Saturday, November 29, 2014

Another brief short story review - 'The Wagons' (1959)

As his first to be published, this story is an incredible start to Lafferty's career.  First published in the New Mexico Quarterly Review, Spring 1959, it is a very 'literary' story that is yet about oral storytelling, especially American Frontier tall tales and Native American myth-making.  It is a sly story that uses lying exaggerations about local ecology to tell truths about the same.  It begins Lafferty's long career of widening his readers' gaze to include so much more detail and depth and layers than we are wont to include.  It is also a very quietly touching story of fathers and sons, of both learning from each other, from what each perspective uniquely brings, especially mature erudition from the older and enthusiastic invention from the younger. Indeed, the story also sets up profound discourses:  between Platonic Forms and Aristotelian minutiae, between the 'scientific' knowledge of the anthropologist and and the 'folk wisdom' of the 'native', and so on.

'The Wagons' deserves to be widely known and would make a good introduction to Lafferty's work for general readers.  It could very easily be included in a Norton Anthology of American Literature or the like.  

For more (and better) insights on this story, see

Saturday, November 22, 2014

'The world turns in its sleep, and parts of the world have moments of wakefulness' (brief review of the short story 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire')

Well, I tried to post the following as a comment on the short story section of the R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page (where all of Lafferty's stories are listed out with the webmaster's rating & opinion of the story and the option for you to comment).  But though I'm registered, it refuses to work for me.  So here's a brief off-the-top-of-my-head review of one of my fave stories by Laff (from which this blog gets its name).

UPDATE (23 Nov 2014):  Well, looky here!  A whole new place to discuss each and every one of Lafferty's 200+ short stories!  Nice!  (The creator of this new Lafferty website is working very hard to make an exhaustive, interwoven, interactive, one-stop, poly-crosslinked site of Laffertian lore and treasure - show him your support and make use of the site!)

The story 'review':
"To you who are scattered and broken, gather again and mend. Rebuild always, and again I say rebuild. Renew the face of the earth. It is a loved face, but now it is covered with the webs of tired spiders."

Lafferty's short story "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" (1972) is funny, wise, nicely styled; a well-imagined philosophical post-apocalypse (in a Laffertian folklorish tone, of course).  It's written in Lafferty's Oklahoma regional mode, what I call 'buffalopunk' (which infuses most everything he writes to one degree or another). 

I rate the story 'excellent'.  [The RAL Devotional Page has only the three ratings:  lame, ok, excellent.]

This story was one of the earliest I read by Laff that got me searching out all his stuff.  Some of his fans don't like it when he gets explicitly theological, but I tend to love it.  Some will only barely notice that this story is theological and some will find it too glaring.  I think it's beautifully done.  It's kind of like a Chestertonian Screwtape Letters written by Mark Twain. (That description should alert you to the presence of biting satire.  But the tone of the story is still very warm and invitational and hopeful, even humble, and not merely acerbic.)

If more 'religious believers' in the modern world had the kind of life-affirming, ecologically rich (pay attention to the cattle, landscape, birds, and bees), constructive, beautiful, creatively countercultural, and good-humoured worldview this story exhibits, there wouldn't be so much 'secular' or 'pagan' overreaction to religion, with its own oppressive and reductive counter-fundamentalisms.    

"There was, of course, the acre of fire, the field of fire.  This acre was large enough to contain all that needed to be contained:  it is always there, wherever reality is.  There are tides that come and go; but even the lowest ebbing may not mean the end of the world.  And then there are the times and tides of clarity, the jubilees, the sabbaticals.  There is reassurance given.  The world turns in its sleep, and parts of the world have moments of wakefulness."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Join the Feast!

It is good to have a piece of the deep new knowledge as it births, it is good to see the future lifted out of the future pots.

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Funnyfingers' (1976)

The announcement you've been waiting for:

Feast of Laughter Issue 1 is live on Amazon:

(It's listed at a limited-time discount price for, I believe, the first month.)

