Category Archives: R.A. Lafferty

FIRST THINGS talks PAST MASTER

The Christian online (online?) magazine FIRST THINGS, talks PAST MASTER, and DEAD LADY OF CLOWN TOWN, MANSIONS IN SPACE, and a few others.

Hey, they got the essential theme right!


GREAT LAFFERTY MOMENT

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SPOILERS! [Although I will try to make it not so]

I am in Tales of Midnight of the More Than Melchisedech entry of the ARGO series by R.A. Lafferty. There is a moment where they are discussing the death of one of their own, and one of the characters is foretelling of his own demise at the hands of an enemy and the fact that the death will be attributed, falsely, to his liver.

Before I go into the scene. One of the reasons I love this scene so much is it could happen – does happen – at any moment in my own living room (I don’t technically own a banjo, but I do possess a banjolele (also known as a banjo uke)

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or at the bar, or in the grocery store.

Anyway, here is the scene (most of it, anyway, I won’t give out the entire song)

“I’ll be killed by them myself,” Bagby said, “and yet my death will be attributed to my liver, a gentle organ that never harmed anybody.”

“How is your liver really, Bag?” Duffey asked him.

“Oh tell us how’s your liver, Mr. B.,” Dotty sang.

“I believe that, with a little help from some of my creations, we could make a song out of that,” Duffey proposed. Mary Virginia Schaffer went to the piano (this was in ‘Trashman’s Girl-a-Rama‘) and several of them hammered out the song then. More songs have been born in Trashman’s than in any place in the block. Duffey accompanied them on a house banjo (he hadn’t his own banjo with him) and all of the unofficial members of the Pelican Glee Club sang thus:

“Is it true you have abused it?                                                                                                                Have you battered it and boozed it?                                                                                                       Are you sorry you misused it                                                                                                            Horribly?                                                                                                                                                        Does it need the Great Forgiver?                                                                                                                  Is it feeling sensitiver?                                                                                                                                    Is it shrunken to a sliver?                                                                                                                               Oh tell us how’s your liver,                                                                                                                          Mr. B.”

I love how a deadly serious discussion segues into a number at the drop of a hat. It is loony!  There are dozens of these unexpected turns in any Lafferty story, but some just stand out.

Sometimes he slips you right into an alternate reality where the world has become a comic strip or cartoon.

[I don’t know why the text for the lyrics came out the way they did. I was trying to get the lines to be single spaced which the editor doesn’t let you do. So I spent several minutes hitting the space bar to get the lines single spaced and now it comes up all mish-mashed. It appears normal when I re-open it in the editor so it will have to stay as is. Sorry!]

 


THE MAN WITH THE SPECKLED EYES

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As usual I am reviewing the introduction and, maybe, later reviewing some of the stories, or the book as a whole.

But probably not. I never do seem to get back to it.

And I usually see no reason to when I get into the book. It is a collection of Lafferty stories, nearly all I will enjoy immensely, and a few I will understand.

So far the only failing of this series (for me anyway) is in the choices for who writes the introduction. So far it is following the opposite of the Star Trek movie rule. The first and third introductions were good, the second and fourth were told by two men who mostly talked of themselves.

However Harlan Ellison had the advantage of having some relation to the man. And took a paragraph or two to relate something about Lafferty from his experience and not himself.

Richard A Lupoff spends most of his introduction talking incoherently about Lafferty being a practitioner of Orwell’s doublethink. And questioning how someone as smart and educated as Lafferty could believe in something as profoundly stupid as Catholicism. It should be noted that Lupoff has no real knowledge of Catholicism.

At the beginning of the introduction Lupoff confesses he only had a passing acquaintance with Lafferty – handshakes and a ‘how do you do?’ at conventions. At the end he goes into this bucket list fantasy about his friend Lafferty and Jack Vance.

I rarely, if ever, read introductions. No one buys a book for the introductions. But I read the Lafferty introductions because Lafferty is my favorite writer and I would like to read of the man. I hope, in future volumes of this series, they will get some writers (or editors or publishers) who had some interaction with the man – something real to relate.

And, perhaps, one who did not wonder how “someone so smart could believe in something so stupid.”

 


R.A. Lafferty’s ARGO Series

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What can I say? My favorite author also drank my favorite beer. Specifically Budweiser in a can. One could say that having that particular beer in that particular photo was just random and he could just as well had a Miller Lite bottle in his hand the next day, I prefer to think he liked Budweiser in a can.

Alright, enough of that, onto the series.

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I am not done with it yet. Goodnite!

