Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mass for the World Mortally Sick and Perhaps Dying

‘“Everybody stand very close,” Jane Chantal called them. “We are in a haunted murder-world and all who stray from the group will be picked off and killed one by one.”

‘The nine members of the Group of Twelve, Jane Chantal High-Queen, Perpetua Parisi, Gorgonius and Monika Pantera, Solomon Izzersted, Denis Lollardy, Caesar Oceano, Drusilla Evenrood, Mary Brandy Manx, along with the Countess Maude Grogley and the transcendent marble statue named The Laughing Christ of Creophylus, stood very close together. Then they were in the great hall of Klavierschloss, the Piano Castle of Gorgonius and Monika Pantera in the high German Alps. It was very early Sunday Morning, only a little bit after midnight, of June Twenty-First or Midsummer Night, of one of the very final years of the twentieth century.

‘There were garments of a sort there. There was a disreputable urn there. And none of them was so gauche as to have to ask what the things were for. They all put on the sack-cloth, and they poured the ashes over their heads. There was even a garment of sack-cloth trimmed to the small size of Solomon Izzersted. Solomon at least would wear these penance weeds for the rest of his very long life. And one of those present put a sack-cloth garment around the statue of the Laughing Christ and poured ashes over the Laughing Head.

‘And when, three hours later, the priest of the Castle came to say the Mass Before Dawn it was not the designated Mass of Sunday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time but was instead the Mass for the World Mortally Sick and Perhaps Dying.

‘But after that they breakfasted well as the hundreds of pianos in the Castle began to play Lift Up Your Eyes and Mountains in the Morning. The Gorgonius art had cut and programmed these with a new blend of songs of the general name Sunday at Klavierschloss for Three-Hundred-and-Ninety-Nine Player Pianos.’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp. 143-144

The Sylvan Spirit Who Stepped Out of The Laughing Christ

Perhaps the greatest of the forgeries of Denis Lollardy was his Laughing Christ of Creophylus which he had done only short months ago. The original Laughing Christ had disappeared from a villa North-by-East of Rome in the year of the Lord 453. And this one had been dug out of the storied Italian marl-and-loam very near to that place. Was this indeed the original Laughing Christ? people asked.
This was better than the original. Howin was it better? It worked miracles, and there was no tradition of the original statue working them.

What miracles did it work? It cured the melancholy of people who gazed on it. But miracles of that sort are only subjective miracles. It changed the horrible nose of a Roman lady and made it a thing of joy instead of a thing of horror. But really, it had changed the configuration less than a millimetre. And it happened that such was enough to make it into a good-natured and pleasant member instead of a horrible member. It was still not a beautiful nose, but the lady accepted it with pleasure and glee.

Thunderation! The statue did work genuine miracles. And it terrified one man. Denis Lollardy had never been a pious man. He had only been a borderline believing man. But he knew miracles when he saw them, and he was terrified (Oh, but there was joy mixed with the terror also) by the miracles worked by the Laughing Christ that he himself had carved.

Saint Joseph and The Great Circular Stairway Built With Only Three Nails

‘“I have cellars in my house here with passages into the Ocean,” Laughter-Lynn said when they were at breakfast. “Row-boats come into them all the time and ship-boats often. The name of one of my cellars is Drowned Ghost Cellar, and all of the ghosts of my house are drowned-man ghosts. I do not have such impressive visitors to my house as my mother has to her Castle. No Angels come here, except one sometimes. No Giants, except one very small one. No Sioga, except Ocean-Goblins. The three ghosts of my house I love the most are my three drowned husbands.”

‘“I want seaweed to eat for breakfast,” the Jane said. “I don’t want this other stuff.”

‘“I’ll get you some,” said the child servant. “I’m Katie.”

‘“Will these sea-castings further our Quest for Reality?” Hieronymous Talking-Crow asked.

‘“Oh, I think so,” Laughter-Lynn said. “Judgment Day Morning, when we shall all of us understand every secret and every reality, comes when the land shall give up its dead. But the sea gives up its dead every morning in my big cellars, and there are a lot of secrets revealed and shocking realities come to port. Oh, here’s one of my house ghosts now. He is my second drowned husband, Ship Captain Cornelius.”

‘“Charmed,” said the ghostly SeaCaptain in his ghostly SeaCaptain’s weeds, and he bowed to all of them. “Have you seen our Great Circular Stairway that possibly was not built by living hands? It is one of the Three Wonders of our house and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It runs from the Monsters’ Den which is two levels below the booming ocean itself to the Sky Studio that is unsupported save by the winding stairway.”

‘“The Stairway was built during the tenure-in-life of SeaCaptain Cornelius here,” Laughter-Lynn said proudly. “He was at-land for a month then and was in the house. I came home one evening and there was the beautiful Circular Stairway completed. And there was the Sky Studio new in the sky like a large head on the end of a long corkscrew neck. The whole thing would have taken a crew of five carpenters five weeks to do, except for the portions of it that would have been quite impossible to do at all.”

