I've read the first four chapters of Fourth Mansions. It surprised me by feeling the most instantly familiar of all of his novels so far.
I should probably wait until I'm done with the novel instead of rambling and speculating. But here's a particularly unpolished ramble just the same.
The Harvesting/Brainweaving reminded me of the esp circles in Bester's Demolished Man and of Simak's recurrent theme of psychic development as the next stage in human evolution/development. I can't think of more specifics off the top of my head, but this was one prominent thread of the Campbell era. Surely, Lafferty is in some way responding to this, no, even if it's not primarily what he's up to? Yea? Nay?
Beyond the psi premise is the secret society of jolly defenders of the world. This immediately makes me think of Blaylock especially and also Powers, both of which often use such groups or recurring mythological characters operating under the radar of everyday recognition and happy to be behind the scenes. This idea of folks involved in secret realities is at least traceable back to Charles Williams and his supernatural thrillers with ordinary characters getting swept up into archetypes and arcane activities. And it probably goes back further to Arthurian myths and further back yet. What large part of this am I ignorant of?
I'm just thinking aloud, throwing this out there in the hopes of engaging someone (is blogging a step toward brainweaving?)
Past Master is a mashup of political thriller and utopia and Renaissance farce/morality tale.
Space Chantey is a mashup of the Odyssey and Space Opera.
Reefs of Earth is a mashup of Twain-like boyish Americana, tall tale, and alien invasion.
The Devil is Dead is a mashup of sailor story, Irish bender, and Neanderthal race relations.
Sindbad is a mashup of The Arabian Nights and pawn shop electronics and spy thriller.
So, it's part of Lafferty's style to adopt and adapt and make new. He anticipated remix culture. Because all of Western Culture was remix culture before it was flattened and stifled and silenced. The samples beneath his tracks are always present, always audible, yet the result is never that we fault Lafferty for stealing from Western Culture. Our ears are opened to hear the reverberations of all of Lafferty's gloriously mashed-up musical project working its way back in time, seeding itself in Western Culture as Western Culture, picking up the everlasting refrain of life and death and new life. Every seed Lafferty has sown shall die, into the past and into the future. Then life and stories will be possible again. Odysseus might make his way home if he can remember the tune to the Lay of Roadstrum. Arab caliphs yet await the stories from Chicago that will restore their kingdoms.
What is Lafferty adopting and adapting and making new in Fourth Mansions? Is it a mashup of 50s sf esp with Arthurian defenders with a literalized metaphor of spiritual ascent? And/Or something else that I'm missing?