The Man who wrote Lafferties: Fourth Mansions

There’s always a first book. For every writer whose work captures you, there’s always a first book that grabs you and makes you want more. Sometimes, that first book turns out to be the best book, or the one that you most want to return to. After all, it’s what opened your eyes and mind to the possibilities in this writer. Sometimes it’s the one you’ve read most because it’s the one you’ve had longest and sometimes it’s because it’s the one you keep re-reading.
All of these things and more describe R.A.Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions for me. And to think I owe it all to one of the most unreliable blurb writers I ever read.
You’ve heard me say before that I first got into SF/Fantasy via The Lord of the Rings, in the back end of 1973. It wasn’t until the following January that I read the whole story, in a post-Xmas present with Xmas money. I’ve always tended to date my fascination with the genre to that moment, but it strikes me that I had probably started combing the library shelves for similar delights before the end of the year.
Whenever I started, one of my early discoveries was Roger Zelazny, and his Amber series. I was sufficiently hooked on Zelazny that, when I saw his name on the cover of an unusual book, in a Stockport back-street bookshop, praising the work, I bought it. Zelazny turned out to be an appalling guide to good books, at least so far as my tastes were concerned, except once. That very first book: Fourth Mansions.
I remember it was sunny, but whether this was late spring or early to medium summer I can’t specify. I can’t even state for certain that it was the very first Lafferty I read, only the first novel. I had already discovered Damon Knight’s Orbit series of collections, several of which were in Manchester libraries, and most of which had a Lafferty twinkling in their pages.
One thing to state, up front, about Fourth Mansions is that it is a deeply religious book, drawing heavily on Catholic Symbolism and the work The Interior Castle, written by Saint Teresa of Avila in 1577. Yet that need not be off-putting: I have never been deeply religious, was barely even shallowly religious in 1974, and am long-term atheist by now, but I respond to the book as it is, as a gambol of symbols, exchanging places, balancing forces and circling the book’s ‘hero’, Freddy Foley, newspaperman, everyman and great goof, to whom great things are given, and in whom the outcome lies.
The book takes the shape of a conspiracy theory, one to which Freddy is led by interested parties who are themselves a conspiracy. There are multiple conspiracies at work here, sometimes supplementing, more often contradicting each other, and each represents a group excluded from the Castle, that is, from the accounting of ordinary humans. These are the Pythons, the Toads, the unfledged Falcons and the Badgers, each of whom have been excluded by God.
“There is entwined seven-tentacled lightning. It is fire-masses, it is sheets, it is arms. It is seven-coloured writhing in the darkness, electric and alive. It pulsates, it sends, it sparkles, it blinds!
It explodes!
It is seven murderous thunder-snakes striking in seven directions along the ground! Blindingly fast! Under your feet! Now! At you!
And You! You who glanced in here for but a moment, you are already snake-bit!
It is too late for you to withdraw. The damage is done to you. That faintly odd taste in your mouth, that smallest of tingles which you feel, they signal the snake-death.
Die a little. There is reason for it.”
You too are snake-bit because you have read these words, here, now. Fourth Mansions begins thus, though we are then introduced to the unformed, inquisitive simpleton that is Freddy Foley, newspaper reporter. Freddy is already bit, pressed mentally by the Pythons, the Harvesters to goof and goof greatly. Which he has.
The Harvesters are a septet of rich people, three husband and wife pairs and Bedelia (Biddy) Bencher, a young, unattached girl, save that she is Freddy’s girlfriend (not that either appears the least bit sexually inclined to one another, both being suspended adolescents in different waves.) The others are Jim and Letitia Bauer, Arouet and Wing Manion and Hondo and Ensalziamenta (Salzy) Silverio. Each are described, and continually referred to by artistic characteristic or other passions – Wing Manion as a Klee fish, Biddy Bencher as a cinnamon cookie, a charcoal sketch in cinnamon-pink.
By some means, the Harvesters have created between them a brain-weave, concentrating, intensifying and amplifying their natural psychic strength exponentially. The Harvesters intend to shape the world, to take it over and direct it to their wishes. They have pushed Freddy to goof greatly, but they have pushed him at the second of these exterior creatures, the Toads, the Revenant Toads, with jewels in their heads.
Freddy has goofed on Special Advisor Carmody Overlark. Two years ago, Overlark, an overlooked bureaucrat, suddenly became a Man of the Moment, not merely in the Moment but in all his past Moments. Freddy compares him to Kar-Ibn-Mod, an Egyptian bureaucrat of centuries past, who looks like Overlark, but only in Overlark’s recent photos.
It’s the Hidden Hand conspiracy, the recurring or returning men, as old as cliché, as incredible as underwater breathing. Freddy’s editor Tankersley wants Foley off the story, in roughly equal measures because it’s absurd and because reporters who pursue such stories end up dead.
