Saturday, December 28, 2013

Laffertian fragments

Searching for Lafferty book covers to put on my 'pulp' SF Pinterest board, I came across the following isolated snippets from Lafferty's story 'Through Other Eyes'.  (I found the snippets HERE.)  

I find the paragraphs strangely fascinating out of context like this:

It kind of gives me a fresh view of the Lafferty madness/sanity.  It looks freshly science fictional and philosophical too, in a way so unique I'm not sure you'd see it as pungently if you excerpted Delany or Zelazny or Dick this way:

I've used a lot of images on this blog too, which is fun to me and provides a certain kind of window into Lafferty's work.  But seeing only the words in scanned isolation like this also furnishes a kind of illumination.  Enjoy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

anthropological SF and Lafferty

So I've started doing general SF reviews over at my blog They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven On Their Heads.  The latest is of Michael Bishop's short novel Stolen Faces (1977), which is a specimen of 70s anthropological quasi New Wave science fiction.  The general discussion of the book may be of interest to Laffertians.

But it's got me thinking about anthropological SF (maybe most emblematically exemplified by Ursula Le Guin) and Lafferty:  does his work fit into this category/phase/expression of science fiction?  Probably not any more than his work fits into the New Wave in general.  But just as his work is amenable to the literary, experimental, psychological, linguistic, philosophising characteristics of New Wave (such as the likes of Zelazny and Delany exhibited), so too his work is amenable to the emphasis on indigenous identity, worldview, magic, ancestry, ritual, and culture in the anthropological SF of the likes of Bishop, Le Guin, and Tiptree.

One potential difference I see in Lafferty over against other practitioners of anthropological SF is that Lafferty's exploration of 'tribal' ethnicity and culture feels much more insider than what I've read in other authors.  Other writers often feel more like the compassionate and self-censuring view of a master race who is trying to repent of its atrocities and make amends.  Don't misunderstand that:  Le Guin and Bishop, for example, are exemplary liberal humanists (Taoist and Christian respectively) who are earnest about repentance and new policies toward the Other, working that out deeply and powerfully in their fictions.  But Lafferty feels more like a tribesman speaking out on behalf of the People.  His voice comes across to me more like a Chinua Achebe or Black Elk.  (It's interesting to note in this connection that Gene Wolfe said Lafferty's unique genius would have been taken more seriously in the USA if he had been of South American or some other non-white ethnicity.)

Lafferty deals often with other ethnicities and tribes than his own, sure - Native Americans and Native Indonesians spring to mind - but I think his empathy comes from the inside of his experience.  And those other Others sometimes stand in symbolically for his own, I think.  I know he self-identified as an ethnic and religious minority.  In one interview he said he just narrowly missed being a WASP by being instead a Ruddy Irish Catholic.  His own worldview too was far more in line with various indigenous peoples of the world than with the modern secular humanist worldview dominant in the West.

While I can think of quite a few short stories which are explicitly anthropological in theme, I'm not sure I can think of any of his novels that are really centred in this concern (aside from the obvious Okla Hannali).  Past Master, for example, seems more about sociology and political philosophy (and class is more at issue than race).  Anyway, here are a list of some of the short stories, off the top of my head, that are pretty deeply anthropological I think:

'Narrow Valley'
'Ride a Tin Can'
'Groaning Hinges of the World'
'How They Gave It Back'
'Frog On the Mountain'
'Nine Hundred Grandmothers'
'Land of the Great Horses'
'Smoe and the Implicit Clay'

More stories that feature anthropology, but I'm not sure whether they centre in that theme:

'Cliffs That Laughed'
'Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne'
'Name of the Snake'
'Old Foot Forgot'
'Tongues of the Matagorda'
'Happening in Chosky Bottoms'
'Days of Grass, Days of Straw'

Can anybody think of other instances and perspectives on this?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Globular Narratology (and glimmerings of a case for the greatness of Lafferty's late works)

'The insoluble problem for any narrator is to express the perfect sphere by means of a straight line, or even a shaggy sphere by a crooked line. For any subject or happening is globe-shaped, or at least glob-shaped, of some solidity and substance. And any narration must have sequence, which is line.

But why narrate spheres? Why strive for such an ideal or ideated form? Surely there are other shapes more curious, more open, more pregnant, though pregnancy does tend toward the spherical. There are other shapes more varied. Why not narrate saddles or quarries?  What kind of saddles, then?

