You're All Alone Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

In a career spanning a half century, Leiber proved himself to be a master of “sword and sorcery” (a term he coined), especially with his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories set in the world of Nehwon. He also wrote a wide range of science fiction, from his Change War series, in which factions fight battles across alternate worlds, to highly original and varied futuristic situations. His urban fantasy includes You’re All Alone, the twice-filmed Conjure Wife (as Weird Woman, 1944, and Burn, Witch, Burn, 1961, also called Night of the Eagle), Our Lady of Darkness (1977), “Smoke Ghost” (1941), and other works.

You’re All Alone is set in Leiber’s native Chicago, Illinois, where he grew up as the son of two Shakespearean actors. It began with his idea about people who lived secretly in the stacks of the city’s public library, which he linked with the question of whether people were alive or merely manifestations of behaviorism behind their faces. As with some of his other works, he pushed the envelope of sexual mores in this story, at one point having Jane perform a strip tease for Carr in the midst of a crowded nightclub. Because she is outside the pattern, only he sees her. It is instructive to examine the limits to which he could go in the original 1950 version and compare the sex scenes re-edited for the 1980 book.

Although Leiber’s setting is highly original and unduplicated in other books, its paranoia is reflected in stories dating back to Edmond Hamilton’s “The Earth Owners” (1931), in which humans are unknowingly manipulated by disguised aliens. Eric Frank Russell’s Dreadful Sanctuary (1951) is the next major work in this lineage, although Leiber’s novel might have held that title if Unknown had stayed in business a little longer or he could have found another fantasy outlet in 1943. The same theme, although again with different settings, occurs in L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear (1957), Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951) and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” (1959), Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1955), and Dean R. Koontz’s The Bad Place (1990), which reflects Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” Leiber’s many honors include six Hugo Awards, four Nebulas, and being named a Grand Master of Fantasy in 1975 and Nebula Grand Master in 1981.