Saturday, February 25, 2017

Bazaar of the Bizarre

In Bazaar of the Bizarre Fritz Lieber demonstrates that message-fiction can be fun…provided it’s presented as fiction-message.  That order is important.  Lieber might be a dirty red socialist, but he is a solid enough author that even his blatantly anti-capitalist screeds are entertaining reads. 

The Devourers are “the most accomplished merchants in all the many universes,” Sheelba warns.  “They sell trash and take good money,” he continues.  Worse, “they want all their customers reduced to a state of slavish and submissive suggestibility, so that they are fit for nothing whatever but to gawk at and buy the trash the Devourers offer for sale.”  One can imagine Lieber sitting down at a table near the entrance of a Wal-Mart, watching the parade of humanity march past, shaking his head as his fingers merely describe what he sees.  With subtext elevated to super-text like this, its easy to see why Moorcock counts this among his favorite Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories.
It’s blatant to the point of parody, but it works.  The menace in this story is capitalism.  And yet, it’s delivered with enough panache that even a crusty old John Bircher like myself can chuckle, set aside all reason and logic, and accept the premise of the story for the purposes of the story.  It is a fantasy after all, and the men(?) pronouncing this judgement – Ningauble and Sheelba – are hardly the most reliable (or even sane) characters in Nehwon.

It helps that Fafhrd’s responses to this warning amount to a very dry and sarcastic, “Monstrous!”  At least, this reader took them as sarcastic, and perhaps his responses are enigmatic by design.  Perhaps this story serves as a Rorshach test of sorts – you can see whatever message in it your heart chooses.
Either way, this time it is the Grey Mouser’s turn to get into trouble, and Fafhrd’s turn to wade into the horrors of the house of low cost consumer goods to pull the Mouse’s bacon from the fire.

But wait!  Did the Mouser get himself into trouble?  Recall that he was sent, as was Fafhrd, but without the warning to wait until a specific time.  The Creepy Eyed duo set that up, didn’t they?  They knew Fafhrd was too practical to get sucked in to such a silly adventure, and that the Grey Mouser was too curious not to.  They used Grey as bait to get Fafhrd into the shop.
They may be crazy, but they certainly are clever.

In keeping with my vow to finish off the month of February without referencing Dungeons and Dragons, I’m instead going to point to GURPS.  Specifically, the best Actual Play blog around, Peter dell’Orto’s excellent Dungeon Fantastic.  Skyrockets went off in my back brain when Ningauble asked the parenthetical question, “Is that coincidentally a city, do think, Fafhrd? Cashamash?”  That name rang a distant bell in my memory, and it took me some time to recall that the base city for his GURPs campaign contains a here-today-gone-today wizard for hire named Black Jans who is from…Cashamash:
Of course, it might also say that the wizards of Cashamash aren't worried about peasant rebellions or hostile townsmen rioting so much as being able to get into any perhaps out of their towers quickly. Cashamash is a weird place.
Ningauble was right, and his legendary knowledge of the universe demonstrates that he knows about Stericksburg and Felltower. Of course, this observation is no gotchya! It’s actually a solid attaboy! You’re supposed to put this sort of thing in your RPGs.  It’s literally as old as RPGs themselves.  Fellow fans of Pete’s blog should laugh and rejoice that Dryst and Vryce share a multi-verse with Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser.


  1. Why do you refer to Michael Moorcock three times in the beginning of this piece? Did he have something to do with the edition depicted at the top?

    All in all, one of my favorite F&GM as well.

    Creepy-Eyed Duo; I like that, may I use it?

  2. Because I'm high on allergy medicine and have been listening to too much Razorfist. Lemme just make a little adjustment there.

  3. Got to watch that allergy medicine; necessary but can lead you to strange places.