Reading Priorities

I have found out that I am to turn fifty in a few short months. Really, it is news to me.

Anyway, faced with this fact I have decided I must be more scrupulous in what I choose to read. I have always felt it a duty to finish any book read past the first chapter. I find myself in the dilemma of not wanting to finish Tim Powers LAST CALL. It is not a bad work, but I have so much more reading to do and not as much time to do it in. Even of the books I have, I have this habit of buying new books while other books dust on my shelves. I even feel a guilt not finishing this book, that it has to be the victim of this new policy of mine.

A movie takes about two hours to finish, a book dozens (for me at least, I do not read fast – and the older I get the slower I read).

I have always wanted to read, for instance, PG Wodehouse. I delight in light television shows with witty dialogue, rare as they are. I have been told a dozen times I should try him out. When?

Have I finished reading my Father Brown stories from Chesterton? Have I finished the stories of Flannery O’Connor? No. And I find her story, Revelation, to be one of the best short stories I have read. What about the Bible? Much of that I still have not conquered. St. Augustine I have not read aside from samplings from a philosophy course. I still have unread Lafferty (I chose to pace myself on the Lafferty, but it is a pace that as been too slow). And many, many, more besides.

I also have to break the habit of reading four or five books at once. I can’t really complain about not writing when I spend all the possible writing time reading.

A Few Lafferty Quotes

I do not believe I have posted these before. The first two are from an interview Cranky Old Man From Tulsa, the other is from a talk he gave at DeepSouthCon in 1979 called The Day After The World Ended. The third is from the first book of Lafferty’s The Coscuin Chronicles: The Flame is Green

Q: My experience is that often if a story even touches on such things, the editor will freeze up and think he’s being preached at. You can write about, say, Hindu gods with no problem, but if you touch on Christianity, even if all the characters are doubters, the editor freezes. Have you ever found this to be so?

RAL: Yes, that’s very much so. But you’ve got it backwards. The preachers are really those of a religion that is not called a religion, which is secular liberalism. That’s really the established religion of our country, and of our world. It doesn’t allow too much opposition. Now people who go down the secular liberal line don’t want anything that challenges it. Hinduism doesn’t challenge it because it is too distant. Christianity does, even Born-Again Christianity and the emotional ones. They have something that the secular liberal world is lacking.

Q: What are your religious beliefs? Do you feel that your stories echo your beliefs soundly? Or do you try to keep these views from entering into your stories?

RAL: I am a Roman Catholic of what is considered an old-fashioned sort, as there are a number of modernities flickering over the Church right now, none of them very deep. I do not attempt specifically to put my beliefs into my stories, not to keep them out either. An exception is Past Master, because religion was the subject of that novel. But the belief is part of the person who writes the stories and it will be there naturally.

There’s a double standard in this area though. There is considerable preaching against preaching, and an amazing amount of decrying religion by the people of the most intolerant religions. Belief is religion. The most rampantly righteous religions in the world are the religions of secularism, humanism, liberalism, nihilism, scientism, inhumanism, and diabolism. We have those with hatred as the central commodity, those with perversions as central, those with disorder a s central, those with worthlessness as central. We cheap-shotting as a crusading religion. And it is out of these that militant preachers come. Certainly three quarters of SF is given over to the relentless preaching of those of the anti-religious religions. They are the ones who carry on the biggest feuds and the covert as well as open attacks and who recommend the boycotts. The longest work by an SF practitioner in recent years is a preachment for the worthlessness for the sake of worthlessness, and it will not accept anything but total worthlessness for everyone.

