Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Quick Thoughts on Fourth Mansions

Lafferty's Fourth Mansions is my favorite book. It is the book I re-read most often, the book I enjoy the most, the book I draw the most encouragement from. There may be better books in the world, for instance I argue that Okla Hannali is both better written and more important. However, since I first encountered it, sometime around my 19th year, I have not found a book I enjoy reading more than Fourth Mansions.

On the other hand, there are many readers who do not resonate as strongly with the book. For some it takes two or three readings to catch on to what it is doing, and for some it will never click. I understand that every reader is different, and different aspects of Lafferty's writing resonate differently with each of us. However, I still ponder the mechanisms--the reason this book instantly hit all my resonant frequencies while leaving others cold.

One cause may be the way Lafferty plays with levels of metaphor so freely that it is not always apparent what is in the "reality" of the narrative and what is metaphorical. For example, in one scene Freddy Foley is trying to reach Biddy Bencher over a long distance:
     Freddy called her up, not by phone. Other forms of communication had come onto him lately almost without his noticing them. He got her but could not get her attention. She was lounging on subterranean beaches and wild dogs were tearing her apart. “You’re missing pieces, you’re missing the best pieces,” she kept calling at the tearing dogs. “All you’re tearing off is the legs. Don’t any of you like the white meat?”
     Freddy couldn’t get her attention that way. Finally he called her on the telephone and she answered on the fourth ring… 
I had no trouble with this passage. It's actually very funny. Freddy has been touched by the brain weave of the Harvesters and is in constant mental contact with everyone who is part of the weave or has also been touched by the weave. However the parts of consciousness connected by the weave are often a part of the person's subconscious, so the events that occur in the weave are more like the events in a dream. They are metaphorical and sometimes nonsensical in the same way that dreams are, but they do contribute to the tenor and the interpretation of the events happening in the "real" world of the book.

In this passage, Freddy has realized that because of the weave, he has powers of communication and insight that he'd never had before. He tries to use these powers to communicate with Biddy, but because she is a distractible and impulsive young lady with a rather lurid subconscious imagination, these abilities are useless. Freddy then has to use more normal or mundane means to reach her.

In a way Lafferty is poking fun at his own invention. Most SF authors come up with a nifty gimmick, and it becomes the lynchpin for the narrative of the book. Consider Heinlein's Time for the Stars in which scientists discover telepathy between certain identical twins. That communication becomes the core of the narrative of interstellar exploration. Heinlein treats his invention with great reverence. Lafferty, on the other hand invents the brain weave, which has tremendous impact on the narrative and reveals the actions and motivations of the characters on several levels of consciousness, and then in this scene dismisses it as being superfluous and not very helpful--at least at that particular moment. In parallel, imagine if someone invented a way of connecting all the sources of knowledge and computing power over the world, and people mostly used it for posting pictures of their cats or what they ate for breakfast...

Once Freddy is touched by the weave, he slowly uses more and more of the capabilities it gives him. He sees in the dark, seeing with Harvester eyes, with Toad eyes, with Falcon eyes, with Patrick eyes. "One misses so much who uses one set of eyes." He gets updates from Miguel Fuentes and reports on his revolutionary movement--even drawing him accurately from memory without ever having seen him. He follows the battles and plots of the Harvesters. This allows the narrative to follow Freddy, but also to report in detail on all the other groups of characters who have become connected. However, many of the events come through the weave and are on a metaphorical level. The vision of Richard Bencher doing battle with the dragon or hydra that the weave has become is happening on a level that Bencher is not even consciously aware of. We never know if Biddy's demon boyfriend is a real demon of Hell or a metaphor for the energy of the weave--though I suspect it is intended as real. And then there's Bagley's dog-ape plappergeist, and the weave-inflected metaphor for the world in Michael Fountain's lectures.

I can imagine that some readers have trouble switching so quickly and so often between layers of metaphor and reality.

Everyone has their own particular mental and emotional structures, and everyone has their own patterns of Lafferty reading. I wonder if the way Lafferty's corpus resonates with a person is as individual as a fingerprint. For me, Fourth Mansions leaves the biggest mark.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When Fandoms Collide

This may come as a surprise (though it shouldn't), but I am a fan of many different authors. R. A. Lafferty is at the top of my list, but I am also rather ardent (and therefore perhaps dangerously boring in conversation) about Howard Waldrop, Ursula Le Guin, Barry Hughart, Tony Hillerman, Edward Abbey, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, etc. Depending on what I am reminded of in conversation, you may find me forcing a book by any of those authors into your hands.

Notice that I mentioned Waldrop and Le Guin first after Lafferty in that second sentence.

