Friday, December 19, 2014

In fact, I hate to go at all.

From "Snuffles":

It was a game, but it couldn't last long. Phelan whimpered and tried to climb the rock wall at the blind end of his pocket. Margie cajoled and told Snuffles how good friends they had always been, and wouldn't he let her go? Billy Cross filled his pipe and lit it and sat down to wait it out.

Phelan went first, and he died like a craven. But no one, not sure how he himself might die, should hold that overly against a man.

Snuffles thundered in, cut him down in the middle of a scream, and rushed back to his commanding spot in the middle of the weapons center.

Margie spread out her hands and began to cry, softly, not really in terror, when he attacked. The pseudo-bear broke her neck, but with a blow that was almost gentle in comparison with the others, and he scurried again to center.

And Billy Cross puffed on his pipe. “I hate to go like this, Snuff, old boy. In fact, I hate to go at all. If I made a mistake to die for, it was in being such a pleasant, trusting fellow. I wonder if you ever noticed, Snuff, what a fine, upstanding fellow I really am?”

And that was the last thing Billy Cross ever said, for the big animal struck him dead with one tearing blow. And the smoke still drifted in the air from Billy's pipe.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Collected Short Stories Volume 1

[cross-posted on Goodreads:]

Each of the stories in Centipede's first volume is a gem worthy of finer inspection. Giving star ratings is a fool's task, but here goes...

***** Love, Love, Love - Personal Favorites Going in the Tiny Desert Island Anthology
"The Hole on the Corner"

**** Great Stories - Going in the Larger More Spacious Luxury Desert Island Bookshelf Anthology

"The Man Who Made Models"
"The Six Fingers of Time"
"Frog on the Mountain"
"Narrow Valley"
"Days of Grass, Days of Straw"
"Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne"
"Rivers of Damascus"

*** Good Stories - worth further inspection on the mainland; better than the large majority of lesser stories in the world

"Square and Above Board"
"Jack Bang's Eyes"
"All But the Words"
"The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos"
"Condillac's Statue or Wrens in His Head"
"About a Secret Crocodile"
"The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle"
"The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Street"

** Average Stories, nothing of note - none of those here

* Bad Stories - nope, not a one of 'em to be found.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

I just deleted a looooong "ramblier"-than-usual post. The length was mostly padding. I am attempting a kindness in cutting it down.

Here's the very short version: Freddy Foley is a pirate!

Here's the moderately short version:

While reflecting on the FB conversation with Kevin and Gregorio from last night, I started thinking about names this morning.

Freddy is a diminutive version of Alfred or Frederick.

The name Alfred is a Germanic name of Old English origin, composed of the elements ælf "elf" and ræd "counsel".

Frederick is a masculine given name meaning "peaceful ruler." It is the English form of the German name Friedrich. Its meaning is derived from the Germanic word elements frid, or peace, and ric, meaning "ruler" or "power."

Lafferty lays out what he's doing with the discussion of the Patricks/patricians. Right from the beginning, we have a guy named "Little Peaceful Ruler Elf Friend" Foley. Freddy is like a Patrick, except that he's a Freddy instead.

I knew the Fred meaning because I have a friend named Fred. That was easy enough.

I had to go looking for the Foley meaning. My experience with the word had to do with sound recording and catheters, neither of which seemed at all relevant.

I quickly found this gem of knowledge:

"The name is derived from the original modern Irish Ó Foghlú and older Irish Ó Foghladha, meaning "plunderer".... In Old English, the language of Anglo-Saxons, the name Foley has a loose meaning of "pirate" or "marauder"." 

So, Freddy Foley is the Little Peaceful Ruler Plunderer.

And all of that led me to the title of this post. I started thinking of Fourth Mansions as an extended riff on "The Parable of the Strong Man."

Based on the FB conversation and this names discovery, I suspect that the latter half of the novel will involve some peaceful plundering and a transfer of ruling authority.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dammit, fat man, I will ask questions and I won't hide.....I'm not stupid. That's only the permanent impression I leave.

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?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"I forget a lot of the people, and mix the others up before you get around to them again," said Doll.

For all of his truth-stretching and reality-bending, Lafferty writes as one with authority. A reader may either submit or rebel. There is no question of any reader ever subjugating the text. It is too wild, too free, and always too wildly and freely in control of itself. It controls you.

Often immoderate in its reckless refusal to plot straight, drunk on its own stories within stories, The Devil is Dead is a heady book.

I, the poor reader, don't pretend to understand what just happened. Even if Lafferty does more or less tie everything up in the end and put a bow on it.

I don't understand. But I submit. 

Because there is the fragrance of something bright and true under the shambling doubling uncertainties. Finnegan is a character estranged from himself. And in his estrangement we might recognize a share of something in ourselves, a yearning for wholeness. And there are glimpses of potential wholenesses in the communion of characters that happens frequently in the second half of the book (and not so infrequently in the first.)

This is not a review. I rarely do reviews. This is an almost-immediate post-read ramble. A small raving attempt at grasping this book from one possible angle.

"a joyous death to you all!"

Friday, October 24, 2014

All the Stories

ISFDB lumps all short fiction into the same list. All I've done here is take the ISFDB data ( and reproduce it with the stories sorted into the three standard short fiction categories of Short, Novelette, and Novella. I'd be interested to see word counts for the novels. I don't think that many of them are much longer than long novellas.