Cranky Old Man From Tulsa 1990

Science Fiction has long been babbling about cosmic destructions and the ending of either physical or civilized worlds, but it has all been displaced babble. SF has been carrying on about near-future or far-future destructions and its mind-set will not allow it to realize that the destruction of our world has already happened in the quite recent past, that today is “The Day After The World Ended”. … I am speaking literally about a real happening, the end of the world in which we lived till fairly recent years. The destruction or unstructuring of that world, which is still sometimes referred to as “Western Civilization” or “Modern Civilization”, happened suddenly, some time in the half century between 1912 and 1962. That world, which was “The World” for a few centuries, is gone. Though it ended quite recently, the amnesia concerning its ending is general. Several historiographers have given the opinion that these amnesias are features common to all “ends of worlds”. Nobody now remembers our late world very clearly, and nobody will ever remember it clearly in the natural order of things. It can’t be recollected because recollection is one of the things it took with it when it went…

The Day After the World Ended: Deep South Con 1979

“Things are set up as contraries that are not even in the same category. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial, the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Thus I will describe myself as a radical conservative liberal; but certain of the tainted red fish will swear that there can be no such fish as that. Beware of those who use words to mean their opposites. At the same time have pity on them, for usually this trick is their only stock in trade.”

The Flame is Green: Chapter 5 Muerte De Boscaje

Current Reading

First, I finished Sophia House. If you haven’t read the excellent Father Elijah then there is no sense in reading this first. Sophia House is a (sort of) prequel to Father Elijah that would not work if read sequentially.

Since this is the day and age where you can find out everything yourself with a click, take my recommendation, read up on it in Amazon, decide for yourself. I thought the payoff way well worth the read. Don’t the long philosophical discussions turn you off, they serve the theme at the end.

Now, onto NOT TO MENTION CAMELS. I have owned this book for four years and, being depressed over missing the third LaffCon, decided to go ahead and jump into what some say is his most bizarre and impenetrable book.

I take that as a challenge, sir. I still can’t say what some of the stuff I’ve read of his is about!

My Heart Leap Up

I’ve started to read My Heart Leaps Up by R.A. Lafferty. These are a series of chapbooks published in the late 1980’s. Unfortunately My Heart Leaps Up is only part one of four parts of a larger work called Up a Green Tree. Parts two through four have yet to be published although written over three decades ago.

I had figured I would hold out until the time the others finally got published. But hell, what if I die first? So in I go.

And it is so far, like most things I have read by the man, absolutely delightful. I am going to have to query on when the rest is coming out.

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.

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

lafferty-elliptical-grave-1989_1_a239c31a042e19ba25bf7814f771e232

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.

FEAST OF LAUGHTER 4!

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FEAST OF LAUGHTER 4!

[NOTE: The link is to AmazonSmile which is Amazon’s charity site. So pick a charity, you Scrooges, and buy this fanzine! Part of your purchase will go to whatever charity you choose. But choose something good, like St. Jude Children’s Hospital or mine, Compassion International. Not something lame like End Beef Now!  or World Proletariate! Oppressed Vagina League!]

And here is a link to Feast of Laughter itself and the contents for each issue. As you can see, number four is knocking it out of the park!

It took a while for this baby to come out, but out it is! This is the fourth installment of the Lafferty Appreciation series (you can’t call it a magazine at 386 pages – how about periodical? sounds a little stodgy for something so fun but, oh my God am I still talking?).

And this time there is a brand new, never before published Lafferty story, THE ROD AND THE RING! The first new story, I have heard, in fifteen or so years! The man passed in 2002 but he left an extensive, so I have read, collection of unpublished manuscripts. Manuscripts that I hope we’ll all see someday.

Issue four has some heavy hitters in it including Gene Wolfe (worth the price right there, well, I mean besides it being a Lafferty appreciation I mean…) Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois and many others.

There is Lafferty’s notes for DeepSouthCon speech The Day After the World Ended. This is important material for understanding a lot of what goes on in Lafferty’s stories. Put it this way, the title of the talk is about an actual event that really happened. Don’t remember that occurring? That is one of the symptoms!

Two interviews are reprinted in this issue: Cranky Old Man From Tulsa, and Maybe They Needed Killing & the Importance of Happiness (yes, in the same title!).

Oh, shit, I just saw Michael Swanwick is in this volume as well.

Works inspired by Lafferty is always fun. It’s fun to see what comes through various lenses .

Are you still reading this? Go get your copy!