Tuesday, November 10, 2015

First Person

Alfred Bester on the styles of Fritz Leiber:

Shadows With Eyes by Fritz Leiber is a collection of six long stories by that warlock of the outre, dating from as far back as 1941 ("The Power Of The Puppets") to as recent as the current year ("The Man Who Made Friends With Electricity" and "A Bit Of The Dark World"). We had the misfortune to dislike Mr. Leiber's novel, The Silver Eggheads, a few months ago, so it gives us great pleasure to endorse this collection and heartily recommend it.

But we've been doing some intensive thinking about Mr. Leiber's work, wondering how it is that some of his stories can inspire us with delight, while others leave us cold and unmoved. All authors are entitled to failures, but when a rapport is established between author and admirer, there should be understanding and communication even through those failures. We think we've discovered the answer.

Mr. Leiber seems to function most powerfully in the first-person story form. When events are related by a protagonist, when characters are seen through his eyes, and when the conflicts are revealed by his reactions, then Mr. Leiber is at his best. But when he works from the omniscient or third-person point of view, he is handicapped. There isn't any opportunity in this form for the marvelous nuances, references, allusions... the network of stream-of-consciousness that is the quintessence of his unique style.

Proof of this is the fact that the two best Leiber stories of the past, classics today, are first-person stories: "The Night He Cried" and "Coming Attraction." And five of the six stories in Shadows With Eyes are also in the first-person form. Mr. Leiber and his many fans will probably disagree with this analysis; but isn't that a function of the critic, to provoke controversy?

-- Alfred Bester, "Books."
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1962.

Shadows With Eyes. Ballantine Books, 1962. Artist uncredited, but is most likely the great Richard Powers.

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