Friday, March 30, 2012

"Good increase to you!" (On finishing an unhurried re-read of Nine Hundred Grandmothers)

"We have enjoyed every minute of our short visit.  Do not despair!  We will not abandon you to your emptiness.  Our token force will return home and report.  In another week we will visit you in substantial numbers.  We will teach you the full happiness of human proximity, the glory of fruitfulness, the blessing of adequate population.  We will teach you to fill up the horrible empty places of your planet."

The Skandia were thinning out.  The last of them were taking cheering farewells of disconsolate Earth friends.

"We will be back," they said as they passed their last fertility charms into avid hands.  "We'll be back and teach you everything so you can be as happy as we are.  Good increase to you!"

"Good increase to you!" cried the Earth people to the disappearing Skandia.  Oh, it would be a lonesome world without all those nice people!  With them you had the feeling that they were really close to you.

"We'll be back!" said the Skandia leader, and disappeared from the monument.  "We'll be back next week and a lot more of us," and then they were gone.

"--And next time we'll bring the kids!" came the last fading Skandia voice from the sky.

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Guesting Time' (1965)

These are the very last words of the very last short story in Lafferty's seminal and celebrated collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970).  I have just finished a slow and intermittent re-reading of this collection and am left feeling 'mellow' (to use one of Lafferty's terms for someone 'in his cups' and feeling 'high' from the buzz).  I'm left feeling mellow, and also open-ended, quite thoughtful, and frankly rather preternatural, as if some gateway onto another world (a woolly and wily one, not a misty and ephemeral one) had winked open and shut before my vision and left my mind wondering if it had glimpsed what it had seemed to glimpse:  were those titanic yet easy-earthy characters real?  Did those burly and burlesque feats of time and space and personage occur?  One chuckles.  And one shudders.  (And one wonders.)

This closing scene seems so fitting somehow, with its emphasis on fruitful increase and promised return.  It provides a wryly jokey and poignantly hopeful ending to a book full of tensions dark and bright, hilarious and horrific.  The endpiece of the collection, fittingly, does not provide closure, but rather prophecy and invitation.  (It also evokes for me the very last words of the last book of Gene Wolfe's monumental, twelve-volume Solar Cycle and a similar feeling they left me with at the end of that epic journey:  'Good fishing!  Good fishing!  Good fishing!  Good fishing!')

Though I have read a handful of favourites from this collection over and over again, many of the stories had remained at a first-read level for me from the time of my initial obtaining of this volume some eight years ago.  My memories of the stories had become vague, even for the ones I thought were quite good.  Not a single one failed to surprise and delight me afresh on this re-read.  I admit I was actually surprised by that.  This collection really holds up.  

There had been no stories I outright disliked on my first read years ago, but there were a number of them I mistook for lesser specimens.  There is at least one story that has gone from my 'pretty good' to 'very best' category:  the much-anthologised 'Narrow Valley'.  But every single story opened up totally fresh to me:  there was tons more depth of theme than I had realised, loads more complexity, lots more wonder and humour and a whole lot more downright writerly mastery of skill and craft than I had really taken in on the first go.  (That's a common reaction - aside from a few clear favourites, first-time readers of a collection of Laff's yarns are usually left with an indescribable feeling that something very deep, dark, and delightful just swam past them, leaving them in a strange wake, strangely wakeful.)

Well, I hope to write a brief description and reflection on each of the twenty-one tales in the near future.  Until then, 'Good increase to you!'

(There are no triple-breasted women in this collection, but it's still a nice cover.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ah, for the Halcyon Days...

Hey Lafferty friends, I was just re-reading the long comment thread on my post about Fourth Mansions and I gotta say - I miss the chat and community over this great man's works!  It's been a while.  That thread honestly made an incredibly powerful and coherent symposium on Lafferty and his themes (and I know we had a few more just as ripe after that).  'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it' (The Devil Is Dead).

'Wha' happened?'  Is the Fellowship (of the, what, about half dozen of us?) breaking up?  Heh.  I'm joking.  I know we've all been super busy with all our responsibilities (me as much as anyone).  We just simply, honestly don't have time for it right now.  BUT...

Let's meet up here again this summer and get back to the Lafferty POW WOW!  What say you, friends, earthlings, Laffertians?