Kidding. But I am not done with it yet. I am several pages into Tales of Midnight which is the second of the books that make up the third volume of the Argo series, More than Melchisedech.

When I was about two-thirds the way through Tales of Chicago, the first of the volumes that make up More than Melchisedech, when I was really worrying. Is this just all just going nowhere? Except for some character overlap, there wasn’t (at least to my eyes yet) much holding through between the volumes. It seemed to have a cast of characters that would appear here and there but I couldn’t see any particular reason why these people would be held together any more than chance meeting in real life would hold such people together (looking at things just on a eye level sequential sequence viewpoint).

The first book, Archipelago, was just that, the cast were treated, largely, as an archipelago of people. Each one occupied it’s own (to a large extent) vignette/archipelago. The second, The Devil is Dead, centered mostly on a single character, Finnegan, i.e., John Solli, but no relation to most of what went on before was discernible. Then Tales of Chicago shifted the main character again to one Melchisedech Duffey and we hear no more about Finnegan, i.e., John Solli until-

And then SPOILERS!!!!!! the relation of Duffey to the others is revealed (although I think I was daft not to get it quite earlier in Tales of Chicago (perhaps even earlier? a question I will ask myself when I read it again) but one doesn’t often read this level of meta-fiction)). And even the title of the first book, Archipelago makes self-referential sense.

I really felt lost at sea (even that is self-referential to the series and one wonders if Lafferty designed that for his reader to experience as well!) before the reveal. And when I say reveal, I do not mean it as sort of must see tv – character secret revealed on Entertainment Tonight! I mean it as more of a gradual unveiling.

Right now they are gathered all in St. Louis but Duffey has not found Finnegan. It is a beautifully written scene (all of it is really) and I know its significance won’t dawn on me until it is a memory.

If it was any other author, I would not have made it this far. But I often stumble through Lafferty’s worlds (which is really just one) deaf to half that is going on around me the first time around. The prose itself can suffice until the other part of me (the slower part) catches up! Loving it!


How Long? Where are We Going? And When is it Coming?

Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount
Gustave Dore

I am on the Beatitudes in my online catechism class now. I am not sure how long I should spend on such a thing. I could spend a day and answer the questions at the end correctly. I could probably answer the questions correctly without needing to read (or reread as I have read the beatitudes and some commentary on them before) the material. But these are things that men have studied and wrote about and applied to life’s various realities for centuries. When is it enough?

Of course just because you cover a subject once does not mean you cannot cover it again. I didn’t really mind finishing up Christ’s baptism in a day or so. A few points are covered in that event, but it is not essential. The beatitudes are quite important and I am not sure what I gain by a day’s study although it has already been more than that.

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I’m on Tales of Chicago of Lafferty’s Argo tale SPOILERS!!! – But not too badly now. I know the general theme, or at least one of them, of the whole tale as it was in the first book. But as far as narrative flow goes, this is a tough Lafferty read. Meaning I am not sure if all the events are going to be linked and sewn together in the end. We get a little taste of each of the characters and their lives after WWII and the second book follows the other life of a John Solli – Finnigan. He is the focus at the end of the first two books, but those endings are open-ended, they are not concluded, but pick up at a different point of a different life.

The third book, Tales of Chicago, that I am now on, so far hasn’t visited Finnigan at all, and I am not even sure if we will see him again. We have to see him again don’t we?

SPOILER!!! For those that may be reading and have travelled this tale (that would be very small window of people) I believe at least one of the themes is expressed by Mr. X to Abselom Stein at the end of Archipelago. I could be wrong, but the statements he make seem significant enough to be thematic.

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I also hope to be posting some writing here in the very near future. Huzzah!


The Summa, Archipelago, The Devil is Dead

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I am trying to get further into my catechism class, although January has been a bitch to get things started. One of the problems is the lengthy portions of the Thomas’ Summa you have to go through.

It is not that the sections of the Summa are necessarily difficult (although you do have to keep aware of the structure of his arguments, if you let your focus lapse you’ll get lost), but most of the points raised would never have occured to me. For instance I am on the baptism of Christ and John the Baptist. In the related Summa reading material there are questions (articles) that are stated thusly: Should He have been baptized with the baptism of John? Was that dove a real animal? Whether those who had been baptized with John’s baptism had to be baptized with the baptism of Christ? Was it right for him to be baptized when he was (at 30 instead of as a baby)? Etc, etc.

