Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Entire and Perfect Chrysolite' (1970) - brief short story review

Cross-posted from here:

'Entire and Perfect Chrysolite' (first appeared in Orbit 6, 1970)
3/5 stars. It's interesting to see that this story was a Hugo and Nebula award nominee. I've always been intrigued by it, but never certain what I thought of it artistically. Still not sure. It's perhaps Lafferty's most overt 'dip' (pun intended) into the idea-space of the Jungian unconscious.
It's fascinating too in its depiction of white and black relations and of Europe/North America to Africa:
“Oh, white people, white people, this is real and this is death,” the black man moaned in agony.
“Oh, white people on dope, I cannot do this,” the black man moaned. “She is dead. And you joke and drink Green Bird and Bomb, and hoot like demented children in a dream.”
There are some great eco-psychotropic passages, especially of archetypal fauna:
"Now everybody conjure the animals that are compounded out of grisly humor, the giraffe with a neck alone that is longer than a horse, and the zebra which is a horse in a clown suit."
“Conjure the third of the large monkeys that is dog-faced and purple of arse.”
“We conjure it, we conjure it, but it belongs in a comic strip.”
“Conjure the gentle monster, the okapi that is made out of pieces of the antelope and camel and contingent giraffe, and which likewise wears a clown suit.”
“We conjure it, we conjure it.”
The story is pretty funny too in a brutal sort of way. It's philosophically rich as regards False Perfection (the 'Ecumene' as Laff calls it in this story) and our need for Monstrous Depths to be fully human - but also the danger of those depths if we approach them as shallow modern/postmodern selves pursuing mere pastime:
“That we go no more hungering after strange geographies that are not of proper world! That we seal off the unsettling things inside us!”
“We seal them off, we seal them off,” they chanted.
It's a small thematic coda to some of Lafferty's novels in this regard, such as Past Master, Fourth Mansions, and Serpent's Egg. It would also probably be pretty fascinating to comparatively study alongside Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and some of his African short stories and also in relation to African authors like Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, and Amos Tutuola.
I like the story more every time I read it.

[For what it's worth, the only other two reviews I could find of the story on the web are not at all favourable:  The R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page rated it 'lame'  and said:  'People on a ship conjure up a forgotten land -er- Afrika actually. This was actually nominated for some award. Go figure.'  And The PorPor SF & Fantasy Books Blog said:  'another overly artsy title. This story deals with recreational hallucinations and their unpleasant side effects. Lafferty had quite a bit of stature during the New Wave era, but his stories all have aged quite poorly.']


Heywood said...

It would be difficult to read any
of RAL and take a literal view of
“Entire and Perfect Chrysolite”
as a title. Simply the repetition
of 'True Believer' as the name of
the boat, and the tone of the
first paragraphs hint well enough
to the rest of the story line.
Especially knowing RAL was an
accomplished biblical scholar,
and a biblical reference of
chrysolite as “one of the precious
stones in the foundation of the
heavenly Jerusalem. (Revelation

Am I shocked to detect a hint of
satire in the title? Well no,
but then I find that to be the
case in other RAL stories. Of
course perhaps others will be
satisfied to view it as an “Artsy”
title. I need to assess RAL more
thoroughly in future reading, so
for now I won't apologize for my
beginner's ignorance. In any
event, I really like the story
and find it contains what I
perceive to be unexpected mind
traps as well as having a plot
with an unexpected but gruesome
ending. Those who are prone to
nightmares should not read it at

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Heywood. I hadn't caught the chrysolite/Revelation allusion. Makes even more sense.

I find the story to be rather hilariously dripping with satire from the very first sentence: “Having achieved perfection, we feel a slight unease.”

As to his usually wonderful story titles, Lafferty seems to have had the imagination that naturally lands on a lot of titles that sound 'arty'. A lot of it's just by virtue of the cryptic things he's referencing, but I think he had an ear for the poetic or quirky sound of a title too. It just so happened to overlap with the aesthetics of New Wave SF and psychedelia and the like for a while. Lafferty's titles are much more enduring than a lot of that other stuff in my opinion.

I like your summary of the story as containing 'mind traps' and having gruesome and nightmarish qualities. Thanks again! Hope to see you round here more often.

Anonymous said...

Just thought you might want to know I got this from the publisher Centipede Press about the second Lafferty collection.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hi everyone,

Well, I just got back into town from a brief vacation. Sorry for no newsletter today. However, I am getting

The Man with the Aura
R.A. Lafferty
volume 2

in from the printer's on Tuesday. Along with that comes a reprint of The Man Who Made Models.

Those will be listed on the website by Thursday, and I'll send out a major announcement next Sunday.

-- Amazon still says Mach 17th, but looks sooner

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Great news! Thanks for passing it on.

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