Monday, December 2, 2013

Complete Lafferty Library Volume 1!

It's finally gonna happen!  I'd heard about this, but I just now found out about a lovely page over at Centipede Press that outlines the project to publish all 200 of Lafferty's short stories (12 volumes' worth!) over the coming years.
Each volume, they inform us, will include 'a guest introduction by a notable author in the field of fantastic fiction' (the first being Michael Swanwick - you can see an excerpt of the opening paragraph over on the page linked to above).  They even give us the table of contents for the first volume:
I have all of these stories in one format or another besides 'The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle', a rare story only appearing in the Weird Tales Fall 1984 issue or the 1991 collection Mischief Malicious (And Murder Most Strange) from United Mythologies Press, both now all but impossible to obtain.

I'm very happy to see that some of the more obscure stories are already showing up, even those collected only in the Chris Drumm paper chapbook format from the early 80s (these are like little zines really - quite a cool DIY 'punk rock' sort of format in my opinion, but the typewriter lettering is a little hard to get into as a reader, to really feel like you're reading a genuinely published story and not just someone's unpublished manuscript).  The story 'Jack Bang's Eyes' is one of my favourites, especially because of the wonderful chimpanzee character Flip O'Grady.  It's the first story in Drumm Booklet # 13: Snake in His Bosom and other stories.
I'm a little surprised, however, that they're kicking the whole book off with the story 'The Man Who Made Models', the titular story of Drumm Booklet # 18, a story I found rather difficult and not as gob-smacking or exquisitely crafted as many other stories by Lafferty.
It just shows me once again that Lafferty fans differ so very widely as to what is his best work, or where to start with his work.  But I'll have to go back and re-read 'Models' thinking of it as the first story in this volume and see how it hits me.  I'm glad they go on to 'The Six Fingers of Time' right after that.  It's a story I've used to introduce and hook quite a few people to Lafferty.  Straightforwardly written and packing a vivid imaginative punch with its well-imagined slow-down of time and movement, with characteristic playfulness and mischief and, of course, rather diabolical consequences (and a poignant little love story too). 'The Hole on the Corner', next in line, is a classic and well-loved tale, which really shows off some of the outrageously weird lengths Lafferty can go to in two seconds flat.  Very funny, uproariously gruesome, wildly imaginative, unsettling. Both 'Six Fingers' and 'Hole' are from the ever popular first collection of Lafferty's short stories Nine-Hundred Grandmothers (1969) and unsurprisingly, they're not the only ones on the list. 'Square and Above Board' was not a story that particularly struck me when I read it (I have it in the 1983 anthology The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 9), but I'd love to see it again in this new context.  I have a feeling most of his stories are going to take on a fresh shine in these new formats and constellations.

I could wish they had at least one more story from Lafferty's 1971 collection Strange Doings besides 'All But the Words', and also at least one more story from his 1974 collection Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? besides 'About a Secret Crocodile', and perhaps also one more from the 1991 collection Lafferty In Orbit besides 'The Skinny People from Leptophlebo Street' (and these are probably not the stories I'd have chosen from those collections if it was only going to be one).  But I am happy to see a number of stories that I first encountered in the under-appreciated 1984 collection Ringing Changes:  'The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos', 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw', 'Parthen', and 'Rivers of Damascus' (two of them being ones I'd definitely have picked).  As I said Nine-Hundred Grandmothers provides the lion's share of the collection with three more stories in addition to the two I've already mentioned:  'Frog On the Mountain', 'Narrow Valley', and 'Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne', the latter two consistently considered classics and 'Frog' being another very worthy choice in my opinion.
Inline image 1
That just leaves 'Condillac's Statue or Wrens In His Head' from the 1982 collection Golden Gate and Other Stories (a book which also first collected 'Days of Grass').  It's a great story, but it continues with the trend of this first volume to collect stories that are heavy on philosophy and complex ideas and narrations.  I think this first volume could do with a few less hefty numbers and a few more that are slam-bang fun - otherwise people might get the wrong idea about what all Lafferty accomplishes across the spectrum of his storytelling.

Then again, I guess this series is really only for those who are already dedicated fans, since it's gonna cost a pretty penny per volume and run into five or six hundred dollars to collect all twelve books.  To be perfectly honest, huge fan that I am, I'm going to have to really scrape pennies (and maybe auction off a few children) to keep up and collect each one as it comes out.  And that's the only way to be sure of being in on it apparently.  This first run is limited to 300!  Presumably the subsequent volumes will be similarly limited in number.  (If any rich readers want to sponsor my collection, I can promise the Lafferty Library in my hands will go to very good use and be thoroughly reviewed and publicised to the further fame of Lafferty!  The rest of you, stop judging my beggarly kowtowing to the wealthy!)

I'm gratified to see 'Parthen' and 'Six Fingers of Time' on this opening list as I've championed them as good starting points over the years and most of my fellow Lafferty fans have demurred.  Also, I'm very happy to see 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw' as it deserves to be widely known as one of Lafferty's very, very best.