‘“It was Saint Joseph who did it,” said SeaCaptain Cornelius. “I knew him by the pipe that he had in his mouth. It was made with a Gouging Tool out of the very tag-end of a board. Those Galilean carpenters will not waste a thing. I also knew him by the tobacco that he was smoking in his pipe. Those frugal Galilean carpenters smoke a mixture of nine parts aromatic redwood sawdust and one part of strong shag tobacco. It has a pleasant smell. ‘I will work for a noon meal,’ he said (he was a tall-straight man), ‘ I can repair anything, anything.’ ‘There is a step on the stairway that needs fixing,’ I said, ‘but I don’t have a board at hand to repair it or I’d do it myself.’ ‘I have everything I’ll need,’ he said, and he opened a very small package that he had. It contained a small saw, a small hammer, three nails, a very small board of wood, and two little panes of glass, one of them clear and one of them clouded. I noticed the name on his small package, Joseph Jacobson, so then I knew for sure that he was Saint Joseph; for the father of Saint Joseph was named Jacob. I gave him a noon meal of Dutch bread and ewe-milk cheese and codfish, and a cup of light medlar wine. Then I went to take my afternoon nap which I always take whether on sea or on land, whether in life or in death. And in my sleep I heard a hammer with a melodious ring to it, very pleasant. But even in my sleep I wondered ‘He has only three nails, and how can he be doing so much melodious hammering with them?’ Then when my nap was finished (it’s always finished within half an hour) I found the Galilean carpenter Joseph Jacobson. ‘The step is fixed,’ he said. ‘Really I did a little bit more than fix the step. I built a new stairway. That was the least I could do for you when the codfish and the medlar wine were so good. And now I will give you a gift of a new pipe already filled and lighted.’ I took the pipe from him and puffed it. It was wonderful. There is nothing like that mixture of aromatic redwood sawdust and strong shag tobacco. It is the same pipe that I am smoking right now. It has never needed to be refilled nor relit. I saw the Circular Stairway then and was delighted almost out of my skin. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I went up to the floor above me and I went down to the floor below me. I did not notice then that it went very much further up and down. ‘I believe that you are the best carpenter who ever lived,’ I said. ‘No,’ he told me, ‘my son was a much better carpenter’.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1989), pp.77-79


The Tale of the Casual English Intellectuals Who Became the Sussex Wraiths (Episode 3 of 3)

Episode 1: The Pipe-Smoking Casual English Intellectuals Fight for Seven Sinecures
Episode 2: The Night of the Strangulation Nightmares and the Infestation of the Sussex Wraiths

Episode 3: ‘My writing will eclipse your writing, and my snakes will eat up your snakes’

‘“The stars, moon, and sun have been darkening for six nights and five days, but the rate of decrease of light declined slightly last night. The decrease might have crested, but that doesn’t guarantee that the trend will be reversed.”
‘“How would you go about increasing the light of the stars and the moon and the sun?” Laughter-Lynn Casement asked.
‘“Easy,” said Jane Chantal. “I’d get New Giants installed and get them to writing brighter stars and moon and sun.”
‘“The New Giants in my Manor in Sussex give me no satisfaction at all this morning,” Drusilla said. “They tell me that they have rejected my nominal suzerainty. They say that they may write the stars out of existence completely in the interest of simplicity, and they may write out our present moon and write in seven smaller moons to be named for each of them. I don’t know who their seventh giant is now, since Roderick Outreach is dead. They say they will write in a thermostat for the sun so it will lighten or darken or heat or cool instantly as desired. And they are writing out the nine minute or so delay that has been elapsing while the heat and light comes from the sun.”
‘“There will always be trouble when professionals are able to take over jobs like that,” Laughter-Lynn said.’

The Tale of the Casual English Intellectuals Who Became the Sussex Wraiths (Episode 2 of 3)

Episode 1: The Pipe-Smoking Casual English Intellectuals Fight for Seven Sinecures

Episode 2: The Night of the Strangulation Nightmares and the Infestation of the Sussex Wraiths

‘Father Joseph Kirkpatrick (he came originally from the nearby Scottish Coast) drank brandy with Mary Brandy and the rest of them at dusk, after the burial of John Barkley Towntower.
‘“These Apprehensions, which are sometimes known as the Nine Day Wonders, are frequent in history or at least in shadow-history,” he said. “Scarcely a century has been so poor that it has not had one or several of them. They are characterized by Pnigmophobia, both for the individual person and the world. I suppose that it’s really the contagion of a viral sickness. That being so, it will pass, and its dead will be buried, and the world will continue on its way. The fifth night of the sickness (that will be tonight, Friday night) is usually the worst, or that was the case in the epidemics of 1017, 1126, 1344, 1453, 1562, 1671, 1780, and 1889.”
‘“What happened to 1235?” Jane Hunting-Horn Chantal Ardri asked.
‘“The Thirteenth, the Holiest of Centuries, was spared the apprehensive sickness,” Father said. “But Friday night, the fifth night, is usually the worst for the victims. That is the night of the nightmares, of the deliriums, and of the deaths. The people have nightmares that they are choking to death, and so they do choke to death, a few millions of them, in their violent sleep. On the Friday night of the Strangle-Death of the year 1344, thirteen million died in Europe alone. The failure of the worldwide input is only the failure of grace. But you people here, being intellectually active, do not sleep much at night anyhow. Oh, one or two or three of you may die tonight (after you make your midnight jump I believe), but the rest of you should survive with minimal impairment. Bonfires are good to keep off the nightmares. And yes, young girl, hunting-horns. I see that you have yours about your neck.”
‘“Do you believing in Giants?” Jane Hunting-Horn Chantal asked.

The Tale of the Casual English Intellectuals Who Became the Sussex Wraiths (Episode 1 of 3)

Episode 1: The Pipe-Smoking Casual English Intellectuals Fight for Seven Sinecures
‘The casual English Intellectuals had begun to gather. Each of them had just happened to be strolling on the hills of East Sussex in the dawn hours, and each of them just thought that he might drop by the Evenrood Manor House. Each of them knocked the fire out of his-or-her pipe and then filled it again with aromatic shag. The men and the lady casual English Intellectuals used a slightly different set of gestures in knocking out and refilling their pipes, but that is a job for the sociological-behaviorists, not for ourselves.
‘Myrtle Mobley was a simple woman easily impressed by casual English Intellectuals, so she quickly set forty-two more places at breakfast and said that the people need not wait till seven o’clock to begin their breakfasts, that the seven o’clock rule was a silly one anyhow. She served them all hock, or perhaps some cheaper Rhine wine, and asked them how they wanted their eggs.

‘These casual English Intellectuals came from the Royal Observatory at Edinburgh, Dunsink Observatory in Dublin, the University Observatory at Oxford, the Cambridge University Observatory, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, from Peterhouse and Corpus Christi and Magdalene of Cambridge, from Balliol and Merton and All Souls and Somerville of Oxford, and from Manchester University of the Arts. They came from all the literary circles and from all the technology circles, and from the all-powerful Futuristic Institute.

