Vintage Treasures: The Mind Spider and Ships to the Stars by Fritz Leiber

Vintage Treasures: The Mind Spider and Ships to the Stars by Fritz Leiber

The Mind Spider and Other Stories
and Ships to the Stars (Ace Books, 1976). Covers by Walter Rane

Last year I discussed the marvelous collection The Worlds of Fritz Leiber, published by Ace in 1976, and was astounded to find the author make this claim in the introduction.

I believe this collection represents me more completely, provides a fuller measure of the range of my fictional efforts, than any other. I’ve tried to make it that way, without repeating stories from other collections, especially the ones currently in print. There no overlap with those whatsoever. (Overlapping collections are an annoyance to readers and authors alike.)

Leiber had more than half a dozen collections in print in 1976, including five volumes of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales, two volumes of The Book of Fritz Leiber (DAW, 1974 and 1975), The Best of Fritz Leiber (Del Rey, 1974), and the two collections we’re discussing today, The Mind Spider and Ships to the Stars.

How is it possible to assemble a world-class retrospective and avoid any overlap with his other popular collections? I guess the only way to do it is to be Fritz Leiber.

[Click the images if you don’t Mind bigger versions.]

Back covers to The Mind Spider and Other Stories and Ships to the Stars

The Mind Spider and Other Stories is Leiber’s first (and only) Change War collection, the setting for his Hugo Award-winning novel The Big Time. Jesse’s 2021 review at Speculiction helped me keep it all straight.

Many older readers of science fiction are familiar with Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time. It’s central concept is the Change War, an eternal war between the Snakes and Spiders that takes place in and out of time and space. Rays shooting off in multiple directions from this concept are the stories in the collection The Mind Spider and Other Stories (1961).

The collection kicks off with “Haunted Future,” which is in fact a series of vignettes that act as commentary on the degree and speed of change that technology’s evolution has brought to humanity, particularly its utopian drive. While this would perhaps be a more powerful story when unpacked to novella length, what exists effectively pushes and recognizes the human side of said change. Nicely understated. A story more obviously set in the world of The Big Time, “Damnation Morning” begins with a man awakening from a hangover to discover a woman, seeming from another time and place beckoning. He goes with her, and their learns about the Change War dimension. Curious how it relates to his real world, she shows him, and a deeper reality comes available, literally and figuratively. Given Leiber’s personal issues, one can’t help but feel strong autobiographical elements.

In “The Oldest Soldier,” the bravura in a bar among a group of soldiers spills over into a manly test to prove who is right. Dark horror if anything else, the soldier proven wrong may have wished it another way. Another soldier in the Change War taking center stage, “Try and Change the Past”, this one decides to use time travel as a means of reversing what got him into the war to begin with. Switching points on the railroad track of time proves not as easy as he thinks, however….

The Mind Spider and Other Stories is essentially multiple different angles on The Big Time concept. Perhaps more precisely stated, it’s as if Leiber tired to combine the Change War with various other modes and devices: telepathy, alien encounter, military fiction, mystery.

The Mind Spider and Other Stories and Ships to the Stars were both reprinted by Ace Books in 1976. They were originally published as two halves of an Ace Double; The Mind Spider was paired with Leiber’s novel The Big Time (1961), and Ships to the Stars with Kenneth Bulmer’s The Million Year Hunt (1964). The Ace Double editions are below.

Ace Double editions of The Mind Spider and Other Stories and Ships to the Stars
(Ace Books, 1961 and 1964). Covers by Ed Emshwiller and Jack Gaughan

Interestingly, the two Ace editions of The Mind Spider are slightly different. The 1961 Ace Double includes the classic tale “Try and Change the Past,” in which a new recruit in the Change War discovers just how hard it is to meddle with the past, while the 1976 Ace edition drops that story but adds a new Foreword by Leiber and the non-Change War tale “Midnight in the Mirror World.”

Here’s the complete TOC for the 1976 edition.

Foreword by Fritz Leiber
“The Haunted Future” (Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, November 1959)
“Damnation Morning” (Fantastic, August 1959)
“The Oldest Soldier” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1960)
“Midnight in the Mirror World” (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, October 1964)
“The Number of the Beast” (Galaxy Magazine, December 1958)
“The Mind Spider” (Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, November 1959)

Both editions are fairly easy to find, and neither one should cost you more than the price of a new paperback.

Here’s the complete Foreword, original to the 1976 reprint edition.

Foreword to The Mind Spider by Fritz Leiber (1976 edition)

Ships to the Stars contains six stories, including “Deadly Moon,” which reads very much like a precursor to one of Leiber’s most famous novels, the 1965 Hugo Award Winner The Wanderer.

Ships to the Stars still connects with modern audiences. Here’s an excerpt from the June 2013 review by Kristen at Goodreads.

A collection of six short science fiction stories from the 50’s and early 60’s.

In “Dr Kometevsky’s Day,” the citizens of a future earth find out more about their solar system than imagined. In “The Big Trek,” a man finds himself among a group of unknown aliens on a desolated earth, but cannot remember why.

“The Enchanted Forest” gives us Elven, a fugitive who crash landed on a rustic, surreal planet. “The Deadly Moon” tells of moon phobias, and possible reasons why. In “The Snowbank Orbit,” spacemen run into some truly alien aliens. And, in “The Ship Sails at Midnight,” a small group of intellectuals meet an extraordinary woman, who seemed to come from nowhere.