191 Shorts

The Wagons (1959)
The Ugly Sea (1960)
Saturday You Die (1960)
Adam Had Three Brothers (1960)
Day of the Glacier (1960)
Other Side of the Moon (1960)
Long Teeth (1960)
Beautiful Dreamer (1960)
McGonigal's Worm (1960)
Try to Remember (1960)
The Polite People of Pudibundia (1961)
In the Garden (1961)
All the People (1961)
The Weirdest World (1961)
Aloys (1961)
Rainbird (1961)
Seven-Day Terror (1962)
Dream (1962) also appeared as:
Variant Title: Dreamworld (1962)
Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas (1962)
The Transcendent Tigers (1964)
Name of the Snake (1964)
What's the Name of That Town? (1964)
Mad Man (1964)
Pig in a Pokey (1964)
The Man with the Speckled Eyes (1964)
Slow Tuesday Night (1965)
Guesting Time (1965)
In Our Block (1965)
Hog-Belly Honey (1965)
Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1966)
Golden Trabant (1966)
Among the Hairy Earthmen (1966)
Narrow Valley (1966)
Primary Education of the Camiroi (1966) also appeared as:
Variant Title: The Primary Education of the Camiroi (1966)
The Man Who Never Was (1967)
The Hole on the Corner (1967)
Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne (1967)
Ginny Wrapped in the Sun (1967)
Land of the Great Horses (1967)
Camels and Dromedaries, Clem (1967)
Polity and Custom of the Camiroi (1967)
The Ultimate Creature (1967)
One at a Time (1968)
Maybe Jones and the City (1968)
How They Gave It Back (1968)
McGruder's Marvels (1968)
This Grand Carcass (1968) also appeared as:
Variant Title: This Grand Carcass Yet (1968)
Cliffs That Laughed (1969)
Configuration of the North Shore (1969)
Entire and Perfect Chrysolite (1970)
Hands of the Man (1970)
Ride a Tin Can (1970)
Old Foot Forgot (1970)
About a Secret Crocodile (1970)
The Cliff Climbers (1970)
Condillac's Statue, or Wrens in His Head (1970)
Interurban Queen (1970)
All Pieces of a River Shore (1970)
Been a Long, Long Time (1970)
Sky (1971)
Nor Limestone Islands (1971)
When All the Lands Pour Out Again (1971)
Groaning Hinges of the World (1971)
The Man Underneath (1971)
Enfant Terrible (1971)
All But the Words (1971)
Boomer Flats (1971)
Bubbles When They Burst (1971)
Eurema's Dam (1972)
Once on Aranea (1972)
A Special Condition in Summit City (1972)
Rang Dang Kaloof (1972)
Dorg (1972)
In Outraged Stone (1973)
The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos (1973)
The Wooly World of Barnaby Sheen (1973)
Four Sides of Infinity (1973)
Barnaby's Clock (1973)
Symposium (1973)
The Two-Headed Lion of Cris Benedetti (1973)
The Hellaceous Rocket of Harry O'Donovan (1973)
Rogue Raft (1973)
Parthen (1973)
Ghost in the Corn Crib (1973)
The World as Will and Wallpaper (1973)
Seven Story Dream (1973)
Days of Grass, Days of Straw (1973)
By the Seashore (1973)
And Name My Name (1974)
The Most Forgetable Story in the World (1974)
The Man with the Aura (1974) also appeared as:
Variant Title: Tom O'Shanty's Aura (1974)
And Mad Undancing Bears (1974)
And Read the Flesh Between the Lines (1974)
Royal Licorice (1974)
Endangered Species (1974)
For All Poor Folks at Picketwire (1975)
Great Day in the Morning (1975)
Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes (1975)
The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Street (1975)
Fog in My Throat (1976)
Cabrito (1976)
Horns on Their Heads (1976)
Funnyfingers (1976)
Love Affair With Ten Thousand Springs (1976)
The Hand with One Hundred Fingers (1976)
Oh Tell Me Will It Freeze Tonight (1976)
Assault on Fat Mountain (1976)
Puddle on the Floor (1976)
Berryhill (1976)
Oh, Those Trepidatious Eyes! (1977)
Brain Fever Season (1977)
Thou Whited Wall (1977)
Fall of Pebble-Stones (1977)
Bequest of Wings (1978)
Bright Coins in Never-Ending Stream (1978)
Splinters (1978)
Bright Flightways (1978)
Oh Tell Me It Will Freeze Tonight (1979)
Rainy Day in Halicarnasses (1979)
Almost Perfect (1980)
Phoenic' (1980) also appeared as:
Variant Title: Phoenic (1980)
Lord Torpedo, Lord Gyroscope (1980)
And All the Skies Are Full of Fish (1980)
The Only Tune That He Could Play (1980)
Crocodile (1980)
New People (1981)
In Deepest Glass (1981)
You Can't Go Back (1981)
Golden Gate (1982)
Six Leagues From Lop (1982)
Great Tom Fool or The Conundrum of the Calais Customhouse Coffers (1982)
Thieving Bear Planet (1982)
Square and Above Board (1982)
Ifrit (1982)
Calamities of the Last Pauper (1982) also appeared as:
Variant Title: Calamities of Last Pauper (1982)
One-Eyed Mocking-Bird (1982)
Marsilia V (1982)
Make Sure the Eyes Are Big Enough (1982)
Tongues of the Matagorda (1982)
This Boding Itch (1982)
Company in the Wings (1983)
What Big Tears the Dinosaur's (1983)
Unique Adventure Gone (1983)
Snake in His Bosom (1983)
Posterior Analytics (1983)
Pleasures and Palaces (1983)
Jack Bang's Eyes (1983)
Haruspex (1983)
Heart of Stone, Dear (1983)
The End of Outward (1983)
And You Did Not Wail (1983)
Bird-Master (1983)
Faith Sufficient (1983)
In the Turpentine Trees (1983)
The Last Astronomer (1983)
Pine Castle (1983)
Two For Four Ninety-Five (1984)
Of Laughter and the Love of Friends (1984)
The Effigy Histories (1984)
I'll See It Done and Then I'll Die (1984)
The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle (1984) also appeared as:
Variant Title: 99th Cubicle (1984)
And Some in Velvet Gowns (1984)
The Doggone Highly Scientific Door (1984)
Oh Whatta You Do When the Well Runs Dry? (1984)
The Man Who Made Models (1984)
John Salt (1985)
All Hollow Though You Be (1985)
Ewe Lamb (1985)
Slippery (1985)
Magazine Section (1985)
Junkyard Thoughts (1986)
Inventions Bright and New (1986)
Something Rich and Strange (1986)
Along the San Pennatus Fault (1986)
Gray Ghost: A Reminiscence (1987)
The Story of Little Briar-Rose, A Scholarly Study (1988)
Task Force Fifty-Eight and One Half (1988)
Rain Mountain (1988)
Rainy Day in Halicarnassus (1988)
Promontory Goats (1988)
Le Hot Sport (1988)
The Man Who Lost His Magic (1989)
Holy Woman (1990)
Maleficent Morning (1990)
Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island (1990)
The Casey Machine (1990)
Buckets Full of Brains (1991)
Anamnesis (1992)
I Don't Care Who Keeps the Cows (1994)
Goldfish (1996)
There'll Always Be Another Me (2003)