The Atrox Legend

‘This is an article by Mr. Delany in the Dublin Docket that the Mayor of Port Erin read out loud to the citizens of the three towns as they breakfasted on Old Cow Stew.

‘“The world is being strangled by lack of input. It’s as simple as that. The silliest (but at the same time the only) explanation for the world being in such straits is that the input, till the last day or two, was funnelled by a group of mythological creatures (Seven Scribbling Giants), and that now it is failing. The silliest (but at the same time the only) seriously proposed remedy so far, is that we should provide surrogate mythological figures (neo-scribbling giants, perhaps) to begin generating input again.

‘“It has been stated (falsely) that it is the business of science to get answers to the static question What?, but this is not correct. It is the business of science to answer the kinetic question: What seems to be going on anyhow? This requires science carefully to analyze the several subjective wrappers that enclose every what in the world. If the subjective wrapper is a mythological one, why should we take exception to it? If a giant named Atrox Fabulinus and six fellow giants are felt to have been writing the world heretofore, then let us at least examine the Atrox legend.

‘“Atrox Fabulinas was a fifth century Irish Giant who sailed with pirates in his youth. He was captured by Roman-Goths in a salt-water scuffle off the coast of Spain, and he was handed on from slave market to slave market. Then a Pannonian Gothic Kinglet (Flavius Placidius Valentinianus) sent out his seneschal to buy two specified slaves for him, the sweetest-tempered giant who could be found, and the most imaginative scribe who could be found. The seneschal was surprised to find, at the very first slave-market, not only a giant who could write, but also one who was both sweet-tempered and outstandingly imaginative. The Gothic Kinglet was delighted, and he told Atrox to sit down and write the history of he world. ‘It has already been done several times,’ Atrox said. ‘I didn’t know that,’ the Kinglet answered, ‘the history of the world from its beginning until doomsday has already been written?’ ‘Not so,’ Atrox admitted, ‘only from the beginning of the world until now.’ ‘Then sit down and write the history of the world from now until doomsday,’ the Kinglet said, ‘and how long will it take you?’ ‘Till doomsday,’ Atrox answered. So then the world began to receive futuristic input. And now it cannot get along without.

‘“Why am I, the renowned Daniel Delany, top scientist and scholar, jabbering such nonsense as this in print? For this reason: When we wade into the treacherous waters of reality, science serves us remarkably well at first. When we wade out where the waters of survival are ankle-deep, science is our staunch friend. When we wade out where the waters of survival are more than arse-deep, forget your science! Latch onto something more aerated, something with more flotation to it. And we are suddenly, without knowing how it happened, chin-deep in the waters of survival, and the cross-currents are quite tricky. We must find New Giants, or we must drown.”’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp.112-113

A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction on R. A. Lafferty:

‘R. A. LAFFERTY is possessed—a madman, a wild talent. He has created a grammar and syntax all his own, virtually a language all his own, despite the fact that taken one by one all the words he uses are English. One simply cannot begin a Lafferty story and mistake it for anyone else’s.

‘To detail the speculative elements or plots of his major novels would be meaningless, since plot, while undisputably present, has little or nothing to do with Lafferty’s charm and appeal. The speculations are toss-offs, believable in context but not real extrapolation. His novels are: Fourth Mansions, Past Master, The Reefs of Earth, The Devil is Dead, Space Chantey, Arrive At Easterwine, The Flame is Green, Strange Doings, Not to Mention Camels, and Apocalypses. They vary considerably, but the basic theme of Lafferty’s work is power: mental, physical, or political. The end result of his style is the complete annihilation of the fabric of reality.

‘In Lafferty’s world there are strange forces at work. Aliens studying Earth life who know that the planet will kill them. A corporation that leases miracle-makers and god-effects. People who are identified only by the color of their auras. Mindweaves that cause earthquakes. Killing machines that are activated by treasonous thoughts or actions, as defined by the machine. Land masses that appear and disappear at whim. Umbrella men who can change reality.

‘Lafferty’s world is not always comfortable, since he takes particular delight in subtly twisting the meanings of words. His world is usually delightfully absurdist, and often bristling with pins to prick the soap-bubbles of whatever you hold sacred. Lafferty is fun, sophisticated, and utterly insane.

‘(There is no one who writes like R. A. Lafferty, so if you like one of his books, find some more.)

- A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction (1979) by Baird Searles, Martin Last, Beth Meacham, and Michael Franklin, pp. 97-98

Monday, August 29, 2011

Introductions to Lafferty in anthologies and magazines

I've collected over twenty of Lafferty's individual stories as they appear singly in anthologies and magazines. Some of those have shorter or longer introductions to Lafferty that I enjoy reading. I thought I'd share all the introductions I currently have (in chronological order, reaching from 1976 to2008):

‘R. A. Lafferty, an Oklahoman in his fifties who has worked most of his life as an electrical engineer, first began to contribute to science-fiction magazines in 1960. Discerning readers quickly recognized his odd and exhilarating stories as the work of a highly unusual talent and came to cherish Lafferty’s special off-center way of looking at the universe. In recent years he has turned to writing longer works, such as the highly regarded novels, Past Master, The Reefs of Earth, and Fourth Mansions.'

-‘Ishmael Into the Barrens’ in Four Futures (1976), edited by Isaac Asimov

‘R. A. Lafferty… one of our favorite authors, first appeared in Orbit in 1967, and since then has contributed sixteen more stories. We meet him only at science fiction conventions, where he smiles inscrutably.’

-‘Fall of Pebble Stones’ in Orbit 19 (1977), edited by Damon Knight

‘Anyone familiar with the Chrysalis series knows that I am addicted to lafferties and suffer withdrawal symptoms unless I can include one in my current anthology. This time around R. A. Lafferty is represented by a zany piece entitled “Crocodile.” Technically, “Crocodile” is not an “original” story for it appeared ten years ago in a small fanzine, Phantasmicon. Still, very few people have read it and it is a true lafferty.

