New Treasures: The Best of R. A. Lafferty, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Sunday, May 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of R. A. Lafferty-small The Best of R. A. Lafferty-back-small

At last! At last! The Best of R. A. Lafferty is available here in the United States.

Back in October of last year, uber-editor Jonathan Strahan made the following terse announcement on his Facebook page, alongside a tantalizing cover reveal.

The Best of R.A. Lafferty will be published by Gollancz in March 2019. The book features 22 classic Lafferty stories along with an introduction by Neil Gaiman and forewords by some of the most important writers and editors working in the field today.

Fabulous! Lafferty is one of my favorite short story writers, and far too much of his work — virtually all of it, really — is either long out of print, or available only in very expensive collector’s editions from Centipede Press. The prospect of a generous collection of his best short fiction in a compact and affordable trade paperback edition (with a cover by Emanuel Santos illustrating one of his finest stories, “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”) seemed too good to be true.

And for a while, it look like it would be. I immediately added the book to my Amazon queue, and impatiently awaited the March release date. It came and went, and Amazon switched the status of the book from “Available for pre-order” to flat-out “Unavailable.” Copies of the book were unavailable through any of my regular sources. Until a few weeks ago, when a handful of sellers finally signaled they had it in stock. I placed an order, and it arrived last week.

And what a book it is. Not only does it include 22 terrific stories, but editor Strahan has also assembled thoughtful and entertaining intros to each by some of the finest writers in the field, including Samuel R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, Michael Swanwick, Michael Bishop, John Scalzi, Jeff VanderMeer, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, Gregory Frost, Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Jack Dann, Harlan Ellison, Cat Rambo, and many others.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “The Meeting,” by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and “Eurema’s Dam,” by R. A. Lafferty

Saturday, March 16th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1972; cover by Ed Emshwiller

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

In 1973 there was a tie for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story. (There have been several ties in Hugo history, perhaps most famously for the 1966 Best Novel, shared by Roger Zelazny’s F&SF serial “… And Call Me Conrad” and Frank Herbert’s Dune.) The winners were Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth for “The Meeting,” and R. A. Lafferty for “Eurema’s Dam.” This was the first fiction Hugo for each of these writers, and the only one for Kornbluth (not surprising, as he died in 1958) and Lafferty. Kornbluth did win a Retro-Hugo in 2001 for his 1950 novelette “The Little Black Bag,” and another posthumous award, the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Syndic. Lafferty won a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, as well as the Phoenix Award and two Seiuns for Best Story translated into Japanese (“Eurema’s Dam” and “Groaning Hinges of the World”). Pohl’s lists of awards is very long indeed: they include later Hugos for his novel Gateway and his short story “Fermi and Frost,” three Hugos as Editor of If, the Best Magazine winner in 1965-1967, Campbells for Gateway and The Years of the City, Nebulas for Man Plus and Gateway, Locus Awards for his memoir The Way the Future Was and his novella “The Gold at the Starbow’s End,” a late (2010) Hugo for Best Fan Writer, and of course he was named SFWA Grand Master in 1993.

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Birthday Reviews: R.A. Lafferty’s “Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas”

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Sol Dember

Cover by Sol Dember

R.A. (Raphael Aloysius) Lafferty was born on November 7, 1914 and died on March 18, 2002.

Lafferty won a Hugo Award for his short story “Eurema’s Dam” in 1973, which tied with Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Meeting.” Lafferty’s story also won the Seiun Award in 1975 and he won a second Seiun in 1993 for the story “Groaning Hinges.” In 1971 Lafferty received a Phoenix Award from DeepSouthCon and in 1990 he was recognized with a Life Achievement World Fantasy Award. He was the second recipient of the Cordwainder Smith Award for authors whose work deserves rediscovery.

“Sodom and Gomorroah, Texas” was first published in the December 1962 issue of Galaxy Magazine, edited by Frederik Pohl. It was translated by Ferruccio Alessandri for the Italian version of the magazine in 1964. Lafferty included it in his 1972 collection Strange Doings. A. Kindt-van Ewijck and G. Suurmeijer translated the story for the Dutch version of Strange Doings, called Niet Pluis in 1975 and the same year it was translated for the French edition of Galaxie. The story saw a German translation in 1982 in the anthology Science-Fiction-Stories 92. The story was posted to Project Gutenberg in 2007 and was included in the LibriVox anthology Short Science Fiction Collection Vol. 004. In 2011, it was published as a chapbook. Its most recent publication occurred in 2015 when it was included in Feast of Laughter, Volume 2, an anthology edited by Kevin Cheek as an appreciation of R. A. Lafferty on the occasion of the centennial of his birth.

“Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas” is actually a story about expectations and the understanding of reality. Manuel has been hired to work a s a census taker in the Santa Magdalena region of Texas by Mr. Marshal. When Manuel asks if he should count the little people, Marshall instructs him to count all people, not just adults, although Marshal also has to specify not to count animals or spirits. While Marshal and Manuel see no difficulty with the instructions, the reader sees them readily, only wondering what form Lafferty will chose to show the hijinks sure to take place.

The little people living in the remote Texas region where Manuel is sent to count the nine human inhabitants are aliens who firmly believe they have a deed to the Earth. They allow Manuel and his mula, Mula, to count them, but at great cost. When Manuel turns in his figures, which are highly inflated, Marshal turns them in, resulting in problems with the little people who don’t want to be known.

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R.A. Lafferty, the Past Master of Science Fiction

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Past Master-small Past Master-back-small

R.A Lafferty is one of my absolute favorite classic SF writers. Though I’ve never read any of his novels.

Yeah, I know that sounds weird. But Lafferty is remembered today mostly for his brilliant short fiction, collected in priceless collections like Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970), Strange Doings (1972), and Lafferty in Orbit (1991). And his novels… well, they’re not so well remembered. There are a lot of theories about this. In his wonderful SF biography Past Masters (the title of which is an homage to Lafferty), Bud Webster quotes Mike Resnick, who was close to Lafferty:

There were a number of people… who thought he was the most brilliant short story writer in the field. But his novelettes weren’t as good, and except for Space Chanty (sic) his novellas were unexceptional, and his novels were for the most part mediocre. I blame his drinking for this. If he could grind out a story in one or two sittings, he could be brilliant. But if a novel took him 50 writing sessions, you get the feeling that each day he had to refresh his memory of what the hell he wanted to do, how he wanted to say it, etc.

Not all of Lafferty’s novels have a poor rep. His first, Past Master (1968), was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula, and today has become one of the most collectible SF paperbacks ever published by Ace Books, with good-condition copies commanding $50-85 and up on eBay.

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Vintage Treasures: Annals of Klepsis by R.A. Lafferty

Sunday, March 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Annals of Klepsis-small Annals of Klepsis-back-small

I haven’t used Goodreads much, but I’m beginning to see that’s a mistake. It truly is a marvelous resource for those looking for a wide range of opinions about books — especially those that have been out of print for decades. For example, here’s a small sample of reviews for R. A. Lafferty’s gonzo space-pirate novel Annals of Klepsis, published as an Ace paperback original in 1983. First up is Andrew:

A surrealistic apocalypse from a master of surreal apocalyptic fantasy. Lafferty’s novels function with the logic of a Bugs Bunny cartoon written by Kafka.

Astonishing how on-point that is a 2-sentence review. Here’s a snippet from a much more in-depth review by Printable Tire.

The book’s setting is sort of a blend of science fiction, in that it takes place on another planet, with “zap guns” (not called that) and everything, and fantasy, in the way Alice in Wonderland is fantasy. The very loose sprawling story takes place on Klepsis, a pirate planet, who for the last 200 hundred years has been in a state of pre-history, a state of legend. One of the thousands of things Lafferty postulates is that all pre-history and pre-legend does not take place in linear time, but because it is pre-history it all takes place at the same time; thus Hercules was a contemporary of Achilles, and thus the proportion of ghosts in this book.

And finally, here’s a sample from my favorite Goodreads review, from Raymond St.

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The Hilarity of the Strange: The Man Underneath: The Collected Short Fiction of R. A. Lafferty, Volume 3

Monday, July 31st, 2017 | Posted by Steve Case

The Man Underneath The Collected Short Fiction of R. A. Lafferty Volume 3-smallThe Man Underneath: The Collected Short Fiction, Volume Three
Centipede Press (368 pages, $100 deluxe hardcover, April 5, 2016)

He laid down a road paved with bright, deadpan madness for us to walk, mouths agape and eyes wide with wonder and trepidation.
– from the introduction by Bud Webster

Let’s talk about R. A. Lafferty. You may have heard of him before: a wild, raggedy old man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose work showed up in magazines and the pulps from the sixties to the eighties, who ranged through conventions for a while (according to legends always polite and often drunk), and whose writings rode the New Wave through its crest and recession.

