Found Books and Lost Opportunities

When I was young, my family went to the library fairly often. I would always scan the shelves for books by my favorite authors, which definitely included Fritz Leiber. There was no Internet yet, of course, and I didn’t subscribe to publishing newsletters or own a copy of Books In Print, so the only way I knew that he had a new book out (well, new to me, anyway) was if it turned up in the library (or possibly, if a title was mentioned in the book’s end matter). Later, when lawn mowing brought me in a bit of cash, I would also check bookstores–of the brick and mortar variety, naturally–in the same way.

It was always a thrill when I found that one of my favorites had written something that I’d never read before–especially if the author had shuffled off his or her mortal coil, and I never expected anything new from them this side of the afterlife. I remember feeling this way when I came across C.S. Lewis’ The Dark Tower, for instance. But now that I’m older and living in an environment saturated with information, that kind of thing can’t happen any more…right?

Wrong again. A couple of months ago Colette and the kids and I went to a library book sale. The fiction shelves didn’t offer much that appealed to me, but I did spot a hardback copy of Leiber’s The Big Time that looked brand new. (Now free on Kindle, by the way!) I almost didn’t get it–I did have a copy of that book already, a signed British first edition, in fact. But Colette convinced me to get it anyway–after all, the books were only costing us maybe 50 cents each, and we still had at least one space to fill in some forgotten corner of a spare room bookcase. Also this edition (which turned out to be from the Science Fiction Book Club) included an introduction by Leiber, which wasn’t in the one I had.

Well, in that introduction, Leiber mentioned that he’d written a sequel to The Big Time–a novella that I’d never heard of before: No Great Magic. This being the information age, it was quick work to find it and order a copy–in fact, a copy of ChangeWar, which includes all of Leiber’s Changewar stories (including at least one other that I’d never read).

My review is here.

Finding this book reminds me of a long-ago lost opportunity. While I was living in San Francisco in the eighties, the famous City Lights bookstore hosted a Leiber book signing–The Ghost Light had just come out (it seems to be out of print now). I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy a copy–this was before credit cards, too, at least for me–and though I looked in at the window, I was too diffident to go in and talk to him. I’ll always regret that–at least I could have shaken his hand and told him how much his stories had meant to me. Not that I’d know from my own experience, but I’ll bet an author never gets tired of hearing that.

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