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. :)