Tuesday, May 1, 2012

But He Did Not Break the Window

'Disregarding the signs that are in all Light-Rail-Rapid-Transit cars, "Please Open Window Before Shooting Buffalo," Hiram shot his rifle through a window and killed a buffalo on a knoll two hundred meters from the speeding train-of-cars.  He killed the buffalo, but he did not break the window.

Hiram was a good mechanic.  Not everyone could have machined such an attachment for a rifle on the way to work in the morning.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Inventions Bright and New' (first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, May 1986)

(I've toyed for a while with calling a central strain of Lafferty's fiction 'buffalopunk'  - a la cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. - and the above passage is one more good reason why.)


Kevin Cheek said...

Buffalopunk--definitely an appropriate label!

Forgive me, this excerpt put me in mind of two unrelated things: The short story "Mary Margaret Roadgrader" by Howard Waldrop which except for fact that the characters have a bit of sex, could have been one of Lafferty's Buffalopunk stories; and a poem:

At the Zoo
by A. A. Milne

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There's a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too -
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent's House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there's a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo -
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can't shake hands with a mingo -
he doesn't like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, "How do you do?" -
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I'll look that Waldrop story up - I keep hearing he's comparable to Laff (as much as anyone could possibly approach being comparable to the incomparable).

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.

That could be an opening for an essay on Laff.

Kevin Cheek said...

I thought the descriptions of all the animals very appropriate to the wild literary beast that was Lafferty!

easterwine said...

It's sad how many of his stories did not get published in any collection of his stories. Daniel, out of curiosity, of your own personal favorite Lafferty stories (say--your top five or six), how many of them were only published in s.f. magazines and never made it into any collection. Just wondering if there are any I should keep my eyes open for. Thanks


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

So true, Craig. And I'm really annoyed that they didn't choose the stories for his collections a little more imaginatively (Andrew Ferguson says the editors largely ignored Lafferty's own suggested lists). Half or more of my very favourite stories by him are not in his collections but only in the anthologies and mags.

As to your question, see, the thing is I really need to update my top 5 or 10 as it's based on reading from years back - since then I've read so many more individuals stories in the anths and zines and I haven't really processed yet how that's affecting my favourite list. It basically makes me want to do some crazy Laffertian thing with space-time-number-parallelism etc. and have about 25 or so stories in my top ten!

Out of the ones I've always said were in my top 5 or so, these were not in his collections:

'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire'

'In Deepest Glass: An Informal History of Stained Glass'

But others I've discovered that I really like and I have no idea how they fit into even a top 20 are:

'Smoe and the Implicit Clay'

'The Funny Face Murders'

'The Man Who Never Was'

'Inventions Bright and New'


'The Three Shadows of the Wolf'


'And Mad Undancing Bears'

'Fog in My Throat'

'Bank and Shoal of Time'

These are off the top of my head as I'm away from home just now - I'm sure there are others! (To be honest, it's becoming harder and harder for me to put many of his stories in anything less than 'really good', 'great', and 'best' categories.)

Andrew said...

A few more, though again they're all worth tracking down:

Bubbles When They Burst
Quiz Ship Loose
The Man Who Walked Through Cracks
Great Tom Fool
A Happening in Chosky Bottoms
The Emperor's Shoestrings

Hoping they'll all be collected in nice Locus-pushed editions but not sure yet how they're going to handle the short stories, whether they'll keep the volumes already in place or try to go back to Ray's own suggested compilations, or what.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Absolutely, Andrew, thanks for the additions! I could have just as easily and gladly mentioned each one of those (except 'Great Tom Fool', which I still haven't obtained).

Yeah, looking forward to seeing what Locus will do.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Can't help but add a few more:

'Endangered Species'
'Hands of the Man'
'From the Thunder Colt's Mouth'
'The Forty-Seventh Island'

I think I've got it down to just about a dozen more of the uncollected ones that I need to obtain. Can't wait to get my grubby paws on 'em. I'm reminded more and more that you honestly always have NO IDEA just where Lafferty might take you in any given tale on so many levels. Some of the most recent I've obtained and read have just blown me away with the new and unexpected moves he made. There is just no imagination like (or, in my opinion, as great as) his.

easterwine said...