‘Do you remember Isaac Asimov’s The Three Laws of Robotics?

1—A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2—A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3—A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


56TH EDITION, 2058 A.D.

Well, in “Crocodile,” Lafferty diabologically refutes them. I don’t know if he is successful, but it’s a lot of fun anyway.’

-‘Crocodile’ in Chrysalis 8 (1980), edited by Roy Torgeson

‘Raymond [sic] Aloysius Lafferty began writing science fiction when he was well past forty, producing a large body of work that can only be described as wonderful, wild, and often bewildering. His is an original voice, and his contributions to sf are only now becoming apparent. Lafferty also meant a great deal to Galaxy in the 1960s, with something like 20 stories, including such major works as “Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas” (December 1962), the fabulous “Slow Tuesday Night” (April 1965), “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” (February 1967), and “Primary Education of the Camiroi” (December 1966) and its sequel “Polity and Custom of the Camiroi” (June 1967).

‘“About a Secret Crocodile” [August 1970] is one of his best and most famous stories, one that rewards rereading time and time again. Lafferty’s agent, Virginia Kidd, tells us that when the story appeared in Galaxy, she received an indignant call from the editors of Playboy magazine wanting to know why they hadn’t seen it first. Virginia says, “Frankly, it had never occurred to me that it was anything but a Galaxy story, so that is where I sent it.”’

-Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (1980), edited by Frederik Pohl, Marin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander

‘We don’t think it lazy to say that R. A. Lafferty’s stories need no introduction—or rather that they brook no introduction. They all stand as the perfect gems of an extraordinary imagination and we feel they should simply be read and loved and not explained beforehand. Suffice it to say this is one we found particularly wonderful and wanted to share with you.’

-‘In Deepest Glass: An Informal History of Stained Glass Windows’ in The Berkley Showcase: New Writings in Science Fiction and Fantasy (1981), edited by Victoria Schochet and John Silbersack

‘Mr. Lafferty worked at the respectable trade of electrical engineer for some thirty-five years; he didn’t take up writing and selling SF until he was 46 years old. Not all his stories are as strange as this one, but then, some are even more so.’

-‘New People’ in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (March, 1981)

‘Mr. Lafferty says that he was already an old man when he started to write, 21 years ago. Since then he has had published thirteen novels and about two hundred short stories. Until he lost 60 pounds, about 13 years ago, he was in contention for the title of the biggest man in science fiction.’

-‘You Can’t Go Back’ in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (September, 1981)

‘If any modern writer is imbued with the true spirit of Hamlet’s “antic disposition,” that writer is R. A. Lafferty. His stories are light, bright, inventive, shaped with cunning and written with panache. But always lurking behind the wit and the charming grace is a new perception, a new angle of vision, a way of seeing something old through eyes that are new.

‘In “Ifrit,” Lafferty takes us to a place we’ve never been before and presents us with a unique angle on questions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But don’t trust him; the strangest things can seem to make sense in Lafferty’s world.’

-‘Ifrit’ in Perpetual Light (1982), edited by Alan Ryan

‘R. A. Lafferty started writing in 1960, at the relatively advanced age (for a new writer, anyway) of forty-six, and in the years before his retirement in 1987, he published some of the freshest and funniest short stories ever written, almost all of them dancing on the borderlines between fantasy, science fiction, and the tall tale in its most boisterous and quintessentially American forms.

‘Lafferty has published memorable novels that stand up quite well today—among the best of them are Past Master, The Devil Is Dead, The Reefs of Earth, the historical novel Okla Hannali, and the totally unclassifiable (a fantasy novel disguised as a non-fiction historical study, perhaps?) The Fall of Rome—but it was the prolific stream of short stories he began publishing in 1960 that would eventually establish his reputation. Stories like “Slow Tuesday Night,” “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne,” “Hog-Belly Honey,” “The Hole on the Corner,” “All Pieces of a River Shore,” “Among the Hairy Earthmen,” “Seven Day Terror,” “Continued on Next Rock,” “All But the Words,” and many others, are among the most original and pyrotechnic stories of our times.

‘Almost any of those stories would have served for this anthology, even those published ostensibly as science fiction—but I finally settled on the story that follows. It’s one of Lafferty’s least-known and least-reprinted, but a little gem regardless that demonstrates all of Lafferty’s virtues: folksy exuberance, a singing lyricism of surprising depth and power, outlandish imagination, a store of offbeat erudition matched only by Avram Davidson, and a strong, shaggy sense of humor unrivalled by anyone.

‘His short work has been gathered in the landmark collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers, as well as in Strange Doings, Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?, Golden Gate and Other Stories, and Ringing Changes. Some of his work is available only in small press editions—like the very strange novel Archipelago, or My Heart Leaps Up, which was serialized as a sequence of chapbooks—but his other novels available in trade editions (although many of them are long out of print) include, Fourth Mansions, Arrive at Easterwine, Space Chantey, and The Flame Is Green. Lafferty won the Hugo Award in 1973 for his story “Eurema’s Dam,” and in 1990 received the World Fantasy Award, the prestigious Life Achievement Award. His most recent books are the collections Lafferty in Orbit and Iron Star [sic; the correct title is Iron Tears].’

-‘The Configuration of the North Shore’ in Modern Classics of Fantasy (1997), edited by Gardner Dozois

‘R A Lafferty (1914—2002) was unique amongst the annals of science fiction. It’s almost impossible to categorise his work because although much of it uses the standard images and icons of science fiction, they are just pieces on a board game for which Lafferty seems to make up the rules as he goes along. His stories are anarchic and at times incomprehensible, and yet they can be compelling.

‘Their delight comes from Lafferty’s acute observation of the illogicality of the lives we lead and his marvellous use of language. There are phrases dotted through his stories that make you stop in your tracks in amazement. Lafferty seldom starts from an obvious point and never takes an obvious route, and yet somehow you reach a natural conclusion in his stories.

