I first discovered the books of Fritz Leiber through Dungeons and Dragons, because at one stage D&D evolved to include the mythos of many of its players’ favourite fictions, including Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and HP Lovecraft’s Cthulu, both of which could be played if you had the correct edition of Deities and Demigods.

Fritz Leiber’s contributions were more serious than either of these guys’ works were, and better written, almost literary in fact, and told of the city of Lankmhar, home to two of Leiber’s greatest creations, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

In the stand alone romp A Spectre is Haunting Texas, hormone treatment has turned all Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into dwarves.

And yes, the surgically enhanced horses come with steel skeletons also, so everything is very violent and yee-haw, as only Texas can be. In certain types of sci-fi, the writer’s real quest is madness — how crazy they can be — what you can get away with — with the wildest names, places and human disasters, and in 1968 when this was published, Fritz Leiber was king of the kooks.

The hero of this far out and amazing novel is an extrovert actor called Scully, or Captain Skull, an adventurer from the orbital technocratic democracies of Circumluna and the Bubbles Congeries. He lands in what he believes to be Canada to reclaim family mining interests only to discover that Canada is now North Texas and what is left of civilization in North America is ruled by primitive, backslapping, bigger than life anti-intellectual good ole boys convinced of their own moral superiority.

Satire as sharp as a sponge, yes, but sometimes it’s a dish best served blunt. These Texan guys described here by Fritz Leiber are the survivors of World War 3 who braved out the apocalypse by living in a huge bunker known as the Houston Carlsbad Caverns-Denver-Kansas City-Little Rock Pentagram. Sounds like real life then, and yep it is. It’s the sands on which satire washes ashore, wave after wave of it, and it is very silly, riotous and neologous. I never pass by a Fritz Leiber book in a second hand store without at least checking it out, and he is at his best, not with his swords and sorcery, but here, in hard as rock pastiche, something that SF does very well indeed. There is, it should be admitted, a general American and more specifically Texan tendency towards and love of gigantism – and here it is laughed and ridiculed to the very hilt.

The only reason we have got this book in the first place is thanks to the explosion of very small publishing houses in the USA in the 1960s, and as you might imagine, this backdrop allowed for some very serious experimentation. Mind, that experimentation doesn’t mean that something is going to be unreadable – just that it won’t always be for the mainstream.

And small publishing always works, because this book is so fine, that it would easily pass as mainstream today. El Toro is a wicked caricature in himself, and of course, America trundles on in the ravaged future, with its hilarious steroid fuelled bullfights and fist pumping, pro-military madness.  It was all here in 1968 and it's still here now.

 

Consider the age in which we live. It wants magicians…. A scientist tells people the truth. When times are good—that is, when the truth offers no threat—people don't mind.… A magician, on the other hand, tells people what they wish were true—that perpetual motion works, that cancer can be cured by colored lights, that a psychosis is no worse than a head cold, that they'll live forever. In good times magicians are laughed at. They're a luxury of the spoiled wealthy few. But in bad times people sell their souls for magic cures and buy perpetual-motion machines to power their war rockets.

 

Fritz Leiber Poor Superman (1951)