Friday, August 22, 2014

Oh rise again and fight some more, dead people! (A Memoir by R. A. Lafferty)

The following is from Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (1980).

Memoir by R. A. Lafferty 

Galaxy was the golden magazine of science fiction.  At its best, there were nuggets in at least half its issues.  No one else came close to that.  
Let the hills leap like little lambs at the memory!
“About a Secret Crocodile” was a shot in a war (since lost) against a cabal that was forcing “trendiness,” whose other name is “unoriginality,” on the world.
Oh rise again and fight some more, dead people!
Galaxy died several times from embracing this trendiness or unoriginality.  The “magazine-that-is-different” became quite like all the other “magazines-that-are-different.”  And it died because it spent all its retrospection on things past.
The newest Galaxy editor, Hank Stine, is an experienced resurrectionist.  He brought a dead and rotting Louisiana alligator back to life by laying his reanimating hands on it and breathing into its nostrils.  Later he brought back to life a dead rabbit, a dead goat, and a little dead boy.
(He has not told these things himself.  Others have told them of him.)
Now he will, probably raise the magazine from its second or third death.  You’ve got to have faith!
(If he isn’t still at the helm when this appears, that just means that good guys move around a lot.)
Never trust  a retrospectionist who isn’t two-faced.  A little of that retrospection for the future, please!
Galaxy, esto perpetua:  Thou art forever!  (I hope.)
But, for all that, the way-it-used-to-be was quite extraordinary.


The editors (Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander) introduce Lafferty’s memoir piece, which is followed immediately by his collected short story ‘About a Secret Crocodile’, this way:

Raymond [sic] Aloysius Lafferty began writing science fiction when he was well past forty, producing a large body of work that can only be described as wonderful, wild, and often bewildering.  His is an original voice, and his contributions to sf are only now becoming apparent.  Lafferty also meant a great deal to Galaxy in the 1960s, with something like 20 stories, including such major works as “Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas” (December 1962), the fabulous “Slow Tuesday Night” (April 1965), “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” (February 1967), and “Primary Education of the Camiroi” (December 1966) and its “sequel” “Polity and Custom of the Camiroi” (June 1967).
            “About a Secret Crocodile” is one of his best and most famous stories, one that rewards rereading time and time again.  Lafferty’s agent, Virginia Kidd, tells us that whent eh story appeared in Galaxy, she received an indignant call from the editors of Playboy magazine wanting to know why they hadn’t seen it first.  Virginia says, “Frankly, it had never occurred to me that it was anything but a Galaxy story, so that is where I sent it.”

[I for one can vouch that this particular story has hit me with new and profound depths of both artistry and significance every time I’ve read it over the years.  It is of keen relevance to our current meta-culture of opinion-forming social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google +, Buzz Feed, and so on.  Lafferty did oddly fit the usual projected role of an SF writer being a ‘prophet’, but he did so, as Neil Gaiman has recently remarked, in an uncanny social, cultural, psychological, and philosophical way rather than in a technological way.  Then again, his social ‘predictions’ are all about current information technology.  So really, he fit that aspect of the role too.]

Thursday, August 21, 2014

R. A. Lafferty writes like no one else, inventively strange and characterful and sparkling with deadpan wit

The astonishing emergence of R. A. Lafferty on the horror and science fiction scene over the last dozen years is a subject of much discussion and a Hugo Award.  Appreciated by both those who favor the more traditional story and those inclined to prefer the most offbeat and experimental, he has been a favorite of the best anthologists: Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and Damon Knight.  And while best known for his inimitable short stories, he has also turned out fine novels of science fiction, as well as Okla Hannali, which deals with the American Indians.  All this from a writer who has published most of his work past age fifty. But readers should not confuse Mr. Lafferty's chronology with an identifiable style of writing.  R. A. Lafferty writes like no one else, inventively strange and characterful and sparkling with deadpan wit.  Like this bit of regionalistic myth-lore, set in his native Oklahoma.

-from Frights: Stories of Suspense and Supernatural Terror (1976), edited by Kirby McCauley, featuring Lafferty's story 'Oh Tell Me Will It Freeze Tonight'.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lafferty news (that’s right, NEWS!) – Reminiscent of a Future

All great smells […] have a reminiscent element, but with this it is reminiscent of a future.  There is a pleasurable mustiness here, that’s sure, but it isn’t of a past time:  it’s of a future time, long waiting, and now beginning to unfold suddenly.
-R. A. Lafferty, ‘World Abounding’ (1971)

There is indeed a whiff of something approaching in the air.  Lafferty’s breakthrough into a larger audience has been ‘long waiting’ and seems as if indeed it may be about to ‘unfold suddenly’ in this the centenary year of his birth.  Neil Gaiman has been talking about him a lot in podcasts recently, so much so that Lafferty’s name made it into a Wall Street Journal blog alongside Flann O’Brien.  Just scant weeks after this brief article appeared, another more lengthy news piece was featured in The Guardian this past week devoted exclusively to Lafferty, citing again Neil Gaiman and also ‘our own’ (as I like to think of him) Lafferty scholar, Andrew Ferguson.  This Guardian article is currently being repeatedly tweeted on Twitter and no doubt other social media networks.  The article comes out in conjunction with the Lafferty panel  (hosted by Ferguson and featuring Michael Swanwick) that was held last week at the London WorldCon. 
In my own Lafferty news, I recently started an RALaffertyTweets account on Twitter that has garnered 80 followers in just a few weeks (seems a lot for such an obscure writer).  I started it because I have been officially approved to write my dissertation this year on Lafferty (more on that in the next blog post), but it has come in handy as this article on Lafferty has broken.  
All in all, it seems like exciting and auspicious times for all things Lafferty.  The following from Lafferty’s story ‘The Wooly World of Barnaby Sheen’ (1973) comes to mind:

“Get ready for it, kids, don’t miss it!” Mary Mondo chirped so clearly as to be heard by every ear in the room. “This is going to be good.”
But, of course, Mary Mondo is a ghost and most of the time the people around her only slightly hear her, if at all.  One can’t help but feel that this potential breakthrough for Lafferty’s work is profoundly promising, but also precarious.  This moment of wider recognition for Lafferty feels a bit like the uncertain cliff-hanger endings to so many of his tales (e.g. ‘Frog On the Mountain’, ‘The Configuration of the North Shore’, Annals of Klepsis, Serpent’s Egg).  But I’ll gladly take the expectant stance of the ending of his seminal 1968 novel Past Master:

Remember it?  Then it happened?
Be quiet.  We wait.
Well, does it happen? Does the reaction become the birthing? What does it look like?
Will we see it now, in face and rump, the new-born world?

Be quiet. We hope.
(artwork for Past Master by Leo and Diane Dillon)
'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)