Continuing with the Fritz Leiber theme, here’s another retro review of another book with Change War connections …
From September 10, 2010 …
Review: The Mind Spider and Other Stories, Fritz Leiber, 1961.
I’ve reviewed The Big Time elsewhere, so I’ll concentrate on the other side of this Ace Double. It’s a collection of stories from 1958-1960, half of them set in the same Change War universe as The Big Time though they are all independent and don’t share characters.
The three stories not in the Change War range from social satire to horror.
“The Haunted Future” (aka “Tranquility, Or Else!”) expresses a characteristic Leiber fear that a conformist order based on a psychological norm will not only reduce man but also do nothing for mental illness. In this future, the Board of Public Sanity makes sure people are conditioned to properly use their freedoms. But it is also hushing up an increase in mental illness. The government also wants to crack down on Individuality Unlimited which has some radical ideas about people breaking the straitjackets of appointed roles and the conformity of modern life – through getting in touch with their inner Mr. Hyde and the tragedies of life. Not really all that interesting on its own merits, but it is another example of the faith of 1950s’ science fiction that psychology would become a truly scientific – if perhaps tyrannical — discipline.
“The Number of the Beast” seems to be one of those Galaxy magazine stories that tried to combine the detective story with science fiction. This one, an investigation of a murdered alien diplomat, does that effectively, but it is nothing beyond a minor puzzle story.
“The Mind Spider” is the best of the non-Change War stories and shows, unlike a lot of his work, the influence of H. P. Lovecraft – a mentor of Leiber towards the end of the former’s life. Specifically, I was reminded of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and John W. Campbell’s Antarctic story “Who Goes There?” A family of telepaths – they only use their power as a very intimate form of family communication – comes in contact with a baleful alien entity. The prose is not Lovecraftian at all, but some of the themes are.
The remaining three stories illuminate aspects of the Change War.
“Damnation Morning” shows how the Spiders and Snakes get their recruits. An alcoholic who has checked himself into a hotel room – and who can’t shake the feeling he’s killed someone – narrates the story.
“The Oldest Solider” is somewhat autobiographical. Like its narrator, Leiber was always philosophically inclined towards pacifism but rejected it in certain circumstances. The narrator develops, later in life, an interest in military history and veterans. Hanging out at a neighborhood bar populated by vets – and not passing himself off as anything but a lifelong civilian, he befriends a vet who tells some very strange – but detailed and consistent — war stories.
“Try and Change the Past” vividly demonstrates the philosophical foundation for the Change War – the Law of the Conservation of Reality. The universe goes to some very strange lengths to insure a new recruit doesn’t evade his death from a gunshot.
This double bundles together many of the Change War stories, and “The Mind Spider” is a nice addition to those more significant works.