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Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (November 7 1914 – March 18 2002) was an American absurdist science fiction and fantasy writer, famous for his humorous use of metaphor, narrative structure, and language in his very peculiar forms of etymological wit.
Born: November 7th, 1914
Died: March 18th, 2002
Quotes: 102 sourced quotes total (includes 23 about)
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"A newspaper man has got to know when to keep his mouth and his mind shut. You might end up dead." "Isn't that the usual fate of men, Harry?"
I tried to tell you, but words will not convey it. One has to be inside it to comprehend the magnitude. … It was the beginning. It's the only thing there is. But it was haphazard for so many aeons that it spooks me to think about it. There were always three or four maintaining it, but there was no one person strong enough to take it all over. "Somewhere there must be someone strong enough to take it all over," I said to myself in a direful moment, but the strongest person I could think of was myself. I've been doing it ever since. … By my attention I hold it all in being. Nothing exists unless it is perceived. If perception fails for a moment, then that thing fails forever. … I hate to be misjudged. They say that I bear it all on my shoulders, as though I were a stud or a balk. It's not on my great shoulders, it is amazing head on my great shoulders that maintains all.
"My brain reels," moaned Homer the man. "Reality melts away."
"Pirates are perhaps the greatest invention of Earth people," Elizabeth interrupted loftily, "and their pirate stories are wonderful entertainment for small children. We have to give Earth people credit for that, they invented pirates."
"Do not be deceived by the way men of bad faith misuse words and names," the Black Pope was saying, and now his head was quite powdered with snow. "It used to be only the English who excelled in the deception of words. Then the French went even beyond them, and now the whole world is adept at it."
"Tell me the truth, girl: how does the man next door ship out trailer-loads of material from a building ten times too small to hold the stuff?" "He cuts prices."
When very young, Hannali would sit on the black ground and chuckle till it was feared he would injure himself. Whatever came over him, prenatal witticism or ancestral joke, he seldom was able to hold his glee. In all his life he never learned to hold it in.
If you have come with high expectations of anything, you have come to the wrong place.
This petty place cannot be Hell, Roadstrum? Ah, but it is my friend. That, you see, is the hell of it.
As regards very small celestial bodies of a light-minded nature, the law of levity is allowed to supersede the law of gravity.
You show signs of levity, and that is the one thing not permitted here. This place is for serious persons only. If you are not serious now, by hell you'll get serious pretty quick!
'We are strangers, lost and bemused," Roadstrum said to the lady. "We have landed here by accident. We are looking for a lady who was singing, the lady who (according to silly myth) is identical with the planet and who sang the planet into being."
The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it … Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian.
"I am mistress of all the sciences. I go so far beyond all else that my work is called magic. I manipulate noumena, regarding monads as points of entry tangential to hylomorphism. As to the paradox of Primary Essence being contained in Quiddity, the larger in the smaller, I have my own solution. The difficulty is always in not confusing Contingency with Accidence. Do you understand me?" "Sure. You're a witch."
"There are only two possible statements that can be made about the worlds," the Black Pope of the Carlist Hills had lectured one day. "Alpha: There is a God. Omega: there is not a God. To adhere to either of these two statements strongly is to be logical at least. Not to do so is to be in the snivelling wasteland between and to have no point of contact with logic or reason."
"Oh, I cannot abide these complacent clods," I exclaim. "I cannot relate to these opulent oafs who are laughing in the streets. They are not high enough or low enough. For my love I must find the poor, the deprived, the fornicators, the addicts, the drunkards, the unwashed, ..." "Oh, these are the poor," the clod told me. "This is the poorest street in town, Index Y-Z. It's hard to tell them apart now except that the poor spend more ostentatiously than the rich do."
I am the consummate scientist, Road-Storm. Science has suffered in having her name applied to mechanics, an ugly step-child of hers. Matter herself is a humiliation to the serious. We cannot make it vanish forever, but can make it seem to. For my purpose that is even better. All matter can be modified as long as it is kept subjective. Let us keep it so. … Those who fail to understand my science may call it magic or hypnotism or deception. But it is only my projection of total subjectivity.
