Strange Wonders is an eclectic collection of Fritz Leiber‘s lesser-known stories, poems, fragments, rough drafts, and daily writing exercises collected by Benjamin Szumskyj who, in his introduction, admits that he’s not certain Leiber actually would have approved of their publication. He justifies himself by explaining that because Leiber didn’t destroy the material (which was mostly printed on cheap typing paper) before his death, he knew it would be found and possibly exposed some day.
The first half of Strange Wonders contains 23 story fragments — some of which appear to be precursors of some of his published fiction (e.g., the hero of “The Tale of the Grain Ships” is The Grey Mouser). The second section is a reprinting of Leiber’s In the Beginning, which is a set of Sunday School-type science and ethics lessons for children that were published in the journal The Churchman. Next are 15 poems, several previously published. Those about Leiber’s wife, Jonquil Stephens, who died after 33 years of marriage, are deeply moving. Then there is a descriptive piece about Mr. Leiber’s excruciatingly detailed investigation of the inner workings of his digital clock (which contains several lines like this: “02-6012-6122-6932-5942-5952-59″) and finally a farcical SF piece organized around the zodiac.
Reading Strange Wonders, I felt like I was sitting in a tree and peering into Mr. Leiber’s bedroom at night. As any voyeur should expect, I was rewarded with views both awkward and titillating, many of which were almost certainly not meant to be observed. I witnessed a spatter of clumsy dialogue, a bit of fumbling and groping, and several premature climaxes. But there was also much imagination, creativity, and artistic technique on display. It was fascinating to watch Fritz Leiber at work, even if I was sometimes left unsatisfied by the lack of consummation.
Strange Wonders will surely appeal to fans of Fritz Leiber, for it clearly bears his stamp and contains previously unpublished works that are related to stories we’re familiar with. This collection will also appeal to aspiring writers who want to see how a master fantasist practiced and honed his craft.