Ahhh....too many,too many! And I have still not finished collecting the collections (I am still missing "Iron Tears"). So far the only two stories I have that are not in collections of his stories are "Symposium" and "Now Walk..." Which two or three would you recommend starting with? I like the stories that have more overt Christian themes such as "Name of the Snake" and "Ishmael into the Barrens." Although "Crocodile" sounds really interesting too. I read a lot of Asimov in my early teens, so I would enjoy reading Lafferty's take on the Laws of Robotics. THANKS for posting these great suggestions! --Craig

Kevin Cheek said...

Off the top of my head the only real thorough examination of robotics, or "programmed persons," in the Lafferty oeuvre was Past Master, where he dealt with them quite thoroughly. Robots in Lafferty short stories anyone?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Craig, then you definitely want to get 'And Mad Undancing Bears' and 'In Deepest Glass' for very good companion pieces to 'Walk Now' and 'Ishmael'. You'd probably also want 'The Forty-Seventh Island' and 'From the Thundercolt's Mouth'.

'Crocodile' is *very* Laffertian in its take on robotics, convincing on levels below and above logic rather than some kind of Asmovian escape clause. I really like it. It fits into his apocalyptic and dystopian themes as well as robots. In fact, I think Laff's robots aren't so much a speculation about actual artificial intelligence in the future as much as they are metaphors for our own human intelligence in these days and how we may be giving it away along with our souls. Often I find his central robotic characters to be simultaneously sympathetic and sinister. Very interesting.

I agree with Kevin about Past Master, but here are some other robot stories by Laff (many of which could just as easily be listed under different theme headings, as Past Master can):

'Eurema's Dam'
'This Grand Carcass Yet'
'All the People'
'Mad Man'

There are probably others. (Of course, there's all the stories with Epiktistes the thinking machine and his autobiography Arrive at Easterwine.)

Kevin Cheek said...

Apropos of nothing except that I just spent a few minutes re-reading snippets: Although Fourth Mansions is my favorite Lafferty novel for personal reasons that I don't completely understand, I think Okla Hannali is his best novel from a standpoint of the writing. The book is perhaps the greatest linguistic romp in American letters. It has an interesting balance--it tells the story of a larger than life figure, a Paul Bunyon type of character, yet it has real character development, unparalleled in Lafferty's other novels. It also is a very important novel, telling a story that is often glossed over in American history. Some history professors I have talked with have a few problems with it. In the narrative he appears to excuse slavery, but I think he is just illustrating historical facts and attitudes. He also consistently refers to half-breeds as less honorable and less civilized than full-blood Indians. I tell the history professors that I don't fully understand this fly in the ointment, but the strength of the novel overall makes it worth struggling with the narrator's disagreeable views at those moments.

Kevin Cheek said...

And back on robotics: I agree with Daniel that his programmed persons are metaphor for how we are giving away our individuality. In Past Master their worship of Ouden-Nothingness is similar to the people--especially our children--who give their souls to the television and act alike, think alike, desire the same things, and ultimately don't dream. In "Mad Man" He shows how the programmed people do not have the creative juice and have to harvest it from angry men. We, in our culture are giving away our own creativity to follow blindly pop-culture leaders--so I read him. That would tie these stories to some of the disordered dystopias of "Ishmael Into the Barrens" and "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire."

Kevin Cheek said...

And "deliberately disordered dystopia" is just a good phrase to roll of the tongue, as well as a good description of the setting of those stories.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Well, I'm very much looking forward to reading Okla this summer. Very apt comments on Laffertian robotics as regards mass-media group think culture. Related, I'm right now reading his very sardonic Faustian political yarn in the group of Barnaby Sheen stories - 'The Hellacious Rocket of Harry O'Donovan' - deliciously derisive. No, Lafferty didn't get everything right, and his politics and ethics *may* at times have been questionable, but the overarching (and I think more central) themes of the wild sacredness of humanity that we need to not sell out - well, he just excels at that and it's inspiring.

Kevin Cheek said...

I think a common thread in a VAST number of his stories and novels is a fight against those forces trying to bamboozle us into trading in our souls for an easier path. It amazes me that he wrote those stories long before it was possible for him to have seen a group of tweens sitting glued to Disney Chanel. I am reminded of a wonderful moment in the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes:" In the first panel Calvin is reading a book and asking "What does this mean, 'Religion is the opiate of the masses'?" In the second panel we see the television thinking, "It means Karl Marx hadn't seen anything yet."

No, I'm not comparing Lafferty to Marx. However, I think they would both rail against the tendency of modern media to force humanity into and easily managed and marketed to box. What Marx failed to acknowledge was the power and strength of the individual--which is exactly what Lafferty celebrated. It's been decades since I read The Flame is Green but I seem to remember some bits that took on that difference directly.

Sorry, rambling a bit. I've been fighting insurance lawyers today--talk about Laffertian programmed persons!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Nice Calvin & Hobbes quip!

Kevin Cheek said...

Is Lafferty right? Is our world being taken over by programmed persons? Yes, I am continuing to deal with insurance lawyers. They make me realize that Lafferty's mechanical men may be more present than we suspect--at least the soullessness of them.

Time to get The Flame is Green or The Devil is Dead via interlibrary loan and re-read them to reassure my self of the presence of true individuals in our world.

Kevin Cheek said...

Forgive me for changing the topic so often, but back to Okla Hannali. I've been re-reading it slowly in bits and pieces for the last couple of weeks (thank God for a local library system that lets me suggest books to purchase, and then goes out and actually adds them to their collection). If you relax while reading it and let the narrative slowly build in your mind, there are times where the story can infect you with an imitation of the Choctaw chuckle. I was reading a bit this morning and noticed that my belly was moving as if of its own will. Slowly the wobble spread over my whole body and escaped in a muffled, sustained guffaw. The passage I was reading was funny because of several threads in previous chapters, and it all built to one small trigger sentence--of which there are many in the book.

In the year 1842 a skeleton man on a skeleton horse rode up to Hannali House. He dismounted with difficulty, and he tied his horse to the wind as they called it. It had no need to be tied or hobbled, it wasn't going anywhere.

The sight that greeted the skeleton man would have affrighted anyone who had not been looking death in the face for some time. It was a monstrous huge man with a face more ugly than that of the Devil. The monster was barefoot, and the skeleton did not wonder at that. What shoes would go on those colossal feet? The giant wore pants of buckskin--and surely it had taken the skin of many bucks to provide them--and he was bare and near black from the waist up. He was a long-haired Indian monster man, and on his head was an incredible green turban that was bigger than some whole people.

The skeleton man continued his examination, and saw that the monster was reading Plutarch.

easterwine said...

I read "In Deepest Glass" yesterday. It is an amazing explanation in "historical" terms of the theology of both iconography and salvation: beautiful! Thanks for the suggestion. "Bears" and "Thundercolt" have been ordered and I can't wait to read them as well. I am trying to decide which of Lafferty's stories would be good for my students to read next school year (I teach literature and religion in a Catholic school). "Deepest Glass" might be good to teach as we cover the iconoclast period in religion class. Thanks again for the suggestions, Daniel.



Kevin Cheek said...

Though it might seem too obvious a suggestion, what about "The Name of the Snake"? Also, I have found a division between those who have not had a Catholic upbringing and education and those who have in their reaction to "Snuffles." By and large, my friends who went to Catholic school and are still active in Church find the story less disturbing. I do not quite understand why.

Steve said...

I finished Okla a few weeks back, somehow managing to plug through it during a semester of full-time coursework. Fantastic! Perhaps the best Lafferty I've read thus far. (I haven't gone too deep into the short stories yet.) It's all Lafferty, but it's got these historical roots to it that make you feel like L is indeed trying to tell you something very true and very important about a chapter of American history. I rarely cry reading books, and I found myself quite literally in tears at a few points during the book.

On the other end of things, I just finished the first half of Apocalypses, "Where Have you been Sandaliotis?" Anyone read this one? Anyone get it? Maybe it measures poorly after having just read Okla, but it seems the weakest L I've read so far. Seems to lack substance, much like Sandaliotis itself. Was that the point?

Add The Flame is Green and The Devil is Dead to my summer reading list.

easterwine said...


"Name of the Snake" is one of my favorites. It's a very good answer to Blish's "A Case of Conscience." I will read "Snuffles" this week and give my $0.02 on it. :)


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Kevin, I still haven't read Okla but that 'Plutarch' punchline totally made me laugh out loud!

Craig, I can't tell you how delighted I am that you so appreciated 'In Deepest Glass'. It has been one of my all time favourite Lafferty stories for over 10 years and I've hardly ever run into another person who's even read it! Don't suppose I could tempt you to do a wee guest blog post on here about it, bringing in your Catholic theological insights about iconography and salvation?