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.
Wrong prong, bong gong.
It's an American classic.
An excess of science will leave none of us alive.
There are no rules. We do whatever seems the most fun.
One of the few writers who have made me laugh aloud.
When you can't depend on the Devil, who can you depend on?
I will never tell anyone how much fun it is in this place.
When we travel we find how greatly our boyhood dreams are outstripped by reality.
The best time to write a story is yesterday. The next best time is today.
[R. A. Lafferty] has to be the maddest, the most colorful, the most unexpected writer alive.
True love is that we should hate whatever interferes with our vision of the high and the lowly.
Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
Paul, there is something very slack about a future that will take a biting satire for a vapid dream.
The shapes they take are both objective and subjective. One can shape them a little with one's own mind.
Be not nervous. In a very little while you will either be a member or you will not be.
I've had enough of this place where they stuff you full of bull and then hunt you down and kill you every day.
I'll break the spell or the science of her singing yet. As the only man left it devolves on me to do it.
Lafferty has the power which sets fire behind your eyeballs. There is warmth, illumination, and a certain joy attendant upon the experience. He's good.
Though my short stories are the more readable, my novels do have more to say; and they will, if anyone has the patience for it, repay a rereading.
There are skies we have not seen yet! There are whole realms still unvisited by us. We will not be penned in even a giant's pen. We fly!
These men were the salt of the skies, the one out of ten who had determinedly stayed alive through the whole war, very often hurt, absolutely refusing to be killed.
It isn't my profundity that makes me a mental marvel, it's the amazing detail of my perception. There's nobody else who can keep so many things on his mind at once.
The works of R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002) are not too far out be reviewed by an ordinary human being. However, one must reach into an awkwardly positioned dimension to lay hold of them.
It was the most exclusive club in the world, in all the worlds, and this is a mighty pale statement to make about it. Let us emphasize that it was hard to get into.
The eye in his hand winked at him dourly. Eye was a tough old gump, not given to easy enthusiasms. Roadstrum put it back in his pocket and once more contemplated his good fortune.
Now then, I have given you a short fair hearing as the law requires. I do not solicit the support of your party, though, in all honesty, if it had more than one member I might.
'''''I'm the guy who keeps it all going. If I weren't here, you wouldn't be here either.''' I know it all, I'm a smart-aleck. Loan-sharking and fencing. Any time I can't see you, you've had it.
It was their way of defying that tricky place Earth. That place will hurt you if you let it get the hop on you. They spooked the Earth spooks away with their stories. They whistled in the dark.
The good stories, of course, write themselves. And somebody wants to know who are the really good writers, and how many of them there are. There aren't any. Most of the writers are likeable frauds. Some are unlikable frauds.
'''''Lend ear while things incredible we bring about And Spacemen dead and deathless yet we sing about''':— And some were weak and wan, and some were strong enough, And some got home, but damn it took them long enough!''
R. A. Lafferty, who died at 87 on March 18, was undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did that ever there was. He was a genius, an oddball, a madman. His stories… are without precedent...
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.
"Strangers may not lodge complaints till they have been in residence here for ninety days," the Cacique said, "and no stranger has ever remained with us that long." "My complaint won't hold for ninety days. I accuse you people of eating men."
"Here there are warlocks and mandragoras and witches," the navigation data log issued. "When your machines start to go droll on you you're in trouble," Roadstrum growled. "I can get wise answers from my men. I don't need a machine for that."
This myth filter was necessary. The ship logs could not tell it rightly nor could any flatfooted prose. And the deeds were too bright to be viewed direct. They could only be sung by a bard gone blind from viewing suns that were suns.
When you have shot and killed a man you have in some measure clarified your attitude toward him. You have given a definite answer to a definite problem. For better or worse you have acted decisively. In a way, the next move is up to him.