Dromedary saddles, I suppose.  They're the closest thing to the shape of it.'

-R. A. Lafferty, Arrive At Easterwine (1971), Chapter Eleven (attributed to the fictional work Ermenics of Shape by the fictional character Audifax O'Hanlon)

For years this has been one of my go-to passages on the craft and puzzle of writing and storytelling. In the scheme of Lafferty's novel I think it takes on cosmic and ontological significance as well.  But in regard to narration it speaks of a universal puzzle that all storytellers must confront.  Few perhaps have pursued it as rigorously as Lafferty did.  I think this is why his narrations can be so notoriously (yet delightfully) difficult (not least among them Arrive At Easterwine!).

Not all of his stories are narrationally difficult, of course.  As one commenter on this blog aptly put it: Lafferty wrote the 'storiest of stories'.  Some of them positively hum and buzz with taut style and plot and the reader happily trips down the paragraphs to the usually wham-bang ending.  But let's be honest, Lafferty also wrote some utterly brain-melting narratives:  wildly and joyously baffling novels like Easterwine as well as Not To Mention Camels and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney. And, of course, there are the woollier, idea-drenched and/or structurally experimental short stories like 'Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies' or 'Rivers of Damascus' or 'The Man Who Walked Through Cracks' or 'St Poleander's Eve' or 'Inventions Bright and New'.

Lafferty himself admitted in an interview that he wrote 'choppy novels', but I think that was due as much to the unwavering integrity with which he genuinely tried to 'narrate a sphere' (or a saddle or quarry for that matter) as to any lack of skills or intuition he may have suffered as regards traditional notions of plot and so on.  (And just as is the case with the short stories, there are examples of novels that, for me at least, flow quite well - e.g. Space Chantey, The Reefs of Earth, The Devil Is Dead - even if what they narrate can be fairly mind-bending or mystifying.)

In some of the later and seemingly crazier-than-ever novels, Andrew Ferguson (in an unpublished paper) makes a very convincing case that Lafferty was stepping out into the true and un-plied innovation he had been calling for in his works from earlier decades.  From what I've read of those novels - mostly published in the 1980s - I couldn't agree more.  Among these too is showcased (intentionally) 'choppier' and more 'flowing' instances:  East of Laughter being an example of the former and Annals of Klepsis and Aurelia being examples of the latter.  They strike me as the fruit of a very mature and very exciting, if inevitably disorienting (because of the sheer newness of the endeavour), phase of an author finally truly stretching forth into the great work of his life.  (Pace Webster, who's excellent and engaging article I already took issue with when I 'fisked' it here.)  If illness (and at last, alas, the weight of obscurity) had not diminished him in the 1990s, I think we would have seen Lafferty write his final and fullest masterpieces.  But even the beginnings of that late and mature work are powerful statements to behold - if we have ears to hear.

In my opinion, the way to obtain such ears is to very carefully listen to the early works and follow where they lead.  That is the huge mistake I think so many of even Lafferty's ardent admirers make. They were fond of his 60s and early 70s stuff and revel only in that era and fail to see how those very works are paving the way for later greatness.  For probably a very long time to come, our best guide to grasping how these early works set us up for later works is Andrew Ferguson.  Start with his Master's Thesis 'Lafferty and His World' - don't worry about the passages of this paper that get incredibly dense with theory and jargon.  They lighten up again and bear a lot fruit when he starts analysing specific stories by Lafferty.  Then proceed to his mesmerisingly informative and insightful blog:  Continued On Next Rock.  Pay close attention, stay tuned in.  Beyond that, all one can do is pray for the day some sane and just publisher eventually gives Andrew the go ahead to write Lafferty's biography (I've seen a sample - it's gonna blow us away), and when that happens you'll see what I mean.  Our understanding of Lafferty is gonna go interstellar.  We'll still be mere half-conscious mortals plumbing infinities, but we'll be far better off than we are at present, trying as we are to see a mosaic from too close, lacking vantage and vista.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Complete Lafferty Library Volume 1!