‘The following, about a man’s quest for immortality, is one of his more easily accessible stories, though it’s no less extreme in its conclusion. There have been several collections of Lafferty’s stories, many from specialist presses, and most are worth tracking down, including Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970 [sic]), Strange Doings (1972) and Through Elegant Eyes (1983), but there is so much more.

‘A fan website devoted to Lafferty and his work is www.mulle-kybernetik.com/RAL/

-‘The All-At-Once-Man’ in The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy (2008) edited by Mike Ashley (this story was originally published in Galaxy magazine, July 1970)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Unreservedly Support the “Find the Giant” Movement

‘Monika Pantera was both shocked and amused to notice that the genuine Ifrit whom she had evoked by rubbing the genuine Aladdin’s Lamp, a creature who had been into everything and nothing since his arrival, was now wearing a huge button of the political sort. And the words on the button were: I unreservedly Support the Solomon Izzersted Non-Partisan “Find the Giant” Movement and Congress and I urge that it be Universally Supported.’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter, p. 165-66

“The health of the world depends on this high position being filled. The bleak refusal We will not serve is not the right answer. And Giant Despair who lives in Doubting Castle is not the right answer.” (p. 166)

“What heart should not throb at the prospect of becoming the Foremost of the Giants who Write the World? Why are all the giants or quasi-giants in the world not shouting “Here I am, here I am”?’ (p. 167)

‘One of the blessings of the Eighth Day is that the dead and the living mingle there on easy terms… And another gracious dead person said, “Living people often wonder whether their world dramas are actually happening, whether they are indeed real… In recent days, some fastidious people have questioned the very existence of the Institution of the Scribbling Giants Who Write the World. And they have questioned whether the world failures have been due to the Giants’ failures in writing the world. But it doesn’t matter whether the Giants are real or not. What does matter is that they are important. There is good evidence that the Aeon which is just beginning will be the Aeon of the Scribbling Giants and of the flow and movement and direction that they give to the world.

'“The first Seven Pillars of Righteousness, the first of the Pillars that Sustain the World, those of the Seven Sustaining Saints, are of waning importance. Certainly there is plenty of holiness in the present world. The second Seven Pillars of Righteousness, those of the Seven Sustaining Technicians, are not presently of overwhelming importance. Certainly there is plenty of technology and gadgetry in the world. But Oh, the third Seven Pillars of Righteousness, the Seven Scribbling Giants who write the scenarios of the world, never has the world needed them so much as today. For the world is aimless and arrant when it has no narrative flow or way or direction or impetus to move it. The world is goofy when it has no such direction.

'“If I were alive again, I would wish to fill the most important and the most self-sacrificing job in the world, that of Top Scribbling Giant. Oh, why is there not more animation in living people! How can they leave such things undone!”’

-pp. 168-69

He’s taller than the wind or rain,

And like the lightning bold.

A joyful monster comes again

As monsters came of old.

The Sponsors loom from far and fey,

And brassy trumpets blow,

A Giant’s born to us today.

O let the people know!

(p. 170)

We Must Find NEW GIANTS, or We Must Drown

“The world is dying of anemia, you know, for lack of input.”

“The world is doomed unless it can find new input to revivify its bloodstream.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter, p. 109

An article by Mr. Hennessee from the Dublin Docket:

“The world is being strangled to death by lack of input.’ (p. 110)

“It is the business of science to answer the question What?, but it is not the business of science to answer the questions How? and Why?” (p. 111)

An article by Mr. Delany from the Dublin Docket:

“The world is being strangled by lack of input.” (p. 111)

“It has been stated (falsely) that it is the business of science to get answers to the static question What?, but this is not correct. It is the business of science to answer the kinetic question: What seems to be going on anyhow? This requires science carefully to analyze the several subjective wrappers that enclose every what in the world. If the subjective wrapper is a mythological one, why should we take exception to it? If a giant named Atrox Fabulinus and six fellow giants are felt to have been writing the world heretofore, then let us at least examine the Atrox legend

“Why am I, the renowned Daniel Delany, top scientist and scholar, jabbering such nonsense as this in print? For this reason: When we wade into the treacherous waters of reality, science serves us remarkably well at first. When we wade out where the waters of survival are ankle-deep, science is our staunch friend. When we wade out where the waters of survival are more than arse-deep, forget your science! Latch onto something more aerated, something with more flotation to it. And we are suddenly, without knowing how it happened, chin-deep in the waters of survival, and the cross-currents are quite tricky. We must find New Giants, or we must drown.”


An article by Mr. Monroney from the Dublin Docket:

“In this horrifying emergency, I can only advise, as a scientist and man-of-letters: Be brave, be hopeful, Do Nothing.” (p.113)

“The failure of worldwide input is only the failure of grace.” (p. 118; said by Father Joseph Kirkpatrick from the Scottish coast.)

“Do you believing in Giants?” Jane Hunting-Horn Chantal asked [Father Kirkpatrick].

“Of course I believe in giants…

“I mean the Writing Giants who write the world?”

“They would have no power if it were not given to them from above… Be cheerful all, and walk in the Faith and the Light.” (pp. 118-119)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Drunken Binges to Wine Tasting: Reading and Re-reading Lafferty’s Short Stories

When I first started reading Lafferty’s short stories, I was collecting them ‘One At a Time’ in second-hand 1970s anthologies. I had been wowed by a few early on, and, without realising I was doing it, I from then on approached his stories with an all too flippant take-it-or-leave-it mentality. I wanted thrills and laughs and if the story didn’t seem to deliver right off, I was unduly disappointed and dismissive. Sometimes they would surprise me by meeting my expectations in a new way or by doing wholly new things to me, which subsequently created new contours in my expectations. Even so, I didn’t really want to work too hard for anything or be all that challenged. I skipped along the surface of my reading of his tales, lingering only over the ones that immediately took my fancy and largely forgetting the rest.

