Delightful procrastination

I was out for my morning walk, and stopped by the lab to take care of fish, and then by my office to grab another stack of papers that need grading. They were unexpectedly heavy. I think my weekend is about to get longer and more miserable.

But I also continued my walk on down to the coffeehouse, and I’m procrastinating horribly. I fired up an old book on my iPad — Swords And Deviltry, by Fritz Leiber — and now I just want to sit around all day revisiting Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Leiber was a phenomenal writer who actually gave his sword&sorcery stereotypes unique personalities. I’d almost forgotten how good these stories were.

I just had to mention that. Before I start walking home. Before I lock myself down for a few hours of grading papers.


  1. Bill Farrar says

    I recently went on an entire Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser jag. I think I read Lean Times in Lahnkmar 3 times. Truly some of the best Sword and Sorcery of that era.

  2. Don Quijote says

    As one of my teachers in the UK used to say to me. “Write a hundred times boy, Procrastination is the thief of time”.

  3. blf says

    Complain to the zebrafishies they are not eating their food fast enough. By this time, you should only have a handful of students left, mostly the ones who either can’t find the lab, or who wear plate armor thinking it is stylish.

  4. says


    I fired up an old book on my iPad — Swords And Deviltry, by Fritz Leiber

    I’ll put that on my neverending to be read list. Just finished up Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream, which was delightful.

  5. says

    Iyeska, be aware that there are some pretty problematic tropes in Lieber’s Erewhon stories, notwithstanding that they are also among my favourites of the genre. I love them, and I reread them often, but like Lovecraft (to a much less extreme place than HPL!), there are some eyerolling and headshaking in your future while reading them.

    For fantasy that gave my imagination a jolt it’s never stopped loving, I’d also recommend Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, not least for the diversity of the characters’ skin colour and cultures.

  6. says

    CaitieCat @ 6, thanks. I’ve read Earthsea. As for the problematic tropes, yeah, it’s like reading the White’s Sector General stories – the few times he could be arsed to write women characters, oh man…

    With older stuff, you have to be prepared for that sort of thing.

  7. blf says

    Do something about your procrastination tomorrow.

    That reminds me, I was going to do something about my procrastination several years ago…

  8. says

    One problem I see with these stories: the women in them also have distinct personalities, are typically strong and interesting, but they tend to be disposable. So there’s a story or two or three with these fascinating lovers, and then they’re killed (not by the heroes, but by circumstance) or abandoned.

    There’s even a story later in the series where the heroes are cursed and haunted by their dead/discarded women.

    He definitely writes good female characters, but it’s the nature of the series’ focus that they are always peripheral.

  9. numerobis says

    I’m feeding my girlfriend tea and apple sauce while she studies despite her sore throat because of people like PZ. Think of the students!

    (Meanwhile, another people-like-PZ is baking us delicious pastry. #notallprofs)

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    I prefer procrustination. Simply remove the first and last items on your to-do list. Then procrastinate.

  11. says

    Terry Pratchett had a fun talk about consensus fantasy:

    While I was plundering the fantasy world for the next cliche to pulls a few laughs from, I found one which was so deeply ingrained that you hardly notice it is there at all. In fact it struck me so vividly that I actually began to look at it seriously.

    That’s the generally very clear division between magic done by women and magic done by men.

    Let’s talk about wizards and witches. There is a tendency to talk of them in one breath, as though they were simply different sexual labels for the same job. It isn’t true. In the fantasy world there is no such thing as a male witch. Warlocks, I hear you cry, but it’s true. Oh, I’ll accept you can postulate them for a particular story, but I’m talking here about the general tendency. There certainly isn’t such a thing as a female wizard.

    Sorceress? Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs. The fantasy world. in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people because, in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise.

    Strangely enough, that’s also the case in this world. You don’t have to believe in magic to notice that.

    Wizards get to do a better class of magic, while witches give you warts.

  12. says

    PZ @ 11:

    He definitely writes good female characters, but it’s the nature of the series’ focus that they are always peripheral.

    Peripheral isn’t as bad as what some writers did, and it’s a bit more forgivable in the context of when the stories were written. I’ve downloaded the first book, I’m looking forward to it. During my younger years, I was much more focused on science fiction than fantasy, so I missed a lot of stuff.

  13. latveriandiplomat says

    There’s some great religious commentary in these stories.
    The Street of the Gods in Lankhmar is a fabulous take down of religion as just another business, that works just like the other business districts in the city.

    There’s also a grim visit from some Norse deities at one point.

  14. says

    Wizards get to do a better class of magic, while witches give you warts.

    Witches may give you warts, but I prefer to think that witches have warts because the warts are the source of their power. That’s why they can make the babies who are crying nonstop on an airplane disappear. Or something like that.

    You need warts. Really.

  15. mnb0 says

    “in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff”
    Galadriel, Melian …..

  16. says


    Galadriel, Melian …..

    Elves aren’t witches, are they? Nor are they wizards. Terry Pratchett addressed the elves business, that they are always tall, beautiful, graceful, and so on, in consensus fantasy.

  17. says

    To be utterly clear, I LOVE the Erewhon books, and I strongly recommend them.

    But along with the disposable and occasionally damsely women PZ noted, there are some noble savage type characters too, and some problematic associations around depictions of Arabic-cultured people, nothing as blatant as Lovecraft in any way, but certainly likely to be noticed, and possibly a bad jar, for someone with a strong feminist and intersectional analysis like Iyeska.

  18. says

    CaitieCat @ 21, it’s Nehwon, I think. Erewhon is Samuel Butler. Oh, the Noble Savage. Yeah, it happens a *lot* in older fiction, and still happens in too much new stuff. I’ll be on the lookout, thanks for the heads up.