They were down on Kentron-Kosmon, an insignificant world. And yet, in the middle of Space-Port there (a cow pasture rather; it wasn't much of a spaceport) there was a nice plaque of electrum and on it was lettered: This is the Exact Center of the Universe.
I do not understand your custom in this, but we do not intend to fight until all of us are dead. We desire very much that none of us be dead. And we will fight till all of you are dead only if it is absolutely necessary.
I write as clearly as I am able to. I sometimes tackle ideas and notions that are relatively complex, and it is very difficult to be sure that I am conveying them in the best way. Anyone who goes beyond cliche phrases and cliche ideas will have this trouble.
Man-a-bleeding, but they broke out of that place! You say it can't be done, but they did it. Their expectations had been too high, and no second-rate Hell could hold them. In a way it was their greatest feat. No one else had ever broken out of there before.
R. A. Lafferty is unique, in the old, unspoiled sense of the word. A genius as wild and joyful, delightful and unpredictable as his comes along but once in a lifetime — this lifetime. Cherish him. If there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him.
I am Aeaea. To my notion there is no other lady anywhere. And I resent your calling this a silly myth. I made the myth and it is not silly; charming rather. Well, come along, come along! You are my things now, and you will come when I call you.
A crisis should have thunder in it. If Finnegan and Dotty had been able to generate a crisis with thunder and lightning, things might have been different. But what if the last anchor-cable parts when no one knows it, and the drift has already begun? This is the crisis come and gone.
"For one crime there is no asylum even in the Club," whispered Horace the Snake, who had sharp ears for whispering. "For all other crimes we give asylum, for the most heinous crime in the universe we give no asylum." "What is the most heinous crime in the universe?" Roadstrum asked. "Killing a songbird."
Sometimes traveling people will be talking together. They will say how good it is in some places and how bad it is in others. And, sooner or later, one of them is bound to mention it. "Talk about really being out in the boondocks!" he will say, "there's a little planet named Earth —"
I will be double-damned to a better Hell than Hellpepper Planet if I will have my ending here in peace! Peace be not the end of my epic! An epic is already failed if it have an ending. I don't care how it ended the first time — it will not end the same now!
Gaetan had always had a terrible finality about him. Was this his great sin — that he was already completed? I will intercede for him tonight in my own not entirely mechanical way. To be completed is to be finished in so many ways! May that twinkling man Gaetan be undone a little and saved.
Lafferty's first full-length work is an event. As with everything the man writes, the wind of imagination blows strongly, with the happy difference that in a novel he can reach full gale-force, Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else's. This is a great galloping madman of a novel, drenched in sound and color.
We ourselves become the bridges out over the interval that is the world and time. It is a daring thing to fling ourselves out over that void that is black and scarlet below and green and gold above. A bridge does not abandon its first shore when it grows out in spans towards the further one.
R .A. Lafferty has always been uniquely his own man, but in this book he surpasses himself. It is wild, subtle, demonic, angelic, hilarious, tragic, poetic, a thundering melodrama and a quest into the depths of the human spirit. You'll think about it for a long time and probably go back to it more than once.
Death is for a long time. Those of shallow thought say that it is forever. There is, at least, a long night of it. There is the forgetfulness and the loss of identity. The spirit, even as the body, is unstrung and burst and scattered. One goes down to death, and it leaves a mark on one forever.
''His soaring vaunt escaped the blooming ears of us, He's gone, he's dead, he's dirt, he disappears from us! Be this the death of highest thrust of human all? The flaming end of bright and shining crewmen all? Destroyed? His road is run? It's but a bend of it; '''Make no mistake, this only seems''''' the end of it.
Brannagan had been to more places than Finnegan had, including the same places. He had not only skirted the d'Entre-Casteau Islands, he had walked all over them. He had not only sailed through China Straits, he had dived in them for old wrecks. He had not only climbed the Cloudy Mountains, but had panned gold in their streams and dips.
Roadstrum had a way of putting it on a little thick himself. "Be there a man among you who doubts my demesne or destiny, then I have fared in vain," he said. "I bare my throat to the treacherous steel —" "All right, all right," the three tough crewmen capitulated. We're with you all the way and in everything. Only spare us the 'act.'"
Lafferty deliberately creates the mythic effect through a technique I call effective arcanum, and that rather than examining his work with the conventional tools of science fiction criticism, we need to examine his system — firstly for our pleasure, and secondly so that we may re-create it (because the sign of an authentic religo-magical system is the power of the followers to reproduce the results).
In its flexibility and in its wide-open opportunities, this is the total Utopia. Anything that you can conceive of, you can do in this non-world. Nothing can stop you except a total bankruptcy of creativity. The seedbed is waiting. All the circumstances stand ready. The fructifying minerals are literally jumping out of the ground. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. Well, why doesn't it?
One of the things I loved about collaborating with Nick was that he was like R. A. Lafferty. Remember those old books for science fiction beginners, the ones that said “If you like Asimov , read Clement” or “If you like Sheckley, read Tenn”? And then you’d come to “If you like Lafferty, buy everything of his you can find before no one writes or thinks remotely like him.”
"'Monday and Tuesday and Monday and Tuesday and Monday and Tuesday,' so the poor slaves had to sing in their labor for the puca. And finally a great savior broke the charm. 'And Wednesday too' he said, and then it was all over with." "Roadstrum is the great savior who breaks the charm," Roadstrum announced. "I will set a Wednesday-term to the monster. But there are other elements in this…"
In this growing there are no really new things or new situation. There are only things growing out right, or things growing out deformed or shriveled. There is nothing new about railways or foundries or lathes or steel furnaces. They also are green-growing things. There is nothing new about organizations of men or of money. All these growing things are good, if they grow towards the final answers that were given in the beginning.
Listen now to a series of sayings that always come hard to brave people. Our own great movement will grow with its own impetus wherever it is not blighted. We will break up persons of blight and centers of blight. But often, and this will be the hard part for all of you to understand, we will warn and advise before we kill. And quite often we will not kill at all. Try to understand this.
'''''The place itself, and ne'er a good word spoke of it, You shiver when you even make a joke of it.''' Though some go cocky, gaily in hand-basket there, The most fare sadly in a clammy casket there… Undying pain and gaping loss, no doubt of it. A wide way leading in and no way out of it! But none have told the blackest horror shrouded there — Tall teeming terror‚ but it sure is crowded there.''
No true reader who has read as much as a single story by Raphael Aloysius Lafferty needs to be told that he is our most original writer. … Just about everything Lafferty writes is fun, is witty, is entertaining and playful. But it is not easy, for it is a mingling of allegory with myth, and of both with something more ... In fact, he may not be just ours, but the most original writer in the history of literature.
Beware of those who manufacture final answers as they go along, of those who will catch you on their catch-phrases and let you perish in the traps. All the final answers were given in the beginning. They stand shining, above and beyond us, but they are always there to be seen. They may be too bright for us, they may be too clear for us. Well then, we must clarify our own eyes. Our task is to grow out until we reach them.
The witch has been playing a semantic trick on us. We were already pretty salty animals when we came here! It is toy animals she has turned us into. We have been working against ourselves, trying to be men again, but to be her idea of men, since we live in her context. But she does not know real animals, or men. … Be you not toys any longer! Stir up the wild business in you. You have to be real animals before you can be men.
"I'm doing pretty good. I'm a seminal genius, they say, and I have the most sophisticated tools ever devised to work with. And I do build some good things for them. I'm quite successful. I'll tell you something, though. In the daytime, with all those sophisticated tools, and particularly if someone's watching me, I just stall around. But at night — " "Ah, at night! What do you do then, Hondstarfer?" "Put away those damned sophisticated tools and get my stone hammers. That's when I build the good stuff. Don't give me away, though, Roadstrum.
Do you not know that the underground lands are shared by many worlds? It is all one underground, a vast place, and it is but a trick on which globe one will surface on coming out. This is the reason that the inside of every world is so much vaster than the outside. You are fooled by the shape of these little balls on which things live and crawl; you see the universe inside out; you see the orbs as containing and not contained. I will teach you to see it right if you please me.
"This is the Improbable Club," said the President-Emeritus in a heavy muffled voice, "and you things have made an improbable entry. Many unqualified persons have attempted to crash this Club, but you have done it literally. Whether you will be able to qualify for our high membership is another thing. It will not matter. We accept, for a brief moment at least, all who come here as members. We will quickly measure you one way or another. We have no living ex-members. Sit you down, all, and unwind your ears. Remember, each topper must be topped."
Something was working in Roadstrum's little ape head. When he had been a man he had always known when it was time for action; particularly he had always known the last moment when action was still possible. He knew now that that moment was come very near. … Then a blinding light burst upon Roadstrum, and he saw the truth of the situation. Many things Roadstrum was not, and it was sometimes wondered why he was the natural leader of all the men. He was their leader because he was a man on whom the blinding light sometimes descended.
The war was finished. It had lasted ten equivalent years and taken ten million lives. Thus it was neither of long duration nor of serious attrition. It hadn't any great significance; it was not intended to have. It did not prove a point, since all points had long ago been proven. What it did, perhaps, was to emphasize an aspect, sharpen a concept, underline a trend. On the whole it was a successful operation. Economically and ecologically it was of healthy effect, and who should grumble? And after wars, men go home. No, no, men start for home. It's not the same.
Mr. Lafferty says, "I'm the fellow who, for more than a quarter century, has faithfully maintained the thesis that all writers should be funny-looking and all stories should be funny. Almost all of the evil in the world is brought about by handsome writers doing pompous pieces. But sometimes readers tell me that such a story of mine is not funny at all. 'Wait, wait,' I tell them. 'You're holding it upside-down. Now try it.' And sure enough it is funny if they get ahold of it right. This caution is especially applicable to the story 'Junkyard Thoughts.' Be sure you're not holding it upside-down or it will be merely bewildering."'''
Characters in Lafferty stories don't act or speak as normal folks do. Impossible things happen routinely. Indeed, the whole philosophical works are staged like a two-bit vaudeville act, with characters reminiscent of sideshow hucksters and midway card-sharps, promising marvelous prizes with one hand and taking your money with the other, leaving you wondering what the hell this thing is being put into your hands while you're being shuffled out the back door. But the prize here is the key to the kingdom, and the show is pretty funny. There is in fact no limit to Lafferty's humor — even the old banana-peel gag will be trotted out if it'll get a laugh.
And I love it as a reader. He [Robert Aickman] will bring on atmosphere. He will construct these perfect, dark, doomed little stories, what he called "strange stories." I find the same with Lafferty. We were talking about Lafferty earlier as somebody who I'd love to read. I am hoping someone will do the complete short stories of R.A. Lafferty. What is interesting is that when you read the early Lafferty, the closer he comes to what one might consider a normal story, the less successful he is … And Lafferty is something played in an Irish bar on an instrument that you're not quite sure what it is and you're humming the tune but you don't remember the words as you walk out.
The devils stroll the earth again and infect with the red sickness. They must, at all cost to themselves, destroy the growing tendrils before such can touch the other side. For, whenever one least growing creeper touches across the interval, that means the extinction of a devil. It is a thing to be tested. Notice it that whenever there is the special shrilling, when there is the wild flinging out of catchwords to catch you in, when there are the weird exceptions and inclusions, when there are specious arguments and the murderous defamations, when all the volubility of the voltairians and the cuteness of the queers has been assembled to confound you, then one green growth has almost reached across to the other side, one devil is in danger of extinction. Oh, they will defend against that!
Carr states that the characters of the Brunhilde are not true archetypes. Why, then they are false archetypes, and these also have their being. Kidd believes that X himself is in the process of becoming the Third Evil to fill the void left by the insufficiency of Papadiabolous and Seaworthy in the roles of devils. But Kidd is Joycean. To complicate matters, Lafferty swears that Finnegan is in no way Joycean, that he is nine hundred years earlier, out of the Yellow Book of Lecan (the Tain Bo Cuailinge), a character out of the Tain. This presupposes that Finnegan is identical with Fion McCool as well as with the more derivative Fingal, and also with Cu Chulainn. Well, Finnegan is capable of being all. To those interested in this line I recommend Thurneysen’s Die Irische Helden- und Konigsage.
"The perfect ghost story is the story of Possession," he said, "and that is hypnotism from beyond the grave. This is possible since hypnotism is by the will, and the will is immortal. A number of notable men have been possessed, and all of their lives seem to fit a pattern: the inconsequential early years, the hiatus when they stood where Faust stood, and the decision. And then the rise to power and influence and almost universal honor after they have made the deal. But it is not themselves, it is the devils within them that gain these things. They are the possessed men who do much of the running of the world, and theirs is the most frightening story that can be imagined. But those who watch the great men do not know that they are shells inhabited by ghosts."
[In these stories, Lafferty mostly] seems to be writing about places that are not on the map but are real just the same. Lafferty was a traveler in his youth, and he may have glimpsed some of these places on the watery horizon; whether he was sober at the time is not the issue right now. … [Lafferty] has a reading knowledge of all the languages of the Latin, German, and Slavic families, as well as Gaelic and Greek. The army sent him to Morotai, New Guinea and the Philippines, and at one time he could speak pretty good Passar Malay and Tagalog. He turned to writing about six years ago, as a substitute for serious drinking. The tavernkeepers weep while we rejoice: Lafferty's stories are full of a warm, Bacchic glow, recollected in sobriety — euphoria, comradeship, nostalgia, and the ever-renewed belief that something wonderful may happen.
[Lafferty] interested me in SF again, after I had outgrown my early love for Simak and Asimov and Heinlein. What a word slinger: what a richness of idea and image, in Irish-cadenced prose! Lafferty wrote the opposite of the post-Chekhovian modern short story. Show don’t tell? The pleasure is in the telling. Rhetoric, in the grand old manner, was at the center of his game. He could go from high-faluting to just plain faluting, and back again, all in a paragraph. Like Charles Mingus, another American original, Lafferty loved the sounds he made; never satisfied with mere profundity, he was pretty, too. He was our Mingus, I think, elevating us all. … I believe his day is yet to come; that like Melville, Lafferty will be "discovered," and his Okla Hannali will take its rightful place as one of the three or four truly great 20th century American novels.
"There was a later time when sincere men tried to build an organization as wide as the world to secure the peace of the world. It had been tried before and it had failed before. Perhaps if it failed this time it would not be tried again for a very long while. The idea of the thing was attacked by good and bad men, in good faith and bad. The final realization of it was so close that it could be touched with the fingertips. A gambler wouldn't have given odds on it either way. It teetered, and it almost seemed as though it would succeed. Then members of that group interfered." "And it failed, O'Claire?" "No. It succeeded, Foley, as in the other case. It succeeded in so twisted a fashion that the Devil himself was puzzled as to whether he had gained or lost ground by it. And he isn't easily puzzled."
Or let us say that we have a green thing growing forever. Everything that is done is done by it. And on it we also have the red parasite crunching forever: and everything that is undone is undone by that. The parasite will present itself as a modern thing. It will call itself the Great Change. Less often, and warily, it will call itself the Great Renewal. But it can never be another thing than the Red Failure returned. It is a disease, it is a scarlet fever, a typhoid, a diphtheria; it is the Africa disease, it is the red leprosy, it is the crab-cancer. It is the death of the individual and of the corporate soul. And incidentally, but very often, it is also the death of the individual and of the corporate body. We are asked to swear fealty to the parasite disease which the enemy sowed from the beginning. I will not do it, and I hope that you will not.
