Short Story #53: Ship of Shadows by Fritz Leiber

Title:  Ship of Shadows

Author:  Fritz Leiber


Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992) - Fritz Leiber's Ship of Shadows
Spar awakes from a nightmare about witches and vampires and meets a talking cat named Kim who may or may not be a witch-cat..  He has trouble remembering where he is from, he has no teeth, and really bad eyesight.  He works in a bar that's on a spaceship called the Windrush and believes as many others do that it is in fact, the universe.   With the help of the cat, he swears off moonmist, an intoxicating drink.  The bar is a popular place for drunks and some other questionable folks like Crown who has his harem of women and is constantly  abusing people around him.  Spar eventually gets mixed up in some events surrounding the disappearance of a bag that belongs to the Doctor but that Crown is claiming to be his.  Spar returns the bag to the doctor and the doctor helps him by providing him with fake teeth and glasses.  All the while, he's finding out that things are not what they appear to be--with the bar, with Crown and his harm, with everyone else, and with the ship itself.  His prying eventually leads to his capture by Crown and his harem who look to drink his blood along with other people but at the last minute, Kim comes to the rescue with others.  When all is said and done, it is revealed that Kim was sent to retrieve Spar and another character and help them remember who they were and to get the ship to join with another ship.


Blah.  That's my initial thought about this story.  It felt like a lot of work for very little return.  This was a long short-story (about 40 pages) and felt like it was too underdeveloped and probably should have been a book.  You get the answers you need by story's end but they feel a bit empty after wandering so long within the story without much sense.  It's funny while I really liked this other Leiber story, this one felt like it was trying to hard to be something more than it was.

Short Story #53 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/20/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can also be found on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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  1. I just read the last lines of this story I started a few days ago. Because I found it quite badly written, I took a few days to finish it. It never grabbed my interest much. I had expected much more from it, however, as it won a Hugo award. I'm reading Leiber's collection The Leiber Chronicles, and Ship of Shadows came up eventually. I like a good many of the stories I encountered earlier in the collection, such as The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, Coming Attraction, A Pail of Air, A Bad Day for Sales, and Bazaar of the Bizarre, so Leiber could definitely write, with feeling, wit, and carefully crafted sentences.

    Ship of Shadows looks like a rushed piece of work. The dialog is crappy, the ending seemed tacked on, there is little drama, too few things make sense at first, and what could have made the story work (the cat) is the only feature that enjoys some detailed touches. Leiber probably liked cats. He also probably liked to drink, although there was more of a drinking problem there, I have read elsewhere. As the story involves heavy drinking and other drugs, I think there's a relation. Leiber could have written this while being drunk in a bad way. Maybe he needed to pay some bills and hurriedly wrote this in a state of intoxication.

    Anyway, I agree with your assessment. Elsewhere, I read a glowing review. In my opinion, if someone gives this story a glowing review, that reviewer has low standards. The Hugo award probably was just a popularity contest and the award given because Leiber was fairly popular for probably his Lankhmar stories. I used to have more respect for those awards such as the Hugo, but in most cases it's not saying much or is just politics, especially nowadays.

    I don't want to stomp on Leiber's grave or memory. I just think that so far this particular story is the worst of his I have read. Usually, his stories have a much better level of quality.

    I'm looking forward to a few upcoming stories in the book I'm reading, most notable Ill Met in Lankhmar. It always gets favorable reviews and I may have read it before, but that was a long time ago, so I forgot what it's about.

    Greetings from The Netherlands. (December 29, 2019.)


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