Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reintroducing the World to Lafferty - Ideas on a Mass-Market Collection

If I were involved in the republication of Lafferty’s work, here are some thoughts I have about a first collection of short stories to reintroduce his work to the world. I have no say in the matter, but I don’t see why that should stop me from saying.

First an analogy. There are two great collections of Cordwainer Smith’s short stories that share the same name: The Rediscovery of Man published by Gollancz as part of their SF Masterworks series and The Rediscovery of Man published by NESFA Press. The Gollancz book is a greatest hits kind of collection. It contains 12 very strong stories in chronological order (by the order of events in the stories, not by writing date). The NESFA Press book contains the complete short fiction of Cordwainer Smith.

In my opinion, the Gollancz book is the much stronger book. It is the one I force into the hands of friends and co-workers when I want to get them hooked on Cordwainer Smith or at least to understand what I am talking about. The NESFA book is not as good an introduction to his work. It is far better for a new reader to start with “Scanners Live in Vain” than “No, No, Not Rogov!” or “War no. 81-Q.” Not that those aren’t good stories, they are, but they do not introduce readers to the power and strangeness of Smith’s world of the Instrumentality of Mankind as forcefully. The NESFA book is a book for hardcore fans and Cordwainer Smith Completists.

The same analogy could apply to republishing R. A. Lafferty. Not everything he wrote possesses the same power to grab you and make you look at the world in entirely new ways. To grab new readers--to introduce them to a deep appreciation of Lafferty’s work, we need not to hit them with everything at once, but to dazzle them with those stories that simultaneously soar high and reach deep. This is how I developed my Lafferty habit and I assume this is how most of us discovered his writing--a great story here, an amazing story there, hey there’s a pattern, time to start seeking him out, Orbit anthologies (those were almost all great stories, and showed them balanced with other well done, progressive work), Nine Hundred Grandmothers, jackpot and addiction.

So I think the first thing that needs to be published is a collection of the most masterful of his most approachable stories. For me, this list is similar to but not identical to my list of favorite stories. Several of the ones I love are pieces of virtuoso writing, but perhaps better for the second course rather than the appetizer. Here is my proposed first course of Lafferty:
  1. “Narrow Valley” - The Great American Short Story. This has it all: homesteaders, a sheriff, Indians, eminent scientists complete with scientific babble, precocious children, and a joyous hopeful ending.
  2. “Slow Tuesday Night” - Somehow more relevant today than when he wrote it.
  3. “Eurema’s Dam” - Perhaps the greatest example of Lafferty’s madness and tight storytelling.
  4. “Through Other Eyes” - His perfectly structured pure science fiction story--Lafferty style.
  5. “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” - Pure tour-de-force SF. Pure fun.
  6. “Ride a Tin Can” - Beautiful, sad, devastating, cautionary.
  7. “Hog Belly Honey” - The most joyous of romps after the sadness of the previous story.
  8. “Funnyfingers” - Beautiful, sad, devastating, and proof that Lafferty can write about love.
  9. “In Our Block” - Provide a sense of how fantastical the everyday world can be.
  10. “Snuffles” - About the right place in the collection for a novella. It’s a hard one to read, but shows his immense power. This story is hard, not because of the prose, but because the characters grab you and their deaths devastate you--because they represent parts of you.
  11. “Marsillia V.” - Keeping up the sustained horror theme here.
  12. “Days of Grass, Days of Straw” - Transmuting the horror into a sense of wonder.
  13. “Frog on the Mountain” - Lafferty does Hemingway, much in the same way that Zelazny did with “The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth.”
  14. “Hole on the Corner” - Essential Lafferty reading--pure madness and pure fun!
  15. “Continued on Next Rock” - A great mix of personalities and science and myth.
  16. “The Tongues of Matagorda” - Remind the reader that storytelling and mythmaking are essential elements of Lafferty’s work.
  17. “One at a Time” - The essential Laffertian Irish brawler and essential Laffertian wordplay.
  18. “Encased in Ancient Rind” - Topical today! Climate Change with a different vengeance.
  19. “Golden Gate” - Has the greatest opening paragraph in short fiction.
  20. “Been a Long, Long Time” - Go out with a (big) bang.
There are about a dozen more I’d love to include--there are no stories here about Austro and the men who know everything and Laf, I’d love to include both the Phosphor McCabe stories, and more of Epict and the Institute. I’d love to add “The Ugly Sea,” “Sky,” “Land of the Great Horses,” etc, etc, etc! However this collection seemed intuitively right to me. It is what I’d put on the menu if I wanted to hook people with a sample, and make them crave to come back for more.

Please chime in with how you would like to reintroduce the world to Lafferty. I have no say in the matter, but the conversation is fun, and who knows, it might just help.



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Laffety Bookshelf

I realize it is bad form to brag. However, I recently worked with a Very Nice bookseller to buy copies of Through Elegant Eyes and Golden Gate and Other Stories. This caused me to stop and think about my Lafferty Library. I’ve been slowly adding to it for about 30 years and gradually collected quite a bit:

