As the son of two Shakespearean actors, Fritz Leiber knew the power of storytelling from a very early age. Though he is perhaps best remembered as a pioneer of science fiction and fantasy novels, Leiber was also a master of suspense and horror—exploring his varied interests in his genre-busting short fiction. It’s no surprise that many of Leiber’s novels and stories went on to be adapted for both the big and small screen. Here are seven of Leiber’s most cherished works that span the many genres of his long and storied career.
Like many science fiction and horror writers of the era, Fritz Leiber’s early work took the form of short stories that ran in magazines like Unknown, Thrilling Mystery, Startling Stories, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Sadly, all these publications are now defunct, and for many years it was difficult to track down the short fiction that made Leiber’s well known. Now classic stories like “Cry Witch!” and “I’m Looking for Jeff,” amongst many others, are finally available to a whole new audience in this collection.
Our Lady of Darkness
Written after the death of his wife, Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness tells of a horror writer in the midst of something he can’t explain. Franz Westen dabbles in astronomy, and looking out one night at the stars sees a figure waving at him from a hilltop miles away. Intrigued, he travels to said hilltop and looks back at his home, only to find the same figure waving at him from his very apartment. Though Leiber is known mostly as a fantasy writer, he also wrote excellent horror and mystery novels like this one, which won the World Fantasy Award.
Another essential collection for any Leiber fan, this anthology contains horror short fiction ranging from some of his most highly regarded work to overlooked, only recently rediscovered tales. As one fan put it on Goodreads, “I was surprised at how often these short stories freaked me out, THAT is hard to do at this point,” especially given that most of these stories were written in the 1950s.
The only problem with being a scientist who studies magic and superstition arises when your wife takes an interest in dark magic and uses it to further your career! Norman Saylor puts a stop to his wife’s conjuring, but as soon as he does his whole life seems to fall apart. Could it be that Norman is under the influence of someone else’s spell? This classic novel is one of Leiber’s finest, and has been adapted for the screen not one, not two, but three times: Weird Woman (1944), Burn, Witch, Burn! (1962), and Witches’ Brew (1980).
The Big Time
Leiber’s enormous contribution to the science fiction genre is on full display in this novel, which highlights his Change War—a series about two rival time-traveling gangs who hope to gain control of the universe. In The Big Time, these warring factions have really gotten themselves into a pickle, with an active atomic bomb outside of the space-time continuum. Published in 1958, the lessons of The Big Time are unfortunately more relevant than ever today.
When a wandering planet, well, wanders into Earth’s atmosphere, all hell breaks loose. There’s a lunar eclipse, and people start panicking that this could very well indeed be the end of the world. But one man discovers the truth (and the inhabitants) of the wandering planet, and wonders what they could teach us earthlings.
Swords and Deviltry
Swords and Deviltry is the first book in the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a “sword and sorcery” fantasy genre that Leiber invented. Prince Fafhrd and apprentice magician Gray Mouser team up to fight a major threat to their kingdom, and Mouser must use his knowledge of black magic, which is strictly forbidden. Swords and Deviltry is the first in seven novels that chronicle Fafhrd and Gray Mouser’s galactic friendship.
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Featured photo of Fritz Leiber: Alchetron