The collection is a quick nostalgic read into a wild, trippy future that cannot be found in any film or TV show.

Both reprints had inside covers with teaser excerpts; here’s a peek.

Inside covers of The Mind Spider and Other Stories and Ships to the Stars

Here’s the complete TOC for Ships to the Stars.

“Dr. Kometevsky’s Day” (Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952)
“The Big Trek” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1957)
“The Enchanted Forest” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1950)
“Deadly Moon” (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, November 1960)
“The Snowbank Orbit” (If, September 1962)
“The Ship Sails at Midnight” (Fantastic Adventures, September 1950)

And here’s the complete publishing details for the 1976 reprint editions, both from Ace Books.

The Mind Spider (148 pages, $1.50 in paperback, 1976) — cover by Walter Rane
Ships to the Stars (150 pages, $1.50 in paperback, October 1976) — cover by Walter Rane

Ships to the Stars was reprinted by Wildside Press in 2009; The Mind Spider has remained out of print since 1976. There are no digital editions I’m aware of.

Some of the magazines these stories originally appeared in

If you’re a fan of vintage SF, you’re probably well aware that these stories originally appeared in science fiction and fantasy digest magazines in the middle of the last century.

Fritz Leiber was a regular contributor to most of the major magazines of the day, including Astounding Science Fiction, Fantastic Adventures, Galaxy, If, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, and plenty others.

These magazines are a lot of fun to collect — and not very expensive (at least until I succeed in buying them all, anyway). You can read about my adventures buying several boxes worth (for well under $1 per issue) at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show here in Chicago.

The Worlds of Fritz Leiber (Ace, 1976). Cover by Patrick Woodroffe

Our previous coverage of Fritz Leiber includes:

The Worlds of Fritz Leiber (2022)
The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “The Button Molder,” by Steven H Silver (2019)
Heroes And Horrors by Fritz Leiber (2019)
Birthday Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Cloud of Hate” by Steven H Silver (2018)
Danger In Every Dark Alley: 40 Years of Adventuring in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber’s Great Fantasy Metropolis (2018)
The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber by Steve Carper (2018)
Vampires, Frozen Worlds, and Gambling With the Devil: The Best of Fritz Leiber by James McGlothlin (2016)
Dual Structures in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser Stories and Robin Wayne Bailey’s Swords Against the Shadowland by Gabe Dybing (2015)
Lust, Women, and the Devil: Seven Decades of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (2014)
Night Monsters by Fritz Leiber (2014)
Vintage Treasures: The Best Of Fritz Leiber (2013)
Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D (2013)
Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Part 2: The Fritz Leiber Novelization by Ryan Harvey (2013)
Art of the Genre: Looking Back at Old Readings with Neil and Fritz Leiber by Scott Taylor (2013)
The Girl With The Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber (2013)

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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I remember liking Mind Spider.


Couple of years ago. I’m not sure.

Thomas Parker

These look nice! Leiber wrote so many great stories. He wrote probably my favorite short sf story ever (“Mariana”) and my favorite short story title (“The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity”), both collected in the Best of Fritz Leiber. A lot of people have had multi-volume collections of their complete short stories (Dick, Sturgeon, Clark Ashton Smith etc) – has anyone ever done this for Fritz Leiber? If not, it’s long overdue.

Last edited 10 months ago by Thomas Parker
Robert Adam Gilmour

I was wondering this today too, strange that it never happened, I wonder how many volumes it might be and what size?

Thomas Parker

The sticking point might be whether to include the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories. Probably best to consider any Lankhmar material as something altogether separate.

Thomas Parker

The Leiber collections I prize the most are two beautiful Ballantines – Shadows with Eyes and A Pail of Air.

Keith West

Centipede Press did a two-volume Leiber collection in their Masters of the Weird Tale series a few years ago and a single volume in their Masters of Science Fiction series at about the same time. Pricey, but nice if you can afford them.

Keith West

Oh, I almost forgot. Darkside Press/Midnight House did four collections about 20 years ago. They only had a print run of something like 450 copies, but some are now available in ebook. The titles were :
The Black Gondolier
Day Dark, Night Briight
Smoke Ghost
Horrible Imaginings

Keith West

I wasn’t aware Open Road media had done paper editions. Thirty for an original is a steal. I think the original price was $40.

The Centipede Press editions are highly sought after, not to mention highly expensive. The Charles L. Grant Masters of the Weird Tale volume sold out last month within about 10 minutes of going on sale. So many people were trying to buy it, the website crashed. (I wasn’t able to get one.)

I’m not surprised you can’t find the Leiber Masters of the Weird Tale. I think that one went pretty quickly, too.

James Enge

Thanks for the blast from the past! I fondly remember these books, and still have a copy of the 70s-era MIND SPIDER with that crazy monster-dog on the cover.

Re the Change War: MIND SPIDER ETC was Leiber’s first collection of Change War stories, but not the only one. There was a more complete collection later: CHANGEWAR (Ace, 1983). And Gregg Press put out a hardback with a couple more stories in 1978, but I’ve never been able to track down a copy.

Every story in THE MIND SPIDER ETC is golden, but my favorite is probably the creepy (and non-Change War) tale “Midnight in the Mirror World”.

Last edited 10 months ago by James Enge

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