Tuesday, May 5, 2015

And the humanly inhabited universe--that's us!

Some very preliminary thoughts on Annals of Klepsis, "focusing" on the preface before Canto 1 and the Table of Contents.

1. The preface by Karl Sayon (a parody of Carl Sagan, yes?) starts with talk of a Tertiary Focus.

It's unknown what the first and second are.

I didn't know anything about the Latin etymology of "focus" so I looked it up.
Focus - "point of convergence" from Latin focus "hearth, fireplace" (also, figuratively, "home, family")
So, that's probably a rabbit trail; I don't know yet.

2. The Doomsday Equation: "The humanly inhabited universe, with its four Suns and seventeen planets, is an unstable closed system of human orientation and precarious balance, a kinetic three-dimensional ellipse in form, with its third focus always approaching extinction. As with any similar unstable premise-system, the entire construct must follow its third focus into extinction."

Lafferty's entire universe is anthropocentric, "of human orientation" and (therefore?) of precarious balance.

Can any Lafferty fans name the seventeen planets? Have they all been named? I can think of Astrobe, Camiroi, Kentauron Mikron, and Gaea-Earth. I riffled through Sindbad and found the name of Dahae. Then there's Klepsis, of course.

The mention of the "ellipse" gives further context to the "tertiary focus" line. I'm a math dope, so maybe someone can give more details, but an ellipse has two foci, right? So a third focus would unbalance the thing? Or does this have to do with the three-dimensionality of the ellipse? And it's a kinetic ellipse, chasing its third focus. Again, I don't know if this is wonkiness or if there is some math speculation going on here that I don't catch.

3. I'm still fuzzy on what the Third Focus is, but this Preface really is just a tease and set-up, so that's to be expected. "The third focus of the humanly inhabited universe has been determined to be both a point and a person on the Planet Klepsis." Again with the person-centeredness. One-third of the foci maintaining the ellipse of the known universe is a person.

4. More details are given about this person who is the third focus.
Location - surface of Klepsis
Code Name - Horeshoe Nail
Age - more than two hundred years
Condition - "He cannot be allowed to awake, and he cannot be allowed to die."

5. The Table of Contents. I could speculate on the titles, but that wouldn't do much good. What interests me about the ToC and what I want to bring up is that Lafferty has structured the story by Cantos instead of Chapters. Why is this? When I think of Cantos, I immediately think of Dante and his Comedy, but I'm not sure that there are any strong Dante references going on. There are many other poems that use Cantos, but I think that what is important is that it is a literary structuring device of Italian origin and that Canto is related to song. Annals of Klepsis is the Italian song epic about the Irish pirate planet! It is the Aloysius and the Lafferty joyously dancing around one another. And speaking of Aloysius, the back cover says that he'll be making an appearance!

I'm reading the book slowly. The plan right now is to read a chapter a week, then re-read the chapter and "live-tweet" it during slow moments during the week. This is pretty much what I did with Sindbad and that worked out well since it is still probably my favorite Laff novel. https://twitter.com/KlepsisAnnals


  1. There are a bunch of planets named at the beginning of the short story 'World Abounding', and bunch more in the novel Aurelia (including some gems like 'Hellpepper Planet' and 'Hokey Planet'!), adding up to much more than 17, so I'm not sure what makes the scope more limited in the 'humanly inhabited universe' of this novel.

    Great connection between Italian and Irish, Canto and Pirates, Aloysius and Lafferty. I'd not spotted that.

    1. There is also Bellota, the joke of a planet featured in "Snuffles".

    2. Yes! Which is mentioned in 'World Abounding', and I believe elsewhere.

  2. Annals of Klepsis is not Lafferty's best novel (though it's up there), nor his most important, nor his most daring. But in many ways it is my favorite, and as such I've kept the incongruous and absurd and wonderful cover icon as my own Twitter image for ages, and see no reason to change it going forward.

    The book was Lafferty's last major-press publication; it also went through more textual revisions than just about any other of his novels. The preface in particular was moved from the beginning of Chapter 10, to establish the Doomsday Equation from the very start. I think this was the wrong move, but other editorial suggestions definitely did improve the book. I've got a few pages on the book's textual history kicking around somewhere.

    Couple other things: in typically idiosyncratic fashion, Lafferty didn't care all that much for Dante, mainly because he didn't think the poet had much of a sense of humor. (I'd disagree with him on that count, as did Virginia Kidd.) So while Dante necessarily is in the background there, I think it's also meant as an epic evocation, the same way Byron used it in Don Juan, or Pound in his own Cantos. The form "Annals" itself bears some thought, since it evokes Tacitus and other writers of history, and Klepsis is early on marked as a land without history.

    Regarding the planets, I once put together a list of the 17 most likely planets, but I can't find it now. I think they're all mentioned in Annals somewhere though, including others like Aphthonia, etc.

    Looking forward to your readings!

    1. Drew, it's hard for me to not imagine Klepsis as at least *one of* Lafferty's most daring works. But it's been a while since I've read it. And I still haven't read the Argo cycle. But for me, Klepsis outstrips all the late 60s novels in daring and opulent weirdness and I'd say it ties, as regards those qualities, with the 70s and 80s (spec fic) novels. It shines out to me as possibly Lafferty's most colourful and coruscating and electrifying novel. There's just something viscous and glowing about it to me, more so than the others. I feel as if I fall into a swampy nexus when I read it. But again, a new read will refine my feelings about it. (Read it twice in a row over ten years ago, so really need to get onto a re-read.)

      As regards its textual history: I think *not* encountering Karl Sayon's long, dense quote about the doomsday equation right at the start would be a huge improvement and I hope later publications of the novel restore Lafferty's order. (Also, we'd love to publish your 'few pages on the book's textual history' in an issue of Feast of Laughter!)

  3. I think the seventeen planets (including asteroids) are Gaea, Kentauron-Mikron, Camiroi, Astrobe, Dahae (Paleder),Skandia, Pudibundia, Analos, Proavitus, Paravata, Skokumchuck, Emporion, Apateon, Klepsis, Aphthonia, Bellota, and Aranea.