Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: The Big Sleep, Hard Magic, Discovering Fritz Leiber, and Explaining the Obscurity

First off… if you haven’t seen “The Big Sleep”, then go watch it. Not only is it great to see the sort of thing I like best about A. Merritt’s and Leigh Brackett’s writing translated into positively engrossing cinema, but it also explains something of the tempo and structure of the plot to Larry Correia’s Hard Magic. No, it’s not just a joke when Raymond Chandler turns up in that story…. But I get it now.

Warning: it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test!

When I did my piece on Leiber a couple weeks back, I kind of went out on a limb with some pretty strong statements. I mean they were fair, but to be making them after having read just a single novella was pushing it.

Given that, I am particularly glad to see Cirsova confirm some of what I was saying:

“Fritz Leiber is one of those writers who once you’ve read him you have to ask yourself ‘Why they hell haven’t I read this earlier?’ So, if you haven’t already read some Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, go out and read it now!”

Meanwhile, Neal Durando is somewhat taken aback by this sudden intrusion into his lawn:

It blows my mind that so many new authors seemingly have such a shallow grasp on the idiom. It’s funny to see you discover books that I remember so well. Not to blow my own horn, but a SFF fan discovering Leiber is like, say, an English undergrad discovering Swift or Johnson.

Yeah, it’s embarrassing.

Even as a high school student, my tastes tilted towards classic. John Varley and Vernor Vinge would be among the only authors to even register as being “real” science fiction at the time. And if Fritz Leiber is not at the library and not for sale at Walden Books and nobody is talking about him in what few game related magazines that are left… then how does one encounter him in a pre-internet world? Had I been even five years older, it would have been a totally different thing.

I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch about how this could happen, and this is what she had to say:

Two things happened. In the mid-eighties chain bookstores were small and couldn’t carry backlist or older titles. The chains edged out the independents in some neighborhoods. (Think Waldenbooks) Then the superstores came in and looked for backlist, but most of the older titles had reverted or been forgotten. But with the distribution collapse in the mid-late nineties, more backlist went OP and publishers started looking for blockbusters only. [sigh] Libraries culled their collections of older material and–voila!–obscurity.

It still breaks my heart.

So it’s not my fault, y’all. It’s not my fault!

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7 responses to “Random Thoughts: The Big Sleep, Hard Magic, Discovering Fritz Leiber, and Explaining the Obscurity

  1. Cirsova May 28, 2015 at 8:49 am

    It’s like when a punk kid finds out about the Fugs!

  2. Cambias May 29, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Don’t feel too bad. I didn’t really discover Leiber until I was in college in the late 1980s, when fortunately there were a lot of used bookshops near campus so I could hunt down old short story collections.

    Oh, and if you haven’t read “The Big Time” you need to do it right now.

  3. Cambias May 29, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Oh, and Dorothy Malone’s brief scene in _The Big Sleep_ is probably the sexiest moment in cinema, ever.

  4. Ken Josenhans June 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    On Lieber, and the loss of classic SF from older decades: a lot of what happened, is that time happened. If we pick 1975 as a central year for me in terms of the formative experiences of high school/college/science fiction/fandom: in 1975 there was 50 years of science fiction available. A managable amount. (I had a housemate who collected ALL the SF magazines. All the prozines ever published.) Those 50 years of literature would fit into the living memory of the members of First Fandom, and there were still lots of them around and one could meet them at conventions.

    But now science fiction history runs 90 years. And, due to the explosion in the volume of works published, there’s probably been (guess) 3-4 times as much SF & fantasy published in 1975-2015 than there was in 1926-1975.

    Time keeps marching on. Besides Sherlock Holmes and Gilbert & Sullivan, how much popular culture from the late 1800s still holds any attention today? (I’m sure there are a few items — very, very few.)

    None of this is to say that efforts to preserve & curate past works is futile — in fact, if no one does the curation, then the works will effectively vanish through neglect, at best squirreled away in libraries which no one consults.

    I echo Cambias’ comment about used book stores, they were very important to me.

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