The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny


The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny is the other half of the book Apocalypses, which confuses the issue of whether this, and its companion, Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? should be treated as novels at all. But if you accord that status to one, you must do so to both, and hence we will now look at the latter tale, without assessing it in the light of its front material. Besides, they have nothing in common except an author.
Where Sandaliotis is a tale, a story, a progression of events, The Three Armageddons is an account, an annal, a description, almost a documentary. Everything that happens in it has already happened and is being presented to us from without and afterwards. That means that this is a very static story, a very simple one, albeit almost fractal, as its details show, and given to a degree of repetition.
Enniscorthy Sweeny himself is a strange one, but can’t that be said of every Lafferty character? Outwardly, he is a composer, of musicals, plays and Operas, specifically in the latter case of the Armageddon Tryptich, three increasingly large operas, of murder, war, ruin and destruction, each one nine times more destructive than its predecessor. These Armageddons are entertainments, fictions. They show things that have not taken place, but they infect an otherwise healthy, happy, balanced world with the same poisons as if they were real, the same psychic diseases. Sweeny’s Operas are killing the world.
Because these three Armageddons are set in 1914, 1939 and 1984, and the first two of them are of course the World Wars, and the third is a total destruction that will end the world forever.
Sweeny has the power to change reality, it seems, to alter it to be as he wants it. Among the things for which he is responsible is the election of America’s first black President, Harold Standpipe, in 1900, and the election of Pope Kirol 1, not to mention turning his love and future wife, Mary Margaret into the most beautiful woman in the world and a great Opera star, despite her being unable to sing.
These things Sweeny, a skinny, red-faced, skin-peeling Irish kid, can do to change the world’s actual direction, but his greatest achievement, or perhaps his greatest sin, is his ability to absorb things of greatest destruction, the Twentieth Century’s worst events, into an innocuous form, into Opera, so that these should not affect the world itself. In addition to the Armageddon Tryptich, Sweeney also produces such entertainments as ‘Prohibition – A Farce’ and the extremely successful ‘The Great Depression’.
Just what are we reading here? That’s a question that often gets asked about a Lafferty story, whatever its length. The Three Armageddons is divided into eleven Sections, each of which takes a different part in the kaleidoscopic approach, seeing Sweeny from all angles, some of which don’t appear to conform to conventional geometry. Some of the story, a lot of the story, consists of philosophical explorations, some are letters, some almost traditional thriller material.
Sweeny is identified as the answer to some complex mathematical equations that identify him as the Twentieth Century’s most influential individual, and three mathematicians in particular, one of them dead, decide that he must be killed to stop him. At the same time, three demons, possibly with off-world connections, decide that he must go on and that he will be killed if he tries to stop. So six detectives, in two groups of three, are needed to protect Sweeny, amidst hazy plots and counterplots, until all twelve are too old and have to come live with Sweeny to keep an eye on each other.
But the story suffers from being seen in this external, achronological fashion. It constantly raises questions and resolutely fails to answer these, in part because of the old dilemma that the provision of answers to the improbable is inherently limiting and almost inevitably diminishing, and in part because the story itself consists of very few events or actions, and pretty much all of these symbolic rather than actual.
What inspires Lafferty, we conclude, is the idea of the major disasters of our century being displaced into fictions, amusements, Opera, of the world without the damage these have done, and the question of whether we really can escape the effects of these by pretending they didn’t exist. This is a book where one must decide for oneself the extent to which he succeeds in his purpose.
It’s interesting to see how Lafferty approaches the third Armageddon, the one that is due to take place in 1984 (I have no information on when The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny was written, but the book Apocalypses was published in 1977). This Armageddon is the one that didn’t happen, hadn’t happened, that is made up out of whole cloth. Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was a deep-thinking and old-fashioned Catholic and a strongly Conservative thinker. Though he was adopted by the mostly left-oriented ‘New Wave’ of SF in the Sixties, his principles, opinions and beliefs ran counter to the counterculture and the tendencies that he depicts as leading to the Third Armageddon, the victims of its ravaging, the War that is eighty-one times worse than the First Armageddon, are drawn from the world he saw before him and did not approve of. There are clear references to abortion and euthanasia in his summary, though this is presented in a manner that reminds me now of Dave Sim and the final ‘book’ of Cerebus, the one in which he goes OTT in his extrapolation of the trends he sees around him, the so-called feminist-homosexualist agenda.
