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.
Great review! I too love this story. I think you accurately peg it when you say that is has a strong sense of wonder that makes us evaluate the world around us anew.ReplyDelete
This is not a new trope--travelogues by a misunderstanding narrator as satire of specific elements in our culture go way back--look at Utopia. However, this story is uniquely Lafferty. Somehow he celebrates conmen, pokes wicked fun at our institutions and traditions, and brings it to a tragic ending, while making us gasp and wheeze from laughing so hard.
Andrew Ferguson has a great article on this "Weirdest World" on his Tumblr, Continued on Next Rock here: http://ralafferty.tumblr.com/post/51212548136/31-the-weirdest-world.
I thought that synopsis sounded very familiar so I checked on isfdb.org and it was in Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add which I bought when it was released.ReplyDelete
One of Lafferty's most poignant stories, taking the classic trope of a stranger in a strange land (written quite independently of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, although both were first published in 1961), from the point of view of the intergalactic stranger, which therefore renders our familiar, quotidian life utterly new because we now see it through the unfamiliarity of an alien gaze.ReplyDelete
Lafferty does indeed poke fun and looks deliciously askew at all sorts of human institutions, but perhaps none more so than the relationship between the sexes:
"Of the walking grubs (who call themselves 'people') there are two kinds, and they place great emphasis on the difference. From this stems a large part of their difficulties. This distinction, which is one of polarity, cuts quite across the years and ability and station of life. It is not confined only to the people, but also involves apparently all the beings on the planet Florida.
It appears that a person is committed to one or the other polarity at the beginning of life, maintaining that polarity until death. The interlocking attraction-repulsion complex set up by these two opposable types has deep emotional involvements. It is the cause of considerable concern and disturbance, as well as desire and inspiration. There is a sort of poetic penumbra about the whole thing that tends to disguise its basic simplicity, expressible as a simultaneous polarity equation.
Complete segregation of the two types seems impossible. If it has ever been tried, it has now been abandoned as impractical."
As a walking grub myself, I am fond of the polarity, and I rather enjoy the poetic penumbra about the whole thing. My polar opposite and I are about to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and I must disagree with Blob about its basic simplicity. I still find it bafflingly and delightfully inscrutable.Delete
"Complete segregation of the two types seems impossible. If it has ever been tried, it has now been abandoned as impractical."ReplyDelete