The central character of "Dark World" is Franz Kinzman, research
psychologist and weird fiction writer. The sort of man who lives on the
edge figuratively and literally. He has invited a couple of friends who share
an interest in the outre' to his retreat in the Southern California hills,
Rim House, perched precariously on the side of a mountain. These people
are products: of the city, and in the city, the "hive," with "the clack
of the mass media" so loud "that it's practically impossible to think or
sense or feel anything deeply, anything that's beyond humanity." Their
questing thoughts probably cause them no more than an occasional frisson;
here in the lonely, spooky California mountains is the perfect place for
an encounter with supernatural horror. Kinzman goes on to say, "It's
hard to get out of the city, even in the wilderness."
What actually occurs in this story is so weird it's hard to describe without a detailed synopsis, and it would be a shame to spoil the
story for those who haven't read it. For those of us who are seekers of
the unknown, it works as both an enticement and a warning.
Another story that's as California as Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown
is "The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity." A New Englander named Leverett
rents a house in Southern California mainly because of the high tension
pole outside the bedroom window, and the assurance of Mr Scott, the real
estate agent, that there are no Communists living nearby. A few days later,
Mr Scott visits his new tenant and finds him sitting under the buzzing pole.
Leverett claims to hear voices in the electric hum; in fact electricity
tells him things about where it goes. Mr Scott can live with this; after
all, there are weirder things in Southern Cal, and Leverett seems relatively
A few months go by and Leverett seems happy as a clam, but then
something goes wrong. He finds out electricity, which he thought was "American and true," was actually on equal terms with the commies. And electricity
is determined to stop any big war, even if the Americans are right. Leverett can't live with this, and threatens electricity, and tells it to
"behave decent." A freak thunderstorm hits the area that night, with huge
arcs of lightning flashing across the countryside. The next morning Leverett
is found d.ead, with strands of electrical wiring wrapped around his pa jama
leg. A,true technological fairy tale.
In a much darker vein is "The Black Gondolier," the only story about
oil paranoia I know of. "The Black Gondolier" takes place in Venice, California, a perfect town for ghost stories, being a sort of ghost town itself.
This story is unusual for the time it was written (196^), showing an early
awareness and anticipation of the power struggle over oil we are going through
now. Also of interest is the delineation of the character of Daloway, the
haunted outcast; and its obvious Lovecraft influence, down to the ending, with
the last sentence in italics.
Other California stories are "The Casket Demon," in which a Hollywood starlet's ancestral curse reduces her to nothingness, and "Schizo Jimmie,"
the basic premise of which is that modern witches are people who carry insanity; like Typhoid Mary, they are immune but can infect others.
Also using Southern California as a setting is Leiber's recent
novel, Our Lady of Darkness, a remarkable book that uses San Francisco at
the turn of the century as well as the modern city. It is impossible to do
justice to all the facets of this novel in so little space, so we'll have
to settle for a few general comments.
The story concerns another wierd fiction writer, Franz Weston, and