The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?


I was in two minds about whether to include this and the next entry among Lafferty’s novels. In the most extensive list of Laff’s novels that I have ever seen, which appears in the novel Archipelago and which includes several unpublished books, this two appear as unpublished works under their separate titles.
But when they were published, it was as a single book compilation of the two stories, under the title Apocalypses, which makes them as appear as short stories. Long short stories, to be sure, or short novels. Given their credit in Archipelago, and given the wildly differing stories, I think they deserve a place in this series, and will treat them as such.
Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? is one of my favourite Lafferty stories. In shape, it takes the form of a detective story, but really it’s a playful phantasmagoria of trickery, improbability and Fortean constructs.
It starts with Constantine Quiche, the World’s Greatest Detective, an agent of World Interpol, driving along the Grand Corniche towards Monaco. His superior, Grishwell, instructs him to ensure that Monaco is not stolen. That’s right, Monaco, the Principality. On impulse, Constantine stops at the home of his best friends, Salaadin and Regina Maquab, who have made mushroom quiche in honour of his visit, even though he only decided literally a minute before arriving. Also present are three guests, agents all, who Constantine knows, and he knows that one of them is dead. He knows this because he killed the agent last night.
Only he can’t remember which one it was. Or where he’s met any of the agents before. Or, given that they’re his best friends, how he knows the Maquabs. Or Grishwell, for that matter. And even whether he is actually the best detective in the world.
There is a scam going on, two scams at the same time, involving a 300 feet long Fortean construct that is simultaneously 1,000 feet in the air and resting on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, which either is or isn’t, or is the work of the greatest forger in all the world, and Constantine’s not sure if he’s a forgery himself.
In short, nothing can be relied upon.
The very next day, Monaco is stolen. It’s stolen by the arrival of Sandaliotis. Sandaliotis is a country that does not exist, or at least most of the time it doesn’t. It’s the missing Mediterranean peninsula, lying between Iberia and Italy. It takes its name from being shaped like a sandal. Some of it is there all the time, being what we know as Corsica and Sardinia, but it’s a grand old country with deep roots in history, myth and culture.
Or is it? Lafferty invents and hints and suggests and proudly boasts left, right and centre, and like he does when he’s on form like this, we reel, wondering just how much of what he claims is true, if any of it, because he makes us believe, he makes us want to believe.
I mean, Sandaliotis is a fake. Most of it is green sea-foam, laid down upon an oil-base, and it’s a self-admitted con even as everybody proclaims it real and true, and I have never been able to make up my mind as to whether Lafferty is working with whole cloth or if there are grains and threads of true myth woven through the sheet.
But I said there were two cons going on. One of these is a pretty unashamed and admitted con, a great and expensive land con. Land on Sandaliotis is being sold, some of it over and over, to real estate developers looking to make a killing. Why not sell it a dozen times over, it isn’t going to be there all day? This is the con for which the green foam has been constructed. The other con is something completely different.
The other con is the world-bomb, the one at 1,000 feet. This con is being run by a combination of Earth elements and off-worlders, and it’s aimed at the world. The price of this con is world ownership, world domination. Because the world-bomb, long since known to Forteans and nick-named Thibeau’s Torpedo (what? Seriously? It’s a blackmail threat to the whole world and you’re calling it Thibeau’s Torpedo?), is supposed to be 300 feet of anti-matter that, if brought down to Earth and dropped into where Sandaliotis is supposed to be, will blow it up.
And this is where Constantine Quiche comes into his own. Whether he is or isn’t the world’s best detective, he’s the conduit who is supposed to convince the world that Thibeau’s Torpedo is lethal, and he says it isn’t.
And it isn’t helping that the world threatening broadcast keeps being interrupted by the clubs devoted to such other Fortean constructs as Hogan’s Bobsled, Snitzger’s Steamboat and Padarewski’s Porpoise with drunken challenges to dog-fights. Really, how can you conduct a serious world-jack in the face of this?
Where it all ends, we don’t really know. Lafferty indulges in his favourite trick of leaving the ending off which, since we have no idea what is actually real, adds to the fun. Constantine, who has been carrying a parachute around his waist since the morning, even when on the ground, is betrayed by the Master Forger, Angelo Cyan, to a fall into the sea from 1,000 feet at ground level, and indulges himself in a melodramatic attempt to land on in a straitened place, at the last second, and then there is no more book.
It’s a goof, it’s a romp, it’s a puzzle, it’s a glee. Ultimately, it makes no sense, but you believe in it from start to finish, and I want a holiday on Sandaliotis, as long as I don’t have to go into the Thirteen Sided Room.

18 thoughts on “The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?

  1. Now that one sounds fun….bonkers, but fun…. Having been to Monaco (by train from Nice, once c.2012), my thinking is if anyone wanted to steal it, please do so – I won’t miss it. “To Catch a Thief” (with Cary Grant and the wonderfully sizzling Grace Kelly) is one of my favourite films, in part (other than Grant and Grace) because of the 1953 views of Cannes and Monaco – it still looked liveable-in back then! Now it’s a shit-hole. I likened it to 1970s Birmingham, Downtown LA or Baltimore at its worst, and Los Vegas-on-the-Mediterranean. Even the railway station is now buried underground, gloomy tunnels to emerge from the side of a ugly, gigantic, bland building. In front, a flyover slices across the townscape (my memories of Birmingham), and every square inch built on except the casino gardens, oh, and the palace….which was pink and looked like Disney designed it. A few old buildings survived, waiting demolition and transformation into blank skyscrapers. And lots of posh yachts. Steal it! Teleport it to the Zog Galaxy. The sooner the better. Actually, I loved a pre-casino, 19th century description of Monaco as being a place of poverty, good only for lemons and prostitutes. Now more billionaires per the square metre, exhaust fumes, no space for even one lemon tree, but some things probably are still the same….

