Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Merry Christmas and an Apocryphal Last Chapter

Christmas came a little early for this Lafferty Fan. I just received in the mail today three volumes in good (though much faded and yellowed) condition: Episodes of the Argo, The Back Door of History, and The Early Lafferty


I had to sit over lunch and read some of this bounty, so I read “Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island,” the last story in Episodes of the Argo. It is the concluding chapter Lafferty wrote for The Devil is Dead but did not get to the publisher in time for it to be included in the book. It rather changes my interpretation of the ending--especially a small revelation about the character Doll. The Devil is Dead in most editions of the book ends with a poem by Doll that is cut off in mid sentence, "And they also tell the story of--" This makes a very (nice? cryptic? Joycean?) circular reference back to the Promontia (or introduction) at the beginning, which opens with "And they also tell the story of"

I've always thought that was a deliberate reference to Finnegan's Wake, where the narrative starts mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence that the book starts with. Couple that with the protagonist being named Finnegan and the basic idea that he is loosely (very loosely) based on a proto-Irish folk hero Finn McCool, and I've always assumed that elements of The Devil is Dead were perhaps a deliberate reference to Finnegan's Wake.

I also had finally adjusted to the idea of Doll as standing in for Humanity, and questioning why the Neanderthals were battling each other over the fate of Humanity without ever considering whether or not the Humans would like a say in their own fate. The very last scene winds up with Doll, and by extension the Human race, stealing the show and taking a stand in the battle. In a way, it is a passing of the flag into Human hands. The new(er) last chapter undoes that.
The last chapter "The Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan on Galveston Island" reads (to me) like it was written much later, and smacks a little of an author who is too much in love with his creation--Finnegan seems a bit too invincible and too capable in this last chapter, and therefore the tension is missing.
Therefore, my guess is that he wrote this last chapter some time after finishing the book. Perhaps after looking back at it and surmising that he wanted to tie up some more of Finnegan's narrative or perhaps tie it more closely into some of the rest of the Argo cycle.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Roy Mega and Austro - or the Hazards of Reading Lafferty

I have been permanently affected by my reading of Lafferty. I was recently working in the research and development office of a small high-tech company with two young engineers. They are both young grad students, both brilliant and creative and able to do things with electronics that seem like magic. One looks like everyone's image of a clean-shaven mid-western football youth with sandy hair, and the other is slightly darker featured and more bewhiskered. I had trouble with their names at first because in my mind I immediately labeled them “Roy Mega” and “Austro.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not Getting To Easterwine

Arrive at Easterwine (1971) is one of my favorite Lafferty books. However, I suspect part of what I like so much about it is the sheer challenge of reading it. Here we have a stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative by an unreliable narrator who is not human and has a penchant for speaking in metaphor. Ultimately the entire book is built around a nested 3- and 4-part narrative structure that has the ultimate goal of looking for divine aspects of humanity. It’s a challenge.

I recently lent my copy to a coworker who I view as a very intelligent person. He is a software engineer who occasionally holds forth intelligently on various SF books over lunch, and he has never read Lafferty. Admittedly, it was a bit of a test case--I’ve been reading Lafferty for so long, I’m not fazed by a lot of what puts other readers off. I wanted to see how an intelligent reader would respond to this, one of his more challenging works. I had a few questions in mind:
  1. Near the beginning of the book, Epikt tells us what the structure of the book will be. I didn’t catch that until my third reading of it. Would a reader with a great attention to detail catch that the first time through?
  2. How would the idea of a computer as an unreliable narrator fly with a software engineer whose job is to see computers as logical and uncreative tools? 
  3. How would an intelligent reader respond to the unrelenting layers of metaphor in the narrative?
My co-worker just gave the book back the other day. He didn’t get through it, but said he “gave it the old college try.” Really he did much more than that; knowing how enthusiastic I am about it, he went back and restarted several times, even reading sections of it out loud to his wife. He said the individual sentences were easy, but understanding what had just been said at the end of each passage was baffling. His wife commented that there is obviously deep sense and meaning there, but what it was eluded her. He did not get past the long night of goats and tigers hunting through the buildings housing his memory banks.

