The fifth and sixth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Fritz Leiber imagines a sinister conjuration of the Girl behind the advertisement and a robot who wanders a post-nuclear landscape selling soda to the charred victims.
Next Up: Tomorrow’s TV, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles Waugh (1982). Stories by Isaac Asimov, Jack C. Haldeman II, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Ray Nelson. Links to each short story can be found in the review.
4.5/5 (Very Good)
Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949) first appeared in The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, and Other Stories (1949). I read it in his collection The Secret Songs (1968). You can read it online here.
“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” explores the post-WWII economic boom as television and rapidly growing suburbs expanded the reach and power of advertising. Cold War rhetoric promoted consumerism as a key component of the American Way of Life (source).
A tale of erotic obsession and terror, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” imagines a fantastical conjuration of the archetypal advertising Girl selling every conceivable product. Her face appears on billboards across the urban expanse. Her torso or limb holds the object to be marveled at. And her eyes, “the hungriest eyes in the world” (131), tear into the soul and take something away with their gaze. Fritz Leiber’s terrified narrator, the “poor damned photographer” (129) who unleashed her on the world and fell for her spell, confesses “there are vampires and vampires, and not all of them suck blood” (128).
The photographer recounts in hushed and manic tones the story of their fateful meeting. And the “murders, if they were murders” (128) that gripped the city. As if ashamed, he explains the power her eyes held, “they’re looking at you with the hunger that’s all sex and something more than sex” and the faint dizzy feeling he experienced as their interactions increased (131). He plays off his own frailties as the symptom of a larger societal failing—“you know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set on the same things” (138). Begging us to agree.
A brilliant formulation of the eroticism of consumerism and the weak men who fall for the charms of the unknown girl who sells the dream. Effective, slick and well-crafted, speculative horror that rattles around your mind like an advertising jingle that just won’t let go.
4.5/5 (Very Good)
Fritz Leiber’s “A Bad Day for Sales” (1953) first appeared in the Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (July 1953). You can read it online here.
“A Bad Day for Sales” pairs a future consumerist media landscape–massive animated billboards and the first automated perambulating robotic vending machines (Robie the Robot) with his pre-recorded advertising soundbites in the voice of a famous actor–with the rapidly disintegrating geopolitical relationship between the US and the USSR. With hilarious (and horrifying) results, Leiber’s deadpan humor collides with a nightmarish danse macabre as nuclear war descends leaving Robie trying to sell his wares to the dead and dying. Demanding money from the victims, the new manifestation of commercial progress trudges on, oblivious to the world around him.
As with “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes,” Leiber explores the disquieting eroticism of consumerism and advertising media. Crowds ogle the “fifty-foot-tall” billboard models dressing and undressing, dressing and undressing (112). Robie’s automated attempts to sell his products–Poppy Pop and comic books—are described in the same terminology as a prostitute turning a “trick” (116). He’s programmed to whistle at attractive women. Women display their bodies in front of his sensors. His prepared advertising soundbites and wares seethe with sensuality–from the “seductivizing Mars Blood” perfume that exudes the “passionate claws” of a Martian sunrise (116) to Gee-Gee Jones, Space Stripper (115), a SF comic book for young girls.
Leiber integrates via headlines that flash on the billboards that line the streets the fracturing geopolitical landscape. The oblivious populous concentrates on the new fangled Robie and his attempts to get kids to buy buy buy. And when death comes, Leiber’s prose terrifies with disengaged/descriptive terror: “The orange flower grew, stem and blossom. The blast came. The winking windows shattered tier by tier, became black holes. The walls bent, rocked, cracked. A stony dandruff flaked from their cornices. The flaming flowers on the sidewalk were all leveled at once” (117). And Robie, unhurt but with sensors askew from the blast, “made some small, uncertain movements, as if feeling for broken bones” (117), before his program sets in again.
I loved this one.
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