248 pages, which feature 12 essays, 2 poems, 4 pieces of art, 5 short stories, and 1 interview (with John Pelan, editor of the Centipede Press Lafferty Library). One of the short stories is by R. A. Lafferty himself and another is by award-winning author Michael Bishop.  (Cover painting by Lissanne Lake, illustrating a scene in Lafferty's 1973 story 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw'.) 

From the Amazon description: "A labor of love by inspired fans, this magazine celebrates the literature of an original American treasure, R. A. Lafferty. Praised by Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, compared to Borges and Garcia Marquez, Lafferty eludes genres. Sanguine about the availability of his writing, Lafferty fans created this enthusiastic mosaic of conversation, critique, fiction, poetry and art. Now, it's your turn."

As I write this, the magazine/book is rated number 7 on Amazon's Best Sellers in Science Fiction History & Criticism (it was at number 4 for an hour or so!).  

The Origin of the Feast by Kevin Cheek
Talking About Talking About Lafferty by Kevin A. Cheek
Laffertography by Rich Persaud
A Few Words About R. A. Lafferty by Eric Walker
If You do not Love Words: The Pleasure of Reading Lafferty by Elaine Cochrane
An Interview with John Pelan by John Owen
Lafferty Deserves a Documentary - a call to action by Andrew Mass
Aloysius Ascending by David Cruces
An Instinct for Friendship by John Owen
To Be Continued? by John Barach
Up Close, and in Particular by Martin Heavisides
Hillary Ardri and Jane Chantal Ardri Illustration by Lydia Petersen
The Epic of Man and His Friends or Slumming It With the Ontic Outcasts or May Our Eyes Be Big Enough To Take In the Nine Hundred Percent Gain in Everything! by Daniel Otto Jack Petersen
Aeviternity: R.A. Lafferty’s Thomistic Philosophy of Time in the Argo Cycle by Gregorio Montejo
Some notes on play, time and Catholic Social Teaching in R.A. Lafferty by John Ellison
O Golden, O Silken, O Mother-Loving World! an original story by Daniel Otto Jack Petersen
The Prybar Spiel by Noah Wareness
The Woman Who Wondered What Onions Think by J Simon
Of Crystalline Labyrinths and the New Creation by Michael Bishop
The Six Fingers of Time - an essay by Andrew Ferguson
The Six Fingers of Time - a review by Kevin A. Cheek
The Six Fingers of Time by R. A. Lafferty

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Door Into A Dozen Or A Hundred Planet-Falls A Day (HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, LAFF!)