33 Novelettes

Through Other Eyes (1960)
The Six Fingers of Time (1960)
Snuffles (1960)
The Pani Planet (1965)
The All-At-Once Man (1970)
Frog on the Mountain (1970)
Continued on Next Rock (1970)
Encased in Ancient Rind (1971) also appeared as:
Variant Title: Incased in Ancient Rind (1971)
Ishmael Into the Barrens (1971)
World Abounding (1971)
And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire (1972)
Scorner's Seat (1973)
Mud Violet (1973)
Flaming Ducks and Giant Bread (1974)
Mr. Hamadryad (1974)
Animal Fair (1974)
Rivers of Damascus (1974)
Or Little Ducks Each Day (1975)
Heart Grow Fonder (1975)
Three Shadows of the Wolf (1975)
Smoe and the Implicit Clay (1976)
Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies (1978)
Quiz Ship Loose (1978)
The Man Who Walked Through Cracks (1978)
St. Poleander's Eve (1979)
The Funny Face Murders (1980)
The Forty-Seventh Island (1980)
Bank and Shoal of Time (1981)
Flaming-Arrow (1985)
Episodes of the Argo (1990)
Hound Dog's Ear (1991)
Happening in Chosky Bottoms (1995)
The Emperor's Shoestrings (1997)

1 Novella

From the Thunder Colt's Mouth (1975)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


"In 1830 he first put on the market his Red Ball Pipe Tobacco, an aromatic and expensive crimp cut made of Martian lichen."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This great redemptive recoil

 (Illustration by Victor Ambrus, from a children's version of Tales from the Arabian Nights by James Riordan)
“Of the series of Golden Boys, of which Harun Al-Rashid seems to be a recurring unit in several but probably not all of the chains, I will say that they are pseudo-Golden-Boys,” Spy Alexander was continuing his discourse. And yet he seemed a little bit shaken by the near encounter he’d had with his head. Ah well, spies are taught to keep their heads at all times. “Only one of them was the Golden Boy, the Boy-King; but he was imitated both before and after the fact by these lines of pleasant imposters. The swift and sudden pleasures encountered by all persons in the presence of the pseudo-Golden-Boys is bait; and we are the fish who take it. I believe that all of them stem from hell. But here I must impose something that strains my Christian faith. For we militant Christians of Astrobe believe in only one hell. But the Moslems of Gaea-Earth, and other persons on other worlds, subscribe to from seven to nine hells. I believe that the fakery of the Golden-Boy-lines stems from one of the usually easy-going hells of the Moslems. It is evil, of course, and it is set in the direction of ultimate evil. But it will hardly arrive at that ultimate in this aeon, and probably not in the next. 
“The Golden Boys have no adult form, not the pseudo ones, not even the True One. Christ Himself of Gaea-Earth was not made man: he was made boy. And as a Boy, but perhaps under the appearance of a Man, he was executed, with a fantastically powerful recoil that shook Gaea in root and branch. The Lords of a more easy-going hell believe that they can ape this great redemptive recoil: and they shoot their bolts, their Golden-Boy arrows, one after the other. There it is, Essindibad and his good wife! If you have followed me this far, you have followed me five-eighths of the way to hell. Do you think you might follow me a little bit further?”

One of the few reviews of Sindbad: the Thirteenth Voyage available at present can be found here: It's a good review. (The same author has written of The Devil is Dead here: One big reservation that Arthur B, the reviewer, has is the novel's "unsympathetic treatment of Islam." But I just don't see it.

As Arthur notes, the buckets of blood and severed heads are there at the instigation of Harun, who has been clearly shown to be something-other-than-human (see p. 37 and other places). Sindbad denies that Harun could be a Ghul (known for drinking blood and mentioned in the Arabian Nights) but Harun himself suggests that the blood is for drinking (p. 38). That there is a wink here only shows that Lafferty, like his devil Harun, is playing with the tropes of the Arabian Nights. Lafferty is obviosuly delighting in the beheadings and the buckets of blood.

Any tension between Lafferty's novel and Islam is already present as a tension between the Arabian Nights and Islam. As I understand it, the 1001 Nights has never been all that popular officially in Islamic cultures. According to Robert Irwin, "Even today, with the exception of certain writers and academics, the Nights is regarded with disdain in the Arabic world. Its stories are regularly denounced as vulgar, improbable, childish and, above all, badly written." (

"Vulgar, improbable, childish and, above all, badly written" sounds like just the sort of thing that Lafferty would cherish!

Interestingly, beyond riffing on the Nights, Lafferty is writing a Secret History (in the sense that Tim Powers' novels are Secret Histories; related, Powers has also been charged with culture insensitivity in his treatment of Islam in his excellent Drawing of the Dark). Besides the fantasy setting, many of the events and characters have a basis in reality. One clear indication that Lafferty is not knee-jerkedly "Islamophobic" (which shouldn't even be an issue considering his obvious affection for the "Moslem monk [who] immediately recognized that they [the 1001 Nights] were thumpingly good adventure espionage blood-and-thunder yarns) is his appreciation of 8th and 9th century Baghdad and its culture. Lafferty is very positive about the reigns of al-Amin and al-Mamun even if he fictionalizes a conflict between them for the purposes of his story.

Lafferty is very much willing to "hang out" with Muslim characters and enjoy their company. Lafferty's raucous joy at beheadings and blood-drinking may seem insensitive or offensive. I can't help, though, but to think that these descriptions are given out of enthusiastic appreciation and not any phobia or hatred. Then again, maybe I'm defending Lafferty because I share in his cultural insensitivity, blinded by my Western-Christian-Anglo background.