Steve, though 'Sandaliotis' perhaps didn't bowl me over to the extent that other Lafferty novels have done, nevertheless I actually think it's great. First of all, its entire premise (a new land mass shows up one day where there was only ocean before) is just so Laffertian in its originality of idea and execution. Secondly, it has some of my favourite moments in Laff - the picnic of roast bear, the amazing grotesque human clock and mechanical rats torture and execution scene, and many other wonderfully wacky and wild scenes and moments. Thirdly, I must say, it struck me as having HUGE depth! (Something I've been prone to miss in other works, so don't worry, ha!) The whole idea about two competing narratives (almost Laff's words exactly in the story) just couldn't be more topical for then and now. And it's another piece in the overall puzzle of Laff's themes about that kind of stuff, about 'consensus reality' and so on. I'm of the opinion that it's an underrated minor classic of Laff's. I think Andrew Ferguson is the only other person I've run into that found some worth in it. (Though I can certainly understand how it might pale right after reading Okla, Steve.) I'm really looking forward to a re-read of it at some point.

easterwine said...


I am honored that you would invite me to write a guest post about the story. I will start writing it tonight, but I have a student retreat that I will be on Sunday through Tuesday, so if I can't finish it by tomorrow, I'll send it to you on Wed. or Thur. of next week. It was a very interesting story: a narrative about narrative--with echoes of Tolkien's ideas on creativity sprinkled in too.

Thanks again,


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

That's excellent, Craig! Thank you. But listen, if you need to finish it after the retreat, that's fine too. Looking forward to it!

easterwine said...

OK...so I have taken three pages of notes and done some drafting for a review/analysis of "In Deepest Glass." But with all the end of the year school "stuff" that is going on I will probably need another week or two to write the review as well as I would like--I hope you don't mind...I would rather just take a little longer and have it done well. In the meantime I have read "Undancing Bears," which was a riot! (Although not nearly as complex as "In Deepest Glass"). Lafferty is never funnier than as a critic of pop culture. I had several problems ordering "In the Wake of Man," but I was able to secure a copy at last, which I should get in a day or two, so I will read "Thundercolt" soon too. Thanks for your patience, and take care.


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

No problems at all, Craig! Yeah, 'Undancing' is the least complex of that whole grouping of stories ('Walk Now', 'Ishmael', 'Deepest Glass', etc.). Doctor Rockter is one of my favourite character names. Hilarious. I also love the scene where the monk and the biker wrestle and it says of the biker (something like) he went down as Whole Hog McCloud and he came up as Whole Man McCloud.

easterwine said...

I also enjoyed the following exchange:

Whole Hog: "We fight to the death."

Celsus: "No, we wrestle to life."


easterwine said...

I read "Snuffles" tonight...a disturbing tale indeed! Numbingly so in fact. I will have to process the story more, but as to Kevin's question about a Catholic background perhaps making the story less disturbing: I think it depends on how one views Snuffles. After I read the story, I looked on-line for comments about it, and one self-identified atheist was disturbed by the story although he seemed to appreciate the identification of Snuffles with God, but I think Lafferty did not intend Snuffles to share characteristics with God (the Divine Trinity that Christians recognize as God), but with pagan nature gods instead, or perhaps even the evil that lies within human nature. So I think a Christian background will avoid viewing Snuffles as having any actual Divine characteristics, and that does make the story less disturbing. --just my $0.02.



Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes, I like that exchange too, Craig, and it shows nicely Lafferty's hope alongside his 'cranky' critique, a hope people for some reason so often miss. Perhaps this is because he weaves it in rather provisionally and humbly rather than triumphalistically - and our reading these days seems often to require that someone run us right over with a black and/or white MESSAGE that admits of no ambiguity or complexity or... well, 'wrestling'.

Interesting thoughts on 'Snuffles'. I've both loved and been disturbed by that one from the first time I read and every subsequent read. I've quite possibly gone back to that story more than any other. It really ropes me in somehow, even though it baffles me. Lafferty is in ultimate nuanced and 'tensed' mode in that story. I actually think he's left all those strands loosely twined together in provisional play - there are aspects of Snuffles's 'outlook' and activity that are Trinitarian (i.e. Eternal Creative Personal Love & Communion) and aspects that are more devilish or (fallen) humanish perhaps. Unlike an Aslan character, he is an imperfect hint of both the divine and the devilish and the reader must untangle that strange conflation. (I.e. he's not at all putting across some kind of both-good-and-evil deity or 'beyond-good-and-evil' deity etc.)

You should definitely check out Andrew Ferguson's analysis of the story in his dissertation - some VERY insightful stuff in there about the carnivalesque, death and resurrection, that the artist dismembers so that we can re-member, etc.