Now I know better. More than a decade on from the reading of my first Lafferty story (probably back in about 1998—it sounds so pathetic next to some of his extant readership that goes all the way back to the 70s or 80s!), having also read so many other authors in that time as well, I now know what an outrageously rare writer he is and what a distinct and priceless treasure each individual story is. Ok, yes, I’m speaking besottedly as a fanboy. There are no doubt some of his short stories that are only ‘OK’ no matter how you spin it. Still, there is huge truth to my initial exaggeration.

First of all, so many (indeed, most) stories I was less than bowled over by in the past, I have, on second or third readings, found to be either moved up the scale very considerably or, really, to be one of his best stories and I simply blockheadedly missed it the first time round. Secondly, I seriously doubt that there exists a story written by the man that does not contain a Laffertian gem the world would be significantly poorer not to own: an exquisite turn of phrase that only he could turn; a wonderfully descriptive sentence or paragraph in his utterly unique style; an inimitable scenario, setting, or character that only he could have madly concocted; a distinctively fresh philosophical musing from a mind so sharp it cut the crap like no other; a slice of life seen through the strangest eyes the world has known; or, as often as not, a tiny little micro-tall-tale (such an impossible-sounding term is perfectly—perhaps only—suited to Lafferty’s fiction) that we would definitely not want, upon discovery, to have missing from the overall Laffertian lore-trove.

Lafferty’s stories honestly deserve our loving time and attention, without distraction and with commitment. I am finally re-reading all my Lafferty short story collections (Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Strange Doings, Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?, Ringing Changes, and Lafferty In Orbit—as well as a handful of Drumm booklets—and oh! how I wish I could afford to own the collections Golden Gate, Iron Tears, and Through Elegant Eyes). These days, I am savouring each individual story for all its worth, getting every sliver and slaver of meat and juice, then cracking the bone to luxuriantly suck out the marrow, and, finally, worrying the shivered bones themselves as a pleasant desert. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s Dr. Ransom eating the exotic fruits and nuts of the floating islands of the edenic planet Perelandra: of some he said they were a mystical experience that deserved a ritual benediction, while others were simply a hearty meal that called for a hearty ‘Amen!’, but every bite was a blessing like he’d rarely tasted back on Earth.

So it is with Lafferty’s short stories when they have become a vintage to the seasoned reader. In the early days of reading him we are soon drunk on how quick we quaff them, happily bloated and bleary-eyed from our binging. Sure, his glint-eyed and grinning stories, full of grotesquery and grandeur, certainly lend themselves to this brackish boyish racket. All the same, re-reading them in later days, our gaze a-sparkle, we tend to swirl and smell and sip and swish and swallow. Oh, it is still a heady and high time and the tales are as ruddy and rowdy and gladly mad as ever. But now we take our time with each story. Swirl and smell and sip and swish and swallow. Slowly. Each one. Each and every one.

The Quest for Acceptable World Metaphor

Article from the Wall Street Journal Special Eighth Day Overseas Edition (‘another of the very few papers in the world that actually published an Eighth Day paper’):

“It was once said that with the coming of the World of Computers, the World of Mythology would disappear completely and the World of Fact would have arrived. Was ever any notion more mistaken? The clear fact is that the World of Computers is entirely a world of Metaphor and Mythology. That is the whole purpose of it. We already had the World of Fact. Oh, the poor, dingy, hopeless, small-minded World of Fact! It didn’t deserve much, but it deserved at least to have its nakedness clothed with metaphor and mythology. The World of Computers is bearable. The old World of Fact was ceasing to be.

“Even the Quest for Reality of the talented but diminishing Group of Twelve has now changed (without their knowing it) into the Quest for Acceptable World Metaphor.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), p. 167

They Learned that a Quest for Reality is Possible

‘Several of them were like pigs in clover all that Monday. Oh, how they did pack it in! They were gluttons for all the facts and pseudofacts that could be found in the catacombs and libraries and the storied countryside of the Parisi villa near Sora in the middle mountains of Italy. They wined and dined, and they exuberated in the wonderful air that was itself like wine, specifically the wonderful red Pramnian wine.

‘But they did receive several warnings during the day that all was not right.

‘“Atrox is sulky, Atrox is furious,” said an old lady of the neighbourhood, Gioia di Sotto La Montagna, “and when Atrox is both sulky and furious, somebody always dies in a bloody scandal.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), p. 54

‘But the extended Group of Twelve did begin to get a grasp on reality that afternoon and night. They learned, from sources not completely suspect, that the world is indeed built on a substratum of reality, that there is a genuine and ringing reality beneath all things, that there are favored places and circumstances where everything is endowed with detailed reality, even the interiors of atoms. They also learned that they themselves were outside of reality, that they had never touched it at even one point, but that sometimes they came close. They were imbrued, all through their happy suppertime and into the night hours, with an almost-happy philosophy. They hadn’t yet come to the centrality of the philosophy, but they found themselves more and more on the near fringes of it as they discussed and reveled and studied. They learned that a quest for reality is possible.’

-East of Laughter, pp. 55-56

“You know so much mother, do you know what quest we are on?”

“Yes. All of you are marooned East of Reality, and you are questing to find your way back to Reality. So you have come to the Castle originally named East of Laughter though now the name has generated simply to Gaire or Laughter. And yet we are still somewhat to the East of the thing itself. I myself love to play Quests.”

-East of Laughter, p. 63

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What We Are Smelling is Cosmic Fraud

“What we are smelling is cosmic fraud,” Leo Parisi said. “Everything is composed of ninety percent of nothingness, and when we come down to the smallest units of it, it is composed of more than ninety-nine percent of nothingness. I seem to remember old physics texts in which more than fifty sorts of sub-atomic particles were mentioned. But nobody remembers such texts or particles now. There is something wrong. The whole world should not have forgotten things so pertinent and so fulfilling.”