Arthur speculates that "Lafferty, a devout Catholic, would be made decidedly uncomfortable by a book in which the investiture of a new Pope involved mass bloodshed, or in which Catholicism is written off as a historical accident." But I doubt it. Lafferty was a fan of Rabelais. I'm sure that he was familiar with the Decameron. Lafferty was of thicker skin than Arthur gives him credit for. Lafferty was, after all, published in Dangerous Visions. He was familiar with the SF New Wave and all of the attacks on crumbled Christendom that those young wanna-be rebels could muster. I'm sure that he had read Moorcock's "Behold the Man" without pulling out all of his hair. Then again, he does appear to have lost all of his hair later in life!

There probably is something, at least, to the idea that Lafferty privileges the perspectives of characters like the Astrobean Christian spy Alexander that I started this post with. When I read the above, I felt like I had finally stumbled onto one key into the book and understanding what the conflict was that had attracted so many intergalactic spies to Baghdad. It is the battling of an attractive counterfeit vision. It's important to note that Lafferty does side with the view that this vision is counterfeit. It's also worth pausing to reflect that he acknowledges and respects it as attractive.

Further along, it is revealed that "All of these dubious spirits and devils were imprisoned in the interior of one one world, Gaea-Earth.." Sindbad's mission is to prevent the release of these Evil Spirits so that they may not carry their plague out to other planets. As this is revealed, the plot seems to sharpen and I was prepared for an epic conflict. And we do get a very intense (and amusing) battle between dragons belching demons and Sindbad and the others.


Sindbad fails.

Okay, I didn't try too hard to keep from spoiling that from anyone reading this. Because, you know what? Even though I was disappointed as everything comes to a fizzle, a re-reading of the first chapter reveals that Lafferty repeatedly mentions exactly what the mission was and that it was technically a failure. I felt smart for teasing it out and then felt bested when my expectations were thwarted. But, if I had been paying attention, Lafferty had already clearly set out what he was doing in the very first chapter.

There's more to write, but I'm afraid that I've waited too long since reading Sindbad. Maybe I'll read it again sooner rather than later. As it has settled, it has become my favorite Lafferty novel. Partly, this is due to the playfulness of Lafferty's writing and story structure. Mostly, though, it's because Sindbad is a thumpingly good adventure espionage blood-and-thunder yarn.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

And time is the one thing we have plenty of.

I've been a little burnt-out on new sf the past month. Last week, I started pulling older anthologies off of the shelf and treating myself to older stories before bed. One of these anthologies is Aldiss's Galactic Empires Volume 1.

There's not much about Lafferty's "Been a Long, Long Time" on the surface that would mark it out as "galactic empire" material. Aldiss's choice is appropriate nonetheless as he uses the story at the beginning of his anthology to ease the reader into huge vistas and enormous unravelings of time.

From the first "sundering Dawn" and the accompanying war in heaven through the million billion cycles that follow, Lafferty's sly little short conveys the passing of time as something at once brief ("Quite a while after this" is used as a segue between the moment of creation and "one afternoon at a news-stand in Los Angeles") and mightily tremendous. 
( "Then it all collapsed.
  The stars went out, one by one, and billion by billion. Nightmares of falling! All the darkened orbs and oblates fell down into the void that was all bottom. There was nothing left but one tight pod in the void, and a few out of context things like Michael and his associates, and Boshel and his monkeys.
  Boshel had a moment of unease: he had become used to the appearance of the expanding universe. But he need not have been uneasy. It began all over again.
  A few billion centuries ticked by silently. Once more, the pod burst into a shower of sparks that traveled and grew. They acquired form and spin, and life appeared again on the spot specks thrown off from those sparks.
  This happened again and again."  )

The story is a dressed-up math joke, riffing on probabilities and monkeys typing with a little bit of angelology ribbing thrown in. It works perfectly and I could see it easily placing in a "probability" themed anthology (if someone hasn't done this, it should be done). If you'd asked me if it belonged in an anthology about "galactic empires," I'd've told you that you're nuts. But Aldiss is a genius anthologist for placing this as the first story in his anthology. "Been a Long, Long Time" relaxes readers into million billion cycles with a grin. Now, the grim lords of space and time can impose their wills on epochs and event horizons and we know not to take them all too seriously. Blasters and jet packs ready, I'm hankering to save a scantily clad galactic princess or two. Let the other monkeys worry about randomly reproducing high culture.

Well, it's a living, and living in Magic Baghdad is worth everything.

One of the best parts of Sindbad: The 13th Voyage is how the narrative of Essindibad Copperbottom is hijacked by John Thunderson, the time-traveling Chicagoan youth who attempts to make a better Sindbad of himself than the original Sindbad. During one of these Thunderson episodes, our young hero visits the ninth century electronics shop of one Cut-Rate Electronics Sam. I love the following exchange because Lafferty so perfectly captures the magic of Magic Baghdad. At the same time that I’m loving this printed story, I feel spurred on to get out in the streets and dance and argue.

“Do you think we could set up an electronic age here, Sam? Set up a real electronic age and get rich from it?”

“To be in Baghdad is to be rich already. And there’s no need for a canned, electronic life when there’s a real life to be had. Why should we can music when good live musicians and singers are to be had for almost nothing everywhere? Why should we can personal dramas when the very streets are loaded with personal dramas, comic, weird, goulouche, anything you want? Why print fiction or fact when there are professional story-tellers plying their craft on every corner, and when there are heralds howling out the news on the quarter-hour? Why should we can dancing when the gamins dance and run all the time, and the very stones dance to the flute music? Why should we can ‘talk shows’ when wherever one or more persons are gathered together in Baghdad there is a talk show superior to the canned ‘name persons’ variety? Why should we broadcast weather reports when the weather is always perfect? No, Thunderson, electronics here may sometimes serve for making better mousetraps and the analogs of them, but for little more. I can, for instance, make an electronic invisibility cloak that will be better than the locally-made traditional invisibility cloaks. In a city where every citizen has from three to thirty invisibility cloaks, there is always room for a better one. I can make good electronic voices like the one I made for your wife Blue Moon here. And in a place like this where the people like to be able to change their voices as often as they change their robes, there is business to be had in ‘voices’. I make good ‘aura modification kits’, and here every person from the Caliph on down likes to have a selection of magic auras to use. And I am pushing a line of ‘electronic practical-joke kits’. And then there are all the ‘charms’, to make one person hate another, for instance. Or to make a person look like a donkey without him knowing that there is any change in his appearance. And electronic charms are simply more efficacious than are non-electronic charms. Well, it’s a living, and living in Magic Baghdad is worth everything. I don’t know what effect the change in Caliphs will make.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"I look at you and I ask whether I can ever enter into an alien mind and think as it thinks."

