Monday, January 18, 2010

[Diversicon] Posthumous Guest of Honor: Fritz Leiber (1910-1992)

At this year's Diversicon we're recognizing the work of fantasy and science fiction master Fritz Leiber, who was deeply influenced and encouraged by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft but gained significant prominence and acclaim for his characters Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, written over the course of fifty years in numerous novels and short stories set in the city of Lankhmar.

Leiber's characters set the groundwork for many of the tropes seen in modern sword and sorcery since, but also distinguished themselves by the way the characters matured over time, something not seen in most stories of this kind during the period Leiber was writing.

Leiber's work influenced figures such as Ramsey Campbell, Joanna Russ, Terry Pratchett and many others. His early essays on the work of H.P. Lovecraft were instrumental in building a serious critical appreciation for Lovecraft's writing.

Writing mostly in short story form, many consider Leiber a forerunner of the modern urban horror story. Leiber's work is distinctive for its early incorporation of action and comedy within genres that, at the time, were often grim and dark, such as Robert E. Howard's hero, Conan the Barbarian.

Leiber was rather fond of cats, who figure prominently in many of his short stories as protagonists. Leiber's 1964 novel The Wanderer involves a cat-like alien, Tigerishka who is attractive to the human protagonist but repelled by human customs, monkeys she considers as overly talkative, noisy and unsuited for space travel, disconnected from the realities of the universe. I'm not suggesting any shades of James Cameron's Avatar, of course but I think it would be interesting to compare the two characters.

Dark Horse Comics released an anthology of Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories adapted by comic book legends Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola and there has been talk of a Fafhrd and Grey Mouser movie. It's somewhat difficult to find Leiber's work that is not set in Lankhmar but it's worth tracking down if you get a chance.

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