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In this superb novel, originally published in 1977, Fritz Leiber explores the concept of "paramentals". Leiber makes his definitive statement on alienation within the urban environment and the capacity of concrete, steel, and glass to suck up miseries and spew forth monsters.
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Fritz Leiber is considered one of science fiction's legends. Author of a prodigious number of stories and novels, many of which were made into films, he is best known as creator of the classic Lankhmar fantasy series. Fritz Leiber has won awards too numerous to count including the coveted Hugo and Nebula, and was honored as a lifetime Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. He died in 1992Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The solitary, steep hill called Corona Heights was black as pitch and very silent, like the heart of the unknown. It looked steadily downward and northeast away at the nervous, bright lights of downtown San Francisco as if it were a great predatory beast of night surveying its territory in patient search of prey.
The waxing gibbous moon had set, and the stars at the top of the black heavens were still diamond sharp. To the west lay a low bank of fog. But to the east, beyond the city's business center and the fog-surfaced Bay, the narrow ghostly ribbon of the dawn's earliest light lay along the tops of the low hills behind Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda, and still more distant Devil's Mountain--Mount Diablo.
On every side of Corona Heights the street and house lights of San Francisco, weakest at end of night, hemmed it in apprehensively, as if it were indeed a dangerous animal. But on the hill itself there was not a single light. An observer below would have found it almost impossible to make out its jagged spine and the weird crags crowning its top (which even the gulls avoided); and breaking out here and there from its raw, barren sides, which although sometimes touched by fog, had not known the pelting of rain for months.
Someday the hill might be bulldozed down, when greed had grown even greater than it is today and awe of primeval nature even less, but now it could still awaken panic terror.
Too savage and cantankerous for a park, it was inadequately designated as a playground. True, there were some tennis courts and limited fields of grass and low buildings and little stands of thick pine around its base; but above those it rose rough, naked, and contemptuously aloof.
And now something seemed to stir in the massed darkness there. (Hard to tell what.) Perhaps one or more of the city's wild dogs, homeless for generations, yet able to pass as tame. (In a big city, if you see a dog going about his business, menacing no one, fawning on no one, fussing at no one--in fact, behaving like a good citizen with work to do and no time for nonsense--and if that dog lacks tag or collar, then you may be sure he hasn't a neglectful owner, but is wild--and well adjusted.) Perhaps some wilder and more secret animal that had never submitted to man's rule, yet lived almost unglimpsed amongst him. Perhaps, conceivably, a man (or woman) so sunk in savagery or psychosis that he (or she) didn't need light. Or perhaps only the wind.
And now the eastern ribbon grew dark red, the whole sky lightened from the east toward the west, the stars were fading, and Corona Heights began to show its raw, dry, pale brown surface.
Yet the impression lingered that the hill had grown restless, having at last decided on its victim.
Two hours later, Franz Westen looked out of his open casement window at the 1,000-foot TV tower rising bright red and white in the morning sunlight out of the snowy fog that still masked Sutro Crest and Twin Peaks three miles away and against which Corona Heights stood out, humped and pale brown. The TV tower--San Francisco's Eiffel, you could call it--was broad-shouldered, slender-waisted, and long-legged like a beautiful and stylish woman--or demigoddess. It mediated between Franz and the universe these days, just as man is supposed to mediate between the atoms and the stars. Looking at it, admiring, almost reverencing it, was his regular morning greeting to the universe, his affirmation that they were in touch, before making coffee and settling back into bed with clipboard and pad for the day's work of writing supernatural horror stories and especially (his bread and butter) novelizing the TV program "Weird Underground," so that the mob of viewers could also read, if they wanted to, something like the mélange of witchcraft, Watergate, and puppy love they watched on the tube. A year or so ago he would have been focusing inward on his miseries at this hour and worrying about the day's first drink--whether he still had it or had drunk up everything last night--but that was in the past, another matter.
Faint, dismal foghorns cautioned each other in the distance. Franz's mind darted briefly two miles behind him to where more fog would be blanketing San Francisco Bay, except for the four tops thrusting from it of the first span of the bridge to Oakland. Under that frosty-looking surface there would be the ribbons of impatient, fuming cars, the talking ships, and coming from far below the water and the mucky bottom, but heard by fishermen in little boats, the eerie roar of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains rocketing through the tube as they carried the main body of commuters to their jobs.
Dancing up the sea air into his room there came the gay, sweet notes of a Telemann minuet blown by Cal from her recorder two floors below. She meant them for him, he told himself, even though he was twenty years older. He looked at the oil portrait of his dead wife, Daisy, over the studio bed, beside a drawing of the TV tower in spidery black lines on the large oblong of fluorescent red cardboard, and felt no guilt. Three years of drunken grief--a record wake!--had worked that all away, ending almost exactly a year ago.