In a way Lafferty is a great unifier. His fans span the literary gamut from those of us who possess remarkably little talent but love to read to those who are Literary Giants. And yet, we all enjoy sharing our love of Lafferty, without acknowledging any kind of hierarchy.

As an ardent Lafferty fan, I have stumbled into being the editor of Feast of Laughter, our semiannual Lafferty fanzine ("bookzine" as Michael Swanwick called it). While this is the result of countless hours of dedicated work by some really talented and devoted people, of which I am only one contributor, I still get to claim the title. This has led to some truly neat things happening, and sometimes not happening but in really neat ways:

The other day, some months ago, I asked Lawrence Person if he could contact Howard Waldrop on my behalf asking permission to reprint "Willow Beeman," a deliberately Lafferty-esque collaboration by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop. He gave me Howard's phone number.

Understand, I have loved Howard Waldrop's writing for decades, ever since encountering "The Ugly Chickens" in a copy of Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Tenth Annual Collection in the UNM Library sometime around 1984 or '85. He is very high up in my pantheon of literary gods. So it was with some trepidation that I called him the next morning. I was afraid I would be too much a smitten fan boy to sound like a professional editor. Yet when I started talking to Howard, he is such a genuinely kind person he immediately put me at ease. He was happy to spend an hour on the phone chatting about what Lafferty had meant to him, how Lafferty's writing had inspired him, telling me stories about Lafferty at conventions, and telling me the story of how he and Steven Utley had decided to write their Lafferty story. I have since had numerous phone conversations with him. He is always gracious, kind, and excited about helping preserve R. A. Lafferty's place in the literature of Science Fiction. And yes, we did publish "Willow Beeman" in Feast of Laughter #2 this spring.

On another day a couple of weeks ago, I sent an impassioned rambling letter to Ursula K. Le Guin professing my love of her work and asking her to contribute something to Feast of Laughter. While this contact didn't work out anywhere near as amazingly as did my contact with Howard Waldrop, I did receive in the mail last night a very gracious hand written letter from her saying she was honored by our request and that she applauds our efforts to preserve Lafferty's writing. She doubts she will be able to write anything for us, but will keep it in mind. If you are going to turn someone down, that is the way to do it--with kindness, graciousness, and class.

That Lafferty's writing can unite so many talented, intelligent people shows the power of literature to eliminate barriers and bring us all together.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Feast of Laughter 2 is Here!

It's ALIVE!!

The new Feast of Laughter is here!


Download it from www.feastoflaughter.org

or buy it from Amazon:

Thank you to everyone who contributed and thank you many millions of times over to the members of the Ktistec brotherhood who fought through the long creative (and occasionally combative) hours to bring this beast to life. It is far better in quality of production, writing, design, and even editing than the first book. It was truly a collaborative effort by all.

Check it out!


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Watch This Space

The stew is bubbling, the roast is in the oven, the drink is fermenting, and the desserts are baking. The second Feast of Laughter is due out on March 18.

Watch this space.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Call to Action - Contribute to Feast of Laughter Issue 2

Happy New Year everyone!

2014 has been been an enormous year for Lafferty Fans. It started with the arrival of The Man Who Made Models volume 1 of the complete short works of Lafferty published by The Centipede Press. November 7 was Lafferty's 100th Birthday, and also the publication date of the first issue of Feast of Laughter the new Lafferty fanzine (read book of essays, commentary, scholarship, and stories) published by yours truly and the magnificent people at the East of Laughter fan group on Facebook.

The first issue was an enormous success--far beyond our wildest dreams (see my blog entry, Andrew Ferguson's entry, and Neil Gaiman's post; go and buy it on Amazon)!

Now it is time to focus on the next issue. We want to make the next issue even better than the first, learning from the few mistakes of first publication and attracting even more top quality content.

Deadlines:

  • Expression of Interest: Saturday, January 31, 2015 
  • Content complete: Friday, February 20, 2015
  • Publication: Saturday, March 18, 2015
Contact:
Email editor@feastoflaughter.org with all your ideas, submissions, stories, daydreams of things you'd love to write about R. A. Lafferty, and even requests. 