R. A. Lafferty was born on November 7th, 1914.  One hundred years ago today, the world birthed its own Best Seer Ever since none of the world's inhabitants looked like they were ever going to get around to birthing such a person themselves.  This may have been an impatient move on the part of the world.  In her haste, she spawned an ugly-duckling-swan that spewed a billion words of incalculable worth late in life and at a rate that left his would-be readers thunderstruck and half mad. 
The way he looked, his own physical appearance, was part of it:  he was variously called troll, goblin, gnome, ogre, and leprechaun in his lifetime.  And he looked it a little.  For his own part, no matter what names they called him, the beautiful ugly troll boy always maintained that humans were his favourite of the fauna of Earth.  But it wasn't really his look, it was his looking that sent goosebumps of unaccustomed awe shooting up the arms of his readers and made them worry they might have to start all the way over and redefine everything.
For a decade or so in the 1960s and early 70s it looked like it might just work, the world's human peoples might just listen. (I suspect the world's non-human peoples sat up and took note just fine - the bears and whales may have been the most pleased of that lot, as Lafferty seemed to address them most frequently and flatteringly; the cats and spiders and snakes I can only surmise must have been quite a bit less impressed with his symbology, which mostly - but, in fairness, not always - cast them as pictographs for corruption.  Motor cars no doubt feel justly miffed and misrepresented.  But maybe they didn't totally understand him right.  Lightning, on the other hand, can still be seen preening at the all the lavish attention he gave it.  Limestone too probably felt fairly chummy toward him since it recurringly featured in the ugly-duckling-swan-troll's writings.  Then again, limestone has always been quite secure in its own self-image and has never craved much independent approval.) 
Yes, the human peoples for a little bit there looked like they might really listen, and listened like they might really look.  With the new eyes Lafferty offered them in both his open hands.   
By the 1980s, however (and up to today), the world's human population just couldn't take all that Big Seeing, all that unfiltered (or rather, enhanced-filtered) intake.  They shut the door on Lafferty's writing with a whimpering bang.  They shuddered and glanced at each other nervously, trying to laugh, but just kind of croaking their relief.  Besides, laughter was the ugly-duckling-gnome-swan's big thing.  He had made it an all-out philosophical bedrock and they could never feel quite as comfortable with it again, unless they brayed it brashly, nice and hollow.  (They were worried they'd find something inside the laughter if it got too full.)
Thus shut out, the leprechaun languished and died.  The crypto-swan left us to our tunnel vision and went to his reward.  (Lafferty was in no danger of being adjudged:  'You have already received your reward.')  A few ragged followers mourned.  The rest didn't even notice, or certainly pretended not to anyway.  (Did you feel that little bump, like the bottom of the world just fell out? one might say to another.  No, no, I didn't feel a thing.  All's well, we don't need a world-bottom anyway, another might reply.  No, no, I didn't feel anything either.  I can't imagine why I brought it up.)
So.  The world jumped the gun when she made that one.
Ah, but the old goblin-swan played a neat little trick on the human peoples.  In secret, he built a door.  Different from the one the humans had shut on him.  He had taken we don't know how long assembling it, careful detail by careful detail.  Maybe he assembled in the 80s and 90s, while the humans' backs were obstinately turned.  It was comprised of all that the human peoples refused to see and it opened onto so very much more.  It was the door to his office, and it's no wonder he wrote what he did inside there.  But this door would lead into his plenitude of worlds-right-inside-our-own-world no matter where it stood, at the entry to his office or anywhere else at all.  A collector obtained the door after the swan-ogre died.  The collector remains suspiciously silent as to the door's properties and powers and regarding any adventures he may have undergone thanks to its presence in his home.
Yet The Door to Lafferty's Office (as it has styled itself) has begun to make itself known more widely, offering itself to the world it would seem, and thereby offering Lafferty's vision once more to a wayward humanity.  It is an unexpected mercy that we don't deserve, but one which, if we've one last shred of wit left in our rattling almost-extinguished pumpkin heads, we will gladly receive with tears and smiles of gratitude and wonder.  The Door 'conveys' (as Lafferty often dubbed the speech of things without mouths) to those with ears to hear:  Fear not. Repent. Enter.
To me, most of the great moments of science fiction are planet-falls: unshipping and setting foot on new worlds. And yet the experience of planet-fall is a daily thing, one that never grows stale. It happens a dozen or a hundred times a day. We live on a tolerably new world, and there is always the feeling of having just arrived on it. This is a world that is always more than ninety percent unexplored by ourselves, and we have a compulsion to get on with the exploration. It’s an intricate and massive world, prodigious in detail and almost beyond numbering in its dimensions; compendious, encyclopedic, physically astonishing, prodigal in line and color, alive on a dozen different levels, of great friendliness and affection in most of its fauna and especially in its “superior fauna” known as mankind. This species is more delightful than all the tribbles and fuzzies that can be imagined. This world, probably a masterwork among worlds, is loaded with encounters and happenings; and do not forget that etymologically all happenings are happy.

-R. A. Lafferty, ‘The Case of the Moth-eaten Magician’ (collected in Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays By Notable Science Fiction Writers, 1981, edited by Martin H. Greenburg, Southern Illinois University Press)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

LAFFERTY NEWS! (issue 2)

Man, tons of Lafferty developments have emerged and this post will only be able to highlight some of the larger ones.  The pace and quantity of Lafferty developments seems to warrant me putting out ‘issues’ of this news.  (I’m happy for some other more legitimate site to pick this up and run it.  Let me know if you’re interested.  Anyone can just link to it as well, obviously.)

