Monday, August 29, 2011

Introductions to Lafferty in anthologies and magazines

I've collected over twenty of Lafferty's individual stories as they appear singly in anthologies and magazines. Some of those have shorter or longer introductions to Lafferty that I enjoy reading. I thought I'd share all the introductions I currently have (in chronological order, reaching from 1976 to2008):

‘R. A. Lafferty, an Oklahoman in his fifties who has worked most of his life as an electrical engineer, first began to contribute to science-fiction magazines in 1960. Discerning readers quickly recognized his odd and exhilarating stories as the work of a highly unusual talent and came to cherish Lafferty’s special off-center way of looking at the universe. In recent years he has turned to writing longer works, such as the highly regarded novels, Past Master, The Reefs of Earth, and Fourth Mansions.'

-‘Ishmael Into the Barrens’ in Four Futures (1976), edited by Isaac Asimov

‘R. A. Lafferty… one of our favorite authors, first appeared in Orbit in 1967, and since then has contributed sixteen more stories. We meet him only at science fiction conventions, where he smiles inscrutably.’

-‘Fall of Pebble Stones’ in Orbit 19 (1977), edited by Damon Knight

‘Anyone familiar with the Chrysalis series knows that I am addicted to lafferties and suffer withdrawal symptoms unless I can include one in my current anthology. This time around R. A. Lafferty is represented by a zany piece entitled “Crocodile.” Technically, “Crocodile” is not an “original” story for it appeared ten years ago in a small fanzine, Phantasmicon. Still, very few people have read it and it is a true lafferty.

‘Do you remember Isaac Asimov’s The Three Laws of Robotics?

1—A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2—A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3—A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


56TH EDITION, 2058 A.D.

Well, in “Crocodile,” Lafferty diabologically refutes them. I don’t know if he is successful, but it’s a lot of fun anyway.’

-‘Crocodile’ in Chrysalis 8 (1980), edited by Roy Torgeson

‘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” [August 1970] 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 when the 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.”’

-Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (1980), edited by Frederik Pohl, Marin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander

‘We don’t think it lazy to say that R. A. Lafferty’s stories need no introduction—or rather that they brook no introduction. They all stand as the perfect gems of an extraordinary imagination and we feel they should simply be read and loved and not explained beforehand. Suffice it to say this is one we found particularly wonderful and wanted to share with you.’

-‘In Deepest Glass: An Informal History of Stained Glass Windows’ in The Berkley Showcase: New Writings in Science Fiction and Fantasy (1981), edited by Victoria Schochet and John Silbersack

‘Mr. Lafferty worked at the respectable trade of electrical engineer for some thirty-five years; he didn’t take up writing and selling SF until he was 46 years old. Not all his stories are as strange as this one, but then, some are even more so.’

-‘New People’ in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (March, 1981)

‘Mr. Lafferty says that he was already an old man when he started to write, 21 years ago. Since then he has had published thirteen novels and about two hundred short stories. Until he lost 60 pounds, about 13 years ago, he was in contention for the title of the biggest man in science fiction.’

-‘You Can’t Go Back’ in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (September, 1981)

‘If any modern writer is imbued with the true spirit of Hamlet’s “antic disposition,” that writer is R. A. Lafferty. His stories are light, bright, inventive, shaped with cunning and written with panache. But always lurking behind the wit and the charming grace is a new perception, a new angle of vision, a way of seeing something old through eyes that are new.

‘In “Ifrit,” Lafferty takes us to a place we’ve never been before and presents us with a unique angle on questions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But don’t trust him; the strangest things can seem to make sense in Lafferty’s world.’

-‘Ifrit’ in Perpetual Light (1982), edited by Alan Ryan

‘R. A. Lafferty started writing in 1960, at the relatively advanced age (for a new writer, anyway) of forty-six, and in the years before his retirement in 1987, he published some of the freshest and funniest short stories ever written, almost all of them dancing on the borderlines between fantasy, science fiction, and the tall tale in its most boisterous and quintessentially American forms.

