Friday, October 17, 2014

FFB: R. A. Lafferty -- Strange Doings

Let me say a good word about Donald A. Wollheim.  Others might have bad words to say, but here he was a huge figure in the SF field.  Just check out this Wikipedia entry on his work as an editor, and you'll see what I mean.  He was a man who published writers that other editors seemed to have little interest in.  At Ace Books, he published the first novels by Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, and R. A. Lafferty, to name three, and he published the first collections of stories by Dick and Lafferty.  When he established DAW Books, he continued to publish Dick and Rafferty (and of course many others).

R. A. Lafferty's work isn't easy to describe.  In fact, I think most people just give up, so I won't even try.  Let's just say that you're not likely to run across any other stories like Lafferty's stories.  They're quite readable but deeply odd or oddly deep or both.  I've read three of four of his novels, and they're even harder to describe.  The other day I had a hankering to reacquaint myself with some of his stories, so I pulled this little volume off the shelf.  It contains 16 stories, and I wanted to read "Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas" again.  It's a story about a census taker who does his job all too well, told very much like a tall tale, but not like any tall tale you've ever heard before.  While I had the book down, I reread "Continued on Next Rock," a story about some archaeologists who have among their number a very strange woman and who are joined by an even stranger man.  It's about unrequited love, among other things.  There's archaeology, too.  I couldn't resist reading "Ride a Tin Can," which is something you definitely won't want to do after reading the story.  "Rainbird" is a time-travel story.  You've never heard of Higgston Rainbird, and after you read the story, you'll know why.  

If you've never read Rafferty, this collection would be a good starting place.  I couldn't reach my copy of Nine Hundred Grandmothers.  That might be even better.

Strange Doings -- Table of Contents:
Camels and dromedaries, Clem.
Continued on next rock.
Once on Aranea.
Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas.
The man with the speckled eyes.
All but the words.
The transcendent tigers.
World abounding.
Ride a tin can.
Entire and perfect chrysolite.
Incased in ancient rind.
The ugly sea.
Cliffs that laughed.


George said...

2004R. A. Lafferty was a unique writer. And he wrote unique stories. I reviewed NINE HUNDRED GRANDMOTHERS a few years ago. I like Lafferty's short stories better than his novels.

mybillcrider said...

I'm not sure I ever understood everything that was going on in his novels.

Rick Robinson said...

I never understood half of what went on in novels or stories, and that led me to stop reading him after THE REEFS OF EARTH, one of his earlier books. Maybe I should try again, but with so many other things clamoring to be read, I doubt I will.

mybillcrider said...

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one who was confused by those books.

Matthew said...

I checked out this book from my library years ago. Later, I found a paperbook copy and even though I don't usually buy books I can get at the library I did this one.
Which is good since it seems not to be in collection anymore.

Gene Wolfe called Lafferty the most original writer ever and he's right.

Todd Mason said...

STRANGE DOINGS, NINE HUNDRED GRANDMOTHERS, and DOES ANYONE ELSE HAVE SOMETHING FURTHER TO ADD? all make fine introductions to Lafferty, and I think most of his best work is in shorter form, but I'd hate to lose SPACE CHANTEY or PAST MASTER...maybe OKLA HANNALI is the best novel to start with.

FWIW, I think it's more fair to say Terry Carr saw his first novels into print, with Wollheim's tacit approval (or at least not sufficiently strenuous disapproval...and the publishing of this collection in his own line later suggests more the former). A. A. Wyn was still the publisher when the first Ace Specials, with the covers by the Dillons, were rolling out, I believe...

mybillcrider said...

Probably true about Carr, but I still give Wollheim a lot of credit.

I'm pretty sure PAST MASTER wouldn't be the place to start. Or THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, either. Maybe OKLA HANNALI would be it, all right.

Todd Mason said...

Though it was close...PAST MASTER came out in the Ace Specials series maybe six months or so before SPACE CHANTEY was published in an Ace Double with Ernest Hill's PITY ABOUT EARTH.

Lafferty beginning his literary career with 1960 short stories in the NEW MEXICO QUARTERLY REVIEW (with a folkloric tall-tale fantasy) and in SCIENCE FICTION, Robert Lowndes's adventurous scrounger of a magazine, just seems About Right.

Todd Mason said...

How memory plays tricks...THE REEFS OF EARTH was the third novel into print, at Berkley, so perhaps Damon Knight had a hand in there...not until FOURTH MANSIONS in '69 did Lafferty have another Ace Special. 900 G coming out in '70 in that line.

Todd Mason said...

And Wollheim was always open to good work...he just wanted to make sure it would sell. When it was him holding down desks at Avon and Ace, or when it was his own money at DAW.

mybillcrider said...

That must mean that the Rafferty volumes sold well enough at the time they were published. I was buying them off the rack, and I think PAST MASTER even went through a couple of printings at Ace.

Rick Robinson said...

I know I bought REEFS OF EARTH off the rack, but I have no idea who published it, nor do I recall the cover.

mybillcrider said...

Great site. Thanks for the link.