  19. Bea Essartu says

    The Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books are wonderful. And I also loved The Wandered and even Conjure Wife.

  20. says

    CaitieCat @ 26:

    You’re quite right, Iyeska, of course; one of them was a joking response to the other, wasn’t it?

    I think so. So many authors have played off Erewhon. :D It will be a bit before I dip into Nehwon, just finished Scalzi’s The God Engines, which was fascinating and terrifying, and next up is The Nekropolis Archives by Tim Waggoner.

  21. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    So, you’re avoiding academic criticism by engaging in literary criticism? It might be time for a vacation…. :)

  22. Moggie says

    Right now, I feel that the best thing about older fiction is that you don’t have to wait. I’ve just finished Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, and now I’m impatient for her to finish the trilogy. I’m not good at waiting for good stuff.

  23. danielrutter says

    Leiber slid into full-blown Dirty Old Mandom at the end. The last three Fafhrd And The Etcetera books feature an imposing series of underage girlies, generally shaved to assure maximum underageness of appearance, pretty much just revolving on a rotisserie spit in front of the reader.

  24. The Mellow Monkey says

    Moggie @ 29

    Right now, I feel that the best thing about older fiction is that you don’t have to wait. I’ve just finished Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, and now I’m impatient for her to finish the trilogy. I’m not good at waiting for good stuff.

    The other day I saw DearAuthor talking on Twitter about buying a book which ended on a cliffhanger and the sequel wouldn’t be published for one exact year and how obnoxious this was.

    A book a year is a breakneck publishing pace compared to most of the series I’ve read.

  25. Funny Diva says

    Moggie @29
    Wait, WHAT? The second Ancillary book is out?!
    Off to “request a purchase” at my local li-berry!

  26. Moggie says

    Yes, Funny Diva, and her world-building is as good as ever!
    Buy some good tea before settling down to read it.

  27. Funny Diva says

    I had to read Ancillary Justice twice in rapid succession (before it had to go back to said li-berry)–couldn’t put it down for plot, and then had to savor all the details and nuances. I’m sure book 2 will be no exception.
    I’ve got really good Genmai Cha left from when I was reading and re-reading Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky books. How did you know I was a tea lover?

    Also, too…both my local li-berry systems were/are waaay ahead of me–they’ve already got their copies, and I’ve duly made my requests to borrow one! If I were a better or smarter person, I’d save it for holiday travel, but that’s not gonna happen!

  28. Moggie says

    Coincidentally, genmaicha is my tea of choice too. Tea plays a big role in Ancillary Sword, but if you brew a pot every time the characters do, you’ll probably need to run to the bathroom a lot.

    This one has some pacing problems, to be honest, and our hero is perhaps just a bit too good, but I still rank it as one of the better books I’ve read this year.

  29. shadow says

    Polgara comes to mind. Belgarath isn’t even sure HOW she did some of the things she does.

  30. says

    Thanks for the reminder — I’m about due for a reread of the Erewhon stories.

    Reading these and others of the same vintage is an eye-opening experience now that I’m slightly more enlightened than I was as a kid. Sometimes reading these is as much an exercise in suspension-of-privilege-awareness as it is an exercise in suspension-of-disbelief. If you want some real doozies, try “Doc” Smith, particularly the Galactic Patrol books. Despite that, I think that they have some value as exemplars of the space opera.

    The problematic tropes can be a great opportunity for discussion, though. Is it possible to fix them without damaging the story? How far can you go to do so?

    As far as the disposable women in Erewhon, are they disposable because they’re women (a bad thing) or disposable because nearly everyone is disposable (an ok thing)? Some women have more persistence in these stories than the majority of the characters other than the two wizards. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t examine the question of why they are disposable and whether non-disposable female characters would help the stories or hurt them.

    @ shadow
    Eddings has so many problems with female characters and stereotypes in general that I sometimes have an easier time reading “Doc” Smith than Eddings. Eddings is modern enough that he really doesn’t have an excuse, although I’m told that he did it deliberately for some odd reason. I find his one-dimensional stereotypes to be very annoying.

    @ danielrutter

    The descent into DOM-dom is a problem that seems to infect older male writers quite a bit. The last Heinlein that I read was “Friday” and that was just the culmination of his descent that began with Lazarus Long.

  31. Lurkeressa, Always Late to Juicy Threads says

    Wasn’t Belgarath initially added only for balance, because the publishers of the time were weirded out by the big role given to a female wizard? (So I was told by a fan.)
    Those books had their own interesting shades of progressiveness vs sexism, especially in light of the fact that they were written by a married couple. The women’s personalities and looks varied, but they always had to be notably beautiful, of course. And chaste, compared to their male companions.

  32. Funny Diva says

    Finished Ancillary Sword last night. And shed a couple tears because now we gotta wait a whole year for the next book!
    Can’t thank you enough for givin’ me the heads-up that Book 2 was out.

    I really loved it. Will read again for pacing–it did seem as though the Big Climax and brief clean-up were sort of crammed in at the end. I get what you mean about the hero maybe being “too good.” Maybe we’ll get some bigger mis-calculations/mistakes in the next book.
    OTOH, hero _is_ 3000 years old, and has observed a LOT of humans in that time.

    I really like what Leckie does with the cultural/racial/linguistic issues–and the mirror she’s clearly holding up to our (USAdian) own society. And, of course, the “what is it to be truly human” theme.

    Yeah, I think those tea bowls and flasks must be small-ish, or those humans have different kidney/bladder capacity! Maybe the ancillaries/soldiers get to finish up the left-overs? Because you’re right, that’s a _lot_ of tea. Heh.