Neil Gaiman's 'Sunbird' (collected in Fragile Things), Gene Wolfe's 'Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?' (collected in Starwater Strains) and Michael Bishop's 'Of Crystalline Labyrinths and the New Creation' (collected in Brighten to Incandescence) are each a valiant effort. I find all three authors to have plenty of Laffertian serum in their writerly bloodstreams when they write their own original and excellent yarns. And while I do find all three's attempts at writing lafferties to be entertaining and amusing, ultimately the pastiches (or whatever you want to call them) are not really as powerful as these writers' own stuff, when they're letting their obvious love of Lafferty well up from hidden depths without any conscious effort. (I reviewed Bishop's excellent early novel Stolen Faces here.) But as one who has myself, though not at all a professional, attempted to write a few lafferties of my own, and who has similarly found Lafferty's influence put to better use at a welling-up unconscious level, I heartily admire their chutzpah - and I know something of the fun and frustration they had doing it.
At any rate, I only recently discovered that I had a nice non-fiction piece about Lafferty by Michael Bishop in my possession. At the back of Bishop's aforementioned collection, he reminisces about trying to write his lafferty. Gaiman and Wolfe expressed similar misgivings and ambivalences about their own attempts as you hear Bishop expressing here (though Bishop has had the chance to go back and correct a lot of what he felt was wrong with his). But what's special here, beyond Bishop's encomium of Laff's writing (and it's nice to also hear a little appreciative shout out to Lafferty fans trying to keep his memory alive), is Bishop's personal reminiscence of he and his wife seeing Lafferty in person at a conference, which closes the passage. If you are a true Lafferty fanatic, I challenge you not to choke up a little bit. Writes Michael Bishop:
"Of Crystalline Labyrinths and the New Creation" owes everything but its original maddening length to that cunning fantasist and oversized leprechaun, R. A. Lafferty. When Virginia Kidd, then my agent, sent it to Robert Silverberg, a Lafferty admirer and the editor of the top-flight hardcover anthology series New Dimensions, Silverberg winced and called it a "stunt." Roy Torgeson, a Lafferty admirer and the editor of the second-tier paperback anthology series Chrysalis, proved more receptive, or more gullible. He bought the story at almost twice its new wordage, ran it in the final spot in Chrysalis 7, and declared me in his introduction the author of the "only genuine lafferty ever written by anyone other than 'The Man' himself" and as "a genius... of sorts." (Punch of sorts.) In 1979, out of respect for a writer now shamefully neglected, I had written my so-called lafferty in logorrheic high spirits, but what it really needed was a ruthless blue-penciling. Twenty-two years later, I've given it one.
Not long after I wrote the foregoing paragraph, Ray Lafferty died - on Monday, March 18, 2002, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Although he allegedly stopped writing twenty years ago, Lafferty left to posterity some of the funniest stories and most lyrical oddball novels in the history of our field. In his hilarious novella Space Chantey (1968), he created a classic science-fictional pastiche of Homer's Odyssey long before the Coen brothers transposed that story to the Depression Era South, as they do in their hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou? First published as half of an Ace Double, Space Chantey is now sadly out of print and exasperatingly hard to find. My copy disappeared from my shelves years ago. His major collections - Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970), Strange Doings (1972), Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? (1974), and Lafferty in Orbit (1991) - feature dozens of his most inventive and flamboyant tales, but try to find any of them nowadays without recourse to the Internet. (Thank God for Lafferty's fans, who have done yeomen work to keep his memory alive.)
I have Lafferty's signature on two or three of my copies of his work, but I recall meeting him only once, at a convention in either Memphis or New Orleans. He had fallen asleep on a sofa in the hotel lobby, and his head had slumped forward, pressing his chins into his chest. As Jeri and I walked through the lobby, I paused to look at him and resisted with all my will an incongruous impulse to kiss his naked pate. Today, I wonder why I didn't simply do it.