Kevin Cheek said...

I have read "Snuffles" 3 times, thinking before each re-read that I would understand it more and perhaps be less horrified. I was not. My intuitive response to the story is that this is a work of great substance. There are depths there that I am not fully grasping. It is more disturbing to me than many stories with much higher body count, yet each of the deaths in "Snuffles" shocked and dismayed me.

I believe part of what is so disturbing about the characters' deaths is that Lafferty works to establish their humanity in the opening scenes. Typical of Lafferty, he does not do this through typical character development techniques, but by presenting each as almost a caricature--in a way that makes each character represent a part of the human psyche--a part of ourselves. Then when snuffles kills each one in a deliberate, but almost off-hand seeming way, the death of the character feels almost like a condemnation of that part of the reader's mind. The cruelty of the forced run around the planetoid is difficult to endure, but establishes some empathy in the reader for the last two characters. You really hope they will somehow make it--yet it is telegraphed from early in the narrative that they won't. It also allows time for Snuffles to explicate on how he made the world and why he is doing this.

I read an online quip about the story once that described it as the artist's ultimate response to his critics. In some ways that's right. Lafferty removes any doubt in the reader's mind that Snuffles is the god of the planet. That he is killing off all the humans for failing to appreciate his creation, I think is at or near the core of why we find this story disturbing. The idea that we should be punished so horribly for scoffing, questioning, and just plain failing to notice the wonder is a deeply disturbing thought; because those behaviors are part of what makes us human.

Just some thoughts of the top of my head as I wait for the coffee to finish.

easterwine said...

Hi Daniel,

I will have a week or two off now (if it is possible to ever have time off with as many kids as I have). But I will send the "In Deepest Glass" review your way by Sunday or Monday. I have been reading a lot of Lafferty recently--loved "47th Island" and "World as Will and Wallpaper." I started "Colt" twice, but have not finished yet....just not connecting for some reason, but maybe now that the school year is done I can give it more attention.

--Take care,


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Great, Craig, I look forward to it! (I've got five kids myself, aged 2 to 16, so I think I know how you feel!) You know, 'Colt' is kind of like that. It was fairly hard for me to get through the first time, though I liked elements and passages a lot. This re-read, with a decade between, was MUCH stronger for me. Whether it totally works as a fiction or not, it certainly 'says' some of the most important things he had to say - and I do think it has some of his best artistic moments (e.g. the confetti-and-trash-filled people broken everywhere on the streets, etc.).

philiph35 said...

Lafferty published 'From the Thunder Colt's Mouth' as an independent work so it can and perhaps should be read as such. But note that it also appears, almost entirely unchanged in 'Argo' the third volume of 'More than Melchisedech'. This is where I first read it and I consider it is enriched by the setting. Of course, 'More than Melchisedech' is, sadly, much harder to find than 'In the Wake of Man'.

On Sandaliotis, rereading 'Apocalypses' brought me back to Lafferty and it remains one of my favorite of his works - I cannot sensibly add to Daniel's comments and I completely concur with his view of the work's premise. I think, though, that 'Three Armageddons ...' is a greater work. I have already expressed my regret to Andrew that neither of these works will be in his anthology

Kevin Cheek said...

Hi, it's been a while, and this conversation is perhaps growing a bit stale on the shelf, but I felt like chiming in. I share the impression that "The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny" is the stronger of the two works, though perhaps slightly less approachable. I think what ties the two works in Apocalypses together is the idea of consensus reality. A lot of the Sandaliotis' reality depends on making people believe it is real. In reality it was just a bunch of air foam and coloring. In "Armageddons..." reality changes retroactively when enough people believe they remember going through the world wars and the depression.

An interesting parallel to me is between "The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny" and Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle. They both deal with a consensus reality around WWII. In Lafferty's work, the wars had never happened until the operas made the people think they had. In Dick's book, WWII had been won by the Germans and the Japanese, however at the end of the book, the I-Ching reveals that this is not true, that this was just a consensus reality brought on by mass belief.

Thoughts on those two works, anyone?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Kevin! I promise I'm still going to put up your guest post you sent me. Hopefully over the Christmas holidays.

I've not read High Castle but I'd really love to see a Dick/Lafferty comparative analysis some day.

You summed up both Sandaliotis and Enniscorthy well.

Anybody got any suggestions for Lafferty quotes appropriate to the Christmas season?

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