Meanwhile, the Harvesters essay another shaping push, this time on the highly-regarded intellectual, Michael Fountain. Fountain is, or could be a great man, but has never attempted to be; the Harvesters will fill him with the energy to be and become. But Fountain is defended mentally and sloughs off the attack, the power of which first kills Fountain’s sickly nephew/namesake and then takes hold (not that the Harvesters know this) in Miguel Fuentes, a loutish Mexican south of the Border.
Miguel becomes the leader of a ramshackle, absurdly small band dedicated to overthrowing the world and running it properly. You’d smile at the pretension, but Miguel is of the third order of external creatures, the Unfledged Falcons, who are force and authority and, in their dullest aspect, Fascism (the original fascism, axes or fasces, not the Nazi abhorrence). Miguel has the force.
Back in town (an unnamed Tulsa), Freddy and Biddy go to talk to Michael Fountain and learn of Miguel. Freddy goes on to meet the town’s other, less reputable and austere sage, Bartigrew Bagley (an unflattering quasi-self-portrait of the author). Bagley’s crude and raw, a newspaperman who busted over the same story as Freddy. He’s unequivocal about identifying the four exterior creatures for he is of the last of these, the Badgers, the abiding men, the only one of the exterior creatures whose attitude to man is benevolent, still waiting for God to accept them and allow them to enter into the Castle.
So these are the creatures, three of whom plan to change the world. Of these, you sense that Lafferty approves of the Falcons, is neutral about the Pythons (though if they include the delightful Biddy, even if she is the seventh and lowest of them, they cannot be wholly bad), and is set against the Toads.
For St Teresa’s book was predicated on the notion of seven mansions through which the soul progresses, three rising cycles, a fourth or transitional cycle, and after that three further rising cycles. Lafferty applies that to his book by postulating a history that shows a frustrated progression, three rising cycles followed by a fourth that fails and busts down to a beginning, starting once again in First Mansions.
This is clearly depicted by the Toads, who claim responsibility to the continuing failure of Fourth Mansions, as they continually surface to frustrate progression, breaking the world down to beginnings again. They are the Hidden Hand, working against man and for themselves, to maintain their control of affairs.
And Freddy Foley, simpleton and goof and everyman is at the centre, the representative of man upon whom all these creatures working, As the world collapses into death and danger, plague and panic, as the revenant Toads occupy so many people, including Biddy herself at the very end, the Toads will implant any ancient and mighty one of their line into Freddy, causing him to die. But Freddy has had the remnants of the destroyed brain-weave handed to him. Miguel has given command of the Falcons to him. And the Badgers, in their conclave of Patricks and Crolls and Aloysiuses have elected him to the thousand year vacated position of Emperor.
Never before has a man combined in one body all five creatures, interior and exterior. What outcome will there be in the morning? Will the world wake to First Mansions, or will it be the long-awaited Fifth?
That’s a question fated not to be answered. Lafferty ends his book on this note, a cliffhanger of immense proportions, one for each of us to answer in our own way. Mine is to side with confidence, with the hint that the unprecedented combination will be the key to that long overdue forward movement.
Should I do so? I mean, we are dealing with Lafferty’s most intense beliefs. To me, his intense and severe Catholicism comes closest to the overt herein (Lafferty is not a preachy writer), couched in this ornate and fascinating symbolism, even more so than in his Argo cycle. He and I are completely opposites in our core beliefs, for to Lafferty the world is only properly ordered if it adheres to the strictures of Mother Church. What we call liberalism is to Lafferty the very opposite. In his person as Bagley, he responds to the mention of Secular Humanism with the words, “At the name of which even buzzards gag,” and he has a left-handed form of the weave destroy Michael Fountain, introduced in such kindly and wise a form, by drawing from him the meaning of his refinement, which is to remove ‘impurities’, to reduce rather than to expand, to build a castle and take away its foundations.
But Lafferty is Lafferty, and his gift is to make the unbelievable believable. He will toss out casual ideas, such as humanity originating from a planet with a thirty-four hour not twenty-four hour cycle, to which we revert in times of stress, or that red-headed women are an alien species, and we swallow it whole and wonder if he knows stuff we don’t.
For instance, above I said that Lafferty postulates the four mansions cycle, of three rising mansions leading to a fourth of destruction, and he gives examples, but I always ending up wondering if Lafferty, an erudite and much read man, isn’t simply telling us things that the history books won’t.
Fourth Mansions belongs to my early era of discovery. Like Alfred Bester’s Extro, from the same time, it’s a kaleidoscope of ideas and imagination that overwhelms and overflows. I have left out so much that I want to admire, because there is so much that this post would have to be as long as the book itself to express things in the depth necessary. Like Extro, it was a creative explosion: a writer could mine Fourth Mansions for ideas for years without running out of possibilities. Though Roger Zelazny would steer me badly wrong several times, until I learned to avoid his recommendations, he was true enough this once and I owe him a lifetime of Lafferty as a consequence. This one is my favourite.