His gaze dropped to the studio bed; still half-unmade. On the undisturbed half, nearest the wall, there stretched out a long, colorful scatter of magazines, science-fiction paperbacks, a few hardcover detective novels still in their wrappers, a few bright napkins taken home from restaurants, and a half-dozen of those shiny little Golden Guides and Knowledge Through Color books--his recreational reading as opposed to his working materials and references arranged on the coffee table beside the bed. They'd been his chief--almost his sole--companions during the three years he'd lain sodden there, stupidly goggling at the TV across the room; but always fingering them and stupefiedly studying their bright, easy pages from time to time. Only a month ago it had suddenly occurred to him that their gay casual scatter added up to a slender, carefree woman lying beside him on top of the covers--that was why he never put them on the floor; why he contented himself with half the bed; why he unconsciously arranged them in a female form with long, long legs. They were a "scholar's mistress," he decided, on the analogy of "Dutch wife," that long, slender bolster sleepers clutch to soak up sweat in tropical countries--a very secret playmate, a dashing but studious call girl, a slim, incestuous sister, eternal comrade of his writing work.
With an affectionate glance toward his oil-painted dead wife and a keen, warm thought toward Cal still sending up pirouetting notes on the air, he said softly with a conspiratorial smile to the slender cubist form occupying all the inside of the bed, "Don't worry, dear, you'll always be my best girl, though we'll have to keep it a deep secret from the others," and turned back to the window.
It was the TV tower standing way out there so modern-tall on Sutro Crest, its three long legs still deep in fog, that had first gotten him hooked on reality again after his long escape in drunken dream. At the beginning, the tower had seemed unbelievably cheap and garish to him, an intrusion worse than the high rises in what had been the most romantic of cities, an obscene embodiment of the blatant world of sales and advertising--even, with its great red and white limbs against blue sky (as now, above the fog), an emblazonment of the American flag in its worst aspects: barberpole stripes; fat, flashy, regimented stars. But then it had begun to impress him against his will with its winking red lights at night--so many of them! He had counted nineteen: thirteen steadies and six winkers--and then it had subtly led his interest to the other distances in the cityscape and also in the real stars so far beyond, and on lucky nights the moon, until he had got passionately interested in all real things again, no matter what.
And the process had never stopped; it still kept on. Until Saul had said to him, only the other day, "I don't know about welcoming in every new reality. You could run into a bad customer."
"That's fine talk, coming from a nurse in a psychiatric ward," Gunnar had said, while Franz had responded instantly, "Taken for granted. Concentration camps. Germs of plague."
"I don't mean things like those exactly," Saul had said. "I guess I mean the sort of things some of my guys run into at the hospital."
"But those would be hallucinations, projections, archetypes, and so on, wouldn't they?" Franz had observed, a little wonderingly. "Parts of inner reality, of course."
"Sometimes I'm not so sure," Saul had said slowly. "Who's going to know what's what if a crazy says he's just seen a ghost? Inner or outer reality? Who's to tell then? What do you say, Gunnar, when one of your computers starts giving readouts it shouldn't?"
"That it's got overheated," Gun had answered with conviction. "Remember, my computers are normal people to start out with, not weirdos and psychotics like your guys."
"Normal--what's that?" Saul had countered.
Franz had smiled at his two friends who occupied two apartments on the floor between his and Cal's. Cal had smiled, too, though not so much.
Now he looked out the window again. Just outside it, the six-story drop went down past Cal's window--a narrow shaft between this building and the next, the flat roof of which was about level with his floor. Just beyond that, framing his view to either side, were the bone-white, rain-stained back walls--mostly windowless--of two high rises that went up and up.
It was a rather narrow slot between them, but through it he could see all of reality; he needed to keep in touch. And if he wanted more he could always go up two stories to the roof, which he often did these days and nights.
From this building low on Nob Hill the sea of roofs went down and down, then up and up again, tinying with distance, to the bank of fog now masking the dark green slope of Sutro Crest and the bottom of the tripod TV tower. But in the middle distance a shape like a crouching beast, pale brown in the morning sunlight, rose...
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Book Description Paperback. Condition: Fair. A readable copy of the book which may include some defects such as highlighting and notes. Cover and pages may be creased and show discolouration. Seller Inventory # GOR002474051
Book Description Fontana/Collins, 1978. Soft cover. Condition: Good. 1st Edition. First edition thus. First Fontana paperback 1978. A neat copy with straight binding, some page block tanning extending to main page edges. NO tears/rips and NO scribbles/inscriptions of any kind, however there is a book stamp to inside back page. Seller Inventory # ABE-1497265805075
Book Description London: Fontana Books 1978 First Fontana Paperback Printing ISBN 0-00-614861-1, 1978. Soft cover. Condition: Very Good. VG+ Faint crease to front cover, mild age-toning to edges, ink scribble to rear end paper, otherwise a very attractive unread copy. Cover art by Roy Ellsworth. Seller Inventory # 1664