Those individuals looking from within the SF world may lack, or simply disdain, the linguistic and critical skills needed to begin to reveal that in Lafferty's work there is much more going on than meets the eye. The brave individuals who have attempted to do so have either merely produced fulsome praise or attempted to classify Lafferty's writings on the basis of superficialities (i.e., calling him a surrealist). Lafferty's use of displacement is not unique, but so few writers have consciously attempted the process, and their works are so varied, that there are no unifying articles, no language for the critic with a day job to draw on. Some bright lad or lass (with the appropriate dignifying letters following their names) may read this and look for the method of displacement in H. P. Lovecraft, James Joyce, Robert Pinget, Gilbert Sorrentino, Flann O'Brien, R. A. Lafferty, Howard Waldrop, and R. A. Wilson. Now there's a book worth reading. The astute observer will note that all the names on the list are Irish, saving those which are not.
Roadstrum had always believed that he had troubles enough of his own. He seldom borrowed trouble, and never on usurious terms. He knew that it was a solid thing that sheep do not gather in taverns and drink beer, not even potato beer; that they do not sing, not even badly; that they do not tell stories. But a stranger can easily make trouble for himself on a strange world by challenging local customs. "But I am the greet Roadstrum," he said, suddenly and loudly. "I am a great one for winning justice for the lowly, and I do not scare easily. I threw the great Atlas at the wrestle, and who else can say as much? I suffer from the heroic sickness every third day about nightfall, and I am not sure whether this is the third day or not. I say you are men and not sheep. I say: Arise and be men indeed!" "It has been tried before," said Roadstrum's friend, the sheep, "and it didn't work." "You have tried a revolt, and it failed?" "No, no, another man tried to incite us to revolt, and failed."
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...
What special magic does Lafferty offer? The simple answer has always been his use of language. Well what of it — the field has many who can make a phrase sing or sing a phrase that's the thing. The true answer lies in that his stories sound like they're folk tales. Now I said something very precise there. Lafferty doesn't use the language of folktales, and only rarely uses their rhythm. But he lives so well within the langauge of his creation that his language — particularly in the combination of slightly archaic folk speech and outrageous etymologies for his words — sounds like language that some one has said somewhere. Yevgeny Zamyatin developed the concept of a "prose foot" as way of internal pacing of fiction. He saw it as a kind of rhythmic device that by causing the reader to remember an earlier part of the narrative became a force for a choral (as in pertaining to choruses) cohesion that bound the story together in a different way than plot mechanics. This method, which I can't detect in Zamyatin's works (since Russian is Greek to me) is the core of Lafferty's work. He has has invented the post-modern equivalent of the Homeric epithet.
It all goes back to Neil Gaiman. In the foreword to “Fragile Things,” he wrote that his short story “Sunbird” was his way of trying to write his own R.A. Lafferty story. So I found “Nine Hundred Grandmothers,” and it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s very blue-collar science fiction – all the familiar tropes of people going to outer space and to other planets. It’s hilarious, incredibly funny and at the same time it’s insanely dark. You get the feeling like it’s a guy just writing to amuse himself: “I don’t care if any of this makes sense, but I want to see weird stuff happen.” One of his stories starts off, “He began by breaking things that morning.” There’s a short story called “Ginny Wrapped in the Sun,” and it’s just about this little girl who’s super strong, running around, picking things up. You get such a sense of joy and boundless imagination in every sentence – even if the story doesn’t totally cohere, you feel like it’s about something. It’s so incredibly Tulsa. You get that feeling when you see a Flaming Lips show. It’s not like we’re dark and hurt and twisted. It’s like, "I’ve got blood on my face – come on, y’all, this is awesome."