Wordy Wednesdays? – Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Wanderer’
I showed up late to the Fritz Leiber party, which brings great shame to my ancestors. He seems like the perfect author for me – he’s got a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and it’s all good writing wrapped around interesting ideas (or vice versa, haven’t made up my mind).
But Leiber wrote the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser tales, which are classics – perhaps progenitors – of the sword and sorcery genre. They travel, fight people, steal and whore and drink, and slay many a dark sorcerer by swording him to death.
I don’t want to talk about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, because I’m not done reading them. What I do want to talk about is Leiber’s science fiction novel, The Wanderer.
The concept? An alien planet drops out of hyperspace near the Moon.
If, like me, you are a big dumb nerd who gets excited like a child when you hear amazing sci-fi ideas, you may have just gotten a little shiver.
For sheer hugeness of a concept, I probably would have loved The Wanderer even if the rest of it wasn’t so good, which it was. Rather than a single unified narrative, the novel switches between groups of people, and provides a wide range of perspectives from around the world.
I really don’t want to spoil anything, which makes any kind of in-depth review a bit harder. But the characters are not only likeable – it is also fairly easy to connect with them. They are people who see their little lives utterly changed forever, and even if we, as readers, have never seen a planet simply appear near the Moon, we certainly know what it is like to lose control over our own lives.
One of the more lasting scenes for me – one of the characters is frustrated that he cannot bury a friend’s body because they don’t have the time to stop and get it. In a few short paragraphs, Leiber highlights the power that random catastrophe has to injure our sense of propriety. It’s masterful.
Leiber shows humanity at both ends – a lot of good, but where there is bad, it is dark. We see the lowest of humanity, taking advantage of chaos and tragedy for profit. But the bonding together, the unification of disparate groups of people, is (as always) the lasting impression.
Finally, The Wanderer has left me with a passage circling my head. I read it some weeks ago, but I still find myself coming back to this:
“Her voice changed and she cried out sharply: ‘Oh, Paul, we’re charging around with all these beautiful dreams and yet all we can do is hurt people. Should you wonder that we’re falling in love with death?'”
You may not find it powerful, but when it makes its appearance in the novel, it packs a punch.
I strongly urge you to find a copy and read it. Science fiction is often only good, but Leiber’s The Wanderer easily surpasses many other sci-fi novels, in both imagination and execution.