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Old 02-11-2013   #1
Charles Dexter Muir'd
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Fritz Leiber's "The Sinful Ones"

Curious if anyone had read this short novel. It's about a guy who discovers he lives in a clockwork universe. People are automatons, who will go on cycling through their actions even if you skip a beat...it's only after meeting a strange young woman that he discovers breaking personal routine helps one see the mechanism at work. Which means at least some have the potential to become awake, but these must contend with others who have also "awakened" to take advantage of the automatons in sadistic and perverted ways and will go to any length to protect their position.

The novel was expanded by Leiber for a paperback double then revised without his permission with sleazy '50s chapter titles and erotic descriptions out of keeping with the story. It's still good, though perhaps flawed in minor details even without the alterations; not just for Leiber's gift for language but his engagement in ideas about the possibility of a meaningless universe in which everything runs like an algorithm. Ligotti might characterize it as a "bloody" algorithm that is MALIGNANTLY USELESS. Zapffe might compare the clockwork to the blind causality of existing and the automatism of people (some of whom in Leiber's story have the potential to become awake) to the repression of knowing we are caught up in this. I found this novel a great way to enjoy thinking about these ideas. Plus there is the oddity of the publisher's alterations, which may or not include a cat named "Gigolo."

A shorter version of the story was originally published as "You're All Alone," which you can find now on Amazon. Armchair Fiction in Medford, Ore., has released a double with it alongside a horror novel called "The Liquid Man." I just ordered it and hope it's a durable edition. Also there is this '90s paperback with this funky cover:


Both editions are, in my opinion, affordable. Anyways, I recommend Leiber's story and am curious if anyone got something out of it like I did.

PS. I should mention even Leiber claimed he didn't know what all the changes were, having lost his carbon copy of the original ms. Also I've only read the altered version, so maybe some of the sadistic elements -- an important part of the novel's artistic statement -- may not have been as focused, or present at all.

Like old television broadcasts now reaching distant stars, our words, even the bioelectrical static we call our thoughts, may have audiences we have never suspected.

— Thomas Wiloch, “Living in Code”
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Old 02-11-2013   #2
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Re: Fritz Leiber's "The Sinful Ones"

I picked up a secondhand copy of the 'You're All Alone' edition for a pittance online a few years back; I wouldn't call it Leiber's best, nevertheless an entertaining read and well worth locating, particularly if metaphysical horror is your bag.
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Old 02-11-2013   #3
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Re: Fritz Leiber's "The Sinful Ones"

Quote Originally Posted by ChildofOldLeech View Post
I picked up a secondhand copy of the 'You're All Alone' edition for a pittance online a few years back; I wouldn't call it Leiber's best, nevertheless an entertaining read and well worth locating, particularly if metaphysical horror is your bag.
I've read "You're All Alone" and thought it wasn't bad at all. Definitely not his best but even at half speed Leiber can smoke 90% of his contemporaries.
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Old 02-12-2013   #4
Charles Dexter Muir'd
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Re: Fritz Leiber's "The Sinful Ones"

I agree, not his best. Among its weaknesses is that the plot turns on a cat-and-mouse game with cardboard villains that could do just as well in a crime novel. I get the idea it would have been uneven even without the publisher's alterations (speaking of the novel, not the novella version). But then you get a passage that stands out, like this:

"And just what, in that universe, did Carr Mackay mean or matter? What was the real significance of the routine, the dark rhythm, that was rushing him through life at an ever-hastening pace toward a grave somewhere? Did it have any significance — that is, any significance a man could accept or endure — especially when any break in the rhythm, like this afternoon’s events, could make it seem so dead and purposeless, an endless marching and counter-marching of marionettes?"

Of course, this could all just be about a man suffering a mid-life crisis.

Like old television broadcasts now reaching distant stars, our words, even the bioelectrical static we call our thoughts, may have audiences we have never suspected.

— Thomas Wiloch, “Living in Code”
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