It's finally gonna happen!  I'd heard about this, but I just now found out about a lovely page over at Centipede Press that outlines the project to publish all 200 of Lafferty's short stories (12 volumes' worth!) over the coming years.
Each volume, they inform us, will include 'a guest introduction by a notable author in the field of fantastic fiction' (the first being Michael Swanwick - you can see an excerpt of the opening paragraph over on the page linked to above).  They even give us the table of contents for the first volume:
I have all of these stories in one format or another besides 'The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle', a rare story only appearing in the Weird Tales Fall 1984 issue or the 1991 collection Mischief Malicious (And Murder Most Strange) from United Mythologies Press, both now all but impossible to obtain.

I'm very happy to see that some of the more obscure stories are already showing up, even those collected only in the Chris Drumm paper chapbook format from the early 80s (these are like little zines really - quite a cool DIY 'punk rock' sort of format in my opinion, but the typewriter lettering is a little hard to get into as a reader, to really feel like you're reading a genuinely published story and not just someone's unpublished manuscript).  The story 'Jack Bang's Eyes' is one of my favourites, especially because of the wonderful chimpanzee character Flip O'Grady.  It's the first story in Drumm Booklet # 13: Snake in His Bosom and other stories.
I'm a little surprised, however, that they're kicking the whole book off with the story 'The Man Who Made Models', the titular story of Drumm Booklet # 18, a story I found rather difficult and not as gob-smacking or exquisitely crafted as many other stories by Lafferty.
It just shows me once again that Lafferty fans differ so very widely as to what is his best work, or where to start with his work.  But I'll have to go back and re-read 'Models' thinking of it as the first story in this volume and see how it hits me.  I'm glad they go on to 'The Six Fingers of Time' right after that.  It's a story I've used to introduce and hook quite a few people to Lafferty.  Straightforwardly written and packing a vivid imaginative punch with its well-imagined slow-down of time and movement, with characteristic playfulness and mischief and, of course, rather diabolical consequences (and a poignant little love story too). 'The Hole on the Corner', next in line, is a classic and well-loved tale, which really shows off some of the outrageously weird lengths Lafferty can go to in two seconds flat.  Very funny, uproariously gruesome, wildly imaginative, unsettling. Both 'Six Fingers' and 'Hole' are from the ever popular first collection of Lafferty's short stories Nine-Hundred Grandmothers (1969) and unsurprisingly, they're not the only ones on the list. 'Square and Above Board' was not a story that particularly struck me when I read it (I have it in the 1983 anthology The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 9), but I'd love to see it again in this new context.  I have a feeling most of his stories are going to take on a fresh shine in these new formats and constellations.

I could wish they had at least one more story from Lafferty's 1971 collection Strange Doings besides 'All But the Words', and also at least one more story from his 1974 collection Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? besides 'About a Secret Crocodile', and perhaps also one more from the 1991 collection Lafferty In Orbit besides 'The Skinny People from Leptophlebo Street' (and these are probably not the stories I'd have chosen from those collections if it was only going to be one).  But I am happy to see a number of stories that I first encountered in the under-appreciated 1984 collection Ringing Changes:  'The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos', 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw', 'Parthen', and 'Rivers of Damascus' (two of them being ones I'd definitely have picked).  As I said Nine-Hundred Grandmothers provides the lion's share of the collection with three more stories in addition to the two I've already mentioned:  'Frog On the Mountain', 'Narrow Valley', and 'Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne', the latter two consistently considered classics and 'Frog' being another very worthy choice in my opinion.
Inline image 1
That just leaves 'Condillac's Statue or Wrens In His Head' from the 1982 collection Golden Gate and Other Stories (a book which also first collected 'Days of Grass').  It's a great story, but it continues with the trend of this first volume to collect stories that are heavy on philosophy and complex ideas and narrations.  I think this first volume could do with a few less hefty numbers and a few more that are slam-bang fun - otherwise people might get the wrong idea about what all Lafferty accomplishes across the spectrum of his storytelling.

Then again, I guess this series is really only for those who are already dedicated fans, since it's gonna cost a pretty penny per volume and run into five or six hundred dollars to collect all twelve books.  To be perfectly honest, huge fan that I am, I'm going to have to really scrape pennies (and maybe auction off a few children) to keep up and collect each one as it comes out.  And that's the only way to be sure of being in on it apparently.  This first run is limited to 300!  Presumably the subsequent volumes will be similarly limited in number.  (If any rich readers want to sponsor my collection, I can promise the Lafferty Library in my hands will go to very good use and be thoroughly reviewed and publicised to the further fame of Lafferty!  The rest of you, stop judging my beggarly kowtowing to the wealthy!)