“And we intuit the need for fifty, at least, of them,” Solomon Izzersted said with real wonder in his ugly little voice. “Why aren’t the particles there? – for they aren’t.”

“It’s the same with musical notes,” Perpetua Parisi said sadly… “Open up a musical note and you’ll find that it’s ninety-nine percent empty,” Perpetua said. “I still don’t understand how they’re so pretty when they’re so empty.”

“There is something else,” said Solomon Izzersted. “Both myself and my alter ego John Barkley Towntower, as well as Jane Chantal and Hilary Ardri and Hieronymous Talking-Crow have noticed it and been spooked by it. We feel that we do not really live in the United States, we the only supposed Americans in this group. We feel that instead of really living in the United States, we are living in somebody’s very sketchy and imperfect idea of what the United States is like.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988),pp. 47-48

The ghost of Alexander the Great: “You worried about the detailed unreality of small units. But it is in these smallest units that these unrealities begin, and then they spread to the larger units. One adage for you then: reality is not something that one has the right and title to. It is something that must be earned. And I never spent much time in unreal lands. If you conquer one such land, what have you conquered? And if you die there of the unreality disease, you are really dead.”

“Alexander,” asked Hieronymous Talking-Crow, “can a land that was once unreal later become real?”

“I don’t know, Hieronymous, I just don’t know. You are talking about your America, I suppose. I just don’t know.”

-East of Laughter, p. 53

That Is What I Call Politeness

“There are two things that I try to foster above all others in my Castle,” the Countess Maude said. “One of them is rowdiness and the other one of them is politeness. I love rowdy fun games above all, and I love politeness above all things. There was a perfect gentleman who was gunned down, for business reasons, in one of the streets that surround my Castle just yesterday. So he lay in the gutter spouting little fountains of blood. A man came by and looked at him there. “How’re you doing?” the man questioned him. “Dying,” said the perfect gentleman, raising his hat from his head in salute, “but it was kind of you to ask.”

“That is what I call politeness.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), p. 64

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Rough Account of The Group of Twelve: 1. Hilary Ardri (excerpt from R. A. Lafferty's East of Laughter)

‘HILARY ARDRI, a rusty-coloured man, red-haired all over his body (an Esau man). He stood an even two meters tall and was very thick in the arms and shoulders and chest. Like an earlier hero, he was blue-eyed when he gazed out over the land, and he was green-eyed when he gazed over the ocean. He was only moderately intelligent, but he had great mental stamina: he could stay with an argument for thirty-six hours and tire out his opposition. He had, for a while, been in politics where this quality of mental stamina was important. His inquiring mind had one restriction on it, and this was his old family motto: When you have a good thing going, don’t ask questions. He had a remarkable memory for details, and this made up for his not quite remarkable intelligence. And he did have one good thing going, and he didn’t ask questions about it. He had stumbled onto it by accident.

‘Hilary had an enterprise on the shore of a recreational lake in eastern Oklahoma. This was the Computerized Lake-Fish Company. But Hilary did not have a Commercial Fisherman’s License to operate on Lake Tenkiller nor on any other lake, stream, river, pond, or reservoir in Oklahoma. Commercial Fisherman’s Licenses were quite rare and very hard to obtain. The only really good way to get such a license was to be born with it. And why should one bother? Those who did have commercial licenses seldom fished, for there were no longer any fish to be caught in the lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, or reservoirs of Oklahoma. Nevertheless, Hilary Ardri had become quite wealthy from his Computerized Lake-Fish Company. A man from the State Fish and Game Department spied on Hilary constantly to find out how it was all accomplished, but he could find out nothing at all. And the fact was that Hilary himself did not understand how he did it.

‘“I do not break any of your thousand-and-one regulations,” Hilary always insisted to that man from the State F&G Department. “I do not fish at all, not with hook or line or net or jug or dynamite or gaff or harpoon or fish-line or fish-bane. I do not poison the waters to kill the fish. There is no smell of fish on my shore (my own shoreline is only ten meters long), and there is no debris of fish. I have no factory or processing plant. Where is my fish works if I am accused of engaging in commercial fishing without a license?”

‘“I dunno, Ardri, where is it? That’s my own question,” said the man from the F&G Department.

‘“It’s right there, on my table there, taking up only half a square meter of space,” Hilary said in a moment of candor. “That computer, small and efficient and personalized, is all the fish business that I have, is all the business of any sort that I have.”

‘“You deliver packaged fish (excellent fish they are) to more than three thousand Oklahoma stores every morning,” said the man from the F&G Department (his name was Myron McMasters). “How and where do you get the fish, and how do you deliver them?”

‘“My computer there takes care of everything. It gets the fish without hook or crook, and it delivers them by driverless vehicles to the stores. It puts them in stock. It bills them and it collects for them. And it deposits all the profits (the profits are 100%) in my cash accounts and in my security accounts. Hey, these fish are good, are they not, Myron? They’re some of mine. The computer delivers them to me every morning too. And then it prepares and serves them however and whenever my whim desires it. And the driverless vehicle by which it delivers them, well, it isn’t anywhere when it isn’t in use. But I don’t know anything at all about fish.”

‘“What do you know about then, Hilary Ardri?” Myron McMasters from the State F&G Department asked. He had a touch of irritation in his voice, but not too much irritation, for he loved Ardri’s fish and he also believed that one shouldn’t ask too many questions about a good thing.

‘“Computers,” Hilary Ardri said. “I know about computers. I am not known as a big brain among the computer people, but I know a few things that the big brain people haven’t learned. One thing I know is that a happy computer can work wonders, and that a computer is most happy when it can indulge itself in a little bit of sociability. But computers don’t find the society of humans all that captivating. Some computer-owners stable a goat with each computer to keep it from getting lonesome. That’s the second best solution to the problem. But the best solution is to let the computer welcome the guest of its choice, and most computers are kept too clean and antiseptic by their owners to appeal to the special visitors. But I was never bothered by the fetish of cleanliness and over-maintenance. My computer has a poltergeist friend that lives in its maw and does not take up any physical space there. And my computer is happy by this circumstance. So it works wonders for me.”