I finished Reefs of Earth earlier in the week. It is delightful from first to last. Ostensibly, it's about a group of aliens, mostly children, and their murderous adventures through Earth's backwoods. It is that. It is best described as a ROMP and as such, the focus on children is wildly appropriate.

Reefs uses its alien misanthropes (that word isn't quite correct) as a lens through which Lafferty can present the alienness of humanity in all of its strangeness. We see our petty sins and sour seriousness contrasted with rambunctious life. Earth-sickness may not be the contagion of Original Sin but it is something that kills the high spirit. Earth's Gravity inevitably tends to kill Pucan Levity.

"I ask the same question," Henry said. "From my viewpoint, I'm the man, you're the alien. How weird are the ways of Earth! Or as it is written, 'Can anything good come from Earth?'"

Some quick thoughts:
- It's mentioned briefly that Willy McGilly and others are Pucas. I wonder if Pucas are mentioned elsewhere in Lafferty stories.
- I admit to loving the gleeful violence. "We got to start killing people," Charles said. "We can't keep leaving everybody to last."
- I'd love it if people started calling me Pandemonium John.
- "Pirates are perhaps the greatest invention of Earth people"
- One drinking reference merits a closer look but I can't find it now.
- Catherine de Medici

I should have written something sooner after finishing. I've been on vacation with my family and details of the novel are already slipping. I was reading for the joy of it and didn't dog-ear more than one page (the tobacco reference I posted) or mark or write down favorite quotes. I console myself with the thought of many future re-reads.

I've also read at least half a dozen new-to-me Lafferty stories in the past few weeks. I probably won't give them their proper posts anytime soon. I do want to mention, though, that I followed Kevin's advice and have read a few stories out loud to my children. The three I've read are "The Hole on the Corner," "Narrow Valley," and "Nine Hundred Grandmothers." It's been a fun experience watching their smiles and giggles. They groan because they are frustrated by the lack of tidy conclusions in these stories. But they are happy groans of longing, little signals that they've tasted something satisfying and wish to dwell in those moments longer instead of being shunted back to the ordinary of bedtime.

"That had also been the case with the Puca."

  "It was in this big room that the dead people would gather and sit and talk when they were tired of lying in one position. They cracked old bones to get the marrow, and they drank corn beer. It didn't take much eating and drinking to keep them up, since they were no longer fleshed. They didn't eat much, but they sure did smoke a lot. It is not generally known, but dead people used tobacco for centuries before live people stumbled onto it. That had also been the case with the Puca. The smoke all came out through a hole in the side of the mound, and that caused the fog or haze.
  The children learned the interior of the mound. They could have hidden there from all pursuit, but they couldn't have taken their rafts there. They dug all over the flanks of the mound, and came out with bones of animals and people. They dug out two prime skulls which they set up on the prows of their rafts.
  The children formed enduring friendships with many of the old Indians in the middle of Misu Mound. They learned a lot about Earth people from them, how they are in their essence, what are the real things that are hidden under the daily exterior, and how it was in the old days. And they learned the right way to cure tobacco and to make pipes and how really to smoke up a storm."

Friday, July 11, 2014

"He dismembers so that we may all re-member."

"Lafferty’s workings are always grotesque; like the Laestrygonians, he delights in bloody slaughter, whether of his own characters or of the conventions of his genre. But his destruction is also always in the context of carnivalized creation—whether as writer, bard, or pseudo-ursine, he dismembers so that we may all re-member." -Andrew Ferguson

(I'm finally reading his dissertation; love his reading of Space Chantey on pages 39-48)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Reality, raw murderous reality broke into her contrived world."

What to make of Chapter Six of Space Chantey?

In chapter six, "raw murderous reality" breaks into Lafferty's contrived world. A horrible realism presents itself in the "gang-shag" of Aeaea, the "brutish murder of a concept and a person." It is sad and horrible and quite frightening. In the context of a long whopper of a tall tale, what does it mean that this is the place that Lafferty invokes reality? When all of the men (and woman) have so thoroughly become animals that there is no humanity left in them. I don't want to make too much of this, but it's there to reckon with. Things get very serious for a moment.

"But now the murder howl had gone over the space-ways, and they were all outlaws to be hunted. And decent people would no more give them haven."

Further, it's obvious throughout the chapter that Lafferty is tearing down a philosophy, "total subjectivity," but I don't have the training to put a name on it or to know who Lafferty is poking fun at. I'm afraid that I often confuse Contingency with Accidence and I never have been able to fit any Primary Essence into Quiddity. My eyes glaze over as I babble on.

The carnal reality of the animals is a pointed contrast to the "thinking makes it so" subjectivity of the witch. Material reality cannot be wished away. And the way in which this message comes across is brutally direct. And as horrific as things get, Lafferty still got a deep chuckle out of me at "Aeaea, whichever is you, the voice in the air, or the bloody thing on the ground, there is a flaw in your philosophy. You really are dead, you know."

Philosopher friends, I'd love to hear from you about this chapter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"You show signs of levity, and that is the one thing not permitted here. This place is for serious persons only."

"The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it."

"So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear."

"Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly."

"Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial."

I could keep quoting Chesterton all day long. Lafferty is thoroughly Chestertonian.

Space Chantey is frivolous through and through in the best sense. It is, as Kevin has pointed out, deeply silly. I suppose that I have to quibble a bit, then, with Kevin's father's distinction between "frivolously silly" and "deeply silly" (though this is a minor quibble since I completely grant the point being made.)

"Under the sun," Space Chantey is about as frivolous as things get, completely unnecessary, a new and useless thing with no practical purpose about it, a tall tale stretched to its limits, a perfect joyous creation. As such, it gets to the "fundamental thing" in man. As such, it is one of the things that will last.

