might hope that a giant of literature would. Fritz Leiber stood six feet, four inches tall (same height as Terry Carr, Terry told me humorously, proudly) and was a giant of fantasy, science fiction, and horror literature in the 20th century.
In his last decade he was stooped with age, and feeble enough to require a wheelchair at recent conventions. His famous, ringing, orator’s voice, the voice of a trained actor and trained clergyman, was often a surprise from the mild old man of recent World Fantasy Conventions. I hope that fans and readers appreciate just how lucky they were to meet and talk to him in the last few years. I am proud that the science fiction field treated him, for the most part, rather well in the years before his death, when he was no longer the handsome, charismatic figure of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and even the ’70s.
Like his early mentor, H.P. Lovecraft (and his other role model, Robert E. Howard), he was an outsider from the first (as theater people often are). Early on, he chose the fantasy fiction field as his home, and proceeded to transform it by creating, first, a new form of sword and sorcery fiction; second, by assisting in creating contemporary urban horror fiction; and third, by writing pivotal science fiction stories in the sf revolution in the early ’50s, deconstructing the superheroes of the 1940s, and paving the way for new styles, hip, alienated, erotic.
There is some real justification for back-dating the lineage of cyberpunk (cyberbeat?) to Fritz’s visions of the future from the early ’50s. All this he published before he wrote the Change War stories, started winning Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy Awards, being named a Grand Master by every organization that gives that title in our assocated genres. He never got paid a lot of money, certainly not ever what he deserved, for Conjure Wife, or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or any of his brilliantly atmospheric stories. His writing had slowed to a thin stream of gems by the time that bestselling fiction was a reality for fantasy and horror and science fiction.
On the other hand, he liked his apartment in a bad neighborhood in San Francisco; he chose to stay there when he could have moved because he was at home in bohemian surroundings, with the down-and-out, the poets, the poor, the alienated. At some periods in his life he drank too much, like many other writers. He writes poignantly about his love of fantasy, San Francisco, of alcohol, of many other things in Our Lady of Darkness, in which Franz Weston, his central character, is a fictionalized self- portrait.
This book was the first occasion upon which we worked together as author and editor and I found it a stimulating and pleasant one, to be at last among his real supporters. The last, now, will be overseeing the publication of a fine Lovecraftian novella that was lost for years and is now slated for publication, “The Doings of Daniel Kesserich”. It’s a mature work from the 1940s, that was rejected apparently for its length when written. “Oh yes,” said Fritz, when I called him about the manuscript I had found. “I had wondered what happened to that one.”
We live in, sometimes work in, read in a field where glimpses of wonder and awe and sometimes fear are prized more highly than craft and execution. Fritz was one of the few who from the earliest stories took the trouble to write well, to do it right. Consequently, he became a model for his peers and for many younger writers, especially in recent decades when fantasy and horror came out again for the first time since the 1930s from under the shadow of the umbrella of hospitality of the science fiction field.
Fritz’s central position in our field as a writer is more obvious in retrospect than it was during most of his career, when in any year there was likely to be some blazing hot sf writer who looked more important and influential, someone without half the craft or imagination, someone who often didn’t last. Fritz lasted, stayed with us. His body of work looks more important today than it did ten or 20 years ago. Now is the age of the passing of the giants of sf, and Fritz Leiber has died. Our memories, and the work, remain.
L SPRAGUE DE CAMP
Years ago — I think it was at the opening of Discon Il, in Washington DC, in 1974 — the Con Committee ran into an expected difficulty at the first meeting, in getting people to sit down and shut up, so that the program could proceed. Anticipating this problem, they arranged diversions. First a fan, clad as a wizard, stood up and cast a spell, with colored flames and smoke. Then Fritz and I, in the front row, rose, pretended to quarrel furiously, and fought a make-believe duel with sabers. (If I remember rightly, the swords were a pair of Argentine naval officers’ sidearms.) We stood far enough apart so that neither was in harm’s way, but the blades flashed and clanged most beautifully. The conventioneers were easily persuaded to stop chattering and sit. (I heard of a trade-association meeting in Scotland that went Discon Il one better. They put a strippeuse on the platform.)
I don’t know when I first met Fritz, save that it was probably in the late 1940s or the ’50s. We took to each other at once, but living across the continent from each other, we seldom saw each other oftener than once a year. We also corresponded fitfully. We both played parts in the revival of heroic fantasy (or sword-and-sorcery fiction), which began in a small way in 1939-40 with Fritz’s story “Two Sought Ad- venture” and Pratt’s and my first Harold Shea story, “The Roaring Trumpet”. When I looked up the dates, I found that Fritz was ahead of me in this revival, since “Two Sought Adventure” (later re-printed as “The Jewels in the Forest”) appeared in Unknown for August 1939, while Pratt’s and my tale did not see print until the May 1940 issue of that magazine. Fritz’s stories were the product of long-time speculations and phantasizing between him and his friend Harry Fischer. “Fafhrd,” Fritz in-forms us, rhymes with “proffered.” The charm and skill of his writing makes it highly readable; in fact I think I shall re-read the entire Gray Mouser series — all seven volumes.
The big revival of fantasy, of this and other familiar types, did not really get into its stride until the 1960s, with the paperback publication of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rins and Howard’s Conan stories. In any case, Fritz should be counted as one of the architects — and not a minor one, either — of the 20th-century revival of fantasy. I only wish I could have seen more of him.
CATHERINE CROOK DE CAMP
In August 1939, I married Sprague de Camp, and by doing I became an unofficial associate of the small band of active writers of American science fiction. It was a small band indeed — certainly no more than about 29, if memory serves — and most of these young professionals were under the tutelage of John W. Campbell, the greatest science fiction editor of all time.
