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Vintage Treasures: Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R.A. Lafferty

Sunday, June 19th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Nine Hundred Grandmothers-small Nine Hundred Grandmothers-back-small Nine Hundred Grandmothers Ace 1982-small

R.A. Lafferty is one of the finest short story writers our genre has seen, and “Nine Hundred Grandmothers,” a compact masterpiece originally published in the February 1966 issue of IF magazine, is one of the best short stories ever written. The tale of an asteroid miner who can’t stop himself from asking the deep questions, and what happens when he comes across a strange and ancient race of aliens who remember how life began, it’s funny, thought provoking, and totally, totally unique. A description you could apply to much of Lafferty’s output, now that I think about it.

Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Lafferty’s first collection, was published as an original paperback in Terry Carr’s legendary Ace Science Fiction Special line in 1970, and it contained much of his finest work, including “Slow Tuesday Night,” “Snuffles,” and “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne.” The front cover (above left) was by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon; the back cover is above center. It was reprinted in paperback by Ace in January 1982 with a new cover by Charles Mikolaycak (above right). While the Ace Special edition was first, the 1982 paperback is actually the more rare of the two, and highly sought by collectors.

Here’s the blurb from the inside front cover of the 1970 edition, with brief but tantalizing descriptions of some of the stories within.

In all of science fiction, there has never been a writer like R.A. Lafferty, the highly acclaimed author of Past Master and Fourth Mansions. His people are heroic, foolish, demonic, or mischievous, but always unpredictable, and his stories soar with imagination even while they chuckle at themselves.

Here at last are the finest of Lafferty’s shorter works, stories about:

  • A man who found one day that he knew absolutely everyone in the world
  • A race who kept their most ancient ancestors on shelves in the basements
  • A speeded-up world where a man could earn and lose a dozen fortunes a night
  • A friendly bearlike creature named Snuffles who said he was God

…in all, twenty-one immensely enjoyable stories that will continue to delight you long after you’ve finished reading them.

Orbit 4 Damon Knight-smallNine Hundred Grandmothers contained twenty stories reprinted from magazines like Galaxy, If, World of Tomorrow, and F&SF, and one original story, “Frog on the Mountain.” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (If, February 1966)
“Land of the Great Horses” (Dangerous Visions, October 1967)
“Ginny Wrapped in the Sun” (Galaxy Magazine, August 1967)
“The Six Fingers of Time” (If, September 1960)
“Frog on the Mountain”
“All the People” (Galaxy Magazine, April 1961)
“Primary Education of the Camiroi” (Galaxy Magazine, December 1966)
“Slow Tuesday Night” (Galaxy Magazine, April 1965)
“Snuffles” (Galaxy Magazine, December 1960)
“Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” (Galaxy Magazine, February 1967)
“Name of the Snake” (Worlds of Tomorrow, April 1964)
“Narrow Valley” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1966)
“Polity and Custom of the Camiroi” (Galaxy Magazine, June 1967)
“In Our Block” (If, July 1965)
“Hog-Belly Honey” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1965)
“Seven-Day Terror” (If, March 1962)
“The Hole on the Corner” (Orbit 2, June 1967)
“What’s the Name of That Town?” (Galaxy Magazine, October 1964)
“Through Other Eyes” (Future Science Fiction, No. 47, February 1960)
“One at a Time” (Orbit 4, 1968)
“Guesting Time” (If, May 1965)

Nine Hundred Grandmothers was reprinted in hardcover by Dennis Dobson in 1975, and in paperback by Ace in 1982. It has been reprinted several times since, most recently in the UK by Gateway Orion in January, 2016.

While Lafferty produced over 200 short stories and some 20 collections in his lifetime, most of his fiction has not shared the same fate. The bulk of his short fiction has never been reprinted, and most of his collections were small print-run editions from small press publishers, virtually all of which were out of print before the start of the 21st Century.

All that has changed in the last few years as a result of Centipede Press, who are gathering Lafferty’s complete short fiction output in a dozen volumes. Three have appeared so far, all with covers by Jacob McMurray.

The Man Who Made Models-small The Man WIth the Aura-small The Man Underneath-small

The three volumes are:

The Man Who Made Models (2013) — 345 pages; intro by Michael Swanwick
The Man with the Aura (2015) — 316 pages, intro by Harlan Ellison
The Man Underneath (2016) — 351 pages, intro by Bud Webster

The third volume has an introduction by the late Bud Webster, Black Gate‘s poetry editor. Nine more volumes are due in the next few years.

Nine Hundred Grandmothers was published by Ace Books in 1970, as part of the Ace Science Fiction Special line. It is 318 pages, priced at 95 cents. The cover is by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

4 Comments »

  1. Lafferty wrote a lot of “lighter” stories, with humor or irony, as well as the more serious stuff, which makes for a nice variety in any collection. Highly recommended.

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - June 19, 2016 9:43 am

  2. Thanks for the rec, RK!

    Comment by John ONeill - June 19, 2016 10:55 am

  3. The Centipede volumes are lovely and everyone should own them.

    Recently, Gollancz picked up ebook rights to many of Lafferty’s out-of-print works. An ebook edition of 900 Grandmothers (and other collections and some of the novels) is available everywhere but the US: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nine-Hundred-Grandmothers-R-Lafferty-ebook/dp/B01A5TIIMM/

    We’re all anxiously awaiting ebook availability in the US. Even more so, we also desperately want these books back IN PRINT, in both beautiful collector’s editions like the Centipede volumes and also in affordable trade or mass market editions.

    In the past few years, there has been a resurgent interest in Lafferty.

    There is an active Facebook fan community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/eastoflaughter/

    There is a wonderful “bookzine” published twice a year which is always looking for intelligent new essays on Lafferty: http://www.feastoflaughter.org/

    And two weeks ago, there was held the first ever R.A. Lafferty conference, LaffCon1: http://www.laffcon.org/

    Comment by trawlerman - June 19, 2016 12:07 pm

  4. trawlerman,

    Wow! I had no idea. Thanks for the head’s up — especially about feastoflaughter.org!

    Comment by John ONeill - June 19, 2016 3:09 pm


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