A scene from a 40s/50s sci-fi story just came to me. Teenage thugs in a dystopian future weld fishhooks to the fenders of their cars, then swerve onto the sidewalk, trying to snag and rip away girls’ skirts.
Technically the Golden Age was from the late 30’s to the late 40’s. Wikipedia has it from 1938 to 1946 and calls the 50’s a “transitional period”. In any case, Coming Attraction wasn’t thematically a Golden Age story. Not really a New Wave either. I don’t know what it was. Maybe transitional period is the right term.
I remember that story, although the title wasn’t what I remembered. The salient feature that I DO recall, is that women all wore veils to conceal their faces. The explanation for this fashion choice, as related in the story, was that it began with women who had been physically disfigured by radiation from the bombs dropped in the war. As non-disfigured women began to notice that men were responding sexually to this look, they began to take it up as well, and it succeeded to the point that the woman’s facial features became the sine qua non of “forbidden fruit” sexual objectification-wise. In fact, in the bar the protagonist/narrator takes the woman he’s just “rescued” to, two women are having a knife fight on a stage, both totally nude with the exception of their facial veils. And nobody in the bar is paying attention to them.
At the end, IIRC, when the narrator realizes that the woman has been scamming him, he rips the veil from her face, and she
is also a victim of the radiation, with slug-like growths seeming to move underneath her skin.
That’s what I think, it was a metaphor. Being masked she had never learned to conceal her facial expressions and you could see her emotions crawling over her face. Or maybe not, it was a long time ago.
That’s what I’m trying to figure out… When I read it as a high-school kid, I took it literally. Gross disfigured face.
But when I re-read it now, I see the possibility of the emotions being what disfigure her face: the narrator can too easily see her shallow, selfish, ugly personal motivations.
Or…was Leiber brilliant enough to give us both, as an intentional ambiguity?
At his best…the man was brilliant beyond brilliant. It’s sad that, as time went by, his skill seems to have faded. Every “Fafhrd and Gray Mouser” story after the first few is…not as good as the one before it. By the end, it’s just cheap bondage porn.
But… Conjure Wife, or The Wanderer, or Our Lady of Darkness, or the early Fafhrd stuff… Wow… “Gonna Roll Them Bones.” “Catch That Zeppelin.” “The Haunted Future.” Surpassing brilliant.
(Someone here mentioned his Tarzan novel, “Tarzan and the Valley of Gold.” Wonderful! Light years better than anything Burroughs ever wrote!)
Leiber does not actually describe the woman’s face. The line is (paraphrasing) “Have you ever lifted up a rock? Have you ever seen the slugs crawling underneath?”
I think the reference is to radiation damage, simply because the narrator came from the UK, where the women did not wear veils. Also, he has seen many males faces and knows what emotions look like. So he should be used to seeing emotions on faces and not be shocked by it; the shock was that he imagined the woman as being attractive, and discovered she was not.
Leiber was one of the greats. The Big Time is an excellent novel, and The Wanderer is certainly among the best disaster novels. For short stories, there’s things like “A Pail of Air,” “Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee,” "Try and Change the Past, " “X Marks the Pedwalk,” and “Gonna Roll the Bones.”
Just did! Loved it! I like the flip, hip, sassy dialogue, ripe with allusions and double entendres. It’s like everyone in the story wants to be Oscar Wilde! Real people don’t talk that way…doggone it! More fun if we did!
The slow build-up of the menace is elegant. It’s eerie, given that it is a kind of parallel to the far more dangerous menace of WWIII – Soviet bombs and other cataclysmic weapons – which is merely taken for granted and relegated to the background.
And, of course, the cute clever twist at the ending is a delight. He knew how to set 'em up…and he knew how to knock 'em down.
Leiber was one hell of a genius! I hoist a mug of Gahveh to his memory.
If we really want to get technical the birth of the Golden Age is considered to be July 1939 edition of Astounding magazine, which along with “Black Destroyer” featured Issac Asimov’s first published story in the magazine “Trends”. The following month Robert Heinlein’s first professional story appeared and a month later Theodore Sturgeon debuted