The Man who wrote Lafferties: Space Chantey

Space Chantey was the third R A Lafferty novel to be published in 1968, though that has no bearing on when the book (or any of them) was actually written. Once again, it is, superficially, a straight, even hard SF story: a war has taken place in space, it has finished, a group of space soldiers set off home. The book is about their adventures on their journey home. Anything about this sound familiar?
What we’re looking at here is an SF version of the Odyssey, with Captain Roadstrum, the Road-Storm as Odysseus.
But this is not some cheap knock-off, some direct translation into SF terms. Lafferty is dealing with the complex subject of Myth, and how and in what way it can survive into the age of hard SF.
And Roadstrum and his crew are rampant brawlers, vulgar and excessive, not that Lafferty ever recognises the restriction embodied in describing someone or something as excessive. They treat danger and death casually, and there’s plenty of the latter as they career from planet to planet, as six space hornets, each with its own Captain and crew, reduces slowly to one, with two Captains and a reduced number of crewmen.
The book itself is not epic, running to a mere 123pp in the old Dobson Books hardback (Dobsons published a lot of Lafferty in the early Seventies, and I got them all at the time, which has saved me an enormous amount of money). It’s very episodic, and the stories are strung out between lines of ramshackle, rumbustious verse, bursting with gusto and relish.
Nor does Lafferty confine himself to Greek mythology, though this is the biggest part of the story. Early on, the crewmen land on a planet of giants who battle all day until all are dead in bloody conflict, only to be resurrected overnight: this is, of course, a version of Valhalla, only rendered as a wonderful demotic.
And those who remember Alan Moore’s Abelard Snazz series in 2000AD will find themselves reading the original of the third Snazz story that Moore originally restricted reprinting, after realising he’d unconsciously stolen it from Lafferty. It comes from the installation of a wonderful device in Roadstrum’s hornet, which allows him to turn back time and select other options (especially in a casino), under the wonderful title ‘Wrong Prong. Bong Gong.’
There will be those who will criticise Lafferty for loose ends and imprecision, without taking into account that this is all part of his Tall Tales manner. More than once in Space Chantey, Lafferty tips his spacemen into impossible situations and gets them out with the equivalent of ‘With One Mighty Bound…’ Actually, he doesn’t even do that, he will just switch to another scene, another planet, another stage with nothing but a cheery and dismissive line about how nobody knew how they did it! This attitude to the impossible – i.e., completely ignore that it’s impossible and carry on – is fundamental to Lafferty and the reader who can’t take that in his stride is advised not to bother. Lafferty is about the implausible, about what in a lesser writer might be called miraculous.
Personally, I find Space Chantey to be the least of the three novels of 1968, although were I more familiar with the Odyssey as I ought to be, I may find more correspondences in it than I do. It was, of these three, the first I read, and I would end up getting this initial set in reverse order of publication, and in ascending order of depth and satisfaction.
But no Lafferty is worthless, and Space Chantey is at the very least fun and bemusement, and its ending differs from the Odyssey by not having the Great Road-Storm sink into peace, what, not a great Captain such as he, but returning to space, to adventure and a crashing conclusion. If you believe Lafferty’s closing verse, and not even he suggests it is to be taken as gospel…

I have done a good thing

Through a set of circumstances too personally humiliating to relate, I was in Manchester this morning and paying my earliest ever monthly visit to Pizza Hut.

After chowing down my meal, I was rrelaxing before the bill came and reading the book I had on me. A young waitress, after showing a couple to their table, next to mine, craned her neck, then asked if I minded her asking what I was reading? She is a literature student, and always wanting to know what people are reading.

I showed her the cover. It was Clive James’ collection of critical essays, The Meaning of Recognition. She said she’d never heard of him.

I was taken aback by that, but after a few moment’s thought, realised I shouldn’t be. She was, after all, about a third of my age, and young enough that most of James’s television career was before her time too.

So I explained a bit about all the different things he’s been into: lyrics, television criticism, novels, literary criticism, poetry. She was particularly interested in the poetry, so I said a bit about the recent books, the collections published in the knowledge of his leukemia. And I suggested she tried Sentenced to Life. She was genuinely pleased at the recommendation. Who knows if she’ll appreciate it? If I see her on my next visit, I’ll try to remember to ask.

But at least I’ve done one good thing today.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Reefs of Earth

The Reefs of Earth was the second novel of R.A. Lafferty to be published in 1968, and not the last either. Once again, it’s a novel that seems most akin to SF, in that it basically reverses the set-up of Past Master: instead of an Earthman on an alien planet, we are here concerned with aliens on Earth and, in the absence of any clues either way, in the present day.
But once again that’s what it is on the surface, but these are trappings for Lafferty’s primary concern, being a clash of cultures and philosophies, with once again the demotic character, the vulgar and dirtbound culture being the one of the essential vigour, being the salt without which a world, and this our world, has no savour.
Lafferty was a lover of words, of precise and accurate meanings, and meanings forgotten and changed. In this, and all his works, he is the enemy of refinement, and as he would himself point out, to refine something is to reduce it, to take away and remove elements. The refiner is in pursuit of purity, but Lafferty, the arch-Catholic, is the opponent of reduction in all its forms, not least in people.
The aliens in this story are the Dulanty families: two fathers, two mothers, six children (seven if you count Bad John). The Dulantys, brothers Henry and Frank, their wives, Witchy and Veronica, are not from Earth, they are Pucas. What planet they are actually from is never told, but it’s the one that isn’t Astrobe or Camiroi or Earth. Actually, when it comes to planets, the lowest and the meanest of them is Earth. People ask why do you want to go there?
But Pucas, as those of us who enjoy the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey already know, are not aliens but mythical creatures, mischievous, playful, tricky creatures. Say, maybe they are aliens after all?
And the children, all six of them (or seven if you count Bad John) are all born on Earth, but they’re still Pucas, even if three of them look like humans and the other three (or four of you count Bad John) look like Pucas. I mean, one of the adult Pucas, Witchy, looks like a human and a very beautiful one at that. And why wouldn’t you count Bad John? Just because no-one can see him, or hear him, unless they’re a Puca: do you hold dying as a baby against a little kid that likes to hang around with his brothers and sisters and cousins?
The Dulanty kids are not the first bunch of precocious kids in Lafferty’s fiction, nor will they be the last, though they more frequently turn up in his short stories. They don’t have to be Pucas to be like these six (or seven if you count Bad John). They’re vigorous, preternaturally skilful and bloodthirsty in all senses of the world. Well, they are planning to murder the whole human race, aren’t they? Even if they will leave some favourites until last, like the town Drunk, Fulbert Frontsac, from whom they purchase the little boat, Ile de France, and its resident goat, Catherine de Medici, and the Shawnee lady, Phoebe Jane Lanyard.