Lewis: "Dance and game [and Lafferty novels] are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

This story of a space-faring adventurer reminds us and demonstrates for us what it means to be in love with a full life, to live recklessly with no fear of death, to live exaggeratedly, with confidence that being clubbed by giants and eaten by cannibals are only preludes to greater deaths. With the Great Road-Storm, we have now opened our dull eye, "And the eye came alive and gave a really joyous wink." "We go again!"

Like Chesterton's angels, Lafferty's heroes soar because they take themselves lightly. They "show signs of levity." The chapter in which Roadstrum and his crew escape the hell planet is remarkable for its brevity and lack of action. No stunning feats of derring-do are needed. No epic action. No. Rather, our heroes laugh their way out of hell, they mock hell for its littleness and lack. "Man-a-bleeding, but they broke out of that place! You say it can't be done, but they did it. Their expectations had been too high, and no second-rate Hell could hold them."

Now, I'm going to go poking around the Internet to see what has been written about Space Chantey. I'd like to believe that someone out there has done a thorough job of comparing the book with its inspiration, The Odyssey. It's been 20 years since I read The Odyssey. I remember enough of it to catch many of the echos and allusions in the structure and acts of Space Chantey, but I probably also missed a lot of fun little details.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"My brain reels," moaned Homer the man. "Reality melts away."

I've been thinking a lot more about Jim's comment on a FB post. I still don't have any (good) answers. But, very slow days at work tend to find me in a rambling mood.

All of the below was plunked out on my iPhone throughout the day. It started as a short FB comment and kept growing and growing so I'm posting it here instead.

Jim wrote: "Which I suppose leads me to ask, why the sudden interest, and proliferation of blogs?  What set it off?"

A story we all know-- The rise of the Internet provided many fans of once obscure things with the unprecedented ability to share their fannishness with other fanny fans beyond their immediate spatial limitations. The more obscure and/or forgotten the thing, the more likely that some little tiny corner of the Internet would rise up to remember it.

I'm not sure how long the Lafferty devotional page has been up. I don't know when the greatsfandf page went up. Daniel's blog has been up since 2009. It's interesting to hear about a Japanese fan page. Andrew's Tumblr and Kevin's blog both started in 2013. I think that both grew out of conversations that had started in the comments sections of Daniel's blog. Andrew's Tumblr surely also serves as a public sounding board for his academic purposes.

There are scattered Lafferty references across the Internet from before the past few years. Most notably, Neil Gaiman has consistently sung Lafferty's praises. Gaiman was also influential when a bunch of Avram Davidson projects were released in the Nineties/Aughts. Davidson's presence has faded a bit again, but there was a period of time when he was very much back on the radar.

Gaiman from 2001:
"I'm pleased that Avram Davidson is, in death, gaining a measure of the respect he did
not have in life. I wonder if Lafferty (87, Alzheimer's-senile now, in an old people's
home in Tulsa) will be recognised as a genius once his death is announced. (I did
the entry on Lafferty in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which ended by pointing out
that the only person in the body of SF Lafferty could be compared to was Avram
Davidson.) I suspect that he won't be, not unless someone who is in exactly the
right place culturally introduces a collection of Lafferty stories designed for the
mainstream, much as The Avram Davidson Treasury helped define Avram and
what he did, and used a number of major authors to do so. And it probably won't
happen. But one can hope. (Does it matter if he's respected? Not a bit. Does it matter
if he's read? Damn right it does: no-one else did the things that Lafferty did in
prose-and-occasionally-poetry, although Flann O'Brian came close.)"

The Lafferty rights went up for sale in 2011 and the announcement that Locus had bought the rights came in 2012, I think. That sale and then the Centipede announcement made Lafferty visible and talked about in a way that he hadn't been prior.

Bud Webster's recent article also certainly helped raise visibility.

Then, more directly to this current little bubble of proliferation, David creating the FB group was a big move in online Lafferty conversation. Many who aren't the type to blog are on FB and enjoy more casual online interactions. It's much easier to see notifications on a site that you're already going to than it is to go to a Lafferty-specific message board like the ones on the Devotional page and elsewhere. I've got a love/hate relationship with FB, but I adore FB groups for their ease of use and the notifications. Their huge downside is that searching through archives is nearly impossible. Regardless of pros and cons of FB, seeing new Lafferty posts on FB every day, or at least a few times a week, it starts to feel like Lafferty is back and more popular than ever. The Facebook catered content bubble effect. Never mind that there are only a handful of us really seeing these things.

I also confess that I like the FB group just as a place to meet like-minded fans. I have no local friends who care about sf. I have no Science Fictioneers Clubhouse to hang out at. When I joined the group, I'd read enough Lafferty to know that I'd have more in common with this group of SF fans than I would with fans in groups dedicated to [insert random Baen author here]. I've enjoyed the off-topic conversations as much as the on-topic ones (and I have to watch myself from getting too far off-topic.)

I started this blog because I like being part of conversations about things I like. Who doesn't? I'm reading more science fiction this year than I have in a long time. I'm slowly discovering Lafferty. I find myself liking Lafferty more and more with each new (to me) story. It was nice to find an active group of fans at the same time. What could be better? Finding others interested in reading and discussing the same books at the same time gets harder and harder the further away I get from any academic context.

I started commenting on the FB group and realized that I'd like to have more room to write longer responses occasionally and also to have something more of a permanent record for myself. I've been blogging for a long time. First, a personal blog. Most recently, five years of a film blog. That was a great experience. Writing, even the poor stuff I do, helps to clarify my muddled thoughts and helps with recall.

In the past, I've thought about starting a blog devoted to a single author. My neglected never-properly-even-started Sturgeon blog from 2011 is here: (it's got one post that was posted there accidentally; I left it up because it amused me.) I've also got a blog devoted to contemporary short sf that never launched. Last year, I started a Goodreads group devoted to Clifford Simak.

So, this is just normal behavior for me.

I'm not so sure if it's a sign that other Lafferty blogs will pop up. Maybe my participation signals the death of this trend.

I'm also not sure if this small number of blogs or my single addition to them could count as a "proliferation," but may it become so. Proliferate!