I'm gratified to see 'Parthen' and 'Six Fingers of Time' on this opening list as I've championed them as good starting points over the years and most of my fellow Lafferty fans have demurred.  Also, I'm very happy to see 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw' as it deserves to be widely known as one of Lafferty's very, very best.

Looking over the list again, it's also good to note that Lafferty's inimitable bending of space, time, and persons are all represented in these stories - the way he goes sideways and ultraviolet with the classic science fiction and fantasy tropes of time travel and multiple worlds and alien contact and planetary expeditions.  There are also several of his Native American-centric tales and those featuring animals to pleasantly odd effect.  Also included are tales showcasing how he can stretch and shrink both people and places at will.

All in all it's very exciting!  'This is beginning, this is happening!  Let no least part of it ever forget the primordial tumble that is the beginning!'

I'll conclude with the photo of Lafferty the first volume includes, which I've never seen before and I find just lovely.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Oklahoma Troll

'Lafferty?  Lafferty?  He's that Oklahoma troll who's been bamboozling us for years with his indescribable and impossible stories.  (Who but Lafferty would write a story whose main characters are a ghost, a sawdust-filled doll, and an Australopithecus?)  His work has been published all over the lot, though he's best known outside the science-fiction world for his powerful novel of the American Indians, Okla Hannali. An issue of New Dimensions wouldn't be complete without him.'

-Robert Silverberg, intro blurb to Lafferty's story 'Animal Fair' in New Dimensions IV (1974)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cosmic Horror vs. Cosmic Laughter (Lovecraft vs. Lafferty)

Finally!  I've written something new on Lafferty over at my Ride the Nightmare blog as part of a '30 Days of Halloween' series:

Day 24: Cosmic Laughter vs. Cosmic Horror (Lafferty vs. Lovecraft)

I recall that we discussed a 'theology of monsters' in Fourth Mansions in the comments of a past post.  I think horror and monsters in Lafferty need to be explored again and again, deeper and deeper.  Considering he said his whole body of work was an unfinished novel called 'A Ghost Story', the category of horror is obviously a crucial way to grapple with what Lafferty was doing.  (It's fascinating too that quite a few of his stories in the 60s and 70s were first published in horror magazines and horror anthologies.)

I welcome your thoughts!

(And Happy Halloween!)
(image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'The Ultimate Creature' - image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'The Man Who Never Was' - image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'The Ghost in the Corn Crib' - image found HERE)

(contians Lafferty's story 'The Man With the Aura' - image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'Splinters' - image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'Oh Tell Me Will It Freeze Tonight' - image found HERE)

(contains Lafferty's story 'The Funny Face Murders' - image found HERE)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gut-Level Books

'Certainly present circumstances and coming events can be read from animal or bird entrails, if one has enough shrewdness of vision to bring to them.  Entrails are gut-level books with everything in them literally.  Horoscopes aren't in it with entrails at all.  Crystal balls aren't, and fortune-telling cards aren't.  The entrails of hot-blooded animals give the deepest readings.  The entrails of fish and squid give the most elegant interpretations.  But bird entrails are the easiest, and they are the most commonly used.  The beginner is urged to stay with bird entrails till he is completely proficient, and really there is nothing wrong with staying with them forever.'

-R. A. Lafferty, opening paragraph to his short story 'Haruspex' (1974), collected in Drumm Booklet #12 Heart of Stone, Dear and other stories (1983)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pan-Therion the Dream-Master (or "Boy, is that ever a Bearcat!")

'A world does not build itself.  It is built.  It is built knowingly by intelligent persons.  In Principio Erat Intellectus.  It isn't begun on chasm'd chaos though.  It begins on a globe; for all things, rain drops and fire drops, plasma globs and congregations of gasses, rock-worlds, and water-worlds, all assume the rough globe form.  The surface of the globe is bare, rock earth, slippery shale-in-formation, mud-earth.  And jagged diamond-scattered earth.  There are ghosts, but no organisms yet.

It begins then on the many-layered surface of the globe.  There is the muffled sound of footfalls.  That is the ironic beginning of it all:  "The world is empty and void of all life.  There are muffled sounds of footfalls," like the beginning of a short story.  The footfalls are those of Panther and his panthers.  And who is Panther?