Now, I suppose that by the 13th century these questions had not only all been brought up a number of times, but were probably argued over a great deal. But, to be truthful, I have read the Gospels, and most of these questions never occured to me. Of course I can’t expect myself to ask the questions accumulated by over a millennia of men. I am just not creative enough to have thought to ask: Was that dove a real animal?

It is not a bad question. Is the wafer really the body of Christ? Is it really, or is it only symbolically and is really only a wafer?

In order to not simply fall asleep, I have to, before I tackle his argument, recognize some significance to the question being raised. Sometimes the objections will provide it, sometimes the replies. But sometimes I have to sit there and ask: what difference does it make?

Also, they sometimes have you read sections from the Baltimore Catechism which is literalist in a lot of places. For instance:

Q. 345. How many years passed from the time Adam sinned till the time the Redeemer came?

A. About 4,000 years passed from the time Adam sinned till the time the Redeemer came.

Eh, are we sure about that one? I would rather have a larger number range. How about sometime between 4,000 and 50,000? Do we really want to say specifically when man was first man? Man to be the first man in the Bible? Man to be responsible for sin before the sight of God? If we are going to take some parts of Genesis as non-literal, then I also think it wise to make all time measurements in the loosest possible sense.

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So, I finished Archipelago last week. What can I say? It’s Lafferty! It is hard to say anything definitive about the story although the thesis of it is contained in a letter from Mr. X to Absalom Stein:

“There is Pride in all of us, Absalom, and it must be broken. We all come to the passions and are shaken by it; Finnegan who goes to his many deaths; Casey who was dead and lives again; Hans and Henry who were born to balanced power and will both be broken to gibbering weakness before they die; Duffy who must find Him who is more than Melchisedech; Vincent who made peace with the world and will find that the world will not keep it; Dotty herself, and the Urchin, and Margaret the bonfire.”

Archipelago ends in a shoot out and Finnegan and Dotty (was it Dotty?) laying shot on the ground but their fates undecided. The Devil is Dead, presumably, picks up at an earlier time in Finnegan’s journeys. Although this is Lafferty, we cannot be sure if his journey in The Devil is Dead is before he was shot, after, concurrent, or even post-mortem.

The easiest character line to follow in the series (such a word to use for these works) is Finnegan. Finnegan, says Mr. X goes to his many deaths, and that we all come to the passions and are shaken by it. Finnegan is a vagabond drunk. His line is easy to see… for the moment. The others are harder to see. But they may get their time to line their paths plainly in the sand for us to see.

The Devil is Dead, so far, is a much more straight ahead piece of work; whereas Archipelago is very much like its name if you consider each character an island. After the surprise ending of Archipelago, we find Finnegan in a black-out state entangled with a group of people and a situation he has to figure out. He soon ends up on a voyage on the sea with the Devil himself. So far the story is mainly in the horror vein.


Certified and Cast Upon the Archipelago

[I just realized the title for this post makes no sense. Upon the Archipelago? It is not a singularity. Can you be “upon an archipelago?” You can be upon one of its islands, but you can never be upon ‘it’ in the singular. Cast Amongst the Archipelago? No, that doesn’t work either. Into? That would be closer. Just as you are not “upon” America or Europe (unless you are talking specifically of being on its soil) but are in America or Europe.

Thus, you can be cast amongst the islands of the archipelago as you are cast amongst the states that make up America. But you would be cast into the noun or proper name that stands for its constituents.]

 

I got my CPC-A certification certificate (diploma certificate? sounds fancier) in the mail today. So I am technically qualified to work in the field. Seeing postings on the AAPC website of people frantically posting about having the same qualifications as I and getting nowhere, leaves me no less anxious.

Now all I got to do is find some work. That will be the hard part. From what I have heard, it can be the very hard part.

I did, however, take the exam a month after graduating my course and I have absolutely no medical experience. 50 – 60% (or so a variety of sources tell me) fail this test on the first attempt. And that includes people with years of experience in the field of coding and billing.

I hope that counts for something.

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I started this most interesting tale Sunday night. As usual, I am at a lost to explain this work thus far. It may be far too early to grasp what is going on. So far we have had introductions to several characters, some conversations, and a legendary drinking contest (you never enter a drinking contest cold, mate!)

As usual the prose is a delight in itself, and Lafferty is pulling no punches in toying with etymologies. It is a little more restrained (mature?) than the unbridled flair of other works; earlier or contemporary with the Argo series.

I am hoping I will not be too distracted with other things (like the continued study my new “career” demands) to pay this the attention it deserves. Lafferty is subtly metaphysical writer. You may think you are reading a simple paragraph describing a man’s walk to the market, but you can actually be knee-deep in the ontological speculation.