Besides "proliferation" being suspect, I think that "sudden" may be imprecise.

It seems sudden, maybe, but credit where it is due. Many Lafferty fans have kept interest in the stories alive for several decades now, not letting the broader sf community forget about Lafferty.

Interest and talk have been at a low simmer for many years. The aroma wafted through the rest of the big house just as many of us were at our hungriest. Now, the soup is ready. Suddenly, the invitation to eat and enjoy has gone out far and wide, even to those of us who never set foot in the kitchen (or, if we did, wrinkled our noses and left in a rude huff.)

Scoundrel that I am, having no part in the preparation, I have now boldly arrived at the feast. Miracle of miracles, the hosts are yet gracious. And somehow there is more of this rich soup than any of us could slurp down in a hundred thousand years.

And the fellowship is lovely, maybe best of all when we're all fighting (it hasn't happened yet but surely it should, no?) And the drink is heady stuff and there seems no end of it.

And there's Soft-Talk Susie in the corner whispering in Kevin's ear as they both slurp up something other than soup. And David and Daniel practicing pentecost, tongues of fire glossing Laffertisms in Japanese while Kenji laughs on. And which one of the Bills is that over there in the space pirate garb? How could it be both of them? There's Mark arm-wrestling Sour John. Wait, what is Jim doing there with that expensive book? Is that Gregorio at that other table explaining the 'minimal decency rule' to Gary all over again? How many times now? And that must be Lissanne on the stairs sketching all the rest. How is she working at all with that man in her lap? Could that be? No, he's dead and dead is dead except when it isn't. Dang, this soup is good. And the company grand.

And though this raucous gathering may never know an end, this blog post is in desperate need of one.

Blessed be this rum.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

He had a finely tuned soul, but it had a wide range.

I should know better than to read anyone else's words before I plunk out my own.

After reading "One at a Time," I trawled the Internet for reviews and found Andrew's fantastic post, beating me to everything that I would have written.

The following bit from the story is worth repeating, though, so here it is:


“I thought your stories were getting a little too tall, McSkee. But if you’re no more than forty years old, then your stories do not make sense.”

“Never said they did, John. You put unnatural conditions on a tale.”


It's hard not to read this as Lafferty speaking through McSkee, defending his own fiction against the objections that he must have received. This story and others are deliberate acts of busting apart all of the "unnatural conditions" (theory, three act structure, whatever) that we accumulate and bring to each story. We expect things to be just so and we are upset when they are not. This dismantling of expectations, I think, is what folks mean when they speak or write about Lafferty being "his own genre." Approaching him via genre (any genre) tropes is destined to fail. For all I know, I owned Orbit 4 in the mid-90s. I think I did. I don't remember this story, but I can easily imagine my younger self reading it and dismissing it as nonsense, perhaps stupid fun, but not something that belongs in an sf anthology. I don't think I would have liked it.

I probably fancied myself as having a finely tuned soul. Unfortunately, with no range at all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I go for you too, blob.

I've read a handful of Lafferty stories in the past few weeks that I haven't gotten to here. I don't feel as strongly about any of them as I do about the following, one of my favorite Lafferty stories so far.

Yesterday, I read "The Weirdest World."

It belongs to that small subsection of sf tales presenting a 'first contact' tale from the point of view of the non-human. This type of story is often humorous (Terry Bisson's "They're Made Out of Meat" was my first and still best exposure to this type of story.) It's definitely humorous here. [As an aside, here's a reminder to myself to look for a list of such stories. I'm sure I've read at least half a dozen. I'm just as sure that I can't remember any more titles!]

The narrator of "The Weirdest World" is grounded from his spaceship due to a case of space-ineptitude. It is only through "his" (the sex is questionable, I think) observations and his first meeting with some "giant grubs" that the reader becomes aware that the narrator is non-human. He is blob-shaped (I fail in every imagining.) The humans who find him are "giant grubs" who "travel upright on a bifurcated tail."

As the blob interacts with his environment, he meets new friends, acquires wealth, falls in love, then loses it all. All in a few pages. The reversal at the end is both sad and funny. A snake curtly saying, "I wish I could get my indigestion back" is the pinnacle (nadir?) of black humor in this story, so very darkly funny.

The straight funniest moment comes earlier with Lafferty indulging in a bit of subtly off-color humor. He already clearly established that the blob keeps his head down below and his "tail" above. When the blob meets a nightclub singer, the following interaction occurs:
"I want to rub your head for good luck before I go on," she said.

"Thank you, Margaret," I replied, "but that is not my head."

There's plenty more to love about this story. 

In its descriptions of "the weirdest world," we are forced to re-assess the mundane things we take for granted. Through this light-hearted lark of a story, the "sense of wonder" at the heart of sf beats strongly, renewing our own hearts to beat along. We look at our surroundings through new eyes, amazed at the world once more.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Finished Past Master Not-a-Review

It's not too difficult to see Lafferty here wrestling with the end of the Modern world. One needn't be conspiratorial to see hints of the Astrobean Dream manifest in so much contemporary rhetoric. Lafferty cheerfully exposes the nihilist root of transcendent quests to be more human than human. Lafferty dances and spins stories in protest. The super-code-crackers can't crack them. I fumble through faulty misunderstandings and attempts at systematizing story as if it could be dismantled and applied as something outside of what it is. I fail. Blessed be this rum. Past Master is a simple (not simplistic) philosophical/theological argument for living (and dying) eschatologically, Beyond oneself. Its central thesis, I suspect, is the basic notion that often it is quite right to lose one's head. Quite properly, it is a smash-bang honest-to-goodness adventure story. Starring Thomas More and a gang of misfit followers. Chased by killer robots. I love it. In the mornings I sometimes believe a little.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

FB Chatter Re-posted.

I first posted these story reactions to the FB group. I re-post them here "as is" mostly for my own record.

"Six Fingers of Time"

So, no big surprise that I loved Six Fingers of Time. As a Flash fan, I'll note that this is the best non-canonical Flash story ever!  An average man who discovers he has super-speed is likely to use it to play mean tricks on all the slowpokes and to sexually harass women. The story gets creepy at times (and the sexuality is borderline disturbing). The story itself is very wise in its depiction of the slow process of gaining wisdom and what it all does or does not amount to. Its sucker punch ending is a nice reinforcer of its Ecclesiastes-type themes of life under the (static) sun.

