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:
- “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.
- “Slow Tuesday Night” - Somehow more relevant today than when he wrote it.
- “Eurema’s Dam” - Perhaps the greatest example of Lafferty’s madness and tight storytelling.
- “Through Other Eyes” - His perfectly structured pure science fiction story--Lafferty style.
- “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” - Pure tour-de-force SF. Pure fun.
- “Ride a Tin Can” - Beautiful, sad, devastating, cautionary.
- “Hog Belly Honey” - The most joyous of romps after the sadness of the previous story.
- “Funnyfingers” - Beautiful, sad, devastating, and proof that Lafferty can write about love.
- “In Our Block” - Provide a sense of how fantastical the everyday world can be.
- “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.
- “Marsillia V.” - Keeping up the sustained horror theme here.
- “Days of Grass, Days of Straw” - Transmuting the horror into a sense of wonder.
- “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.”
- “Hole on the Corner” - Essential Lafferty reading--pure madness and pure fun!
- “Continued on Next Rock” - A great mix of personalities and science and myth.
- “The Tongues of Matagorda” - Remind the reader that storytelling and mythmaking are essential elements of Lafferty’s work.
- “One at a Time” - The essential Laffertian Irish brawler and essential Laffertian wordplay.
- “Encased in Ancient Rind” - Topical today! Climate Change with a different vengeance.
- “Golden Gate” - Has the greatest opening paragraph in short fiction.
- “Been a Long, Long Time” - Go out with a (big) bang.
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.