He did stumble on the amount of metaphor in the narrative. Just the simple introduction of each person by describing the impression caused by the introduction of their person precis into Epikt’s matrix led to some confusion, and he had trouble keeping the cast of characters straight.

He also stumbled on the idea of an irrational computer. In popular culture, especially in SF, computers are ultimately logical, and their information often infallible. With the notable exception of Hal, computers do not express curiosity or emotion, unless used to comedic effect. Compare the Enterprises computer in Star Trek to Epikt. You have the monotone recitation of detailed data contrasted with conversation with some internal metaphorical Snake that is never fully explained. Epikt’s willingness to dive into metaphor to describe the characters, and his obvious emotional response to their personalities left my coworker a bit baffled, if not shaken.

He did not get far enough into the book to look at its structure.

The book is divided into three sections of four chapters. Each section addresses the theme of one of the three tasks--to find a leader, a love, and a liaison. Even the tasks are metaphorical:
  • Leader = an examination of what leadership means and a question of what state humanity is in and what kind of person could lead it to a better state--perhaps the next step in human evolution. 
  • Love = an exploration of just what the heck love is and an attempt to create universal love among humanity.
  • Liaison = an understanding of the true shape of the universe and by extension, our place within it. 
Each chapter contains episodes centered around the theme of one of the tasks, but they do not form a cohesive single storyline.

So, who is the audience for Arrive at Easterwine? Is it really a book for the hardcore Lafferty fan or for English majors who breakfast on Joyce and lunch on Woolfe? Is it for people who have read Joyce’s Ulysses enough times to understand where the story is metaphor for the human condition, where it is straight narration, and where the interpretation is optional? Yes, all of these, but not only. The one thing this book requires, in my incomplete opinion, is a reader willing to let it wash over them and to enjoy the wordplay without understanding at first. Let the ideas contained within fester in your mind; let them combine and give birth to new little idealets, and then return to it days or even years later. In that manner it can be an immensely rewarding read.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Infecting Academia

We all know that Andrew Ferguson is doing perhaps the largest part to bring Lafferty’s work to the attention of the academic world. Here’s the part I’ve played so far in that same struggle:

Arrive at Easterwine: In college, back in the mid ‘80s I took a modern literature class. It was an excellent class--if I remember correctly, we read Dostoyevski’s Notes from the Underground, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Camus’ The Stranger, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. I wrote my term paper on Arrive at Easterwine forcing a copy of the book into the professor’s hands along with the paper. My paper focused on the stream-of-consciousness elements in the book. He gave me a B or B- on the paper, which I initially blamed on him not liking the fact that it was an SF book and not real “Literature.” However, I really suspect the grade was because I didn’t understand the book very well. It took three readings to really get a handle on it, and that was in the last year (look at my review on Amazon:

Okla Hannali: I’ve ordered evaluation copies from University of Oklahoma Press ($5.00 apiece, including shipping) sent to the teachers in charge of the American Studies programs at the two high schools my children have attended.

Space Chantey: My daughter’s class is studying the Odyssey this year (really a hell of a good 9th-grade English class, their reading list includes Ray Bradbury, Shakespeare, Sophocles, the Odyssey, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). After much discussion with the teacher, I am lending her my copies of Space Chantey and “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” which ought to cause an enjoyable bit of cognitive dissonance.

The Flame is Green and The Fall of Rome: After a conversation with the head of the History department at my kids’ school, I am loaning my copy of The Flame is Green and The Fall of Rome to him. I’d love to see Lafferty’s point of view on the relationship between Alaric, Stilicho, and Theodosius get some consideration in a standard world-history class. 

I’d love to hear stories from anyone else who has spread the word to the academic world about Lafferty.

