Justin Leiber (1938-2016)

Justin Leiber and his father, Fritz Leiber Jr., at a 1980s World Fantasy Convention. Photo by and Copyright © Andrew I. Porter.

Justin Leiber and his father, Fritz Leiber Jr., from a 1980s World Fantasy Convention. Photo by and Copyright © Andrew I. Porter.

Sf/f author Justin F. Leiber, retired philosophy professor, and son of Fritz Leiber, died of cancer March 22 in Tallahassee, Florida. He was 77. The family obituary is here.

He wrote the sf trilogy Beyond Rejection (1980), Beyond Humanity (1987), and Beyond Gravity (1988), and a pair of fantasy novels The Sword and the Eye and The Sword and the Tower (both 1985). His short story, “Tit for Tat,” was published in Amazing in 1987.

Leiber attended the University of Chicago Lab School, where he received his Ph.D. and Oxford University where he received his BPhil.

During his academic career, he taught at Lehman College (CUNY) and the University of Houston. He retired as a professor of philosophy from Florida State University. He worked mainly in philosophy of language, and also in philosophy of psychology and cognitive science.

Justin Leiber’s article about his father, “Fritz Leiber and Eyes,” first published in Algol/Starship in 1979, was reprinted by Earl Kemp in eI and can be read here.

…[In the summer of 1968] we were to see him at Clarion and then he was to visit us in Buffalo. I had just finished reading Fritz’ A Specter Is Haunting Texas, then serialized in Galaxy Magazine.

The specter in question is a tall and very thin native of the satellite communities who most wear a support exoskeleton to visit a Texas which some two hundred years hence has annexed much of North America. Scully, an actor by profession, becomes a useful symbolic figure in the bent-back revolution against the ruling class of Texans, who use hormones to reach Scully’s eight-foot height without mechanical support….

Scully, artist-actor like Fritz, does not change the world—he reflects it darkly. (The Communist Manifesto begins “A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism …” I asked Fritz whether anyone in SF had noticed the source of his title. He said no.)

When I saw Fritz that summer of 1968 he was sporting all of 140 pounds on his six-foot-five frame—a mighty gaunt reduction from the accustomed 200 or so pounds. He was Scully, or so it seemed to me. He had the somewhat silly giddiness of Scully. And he was putting on a crazy dramatic act (at Clarion anyhow). I still have a clear vision of this cadaverous scarecrow capering about and teaching fencing at a drunken backyard party at Clarion….

At the Campbell Conference in 2001, when Fritz Leiber was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, Justin Leiber was present to accept on behalf of his late father and participate in the rest of the conference.

Gregory Benford wrote on his memorial page, “He had deep knowledge of science fiction and informed his long view of it, learned also from his elegant father. He carried this into the Byzantium of philosophy with great insight.”

Leiber, unfortunately, found his academic colleagues were less accepting. On a panel at the 1988 Worldcon in New Orleans, wrote Evelyn Leeper, “Justin Leiber gave a long description of his experience with teaching a writing course at a college with a creative writing program. The fact that he was a successful author was bad enough, but that he was a successful science fiction author meant he was a total pariah.”

Leiber was the birth father of ArLynn Presser, who wrote romance novels under the pen name Vivian Leiber. In 2011, the Chicago Tribune ran a profile about her with some poignant family history:

Given up for adoption just before her third birthday, she endured a rocky childhood with her adoptive family and, later, in foster care…

[Her] biological father, Justin Leiber…, too, is a Facebook friend, whom she first tracked down through a private detective when she was 25. For her Facebook experiment, she traveled last winter to see him in Tallahassee, where he is a philosophy professor and writer.

A video post from that trip shows Presser retreating to a bathroom after her father guided her through the photos in his office; not one was of her or her sons. “I thought I was coming here because, well, yeah, he’s my Facebook friend, but I thought I was his daughter,” Presser says tearfully in the video. “He is just a guy who has a family, and I’m not part of that family.”

However, she was included in the family obituary published this March, named among Leiber’s survivors:

He was the beloved husband of Barbara R. Foorman of Tallahassee, FL; and father of KC Leiber of New York City and Arlynn Presser of Chicago, IL; and grandfather of Joseph and Eastman Presser and Jonquil Leiber-Wyatt.

11 thoughts on “Justin Leiber (1938-2016)

  1. “The Communist Manifesto begins “A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism …” I asked Fritz…”
    Not quite. I saw that and confirmed with Fritz, but he was pretty boozed at the time. First to write about adapting to Earth-g, methinks.
    Of course the specter of Communism did bring vast death and destruction. Few seem to recall that now.

  2. In furtherance of Greg Benford’s point, The Communist Manifesto was required reading in enough universities, and otherwise was sufficiently well known in the U.S., that I find it ridiculous and more than a little insulting to sf readers of the day to assert that they had not understood the allusion. Maybe Fritz was joking?

  3. Patrick McGuire: Although you deserve to be right, a lot of young fans in those days — including university graduates — only got the literary allusions that were actually explained to them in science fiction stories.

    I remember Harlan Ellison asking a mass audience at the 1972 Worldcon what the dog’s name in “A Boy And His Dog” was an allusion to. Crickets chirping. He had to explain “Blood’s a rover” comes from a Yeats Housman poem, and spent the next five minutes upbraiding his illiterate fans.

  4. *whisper* ae housman */whisper*

    Also one of the worst books James Ellroy ever wrote…

  5. Stoic Cynic: I’ll fix that. I’m sure whatever he said in 1972 he got it right, so it’s a shame one of Harlan’s fans is still illiterate despite his best efforts….

  6. Certainly not illiterate! More some weird variation of Muphry’s Law.

    Also, smacking my head for not making the connection of Spectre’s title and the manifesto. It’s obvious now that someone mentioned it. If we’re calling such things out, I’m in the illiterate camp too.

  7. Another correction (sorry!) — the University of Chicago Lab School(s) are an elementary school and high school. If he received a PhD there, I think it should just be the University of Chicago.

  8. Re BigelowT, my guess was that the linked obituary meant to say that Justin Leiber had attended the UC Lab School and that he later returned to the University for his PhD. For its part, the Wikipedia does not mention the lab school, but does note that Justin was born in Chicago where his parents lived at the time. Per the Fritz Leiber article, after a move to California in 1941, Fritz moved back to Chicago “after 1947” and remained there until 1958, providing a plausible window for Justin to attend the Lab School.

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  10. Justin was a friend and marvelous (if understandably distant) support. He introduced this odd one to memes, or the theory supporting them, at least. He and Fritz were remarkably giving interview subjects for me at WFC in Tucson (1991?). And his books are fondly recalled by me, including his work on the variegated subject of Noam Chomsky.

    A word, too, for Arlynn, Justin’s daughter and a fine writer: read her “Ghost Light” in TRIQUARTERLY. Any time will do but, as we all know, now is best.

    To Arlynn and her family, my deepest condolences…

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