Fritz Leiber, Pulp Sword and Sorcery Star

December 24

Legendary sword and sorcery writer Fritz Leiber was born 110 years ago this Christmas Eve. He is one of the writers included in The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction, Volume 1.

One of the leaders of the “sword and sorcery” genre, Leiber did most of his pulp work as the magazines were fading away.

His first pulp sale was “Two Sought Adventure,” published in the August 1939 Unknown. It introduced his most famous characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The two were, according to Lieber, his effort to make more realistic heroes than the super-humans represented by characters like Tarzan and Conan.

Fafhrd is a tall, strong barbarian, while the Mouser is a small, mercurial thief, and a former wizard’s apprentice. The majority of the stories are set in the fictional world of Nehwon (“Nowhen” spelled backwards). Several additional Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories would appear in Unknown, then in other science fiction magazines after Unknown folded in 1943.

Lieber’s stories outside the series appeared in several other pulps, including Amazing Stories and Future Fiction. Lieber’s first two novels were also serialized in the pulps in 1943, Conjure Wife in Unknown and Gather Darkness! in Astounding.

The fantasy pioneer died in 1992.

F.R. Buckley, 1896-1976

December 20

Pulp writer Frederick Robert Buckley was born on today’s date in 1896. The English writer, film critic and screenwriter is one of the writers featured in The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction, Volume 2.

Born in Colton, Staffordshire, England, in 1896, he emigrated to the United States in 1915. He went to work as a film critic for the New York Evening Mail, then joined Vitagraph Studios. He worked as a screenwriter and actor for the silent film studio. In 1916, he married actress Helen Curry, sister of pulp writer Tom Curry.

Buckley left the studio in 1918 after selling his first short story, “Getting It,” to The Black Cat. His fiction would appear in the slicks, as well as several pulps, including Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book and Western Story Magazine.

For Adventure, Buckley wrote his most famous series, featuring Captain Luigi Caradosso, an Italian mercenary during the Renaissance. The swashbuckling hero first appeared in 1924, with several more stories from 1926 to 1934, when Buckley returned to England. A second series of Caradosso stories ran in Adventure from 1940 to 1949.

From 1934 to 1970, he worked as an announcer and writer for the BBC. He died in England in 1976.

Alfred Bester, 1913-1987

December 18

Alfred Bester was born on today’s date in 1913. The pulp writer, television and radio scribe and editor is one of the writers featured in The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction.

A member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, Bester got his start by winning a story contest sponsored by Thrilling Wonder Stories. His story, “The Broken Axiom,” won Bester $50 and was published in the April 1939 issue.

Bester published several more stories in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories and Astounding Science Fiction over the next couple years. In 1942, Bester began writing for DC Comics, then scripted episodes of several radio programs, including The Shadow and Nick Carter, Master Detective.

In the 1950s, Bester returned to writing science fiction short stories and novels, which he would do on-and-off along with other various writing and editing jobs until his death in 1987.

Arthur Guy Empey, 1883-1963

Arthur Guy Empey was born on this date in 1883. The soldier, actor, author and filmmaker is one of the writers profiled in The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction.

Empey, an American frustrated with neutrality, fought in World War I with the British Army beginning in 1915. He served on the Western Front as a bomber and machine-gunner and was wounded in action at the Battle of Somme.

After a medical discharge, Empey returned to the United States in 1917, where he wrote Over the Top, a book about his experiences. The popular book was made into a film in 1918, leading to a career in Hollywood for the former soldier.

As the medium transitioned to sound in the late 1920s, Empey’s career slowed and he began writing war-themed pulp stories. Empey created the popular Terence X. O’Leary, a World War I infantryman, military policeman, aviator and secret agent. His adventures appeared in multiple pulps including War Stories, Battle Stories and War Birds. The latter was retitled as Terence X. O’Leary’s War Birds in 1935 in an attempt to boost sales. Oddly, the editors also changed the format, changing genres from more realistic war stories to more fanciful, supernatural tales. The experiment ended after only three issues and the title was dropped altogether in 1936 as public interest in World War I faded.