Lafferty’s not so extreme, nor so ridiculous as Sim, but there is the sense of someone letting go with his prejudices, and I with my principles, opinions nd beliefs must find myself disagreeing.
So I’d only give this story a guarded response. It has much in it that is prime Lafferty but, for me, it fails to cohere – almost inevitable in a story told in an anti-cohering manner. But what the hey? You can’t read Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? without acquiring The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny, and you wouldn’t be a decent and authentic reader if you didn’t start reading the back half of the book, would you?

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.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Not to Mention Camels


There seems to be a gap in the history here. I had read all the Dobson publications, had gathered the small handful of UK paperbacks, and without the access to US editions we have now, the only new Lafferties I could find were those short stories that still cropped up in SF anthologies. Then came a new novel.
Not to Mention Camels was first published in 1976. I have a recollection of reading a library copy on a Friday night coach from Nottingham to Manchester, returning home for the weekend, but this is probably spurious because it didn’t appear over here until 1980, leaving only a very narrow window in which I could have done that.
I still have great difficulties with this book, in particular with how to describe it. In part, this is because, phantasmagorical as it is, I don’t find it funny in the way I was, then and now, used to from Laff, and in part it’s because of the sheer bloodthirstiness of the story, the relish in blood and guts, dismemberment and rapine. I am not sufficiently robust for the esprit de Grand Guignol required.
The dust-jacket blurb is unhelpful in suggesting things that are not there. It promises a story about three anti-heroes, each inhabiting alternate worlds, and describes them in vivid terms: Pilger Tisman is ‘a protean figure of phantasmagoric qualities’, Pilgrim Dusmano’s ‘fragmented existence lies in thousands of minds beside his own’ and Polder Dossman is ‘eidolon-man and cult-figure, hypnotic, electric, magnetic, transcendent’.The blurb is self-evidently written by someone who has not read the book or, if they have, has completely misunderstood it.
But Pilger Tisman appears only in Chapter One, and as a man convicted of undetailed terrible and bloody crimes, sentenced to execution in a manner intended to be cruel and painful. His extinction is to be final. It is known that there are many worlds, and that certain persons, who are large and powerful, are world-jumpers. All of Tisman must die here, nothing must be allowed to escape and jump. Three Doctors (one of whom is an alternate to Dr Velikof Vonk, of Lafferty’s Three Eminent Scientists) and a Brigadier of Police are there to ensure this. But Tisman jumps. We see no more of Tisman.
What he has done to deserve such fate we intuit from the behaviour of Pilgrim Dusmano. Fifteen years after the end of Pilger, Pilgrim has been in his world for fifteen years, and is preparing for his next jump (though an alternate version of him will arrive to be Pilgrim Dusmano). Pilgrim is many things, a lecturer, a supplier, a cult-figure leading what one may see as a substitute for religion with himself as its unstated but acknowledged God. He has one powerful friend, one powerful enemy, and devoted cultists, the closest of whom appear to be his students, Mary Morey, a fair, freckled unlarge girl, permanently in the sun and her brother James, a silent, dog-like creature in the shadows.
Pilgrim is cast in charismatic terms – the fair and flowing hair, the hands that drip beneficence, the vulgarity of his fat jaw and the unbroken-horse look to the face.
Yes, Pilgrim is planning to jump on, and all would be well, but for one thing he does, casually, as casually as Lafferty describes it, in passing. He kills a man.
Not just any man, for this is Hut, or at least that is his codename, his cognomen, Hut, or the Hat, or shelter (Pilgrim’s one powerful friend, Noah Zontik, is also known as the Umbrella, for the same reason). Hut is an associate, one of eight (no, it was eight, it’s now seven) associates of Pilgrim’s one powerful enemy, Cyrus Evenhand. Pilgrim goes about his business in his usual manner, sending the weekly message to Supply, which involves – grim jest – killing the messenger, and his wife and two children, to enable their world-jump. The younger child is wise beyond his years.