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.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pundits in Effigy

First, I must praise Chris Drumm and his chapbooks for helping to keep Lafferty’s work in print in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I recently found online, at cover price even, both Slippery and Other Stories and The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories.

Reading "The Effigy Histories" in The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories the other day, I was struck first by the idea that Lafferty was poking a bit of good-natured fun at himself.

For example, talking about the histories written by Karl Effigy:

"They are not conventional histories at all. They are art-forms, or they are life-forms, that resemble histories somewhat in their shapes and movements and effects. But they are not accurate in any of their particulars."

and a bit later:

"Was it true that Karl Effigy talked nonsense when he elucidated and clarified his dazzling and pleasant Histories? Yes, in the manner of having words correspond to things and ideas, he did talk nonsense. But, in a larger way, his talking and writing were composed of the rarest sensibilities, even if not of precise sense. His expressions had the inner coherence of great paintings, of grand and framed natural scenes, or of resounding and sustained pieces of music. And his discourse was all a series of great pieces of music. Only the instruments were invented to protect the guilty. His flowing Histories themselves were nonsense, to the limited view; but to the Big View, they were galas in which sense was only one of the many condiments to be sniffed and enjoyed."

Is he here reacting to the people who said his own writing didn't make sense, and to the others among the audience who praised his style over the substance of his stories? I once read an online review (which I can no longer find) of Lafferty's The Fall of Rome which claimed that the book read like a fun novel, but it was criminal to call it history. I disagree with that review, but could this have been Lafferty's reaction to such reviews?

Then another parallel struck me: Lafferty was unwittingly predicting today's punditocracy. The blathering of pundits on radio and cable TV in response to any political or news development is very much like the histories of Karl Effigy--at a quick glance, under unthinking and unquestioning observation, they seem like news, but the content is completely missing. Let me reiterate the key quote here:

"Yes, in the manner of having words correspond to things and ideas, he did talk nonsense."

Yup, sums it up succinctly.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Heresy of Plot

I had a startling revelation the other day: The Devil is Dead (R. A. Lafferty, 1971) has a plot.

I first read The Devil is Dead when I found a copy in the Livermore Public Library around 1991. I was in my early twenties and had only just discovered Lafferty a few years earlier. I remember loving the book, and I can still recall some passages verbatim. However, if anyone asked me what actually happened in the book I would have been hard pressed to give a good synopsis. The experience of reading the book struck me as very much like dreaming. The narrative seemed to bypass the conscious mind and go straight to some sort of dream-like state of awareness.

About a year ago, I (very luckily) found a copy of the book online for a reasonable price. Re-reading it after twenty-some-odd years, I had the odd experience of having no idea where the book was taking me--odd because I had read it before. I could not remember the resolution of any of the situations, even which characters died and when. Again, I was smitten by some of the passages, but the overall arc of the book remained a mystery as I read it in fits and starts, five-minutes here, ten minutes there. It’s not that it’s a challenging read--the prose style is very readable and straightforward, and it has jubilant moments where Lafferty appears drunk on words. However, what he says in that prose seems to defy casual understanding. Lafferty even hints at this in the Promantia at the beginning of the book:

We will not lie to you. This is a do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare. Its present order is only the way it comes in the box. Arrange it as you will. Set off the devils and the monsters, the wonderful beauties and the foul murderers, the ships and the oceans of middle space, the corpses and the revenants, set them off in whatever apposition you wish. Glance quickly to discover whether you have not the mark on your own left wrist, barely under the skin. Build with these colored blocks your own dramas of love and death and degradation. Learn the true topography: the monstrous and wonderful archetypes are not inside you, not in your own unconsciousness; you are inside them, trapped, and howling to get out. Build things with this as with an old structo set. Here is the Devil Himself with his several faces. Here is an ogress, and a mermaid, both of them passing as ordinary women to the sightless. Here is a body which you yourself may bury in the sand. Here is the mark of the false octopus that has either seven or nine tentacles. Here is the shock when the very dead man that you helped bury continues on his way as a very live man, and looks at you as though he knows something that you do not. Here is a suitcase with 36,000 pieces of very special paper in it. Here is Mr. X, and a left-footed killer who follows and follows. Here are those of a different flesh; and may you yourself not be of that different flesh? Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.