Scattered across the United States — Fritz Leiber, for example, lived in California and the de Camps in a three-room apartment overlooking the Hudson River in unglamorous uptown New York – Campbell managed to meld his emergent sf professionals into a sort of brotherhood. Many corresponded regularly to complain about the paucity of markets for their stories or the rates of a penny or penny-and-a-half per word, or to discuss the mechanics of some story idea.
Fritz with his Gray Mouser stories was somewhat better known than Sprague when we got married on the proceeds of Sprague’s first novel Lest Darkness Fall; but I recall no criticism or jealousy among the writers Campbell drew into his circle. When, a few years later, plane travel became cheap and easy, the de Camps took son Rusty west and south to sf conventions. We spent many a happy evening talking shop with Fritz after the fans’ books had all been signed and the fans had disappeared to enjoy the evening’s fun.
I remember in particular one lovely evening that Sprague and I spent with Fritz in San Francisco at
the famous restaurant called “The Top of the Mark.” The excellence of the food and service was eclipsed only by Fritz’s personal elegance and charm as he talked about the moon and stars. Now as Earth’s moon spins through her monthly seasons, I often look up and smile at her. I always think of Fritz Leiber, the astronomer, who taught me to love that beautiful “orb of heaven” the way he did. And I feel sure that somewhere, somehow he enjoys her beauty still.
MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
My Love Affair With Fritz Leiber. When I first met Fritz Leiber, in 1957, I was a painfully wet-eared little fan from West Texas; naive and having substituted an elderly and domineering first husband (not brutal, but domineering) for a brutal and abusive father, I thought Fritz the very handsomest and nicest man I had ever met. I must say that till the very day of his death I never had any reason to change that view. It should be made clear, if only out of respect for the current Mrs. Leiber, that the title of this article may be unintentionally misleading; although I loved Fritz dearly, and I think he felt much the same way about me, my love for Fritz was never the sort of thing one feels for husbands or lovers. It was compounded of equal parts of admiration and reverence along with the feeling we all developed in the ’40s and ’50s that our only family was the community of fandom.
I have written elsewhere that I began to think of Don Wollheim as my real father — as somebody said in Star Trek, I can’t say he was a father because I don’t know what it would be like to have a father; but if the person who helps you to mature and grow is your father, then he is the only father I ever had. As Don was the father to a whole generation offans, in a similarway I came to think of Fritz as an ideal man — though I am quite sure he wasn’t. But anyone who wants a portrait of Fritz “warts and all” will have to go elsewhere.
I met Fritz, as I have said, at my very first world convention. I had been living in a tiny Texas railroad town of about 600 people, and the local county seat had fewer than a thousand. To call me childish and naive — though it would be descriptive — would be a classic understatement. I was about 27, had waist length blonde hair, wore a petite junior size 11 dress, weighed about 137 pounds and, though I no longer looked like the starved victim of a concentration camp, I was slim and pretty. I have always been a morning person.
Wandering around the convention at about seven-thirty, I came across Fritz in the coffee shop, and had breakfast with him; he was the first pro I had met other than glancingly. I forget what we talked about; I do re- member his telling me he had done some of the fencing, doubling for the actors, in the film The Prisoner of Zenda. I wasn’t surprised; at that time he was handsomer than most movie stars (he remained so — to my eyes — even in old age; the handsome features became rather bony and gaunt, his hands heavy-knuckled; but he remained the handsome, glamorous, kindly man he had been, even at his 80th birthday party — where we had our pictures taken together). Well, a lot of water went under the bridge.
I went on selling fiction, put myself through a local college, ditched my first husband and acquired a second (an even worse mistake) and moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area. There I met all kinds of local fans and even turned up at some meetings of the local MWA. I met such people as Poul Anderson, Fritz, the late Tony Boucher, and Frank Herbert. I remember making a rather bad joke with Karen Anderson about the Fritz Leiber waiting list — by analogy to the then-very-long FAPA waiting list; it seemed suddenly rather tasteless when I heard that the first Mrs. Leiber — whom I never met — had suddenly died.
After that, Fritz went through a protracted period of heavy drinking. I tend to avoid any drinker, but one year when l went to a convention — which, to any ’40s fan, is like a family reunion — suddenly there came Fritz, completely sober, somewhat shaky, not making a big thing of it, just holding a glass of Coke, and refusing a drink.
For a while, I too was drinking a bit too much; and one night when I had drunk enough to scare myself, I called Randall Garrett asking for help, and Randall said “Stay right there; we’ll come and get you.” I thought by “we” he meant himself and Vicki; but it was he and Fritz; they took me out to dinner and gave me so effective a lecture on writing and drinking as a lethal combination, that I stopped cold, right then. I never again drank more than a couple of sociable drinks.
Without that opportune meeting, I might have gone the way of my father… living as an alcoholic and dying at sixty-something of a stroke. During the last few years I saw Fritz only in the company of the poet Margo Skinner; I heard shortly before his death that they had been married. As every new issue of Locus showed the select company of old ’40s and ’50s fans dropping off one by one, every encounter with one of my old and dear friends became precious. Even such old print-oriented fans as Harlan Ellison and Bob Silverberg became — by comparison — cherished companions. Not so much, I suppose, because we were friends as because we were all young together, and they were the only friends of my youth.
And now Fritz is gone. When I last saw him, at a birthday party at Locus this year, our picture was taken together with the “Fritz Leiber issue” of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I’m glad we did that issue while he was still with us. I’m tired of the custom in fandom of honoring writers only after their deaths. I hope that wherever Fritz is he knows how much we all loved him. Some losses are irrevocable; and I shall always mourn for the very handsomest and nicest man I ever met.