Also present here as elsewhere in his work is tiny excursions of historical fact (usually delivered as quips from a character) that you wouldn’t ever think to look up or even question.

For instance early on a character over coffee remarks how the beverage was Christianized under Clement VIII. I have consumed copious amounts of the beverage in my lifetime. I even grind my own extra dark roast beans and brew in a press – I even make cold brew coffee (yummy!).

But it never occured to me to look up a single historical fact about it. It was simply something existing in the constellation of the plenum. But the sentence was so off the wall. How do you Christianize a drink? And before I knew it I was again, thanks to Lafferty, acquiring another piece of arcana.

Is it arcana?

I find the value of knowledge to be a little scrambled today. If it has no direct, physical application, or monetary value – why bother? Or without the flair of shock and awe. After all, no one would actually watch The Mythbusters if they were really doing science. They do the scientific method in spirit, but science (most science) isn’t about blowing stuff up. Like every job, there is a lot of BORING you do not see.

So arcana. Is it?

 

 

 


We Now (Slowly) Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Having finally finished school and acquired my certification, I am eager to get back a few thing things I have been putting off. Probably most pressing is getting into R.A. Lafferty’s Argo cycle:

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[Note: this is not a pick of my Argo collection, but a pic I lifted off of the esteemed Mr. Daniel Petersen from his site, The Ants of God Are Queer Fish.

I hope he does not mind.

My collection is only partly hardcopy. Tales of Midnight and Argo I only own digitally, the rest I own hardcopy.Hard to get all of them in a line up when they are not simultaneously on the same plane.]

Anyway, I am eager to get this series read because I do not know how long these digital copies will be functional on what machine for how long. I could get an update on my ePub reader tomorrow that makes the two books incompatible with the new software.

That, and I am eager to take the trip!

The next back burnered project was this:

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I had only reached (in the Adult Formation course I was taking) Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple before I had to put it on hold for the demands of school. It remains to be seen whether my internship and two jobs (hopefully a job in the medical field, no?) make this a project taken on even further in the future.

At the end of this course you get a certificate and I think I would be prouder of this one than any other. They also added a level two which is more generally theological/philosophical. The course curriculum for level 1 is here.

And, last but certainly not least, my writing. This has suffered a big-gloved, bitch-slap, crotch grab since January 2015. But I have been building back my finger muscle and coordination on my new typewriter for the last month. And when the job hunt is over, I am going to come on a swinging.

Having been with the typewriter for a month I can say it was no nostalgia that brought me back. I love the fact of having a first draft (alright I did a little writing…) that is as physically unique as the words themselves (as unique as I can make them anyway…). And if you look at the words on the paper, they are unique. No two people, except for perhaps two perfect secretaries from the 50’s typing at 90 words a minute without error, would type the same thing the same way. And since it is not diction, the two pages would not be the same anyway even if the words happened, by miracle, to be.

 


The Big Book of Science Fiction

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I got this the other day. It is edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer and it is quite a large collection. I did not buy it because there is a R.A. Lafferty story in it even though there is. I own that story in probably three other collections. No, I got this collection because of how many unheard of authors (unheard of by myself at least) are between its covers.

Now it is part and parcel of the elite clique in charge of science fiction and fantasy circle to poo-poo much of science fiction’s (and fantasy’s) origins as a American/British white male dominated field. I am not one of those people. Although I hate the phrase, I think it useful here: It is what it is. It was a white male (mostly American and British phenomena) dominated field for quite some time. Dominated but not exclusive.

Simple fact is it was thusly dominated because it was, in fact, thusly dominated. The people writing it and overwhelmingly the people reading were, and to a large extent still are, white males. I go to Norwescon here in the Seattle area and, say what you will, it is a white affair, baby. Some newcomers want to make an issue of it. It is a non-issue. Particularly of such a field as science fiction. Talk about a historically inclusive field with a historically inclusively dominate theme running through much of its history.

Plain fact of the matter is white male writers produced white male fans who in turn became the writers. Woman have been part of science fiction for decades now. More now than ever – but that is because of acceptability. Acceptability among women themselves is part of the bigger push, I believe, than anything else.

If someone asks me why there haven’t been as many black science fiction writers than there could have been, I am more likely to say, “because most of them thought it was stupid?”

For myself I don’t really care who, or what, the author is. And in general I avoid bios of authors. I know nothing about the actors I watch on television (mostly) and even less about musicians whose music I listen (mostly). I care about the story.