‘“You’re kidding, of course,” Myron McMasters said. “I’ll solve your mystery yet, Hilary. I’ll solve it yet.”

‘There wasn’t much of a mystery to solve. Hilary Ardri did know about computers, and he knew about them by hard study as well as by sudden intuition. He studied things that other computer people didn’t bother about. He even studied a humorous chapter in an obscure computer operators’ manual, a chapter named Theoretical Things That Could be Effected by a Computer in the Ambient of an Unreal World.

‘“Might as well try some of them,” Hilary had said.

‘To take one example, the one that he did take, he learned that in an unreal world, the amount of fish that may be taken out of a lake has no connection with the amount of fish in the lake. The amount of fish to be taken out is related only to the amount of fish that the computer programs to be taken. It does not matter whether or not there are any fish at all in the lake. In an unreal world, the ambient is never restrictive. The fish will be processed as the computer programs them to be processed. They will be delivered, collected for, and deposited for as the computer programs them to be done. It is a little mental game that one may imagine for a computer. And it is safe, for it will work only in the ambient of an unreal world.

‘But it worked for Hilary Ardri. That wasn’t the first indication that Hilary had that the world was unreal, but it was one of the most telling indications. So Hilary Ardri learned, quite by accident, that the world in which he lived was unreal. And hardly anybody in the world knew that.

‘To be real is to be unique. To be unreal is to be common.

‘And the odds in favor of the world being unreal are prohibitive. There is only one chance in all infinity of it being real. But there are a billion billion and ongoing billions of chances of it being unreal.

‘And besides that, Hilary’s computer had an alter ego, or at least an inhabitant, who became a pleasant friend of all of them in the household.’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp.4-6

The Rough Account of The Group of Twelve: 2. Jane Chantal Ardri (excerpt from R. A. Lafferty's East of Laughter)

'JANE CHANTAL ARDRI was an artist of all the arts. But she denied that her art was completely computerized art. Her personal computer, in the family room of the Ardri home, was invisible, except to the eye of another artist. It was housed in a hunting-horn that hung on a rafter (a computer-hewn hickory rafter) in that pleasant room. But every artist who came there (and most of Jane’s friends outside the circle of Twelve were artists) would say at once, “Oh, how quaint, Jane Chantal, how cult! How could anybody not put her computer in her hunting-horn! How could anybody not have a hunting-horn! And does it still sound like a hunting-horn?”

‘And, in her programming voice, Jane Chantal would immediately order, “Sound, horn, sound, and mean it when you sound!” And lively and rousing (though computerized) hunting-horn tunes would immediately tumble out of the rafter-hung horn-computer. Jane was a huntress, of course, always and in everything, but she was a fuzzy and somewhat lazy huntress, one who was seldom in a hurry. She knew that her game would wait for her, that her prey would take only token (though colourful) flight. She was the huntress who was always in charge of the hunt.

‘But Jane Chantal always maintained, “I use the computer only for the tedious and difficult things in art, and in my hunting. Many of the things in art are hot and heavy, or they are cold and clammy, or they are back-breaking and finger-breaking. These things the computer does, but I do all the artistic parts, and all the really avid pursuits.”

‘Yes, certain aspects of bronze-casting are hot and heavy, as is the carrying-in of a full-grown elk on the shoulders and hanging and drawing it. Certain aspects of massive sculpture in travertine-marble-limestone are rockdust-breathing and arm-breaking and unpleasant. So also are aspects of stalking a prey by the belly-crawl through frozen grass on a winter pre-dawn. And the whole process of writing and regaling of Heavy Drama is nerve-jangling and emotion-wrenching. So let it be the computer whose nerves are jangled and whose emotions are wrenched. And it is the business of the computer to find rimes for unrimeable words and to devise new meters, just as it is the business of the computer to find new Canadian Geese to rise from the lake in the morning and to make their turn-back when a furlong in the air to receive the shot. And the computer can gaze directly into the sun (directly by remote-control) and then record the after-images that result form that encounter. Or the computer can go, not physically itself, but in its probing processes, down into the bottom of the deepest well or aquafer and there record the curious poetry of the blind brooks and the blind fish. And, whenever Jane Chantal returned from one of her frequent trips to other parts of the world, she would find that her artistic production had gone on unabated in her own absence. Her joyous computer (it was named Joyeuse Vice-Reine and it was a female computer) never failed her. Her newest productions were always in the newest style, whether Jane Chantal was physically present at their production or not.

‘Like the computer of her husband Hilary, that of Jane Chantal Ardri was also inhabited by a sprite that was kindred to a poltergeist, but less obtrusively adolescent. And the two sprites were excellent friends. The two people with their computers and with the two infestations of their computers all lived together in one happy household.

‘Hilary and Jane Chantal Ardri also had five children of their own flesh and blood, good, pleasant, smart children. They will be mentioned without hesitation if ever there is a reason to mention them again. The names of the children (they were named by the computers: neither Hilary nor Jane Chantal was good at naming children) were Hilary Henry, Jane Chanteclaire, Marie Rieuse, Anne Auclaire, and Urban Urchin. Urban Urchin, the squeaking wheel, got a certain amount of attention form them simply because he was the squeaking wheel. And the eldest of them, Hilary Henry, was their “man in New York” and so they maintained a sort of business relationship with him.

“If you ever meet a happy artist in any of the arts, fall back and regroup,” a brilliant critic in the late twentieth century has written. “Fall back and regroup, or back out of it any way you can, for you will have stumbled into an unreal world.”

‘But the fuzzily-beautiful and fuzzily-avid Jane Chantal Ardri was a happy artist in all the arts. This wasn’t the first or the second indication the Ardris had that they lived in an unreal world, without difficulty or complication. But it was another of those most telling indications.’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp. 6-8

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)