The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Half a Sky

And thus we return to the Coscuin Chronicles, in its second, and last-published to date of four volumes, published only by Corroborree Press in the Eighties, at which time I bought it, not reading The Flame is Green until well over a decade later. Half a Sky is another of the listed unpublished novels in Archipelago, though its two sequels do not appear on that remarkable page: I hope this does not mean they never were written.
Half a Sky resumes almost from the moment that The Flame is Green leaves off. Dana Coscuin has come to Amsterdam, where the company of the Green Revolution is to go its separate ways. Dana and Charley Oceaan, the black man from Basse-Terre (which we already know, from another chronicle, is the location of the Earthly Paradise) are to set sail for the latter. The next phase in Dana’s battles is to take place in South America, in the land under half a sky.
The others are to disperse, to carry on their tasks in different parts of Europe, but there are ambushes, woundings, a threat of assault and, in the case of Kemper Gruenland, murder.
Basse-Terre is a homecoming for the Dana, who has never before been there. But it is the place of the Home of Dana Cosquin, and the Tomb of Dana Cosquin, and before this part of the story is over, it will provide the Bride of Dana Cosquin.
For Dana is to have new allies in the next phase of the Green Revolution, which will cover the years from 1849 to 1854. Chief among these will be Damisa the Leopard, an African so named for his mottled flanks that give the look of both leopard and leper. He will have the same old enemy, Ifreann Chortovitch, not dead as killed by Dana, but returning to life despite the Dana’s refusal to acknowledge him, and his insistence on treating him with disdain when he is forced to accept Ifreann’s presence.
And Dana gains another ally, in the form of the ship he acquires, and which he names the Catherine Dembinska, after his murdered wife, for the soul of one is the soul of the other, and Dana treats the ship as a reincarnation of his love.
As before, Lafferty’s grasp of political details, personalities and people in the South American republics is comprehensive, enabling him to refer both directly and tangentially to movements in which Dana and his company become involved, ensuring that the Green Flame is held high in these years and the Red Revolution is thwarted as they should be.
There are again magical things treated as utterly natural: Dana travels with a child’s coffin that contains not a body but rather gold coinage, more than could ever be contained in so small a box, and an everlasting supply of coins and other things that the Dana needs from time to time. This includes the Testament of Kemper Gruenwald.
And the Company comes to include a young woman, Serafino, who, despite all discrepancies of age, and genealogy, is still in some way the daughter of Dana and Catherine Dembinska.
It’s not until the last couple of chapters that Lafferty starts to work with concrete elements of the story. The first of these is the deposal of Argentinian Dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. This is an unusual chapter. History records Rosas as a prototypical brutal Dictator, and Lafferty accords with this whilst at the same time setting him up as not as bad as he is being painted, and, more pertinently for the novel, infinitely preferable to the liberal/socialist Red Revolution in Banda Orientale (the then-name of Uruguay), who want him brought down.
Dana sets out to bring Rosas down, against the wishes of everyone, especially all those in his Company. He is condemned as traitor, as renegade, faces opposition from every quarter, but brings about what he wishes: Rosas’ overthrow by his friend and fellow Governor, Caudillo, with Rosas going into lengthy exile.
To achieve this, he has to overcome the opposition of Caudillo himself, but it is done, and Dana redeems himself by pointing out how he has secured at least a decade of stability, by outflanking the Red Revolution: instead of weakness in government that they can exploit, they face another Leader in Rosas’ model, but less compromised.
It’s a convoluted chapter and solution and not one I completely comprehend without more detailed historical knowledge. But it is almost the last action of the book. The final two years of Dana Coscuin’s time under the world of half a sky is brushed past with no detail, bringing the Dana back to Basse-Terre, to marry the Bride of Dana Cosquin, alias Angelene Domdaniel.
For Dana it is the end of his journeying. He will remain with his Bride, and their child to be, and never leave again, notwithstanding the summons of Count Cyril to return to Europe. Not unless Angelene herself tells him to go… and of course she is the messenger.
But Dana and his crew cannot leave without a final (for this book) confrontation with Ifreann, and this is the ending for the Catherine Dembinska. The spirit of the dead wife leaves the ship, which dies in terrible explosions, coming up against Ifreann’s more powerful vessel, the Porte D’Enfer. And Dana and his last companion, Jack Gadalope, take to the sea with their knives, to swim ninety-five miles to port, and then to Carloforte.
Carloforte would take Dana Coscuin and his part in the Green Revolution to Sardinia. The dustjacket identifies the third Chronicles to be Sardinian Summer, to cover the period from 1854 to 1862, with the final book First and Last Island dealing with 1862 to 1872. We assume these books to have been written, but we don’t know if this is the case, or if they were finished. This is the end of the Coscuin Chronicles in time. They may continue outside of time.