Pilgrim’s murder sparks a retaliation, by Mut, who takes Pilgrim in his home, knifes his throat, drains him of five pints of blood (which he will later quaff in a single draught), also causing his eyes to fracture and become jewel-like. But Mut is careless enough to allow Pilgrim to lift his wallet, and supremely careless enough to carry in it some precipitate and unwise information.
This is a post-anarchic world that has rejected authority, rejected leaders. It allows a leader in the form of a Consul, masked, unknown, unpaid, certified pure, but only so long as he is unknown. Let his name be revealed, the whole world will erupt in a self-righteous frenzy, to tear him down, both figuratively and literally, to shatter him, to render his body, to sacrifice, cook and eat the bloody portions of him with a relish all the more intense for the Consul being the most undeserving of such a fate, an innocent. What fun is there in harrowing the guilty?
And Evenhand (you knew this) is Consul.
It really is bloody, raveningly bloody, markedly, unashamedly so. It’s also unreal in any respect, or at least it is to me, but not so much as to eradicate or even diminish the effect, because this is R.A. Lafferty, who will tell you that humanity originated on a planet whose cycle is 28 hours long and have you starting to believe him…
Pilgrim plans the despoilment of all nine fortunes, especially the gold, for which he employs the services of the world’s greatest Knacker. This Knacker is skilled at rendering down not merely animal corpses for their by-products but fortunes to their undeserving claimants. But thieves fall out, and the Knacker ends up knackered, his body broken and opened and made a cavity into which liquid gold is poured.
Things now do not go well. Pilgrim’s departure is raw and ill-planned, his death weak and beyond his control. And at the Narrow Corner, a Stygean, Boschean scene where souls in transit can be attacked from above by those who lie in wait for them, Pilgrim and his two cultist followers become locked in frenzied and devastating combat with three others, a Holy Knacker, a small child, and Wut-who-is-Rage.
We have already been warned. There are worlds abounding, and all jumps lead upwards, to bigger, brighter, more bombastic things. Save only from one world, which is Prime World. Though Pilgrim passes the Narrow Corner, he has not passed undiverted.
First though there is the gift, the proto-immortality, the Nine Worlds to Le Spezia, nine worlds of opulence and indulgence to towering degree, where nine versions of yourself are always leading the life your power, elegance and richness entitles you. Though we only meet two in this transit, Pelion Tuscamondo and Palgrave Tacoman, we have all their names and none of them are Polder Dossman. Polder is a Dutch word for land reclaimed from the sea, and Polder Dossman is reclaimed from the ocean, the ocean of the unconscious (I hear also the echo of Polter, of Polter-Geist, Polder-Ghost: Lafferty is a fluent multi-linguist).
Polder is Pilgrim as he emerges, but he is not wholly of human flesh. He is to be to this world the Cult-Figure that was Pilgrim, with the same fair and flowing hair, the hands that drip beneficence, the vulgarity of his fat jaw and the unbroken-horse look to the face. But this world is sceptical and disbelieving, its children hating and derisory, even though Polder comes with the latest model Hand from Heaven, hung above his head, pointing to him for all to see.
And there is no patience for his assertions, despite the efforts of the cultists and the one powerful friend who gather around him. For if Polder is Pilgrim is Pilger, he is a broken version, in the world from which he cannot leap upwards, accorded no respect or power, and ultimately ending as Pilger ended.
There are again three Doctors, one of whom is a Doctor Vonk, of the heavy pre-orbital lobes and the protruding near-muzzle. Are the Three Eminent Scientists here? Pilgrim attends a museum that has a perfect cigar store wooden Indian carved by Finnegan, delivered from Melchisedech Duffy’s Walk-In Bijou in New Orleans, as well as a tryptich titled Dotty. We are a part of Lafferty’s great unfinished work, ‘A Ghost Story’, consisting of everything he ever wrote.
This part of that work stays, for me, outside the range of easy comprehension. There is philosophy, raw and bloody (that damned word again), there are three men who are one man and more than three men, and symbolism so tightly knotted that I have never been able to unravel it. But Lafferty offers us that which we cannot receive elsewhere, and if we can just fracture our own eyes, like jewels, to see brighter and in more dimensions, we may achieve clarity.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Okla Hannali


Until the recent effort to make R.A. Lafferty’s works once more available, this was for long years the only one of his books to remain in print. This is because it is both an historical work, as was The Flame is Green, and because it was published by a University Press, OU Press (Oklahoma), who could afford to carry it as a book of significance, as opposed to a purely commercial entity.
