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 Half a Sky is another of the listed unpublished novels in Archipelago, though its two sequels do not appear on that remarkable page: I hope this does not mean they never were written.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.

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.