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.'


Ross said...

Another Lafferty story that I haven't read but is now on my to-read list. I need to learn more about these snakes.

I keep re-reading this excerpt. Lafferty had such a brilliant imagination and style.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes he did indeed! Glad we're introducing you to new Lafferty stuff. I've probably got something like 50 of his stories collected only in anthologies like these that I've slowly acquired over the past decade - some in secondhand book shops, but mostly through Amazon, often for only a penny or two plus postage! Lots of vintage Lafferty that never made it into his own collections.

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