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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!

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

More details on forthcoming Fritz Leiber Centipede Press collection.

The always wonderful Centipede Press have their new Fritz Leiber collection  (Fritz Leiber:Masters of the Weird Tale in 2 volumes,) due for release in march 2016.  It has artwork by Tom Kidd, Allen Koszowski, Travis Lewis, and Rodger Gerberding, plus a new introduction by John Pelan.

The contents look very good, with a mixture of well known and rarer stories and I really am very excited to see the artwork, Rodger Gerberding contributed to Gummitch & Friends,  Allen Koszowski on the Midnight House collections, the featured image is from Travis Lewis, and is for Cry Witch, Tom Kidd (I believe) is doing the wraparound cover (see here)

The Dreams of Albert Moreland
Smoke Ghost
Mr Adams’ Garden of Evil
The Black Gondolier
The Power of the Puppets
Skinny’s Wonderful
Alice and the Allergy
Midnight by the Morphy Watch
Spider Mansion
The Terror from the Depths
Replacement for Wilmer: A Ghost Story
You’re All Alone
The Hill and the Hole
Cry Witch!
Lie Still, Snow White
The Casket-Demon
The Man Who NeverGrew Young
The Enormous Bedroom
The Dead Man
The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity
Black Has Its Charms
The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich
In the X-Ray
Little Old Miss Macbeth
The Button Molder
Dark Wings
The Girl with the Hungry Eyes
Horrible Imaginings
The Hound
The Glove
Diary in the Snow
The Ghost Light
The Automatic Pistol
I’m Looking for Jeff
Belsen Express
A Bit of the Dark World
Richmond, Late September, 1849
Four Ghosts in Hamlet
The Phantom Slayer
Midnight in the Mirror World
Gonna Roll the Bones

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 version better suited the story (but 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, in the same way Fritz bought the horror into the city, Ramsey brings it further, into the heart of your home and daily life.

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.


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.

Savage Tales of the Thieves’ Guild is a thematically linked series of adventures that can be run individually or knitted into a Plot Point Campaign of their own, all churning around Cheap Street’s activities.

And watch for accessories like premium metal miniatures and the Lankhmar Game Master’s Screen, too. 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

Review: Adept’s Gambit – Miskatonic Books

ADEPT'S GAMBIT: The Original Version

A book containing anything new by Fritz is always welcome. After the wealth of material in the Midnight House collections and Strange Wonders, it had all gone a little quiet, til Miskatonic Books announced their release of Fritz’s original (circa ’36) version of Adept’s Gambit, complete with HP Lovecraft’s thoughts and annotations.

Adept’s Gambit always seemed an untypical Fafhrd & Mouser story.  The tone seemed akin to The Bleak Shore and The Howlng Tower, yet it was full of commentary and farce the we would see again in Lean Times in Lankhmar or Swords of Lankhmar.  There is also the strange sexuality running through the book (which Leiber himself had noted and is referenced in this new book)which gave it a more spicy feeling than many of the other stories.

Most obviously of course, it is set outside of Nehwon, on  Earth… so what about this new release?

The book itself handsomely presented, very well bound, it is smaller than a typical hardback, but this means it can be a little thicker. I felt this was good compromise.

One of the pleasures of a book like this is that we are presented with a different version of something we already know, giving us the chance to revisit and rediscover something all over again.

All over again? Surely not. Well I disagree. The differences in text, the subtleties of the shifts in language, the tempo, make it feel different. The Pale Brown Thing is a different story to Our Lady of Darkness, yet they follow a similar path., but they feel different.

I am not going to attempt a line by line comparison of the two texts, but having read the original in anticipation if this release, I can pass on my thoughts having now read the two.The spine of the plot remains in both versions, but roll along at a different pace. The section in Tyre for example has less of a light touch, with less banter between the twain.

Ningauble’s cave seemed similar but the the adventures retrieving the assorted objects was less openly humorous.  I guess it is fair to say it is a darker text over all.  The set pieces one remembers, the fight with Anra, the climax in the castle are all the there, but the differences are numerous (as are virtually all the names, so for ease I will use the original names).

The strange sexuality always present in Anra / Ahura is less direct i felt, certainly Mouser’s journey to Ahriman does not contain the startling scene when mouser unrobes Ahura.  I guess one didn’t so palpably get the feeling of androgyny.

The confrontation with Anra is a grimmer affair, Anra more obviously full of spite of ‘lepers scabs’, the toad god (Tsathoggua ? after all Cthulhu is mentioned) at the end was a real surprise.  It is a more direct battle, Ahura plays not part in distracting her brother.  The scene seemed more brutal, less seedy and unwholesome than the later version.  Ahura’s recollections however seemed worse, far more troubling with the orgies and sex no longer allusions.
I could go on, but clearly the differences in this text make it a fascinating read, a great story, retold so to speak in (in my opinion) a slightly darker manner.

Following the story is Lovecraft’s letter to Fritz.  A fair proportion is historical corrections by Lovecraft, in a most patient and considerate way.  What I found more interesting was how much Lovecraft clearly liked the story,  recognised it’s strengths, and also saw this was not a story he could have written.  He seemed very happy to offer encouragement and support to the young Fritz, and one presumes Fritz lapped it up.

I heartily recommend this book to any Fritz Leiber fan,  it made me rediscover and re engage with a great story once again, and gave an insight into the value Fritz gained from his correspondence with Lovecraft

Now… what next?

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