"Gather, Darkness!" -- a Fritz Leiber OSS tale

by John Michael Greer
(Cumberland, MD USA)

Several things, this website very much among them, have sent me back to the SF novels I used to devour in my misspent youth. One consequence was a pleasant couple of days spent reading, for the first time in better than thirty years, Fritz Leiber's "Gather, Darkness!" It's as good as I remembered -- one heck of a lively read, in fact -- but it's only in retrospect that I realized that it's an OSS tale. Though it's set entirely on Earth, it's a 2305 AD Earth with two, count 'em two, colony worlds, and those are Mars and Venus.

In Leiber's fictive future -- well, this one, at least -- technological progress continued steadily from the dawn of the Atomic Age to the coming of the short-lived Golden Age, which began circa 2099 and ended in the wake of an interplanetary war circa 2166. A group of scientists, hoping to prevent a dark age, launched a fake religion -- the religion of the Great God -- equipped with real miracles courtesy of advanced technology. The ploy proved unstoppable; the Hierarchy, as the priesthood of the Great God called itself, rose to power, turned corrupt in the usual way, and imposed an oppressive theocratic state on Earth and its two colony worlds.

Fast forward to 2305, aka Year 139 of the Great God. Rumors spread that a Witchcraft just as powerful as the Hierarchy lurks in secret -- and the rumors are quite true; the supposed servants of Sathanas have a technology comparable to that of the servants of the fictional Great God. As the conflict begins, a renegade priest named Armon Jarles begins his own quest to find out the truth of the matter...and the story takes off from there. I'll leave the rest for readers to enjoy.

Leiber doesn't say much at all about the colony worlds. There's at least one city on Venus, where armaments can be had that don't exist on Earth. Communications with the colony worlds are subject to realistic limits -- neither planet can be contacted by radio when it's on the far side of the Sun from Earth, for example -- and space travel takes time, too. The one spaceship that makes an appearance is a nice bit of advanced technology, but not too advanced:

"The thunder rose to a shattering climax. A great shadow darkened the Sanctuary. A vast ellipsoid construction appeared overhead from the direction of the sun and came to rest above the Blasted Heath, its mighty repulsor beams plowing like huge pillars into the gray soil, digging great pits. While it still rocked their aloft, circular ports began to open in its dully gleaming surface."

All in all, among its other virtues, "Gather, Darkness!" was another good reminder that it's possible to tell a rousing science fiction tale on a single planet, with only the solar system (and indeed only the inner planets) for background. Since Leiber didn't say otherwise, I exercised the reader's prerogative to imagine the Venus colony surrounded by lush jungles, and the Mars colony on a dry desert world worn out by countless ages...

{Comment from Zendexor: I'd heard about this book but had never read it; this article whets my appetite. I can think of parallels in the false cult of "Gordelpus" in "Last And First Men", and the false cult of the Prophet in Heinlein's "If This Goes On - ". I'm looking forward to comparing these with Leiber's take on the theme. One point of interest is the way the motivations for the deception vary in each case; more or less accidental in Stapledon, fanatic in Heinlein and, from what you say, practical/idealistic in Leiber.

The setting - on Earth but with added planetary-colony background - reminds me of van Vogt's The Mind Cage, though in that one we've lost contact with the colonies, and even doubt their existence.}

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Apr 11, 2017
by: John Michael Greer

Yeah, I got into editing anthologies the odd way around. Some years back, when I was writing a weekly blog on the future of industrial society, I challenged my readers to write SF stories set in the kind of future toward which we're pretty clearly heading -- not perpetual progress, not Hollywood apocalypse, but the normal downward arc of a civilization that's passed its peak and burnt through its resource base way too fast. I expected a few people to try; to my considerable surprise, I fielded something like sixty stories, including more than enough to publish an anthology titled "After Oil." Three other anthologies followed in due time, somewhat unoriginally titled "After Oil" 2, 3, and 4; I've also done an anthology of stories set in the same future as "Star's Reach," entitled "Merigan Tales." All of them were published by a small press, Founders House, and have had decent sales.

I could see potentially editing an OSS anthology or two, or perhaps NOSS -- that would be less of a financial challenge, since copyright holders of short stories tend to like to see money up front. In case it's of interest, btw, Founders House also has a SF/fantasy quarterly magazine, MYTHIC -- details at www.mythicmag. -- which is entirely open to NOSS stories. (Full disclosure: I've published a story there and plan on submitting others as they get written.)

Hmm and again hmm. Do you think there are enough writers reading this blog to put out a call for NOSS stories, with an eye toward an anthology?

{Z: Aha, that's the question. By all means let's try it! For instance, you could email me the text of your call to action - send it to me at heritageofdreams@aol.com - and I could then make it into a regular page with a link on the navigation bar. Who knows what might happen then?}

Apr 10, 2017
fake religions
by: John Michael Greer

Zendexor, the idea of a religion propped up with scientific miracles was definitely around in SF in the 1940s -- Asimov's story "Bridle and Saddle," later part of "Foundation," was published in 1942, and had a fake religion run by scientists as its theme; the original serial version of "Gather, Darkness!" appeared in 1943; and of course, cough, cough, L. Ron Hubbard, cough, cough, enough said. I suspect Heinlein's "If This Goes On..." also has a role in the prehistory of Leiber's tale -- and of course the cult of Gordelpus as well.

The latter of which reminds me, somewhat grumpily, how much better informed about the history of the genre SF writers generally were back in the day. During my occasional ventures into editing anthologies, I've encountered way too many authors these days who wouldn't recognize "Last and First Men" if I beat them over the head with it. (Which I may try one of these days.)

{Z: Good idea - best of all with a hefty hardback edition, if there is one. But hey, I didn't know you'd edited anthologies. Maybe you're the right prospect to edit an Old Mercury collection. Or Old Asteroids, or whatever. Lots of potential anthologies queuing up to be born.}

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