day, and every evening on the way home he studies a certain area of rooftops, "... a dingy, melancholy little world of tar-paper, tarred gravel,
and smoky brick." One evening Wran notices a black, lumpy sack on a rooftop three buildings away. The next day it is one roof closer, and he begins
to worry. On the third day, to his relief, the sack has disappeared. When
he starts seeing sooty faces at his windows, he decides to see a psychiatrist.
Pschoanalysis was fairly new to the public in 19^1 • and. it is to Leiber's
credit he uses it merely as a story-telling device and not as an answer
to Wran's problems.
The visit to the psychiatrist's office lets us know a bit about
Wran's background; here we learn about his childhood, and we learn he
was a sensory prodigy who lost his powers at the age of eight during an
experiment that discredited two young researchers. Wran stops his visits
to the psychiatrist when the doctor himself sees "a negro voyeur" at the
Leaving the doctor's office Wran is drawn downtown through the
alien-seeming city streets to his office building, where he rides the
elevator up to his floor. Sitting in his darkened office, the phone rings;
his wife and child have been frightened by a bl&ck prowler. Wran tries to
leave by the elevator but sees a black shape looking up at him from the floors
below. Horrified, he runs back to his office and locks the door.
Wran hears it coming up the elevator; then the light through the
frosted glass door is blotted out. The door opens and his secretary enters.
Wran realizes her "suitably vacuous" mind has indeed been taken over by the
city ghost. He panics and runs for the roof— the appropriate place forthe
encounter. On the roof, against a background of monolithic city structures,
he has nowhere to go, and his transformed secretary backs him to the roof's
edge. "Sacrifice? Worship? Or just fear?" Wran grovels at the edge of the
abyss. "I will obey you. You are my god. You have supreme power over man
and his animals and his machines. You rule this city and all others." Man
has given in to his own creations.
Some other stories of city fear aire "The Hound," in which a sensitive protagonist, much like Wran, is nearly destroyed by a city-spawned
werewolf; "The Automatic Pistol," in which a gun acts as a witch's familiar;
and "The Inheritance," which explores the will to murder that we all sup-
posedly have deep inside us. "The Hound" is worth reading not only for the
sake of the story, but also for one of the characters' monologues, which
put Leiber's thoughts on the possible supernatural inhabitants of cities
into a two page nutshell. While "The Automatic Pistol" is a lighter story
than "The Hound," it delves rather deeply into the peculiar mystique surrounding
guns. America didn't originate the gun, but we have done more toward popularizing
them than almost anyone else, almost to the point of giving them life.
"The Inheritance" is a weird tale about a young man who inherits two month's
rent on an apartment where his recently deceased uncle lived. This story
reminded me somewhat of H.H. Ewers "The Spider." It has the same feel about
it; it sucks you into its dreary world.
All of these stories were written in the forties, a period when American
popular culture spread in leaps and bigger bounds than ever before. The science
fiction field was much wider than the fantasy and weird fiction fields, and
Leiber produced excellent science fiction for those markets. I feel, though,
his horror fiction is ultimately more important, because it doesn't extrapolate
some possible future, but deals with the way our culture is affecting us now.
Take, for instance, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes," a story which
appeared in 19^9- A not-too-successful photographer takes some pictures of