If you pass by 811 Geary Street in San Francisco, near Hyde, you might notice a plaque stating that
the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. "Fritz Leiber, acclaimed author
of fantasy, horror and science fiction, lived her from 1969-1977 when he wrote his classic,
Our Lady
of Darkness
, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1978."

What the plaque doesn’t mention is that this same
building plays a central role in Leiber's quirky late
career novel—in fact, you might say that 811 Geary
is the star of the book. It's a haunted building in the
novel. But, from another perspective, Leiber himself
Our Lady of Darkness. The work is intensely
autobiographical—indeed after the 100-page sketch
of his life and times included in Leiber's 1984 anthology
The Ghost Light, this late novel is the next place to go
for  first-hand testimony from the influential genre-
crossing author.

Leiber’s alter ego in
Our Lady of Darkness is horror
writer Franz Westen, a recovering alcoholic who is also
dealing with grief in the aftermath of his wife’s death.
The same could be said of Leiber during his San Francisco
years: despite a career of successes and awards—he had
won six coveted Hugo Awards before publishing
Our Lady
of Darkness
, and earned another eight nominations—Leiber
struggled financially and emotionally. Leiber, now in his late sixties and a legend within the world
of genre fiction, was forced to write his stories on a manual typewriter propped over a sink in
his cramped quarters. The building was located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, a down-and-out
area that served, during this juncture in the city’s history, as a low-cost haven for refugees from
Southeast Asian conflicts. But the area also was known for its homeless, addicts and street crimes.

I’m hardly surprised that Leiber turned this building into a maleficent force in his San Francisco
novel. But the way he achieves this earns my respect. Leiber takes the familiar concept of a
haunted house, and develops it in ways never dreamt of by
Poe and Lovecraft. He even invents a
new occult science called Megapolisomancy, which explores the dark magic inherent in big
buildings and large cities. The visionary inventor of this supernatural discipline, Thibaut de
Castries, grasped the unsettling fact that urban living creates supernatural  disturbances and
bring forth dark powers, known as
paramentals, forces that possess enormous potential for
destruction and psychic upheaval.

Related Essays by Ted Gioia
Fritz Leiber at One Hundred
The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Yes, long before Haruki Murakami brought magical realism to Tokyo, Fritz Leiber had created his
own unique breed of extravagant inner city fantasy. In this book, we find a forerunner to all those
later works about supernatural beings haunting major cities, from
1Q84 to Neverwhere.  Readers
who enjoy the special flavor of this juxtaposition of modern urban planning and old school horror
—the kind also exemplified by China Miéville’s
The City and The City or Mark Helprin's Winter's
Tale—will want to seek out this important predecessor.

Thibaut de Castries and his new science of cities are make-believe, drawn from the fertile
imagination of Fritz Leiber. But our author pulls many historic figures into his account, and
speculates that de Castries and his supernatural paramentals might
well have been behind the mysterious disappearance of
Bierce, the poisonings of Nora May French and George Sterling, and
the possible suicide of Jack London. Students of early California
literary history will enjoy the clever use Leiber makes of its most
colorful personages. In these pages, readers will also encounter
Clark Ashton Smith, Dashiell Hammett, even Fritz Leiber himself,
as the line between history and fantasy blurs, and sometimes

Our protagonist Franz Westen earns a living churning out horror
stories, but fears that the time has passed for this sort of work.
People tell him that "there is no such thing as supernatural horror
anymore—that science has solved, or can solve, all mysteries…that
modern people are too sophisticated and knowledgeable to be scared
of ghosts even for kicks.” But Westen soon learns, from firsthand
experience, that modern life has hardly banished supernatural forces,
but may have actually created new ones.

The enormous metaphysical impact of the Transamerica Pyramid, a
prepossessing monolith that sill looms over the San Francisco skyline
(and was erected five years before Leiber published
Our Lady of Darkness), may have served as
the tipping point that unleashed these deadly paramentals. Other seemingly innocent parts of the
city—Sutro Tower, the eminence of Corona Heights Park—also contribute to the dark magic.
Westen eventually finds himself haunted by a monstrous figure, who seems to both threaten
and taunt the troubled author—but never when others are around to witness it. Westen’s enemy
is the city embodied as dark adversary, a demon who, like many urban criminals, prefers to prey
on those who wander off on their own.

Nothing is as it seems in this alternative City by the Bay. In a brilliant and very symbolic ending,
our pulp fiction writer finds that the paper pulp itself
may destroy the author who churned out so many
pages for so many years. You can almost hear Fritz
Leiber chuckling to himself as constructed this richly
ironic adversary for his fictional alter ago.

In short, Leiber has delivered a strange, and strangely
pleasing book that deserves to be far better known.
Our Lady of Darkness is out-of-print—as are too many
Leiber books. At some point, the Library of America or
another astute publisher will start reissuing these works
in a systematic and comprehensive way. Mark my words:
Fritz Leiber will be rehabilitated as a 'serious' writer just
as has happened to
Lovecraft and Dick. Leiber deserves
that, not just for the imagination and wit that marks his best work, but also for his tremendous
impact on contemporary storytelling. Who could even begin to count how many movies, video
games, graphic novels and genre works have drawn inspiration from stories?

But when the Leiber renaissance takes place,
Our Lady of Darkness should be one of the first
books to get the lavishly introduced and fully annotated treatment. Leiber has not just delivered
an ingenious horror story, a new theory of urban malaise, and a disguised autobiography, but
also a mini-history of early commercial fiction in San Francisco. Yes, it’s still pulp fiction, but
straining at the seams—just like the adversary in this unconventional novel—to be so much

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from Basic Books.

Publication Date: August 1, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 29
The Complete Short Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Week 30
Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Week 31
Our Lady of Darkness
by Fritz Leiber
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
The Great San Francisco
Magical Realism Novel
To purchase, click on image
By Ted Gioia
Long before Murakami and Gaiman mixed malevolent magic with urban
landscapes, Fritz Leiber showed the way with
Our Lady of Darkness
Leiber's novel is cited for its historical
importance...but is still out of print.
Leiber, now in his late
sixties and a legend
within the world of genre
fiction, was forced to write
his stories on a manual
typewriter propped over a
sink in his cramped quarters.
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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