Friday, February 24, 2012

IRON TEARS and Magnesium Joy!

Just finished a couple weeks of hard work on a few university essays today.

(One for English Literature on narration in Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights; the other for Philosophy on sense-data and physical objects in Bertrand Russell's philosophy of perception - but that's by the bye.  No, no, in fact it's utterly pertinent as Narration and Perception are HUGE themes in Lafferty's writing!  Not to mention that Spark is a fellow Catholic hybrid-fiction writer that will someday make some Lafferty academic a very fine comparative study and Russell provides a perfect secular humanist foil for much of what Lafferty had to say.)

After handing the second essay in today, I came home to find a greatly anticipated parcel awaiting me.  The perfect reward!  You guessed it, Iron Tears, a now rare collection of Lafferty's short stories.  I found this for under £40 the other day at random online (I haven't seen it for under £100 for a few years I think).  I begged my wife and promised to skip coffees and sandwiches in town and put some of our children into factory work or whatever it takes to afford it!  I just couldn't pass it up at that price.  To be honest, I've been fully expecting to get an email telling me it wasn't for sale after all (it's happened to me more than once with Lafferty books - and one time several years ago with Iron Tears!).

And it's the original version from Edgewood Press with the introduction by Michael Swanwick and what I think is a really cool cover!  (Mr. Swanwick's intro is a very poignant little essay entitled 'Despair and the Duck Lady' that I will interact with another time.)

Here it is in all its second-hand glory (photo by my lovely wife, Andrea)

Three incredible blurbs about Lafferty by fellow writers grace the back cover:

'In these wonderful stories Lafferty unfailingly puts us, in his own words, "into a different juxtaposition with all things else in the world."  Nobody else does it better.  In fact, nobody else does it at all -- not like this.  Lafferty is one of a kind, a magician of strange images made fleetingly recognizable, of familiar emotions made strange and new and haunting.  A delight.'
                                                   Nancy Kress

'The stories in Iron Tears are alive with the strange combination of beauty and inexplicable terror and wonder usually found only in dreams.'
                                                   James P. Blaylock

'I love this book... Lafferty is our unheralded American Garcia Marquez... a word-slinger totally out of synch with today's slim-fast reductive rhetoric; a sly old buzzard who conjures up fables as lurid as Bible stories and tells them in a tornado of words wild enough to drive wood splinters through a windshield.'
                                                   Terry Bisson


Introduction: Despair and the Duck Lady
by Michael Swanwick

You Can't Go Back
Lord Torpedo, Lord Gyroscope
Thieving Bear Planet
The World as Will and Wallpaper
Horns on Their Heads
By the Sea Shore
Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies
Magazine Section
Or Little Ducks Each Day
Le Hot Sport
Gray Ghost: A Reminiscence

A good half dozen of these I've already collected in multi-author anthologies, but some are very rare indeed, only collected in very limited chapbooks that are now unavailable or very expensive (just for a story or two).  Plus, the prospect of an overflowing handful of stories I've never read by Laff, well, you can't beat it.  The ones I have read are some of Lafferty's VERY best in my opinion and I'll no doubt discover at least a few more to put in that category.


Andrew said...

I am very fond of this collection (though its original publisher, Steven Pasechnick, is not, for reasons more to do with typos and the like than with story selection).

Anyway, the Swanwick intro is lovely, and will be in my collection of Lafferty essays in time. And then the stories: "Lord Torpedo Lord Gyroscope" among his best pile-it-higher whoppers; "Funnyfingers" one of the most moving stories he ever wrote; "World as Will and Wallpaper" about as perfect and sly a dystopia as I've come across; "Cabrito"—one of his very earliest short stories—a wonderfully creepy slice of border life; "Gray Ghost" a ghoulish little autobio tale...

And that's not even to mention "Selenium Ghosts," which Lafferty himself regarded as one of his two or three greatest.

I don't know that there's much to unify the selections—between "Cabrito" and "Le Hot Sport" there's almost 30 years of writing career, and the shifts in tone from something like "You Can't Go Back" to "Thieving Bear Planet" to "Horns on Their Heads" can be either startling or a testament to Ray's range (which I don't think gets enough attention). Even so, it's one of the single volumes I find myself going back to most often.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes, a good survey of 'Ray's Range' would be highly useful and enjoyable. Personally, I love 'You Can't Go Back', 'Thieving Bear', and 'Horns' and am not thrown off by the range they display at all, but rather amazed and delighted.

Yeah, at first I thought it looked like a fairly 80s selection (many of them some of Lafferty's best to me), but then I saw it actually had a lot of 70s too. I'm really looking forward to the ones you synopsised as I've not read most of those before. It looks like an overall solid collection, up there with the best perhaps.

On the note of Laff's own faves, I recall you once said he was a bit annoyed it was 'Eurema's Dam' that finally won a Hugo and based on my first reading of that story some years ago I felt I understood. Having just re-read it the other day, however, I'm pretty floored out how much depth and complexity is in the nuanced theme about creative genius and invention in that story and the usual sly critique of a flat society and to boot it's such a classic example of his deliciously cock-eyed take on sf tropes. A highly interesting, entertaining, and quite well-written story really. It makes more sense to me now that it won the Hugo. What doesn't make the least bit of sense is that it was the only one ever! (But, of course, cf. Swanwick's intro.)

Philip said...

Be careful when handling the book. I have the Edgeview edition too and the spine just sort of peeled off. I had to make a replacement which did work out pretty well. I would say "You can't go back" is my favorite of all Lafferty's short stories.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks for the advice about careful handling, Philip. It may not be as sturdy as I might hope and it may have type-os as Andrew mentioned (and I've heard elsewhere) - but, just the *look* of it is so nice to me; the proper quality a Lafferty book should have in my opinion.

And so glad to hear 'You Can't Go Back' is your favourite, Philip! I think that's a very worthy choice. I love that story - some of the deep, potent stuff to me - REALLY weird and original as well as poignant.

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