[UPDATE: this deserves a post of its own - and will get one eventually - but, amidst all the other Lafferty developments over the past several weeks, Rich Persaud created a whole new multi-faceted Lafferty website that is an absolute treasure trove of Lafferty links and commentary and information:]

·         Feast of Laughter, issue 1, looks due to come out possibly as soon as the end of this week.  This is a fan-made Lafferty fanzine put together by the Facebook group East of Laughter: An Appreciation of R. A.Lafferty.  I’ve been keeping this one under my hat, wanting to make sure it was going to turn out to be more than a rumour.  As a contributor and proof-reader, I can assure it is thoroughly in the works.  It looks like it will probably end up around 200 pages, available digitally and in print (using Print On Demand technology, so there are no worries of a limited print run – you’ll get a copy if you want it).  The content is stunning, folks.  Seriously.  Not only will the zine reprint Lafferty’s story ‘The Six Fingers of Time’, it will feature an essay on that story by Lafferty biographer, Andrew Ferguson.  Also included are reprints of a few important essays online about Lafferty that can only be found through long and diligent search, and a host of others, first published here, by various fans old and new who bring a wide array of talents and perspectives to the table.  It’s all very intelligent and warm and fun.  It also includes both a reminiscence and a short story (a Lafferty pastiche) by none other than award-winning author Michael Bishop.  There are several more Lafferty-inspired works of fiction as well.  There are a few pieces of fan art included and the cover painting is by none other than Lissanne Lake, who illustrated the collection Lafferty in Orbit (1991) and Lafferty’s novel Sindbad: The 13th Voyage (1999).  Stay tuned for an official release date and link!  (Sorry to sound like a salesman in this ostensible news piece – it’s just that I’m incredibly thrilled about a meaty slice of Lafferty revival like this coming onto the scene.  We contributors make no money from sales.  It’s a total labour of love.  If any actual profit accrues, this will go straight back to the zine to fund future issues and operations.)

·         On a recent blog post, Andrew Ferguson has kindly provided a link to an audio recording of the Lafferty panel discussion from Worldcon that took place recently (which included Andrew and Michael Swanwick among the panelists).  Most of what’s said is perfectly discernible and the discussion is choice, with a few bits of historical information about Lafferty and his works that you won’t have heard before.  (I think the link to the audio expires in 30 days.)

·         In recognition of Lafferty’s centenary, Locus magazine’s November issue features a brief bio of Lafferty by Andrew Ferguson and reprints Lafferty’s short story ‘Seven-Day Terror’.

·         The Oklahoma magazine This Land just put out a new ‘sci-fi’ themed issue that celebrates Lafferty’s centenary with a wonderful article and by reprinting Lafferty’s short story ‘Nine Hundred Grandmothers’.  (The article at the link features a photograph of Lafferty’s incredible office door!  I never knew about the existence of this – it’s like a picture of the inside of Lafferty’s mind.)

·         In Japan, the Hayakawa SF Magazine just released a Lafferty centennial issue that features a number of essays on Lafferty and a load of wonderful artwork that Andrew Ferguson has kindly photographed on his latest blog post.  This artwork adorns the republication of no less than three (translated) Lafferty stories in the magazine:  'St. Poleander's Eve', 'The Only Tune That He Could Play', and 'Cabrito'.  David Cruces (from the East of Laughter Facebook group) also photographed something highly interesting in his copy – a mention of this blog and fellow Lafferty bloggers!


Some blogs here and there (English-language and others) have been popping up with brief reviews or thoughts on Lafferty, but I don’t have time to link to them in this issue of LAFFERTY NEWS!.  I’ll try to do so soon.  One of many things that’s exciting about all of the above is that a number of Lafferty stories just came back into print!  Lafferty, in 2014, is in the magazines again!  In this regard, I note that the English-language publications chose to reprint early (1960s), celebrated, and comparatively 'easy' Lafferty tales, while the Japanese magazine published later (late 70s), lesser known, and 'difficult' (though delightfully weird and wild) Lafferty tales.  Japan has always embraced Lafferty a fair bit more voraciously than English-language countries, and Japanese readers seem to be much more eager to follow Lafferty into his strangest territories. 
(Feel free to let me know of any other Lafferty developments you think are newsworthy and I'll try to include them in the next issue.)
'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)