Review: The Green Millennium by Fritz Leiber

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Well-Known Member
Oct 20, 2013
4th September 2013 03:32 AM

Victoria Silverwolf


The Green Millennium by Fritz Leiber (1953)

Within the field of speculative fiction, comedy has usually taken the form of slapstick farce or parody of the conventions of the genre. Examples abound, from Ron Goulart to Douglas Adams.

Less common is satiric comedy, which combines an amusing story with sharp, critical observations of society. Satiric science fiction has often been serious in tone. Although it may be possible to find sardonic humor in 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, these books can hardly be called comedies.

The master of comic satire within science fiction was Robert Sheckley. Although not all of his work falls into this category, many of his novels and stories strike a perfect balance between playfulness and social commentary.

No less adept at this balancing act was Fritz Leiber. Although better known as a master of urban horror, with classic novels such as Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness, and for unusually stylish and witty tales of sword-and-sorcery, Leiber also created great works of science fiction. Often these were comic satires, including The Silver Eggheads and A Specter is Haunting Texas. To this distinguished list can be added The Green Millennium.

Phil Gish is an ordinary fellow living in a world where the Korean War has been going on for half a century. One day he wakes up to find a green cat, which seems to fill him with an unexpected sense of well-being. This leads to a series of wild adventures, as Phil encounters a large number of remarkable people.

. . . male and female wrestlers, religious crackpots, gun-toting psychoanalysts, girls with claws, hep-thugs, world-famous scientists, espers, vice syndicates, FBL raids, national and international crimes, and a whole lot of other things . . .

Although it has the plot structure of a screwball comedy, The Green Millennium also offers the reader a portrait of a decadent future America similar to that found in Leiber’s famous short story “Coming Attraction,” where audiences thrill to mixed-sex wrestling matches and stylish women wear off-the-bosom evening gowns.

. . . a world in which hot and cold wars had been gushing unpredictably for fifty years like tempermental faucets, in which the Federal Bureau of Loyalty and Fun Incorporated ruled the U.S.A. . . .

Readers of Leiber will not be surprised to learn that The Green Millennium depicts cats in an affectionate way. Not only the green cat which sets the plot in motion, but an entire menagerie.

. . . the place was simply alive with cats: black, white, topaz, silver, taupe; striped, mottled, banded, pied; short haired, Angora, Persian, Siamese and Siamese mutant. They dripped from chair tops and shelves; they peered brightly from under little tables and dully from suffocating-looking crevices between cushions; they pattered about or posed sublimely still.

Another aspect of Leiber’s work which is demonstrated throughout this novel is a strong interest in attractive young women. The Green Millennium is full of typical Leiber “girls.” Beautiful, teasing, often undressed or otherwise provocative, these women delight and confuse the rather naive protagonist. Unlike many of the “girls” found in science fiction from the middle of the last century, Leiber is careful to make his female characters individuals. From professional wrestler to amateur witch, all of the women in this book are memorable.

In particular, the most complex character in The Green Millennium is Mitzie Romadka, first seen as a bitterly angry young woman who joins petty criminals in their schemes as her way of rebelling against a society which she feels in stifling her.

“Night’s the only time, you know, at least in this century. Night in the city. I love the pale yellow streets and the bright yellow tunnels. They’ve taken the jungles away from us, the high seas and the highways, even space and the air. They’ve abolished half the night. They’ve tried to steal danger. But we’ve found it again in the city; we who’ve got the nerve and hate the sheep!”

Mitzie is the only character in the book who undergoes a major change in personality. Although Phil learns courage and determination, as he seeks the mysteriously important green cat, he starts off as a nice guy and he remains a nice guy. The many other characters in the novel, as colorful and varied as they are, do not change. The slow, painful transformation of Mitzie gives the book a serious undertone which provides a welcome contrast with its lighthearted mood.

The Green Millennium is full of imaginative touches and unpredictable plot twists. Its overall theme seems to be a simple one: Love Conquers All.