Panther is Pan-Therion or Pan-Therium, the All-Animal, the prototypical animal.  He is the cool-fever-flesh from which all others diverge.  He is the composite ("you should have seen some of the things and pieces of things that went into him") and the generating force.  He is the red-clay which is clay-flesh.  He is also the Dream-Master.

But many mythologies say that it was the Bear who made the world.  Yet, there is no contradiction there.  The Bear is one of the very strong elements in the Pan-Animal.  This primordial dream-master beast is in fact the "Bearcat" who appears both in the Prophet Elias and in Mark Twain and who is found in the common expression of today "Boy, is that ever a Bearcat!"  It is Pan-Therium, the Bearcat that is in the beginning.  It's the flesh that is the red grass.  It belches the dreams out of its stomach and they battle for supremacy, whether they shall survive as "World,"  or not survive at all.'

-R. A. Lafferty, The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny, collected in Apocalypses (1977)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Planet Astrobe from above...

'And another sort of entrails were spread out for them to see.  It had come on first dusk as they stood there, and they drank in the view as though it were new apple-wine.  It was the entrails of the planet below them.  There were the Ferals, and the Glebe, and the String of Cities.  There was the black-green Astrobe of the feral strip they had just traversed, and the golden Astrobe of the cultivated regions.  There were the great golden cities at their close intervals.  And there was black Cathead and the gray Barrio.  All of them giant things!

The branch of the sea that cradled Wu Town and ended in a splinter of estuaries and canals at Cathead was a black-blue-green monster, writhing with strength and dotted with huge sea-harvesters.  There was Cosmopolis standing high and wide in a special golden halo - the heart of civilized Astrobe.'

-R. A. Lafferty, Past Master (1968)

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Trouble with Going Beyond Cliche

I write as clearly as I am able to. I sometimes tackle ideas and notions that are relatively complex, and it is very difficult to be sure that I am conveying them in the best way. Anyone who goes beyond cliche phrases and cliche ideas will have this trouble. (R. A. Lafferty)

More R. A. Lafferty quotes at

'Ah, I will go sly! I will devise a sign so I will know me if I meet me again'

'He surely came to his happiness in grumpy fashion.

The week was gone by.  The last evening for him was come.  The Dookh-Doctor ritually set his clinic on fire, and a few minutes later his house.

He burned, he scattered, he recited the special last-time recital.  He ate holy innuin and holy ull.  He took one glob of most bitter ash on his tongue:  and he lay down to sleep his last night under the speir-sky.

He wasn't afraid to die.

"I will cross that bridge gladly, but I want there to be another side to that bridge."  He talked to himself.  "And if there is no other side of it, I want it to be me who knows that there is not.  They say 'Pray that you be happily lost forever.  Pray for blessed obliteration.'  I will not pray that I be happily lost forever.  I would rather burn in a hell forever than suffer happy obliteration!  I'll burn if it be me that burns.  I want me to be me.  I will refuse forever to surrender myself."

It was a restless night for him.  Well, perhaps he could die the easier if he were wearied and sleepless at dawn.

"Other men don't make such a fuss about it," he told himself (the self he refused to give up).  "Other men are truly happy in obliteration.  Why am I suddenly different?  Other men desire to be lost, lost, lost.  How have I lost the faith of my childhood and my manhood?  What is unique about me?"

There was no answer to that.

"Whatever is unique about me, I refuse to give it up.  I will howl and moan against that extinction for billions of centuries.  Ah, I will go sly!  I will devise a sign so I will know me if I meet me again."'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Old Foot Forgot', first published in Orbit 7 (1970); also collected in Ringing Changes (1984) and Lafferty in Orbit (1999)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'an exhilarating statement of intent from a young and ferociously talented writer'

'Among the (numerous) apocryphal stories about Lafferty is this one: like many young, bookish folks, he set out at one point to be a writer, even enrolling in a night class to augment his part-time study in electrical engineering, as well as the innumerable languages he taught himself. The writing teacher took a look over his stuff and told him, you might have something here, but you need to go live your life for 20 years or so, and then come back and try it again. Being a literal minded person (something I’ll explore further later on), Ray took the prof at his word and put aside his typewriter for a couple decades. Nothing survives from this earlier period—nothing, that is, except this unpublished novel,Antonino Vescovo, dated in Lafferty’s hand “ABOUT 1935 TO 1937”.'

