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.]


Kevin Cheek said...

Many of Lafferty's stories were dead-on, absolutely correct reflections of the culture at the times they were written--and they are even more correct today!

"About a Secret Crocodile" while utterly exceptional, is no exception. Indeed, the Crocodile grows ever fatter in our age.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

So true, Kevin. All the social networks I mentioned, though they can be forces for good (such as putting fellow enthusiasts like us together), can each also be a salivator of the Crocodile's Mouth.

'And somewhere the Secret Crocodile lashed its tail in displeasure.' (We'd better keep quiet if we know what's good for us! ;) )

Monte Davis said...

I assigned "Crocodile" in a high-school SF course in 1970, and in a college course in PR writing in 2003. Both times, it stimulated more (and better) discussion than any other reading. To Kevin's point, the 2003 class found it completely "contemporary."

Will Linden said...

"There is a secret society of four women and three men that controls all the fashions of the world. The secret of this society is known to all who are in the fashion, and I am not."

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

So interesting to hear from someone who has seen the story's relevance from the era in which it first appeared and our contemporary era, Monte. Thanks!

Will, while we're quoting this eminently quotable story, here's a line that has always cracked me up:

'There is a secret society of only four persons that manufactures all the jokes of the world. One of these persons is unfunny and he is responsible for all the unfunny jokes.'

trawlerman said...

This Galaxy anthology is all-around great because of all of the commentary material.

I love the beginning Gold on Galaxy section...

"I had some basic editorial requirements for material. One was, if you've got a premise, start with it. Don't end with it. Don't end with, "My God, it's a time machine!" Or, "My God, it's Adam and Eve"--or whatever. If you've got a time machine, well, fine. Now what?
The second thing was, if it's an old, trite idea, then take it literally. Turn it inside out. Carry it as far as it will go, even beyond the snapping point. If you're writing about overpopulation, then why isn't overpopulation not only good but necessary to maintain your society? If there's a depression, perhaps it is caused by underconsumption--that one turned out to be Pohl's The Midas Plague. Third, seek paradoxes. In Alfie Bester's The Stars My Destination, I suggested that since everybody could go anywhere instantaneously, by teleportation, the very rich would be carried in sedan chairs."

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Wow, thanks for that editorial quote. Man, you can see why Lafferty was so welcome there. They're requirements are practically Laff's modus operandi. (Indeed, I think Lafferty's 'Guesting Time' may have fulfilled exactly what the editor describes here with overpopulation.)

Martin Heavisides said...

I remember looking at a paperback reprint of this anthology when I was book-scouting, and noting that Lafferty's introduction had been replaced by a generic one (probably the one given above in this piece), which is the reason I didn't buy the anthology. (I already have About a Secret Crocodile in Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?) You have to wonder if they considered "some nuggets in at least half the issues" insufficiently complimpentary (though my favourite University English professor and I agreed some years ago that it's about as high a compliment as you could honestly pay any magazine).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Wow, that's fascinating that it was left out. Ridiculous actually. From the non-fiction by Laff that I've read, it seems he rarely lets himself go in all out praise. I think his aesthetically critical mind just couldn't indulge in sloppy appraisal. He probably measured the s.f. outpourings of his day by the standards that informed his own art, from Balzac to Catholic iconography. Not a whole lot can really measure up to high time-tested standards. But it's also not bad to be judged by those standards and be able to still stand up at all, even if you don't quite shine.

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