"The Hole on the Corner"

Sunday evening means I treated myself to a Lafferty story: "The Hole on the Corner"
As a man living the Golden Cliche (I come home to a stupid dog, a beautiful wife, and six goofy children; is that one too many!?), this story really struck me. I'm not sure if there is any real science to this story's sf idea and if there is, if it holds any water. Probably not. What rings so true, though, is the idea of each of us being a multitude, gravity consisting in the depth and breadth of all the weirdness of so much concentrated personality. The raucous joy of it all is exactly what draws me to Lafferty and why his work resonates with me so much.

"Square and Above Board"
"Jack Bang's Eyes"

My Sunday evening Lafferty reading was derailed last week. Tomorrow, I know I'll be driving half of the afternoon. So, I decided to treat myself to two Lafferty stories today. A few quick thoughts:
"Square and Above Board"
"Jack Bang's Eyes"
I'm a gamer. What struck me in these stories is that Lafferty may have been a gamer. He is appreciative in his descriptions of gaming. In "Square," he understands and conveys perfectly the different mindsets of a gambler and a chess player and where those two might intersect on a checkerboard and more broadly in life. In "Eyes," there's a delightful moment in which Jack Bang realizes that his enhanced sight has ruined the joy of poker for him, revealing a key insight that games (and life) are fun and challenging because of human limitations. In other words, human limitations may be a design feature, not a bug. This is of course more or less clearly stated in Lafferty's theological aside on the veiled purposes of God and the "funny-lookingness" of ears. Again, Lafferty satisfies in his amplitude, offering up more of everything, revealing the riches that surround us that we too often hearing do not hear and seeing do not see.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It is impossible, but it is so.

Lafferty's early story, "All the People," begins with a man, Anthony Trotz, interviewing four persons on the possibility of knowing everyone.

A politician: "He might learn that many faces and names, but he would not know the men."

A philosopher: "The mind is limited by the brain. It is skull-bound. It can accumulate no more than its cranial capacity, though not one tenth of that is ordinarily used. An unbodied mind would (in esoteric theory) be unlimited."

A priest: "The only emancipated man is the corporally dead man. And the dead man, if he attains the beatific vision, knows all other persons who have ever been since time began."

A psychologist: "Naturally not. But unnaturally he might seem to."

Anthony Trotz: "There is no way out of it. I know everybody in the world. It is impossible, but it is so."

The story unveils itself slowly and mysteriously, teasing out the implications and understandings of these early conversations as Trotz goes to work and wrestles with knowing everybody in the world. Re-reading the story immediately, it is abundantly clear how masterfully Lafferty sets everything up. This is a quick and quirky story of an "experience with the unbodied mind, or the possibility of it." Along the way, it brings up serious philosophical questions of what it means to know one another and, maybe more significantly, what it means to know oneself. All served up with a heaping of humor and a clever twist end that packs a punch. Highly recommended.

(Galaxy Magazine, April 1961)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The most wonderful thing in the world since the Evangels

"They went to Sky-Port and entered their craft for Astrobe, Thomas with an armful of mystery novels, revels, bonanzas, and science fiction books, all new things to him. Thomas had also discovered tobacco and he swore that the stogie was the most wonderful thing in the world since the Evangels. He announced that he would smoke and read for the whole trip to Astrobe. So they enskied."

-from ch.2, Past Master

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Laffertian Numerology

Some speculative rambling on the first chapter of Past Master.

The chapter is titled "At the Twenty-Fifth Hour."

Do any of you know the origins of the phrase "Twenty-Fifth Hour?" I did a little bit of Internet searching, but the results are clogged up with references to the novel 25th Hour and the Spike Lee film adaptation.

Regardless of its origin or its contemporary use, we have Lafferty's use in this sentence: "The clock stood at the twenty-fifth hour so often that the very survival of man through it all appears as a miracle."

The "clock" in question could be entirely metaphorical, representing time and history. It could also be a reference to the "Doomsday Clock" and its "minutes to midnight." I don't know how present a symbol this was at the time that Lafferty was writing. It does seem obvious that Lafferty is using this phrase "25th hour" as a way of communicating the failures of mankind in preventing the end of the world (keeping in mind that for Lafferty, the world comes to an end often. The only way forward is through death into resurrection.)

So, it means that the day is over and that it's too late. Maybe.

25 is also the first hour of a New Day. It is the very beginning of something New.

25 = 8+8+8+1

New World (failed) + New World (failed) + New World (failing) + Time for a New World

I'm guessing that Lafferty would have been familiar with Biblical symbolism and the way in which the "Early Church Fathers" used this symbolism. The 8th Day was the first day of a new week, a new start, the beginning of a new world.

The Masters discuss the ages of man as breaking down into roughly three successive new worlds, the third of which is currently failing. There is argument as to whether it is proper to revive this failing world. Foreman's life if at stake because he insists that this Third Age must die in order to live.

This stress on 3 is also present in the interlocking threeness of the three masters. Even the way they are introduced is in terms of five attributes (representing their power) presented as three things (two of them coupled as two attributes play against and associate with and strengthen each other.) "The three men gathered in the building were (1) large physically, they were (2) important and powerful, they were (3) intelligent and interesting." They are further described as "an interlocking nexus, taut and resilient, the most intricate on Astrobe."

Probably the most important part of the first chapter:

Fabian Foreman: "And by definition all members of the Circle of Masters are utterly devoted to the Astrobean dream, and are all of one mind. Kingmaker wants to continue the living death of Astrobe at all cost. You, Proctor, do not believe that there is anything very wrong with Astrobe; but I believe there is something very wrong with you. You are both attached in your own way to the present sickness. I want a death and resurrection of the thing, and the mechanical killers do not understand this."

So, I'm fooling around with the number business but the number business isn't all that important. The key is that the world must end once more so that it might live once more. More importantly for readers like me, itching for entertainment, we're given killer robots, political intrigue, last minute escapes, and a hint at time travel. I'm completely sold on Past Master after the first chapter. :)