They’d have done it anyway, that much is clear from the gruesome and ghosty stories the kids all tell in the opening chapter, that introduces and sets the tone for them. The mixture of matter-of-fact and relish takes the cliché of campfire stories to a new level that Lafferty sustains perfectly, passing from internal fantasy to real fantasy without the slightest incongruity.
The travelling Dulanty clan are almost like gypsies and now they’ve arrived in the little, almost unnoticeable town of Little Haven, where everything is to go wrong. They’re ordered away by the roughneck Crocker, who takes against them for being strangers and strange of appearance. Of course, Helen Dulanty, the oldest child, immediately kills him with a Bagarthach verse, this being a ramshackle four line poem, made up on the spot, that turns Crocker dead, although he actually carries on living until the end of the book. Bagarthach verses are Puca magic as well as Puca weapons and they pepper the book.
But suddenly, things go completely wrong. Veronica dies, abruptly, and Witchy goes insane. Henry is struck by the Earth allergy, leaving only Frank to take care of the family. Not for long though, because no-one’s going to leave six children (seven if you count Bad John) in one man’s care. Before they can be taken into foster care, the kids vanish into the wild and decide to murder the rest of the planet’s population (including their surviving parents).
The situation for the Dulantys is complicated when the kids’ first target, Coalfactor Stutgard (Lafferty’s names are wonderful and wild and elevate the improbable into the fantastic) turns out to have been chopped up with an axe already, and Henry Dulanty framed for the murder. The actual killer is the low down Crocker, but Henry’s big enemy is the District Attorney, Mandrake Marshall, who is determined to have the Dulantys done to death, because he senses them as aliens and plans their destruction
There are battles between the Dulantys and the other elements who hide out in the boondocks, with kids and adults alike, which lead to the steady accumulation of weapons, but a non-increasing number of deaths and bloodshed – unless the three kids whose ears are supposed to have been cut off have really been de-auricularised.
But Marshall is determined not just to have Henry killed, but that this be a protracted and brutal affair. The evidence comes in that Crocker, not Henry is the killer, but Henry now suffers deeply from the Earth Allergy and when the jailer comments that he’ll soon be out of there, Henry interprets it as being the lynch mob approaching.
He goes on the run, and the jailer is killed too, to set up the scene that Marshall wants. Henry is killed, and Frank, who has risen to his Puca strength one last time, is left to lead the kids away, with the witchy Witchy, whose sanity returns about once a week, who’s sprung from the asylum by Phyllis.
Again, like many of Lafferty’s novels, there’s not an actual end. The kids disappear into the sunset, so to speak, leaving you to wonder just what effect they’re going to have on the world when they grow up. There’s is only six of them by now, Bad John having gone with his father, Frank. Everything is shaken, not to mentioned rattled and rolled.
This isn’t even one of Lafferty’s major books, in my opinion, yet even more than Past Master it sets the tone for his unique approach. It’s full of stuff that boggles the imagination, not least the fact that the sixteen chapter titles not only fit their respective contents but form a coherent sixteen line poem. Lafferty demands not merely a Suspension of Disbelief but a complete rejection of it, and by God, if you do you’ll never completely come back again.
And there was still another novel to come in 1968.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Past Master

