Category Archives: R.A. Lafferty

Graves, Balls and Crosses

Finished Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave on Tuesday. The whole focus of the book seems to even come at you elliptically – and at the last minute. It wasn’t until the final two chapters that it all came together. Before that I slogged through it for three weeks.

Because I thought there was nothing behind the curtain. Oh, there was something behind the curtain alright. A bet. That was what was behind that curtain. A bet of ultimate consequences.

This is one of those Lafferty books that I find slightly annoying in that, although I will want to reread it anyway, I have to reread it because I am sure I missed 99% of the fruit’s juice. He can throw so much indirection and misdirection at you (to say nothing of the constant word play) it is like coming into a joke at the punchline. You thought you were in a joke or a jest but only opaquely – and then the drum snap and the crowd laughter. Hold on! Back to the beginning.

If Lafferty were instructed to write the plain fact that a cat is on a mat, he’d entertain us for 40 pages and we still wouldn’t have a simple fact, but a multiplicity… a multiplicity that may involve a cat (a feline of some sort at least) and some derivative form of dorsal support. But the cat would have died and resurrected, or simply continued to decompose, or assumed a chair at the Institute for Impure Science and the mat would be constructed by St. Joseph himself (bonus points to whomever can guess the Lafferty reference there).

But once I got the hook. What a story! His stories are like the Spanish Inquisition – no one expects it!

Now to the balls and the crosses.

I was talking to suspected android/writing machine author (or time traveller, or possessor of the 48 hour day) John C. Wright the other day (actually he was talking, me and a few others were listening) about religion in science fiction (talk about an untapped field) and he mentioned G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross.

Few authors will get a pass to the front of the line. G.K. Chesterton is one of the few. I already own and am a HUGE fan of his books Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and I love his Father Brown stories. So when I heard mention this book about a duel (and one supposes debate) between a fledging secular atheist at the dawn of the 20th century and a Christian (I suppose a stand-in for Chesterton himself although I haven’t got that far yet) well, how can one resist that?

Think of it though. That was a new creature (pretty new, anyway) in 1905. Fresh and full of vigor, and full of utopian answers that were yet to kill millions upon millions of people. Although the French had the news.

Over a century before he and his brethren whittled down the edifice of Western Civilization enough where we can start to see the prayer mats our grandchildren will be kneeling – or bleeding – upon.

This should be a fascinating read.

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Still in the Grave and Summer Vacations

I am still reading Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. It is slow going. One, I really had this amped up in my mind. Two, this is one of his later books which consists mainly of dialogue and some pretty bizarre action. It seems to belong to a family of later Lafferty works like East of Laughter, Aurelia, and Serpent’s Egg. They are, all four of them, very similar in a lot of ways.

They are sort of like carnival philosophical dialogues if Augustine liked to write such things while slightly high on peyote. While the characters and the action are as some distorted, highly stylized cartoon/animation, the subject matter (both overall and in dialogue) center on technical theological and philosophical points. And on a first reading you can only get a flash – hold it – is he actually talking about eternity and the concept of time in relation to resurrection?

This is certainly NOT one of the Lafferty novels to start with. If one starts reading Lafferty from here, they probably won’t get very far. Better to start with the pretty straightforward Past Master.

I’m three weeks into The Elliptical Grave and I’m not sure what I am reading.

No news on the writing front, although daydreaming never stops. I am covering summer vacations at present and only have one day off at a time. And, being too old for the job, it usually takes a significant part of that day to recuperate to functionality!


The Elliptical Grave

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I can’t believe I am finally reading this! I really had given up hope of ever finding this in any form. So much so that I have to move it to the top of my reading list. Ahead, even, of other works of Lafferty that I have yet to get to like ARRIVE AT EASTERWINE, SINBAD THE THIRTEENTH VOYAGE, and the (or so I’ve heard) impenetrable NOT TO MENTION CAMELS, and a couple of others.

I started Grave last night. So far it is pure Lafferty and pretty interesting. I will, of course, write a review when I am done. A review, as all my Lafferty reviews, that will probably be a mixture of confusion and praise.


I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE!!!

Sing that as falsetto or Norse metal growl it still sounds great! I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE ARRRR!!! ONTO THE VILLIAGE, MATES FOR TONIGHT WE FEED ON HUMAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously though. For about four years I have been on the hunt for R.A. Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. I searched for a hard copy with absolutely no luck. The closest I got was some sort of online documentation that a private copy with handwritten page numbering had sold on eBay in 2009.

There were a couple of links in earlier searches that claimed to have The Elliptical Grave but took you to dubious websites written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Probably Russian, and no one not internet-stupid clicks a button on a Russian site – or does anything but high tail it out of there. Erase history, wipe all caches, and pray to St. James they have a dime left to their name come morning!

But I went a little further today and landed on a site that turned out not to be a link to the cesspool of the internet but just a plain old long online text of the book. Man, I copy and pasted that sucker into Scrivener, hit the Compile as ePub button and flopped that baby like a eel onto my iBooks on my iPad.

Kudos to iBooks for letting me just put a file like that right into the program to read. Kudos to Scrivener for being the awesome product it has always been, but manages to surprise me anew every time. It made a great formatted book in about ten seconds with little effort. All I did was hit command c on the website, opened new project in Scrivener, opened a single chapter file, commanded V that whole book into the single chapter and ran it off in compile. Less than a minute for the whole operation.

Later I think I’ll work with it in Scrivener and make it into a more presentable eBook, maybe even give it a cover (for myself, I’m not the bootlegging type) and break it up into chapters. Although that last would require me to read it first.

And, lastly, a little thumbs down to Kindle for not being able to do anything with it that wasn’t from Amazon.


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.