    How are you?

    Garth

  2. It is. Both fun and bonkers, and I’d recommend it second only to Fourth Mansions as the bext long form Lafferty to start with for the virgin (ahem) reader. Such a shame to hear that Monaco is so undesirable. I’m still not in tip top health but I now have four days off. And I still owe you an e-mail, which I’ll put together soon (been a bit busy, what with nine working days in the last ten…)

  3. Glad to see this one treated as a novel, which it is, rather than a novella or short story. There are similarities in theme between this and Three Armageddons, but they were never intended to be published together, it’s just how it ended up happening.

    1. It’s far too long (and far too much fun) to ignore. By the time Apocalypses came out, I was prepared to see Lafferty stories in any form or combination, just so there were more of them.

  4. This is among Lafferty’s most dream-like reading experiences for me. I suspect _Three Armageddons_ might be the stronger novel of the two, or at least deeper, but _Sandaliotis_ is the greater romp.

    Looking around the web for a map of Sandaliotis to see how much of this Lafferty invented out of whole cloth, I found this from “Bizarre Sardinia” about the history of the name:

    “#BIZARRESARDINIA: THE NAME OF THE ISLAND
    Many are the names with which the Island of Sardinia has been called in the past and many and fascinating are the theories in regards.

    The most recognized theories want the name of Sardinia origined from the greek term Sandaliotis, that means Sandal, given to the Island for her shape very similar to a foot (together with Corsica Island).
    For the same reason apparently the Greeks have named the Island also as Ichnussa (̉Ιχνοũσσα), meaning footprint. Much earlier than the Greeks the same Nuraghics people, inhabitants of the Island from the prehistoric era, were calling their own island as ̉Ιχνοũσα, ̉Ιχνοũσσα which is actually a perfect folk etimology with its ancient root in iqnû‘lapis lazuli, turquoise’, ‘blue varnish’ + -sû ‘the X-man’, composed as iqnû-sû > Iqnusa, which would mean ‘the man of the Big Green’ and in fact ‘the island of the Big Green’’.

    3000-6000 years ago the Island of Sardinia was known as miracle Island (as testified in many Phoenician scripts) for its magnificient fertility, for its woodiness, for its salt flats, for being completed surrounded by red corals and for its mines. In fact the Island was known also as island of the silver veins.

    Most of you readers are surely much more familiar with the name Ichnusa being nowdays the name of the very famous and beloved regional beer. From today, each time you will be drinking a refreshing Ichnusa you may remember that this is one of the very first names of our Island.

    Footprint or The Island of the Big Green? Make your choice!”

    ( https://www.facebook.com/nauticassistance/posts/10156148142489072 )

    1. I did not know any of this but I am surprised by none of it. The moment Lafferty started talking about Sandaliotis, it all felt utterly plausible. If the Thirteen-Sided Room is also real, please do not tell me. One of these days, we shall undountedly discover that Humanity does indeed originate on a planet with a 28-hour day…

      1. Thinking about this a bit further, the description of the color, between lapis lazuli and turquoise is close to cyan as a color. Therefore the World’s Greatest Forger, Angelo DiCyan would be Angelo from cyan or from the older name for Sandaliotis. Thus, from the first introduction, we are warned that Angelo is party to the hoax.

  5. I’ve discovered over the years that whenever Lafferty throws a source or a myth at us that seems too outrageous to be anything but the product of his imagination, it is usually real and the product of his deep knowledge of obscure history.

  6. Glad to see some love for this obscure short novel. I agree with Kevin that it’s a greater romp than the (probably deeper) Three Armageddons. And I ALWAYS love Lafferty on a romp. The 13-sided room is one of my favourite scenes. It feels like Poe on both steroids and acid.

    I was really blown away by the whole premise of a giant land mass suddenly appearing. That alone drew me in. But the novel is so full of colourful happenings (at one point something about a dolphin-girl with a needle kiss as I recall?) all around this central premise. Again, I’ve heard at least one reviewer call it pessimistic, but it seemed also shot through with a rampant and vulgar love of life to me. Need to re-read it!!

    The review I was thinking of can be found here: https://sciencefictionandfantasynovels.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/r-a-lafferty-apocalypses-1977/

    It’s a great review actually, but he calls both novels in Apocalypses ‘angry’ and summarises Sandaliotis thus: ‘Bleak, bitter, and cranky—to a fault—but also wildly inspired, with passages equal parts, haunting, beautiful, and ridiculous.’

      1. Lafferty can be a bit of a Rorschach test. His images are often hard to understand unless you supply a bit of your own imagination to flesh the skeletons he gives you. It is very rare for him to give you a complete visual or emotional description–more often he gives you the associations and you have to fill in the details. If you are disposed to think pessimistically about humanity, boy-oh-boy will his works provide a framework upon which to hang your dread. If you have faith indomitable about the strength of the human spirit, the same works provide the same foundations upon which to build your hope.

    1. OK, I agree. I tend to be the eternal look-how-full-the-full-half-of-the-glass-is kind of person, so I bring that to the table when reading Lafferty. But I think you’re right – he does chide us for our failings, but at the same time feels immensely (if some times cranky) hopeful for humanity. That is why, I think, he leaves so many of his endings up to us–he gives us the tools to create the better world, and says Hey, I have faith in you, you CAN do it.

      That, and he has so much fun writing this stuff that the joy is contagious. It leaps off the page.

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