  • The Reefs of Earth (1968)
  • Space Chantey (1968)
  • Past Master (1968)
  • Fourth Mansions (1969) (3 copies, so I can force them into peoples hands)
  • Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970) (Collection)
  • The Devil is Dead (1971)
  • Strange Doings (1971) (Collection)
  • The Flame is Green (1971)
  • Arrive at Easterwine (1971) (loaned out to a co-worker)
  • The Fall of Rome (1971)
  • Okla Hannali (1972)
  • Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? (1974) (Collection)
  • Not to Mention Camels (1976)
  • Funnyfingers and Cabrito (1976) (Collection) (Chapbook)
  • Apocalypses (1977)
  • Aurelia (1982)
  • Annals of Klepsis (1983)
  • Golden Gate And Other Stories (1983) (Collection) (ordered)
  • Through Elegant Eyes (1983) (Collection) (ordered)
  • Laughing Kelly and Other Verses (Poetry) (1983) (Chapbook) (Arrived WOOHOO! August 12, 2013)
  • Ringing Changes (1984) (Collection) (I have one extra copy in case anyone wants to borrow it)
  • It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (Nonfiction) (1984) (Chapbook)
  • The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories (1984) (Collection) (Chapbook)
  • Slippery and Other Stories (1985) (Collection) (Chapbook)
  • My Heart Leaps Up - Chapters 1 & 2 (1986) (Chapbook) (Arrived WOOHOO! August 12, 2013)
  • My Heart Leaps Up - Chapters 3 & 4 (1987) (Chapbook)
  • My Heart Leaps Up - Chapters 5 & 6 (1987) (Chapbook)
  • My Heart Leaps Up - Chapters 7 & 8 (1987) (Chapbook)
  • My Heart Leaps Up - Chapters 9 & 10 (1987) (Chapbook)
  • Serpent's Egg (1987) (Morrigan Press (UK) edition)
  • East of Laughter (1988) (Morrigan Press (UK) edition)
  • Sindbad: The 13th Voyage (1999)

That’s 28 books and chapbooks sitting on my bookshelf and 4 more ordered and on their way. I’m ashamed to admit I still haven’t made my way all the way through Not to Mention Camels, Aurelia, and East of Laughter, and I haven’t even started Serpent’s Egg yet. Everything else, though, I’ve read anywhere from one to a half a dozen times. Some of his stories I just have to return to and re-read from time to time. Okla Hannali bears frequent re-readings. I gain something new every time I read it. For some reason, I re-read Fourth Mansions every year or two. Something will remind me of a passage from it, and I pick it up and restart at the beginning--marveling anew at the tricks he pulls on us every time.

There are still a lot of hard or impossible to find Lafferty books I would love to track down (and be able to afford):

Cosquin Chronicles
  • Half a Sky (1984)

The Devil is Dead Trilogy:
  • Archipelago (1979)
  • More than Melchisedech
   1 Tales of Chicago (1992)
   2 Tales of Midnight (1992)
   3 Argo (1992)

  • How Many Miles to Babylon (1989)
  • The Elliptical Grave (1989)
  • Dotty (1990)

  • The Early Lafferty (1988)
  • The Back Door of History (1988)
  • Strange Skies (Poetry) (1988)
  • The Early Lafferty II (1990)
  • Episodes of the Argo (1990)
  • Lafferty in Orbit (1991)
  • Mischief Malicious (And Murder Most Strange) (1991)
  • Iron Tears (1992)
  • The Man Who Made Models (2014 - Anticipated)
    Amazon first had the title as
    From the Thunder Colt's Mouth. What changed?

  • Four Stories (1983)
  • Heart of Stone, Dear and Other Stories (1983)
  • Snake in His Bosom and Other Stories (1983)
  • Horns on Their Heads (1976)
  • Promontory Goats (1988)
  • Anamnesis (1992)
  • Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas (2007)
  • The Six Fingers of Time (2010)
  • True Believers (Nonfiction) (1989)
  • Cranky Old Man from Tulsa (Nonfiction) (1990)
  • Grasshoppers & Wild Honey - Chapters 1 & 2 (1992)

And the Very Nice bookseller has the Amazon storefront link: Stop by and check out his inventory.

My Bookshelf:

Friday, August 2, 2013


Apocalypses is a great example of R.A. Lafferty at the top of his form in the early '70s. Dense, introspective prose filled with wordplay and events rushing by breathlessly. It is simultaneously a breezy, enjoyable read, and a dense, wooly challenge to grasp. He gives us the events in a quickly readable form, but makes us work very hard to understand what is going on beneath the surface and between the events.

Apocalypses contains two novellas about consensus reality, "Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis" and "The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney." Both beg the question of what is real and if enough people believing something real makes it so.

"Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis" is a detective story. The 300-mile long peninsula of Sandaliotis has suddenly reappeared connecting southern France to Corsica. Is it real, or is it a fraud. It appears to have been there all along with a history thousands of years deep, or is that history a counterfeit? The worlds greatest detective, Constantine Quiche, is on the case. Can he find out what is going on or is he just an elaborate counterfeit himself? We never find out.

"The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney" follows the life of the great impresario, Enniscorthy Sweeney, and the change in history of the 20th Century. The 20th Century had been the Golden Century, the century in which humanity realized war was no longer possible and universal prosperity and well being were not only possible but imperative. It started with the inauguration of Harold Standpipe, the tall, thoughtful black statesman and humanitarian from Chicago as President of the United States in 1901. Then in 1917, Enniscorthy Sweeney produced his first Armageddon opera about a tremendous world war, and soon history adjusts to make it have been real. Then he produced his second Armageddon opera about an even more horrific world war, and history adjusts itself again. They are preparing to produce his third Armageddon opera--as one historian notes, “The situation worsens.” The whole novella is written as the material for a documentary-like study of Sweeney's life. It is told through small narrative segments of his life, reviews of his operas, interviews with various people involved in his life, excerpts of his letters, etc. There is no section of straightforward narrative more than a page or two long, and the narrative voices change out frequently.

In my opinion, "The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney" is the stronger of the two novellas, a more challenging read, and a more (I think) rewarding one. I'd love to see someone do a real solid comparison of the use of alternate history or "consensus reality" in this story with the treatment of the same themes in Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle.