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.