THE DEEP ONES: "The Button Molder" by Fritz Leiber

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Button Molder" by Fritz Leiber

ag. 21, 2020, 12:30pm

"The Button Molder" by Fritz Leiber

Discussion begins on August 26, 2020.

First published in the October 1979 iisue of Whispers magazine.


No online versions found to date.



The Leiber Chronicles: Fifty Years of Fritz Leiber
Whispers III
Smoke Ghost & Other Apparitions


ag. 21, 2020, 12:31pm

Think I'll read it in that issue of Whispers.

ag. 21, 2020, 1:10pm

With that cover, how could I not think of Fafhrd?

ag. 21, 2020, 4:27pm

Think I'll buy the kindle edition of Smoke Ghost & Other Apparitions.

ag. 22, 2020, 9:34am

>3 elenchus:

Good eye! In his editorial for the issue, Stuart David Schiff notes that the Stephen Fabian cover was originally done for a never-published Whispers Press edition of Swords & Deviltry. Fabian's black & white illustrations for the book are also included and are really quite good.

ag. 22, 2020, 9:45am

S'ha suprimit aquest usuari en ser considerat brossa.

ag. 26, 2020, 9:41pm

It's a meandering story and Leiber's clever enough to remind us he's going to get to his point.

The climax, the appearance of that "ghost" (or waking dream or alien), takes a long time to arrive, and it didn't produce any sense of the weird to me, just slightly uncanny.

Still, I enjoyed it for the worked in autobiographical details (the astronomy, the past in editing science magazines and encyclopedias, and chess) and didn't mind the leisurely pace. I did like the idea of the button molder echoing the mannequin and the description of pre-dawn garbage trucks being described as sort of beasts.

ag. 26, 2020, 9:43pm

>6 TiaAnderson:

The Thing On The Doorstep.

Editat: ag. 27, 2020, 11:23am

I thought that the manner in which the phenomena as seen from the rooftop were subsequently, for unknown-yet-sinister reasons, duplicated inside the apartment to be weird in the best way. To use a bit of Leiber's own terminology, it's as if some kind of paramental logic is being followed. This was written around the time of Our Lady of Darkness, so it's good to see similar themes represented here. The mannequin in the shop window and it's more animated manifestation at the end are very reminiscent of the "Scholar's Mistress" from that novel. The violet lights tie certain questions together nicely, although thankfully no answers are provided.

Leiber continues to insert his own autobiography into his fiction with this tale. I imagine that he actually attempted to write down his personal philosophical truisms, but I don't think I've ever run across such a thing outside of details scattered throughout his stories

ag. 30, 2020, 7:27pm

Even more than usual, reading this story generated a load a random musings that aren’t ever going to cohere or coalesce into a proper “book report”.

Thinking about the autobiographical elements in Leiber’s stories of this period - Our Lady of Darkness and “Horrible Imaginings” are the ones that come to mind - it’s not just that the protagonist is or nearly is Leiber the author, lives in Leiber’s apartment, shares his interests, etc. but that the fantastical or uncanny part is spun out of the same, or the same sort, of everyday minutiae: seeing things through a telescope, a figure at a window, something hidden in a false wall or ceiling space. Hmm. Writing it down I can see that these are all in fact clichés of the genre. But in these fictions it feels like the quotidian genuinely transformed by the uncanny.

Also, I presume Leiber didn’t want to elicit feelings of sympathy, but his circumstances at this time were pretty precarious weren’t they? The old apartment building I presume is accurately described and sounds not just unpleasant but dangerous. And in what I think is the only clip of Leiber on YouTube (being interviewed at or during a Science Fiction convention) he looks (to me) shockingly frail, and not - how to put this - not looking prosperous. I guess part of why it’s shocking is that if it’s roughly contemporary with this story he was only in his 60s. That’s only a decade away for me now.

Also, and this might be because I’m in the UK, that sort of life, in the US, still has the romantic sheen of a Chandleresque PI, or something like that. You know, a one room apartment, a chair, a chessboard, a bottle of whisky.

I was glad to see, on Lieber’s Wikipedia entry, that he got money from Licensing Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for role-playing games, and lived until the early ‘90s.

By the way, there’s an audio-only talk that Leiber gave at a Con in the ‘60s, about his favourite monsters, that’s also on YouTube and may be of interest. Peer Gynt gets a mention in the talk; I feel I will have to read it now!

The stargazing element struck home because I’ve noticed the planets this year, only casual naked-eye observations, but Jupiter and Saturn close together, and Mars visible in a way it won’t be again (I understand) for something like fifteen years.

The lights in the sky aren’t explained, the Button Molder isn’t explained. I have seen some Fortean stuff online that, if I understand it, suggests that there’s an increasing feeling amongst UFO watchers that maybe they aren’t alien visitors in physical spaceships but something more of the Earth: Faerie or supernatural. Something that’s always been with us but maybe takes different shapes over the centuries. I think maybe Leiber was on the same track (also, there’s M. R. James’ comment when he was asked if he believed in ghosts. He said that he did, but that “we don’t know the rules” - the who, why and what of them).

On top of that, I thought there was something here that feels hard-wired into the human psyche and seems to pop up in all sorts of disparate tales - that if you do something to bring attention to yourself, “powers” or “forces” will take notice, and it will not be to your benefit. Here, Leiber’s effort to sum up a philosophy of life is - he realises at the last moment - a death wish that, perhaps, is what has summoned the Button Molder. That climatic scene felt genuine to me, although I haven’t had a supernatural experience, I’ve been in circumstances where the atmosphere suddenly changes (accidents or near accidents, threats of violence - nothing too serious in the event, thankfully).

Thinking of Leiber as a science fiction writer for a moment, do you think that fact is especially conducive to this style of story? American (and British) writers were close to their readers; fandom grew up with and was entwined with the newsstand magazines (Astounding, Amazing, Fiction and Science Fiction, Weird Tales of course). Isaac Asimov leavened The Early Asimov with autobiographical passages (his early stuff was pretty weak as I remember it) and used the same trick with his later short story collections. Maybe it’s not just - or not especially a science fiction thing. I’ve just remembered Stephen King’s Misery, of course.