And I fucking mean that. You can have a message (for Christ’s sake I spent over a decade with Atlas Shrugged as my favorite novel!) but it better gel within the story. If not, it sticks out like a horny thumb through a peanut butter & jelly samich. Speaking of Atlas Shrugged, I still hold that she did a great job of melding message to story what with the force of the anvil over the head messaging in any lesser hands it would have been beyond intolerable. I know some people do, in fact, find the book intolerable, but if looked at dispassionately from a technical standpoint with that level of message she intertwined it quite well.

That rambling aside it remains true that my experience of science fiction (and to a lesser extent fantasy – I don’t read all that much of what is defined as fantasy) has been almost exclusively an American/British affair. And it has had the biggest impact, all around, on the development of the genre. That is just how the world works.

The introduction to this book doesn’t convey that they hold the Golden Age in much regard, that “… gee whiz, can do attitude…” Well, again the genre does not live outside the world that gave rise to it. And America was still just that sort of country that would produce that kind of work for young boys, and some men, to gobble up. You cannot divorce 30’s science fiction and 60’s science fiction from the society they rise in.

Would Frank Capra have been Quentin Tarantino if only born several decades later? Probably not, but he probably also would not have been Frank Capra – at least not the one who made such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life. We cannot divorce the artist entirely from his milieu. Even the rare genius has at least ephemeral feet in his time whether in reaction or protest or material.

And that rambling aside! So I was intrigued by the book. It is good to dip your feet in unfamiliar waters. Maybe I’ll find that there is even more reason why the American/ British dominance existed. Maybe they were also producing the only stuff worth reading! I don’t know. I doubt that, some of these entries are for Russian authors. A country not famous for producing poor writers. Producing shitty governments, check, but not shitty writers.

I’ll post any gems I find.

 


Placemarker for, hopefully, Future Posts

As often happens when I am neck deep in schoolwork and I post that I will not be able to post, things come up that I really feel an urge to discuss.

One such is the Hugo award for short story going to Cat Pictures Please – it is kind of hard to believe there isn’t a destructive element, a ruling element, out there when pieces like this are awarded as the best science fiction has to offer.

I hope to have more to say about it if I can later. Suffice it to say that if this is the best (or even the most popular) that science fiction has to offer now, science fiction is dead. Or at least in its death throes.

We merely have to determine if her death is from natural causes or homicide. I’m leaning towards murder.

Anyone remember the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes – or You Better Not Let ol’ Joe Stalin See You Stop Applauding First? They raise the unexceptional (or even completely outside the category) and you are expected to clap. Applause and praise for the unworthy will identify you as in the group and your duties are dispatched to you. Silence will let you roam the room for a time – but there will come a time when ol’ Joe is eyeing you… To call the sham for what it is is to be branded as outside the group, and to be submitted to the hate, to be non-Fan.

Mr. I can’t finish my series Martin last year even prescribed personality traits that a TruFan should have. He thereby threw Harlan Ellison clear outside of “fandom”. Actually threw anyone out who hasn’t conformed to the New Rulers that took over almost completely about ten years ago.

My favorite author, R.A. Lafferty, saw these people coming decades ago. But no one wanted to listen to a crazy old Catholic man.

They’re here!

I thought this was supposed to be a future post? Ah, it got away from me.

The other is I’d like to explore (from a time that science fiction awarded – at least in the short story realm – excellence and not rambling blog posts of little worth as blog posts) the theme of science fiction’s oft-overlooked treasure.

Science fiction can boast as having within her history two of the best American short stories writers. Yes two. I have another favorite author as well (he comes in the top 5 at least). I can only think of one thing these two men had in common, and that was their command of the short story. Particularly the sleight of hand, the magician’s trick, the short story with the twist.

These two authors were R.A. Lafferty and Fredric Brown. If you have never heard of the first, welcome to my blog; if not the second, you will know him as the writer of the Star Trek episode Arena (and several Hitchcock hour episodes as well). If you do not know the Star Trek episode Arena – I’m sorry you ended up at the wrong website.

I’ve talked little of Fredric Brown here. While he was a master of the short story (and the unparalleled master of the short-short story) his work was usually not very deep, many times there wasn’t much beyond the gimmick. But they were mostly fun stories that were pleasurable in their own right and showed a deft skill of execution. Their lightness had a cause. Fredric Brown was actually a mystery writer (of which he is more famous for usually – see The Fabulous Clip Joint or The Screaming Mimi) who did science fiction on the side while he was idle on the mysteries.

Again, future reference.