Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Smoke Ghost" by Fritz Lieber

 

I haven't read all that many ghost stories in my life, but this has to be one of the best. The atmosphere is so precisely rendered and the thirtyish protagonist is both sympathetic and yet representative of the modern age. An older man would not have worked so well, I think. This man has not been completely corrupted by his life yet.

SMOKE GHOST takes place in a city and you can feel its darkness in every line. Towering, impersonal buildings, dirt, soot, smoke, faceless strangers, physically dark. (Leiber apparently wrote this after moving from Chicago to California). 

Mr. Wran, a young businessman, father , husband, begins noticing an odd shape on his way home on the train. Gradually it begins to exhibit a human face and as the story continues, it becomes more and more frightening as it haunts his home, office, and other places he travels to. 

Unlike most ghost stories, this ghost does not seem to have come about after a death, but is perhaps composed of the detritus of the city. Maybe even the evil that goes on in those towering towers. 

Some incidents from Wran's childhood figure in interestingly, yet I was not sure his ghost emanated from that period. I don't want to say much more because it is better read than described by me. 

And it is probably better read twice for novices in the genre. 

Kevin Tipple

Steve Lewis 

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Cullen Gallagher 

Todd Mason

23 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Glad you liked it! Leiber is one of foundational writers of modern horror, as I like to note along with Robert Bloch the two writers he mentored who picked up his ball and ran with it, writing better work than HPL would be able to do, while expanding on his example. Leiber wrote three excellent horror novels, and not a few impressive shorter horror fictions, along with fiction in other modes with usually sure-footed horror undertones and overtones.

Algis Budrys credited this story with essentially inventing urban fantasy.

Todd Mason said...

That is, they picked up H. P. Lovecraft's existential horror ball, that is! As I usually somewhat more coherently note. The three Leiber novels I cite are CONJURE WIFE, YOU'RE ALL ALONE and OUR LADY OF DARKNESS, btw.

Leiber, Bloch, Shirley Jackson, John Collier, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret St. Clair, my mid-century pantheon of horror writers...Richard Matheson, Frederic Brown, Joseph Payne Brennan, Patricia Highsmith a bit later, not a few others contributed notably...

Todd Mason said...

Or, even, Fredric Brown! Thanks to Jerry House for forcing me to realize I, too, was conflating Brown and Frederic Dannay...in his review of Another, "forgotten" Leiber story...

Cullen Gallagher said...

This sounds great! I'm going to try and track it down. Leiber is an author I've wanted to spend more time with, I've only read a couple stories but I've liked them.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Yes, just read it (and the whole book) a few weeks ago. It's all about the atmosphere.

I finished the Crider tribute collection (BULLETS & OTHER HURTING THINGS) and IT OCCURS TO ME THAT I AM AMERICA last week. One of the stories that impressed me in the latter book was "Top Step" (about racism and prejudice) by Richard Russo, so this week I read Russo's first collection of stories, THE WHORE'S CHILD and Other Stories. I liked it without loving it, but I am now reading his collection of essays, THE DESTINY THIEF.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will try to follow up on this with more Leiber too,
Love Russo's novels but I have never read the essays.

Todd Mason said...

Which whole book of Leiber's, Jeff? "Smoke Ghost" widely collected and anthologized.

George said...

Like Todd Mason, I'm a big Fritz Leiber fan. I've read his stories since the 1960s. "Bazaar of the Bizarre" is one of my favorites.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Todd, there are a few new ebook reprints. This was SMOKE GHOST AND OTHER APPARITIONS (2002).

Steve A Oerkfitz said...

Although I haven't read him much in recent years, Leiber has always been a favorite of mine. I have read his fantasy series featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser multiple times.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read another story from the same multi-author collection. One by Jack Finney, who I usually like. And it was very disappointing. (I'm Scared).

Cullen Gallagher said...

I posted something for Short Story Wednesday today, as well. Sorry to have missed is these past few months! http://www.pulp-serenade.com/2021/03/a-corpse-walks-in-brooklyn-day-keene-in.html

Todd Mason said...

I like that Finney, but I'll grant you that it's a bit more dependent on its gimmick, Wells's One Miracle Per Story, than many of Finney's stories are.

I, with typical belatedness, and through a happy chance arrival after my usually grandiose original post took more time awake than I've been able to spare lately to do even poorly, am very late to the party:
https://socialistjazz.blogspot.com/2021/03/short-story-wednesday-hanging-by-thread.html

Todd Mason said...

And I haven't read that Finney story for more than forty years...so, at least, I liked it!

Todd Mason said...

If you're reading the book I think you're reading, one of the vignettes in there I'm fond of is Jerome Bixby's "Trace"...among those you might never have seen before...as opposed to writers and stories that might've been easier to find...

Mathew Paust said...

Never been attracted to horror. Scare too easily, and the fright goes deeper than a momentary frisson. I still cringe inwardly remembering the opening scene in Peter Straub's Ghost Story, which I read after seeing the movie and damned near pooping my pants.

Didn't realize SSW was back in bidness or I'd have come up with a contribution. Been struggling with COVID, trying to stay awake more than a couple of hours before needing another nap. Now THAT is a horror story!

Todd Mason said...

I'm in the same boat there, Matt...maybe it's an offshoot of COVID-19, or something hiding in the weeds (or the seedy) while 19 in its forms rampages. Or maybe I just fall asleep on this less than accommodating couch too often...hope it could be as simple as that.

Todd Mason said...

Though horror's extraliterary (and extra-A/V) function was to help me deal with my varying existential fears...

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is American Fantastic Tales and that story is in it. I will read it.
So sorry about the illnesses. I have been blaming my slightly undertheweatherness on allergies and taking zyrtec.
For me stringing together a bunch of time travelly stories did not work. Usually I love his stories.

Todd Mason said...

Amusing. given what Matt cites as his turn-off warning point, that Peter Straub's Library of America set of two volumes is what anthology we refer to. I need to re-read the Finney...I first read it as a kid in Judith Merril and Frederik Pohl's influential ghosted anthology. for Robert Heinlein's name to go on the cover. TOMORROW, THE STARS....

Todd Mason said...

And, thanks! Not sure mine's an illness (though my parents' getting allergies in their 30s seems to be sneaking in ever more on me in my 50s, so sympathies there) so much as bad "sleep hygiene"...shall attempt to do something about it. Such as fewer salutations to Gene while trying to get shuteye--discount Dad joke from a non-father.

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