Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weird Tales Books

Night's Black Agents by Fritz Leiber, Jr.

If you're feeling nostalgic for the 1940s, you might find a cure for what ails you in Night's Black Agents, a collection of short stories by Fritz Leiber, Jr. War and the specter of war figure prominently in these stories. Perhaps more central to Night's Black Agents is the city itself, a dirty, dark, and dingy place, full of soot, grit, dust, and noise, a place of failing light and full of lonely streets, rooftops, offices, and rooming houses. This is the landscape of urban industry, a kind of landscape that was then new to the world (or no more than a century old), new also to the weird tale. I'll write more about that in a future posting called "Fritz Leiber and the Problem of the Weird Tale." First things first, though.

Night's Black Agents in the Berkeley Books edition of 1978 is a collection of dozen stories published between 1940 and 1962. The book was first published under the same title in 1947 by Arkham House. The earlier edition included ten stories and a foreword. Berkeley added "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" and "A Bit of the Dark World." It's an odd mix: there are two tales of heroic fantasy starring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser ("The Sunken Land" and "Adept's Gambit") and a brief, somber, bittersweet fable published in the aftermath of World War II ("The Man Who Never Grew Young"). The core of the book is a collection within a collection labeled "Modern Horrors." Of the nine stories in this section, three were first printed in Weird Tales. Also included in "Modern Horrors" is "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes," the only story in the book to have been adapted to film. (1) The final story, "A Bit of the Dark World," published in 1962, might easily have been called "A Bit of Phantasmagoria." Mature and sophisticated, it's a story well worth reading. 

Night's Black Agents by Fritz Leiber, Jr.
(Berkley Medallion Books, 1978, 275 pp. + xi-xii)
"Foreword" by Fritz Leiber
Ancient Adventures
"The Sunken Land" (Unknown Worlds, Feb. 1942)
"Adept's Gambit" (original to the Arkham House edition, 1947)
"The Man Who Never Grew Young" (original to the Arkham House edition, 1947)
Modern Horrors
"Smoke Ghost" (Unknown Worlds, Oct. 1941)
"The Automatic Pistol" (Weird Tales, May 1940)
"The Inheritance" (Weird Tales, Jan. 1942, as "The Phantom Slayer")
"The Hill and the Hole" (Unknown Worlds, Aug. 1942)
"The Dreams of Albert Moreland" (The Acolyte, Issue #10, Spring 1945)
"The Hound" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1942)
"Diary in the Snow" (original to the Arkham House edition, 1947)
"The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, and Other Stories, 1949)
"A Bit of the Dark World" (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, Feb. 1962)

(1) "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" was first filmed as a segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery in 1972, then as a feature length movie in 1995.

Night's Black Agents (Arkham House, 1947), with cover art by Weird Tales artist Ronald Clyne. There were only 3,084 copies of this book printed.
The Berkeley edition from 1978 with added contents. The cover artist was Wayne Douglas Barlowe. Thanks to Michael Gage for pointing that out.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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