-from the Lafferty blog Continue on Next Rock 

Andrew (the blogger of said blog) sums up:  'It is, in many ways, an exhausting book; certainly not one to read in a single sitting. But it’s also an exhilarating statement of intent from a young and ferociously talented writer; albeit one, like O’Brien, well ahead of his time.' 

(In his subsequent blog post, Andrew relates another fascinating detail of Lafferty's writing apprenticeship:  '1957 was the year when R.A. Lafferty returned to writing after a twenty-year hiatus. He submitted stories to several magazines (all rejections), enrolled in and completed a correspondence writing course, and also sent several stories to dubious fee-charging literary agencies in the hopes of gaining representation.')

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'throw out pseudoserious abominations and use the seriocomic which is the only genuine thing'

'Chrysalis 4 contains the only authorized biographical information ever published about R. A. Lafferty.  The little additional data I could locate in my Lafferty Letters is as follows:  "As to  biographical stuff, I am an anonymous maker of medieval miracle plays.  Being anonymous, that's all the biographical stuff I can generate."  No help, right?

Try to Remember is a typical lafferty.  It makes a devastating point about the people who man our institutions of higher learning while also tickling the funny bone until it hurts.  In this context, I will quote from another one of my Lafferty Letters:  "The opposite of 'serious' isn't 'funny.'  The opposite of both 'serious' and 'funny' is 'squalid.'  As to a 'good idea' [for future volumes of Chrysalis], throw out pseudoserious abominations and use the seriocomic which is the only genuine thing."

Try to Remember was first published in Collage Magazine, December 1960-January1961.  Since Collage Magazine was a very little, little magazine with a circulation of well under 1000 and since nobody appears to have ever heard of it, I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be included in an original anthology.  Plus, we need all the lafferties we can get.'

-Roy Torgeson, editor, Chrysalis 6 (1979)

Monday, April 15, 2013

'hypnotic dream-memory wheels turning like incredible differential gears'

'The snakes did have style and charm and beauty.  They coiled and uncoiled with kaleidoscopic change.  They poured themselves, it seemed, as from one set of goblets into another set of goblets.  They fell like churning colored foam in water-falls, and they rose like slow-motion fountains.  They turned themselves inside-out and back again, swallowing and regurgitating themselves.  They were cascades of jewels tumbling down and then climbing up over themselves again.  They were dazzles, they were compositions in color and perspective, they were prismatic splitting and recombining of banded colors, they were hypnotic dream-memory wheels turning like incredible differential gears, they were wit-in-movement, they were outrageously colored jokes in rapid juxtaposition.

'They were persons with their diamond-bright person-eyes shining out in ever-new recognitions.  They were aromas, evocative and prescient, allegorical and impossibly foreign.  They could give out any odor imaginable, and they themselves had over-reaching imagination in this.  They could give odors on command or suggestion.  They were companionable, and yet they weren't pushy.

'They hadn't any voices.  But they could play pan-pipes and horns if these were fixed onto little stanchions for them.  They weren't as musical as might be expected from such colorful creatures, but they played with good spirit and heartiness.  They were about as good as Stoker's Seals in their execution, though they couldn't remember as many tunes as could the seals.  On original tunes, they couldn't come up with movements of longer than six notes, nothing at all intricate.

'They hadn't respectable minds.  Mentality wasn't their strength.  They were fuzzy.  There really weren't any other things to compare them to.  Even the older people had very skimpy memories of any snakes other than these, but there was always the feeling that these were snakes of a special sort.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'The Forty-seventh Island', collected in Basilisk, edited by Ellen Kushner (1980)

Kushner writes in the Introduction to the anthology:  

'There are new stories by some admirable crossovers from the science fiction division:  R. A. Lafferty and Michael Bishop, two original minds whose fiction often transcends classification, presented me with stories that are certainly about fantasy... The stories [in this anthology] range from the timelessness of Gray's purest fairy tale of an arrogant prince... on into the eerie distant futures of Lafferty and M. John Harrison.  All of them are excellent fantasy.'  

She also writes a little introduction to Lafferty's specific contribution:  

'R. A. Lafferty, a master of the unclassifiable, has written numerous novels and stories.  The best known novel is Past Master, in which Sir Thomas More is called into the future to solve the riddle of his own Utopia.  

