Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fool's Ranking

I've now read twelve Lafferty novels. (It's been a while since I counted, but I think that my short stories read count is up around 170--out of 220+ published!)

As deep as I am into Lafferty, I still feel like a newbie. So much to read. So much to learn.

Here's how I'd personally rank the novels if someone asked me today. The order would probably change by tomorrow.

1. Archipelago
2. Sindbad: The Thirteenth Voyage
3. My Heart Leaps Up
4. The Devil is Dead
5. Fourth Mansions
6. Not to Mention Camels
7. Annals of Klepsis
8. Serpent's Egg
9. Arrive at Easterwine
10. Past Master
11. The Reefs of Earth
12. Space Chantey

If someone wanted me to assign star or number ratings, that's easy. Each of these books is a perfect 10/10 or five stars out of five stars. I have not yet met a Lafferty novel which has disappointed me. They have confounded me, but never disappointed. There are some stories that I can take or leave, that I've definitely felt lukewarm towards, but I've never felt that way about any of the novels (except maybe Aurelia--sorry, Gregorio!--which I started and did not finish).

Eleven published novels left to go!:
More Than Melchisidech
The Flame is Green
Half a Sky
The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney
Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?
East of Laughter
The Fall of Rome
Okla Hannali
The Elliptical Grave

So, by my count, that's 23 published novels? Right? Am I missing anything?

And then 14 unpublished novels? And six unpublished novel fragments?

I'm planning on reading Aurelia next, then I'm not sure. Maybe More Than Melchisidech and Dotty. It's possible that before this year is over, I'll get serious and write an essay on one specific aspect of the Argo Cycle, an idea that I've been rolling around in my head for a while. I need to read MTM and Dotty before I can feel good about starting this.

"You'll add to it yourself in your death straits, if there is any deformed originality in you."

I read the entirety of Not to Mention Camels over three days while on a family vacation this past weekend. It felt good to relax into a novel, especially one as thrillingly good as this one. I knew Camels only by its reputation as a "very bad, terrible book" and knew that DOJP was hesitant to fully love the novel. I think that Gaiman specifically mentions it as a failed novel in his Coode St episode. I also learned at this year's LaffCon that the book had been astoundingly popular in Spain when it was translated there, going through multiple print runs. (Weirdly, there's no entry for the Spanish edition on isfdb.)

I wrote the following the other day after reading the first four chapters.....

Anyone really love Not to Mention Camels? I think I do.

I'm four chapters in and really enjoying it. It's definitely strongly Laffertarian, but it's also giving me a strong PKD vibe with its immoral protagonist and unstable, uncertain realities. It's funny, but it's a much darker funny. Something about a highly capable male protagonist trying to exert his will over the world makes this novel feel more closely aligned with core sf than many of Lafferty's other texts. It almost feels like a subversion of the Campbellian/Heinleinian self-sufficient man myth.

Reading Camels jolted in me an awareness (I'd already known this but now thought it afresh) of how important community is to Lafferty's work.

In Space Chantey, Roadstrum is captain of an entire crew.

In Past Master, Thomas More joins a small band of misfits.

In Reefs of Earth, the Puca children are a family unit.

In Fourth Mansions, Freddy Foley is in constant contact with almost everyone else in the novel.

In Sindbad, there is, like in Past Master, a small band of weird heroes facing down swamp dragons.

In Serpent's Egg, there are the 12 children.

In Archipelago, there is the core group of friends.

In The Devil is Dead, Finnegan is central, but there are several women orbiting around him, and also the Devil and Mr. X.

Arrive at Easterwine features the Institute.

Annals of Klepsis is another ship's crew.

My Heart Leaps Up features dozens of kids.

Those are examples from the novels that I've read (excluding a few novels that I've dipped into but haven't read in their entirety).

Examples could be multiplied from the stories. (So too could exceptions.)

Multiplied is a good word. Lafferty dealt in multiples and abundance was a regular thing. Including a multiplication of and abundance of characters.

In Not to Mention Camels, though, so far there is no such community. There is the force of will of a man (?) Pilgrim and those who bend to his will. His antagonist, Evenhand, is surrounded by a company of eight, but even then, the are described as extensions of himself.

The Case of the Moth-Eaten Magician was published in 1981, five years after the publication of Not to Mention Camels. I believe that the opening of Moth-Eaten Magician gives us one clue as to what Lafferty was up to in this hellish novel. Contra Sartre, hell is not other people. It is a complete disregard for anything Other, anything outside of oneself.

Long excerpt from the beginning of Magician:

Well, following the same cleavage, there are two kinds of almost everything. There are two kinds of people in the world, and that's the difficulty.
There are persons with a strong interest and affection for themselves and themselves alone.
There are persons with a strong interest and affection for the world about them, and for its furniture and people.
So far as I know, these are the only two sorts of people there are, and the difference between these two sorts is very deep. It would seem that the persons of the first sort, having no real interest in other persons at all, would not be interesting to those other persons either; but this isn't always the case. These persons of the first sort are often able to transmit their intoxication with themselves to others.
“Everybody look at me,
I'm way and out the best there be,”
— the persons proclaim, and often groups and clots of folks, loitering and guesting clusters or clumps of people will give them the echo “Amen, Amen, you sure are!” This is mostly inexplicable to me. Many persons of the first sort do become cult figures and have followings. But it seems as though a universe with only one person in it, and a group of shadows, is too small.
These classifications have nothing to do with the artificial categories of introvert and extrovert. A person of the first sort will see and admire himself both from within and from without. He will see himself from a series of exterior vistas set like spotlights to highlight him.
And a person of the second sort will see the world objectively in whatever manner persons do see exterior objects and complexes. And he will also see it in a subjective and personalized way. No one can see things without putting his own personal signature on his seeing.