Questions:
  • Q: If I have a perfect idea that I can polish into an amazing entry, but I dream it up on February 1, am I out of luck until Issue #3?
  • A: Most likely we can fit it into Issue #2. The January 31 deadline for expression of interest is a guideline to help know how much content to prepare for, and see if there are any synergies between topics from different writers, so I can coordinate conversation and work. Please be as thoughtful as you can, but if it absolutely ought to be in this issue, by all means submit it!
  • Q: Can I suggest essays by other bloggers, scholars, critics, and authors that ought to be included?
  • A: Absolutely, that is where a huge amount of our content in Issue #1 came from. If you suggest it, be prepared to follow up by contacting the original author and requesting permission to include the content.
  • Q: Copyright?
  • A: Absolutely respected on all fronts:
    • 1. Ktistec Press and Feast of Laughter is scrupulous in respecting copyrights for all material. We WILL obtain full permission to use any content before including it, unless that content is already in the public domain (see Andrew Ferguson's essay on "The Six Fingers of Time").
    • 2. All authors retain copyright to their entries. 
  • Q: Do you pay for content?
  • A: No. At this time, the Ktistec Press makes no money whatsoever. Our goal is to raise awareness of Lafferty's place in American literature and SF. To do that we want to reach as many people as possible, which means keeping the printed edition as inexpensive as possible. To this end, all of the content for Feast of Laughter is donated. Gleefully, joyously, jubilantly donated. Even Michael Bishop's story and Lissanne Lake's magnificent painting were donated with enthusiasm (and I am humbled by their greatness in so doing). 
  • Q: Can I help format, edit, proofread, publish, etc?
  • A: Yes, please!
  • Q: Where can I submit content?
  • A: Email it directly to editor@feastoflaughter.org or post a request in the East of Laughter fan group on Facebook, and I will share a submissions folder in Google Drive with you where you can deposit your work.
  • Q: Do I have to laugh while submitting content?
  • A: No, but if you don't, just keep it to yourself.

Issue 2 of the feast is being prepared, and you are invited! Remember, it's a potluck affair. Take as much as you can consume, but bring something to share.

Thank you and bon appetit!




Monday, November 24, 2014

We Didn't Know It Was Impossible, So We Did It.

The impossible feast is served.

Once upon a time, a Lafferty fan named David Cruces created an R. A. Lafferty fan group on Facebook and named the group "East of Laughter." It is a great and active group of fans, with a growing and vocal membership.

One day, sometime in early October of this year the discussion in the group turned to Lafferty stories and essays reprinted in old fanzines. After much discussion of where to find these old 'zines, I piped up saying we should just create our own 'zine. I even offered a sonnet about Lafferty to serve as a first submission. A number of members leapt at the idea, promising new essays and proposing old essays to include.

We proceeded apace, placing a few essays, more poetry, and a half-draft of a story in a shared folder. I had visions of a PDF 'zine circulated among fans, maybe reaching to 50 or even 70 pages--we were getting some good content. We decided on a name, Feast of Laughter, because firstly, it mimics the name of the group. Second, it resonates with Dan Knight’s Introduction to his magazine, "The Boomer Flats Gazette:"
The table was prepared and the bar was stocked for as big a bash as ever was seen. There was something for everyone. A magical feast. Take as much as you want. Stuff your pockets and fill your purse. It would make no difference. There would be just as much when you were done as when you started. This is fish and loaves stuff. (Are not all good stories fish and loaves stuff by their very definition?)
And third, most importantly, laughter is a strong part of Lafferty’s storytelling. Can you read any of his stories without a deep belly-chuckle? Sometimes the more horrifying stories contain the strongest humor, and sometimes, like in “Hog Belly Honey”, every sentence is such a joy to read, you laugh yourself nearly comatose before half finishing the story.

We decided to try to finish our submissions by October 31st, so I would have time to edit, proofread, and format the final file by Lafferty's 100th birthday on November 7th. This left us only three and a half weeks to assemble the content, but a lot had already been written.

Then a couple of near miracles occurred: first, Michael Bishop joyfully, enthusiastically, jubilantly gave us permission to reprint his Lafferty-inspired story, "Of Crystalline Labyrinths and the New Creation" (a life long thanks to John Owen for contacting Michael Bishop and so eloquently requesting the story). Then Lissanne Lake, already famous among us Lafferty fans for her beautiful Lafferty book covers (especially Lafferty in Orbit) and famous to the world at large as a fantasy painter and illustrator, gave us her contribution, a stunning rendition in paint of Lafferty's story "Days of Grass, Days of Straw."

Days of Grass by Lissanne Lake
You can see a higher resolution scan of the painting at www.feastoflaughter.org

Then the content really started rolling in. We figured out how to handle the copyright correctly to reprint "The Six fingers of Time," Andrew Ferguson agreed to give us his essay on "The Six Fingers of Time," more writers agreed to let us reprint seminal Lafferty essays they had published before, and David Morrow, a professional designer in Glasgow, Scotland agreed to design our cover from Lissanne's amazing painting. More essays and fiction were being written and submitted from a truly impressive cadre of fans.

