(Originally published August 2006 by Albedo One; reproduced here, without formatting, from the Wayback Machine because no longer available elsewhere on line.)


Iron Tears by R.A. Lafferty

reviewed by Roelof Goudriaan
Original appearance: Shards Of Babel 40, 1993


Is there no end to it?

SF fans reading this site will have seen that local SF writers in most European countries cannot compete successfully against American writers with experience and a large enough home market to write full-time. Taking a closer look to the American market in recession times, we see that US editors play on safe - choosing between a proven, "safe" writer and a new one who is breaking new ground, they will be highly biased towards the established writers and themes, leaving a score of deserving American SF authors unpublished. Market forces, I understand, and editors who're unwilling to risk their job when they have a family to feed. I sympathize, but my choice as reader gets a bit... shallow.

And then R.A. Lafferty -- the chronicler of the American tall tale, author of perhaps the greatest story collection in science fiction, Nine Hundred Grand Mothers, creator of - well, you name it, and your bets are even he'll have done an outrageous story on the subject - this Great Author Laffterty today is... unpublishable.

A feeling creeps upon you that something is awfully awry.

The best Lafferty can hope for is small press editions like (the excellent) Lafferty in Orbit appearing from broken Mirrors Press in 1991 or the collection reviewed here. Books that are unavailable for a mass audience, and rare.

How can this be? Evil suspicions would have it that Lafferty has gone downhill since his first collection appeared in 1970, but anyone reading IRON TEARS, whose stories date from 1973 to 1987, can tell you that this is not the case. "Funnyfingers", a story about an impossible love through (let's say) age differences, is as moving as anything Lafferty has ever written. And Oread, child of iron, singing her homework to the iron answer pots and picking the iron stamps with the answers (in her handwriting) out of them, she's precious. The 1980 story "Lord Torpedo, Lord Gyroscope" is as tall a tale as the 1965 classic "Slow Tuesday Night", taking intelligence to an extreme rather than speed of living (well, in addition to). Everything I remember Lafferty to be is here, and more. "Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies" is a Ballard-like story of weirdness in the form of film reviews - 19th century Selenium films that is, which collect sound and smell by re-playing through the ages - showing the outcome of an affair between the director and his main actress. "The World as Will and Wallpaper" is a polished round trip where William Morris rediscovers in the planetary City what his namesake invented besides the Wood Beyond the World.

The question remains, the same one which Michael Swanwick asks himself in his foreword: given that his stories are so brilliant, given that IRON TEARS was nominated for the 1992 Philip K. Dick Award, why is R.A. Lafferty unpublishable? Swanwick cannot give the answer. I won't even attempt it. If you order this book now, and keep ordering while stock lasts, the question will become meaningless.