'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.']