John Owen (again John Owen--somebody give him a gold star (or a gold asteroid, "Golden Trabant" reference anyone?)) had some experience self-publishing with Amazon and agreed to take us through the process with CreateSpace.

Things were falling into place Very Quickly and in Large Volume. I found myself staying up until sunrise on Halloween weekend--hey, if everybody was willing to work that hard, I owed it to them to put in some grand effort assembling their work. Much back and forth, much discussion in the East of Laughter Facebook group--thousands and thousands of comments (I am not exaggerating), Amazing proofreading work from Rich Persaud and John Owen and Noah Wareness among a small army of others. On Lafferty's 100th birthday, November 7, 2014, we had a website up with a complete copy of Feast of Laughter, Issue 1: www.feastoflaughter.org. Within a few days and a bit more midnight oil, we had our first edition available in paperback via Amazon.


Feast of Laughter, Issue 1

To say I was floored by how beautiful the final book came out would be an extreme practice of the art of understatement. I have been unable to contain myself. I keep giggling over it. And the giggling has only increased: by Day 2, we had sold enough copies to be #4 on Amazon's list of the 100 best selling books in the category "Science Fiction History and Criticism," beating out books about Middle Earth and Harry Potter (beating everything but some companion volumes to George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books and a book about Hobbits). And then Andrew Ferguson posted a beautiful review on his Tumblr, "Continued on Next Rock." And then Neil Gaiman bought our book and blogged about it!

Feast of Laughter in Amazon's list of Best Sellers in Science Fiction History & Criticism

I am still over the moon over this experience. I could never have imagined such amazing things could have happened from an offhand mention in a Facebook group. It is impossible that it happened so quickly. We radically exceeded our own expectations. There is a small army of Lafferty fans to thank for building this. It was a truly collaborative effort at "Slow Tuesday Night" speed.

The Feast of Laughter is now a living periodical. We will publish two issues a year on November 7, Lafferty's birthday, and March 18, the day he died. Every issue will try to include:
  • Essays about his writing.
  • Reviews.
  • Original fiction and artwork inspired by Lafferty.
  • At least one Lafferty story.
Our mission is to help raise Lafferty's profile and establish his place in American Letters, to bring Lafferty to a wider readership, and to do all of this while being scrupulous about copyright and permissions. That way we can keep working with authors and copyright holders for many years to come. The next four issues are being prepared, and you are invited to contribute. Leave a comment or contact editor@feastoflaughter.org with your ideas. 
  • Feast of Laughter #2: March 18, 2015 - deadline for interest: Jan 31, 2015, deadline for content, February 20, 2015.
  • Feast of Laughter #3: November 7, 2015 - deadline for interest: September 19, 2015, deadline for content, October 11, 2015.
  • Feast of Laughter #4: March 18, 2016 - deadline for interest: Jan 31, 2016, deadline for content, February 20, 2016.
  • Feast of Laughter #5: November 7, 2016 - deadline for interest: September 19, 2016, deadline for content, October 11, 2016.

The next feast is being prepared, and you are invited. But it's a potluck affair. Take as much as you can consume, but bring something to share.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dan-Ktistec

Searching around the web last night for references to "Pan-Ktistec" to perhaps get a gleam of where Lafferty came up with Epiktistes' name, I found quotes from Arrive at Easterwine and quotes from an August 2003 interview with Steely Dan for Sound on Sound magazine: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug03/articles/steelydan.htm

And I quote:

"I can do a pretty nice defibrillation with the Ktistec machine," adds Becker, helpfully...

and

Given that Fagen and Becker live in New York and Hawaii respectively, one might expect them to have taken advantage of digital and Web-based technologies in their songwriting collaboration. Have they? If so, they don't seem keen to talk about it...
"We don't usually write music over the phone, like sending files and stuff," says Becker. "When we work over the phone we do it to write lyrics, and that works very well. Writing on the phone is a little like being in analysis, because you're not reacting to the facial expressions of the other person."
"But we can surmount that with the Ktistec machine," insists Fagen.
"We choose not to use the Ktistec machine sometimes. Having a great piece of technology doesn't necessarily mean you use it all the time. Some things are better done..."
"...in secret."
[...]
"We like to write music in the same room. It's hard enough to get anything done when you're eyeball to eyeball, let alone when you're at a distance. But that may change now that we have the Ktistec machine. Make sure you get the spelling correctly."

It's a wonderful interview--almost entirely nonsensical and laced with references to the Ktistec machine.

Who'd a thought Steely Dan were Lafferty fans? But listening to their sardonic, erudite lyrics, I guess it shouldn't be surprising.