|Photo courtesy of Jim Rockhill and the Leman family.|
[Updated 4/15/18] Robert Joseph Leman was the son of Joseph Frederick Leman (1894-1969), a farmer, and his wife Lois Emma Altorfer (1893-1927), who were married on 21 March 1921 in Roanoke, Illinois. He had two younger sisters, and a younger brother, as well as a half-brother, born after his father had remarried in 1932.
Leman graduated from high school in 1939, and he attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana for three years before enlisting in the army in October 1942. He served as a field artillery officer during World War II, after which he completed his B.A. degree in 1947 on the G.I. Bill, studying political science. Also in 1947, Leman married Margaret Anne Longacre (1926-2012), with whom he had two daughters. And he went to work in the oil and gas industry (first at Standard Oil, now renamed Exxon), which remained his profession until retirement.
Leman was since youth a voracious reader, not only of science fiction (he read Edgard Rice Burroughs when he was nine, followed soon after by H.G. Wells and the pulp magazines), but of literature in general, including writers like Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, and Henry James. Of the pulp magazines Leman told Jim Rockhill that he enjoyed Weird Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Astounding Science Fiction and the variously-subtitled successor Analog, which were under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Jr., from 1937 until Campbell's death in 1971. Leman was a member of First Fandom, owing to his activities as a science fiction fan prior to 1938, but his most active period in fandom began in 1957, when he joined the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA). The first issue of his FAPA fanzine (November 1957) was titled The American Journal of Oculenteratology, with "oculenteratology" being what Leman called "an etymologically imperfect coinage of mine, meaning (or intending to mean) 'the study of bug-eyed monsters.' " Leman retitled his fanzine The Vinegar Worm with the second issue (January 1958), and so it remained until its final issue (volume II, number twelve—the sixteenth sequential issue) of November 1969. The fanzine followed Leman's employment; it was issued first from Denver 1957-c.1960, then from Rawlings, Wyoming, until 1961, and then from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, where Leman and his family finally settled.
Leman described his fanzine as "completely written by me with no fancy graphics or illustrations—mostly humorous, mostly essays, and sometimes a story. It contained quite a bit of parody and some satire." Most of the "stories" might more accurately be described as sketches, and they include things like "Paint the Coffin Fuschia" (a John D. MacDonald parody) and "The Davenport" (subtitled "A grieved reaction to The Couch, a 'novelization' by our old friend, Robert Bloch"), or more original short pieces like "Brisker Pipes" by Farley McNitt (about the conflict between a man and his wife over fandom) and "Horror Unparalleled" by Blossom Grabenhorst (a parody of adventure tales like those of A. Merritt). Other authors parodied, in a symposium based on the nursery rhyme of "Little Miss Muffet," include Thomas Wolfe, Philip K. Dick, Ayn Rand, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, and Bob Leman himself. A later issue mocks Harlan Ellison's anthology Dangerous Visions, as Perilous Hallucinations, with entries on Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, Philip Jose Farmer, and Ellison's own contribution, "The Marauder Lurking Near the Chasm Lying at the End of Time." The Vinegar Worm contained a number of book reviews too, of Mervyn Peake and J.R.R. Tolkien (Leman much preferred The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings). Probably the most brilliant writing in The Vinegar Worm was Leman's championing of the forgotten writer Dorcas Bagby (1883-1963), for whose novel The Moswell Plan (1905) Leman makes a strong case for it being "the greatest novel of the supernatural ever written." Of course it was a hoax: Miss Bagby and her novel existed only in Leman's imagination, but it was kind of Leman to share this wonderful conception of an imaginary writer and her oeuvre with the world.
Leman put out some other fanzines, like the one-page (two sides) An Inquiry into Certain Little-Known Consequences of the Berlin-Bagdad Pact (1957), which was entirely fannish in nature, being written in support of Richard Eney's candidacy for that year's Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund. For the Spectator Amateur Press Society (SAPS) Leman also published six issues of Nematode, no. 1 (January 1958) to no. 6 (January 1960). A single-page Bulletin of the Dorcas Bagby Society (probably late 1961), was followed by a large issue 2 that seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with Dorcas Bagby (the only reported copy, from which I've seen two scanned pages, are printed over doubly, and thus virtually unreadable).
Leman's output of fiction was relatively small, but it was of consistently high quality, with a modern and realistic approach to the elements of fantasy that he used. He wrote in total sixteen short stories. His first book was the reprinting of a 1984 story, Instructions, as a chapbook in 2001 from Tachyon Publications. Fifteen stories (including "Instructions") were collected in the 2002 volume Feesters in the Lake & Other Stories, edited by Jim Rockhill. Thirteen of the short stories had appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; the first in 1967 and the rest between 1977 and 1988. (Leman read every issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction since its inception in 1949.) Only one story ("Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming") had appeared elsewhere, in Shadows 10 (1987), edited by Charles L. Grant. The fifteenth story ("How Dobbstown Was Saved") was newly-published, though it had been sold in February 1981 to the never-published anthology The Last Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison.
Leman left two unpublished works, a short story "A Clock for a Demon," a kind of Screwtape-type story in which a demon attempts to instruct his nephew in perpetrating evil among humans. It was turned down by Ed Ferman of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1989 because at that time Ferman had too many horror stories in stock. Leman's other unpublished work dates from the first half of 1987; it is a large fragment of a novel titled Worms, comprising some thirty-thousand words. It is vintage Leman, and it is a real regret that he didn't finish it.
Leman's most famous work is doubtless his 1980 short story "Windows," which was filmed as part of the Night Visions series, and aired in July 2001 (retitled "A View through the Window"), starring Bill Pullman.