Because of its trappings of planets and rocket ships, you may wish to call this a fantasy story about science fiction - unless, of course, you'd be more comfortable thinking of it as a science fiction story about fantasy.'

Sunday, April 14, 2013

'His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form...'

'"He is an Angel," said Dadacus.  "He is an angel unrevealed even to himself.  That is what a typhonian is.  One of us here must reveal him.  Then he will be worth many of the others.  We receive the best of them in compensation for our losses."

The whine of the approaching chopper-cycle had become a scream.  The dust of it was a pillar in the air.  It came into sight as a howling dot at the bottom of the pillar, and it grew.  Riding it was the chopper whom several of them had seen while he was still far below the horizon.  He was a huge, bearded, slavering man, the whites of whose eyes were as big as apples, and the black pupils of them were like insane black holes.

His name, lettered in crazy print on his cycle, was Whole-Hog McCloud.  He was hairy and naked and obese, a mad and frothing giant.  But did he really look like that?

Only at first glance.  In reality he had the plastic smooth, primordial, unfinished look of a typhonian.  He could still be molded into anything.  But the noise of him and of his apparatus!

He had amplifiers on his exhaust; he had amplifiers all over his machine and all over himself.  He screamed to a skidding halt, throwing sand and rocks and gravel a hundred meters.

He was bloodied in his hairy nakedness from his skidding fall, and he had intended it so.  He arose and arose again, appearing more giantlike than was possible.

"We fight to the death," the big chopper roared through his amplifiers.  "I fight and kill you all at once."  And he came at them swinging a length of chain in one of his huge hands.

"No, we wrestle to life," Celsus said.  Celsus was the biggest man of his group of desert people.  "And you strive with myself only, not with all at once.  I'm a mightier wrestler than you'd believe, and my help is from otherwhere."

But part of Celsus' help was from those present.  Domitilla spread out her hands, and there was silence.  The fallen chopper-cycle coughed and its engine died.

The electronic noise boxes that were hung on the machine all conked out with their amplifiers.  There was left only quiet and little puffs of black smoke.  The throat amplifier of the giant Whole-Hog McCloud likewise went silent with a bigger puff of blacker smoke.  The giant tried to roar again, but his only noise was a weak, hoarse croaking.

"My noise, my noise, I need my noise," he croaked.  "My strength is in my noise."

Did someone laugh at him?  It may have been the desert itself, or the whitetailed deer or the ferrets; or those birds named bullbats that are unmannered birds.  The people of the desert group smiled at him with quiet compassion, though Domitilla still spread out her quieting hands.

It was tall, dusty noon, and the battle joined.  Whole-Hog came at Celsus swinging his chain, and he caught him a solid bloody blow with it.  But the strong wrestler, though staggered, had hold of the chain in the middle now.  He held two links of it in his wrestler's hands; he broke the chain.  (He really had strength or help from otherwhere.)  He held one half of the chain loosely in his hand now and left Whole-Hog with the other.

Then the wrestler Celsus smiled and threw his own length of chain away; but Whole-Hog kept his.  They closed, they grappled, and the pinioned Whole-Hog was more hampered than aided by his chain weapon.  Whole-Hog seemed less huge when the two of them were twined together, only a little larger than Celsus.  They wrestled for a great long while:  the naked hairy typhonian and the big youngish man in the bearskin cloak.

Jacob once wrestled with a Presence for a great part of the night and until dawn.  This was at a place named Phanuel near a stream called Jaboc.

Whole-Hog McCloud wrestled with Celsus from tall noon till near dark at a place that was very like Phanuel and was near a stream called Coyote Creek.

Cecilia, with her quick lilting voice, told the old and ever-new account of the erstwhile giant while he wrestled.  It was all new to his ears that had been stunned for so many years and were freed only in recent hours.  But he heard it and he changed.  His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form.  Cecilia talked on and on (though it was necessarily a very compressed account that she gave) and Domitilla still held her quieting hands spread out.

Just as the sun touched down the two big men stopped their wrestling.

"Your name is no longer Whole-Hog," Celsus said.  "It is Whole-Man now."

"Here is water," said Whole-Man McCloud.  "What is there to prevent you taking me ritually into it?"