By the time Past Master was published in 1968, the first of three novels to appear that year, R.A. Lafferty was well-established as a writer of original and distinctive short stories. He was in demand from a variety of SF magazines, and his fellow writers were enthusiastic about the first chance to read Lafferty at full-length.
By the time I got to read Past Master, I was a confirmed and enthusiastic follower of Lafferty, anxious to grab any book of his I could find. It’s been like that ever since.
Lafferty tends to get classed SF, because that’s the field that embraced him and in which most of his work is published. Past Master plays to that assumption in that it is a novel set on a distant planet, Golden Astrobe, five centuries into the future and involves time travel. Q.E.D., you might say. But the SF framework is mere trappings for the philosophical underpinnings that are this book’s main preoccupations.
Golden Astrobe is the third and last great hope for mankind, after the Old World and the New World on old Earth. Astrobe is the home of the perfect society, the home of the Dream. But it’s also a place in crisis. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Astrobe citizens have abandoned its perfect world to live in misery, poverty, filth, deprivation, despair and danger in Cathead and the Barrio: slums expanded to the highest possible degree. And it is voluntary. At any moment, every single one of them could abandon Cathead, return to the golden life of Astrobe. But they don’t.
The three original Masters of Astrobe are gathered to discuss the best way of resolving this problem, of preventing Astrobe from failing. These are Cosmo Kingmaker, Peter Proctor and Fabian Foreman. Foreman is under threat from the Programmed Persons, mechanical beings who detect threats to the Astrobe Dream and set out to kill whoever is thinking them. Such as Foreman.
What’s needed is a new President, a President who will be an acceptable figurehead to the people, but who will accept the direction of the three Masters. Kingmaker and Proctor review the available men and dismiss them all. Foreman has one name, and one name only, a figure from the past who had one totally honest moment in his life, for which he was executed. This is Thomas More, Sir Thomas More. He will be summoned from the past to become the Past Master.
The Masters intend More to be a puppet President: after all, they know far more about Astrobe than he does, not to mention the fact it’s almost a millennium after More’s original death, for refusing to put the King ahead of God. More has no intention of being a puppet for anyone. He spends a long time after his arrival on Astrobe travelling the planet, seeing different parts of it, and intends to lead in his own fashion, but he end up being the puppet he’s expected to be, though not of Foreman or either of the others. That is, until he brings down upon himself his own execution. The President is expected to rubber-stamp laws into being, and if he vetoes one three times, he will be executed. Thomas More vetoes the same provision three times. It’s not explicitly defined, More and his Masters talk about it in roundabout terms without naming it directly, though they know what it is and so do we, if we know anything of More’s history or have access to Wikipedia. More refuses to ban the beyond, that is, the afterlife. Golden Astrobe is the afterlife, the last life there is, perfection. More is being asked to ban what little remains of the Church, and by Church Lafferty means, as he always will, the Holy Mother Church, the Church of Rome. In everything he writes, Lafferty writes from a deep and powerful belief and conviction as to the absolute importance of the Roman Catholic Church in which he believed in life.
Lafferty chose More, partly because of this parallel, but largely because More wrote the well-known book, Utopia, the work that gave its name and the initial impetus to uptopian fiction. Golden Astrobe is based upon More’s Utopia, but the joke is that, in Lafferty’s words, More wrote the book as a colossal joke, a bitter satire, never intending it to be taken seriously in the way that it has been ever since, and bemused to find it being used as the basis of a world that is humanity’s Last Best Hope.
Unlike later works, where he will be much more explicit, Past Master weaves Lafferty’s viewpoint into the story in a much less direct fashion. Things are identified and laid out to be seen, but not labelled as such. Cathead is many times described as a cancer, a black cancer on Astrobe, but this is always by the Masters, by those invested in Astrobe. Squalid and disgusting as it is, for More, even after he’s been seduced, it is a sign of life, of vigour, of robust vulgarity.
Astrobe’s enemy is Ouden, the great emptiness, the great nothingness. It is oblivion, ending, the extermination of life through, as much as anything, lack of use. More is invaded by seven snakes, implanted there to have him speak words that are his own, by Pottscamp, the Fourth of the Three, who is Ouden’s chief agent. Without them, the Programmed Killers circle him endlessly. Companions give up their lives to protect him, though that isn’t always permanently.
Like so many of his novels to come, Past Master has no definitive ending. Change comes, matters come to a head, but we are left to determine for ourrselves the effect of the climax. The Thomas is executed, for the same reason as his first death on Earth, which is yet to come. And at that moment, the worlds came to an end.
What comes next, what will follow, the implicit answer to the claim that Golden Astrobe is humanity’s third and last best hope, is discussed, broken at intervals by the admonition, cutting across the narrative, Be quiet. We watch.
This repeats. The last such admonition is different: Be quiet. We hope.
And with that, we have to be content.
Past Master is a very clever book. It’s not the best of Lafferty’s works, but it is the best of the three novels he would publish in 1968. It works more by indirection, but it has all the characteristics of his work, his unreproducible voice, his vigour, his rigour, and the ability to toss off lines that are unbelievable in a way that has you believing him (late in the book, the necromancer, Walter Copperhead, escapes from prison by walking through the walls: he describes it as a method that has been insufficiently tried, and you blink and wonder if you actually can…)
This book is currently available as part of the 2018 release Three Great Novels by R.A. Lafferty. As one of the other two is Fourth Mansions, you have no excuse for not buying this. A new American edition, with a foreword from Andrew Ferguson, of Continued on Next Rock , incorporating passages originally struck from the book as published fifty years ago, is due out next month, and you can expect a comment abut that once I’ve gotten my hands on it.