Looking over the list again, it's also good to note that Lafferty's inimitable bending of space, time, and persons are all represented in these stories - the way he goes sideways and ultraviolet with the classic science fiction and fantasy tropes of time travel and multiple worlds and alien contact and planetary expeditions.  There are also several of his Native American-centric tales and those featuring animals to pleasantly odd effect.  Also included are tales showcasing how he can stretch and shrink both people and places at will.

All in all it's very exciting!  'This is beginning, this is happening!  Let no least part of it ever forget the primordial tumble that is the beginning!'

I'll conclude with the photo of Lafferty the first volume includes, which I've never seen before and I find just lovely.


Anonymous said...

So it's not straight chronological publication? Or did I skim too fast?

Anonymous said...


They seem to be taking stories from all over Lafferty's career, which is a smart move, in my opinion. A mixture of obscure stories will satisfy fans of Lafferty who are hungry for lesser known tales, and stuff like "The Six Fingers of Time" will reel in new readers.

Just wanted to say that "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" is far and away my favorite Lafferty story, and I'm glad it is in the first volume!

Kevin said...

Extreme WooHoo! I've already pre-ordered the first volume.

However, I have one beef: These books are priced high enough to attract only the die-hard Lafferty fans, willing to part with between $50 to $100 per book. I'd love to see a good, accessible and affordable mass-market paperback collection energetically marketed across all outlets to expose a much wider audience to that mythic, mystic, fabulistic, jubilant madness that is the work of Lafferty.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

No, it's not chronological and yes, I agree I think that's a good idea. 'Thus We Frustrate' is great and I totally get anyone claiming it as their very fave. (Names, please, guys - who am I speaking to? Ha ha!)

Kevin, the price may seriously be an issue for me and maybe I'm the only die-hard Lafferty fan with severely limited funds, but it seems a shame that a fan as passionate as me is seriously going to have to worry about this. Ai yi yi.

Kevin said...

Uhm, no you're not the only one. I fear that well-heeled Lafferty fans may be much fewer in number than those of us who are closer in budget to the residents of Leptophlebo Street.

Rather than auctioning off your children (which would probably help with your food budget and provide more quiet time for reading Lafferty), convince them that their father's love of Lafferty is so fundamental that it is worthy of their efforts at fundraising--say Lafferty-themed bake sales and surrealistic yard maintenance.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

'surrealistic' yard maintenance, hahaha! Fundraisers may be a good idea actually... maybe picketing too: signs that say 'Let Leptophlebes Read Lafferty Too!'

Kevin said...

And until we get that vociferously marketed mass-market paperback, there are at most 300 people in the world who will understand your sign.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha ha, right, exactly!

Unknown said...

Sorry, I am Anonymous! My other top favorite is Aloys, but then, they are all favorites of some kind or another. I am in the same boat about the price. I definitely WILL buy them, but I hope they come out far enough apart that I eat while reading ;)

philiph35 said...

I agree that it is a pity - and something of a shock - that the edition size is only 300. A further annoyance is that Centipede charges $45 - as much as the book - to send to the UK where both Daniel and I are based.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha, Anonymous Antonin, good to hear from you on here as well as in the Urth list!

Glad to hear, Philip and Antonin, that I'm not the only one struggling with the price. Philip, *seems* to be selling the book for £50, which is about nine or ten bucks/five or six quid cheaper...? Not that significant a difference now that I type it out... bleh.

Unknown said...

Why is it so expensive to ship to the UK? That just seems like extortion. What would it be typically?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I'm guessing they have one uniform overseas price they charge that covers the longest haul and everyone has to pay it. Lame. I actually emailed them last night to ask about a waiver or discount of the shipping with the promise they'd get lots of airtime on this blog - as they are already getting. Haven't heard anything back...

Unknown said...

Hopefully they consider it. Your blog will probably be responsible for plenty of sales that might not have happened otherwise.

Maybe we can set up a Laffertian Silk Road ... folks in the US buy extra copies for $5 shipping, then send them overseas on the cheap ;-)

Kevin said...

I hope they do sell out the entire 300 volume edition in pre-sales, to show the publishing world that there is a demand for Lafferty. Maybe that will contribute to the decision to produce the mass-market collection we've all been clamoring for.

Craig said...

Thanks! I saw this on Amazon a while back, as a future release, but didn't know it was (that close to being) out.

Also, the listed price on Amazon is high enough that I was actually pleasantly surprised by Centipede's direct price.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

yeah, Kevin, I can't wait till they start doing paperbacks. great idea, Antonin! glad this helped, Craig.

Kevin said...

Nat! over at the Lafferty Devotional Page said he is having half-a-dozen copies sent to Germany. I quote:

"Since one can buy them from centipede press direct for $45, I wanted to order one. But I found out that the shipping costs to Germany are immense. I deduced that six books were about the optimal number of books to make the shipping the least painful.