14 thoughts on “The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Half a Sky

  1. First, I believe both Sardinian Summer and First and Last Island were completed and in pretty good shape. I’ve never seen the MSs or read them, and I’d give my eye teeth for a chance to do so, but I believe they are in near-publishable shape. However I should let people with greater knowledge like Andrew Ferguson, Gregorio Montejo, and DOJP weigh in with actual information instead of my speculation.

    It’s been years since I read Half a Sky, and I’ve only read it once. I really need to re-read it now, because reading your synopsis, I realize I remember lots of individual scenes but very little of the actual story. I remember thinking that The Flame is Green was a bit more polished, and that Half a Sky was perhaps slightly more polemic–at least I had more trouble with some of the aims of the Green Revolution in Half a Sky than i did in the first novel.

    That being said, Half a Sky has lots and lots of moments of Lafferty being at his best. There are turns of phrase and entire passages that are both a joy and a revelation to read. Reading this book, I often had to stop and just bask in the language of the passage I had just read, and reflect on just how absurdly much fun Lafferty must’ve had writing it. While he is deadly serious about a lot of the elements of the story, he presents them with an infectious joy. I blogged about that back when I read the book:

    Time to re-read! Thanks!

  2. As I said, I read Half a Sky first, and The Flame is Green over a decade after. Even now, i find it difficult to overcome that dislocation. Plus, at that time, Half a Sky was the first non-fantasmic Lafferty I had read and it took me a long time to settle to it.

    All these essays, including the ones to come, were wriiten before the first was posted. Thus I’ve had Andrew Ferguson’s assurances that the other two books are complete and that plans to publish these are as advanced as any plans to get the secret Lafferty out there can possibly be. I’ve not amended any of my essays in the face of new information: i want them to stand as ‘pure’ responses, from a reader less erudite or experienced in the subject matter, unchanged by the work of those more experienced than me. A poor thing but mine own, as one of my erstwhile countrymen put it.

    Of course, being of this country and not Lafferty’s, I face rack, ruin and nationwide destruction depending on how tomorrow’s election goes, so the sooner they bang out those books, the better…

    1. Each nation right now appears to be standing in its own onrushing wave of wrack and destruction at the moment. Or are all of these perhaps separate mountainous ripples of the same wave? Lafferty described the red revolution as a pebble dropped into a pond who’s ripples became a wave that swept the earth.

      Arrg, The Coscuin novels (and Fourth Mansions even more so) seem more relevant today than when they were written!

  3. I also bought this from Corroborree when it came out. I struggled with it, but I do remember sections of great power. It’s also time for me to reread it. Fingers crossed for the others to get published. And fingers crossed for you for tomorrow’s election. I’m on the side of the Red Revolution.

    1. Fingers crossed for you!

      I think the rising tide of faux-nationalism going on now is a result of many, many things, almost all of which have their roots in economic issues. Since the industrial revolution we have lived in a world where technology costs money, and can be used by those with money to concentrate the means of economic production into their own hands. With inequality comes instability, and wars and revolutions result. There has been reaction to that inequality to try to put the brakes on the concentration of wealth into too few hands, to regulate some degree of decency and fairness. And then the economic wheels turn and the powers with the money start to grab and squeeze again.

      This becomes the root for seemingly grass-roots and working-class based nationalist, near-sighted, and anti-anyone-different political movement. The reason this becomes so is the manipulation of information. Those enriching themselves on the backs of everyone else gladly point fingers at any convenient other: “It’s them immigrants taking your jobs” “Your father felt economically secure, and now you don’t. Look at all those newcomers around you. They weren’t here when your daddy had a steady job–it’s their fault!”

      And as our banking, trading, and above all communications technologies develop, that message is delivered more easily and more uniformly across the globe. Thus, what seems like a great wave of idiocy sweeping the globe by preternatural means, is really just a great wave of idiocy sweeping the globe by manipulated media means. It is still a great wave of idiocy.

      Lafferty saw diabolical influence, and saw these things happening with disconcerting simultaneity across the globe in the 1840s. He also saw the monarchist and conservative Catholic movements as protecting the world against these sweeping waves. I see them as protecting the structure that gave rise to the sweeping waves of idiocy in the first place, thus my amazement at the simultaneity is as great as Lafferty/s, but my polarization is reversed.

      I see them not as literally diabolic, but triggered because given a specific and overwhelming economic impetus, individuals whose ethics fit a pretty good metaphorical definition of diabolic step in to fill the void.

      Thus Brexit, Trump, the various Middle-eastern groups I will not name, etc.

      Best of luck!

      We’re all (the whole blasted World) gonna need it

  4. So far the most powerful, for me, of the Dana Coscuin novels. It’s conspicuously wilder (without being less controlled) than The Flame is Green (which is not exactly tame). I wondered what the next two volumes would be like if the wildness continued to spike. I suspect not; it would be a difficult level to top, but I’d like to see how the story goes on from there–see if a few guesses about its direction (particularly around the indentity of Dana and the Count) resolve as I expect them to, knowing for certain there’ll be resolutions (and irresolutions) I don’t expect.

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