Okla Hannali was published in 1973, and is a work about Indian history, a work acclaimed by no less a figure than Dee Brown, author of the seminal Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, who wrote “The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it….Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian.”
Given that Lafferty was a white man, an outsider, that is indeed high praise, though Lafferty himself commented that his childhood, his schooling, his life took place in and around and among Indians, so that he was aware of them and their histories by the most natural study of them all. He is interviewed in this respect in the book as currently available.
Looked at on a technical basis, Okla Hannali is a hybrid of The Flame is Green and The Fall of Rome. Like the former, it is a fiction, surrounding a fictional character, and like the latter it is a history, of the Choctaw Indians in the Nineteenth Century, using the figure of Hannali Innominee as figurehead to a narrative that winds in and out amongst the story of Hannali, a great bear of an Indian, and the story of his tribe and those close to it.
Lafferty makes no bones about it in his account, puts up no defence of his own, of the white men from whom he descends, and there is no defence that can be given. Hannali is strong and brave and intelligent, not merely in what might be thought to be Indian terms, but in terms generally. But he is also an Indian, from head to toe to roots. He is himself and of his people.
Lafferty presents Hannali in broad terms to depict a broad person. A man of three wives, three contrasting wives, married in a quick succession, representing different races: one a white woman, of French stock, one a black woman, one an Indian woman. And all live together in the same household as a single family, without suspicion of each other’s status, well, not on the part of Marie DuShane, that is until she divines the true circumstances.
Maria DuShane insists that Hannali must end his sin by putting aside both his other wives, and Hannali acknowledges his sin but can only attend to it by putting away all three wives, including his French wife and never touching woman again, though children continue to come, nine in total, three of each wife.
Thee are many stories involving Hannali. There is the white man Robert Pike who is taken in by Hannali twice. Once with tall tales of the fearsomeness of other tribes, and once during the Civil War where, in order that neutrality should not be compromised, Pike becomes a ghost that cannot be seen or heard. There is the personal enemy Whiteman Falaya, who attacks at random and with a hidden guile not even Hannali can match, and whose last attack is the trap that destroys Hannali’s home and family. There is Hannali’s death, in his own time, by his own will, by when he is the last Red Indian as Lafferty defines them for his story.
But at the same time there is history here, rich and deep in treachery and greed and lies and these not of the Indians but of the white men that take, and promise not to take more, then come and take more in breach of all promises. It goes back to Andrew Jackson in this book, and it goes forward through the thirty-five years of the civilisation in Indian Territory, until the Civil War: not just one War, between white men, north and south, but the multiple Civil Wars caused deliberately in the tribes by cheating and robbing and manipulation.
And then the destruction of that Civilisation, by way of punishment visited upon friends and allies, to the intent that the Indian should be destroyed, and ended, and how that end came upon them in ways that didn’t involve the death of the body but rather the death of the spirit and the culture, until Hannali alone remains and none beyond him, Indian though they be called by those who only see an other that they cannot stand to share with.
Though the approach is characteristically Lafferty, yet this book is calmer, less wild and joyous than the writings we are more familiar with, for even the fantastic is bound in to the truth and the reality, and the stories that the Indians tell themselves. Okla Hannali is a greatly serious story, and it demands a soberness that Lafferty unwinds for it.
SF fans don’t read historical novels, or they didn’t until steampunk followed cyberpunk, which was to say, not when R.A.Lafferty honoured those amongst whom he grew up. It is their loss. Lafferty’s fans read it as Lafferty. The version we read is at least the third: in his introductory interview, Ray explains that he first wrote Okla Hannali in 1963 when it was bad, and that he rewrote it twice after.
I am not versed in Indian literature, or history, but I do not need those more knowledgeable than me to tell me that the truth lies in here.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Arrive at Easterwine


Arrive at Easterwine was another 1971 publication, and another of those invaluable Dobson Books editions, without which I would have found it harder to get into Lafferty’s works. It would have saved me a considerable amount of money, yes, but just think what I would have missed out upon.
The book’s cover and title page are out of the ordinary, and are explained by an ‘exchange of letters’ between the author and a representative of his Literary Agency, over the credit for the book. The novel’s full title, which is key to the understanding of the book, is actually Arrive at Easterwine the Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine as Conveyed to R A Lafferty. You see, the book is written by a machine, Epiktistes, the aforementioned Ktistec Machine.
Fortunately, by the time I bought this book, I already knew what a Ktistec Machine was, or at least I knew about Epiktistes. I was looking forward to reading at full length about the several members of the Institute of Impure Science, with whom I had become acquainted via a number of stories in Laffferty’s first collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers. Oh yes, the shambling giant, Gregory Smirnov, the anima’s rock-throwing little sister, Valery Mok, her unoutstanding and overshadowed husband, Charles Cogworth, the stiff-necked Glasser and Aloysius Shiplap. Are these not wonderful names? How can you not have fun with scientists of those kinds of names, and an Institute that dedicates itself to Impure Science?
The book is Epikt’s account of himself and the Institute’s first three Great Failures, over the first months of his existence, from the moment he’s acquired enough sentience to start re-directing it. As such, it pre-dates every short story about the Institute, though it’s fair to say that though it has its moments of interest, and the space to go into who and what the members are as people, it never approaches the heights of the short stories, whose brevity focuses upon the idea Lafferty is exploring.
Indeed, much of the novel is, as is very often the case, based in Lafferty’s philosophical interests. Epikt, for all his intelligence, is starting from point zero, collecting information in great gobbets but always watching from a different angle than that of the humans. He’s an amalgam of naivete and boastful knowingness, which makes him the ideal observer, searching for enlightenment and requiring answers, whilst placing himself above humans in knowing, but not necessarily understanding those answers.
The cast is expanded a little, to include Gaetan Balbo, Director of that earlier and eradicated Institute that didn’t include Gregory Smirnov, and also two others among Lafferty’s vivid and highly intelligent short story regulars, Audifax O’Hanlon and Diogenes Pontifex, two of the elegants, like Aloysius, as opposed to the fellahin, like Cogworth and Glasser, but who are excluded from membership on account of failing the minimum decency rule.
To provide the book with what narrative structure it has, Lafferty and Epikt relate the Institute’s first three Tasks, tasks we’re told in advance will fail. Gregory’s intent on outlining these in turn, which, stripped to the barest possible explanation, will take an hour or so each, that is until his colleagues reduce them to three words: they (and Epiktistes) are to find a Leader, a Love and a Liaison. And Epikt has his own vision (he intuits visions) integral to his cause. This is of Gaetan Balbo’s family crest, its familiar but symbolic quarters, it’s curious writhing scroll and changing motto and, at its centre, its overwritten area, where various levels exist, obscured by the others. The contents of this flow through different but closely related names: El Brusco, the brusque one, La Brusca, the Burning Bush and Labrusca, the wild-wine.
Each name, in turn, relates to the three investigations, or searchings or uncoverings or failures Epikt and how each is illuminated by the synbols Lafferty produces.
Ultimately, though the characters are as vivid and enjoyable, the fact that the book is about three Great Failures robs it, for me, of any successful ending, not even in the sense of that of Fourth Mansions, where the ultimate effect is withheld for us to determine from our individual readings. And, like all Lafferty books, it has its fans and its detractors, whose opinions seem to derive from how flexible the mind can be about a book written with no thought of convention in mind.
It is immaculately Laffertyesque, with lines and thoughts of brilliance and high humour, and it throws out a hundred thousand ideas that no-one else could have had and which leave the receptive reader speculating wildly which one of them or the writer is on powerful hallucinogens (hint, it wasn’t Lafferty), and more than half convinced that Laff is on to something that none of us have noticed. And it’s incredibly funny, to those of us tuned to Lafferty’s absurdity.
So, Arrive at Easterwine. I have known it too long to be anything other than affectionate towards it, and incredibly defensive on its behalf to those who plainly do not understand (this means most of you, right? Don’t worry I don’t mean that insultingly) but I will not pretend it is the book you should want to read to decide if you like the Cranky Old Man from Tulsa. But if you do, and once you are sure, don’t leave it long, people.
As Epikt says, it really is the best thing ever done by a machine.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Devil is Dead


When first I discovered R.A.Lafferty, in Fourth Mansions, my thought was to read as much of his other works as I could get my hands on, and the first place to which I turned was the library. In this, I was in a time of fortune, for there was a British publisher of science fiction books, Dobson Books, who had great belief in Lafferty, and there were books to borrow, and re-read, and relish for a good while longer in the Seventies.
Looking at the other authors listed on the back of the dustjacket, one has to ask why? Dobsons billed themselves as publishing fantasy and SF, but The Devil is Dead was neither, or if it was it was some amalgam whose proportions had hitherto never been mixed in this degree, but the names we read are Anderson, Campbell, Laumer, Pohl, Harrison, Vance, Asimov, and these are not writers whose works sit easily on the same shelf as Ray Lafferty.
Of those I could borrow in that first glorious period, The Devil is Dead is second only to Fourth Mansions in terms of ease of reading. It is of structure a thriller, a thriller constructed around a conspiracy and the planned thwarting thereof, in which respect it is more conventional than other of Lafferty’s works. But it is only a thriller as to half its length, after which it drifts, it eddies, it meanders, deliberately so, and ends in a dramatic manner, on a half-finished line, with nothing resolved yet everything satisfactory.
How else could it end? It begins with a Prologue, or Promantia, forewarning of what things lie within in terms that mystify as much as they intrigue and yet which are no more that an accurate depiction of its contents, with a reference to Richard Burton (the explorer, not the Welsh actor), and with some strange suggestions. It describes the story as a do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare, to be arranged as you will. It cautions that, having put the nightmare together, if you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
And it admits: Is that not an odd introduction? I don’t understand it at all. We are not even on the third page by now.
It begins with Finnegan, who is bugle-nosed and not necessarily of human beings, who is sometimes called Count Finnegan, and whose real name is John (Giovanni) Solli. He has an upper life with other friends but this is Finnegan in his lower life. He wakes to find himself drinking with an eccentric millionaire, Saxon X. Seaworthy. He cannot remember, not yet, how they have met or what they have done together, though it comes to him later that they have buried a dead body together, and that the body of Papadiabolus, who is the Devil, and who walks along the street the morning after his burial. It is not always serious to die, the first time it happens.
(If you have not, by this point, begun craving to read this book, turn away: it is not for you. If you have, start saving your pennies: it may be had for as little as £39.37, but not in many places.)
Seaworthy is setting out on a cruise, in his yacht, and Finnegan, who is also an artist, is to go aboard as one of his seamen, though really it is his double or fetch, Dopey the Seaman, Doppio del Pinne, who is to go aboard and Finnegan be killed but in some manner about which no-one is certain something slips, and it is Dopey who disappears, or dies, or doesn’t.
But by being aboard, Finnegan becomes part of a band himself, opponents to Seaworthy and those he surrounds himself with. The voyage is long and winding, calling at all ports and shore-towns and moving on, and all such ports and shore-towns erupt in riots and murder two to three days later. There is the echo of the Red Revolution in the Coscuin Chronicles, transplanted a century forward in time (the period is given only as some years ago, but the inference is of the early Fifties).
There are games being played, and not all who die remain dead, so much so that Finnegan will complain of it as tiresome. Something is being implanted that is set to overturn the world, and its proponents are Seaworthy and other, including his captain, Orestes Gonof. This should number Papa D, but this is not the real Papadiabolus. Finnegan ‘sees’ his real face and paints it into a mural, but no-one recognises the face until the man is dead.
For the raid that is coming, that attempts to end this voyage of the damned, is a failure, and all die, including Anastasia Demetriades, who is cousin to Finnegan in a manner older than he thinks, and love and solace. There is a scene in this book, that I had read times before in other works but did not recognise for what it is until reading The Devil is Dead, which inspired me to write an equivalent in my own, then, first novel. I call it One Last Golden Afternoon, that final time that two people have to simply enjoy being two people in their world, with no cares other than the afternoon, before it all goes wrong for ever.
The failed raid, the deaths of Anastasia, of the second Papadiabolus and the loose and louche raiding party mark the end of the thriller, the end of the plot-driven story. Finnegan survives, but from then on he is hunted, he and Mr X, who is known to all as Mr X, and also Dolores ‘Doll’ Delancey, a human girl who comes into the middle of this with no seeming part, but who becomes one of the three journeyers, as Lafferty consciously denies his story any further momentum without yet rendering it tedious or static.
They separate, for a year, during which time Finnegan spends a considerable period in the Terrestrial Paradise, of which Lafferty gives the exact co-ordinates, in latitude and longitude.
The final scene is the meeting of these three, in a graveyard. Here is explained the relationship of Papadiabolus to Papadiabolus and how one cannot die three times. Here we learn the name under which the Devil is buried, a name that we recognise from The Flame is Green, but not I, twenty years before I read the latter. And here Doll speaks doggerel, reciting of the events we have read and ending abruptly.
I would have read The Devil is Dead in or about 1974, and had my own copy later that decade. It would be almost another decade before I learned that it was not a stand-alone book, but rather a part of the ‘Devil is Dead’ Trilogy, and not even the first part but the second. And it would be nearly thirty years after that that I would learn that the book is not complete. That there is a final chapter, in which Finnegan is called out by Seaworthy, which was excluded from the book because it apparently arrived too late at the printers (I find this explanation must suspicious and difficult to believe except that this is Lafferty, in which everything is believable, especially if outlandish).
This final piece, titled ‘Apochryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island (Unaccountably Omitted from the Standard Version of The Devil is Dead‘) saw print in the 1990 United Mythologies chapbook Episodes of the Argo (335 copies, of which mine is numbered 73.) This is the first time I have read it as part of the text, but it is a physically severed part of the text, as well as a late interloper. A non-standard version is required.
We shall encounter the other two books in this once-unsuspected Trilogy, but they too are distant in time and space. We will need to be patient.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Flame is Green


R.A. Lafferty’s next book is, if such qualifications make a difference, an historical rather than an SF book. The Flame is Green was first published in 1971, but my copy is a republication by Corroborree Press, in 1985, in an illustrated edition matching its sequel, Half a Sky, which I obtained and read roughly contemporaneously with its publication: it was some fifteen to twenty years before I read The Flame is Green. This is also the first book in The Cosquin Chronicles, a four-book sequence of which only the first two have ever been published. Sardinian Summer and First and Last Island are just two of a dozen unpublished R.A. Lafferty novels, and I hope to live long enough to see these and all the others into print.
The Flame is Green is a difficult book to review. Some of that is that it is but part of a larger story, only half of which can currently be known. Some of it is that it is an at times unfathomable mixture of histories, between the known of the world in the years 1845 to 1849, and the allegorical/symbolic history of Lafferty’s division of things into the the Green Revolution and the Red.
In setting up this opposition between two Revolutions, Lafferty is nailing firmly his colours to the mast. Red links to the redness of communism, which is in the future of this history, but he links it to many of the terms I would instinctively respond to, to liberalism, to progressivism, branding these as the returning Red Failure, a disease that is the death of the individual.
The novel follows the adventures of Dana Coscuin, an Irishman of Bantry Bay who finds himself summoned to the Green Revolution by the mysterious and distant Count Cyril Prasinos. The Count Cyril does not appear, his whereabouts and lineaments are unknown, although a couple of times the tow-headed, stocky and vigorous Dana will be mistaken in the street for a younger version of him.
But Count Cyril is by way of being a leader, and Dana – who is already aware of an unnatural passion for his cousin Aileen Dinaan that sets both of them at risk – accepts his instruction to take ship, on an invisible ship that is not going there, to Hendaye in Spain, and there to ascend to the Carlist Hills, and take instruction from the Black Pope.
The book coincides with the period of the loosely defined Second Carlist War, although what military aspects of this war there were took place in Catalonia, the Basque country, on the other side of the Iberian peninsula from Hendaye. The Carlists were anti-liberals, opposed to the accession of Queen Isabella, because she was a woman, though in the book the Carlists concerns focus more on the direct evil of Isabella, alleging sexual activity with prohibited persons from well before she attained the age of maturity.
But Dana’s course is a tainted one. He makes deep friends of the formidably ugly Malandrino Brume, and his excessively active wife Magdalena. His course is joined, loosely, with the giant German, Kemper Gruenland, with the black man Charley Oceaan, and the Sardinian Tancredi Cima, a mutterer. These are his allies, his Company.
And from the beginning his direct enemy, his immediate opposite, is the knife-man Jude Revanche, whom Dana must finally face in duel, though Revanche is by the blind, though not less dangerous: a duel with a blind man is one that cannot be won on all the levels such things must be won upon.
Yet for a long period, seemingly two years, Dana betrays his company, his Revolution, for lust of Elena Prado y Bosca, who is also an opposite to herself, who is Muerta de Boscage, the Bruja, the death-witch of the Red Revolution. It begins with a meeting on the road, with unusually rough behaviour by Dana towards a woman who carries with her sweet innocence and something of the snake. Dana’s reputation is destroyed, with both the Carlists and the Red Revolution untrusting of him, but he and Elena/ Muerta sin and sin again.
Dana falls not when he sees Elena but when he sees Muerta, the battle-witch, leading a raid on the Black Pope and the Carlists. He defends her from death. He saves her from Tancredi, who will kill her to save Dana, he nurses her, he is lost for those two years that are given as an abridgement, of which there are restrictions on the data. Even though it be more than a hundred, though less than two hundred years after. It is not even certain that all the parties are dead.
Here, it is appropriate to point out that Lafferty will tell you such things, and you will believe in them. He is a writer of fictions and he will tell you things that you know are impossible, or untrue, or incapable of being real, and you will read these things and believe them, unlike the late and infamous Erich von Daniken, purveyor of fictions and lies and gigantic distortions that were presented as true, that he marketed with incredible success as true, and who, had he told me the sun was shining outside, would have caused me to go outside in raincoat, with umbrella unfurled.
It is Brume that wins Dana back for the Green Revolution, Malandrino Brume who conducts him about Europe and its several sites and quarters. But Dana must return to Spain, where he is at risk from both sides, because he is put on this Earth to be the friend to Elena, whatever she be. He intends to marry her, but this is forbidden from all parties and from God. Instead, he is instructed to go to Paris, by a letter he cannot read, signed by Catherine Dembinska..
It is not just the mysterious Catherine who instructs Dana. He is instructed also by the Leader of the Red Revolution, Ifreann Chortovitch, he of the Irish/Polish name whose literal translation is Hell Son of the Devil. Ifreann, who also appears in the middle book of the Devil is Dead trilogy, proclaims himself the literal Son of the Devil. He is Dana’s great adversary. He is also to be the death of the Polish Countess Catherine Dembinska, she who is prophesied for Dana’s wife when he is still besotted by Elena Prado.
The Son of the Devil challenges Dana and his company in Paris, when they have taken over Ifreann’s house and thrown out his cohorts. He boasts and lords it, but the individual duels and combats between each band’s equivalents all go to the Green Revolution, and the only direct combat in which Dana faces Ifreann is to drink him under the table, a mighty feat treated as every bit as much a legendary achievement as any feat of arms.
But this is Lafferty’s way. All things are couched in symbols in which an Irish drinking competition renders as big a blow as any murder.
Though Dana doubts, though he is sent away, in the end he returns to wed Catherine, as if summoned. They love, they laugh, they play, they plan. The Company is to separate, to go to different fates for the next phase of the struggle, and Catherine blithely predicts that this will end with her murder and so it does, bloody and horrible, brutal and vile, at the hands of Ifreann, for which Dana challenges and duels him, and runs him through.
Thus ends the European phase of the Coscuin Chronicles. This is but one book of four, and only one other book was published, and that more than a decade later. People, we will see it in its due time, but for now we must turn our attention to other matters. The Flame is Green is true, but it is not the whole of the thing and we do not have the whole of it yet.
It’s not the best of Lafferty, for all that it comes from that earlier phase of his career when he had not yet turned wholly inwards and abandoned concessions to his readers. It suffers from being incomplete, or rather not intentionally incomplete, and perhaps it suffers from being not fantastic in a world that is not fantastic. We shall see what more we may think when we come to that land that lies beneath half a sky.