Thursday, May 24, 2012

And Put Them to Her Mouth. They Flamed.

'She put her hands deeply into the human ashes, and these ashes were cold and grainy and dead.  She flicked her tongue.  She often did this before making a sparky statement.  She flicked her tongue again, and there was genuine, Holy Ghost fire playing about it.  She scooped up ashes with her tangled and tense and electric fingers and put them to her mouth.  They flamed.

Then she cascaded the handsful of flame over her head and face and arms, and seemed unburned by them.  They were garish, tumbling, orange flames.'

-R. A. Lafferty, From the Thunder Colt's Mouth (collected in In the Wake of Man: A Science Fiction Triad, 1975, along with the novellas Tracking Song by Gene Wolfe and The Search for Man by Walter Moudy)


Andrew said...

Worth reading as a followup to this, for one of the opening images alone: Neil Gaiman's Lafferty pastiche, "Sunbird," available in his collection Fragile Things among other places.

There's another and much less read Lafferty story that is also relevant, but I'm thinking it's better to read Sunbird first.

Kevin said...

Perhaps off topic and possibly odd: I've discovered the joys of interlibrary loan. I walk into my local branch library and ask for the title and author (Lafferty by default and personal tradition), and give them $1 (either to cover postage or to make sure I'm serious, or perhaps a combination of the two), and within a week or two or three, they call me to tell me the book is in and I have 3 weeks to pick it up, read it, and return it. Twice now, I have taken advantage of it: a few months ago, I checked out a copy of The Fall of Rome and just yesterday I picked up a copy of The Flame is Green. Life can indeed be good.

Given that it takes some time for the books to come in, today I was searching to see just what Lafferty books are held in various libraries that I could borrow. I stumbled across a title I've never heard mention of before, and can find next to no information about online. Have any of you ever heard of At the Sleepy Sailor : a tribute to R.A. Lafferty by R A Lafferty; Guy H Lillian, III.; Fred Chappell; Sons of the Sand? There appear to be two copies in existence, one at the University of Tulsa and one at Duke University (though there are probably a crate of them in a forgotten corner in a basement of of the Institute for Impure Science).

Andrew said...


"At the Sleepy Sailor" was published as a tribute book for Lafferty at a DeepSouthCon held in New Orleans that had him in as guest of honor. I'm away from my scanned copy, but I know it reprints the story "A Rainy Day in Halicarnassus" as well as a short essay by Ray on "How I Wrote Continued on Next Rock," which is not nearly as revelatory as you might imagine from the title, though still of interest.

Then there's some tributes and critical essays from a few other Lafferty fans; it may reprint the Schweitzer interview. The cover is one of my favorite illustrations as well.

It's optional in the larger scheme, but still an interesting bit of ephemera.

Kevin said...

I would love to read a truly revelatory dissection and discussion of "Continued on Next Rock," and from your description fear that I might be slightly disappointed by the essay. I'll add it to my list of things to eventually borrow via interlibrary loan.

This weekend I'm marching in to request Half a Sky because I'm more than half way through The Flame is Green. After that, probably Golden Gate and Other Stories and then perhaps Argo. Ahh the joys of a good library system...

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Andrew, I finally got round to reading 'Sunbird'. A lovely tribute - I'm amazed at the extent to which Gaiman really followed the Lafferty 'mould'. Still, it has almost none of the actual Lafferty magic. It's a decent yarn and that's about all, I think. I find this extremely interesting: Gaiman is far more powerful and accomplished when writing in his own style - AND he shows his Lafferty influence much more strongly and effectively in his own style. When I read American Gods and Anansi Boys, I kept thinking 'wow, Lafferty is all through this!' (I also felt Wolfe's influence strongly.) But it was implicit and deep and natural, not at all imitative. (The Graveyard Book also feels quite naturally Laffertian at moments too.)

Still, 'Sunbird' is touching as a tribute and very impressive at a technical level.

So what's the other much less read Lafferty story that's relevant, now that I've read 'Sunbird'?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Kevin, Lafferty at the library is such a joy! I used to see Fall of Rome and Flame is Green at my local city library in Indianapolis all the time - and... I never checked them out! This was over a decade ago, but still... idiocy is a human disease that none of us can always successfully guard against. You who have not foolishly passed over the Lafferty at your fingertips in some way, cast the first stone. But I did discover very many of Lafferty's short stories through that library - looking up 'Lafferty' in the catalogue listed every anthology he was in as well as his own books. Extremely useful and a great way to hunt up individual stories not found elsewhere, or only found in hard to obtain collections.

Unfortunately, the libraries here in Scotland have precisely zero Lafferty. (I did find Past Master, Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Ringing Changes, and Annals of Klepsis - all Ace paperbacks - from used bookshops here. But this was within the first few years we lived here and I've never seen anything else since! After incalculable hours of scouring, I assure you. I think I officially single-handedly bought up Scotland's tiny store of secondhand Lafferty. Sigh.)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I confess I got a bootleg of Sleepy Sailor and I can't reveal my supplier. Anyway, it's possibly my favourite Lafferty ephemera I've come across. To me, the extensive interview in it alone is worth its weight in extraterrestrial gold. (I reckon Patrick T.K. would say so himself.) That interview renewed my respect and awe of Lafferty's mind, moved me even deeper with his biography, and impressed me even further with his sharp but generous interaction with his readers and critics.

Andrew said...

The Lafferty story in question is, naturally, Phoenic'.

And agreed about Gaiman's Lafferty pastiche. I'm hoping to do a paper about that story next spring at ICFA, where Gaiman will be guest of honor, examining that adaptation.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

That'd be a very interesting paper, Andrew. (I've only read a bit of Sandman, but I'd guess there's a fair bit of traceable Lafferty influence in that series also. I wish he'd make a character based on Laff the way he's based Bowling Green on Chesterton.)

Too bad I won't be able to read 'Pheonic'' until its re-anthologised someday. (Or I make my way to the archives.)

Also, it's interesting to note that Gaiman's 'Sunbird' has a titular resonance with Lafferty's 'Rainbird'. But no parallels in their respective contents occur to me. (Well, there's a large bird flying in each.)

philiph35 said...

A bit late in the day but a copy of "At the Sleepy Sailor : a tribute to R.A. Lafferty" recently sold on ebay for $180. I was unfortunately not the buyer. This was a high price for a Lafferty or Lafferty-related item

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I wonder if all the rare stuff out there is gonna go UP or DOWN once Laff starts getting republished?

philiph35 said...

It's hard to tell Daniel. It's possible that, as Lafferty gets better known, people who bought the rarer things will think of selling them and the price will go down. I got my almost complete range of UM books two years ago, on ebay, from a man who was selling a wonderful collection of SF, to put his daughter through college.

Kenji Matsuzaki said...

Hello, I'm Kenji (@RappaTei), a Japanese Laffertian.

The cover art of At the Sleepy Sailor, and some illustrations from the book.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Hi Kenji! Thanks so much for sharing that link and dropping a note to say hello! We've noticed that Japanese Laffertians have been 'listening in' to the blog for a while - so great to hear from one of you!

(On a side note: three of my children love certain aspects of Japanese pop culture that have reached us and they really hope our family can come visit your country some day.)

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