Rediscovered: Fritz Cracks Jeopardy!

The_Wanderer_(Fritz_Leiber_novel_-_cover_art)As I was just reporting, Jeopardy! didn’t have any Hammett clews in March — but they snuck in another Up and Down These Mean Streets favorite that was much more of a surprise.

March 31, snowballing toward Final Jeopardy, with a category in play that I know pretty well: Hugo Award-Winning Novels.

I almost couldn’t believe that none of the contestants could guess Robert A. Heinlein when a clew cited a couple of his Hugo winners, but that’s how it goes.

Back in the 1970s and 80s it seemed as if Heinlein was the great science fiction writer, a rep he’d had since the 1950s. But somehow that position dimmed, and sf guys such as Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke rose higher. Maybe movies at the right moment put them over, but I’d never have believed someone as big as Heinlein was when I began doing litcrit in the field could fall so profoundly.

I remember Fritz Leiber saying that he thought that Heinlein was the great sf writer of their generation. And now he’s not as known by the general public as Asimov. Not even Starship Troopers made him a household name in brainy households. . . .

As the $2000 slot under Hugos popped up — the last one in play before the game moved to Final Jeopardy — I got a start.

“They’re using Fritz! It’s The Wanderer! From 1964!”

One of Fritz’s best, The Wanderer appeared as a paperback original — great book, I’ve long maintained that it would make the best disaster movie of all time. And here it was!

The statement read: “A new planet’s appearance wreaks havoc on Earth in this 1965 winner named for what ‘planet’ means in Greek.”

If, like me, you know the Hugo winners of yesteryear (I pay no attention to what wins today), easy as pie.

They don’t expect you to know Fritz’s name — that would be a bit much, especially if the panel can’t dredge up Heinlein.

The only clew to doping it out — without just knowing what it is — seems to be an understanding of Greek.

In this case, none of the contestants rang in. They didn’t know Fritz or Greek — or enough about the Hugo winners to hazard a guess.

But at least now the unnamed ghost of Fritz Leiber is haunting the Jeopardy! scene. And as far as I’m concerned, Fritz is one of the great science fiction writers. If they make a movie out of The Wanderer, I bet everyone else would realize it, too.

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