‘Lafferty has published memorable novels that stand up quite well today—among the best of them are Past Master, The Devil Is Dead, The Reefs of Earth, the historical novel Okla Hannali, and the totally unclassifiable (a fantasy novel disguised as a non-fiction historical study, perhaps?) The Fall of Rome—but it was the prolific stream of short stories he began publishing in 1960 that would eventually establish his reputation. Stories like “Slow Tuesday Night,” “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne,” “Hog-Belly Honey,” “The Hole on the Corner,” “All Pieces of a River Shore,” “Among the Hairy Earthmen,” “Seven Day Terror,” “Continued on Next Rock,” “All But the Words,” and many others, are among the most original and pyrotechnic stories of our times.

‘Almost any of those stories would have served for this anthology, even those published ostensibly as science fiction—but I finally settled on the story that follows. It’s one of Lafferty’s least-known and least-reprinted, but a little gem regardless that demonstrates all of Lafferty’s virtues: folksy exuberance, a singing lyricism of surprising depth and power, outlandish imagination, a store of offbeat erudition matched only by Avram Davidson, and a strong, shaggy sense of humor unrivalled by anyone.

‘His short work has been gathered in the landmark collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers, as well as in Strange Doings, Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?, Golden Gate and Other Stories, and Ringing Changes. Some of his work is available only in small press editions—like the very strange novel Archipelago, or My Heart Leaps Up, which was serialized as a sequence of chapbooks—but his other novels available in trade editions (although many of them are long out of print) include, Fourth Mansions, Arrive at Easterwine, Space Chantey, and The Flame Is Green. Lafferty won the Hugo Award in 1973 for his story “Eurema’s Dam,” and in 1990 received the World Fantasy Award, the prestigious Life Achievement Award. His most recent books are the collections Lafferty in Orbit and Iron Star [sic; the correct title is Iron Tears].’

-‘The Configuration of the North Shore’ in Modern Classics of Fantasy (1997), edited by Gardner Dozois

‘R A Lafferty (1914—2002) was unique amongst the annals of science fiction. It’s almost impossible to categorise his work because although much of it uses the standard images and icons of science fiction, they are just pieces on a board game for which Lafferty seems to make up the rules as he goes along. His stories are anarchic and at times incomprehensible, and yet they can be compelling.

‘Their delight comes from Lafferty’s acute observation of the illogicality of the lives we lead and his marvellous use of language. There are phrases dotted through his stories that make you stop in your tracks in amazement. Lafferty seldom starts from an obvious point and never takes an obvious route, and yet somehow you reach a natural conclusion in his stories.

‘The following, about a man’s quest for immortality, is one of his more easily accessible stories, though it’s no less extreme in its conclusion. There have been several collections of Lafferty’s stories, many from specialist presses, and most are worth tracking down, including Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970 [sic]), Strange Doings (1972) and Through Elegant Eyes (1983), but there is so much more.

‘A fan website devoted to Lafferty and his work is

-‘The All-At-Once-Man’ in The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy (2008) edited by Mike Ashley (this story was originally published in Galaxy magazine, July 1970)


Jay said...

Great stuff. I really need to find and read "In Deepest Glass" and "Crocodile," among others. I should go check and see if any of my random anthologies have much in the way of introduction.

I know that Asimov is a bastard though, and this kept one out of my possession for quite some time. "The Great Tom Fool" will surely have no introduction.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha, ha! I'm no fan of Asimov either! (I'm going to post this great essay by Brian Aldiss someday called 'The Plumber and the Wizard' where he sets Asimov as the former and C. S. Lewis as the latter, quietly laughing at the 'hard work' Asimov has to put in for 'ok' results compared to Lewis always just magically pulling 'gold' from out of nowhere, as Aldiss puts it.)

'Great Tom Fool' is a Lafferty story in an Asimov anthology or magazine?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Oh, and as you probably remember, 'In Deepest Glass' is one of my very faves. But 'Crocodile' I only remembering being 'ok', though now, no doubt, I'd probably enjoy it much more thoroughly even if it didn't end up being one of his best.

Jay said...

"Great Tom Fool" is in Asimov's anthology "Speculations," in which the author's names are concealed by a code, and it's up to you to crack it. The code is relatively simple, with each letter converted to a two-digit base five number, but how am I supposed to know there's a Lafferty story in the anthology when the author list isn't readily available?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Heh heh, yeah, I think Lafferty's well-hidden enough without encoding his name. Story any good?

Gregorio said...