As Epiktistes, our patron sentient computer, said:

'Oh, come along, reader of the High Journal; if you do not love words, how will you love the communication?  How will you, forgive me my tropes, communicate the love?' (Arrive At Easterwine)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Hang in there, Gaea guys! Some of us are on your side.'

'The glob came upon them and swallowed them in its fetid breath.  It was sharp with teeth in it, and these were quickly identified as belonging to aerial snakes.  The glob brought with it a saturating mental and emotional depression, a stark consternation, an unbearable fearfulness and unpleasantness.  It brought dread.  It brought hallucination and contradiction and fear of falling, and fear of ultimate fire.  It brought flying foxes that fastened onto throats with hollow and life-draining teeth.  It brought violent small creatures who sometimes seemed to be human children and sometimes tearing monsters.
'But a voice came from one of the small and possibly human monsters.  It was a boy's voice speaking in Demotic or Low Galactic:
'"Hang in there, Gaea guys!  Some of us are on your side.  Don't let this whip you.  It's only a little psychic storm."
'What sort of stuff was that?'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Quiz Ship Loose' (1978)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Broken Bench Lane - A Dream Street of Tulsa

'Broken Bench Lane, that bright ribbon in a sea of green, was particularly verdant because of the great quantities of Great Heart Discovery grass that grew so thickly in the whole region that the Lane traversed.  The grass was the discovery of Great Heart Harkte who had been an inventive Indian man of several generations earlier.  He had invented a sod buster plough superior to every other one.  He had invented a poke-weed harvester and a coon skinner.  He had grown the first puffed wheat and the first Golden Day sand plums.  And he invented Great Heart Discovery grass that did not thrive well until after Great Heart Harkte himself was dead and buried.  Then it grew richly, with every primordial root of it coming out of Harkte's buried heart, and it covered a region of several miles.  Wherever it grew, there was inventiveness supreme; and Broken Bench Lane had the lushest Discovery grass of the whole region.

'Where else but on the lane was there such a merry, early morning chirping going on at every hour of the day and night?  The barkers and cardinals and meadow larks all seemed to sing together:

'"Lookie, lookie, lookie!  Invent now!  Be a millionaire by noon!"

'Broken Bench Lane was the gaudiest-appearing of all those little streets and ways that tumbled and twisted down the green slopes all the way from Standpipe Hill to the south edge of town till they disappeared in the verdant haze beyond which, in the misty distance, rose Beautiful Downtown Broken Arrow.  There were not streets and arteries like these everywhere, not like this bunch:  Jenks Road, Clown Alley, Harrow Street, Five Shill Road, Lollywaggers' Left-Hand Lane, Speckled Fish Road, Leptophlebo Street, Trotting Snake road, Broken Bench Lane!  And the brightest jewel of them all was Broken Bench...

'These streets are not necessarily located in the order here given.  There are many other streets, better kept and broader, that intrude between these.  Half of these arteries are not even proper streets in the sense of accepting vehicular traffic; they are mere pedestrian walks or paths or alleys. (Broken Bench was in between the categories in that it accepted vehicles, but for only one hour a day.)

'Quentan Whitebird, in his monumental work Forgotten Lanes and Byways of Tulsa, refers to this cluster of little streets (plus four others, and with Lollygaggers' unaccountably left out) as "dream streets".  Well, there is a green haze over all of them that is very like a summer afternoon sleep.  Even in the brightness and hustle of some of them, there is always this noddiness or nappiness.  And there is the frightening snapping-out of it also, and the raffish terror at realizing that one hasn't quite snapped out of the spell after all...

'Broken Branch was the brightest and most hustling of all those little roads.  What factories and shops there were there!  What venture-houses!  What money coining enterprises!  What dreams that had taken flesh in solid crab-orchard stone with tomorrow-glass facades!  There were bustling manufactories and tall financial empires and inventories (well, what do you call the studios where inventors work?).  There was all the flowing lifeblood of newness.  The Lane was so crammed with newness that those who visited it only once a day were always dumbfounded by the changes in it.  Here were the waves of the future sold by the gallon or barrel or oceanful.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'The Funny Face Murders' (1980)

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