Michael Bishop

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472

[Many of the pieces in The Worlds of Fritz Leiber] are either overwritten or unimaginatively resolved, if not both together…. [To] Leiber's credit is the fact that none of these stories pretends to be anything more than an entertainment—even though he manages to touch on such weighty subjects as political witch-hunting, cold-war politics, the Bomb, father-and-son relationships, bungling bureaucracy, growing old, cats, and (obsessively but chastely, as if afraid to confront a healthy lust in anything but the most decorous or tangential terms) nubile and pre-nubile young women. Fine. The problem is that too many of these entertainments are so trivial as to be irritating or so facile in their resolutions as to border on cliches. Many would benefit from cutting. (pp. 29-30)

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["Catch That Zeppelin!" is fascinating] and believable historical speculation, and Leiber's erudition shows to good advantage.

Structurally and stylistically, however, the story is a failure. Leiber resorts to the expedient of making one of his characters a "social historian" who lectures his father, the narrator, about all his most recent findings. And, at the story's end, when the narrator is finally cornered by an enigmatic Jew who has been following him, two puzzling but disgracefully convenient shifts of the temporal continuum return him safely to the present. That, friends—unless your name is Euripedes, and maybe even then—is known as a cop-out….

But the collection's greatest disappointments, because they initially promise so much, are two fairly recent stories. ["Waif" and "Night Passage"]…. Each declines so rapidly into cliche that one is amazed to find them under Leiber's byline. And the latter is the worse offender. Set in a Las Vegas casino, "Night Passage" seems at first to promise the phantasmagoric fireworks of the author's award-winning "Gonna Roll The Bones." Instead, it explains away its briefly intriguing "mystery lady" and its sinister casino operators with their diamond-pupiled eyes as aliens engaged in a deadly game right under our unsuspecting noses. (p. 30)

As a partial antidote to the foregoing crankiness, I'd like to end this overview of The Worlds of Fritz Leiber on a note of unqualified praise. In the apparently little-known "Endfray of the Ofay,"… Leiber altogether successfully combines plot, character, speculation, and style, serving up an entertainment that so wackily glosses contemporary world affairs that one's laughter has a nervous edge…. Here Leiber's wit, humor, and stylistic gymnastics are perfectly in tune with his subject matter …; and the Endfray of the title, while being distinctly himself, reminds me of Harlan Ellison's non-conformist protagonist in "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." This is the one story in The Worlds of Fritz Leiber that I believe I could read again with unfeigned eagerness. (pp. 30-1)

Michael Bishop, "Paperbacks: 'The Worlds of Fritz Leiber'," in Delap's Fantasy & Science Fiction Review (copyright © 1977 by Richard Delap), Vol. 3, No. 4, April, 1977, pp. 29-31.

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