Another retro-review of Fritz Leiber.
This one is from September 6, 2010.
Note: This review is less than five years old, but “PDA” already sounds like an archaic bit of technology.
This is a collection of the titular short novel (aka The Sinful Ones) and two novelettes.
“You’re All Alone” is an effective solipsistic fantasy, one of those stories which plays off that common feeling most of us have at one time or another – that we’re trapped in some foreordained world of pre-plotted movements. Our hero, Carr Mackay, is one of those parts of the “big engine” who comes awake after viewing a girl. Said girl acts a little oddly when he meets her in his job working at a Chicago employment agency. Eventually, our hero finds himself wandering around a Chicago of puppets with the girl. She delivers him a list of things he needs to do to avoid attention from a gang of men and a woman of which she knows. They are most decidedly not puppets. This being a 1950 story, the sadistic pleasure they take with the puppets is usually muted but scary nonetheless.
To be sure, even when you’re reading it, some logical questions occur to you, but Leiber pushes the story along to its exciting and mostly satisfying conclusion.
“Four Ghosts in Hamlet” is the star of this collection. It’s a classic ghost story that uses Leiber’s experience and knowledge of the theater, Shakespeare, and being an alcoholic. (Not only was his father a famous Shakespearean actor, but Leiber himself pursued an acting career when younger.). He gives us not only bits of theater lore but, with his characters, a thoroughly believable cast of characters for his traveling Shakespearean company and the odd circumstances that lead to, as the title indicates, a strange performance of Hamlet.
“The Creature From Cleveland Depths” from 1962 hasn’t aged well though it reminds us that Leiber was capable of plausible scientific and technological extrapolation – albeit in a somewhat satirical vein. (After all, he was once an editor of Science Digest.) Here a future writer of science fiction-like novels is tapped by a corporation to come up with ideas for inventions. He comes up with sort of a PDA like device that morphs into a 20+ pound devices that rests on the shoulders (causing ulcers) with preprogrammed subliminal messages set by medical and political authorities, regulates physiological processes via drugs, and remembers things the wearer can’t but still needs to know for their job. His off the cuff idea threatens subjugation of humanity – or, at least, the American portion, by an artificial intelligence.