steveplant wrote:So I was thinking I'd try R.A. Lafferty next, whom I have also never heard of. Any suggestions?
steveplant wrote:On the other hand, I tried two R.A. Lafferty books, Arrive at Easterwine and The Devil is Dead. Got about 50 pages into each before realizing that I just didn't get it, and wasn't enjoying either. So who do I try next, Cordwainer Smith? Or?
Lafferty is never "realistic." However ordinary his settings may seem when first we start one of his tales, we must remember that for a certainty they are surreal fantasies in the truest sense of those words. I think the most apt analogy for Lafferty's works is animated cartoons. Things in Lafferty tales happen at the breathless, breakneck pace--and with the madcap ad hoc paralogic--of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. We believe none of it because we are never for a second expected to believe any of it, any more than we are expected to "believe" what happens to Bugs and Elmer; we do not participate to behold "slices of life" but to behold madcap exaggerations and distortions of it. The single worst error a reader new to Lafferty can make is to think that a world Lafferty introduces in apparently ordinary science-fiction terms actually is (even by science-fiction standards) ordinary.
That brings us to the next key a reader needs to unlock Lafferty's code: Lafferty is a devout, conservative Roman Catholic, and his strongly held beliefs pervade and indeed power all his major works. Moreover, while Lafferty's encyclopedic knowledge of Catholic lore (and lore in general, for that matter) is spread throughout his tales, those tales invariably focus on what Lafferty clearly sees as the central malady of our time: the collapse of values--a problem that goes beyond any one particular religion or even philosophy, and so gives a powerful vitality and universality to Lafferty's curiously coded visions.
Lafferty's plots, his settings, his characterizations are as bizarrely jumbled as his language. The tale you are reading is never the tale he is telling. (The more I reflect on Lafferty, the more significant that statement seems.)
In a Lafferty tale--a Lafferty hyperparable--the plot, the settings, the characters are a swirling snowstorm of symbology, sometimes naively plain and sometimes hauled up from deep in the Jungian racial memory or the collective unconscious (Lafferty disdains such notions but is nevertheless fluent in both their formal terminology and their actual content). To shift metaphor, Lafferty fires these symbols at us like a manic machine-gunner; they interweave, they burn the air; they hit their targets, they miss wildly; but the gunner keeps his finger locked to the trigger. It is hard to read a sentence of Lafferty, impossible to read a paragraph, without being hit by one or more symbolic names or acts, sometimes large, sometimes small.
Understand that while Lafferty's works are woven almost wholly of symbol-thread, they are not allegories. In allegory, the tale you are reading is comprehensible, a simplified playing out of the tale the author wants to tell. Lafferty is telling the tales he wants to tell in a waving of symbols akin to the frantic waving of arms of a mute pregnant with vital news. Lafferty waves, he dances, he plays intellectual charades with us; but he does not deal in allegory.
To close the circle: Lafferty's core message is invariable--the good must resist the mindbreakers, must not yield to the pleasures of mindless pleasure, must do what is often hard and painful.
I don't know if you have got around to reading the 4th and 5th of the Demon Princes books, but it is worth noting the large gap between publication dates. The first 3 came out in the mid 60's and the last 2 in 1979 and 81.
Seems likely that Jack was dissatisfied and took that long to work out where he was taking it - personally I think they are the best 2 - the wait was worth it.
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