First published as You’re All Alone (in Fantastic Adventures Magazine) in 1950. It was released as a longer novel three years later and it included some ‘sex scenes’, suggestive chapter titles and was twinned with Blood, Bulls and Passion (know what I mean nudge,nudge), presumably to promote better sales. All this was inserted by the publishing company (without Leibers knowledge). The magazine version was released in as You’re All Alone in 1972. The longer novel length version (The Sinful Ones) was later re-released with the ‘sex scenes’ completely rewritten by Leiber (after he bought the copyright back from Universal.)
Review at Ligotti
Review at Net Massimo
Review at Silver Links
Review – David Pringle
Like Leiber’s Conjure Wife, The Sinful Ones first appeared in shorter magazine form. In this case, it may be that some readers are more familiar with the story under its original (and much more appropriate) title of “You’re All Alone” (Fantastic Adventures magazine, 1950). After Leiber expanded the novella for its 1953 paperback appearance, his publishers changed the title to The Sinful Ones and inserted a number of “soft-porn” sex scenes – however, in a more recent edition (1980) those scenes have been rewritten to Leiber’s latter-day taste. All this is unfortunate, but does not detract from the fact that The Sinful Ones (or “You’re All Alone”) is one of the most original of modern horror fantasies.
The hero, Carr Mackay, has an unrewarding job in a Chicago employment agency. He also has a go-getting ladyfriend who continually exhorts him to better himself. Despite her blandishments, Carr is reluctant to join what seems to him to be a meaningless rat-race. One day, when he is feeling oddly alienated from his surroundings, a very frightened girl enters his office. She seems to be in flight from a large, menacing blonde woman whom Carr notices in the background. The girl fails to explain her own behaviour, but looks at Carr in fear and puzzlement, saying: “Don’t you really know what you are? Haven’t you found out yet?… Maybe my bursting in here was what did it. Maybe I was the one who awakened you?” After she has scribbled him a note and left, Carr begins to learn what it means to be “awake”. Still beweldered by the girl’s sudden intrusion, he neglects his next client until he hears the man say, “Thanks, I guess I will” and watches him pluck a non-existent cigarette out of the air and go through the motions of apparently lighting and smoking it. The client proceeds to hold a one-sided conversation, answering questions Carr has not uttered. It is as though the man is part of a huge clockwork mechanism, driven to do and say certain predictable things.
Carr soon discovers that almost everyone around him is behaving in this mechanical fashion. They are seemingly oblivious to him, ignoring his remarks, stepping around him, carrying on in a normal routine of existence which now seems risible in its predictability and lifelessness. It is as though Carr has sudenly fallen out of the clockwork machinery of urban life and gained a whole new existential freedom. He can move around the bustling city completely unseen, to all intents and purposes an invisible man. He can go anywhere at will and help himself to anything that he wants. But he will also suffer a terrible loneliness, unless he can make contact with other free spirits who are similarly “awake”. The frightened girl, Jane, is one such, and luckily she has scribbled details of a rendezvous point on the piece of paper which she hurriedly passed to him. But why was she so terrified? And who was the menacing blonde lady? Are there hoodlums among Chicago’s tiny population of “invisible” persons – criminals who will make Carr’s new life (and Jane’s) a misery?
The Sinful Ones is an enjoyable thriller built on a simple but ingenious premise. Written at much the same time as David Riesman’s best-selling sociological book The Lonely Crowd, but many years before the coinage of the phrases “dropping out” and “the counter-culture”, it dramatises a modern sense of urban alienation very effectively. It’s a pity about those unnecessary sex scenes, though.