And You May Find Yourself – *New Novel*

It’s taken me a great deal longer than I’d expected, given that I’d produced the final draft by February 2019, but I’ve finally published my latest novel, my ninth in total.

And You May Find Yourself is a direct sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand, which came out in 2018. Though it features the same ‘hero’, and many of the same characters, it couldn’t be more different, in that the first book was largely based in real events, and the sequel is the opposite. It’s working title was ‘The Wildly Overdue Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy’.

And as of tonight, it’s available through for £9.99 and P&P, and for your comfort and convenience, you may use this link. Order it, read it, enjoy it and writeand tell me just how good it is. So what if you have to lie a bit, friends do that for friends.

And in case you’re wondering, I am about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of the third (and final) book, which you can look for in 2020 if we still have a functioning country left by then.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: An Introduction to R A Lafferty’s novels

People (it is traditional to address an audience with the word the great man was wont to use in his fiction when preparing to discuss Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, known professionally as R.A. Lafferty and to his family and intimates as Ray). People: little as I am qualified to do so, given my lack of great erudition, my unfamiliarity with deep Catholic liturgy and beliefs, my similar inexperience with more than a shallow amount of world-wide mythology and the absence in me of familiarity with more than merely my native tongue, but buoyed up by forty plus years of reading the great man’s writings, not to mention the qualification of being one of the few hundred people on this globe who enthuse for his works. People: I intend to re-read, and write upon the various novels of the late R.A. Lafferty. May God have mercy upon you.
The thing about reading Lafferty is not that it qualifies you for a very exclusive, inclusive club of enthusiasts and fanatics, but that you find yourself writing introductions like that.
Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was born in Neola, Iowa, and moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, aged 8. Other than during Service in the US Army in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2, he lived there for the remainder of his life, the last eighteen years of which he spent in a nursing home after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1984. For someone with such a sharp, inventive mind, that was a tragic ending.
Lafferty first started to appear, as a writer of short stories, in 1959. For a time there, it was touch and go whether he would become a crime fiction writer, or a science fiction writer. In the end, the SF field claimed him for their own, although the fit was always more one of default than nature. Lafferty was a writer of dense, allusive but also broadly comic prose, a fizzer with ideas. He was a true one-off: expert writers who try to pastiche what at first sight appears to be a slapdash, easy going, campfire style that fits closest with the American Tall Tales tradition, universally agree that it’s incredibly hard work to give even a surface impression.
Lafferty was a regular in the SF magazines in the Sixties and into the Seventies, and produced a number of well-received novels. He was in demand from editors and welcomed passionately by his fellow writers, until sophisticated publishing and circulation software revealed that Laff’s actual market was minuscule: in a conversation with a fellow fan, a bookseller, a few years ago, he reckoned that there are only about three hundred of us in the world.
And if you go by their quotes, something like twenty-five percent of them at least are fellow writers. Neil Gaiman is an avid fan, who corresponded with him whilst still a child: he has said, “(Lafferty) was undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did that ever there was.” Theodore Sturgeon commented that, “some day the taxonomists, those tireless obsessives who put labels on everything, will have to characterise literature as Westerns, fantasies, romances, lafferties, science fiction, mysteries…”
My favourite comment comes from Michael Swanwick: “If there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him.” I can think of no more beautiful tribute to a fellow writer.
Most people concur that Lafferty’s strongest writing comes in his short stories. His working methods were very intense, involving two hour writing stints, and having to extend this across the number of pages required for a novel has most people believing that his talents were being diffused.
Some of his short stories are incredible miniatures, that can have you in tears of laughter, or just boggling at what he’s done in so short a space and time. But although I may have read a couple of his early stories when I was first feeling my way into SF/Fantasy, back in 1974, my first serious exposure was a novel.
Lafferty’s novels in publication order bear no discernible relationship to their order of writing. I know from the Continued on Next Rock website that Archipelago was Laff’s first, even though it was not published until 1979, and then in very limited quantities, but I’m going to go by publication order, and you’ll have to keep up.
We all have to keep up, and that includes me. I’m going to write this because I want to write this. If it can persuade any of you to join in increasing our numbers to 301, it will be a welcome bonus. But you’ll need a lot of money to afford to buy the out-of-print books…