This last week, I picked up The Devil is Dead again and started re-re-reading it. Knowing in advance the events that happen in the story, I could start to put the pieces together as I read. Setting off the devils and monsters etc. against each other, and remembering how each of their parts played out, I came to a startling revelation. The Devil is Dead has a plot:

(Warning: this plot summary contains spoilers that may or may not affect your reading of the book)

The hero of the book, Finnegan, awakes from a drunk amnesia to find he is sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of a conversation with a millionaire. The millionaire, Saxon X. Seaworthy, takes Finnegan on a trip around the world on Seaworthy’s boat, the Brunhilde. For Finnegan, it is truly a journey of discovery--he remembers more and more of who he is as the voyage progresses. The boat is populated with a number of mysterious characters, including Papadiabolous, the Devil--affectionately known as Papa D. As the Brunhilde leaves each of its ports of call, violence, revolution, and chaos erupt in the cities they have just visited. Finnegan (and through him, the reader) discovers that there is another, ancient race that is mingled genetically with Humanity--perhaps Neanderthal, perhaps demonic, or perhaps those two are the same thing. The devils of human mythology may be a racial memory of the race we supplanted. Every few generations, by some design or by accident, some of this race breed true. While appearing human, they are wholly of the “other flesh,” this other, older race. They have some form of racial memory of being supplanted by Humanity, and are out for revenge. The goal of this other race is to stir Humanity up to wipe itself out, so the older race can reclaim the Earth.

The first half of the book ends with the end of the journey on the Brunhilde. Finnegan has understood the nature of the other race and that he is also a member of it. He has also finally remembered that the night before events at the beginning of the book, Seaworthy had killed Papadiabolous and together with Finnegan had buried him. Somehow Papa D. had either come back to life or been replaced by a nearly miraculous impostor the following morning. At the culmination of the first half of the book, many of the characters are killed, including the impostor who replaced Papa D.

The second half of the book covers Finnegan's wanderings around the world (mostly North America and the Caribbean) as he has vowed revenge on Seaworthy. He has decided that even though he is a member of the other race he will fight against them and try to protect Humanity. He learns from a mysterious Mr. X. that the man he knew as Papa D. was really an Irish cop named Noonan,who was member of the other race himself and dedicated to stopping the plans of Seaworthy and the Devil and their cadre. Noonan was a masterful mimic and half-brother of the original Papadiabolous. The original Papadiabolous was the grandson or great grandson of the Devil himself (and either the son or grandson of the diabolic Ifreann Chortovich from Lafferty’s historical novel, The Flame is Green). Finnegan, Mr. X, and a mysterious woman named Doll spend the second half of the novel staying half a step ahead of Seaworthy and his crew. It ends on the site of the grave of the original Papadiabolous (where he is buried on top of an earlier incarnation of the Devil). Doll, presumably as a representative of Humanity, takes the upper hand in the struggle with those of the other race. The next step and the outcome of the continuing struggle are left open.

Well, that’s my interpretation of the plot--a little rambling, and the result of 2 ⅔ readings of the book. Essentially, it is the story of the struggle between an unaware Humanity and another, much older race that seeks either to eliminate or control Humanity. In that, it is similar to Fourth Mansions. Now that I have assembled the pieces, I wonder what I will sound like when I wake up tomorrow. If I’m not screaming, I guess I’ll need to take the set apart and reassemble it again.

Note (7/10/2013): While looking for pictures of Neanderthal to see what Finnegan's nose might have looked like I stumbled across some articles on a recent discovery that Neanderthal DNA lives on in modern humans.