They did so.  And when they came out of the water, Domitilla wrapped Whole-Man in a bearskin robe.  By this he became, like the rest of them, a berserker.

They moved on in the early night.  There had been ten persons in this group; now there were eleven.

The people of the cities didn't understand how the desert epidemic grew.  It grew by such accretions as  this.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'And Mad Undancing Bears', collected in The Beserkers, edited by Roger Elwood (1973)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'World, world, world, water, water, water, glub, glug, glub'

'The turtles in the tank I was put into did have a sound basic philosophy which was absent in the walking grubs. But they were slow and lacking inner fire. They would not be obnoxious company, but neither would they give me excitement and warmth. I was really more interested in the walking grubs.


I talked to the turtles while Eustace was painting my portrait on tent canvas.

"Is the name of this world Florida?" I asked one of them. "The road signs said Florida."

"World, world, world, water, water, water, glub, glug, glub," said one of them.

"Yes, but is this particular world we are on named Florida?"

"World, world, water, water, glub," said another.

"Eustace, I can get nothing from these fellows," I called. "Is this world named Florida?"'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'The Weirdest World' (first published in Galaxy Magazine June 1961; also collected in Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add, 1974)

Friday, April 12, 2013

'This is beginning, this is happening!'

'The world begins, not necessarily for the first time.

Not with a bang, but a tumble.  In the beginning was noise.  A cataract of worlds or entities rolling and cascading in fearful clatter.  The cosmic atom, the world-box, has disgorged.  Here is bursting galactic expansion into free area.  Avalanche of noise and bright color.  Not chaos, but thunderous exodus; and every particle bearing its own thunder sign.  This is beginning, this is happening!  Let no least part of it ever forget the primordial tumble that is the beginning!

Then, the stable state - and memory.  The first thought ever thought anywhere, anywhen:  It's as though I've been here before.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Symposium', collected in Omega, edited by Roger Elwood (1973)

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Re-Doomer Who Wrangles for Us a Second and Better Doom (wishing you a Laffertian Good Friday)

Know that religion is a repetitious act or it is nothing. The “re” is the holy prefix, since nothing is successful the first time. It must be forever the “re,” the returning, the restructuring, the re-lexion, the reconstitution, the building back from defeat. We will rebuild in the dark and in the light; we will work without ceasing.

Even our mysterious Maker was the Re-deemer, the re-doomer who wrangles for us a second and better doom, the ransomer, the re-buyer, the re-d-emptor. We are sold and we are ransomed, we are lost and we are found. We are dead and we are re-surrected, which is to say “surged up again.”

-R. A. Lafferty, 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire' (1972)

Sacred Visions (1991).  Contents:  Gus / Jack McDevitt -- Pope of the Chimps / Robert Silverberg -- Curious elation / Michael Cassutt -- Trinity / Nancy Kress -- Saint Theresa of the aliens / James Patrick Kelly -- Our lady of the endless sky / Jeff Duntemann -- Seraph from its sepulcher / Gene Wolfe -- Case of conscience / James Blish -- Xorinda the witch / Andrew Greeley -- Canticle for Leibowitz / Walter M. Miller, Jr. -- Quest for Saint Aquin / Anthony Boucher -- Walk now gently through the fire / R. A. Lafferty.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stop Reading this and Go See The REAL R. A. Lafferty Blog!

Continued on Next Rock (this is the link to the blog - click on it without delay!)

I don't have words for how exciting this is.  The author of this blog is Andrew Ferguson.  He is the first person to write a scholarly paper on Lafferty and he is due to be Lafferty's first biographer relatively soon.  (The biography to be published within a few years from now, I believe.)  I know first hand from reading his academic works on Lafferty and from email correspondence and from his contributions to the discussions on this fan-blog that there is no living person who knows as much gritty, juicy, exciting detail about Lafferty's life and bibliography than this dedicated young scholar.  He is also the foremost interpreter of Lafferty, performing highly sophisticated academic pyrotechnics in his scholarly papers on Lafferty.  They will make your head spin with their intellectual rigour and utterly delight you with the insight and enlightenment they bring to a reading of Lafferty's hyper-exotic and ultra-inimitable fiction.

I'm sorry I've kept you so long with my paltry recommendation!  Go forth from here and read the REAL Lafferty blog...

Continued on Next Rock...

[it's the same link twice - for emphasis!]

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) 
'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)