I convinced myself that having 5 spare extra copies would be very useful to have as gifts, but if someone wants a copy I could probably get it delivered within Germany for EUR 50 total. Outside of Germany probably $52 or so. BIG IF: if I calculated taxes correctly.

So if you are interested in one post a reply."

His post is here:

Unknown said...

Hi All:

I very deliberately did NOT use chronological order as my intent is that someone can pick up any volume in the series and get a good cross-section of stories to really get a feel for Lafferty was all about.

Kevin: I feel awful about the ridiculous shipping costs that the US Postal Dis-service charges, but from running Midnight House for years I can aver that you're spot on as to the best rates. I found that I could ship four or five books pretty much as cheaply as one book. So I certainly recommend banding a few pals together to place one order. Otherwise, Andy Richards at Cold Tonnage will be carrying the series and I'm sure that shipping from the UK is much more reasonable.

Getting Volume Two ready this week, I'll drop by and post the contents as soon as I finish agonizing over which of two stories to use. ;-)


John Pelan

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks for the info, Kevin!

John, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Great to hear directly from the series editor's mouth! I think we all agree the cross-section method is best. We're just inevitably all gonna squirm when the ones we'd have chosen don't get chosen and we see what we've considered slightly lesser tales in their place. I don't envy you your agonising task! (Wait, what am I saying? Of *course* I envy you!)

Please do stop back by and post the contents of volume 2 - that would be wonderful! Cheers so much for interacting with this small but fervent Lafferty community.

Kevin said...

Further evidence that:
1. We agree that the cross-section approach is best when assembling these collections.
2. More than one of us are green with envy over the chance to assemble and publish these volumes.

I wrote a blog post with my own idea of good collection of Lafferty stories to reintroduce his work to a wide audience. I arbitrarily decided about 20 stories would be a good size, and I arbitrarily decided not to include more than two stories of featuring any particular set of characters. What I came up with is here: Reintroducing the World to Lafferty - Ideas on a Mass-Market Collection.

I did not come up with exactly the same TOC as the Centipede Press volume, but I suspect this reveals a bit about my own tastes and interpretation of Lafferty's stories. I think each of us would come up with our own ideal TOC and they'd all be different. As a writer, Lafferty was able to resonate with some very deep strings within each of us, and each person resonates with a different chord.

The long and the short of it is: I can't wait to get my hands on The Man Who Made Models--especially because it has some stories I've never had a chance to read nestled in among some of my favorites.

Thank you to John Pelan and Centipede Press for giving us this!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Kevin, I am so very sorry I missed that amazing post back in August! I promise that I've had every intention of reading your blog, but there's just no good excuse why I still haven't. Thank you for writing it so beautifully.

Your Best Of is so very thoughtful and well articulated. I kid you not, before you linked to this I had been concocting my own Best Of inspired by this this new volume and I thought I might be perceived as a bit wacky for doing so - but lo and behold, you beat me to it! I'll still be posting mine and I've got a slightly different set of rules and parameters, but as always quite a few overlaps with both yours and John's. Great fun!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Kevin, I am so very sorry I missed that amazing post back in August! I promise that I've had every intention of reading your blog, but there's just no good excuse why I still haven't. Thank you for writing it so beautifully.

Your Best Of is so very thoughtful and well articulated. I kid you not, before you linked to this I had been concocting my own Best Of inspired by this this new volume and I thought I might be perceived as a bit wacky for doing so - but lo and behold, you beat me to it! I'll still be posting mine and I've got a slightly different set of rules and parameters, but as always quite a few overlaps with both yours and John's. Great fun!

Kevin said...

So what was your ideal table of contents and what were your criteria?

"Fall of Pebble Stones" grabbed me the first time through because of the slightly off kilter humorous tone, the wonderfully bogus science, and the general feeling of hope it engenders that I too may be worthy of finding pebble stones under my eves (I check regularly).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Well, for one thing, I've given my Best Of a whopping *40* stories! I decided it was like a really once-for-all big bumper book of Lafferty's greatest hits. I've now whittled down my, ahem, 'shortlist' of 100 stories to the prescribed 40, but I'm still dithering over a handful and will share as soon as that agonising is over with. I'll probably also go ahead and show a runoff of another 20 or so stories that could probably be subbed in for any on the 40-list.

Like everyone else, my Best Of wouldn't be equivalent to my own *favourite* stories. I'd be trying for some tiny measure of objectivity, admitting what just *has* to go in such a list whether it's one of my faves or not. And leaving out some of my faves because they just don't belong on a true Best Of list.

I've decided that Barnaby & co. *and* the Institute gang have to be represented. I've also decided that some of his most experimental narrations have to be in there.

I'm also including two essays and two poems.

And I've picked authors for preface, introduction, and afterword as well.

Then I'm going to invite everyone else to use this format or something very similar.

Stay tuned!

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