A couple of more introductions…

R.A. Lafferty is an Oklahomian gnome with the imagination and erudition of ten distinguished futurologists on a drunk, and he writes the damnedest stories in this or any other genre. It is always dangerous, though, to dismiss any of Lafferty’s nuthatch futures—often they have more truth to them than their more sober brothers, and stand a disquieting chance of coming true.
Here he gives us a ringside seat for a battle between the sentient, cigar-smoking computer Epikt, and—a planet full of invisible Indians and buffalo hokey.
This story may be read, if you so wish, as a demonstration that even all the technological gimmickry of a scientific Inquisition might not prevail against us if we were of sufficient mettle—or of sound enough clay.

“Smoe and the Implicit Clay” in Future Power (1976), edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (p.39).

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1915[sic, actually 1914] -) and his work are impossible to summarize here. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For most of his life he worked as an electrical engineer; now he writes full-time. His extraordinary books include Past Master, The Reefs of Earth, Fourth Mansions, Arrive at Easterwine, and the collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers. His short story ‘Eurema’s Dam’ won a Hugo Award; he has been several times short-listed for Nebula Awards by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and nominated for Hugos.
Interviewed in The Alien Critic, Lafferty tells how the ‘disorders’ of his personality are tied together by his Catholicism: ‘the inescapable logic, the complete clarity . . . however much I stumble and fall short of it, I know it is there and what it is.’ There is apparent disorder in his work, but look again: he juggles the products of his wild imagination with great skill – his inimitable style unites them. Thus, despite what looks at first like zany humor, this story is dreadfully terrifying.

“Fog in my Throat” in Superhorror (1976), edited by Ramsey Campbell (p.31).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Gregorio, thank you! Those are stellar introductions! Do you mind if I go ahead and add them to my original post with their book covers?

Gregorio said...


Yes, please add them to your original post. I particularly like Campbell's intro because it quotes from an interview Lafferty had with Paul Walker back in the early 1970s, which in my opinion may be the best Laff ever gave. Among other things, the interview delves quite deeply into R.A.L.'s theological/religious views. It's very interesting, and goes into all sorts of other topics as well. It was first published in The Alien Critic 6 (1973).

Jay said...

I have a couple more (although Gregorio beat me to "Smoe and the Implicit Clay," which I thought was great). Also, I was somewhat lukewarm on "The Great Tom Fool" compared to a lot of the other lonely Lafferty short stories.

Short intro to "Three Shadows of the Wolf": One of science fiction's most colorful and distinctive writers treats a classic fantasy theme; the result is both gripping and unusual.

Intro to Chrysalis 3, containing both "Bright Flightways" and "The Man Who Walked Through Cracks": The two Lafferty stories, like virtually all Lafferty stories, sting and tickle at the same time. There is nobody, there has never been anybody, who writes like Lafferty. Under the puckishness, the color-bursts, the wild, weird, and wonderful characterizations, the tumble and sparkle of language, is an undercoat of sharp and serious observation--observation of human motivations, of human institutions (universities, for example, or rituals that have lost their reason-for-being) so that, like Gulliver's Travels, almost all Lafferty can be read as enchanting entertainments, or as sharply-etched political cartoonery, or as analogs of superbly thought-out philosophy concerning human nature and human conduct. In other words, you get out of Lafferty, as out of Swift, whatever you're equipped to bring in.

I love this intro because I've been making the Gulliver's Travels comparison ever since I started reading Lafferty.

Intro to New Terrors II, "The Funny Face Murders" (which I believe is my favorite Austro story):

R.A. Lafferty is quite inexplicable, but here are a few facts. He was born in 1914 and worked most of his life in the electrical wholesale business. "The most interesting part of my life was the four and a half years in the US Army in WW II, mostly in the South Pacific. I began to write in 1959, at the age of forty-five, at a time when most writers are about finished. I quit work except writing in 1970. I have never written very hard and I loaf a lot. I am a Catholic, a political Independent, a fiscal conservative. My hobbies are history, geology, languages, writing, and travel."

Never written very hard? Why, besides a hundred and sixty stories (some of them collected into three books) he has written at least twelve novels, including The Reefs of Earth, Okla Hannali, Fourth Mansions, Arrive at Easterwine, and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny. But then he suggests in an interview that the stories chose their author rather than anything resembling the reverse.

Perhaps "The Funny Face Murders" is comic relief, or perhaps not. It reminds me (very slightly) of one of Chesterton's nightmares, say The Man Who Was Thursday, without the theological reassurance. Beyond that, you're on your own.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

People, keep 'em comin'! I've got enough now that I'll think I'll do a separate post made from the contributions from other people's collections and link to it as a 'see more' in the original post. (Assuming it's ok to use the brilliant intros you've added as well, Jay.)

Thanks, Gregorio. That interview sounds amazing. I'll have to see if I can obtain it.

I don't where the New Terrors guy gets 'theological reassurance' from Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday - it ends very nightmarishly and ambiguously. I don't think Chesterton had even really become a Christian yet. Sure, it's definitely on a certain trajectory (like Lafferty's works), but it has to be followed out consciously by the reader and will need the aid of more than that one story (like Lafferty's work).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

It's fascinating to see that some of the most interesting and insightful critical comment on Lafferty is buried away in these little introductions. I think a lot of these guys immersed in the s.f. industry had a good nose and tongue for sniffing out what was really distinct about Lafferty and verbally crystallising it with punch and pungency.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Oh, and Gregorio, please feel included on the invitation to guest blog here that we've been talking about in the comment thread to 'From Drunken Binges to Wine Tasting: Reading and Re-reading Lafferty's Short Stories':

Gregorio said...

I have to agree that some of these folks had an instinctual grasp of the importance of what Lafferty was doing. For example, from the intro to Walker’s interview:

Reading an R.A. Lafferty story has the same effect as a prolonged stare into a slightly distorted mirror. Since the early sixties, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, Catholic conservative, free-lance historian, philosopher, theologian, electrical engineer, and incredibly prolific author has confounded us all with his chuckling enigmas. He has become a standard feature on the Hugo and Nebula ballots, in original and reprint anthologies, and in those strings of adjectives that begin: ‘among the best SF writers of today are –’ Presently his fame rests on the dozens of short stories he has produced since 1960 and this morning such as “Snuffles,” “Name of the Snake,” “Narrow Valley,” “Continued on the Next Rock”. . . His allegedly less successful novels include: Space Chantey, Past Master, Fourth Mansions, The Devil is Dead, and Arrive at Easterwine, as well as at least four more by the time you read this.

And Daniel, I greatly appreciate your invite to post here. I'll continue to visit the site and throw in my observations when I think they will be helpful.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks, Gregorio. Another great intro.

Jay said...

course. go for it

Philip said...

Two from the dust jacket of "Lafferty in Orbit":

"R. A. Lafferty is unique, in the old, unspoiled sense of the word. A genius as wild and joyful, delightful and unpredictable as his comes along but once in a lifetime - this lifetime. Cherish him. If there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him". Michael Swanwick.

"No true reader who has read as much as a single story by Raphael Aloysius Lafferty needs to be told that he is our most original writer. In fact, he may not be just ours, but the most original writer in the history of literature". Gene Wolfe.

The dj also has a long quote from A. A. Attanasio and the book has an introduction by Damon Knight.

Also, by Bryan Cholfin from "The Best of Crank":

"I became a publisher so there would be more R. A. Lafferty books in the world. I am not alone in this distinction. He's one of the most original voices in contemporary American fiction. His many books and stories proclaim a distinctive vision of the world and his style is not an amalgam or adaptation of established techniques but a reconstruction of the language of storytelling from the bottom up. The adventurous reader is advised to hunt down one of his several excellent collections to get the full effect. But beware: it is a strong draught and habit forming"

According to wikipedia, Cholfin also wrote an appreciation of Lafferty called "And They Took the Sky Off at Night" but their link does not work.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ah, thanks for these very excellent contributions, Philip.

Philip said...

Thanks, I may post some more after the weekend. For the moment, here is Terry Carr, from Universe 8, introducing "Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies":

"There are no secrets in science, but history is a somewhat different field of knowledge: facts are continually lost in the deepening silt of time. Trust R. A. Lafferty to dig them out. (One of his characters in the novel "Past Master" escaped from prison by walking through walls. "It isn't difficult", he said. "I believe that it has been insufficiently tried.")

Consider this history of the first great series of television dramas, produced in 1873 by Aurelian Bentley and starring the remarkably resourceful actress Clarinda Calliope. Till recently these dramas have been lost but Lafferty has gone to great expense (one hundred and thirty-five dollars) to resurrect them. Due to the peculiar nature of their recording, he may also have discovered some darker secrets behind the making of those dramas. ..."

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