Lafferty had a style that was utterly unique and impossible to imitate. (People have tried.) His short stories were difficult to categorize, and his novels were nearly impossible to read. Nowadays his work is largely out of print and hard to find. His short fiction is scattered across a hundred shores of old magazines, obscure chap-books, and out of print collections. A few of the more well-known ones, like “Narrow Valley,” turn up now and again in anthologies, but the majority are lost, and so one of the strangest, strongest, most distinctive voices from speculative American fiction comes through, if at all, garbled and faint and haunting.

All of this has changed with the publication by Centipede Press of the Collected Short Fiction of R. A. Lafferty, an ongoing series of gorgeous small press books of which the third volume is out and the fourth is on the way. When I say gorgeous, I mean well-designed hardcovers with cloth ribbon and a price point for serious collectors or for library purchase. (Making friends with librarians is my strategy for getting ahold of books like these.) But each volume succeeds in capturing and displaying the varied short stories of Lafferty, splaying them out on the page like a bizarre and beautiful Lepidoptera collection. Lafferty is most alive in his stories, and the random structure of each collection, which are not organized by chronological or any other logical arrangement, means you can step into a good representation of his work with any volume.

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Future Treasures: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Friday, January 13th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Six Wakes Mur Lafferty-smallMur Lafferty’s latest novel is a space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again. (On her blog Mur writes, “Clone Murder Mystery in SPACE was a rejected title. Another rejected title was from my friend Alasdair: Murder Space Clone Bastard.”)

James Patrick Kelly writes “This is one of the cleverest and most exciting murder mysteries I have ever read. The confined space of the colony ship Dormire is filled with feisty and memorably strange characters… Lafferty does for clones what Asimov did for robots.” The novel arrives in trade paperback by Orbit at the end of the month.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Mur Lafferty’s most recent series was The Shambling Guide to New York City; she’s also a contributor to the Book Burners serial from Serial Box. She won the 2015 Manly Wade Wellman Award for her novel Ghost Train to New Orleans. Our recent coverage of her includes Mur Lafferty on Reading the Classics.

Six Wakes will be published by Orbit on January 31, 2017. It is 400 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.

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.

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Mur Lafferty Wins 2015 Manly Wade Wellman Award

Friday, July 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Ghost Train to New Orleans-smallMur Lafferty has been awarded the 2015 Manly Wade Wellman Award, for her novel Ghost Train to New Orleans.

The Manly Wade Wellman Award is granted each year by the North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation, for outstanding achievement in science fiction and fantasy novels written by North Carolina authors. This year’s nominees also included The Sea Without a Shore by David Drake, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by A.J. Hartley and David Hewson, Reign of Ash by Gail Z. Martin, and Bad Wizard by James Maxey.

The winner is selected by the combined membership of four North Carolina science fiction and fantasy conventions (illogiCon, ConCarolinas, ConTemporal, and ConGregate). The award was presented on July 11 at ConGregate, in High Point, NC.

Mur Lafferty also won last year’s innaurgual award, for the first novel in the The Shambling Guides series, The Shambling Guide to New York.

Ghost Train to New Orleans (The Shambling Guides #2) was published by Orbit on March 4, 2014.

Read complete details at the North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation website.

New Treasures: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Friday, November 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Shambling Guide to New York City-smallMur Lafferty is something of a renaissance woman. She was the host and co-editor of the horror podcast Pseudopod until July 2007; in 2010 she became the editor and host of the weekly SF podcast magazine Escape Pod. She’s also the host of I Should be Writing (when does she find time to actually write?), and a winner of the Podcast Peer Award and the Parsec Award.

Apparently, she must make time somehow. She’s the author of two previous novels (Playing for Keeps, and Nanovor: Hacked), and her third novel is out from Orbit Books. Zoe Norris is a travel writer forced to take a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to discover she’s been tasked with writing a tour guide for the undead. Scott Sigler said of The Shambling Guide to New York City, “If Buffy grew up… moved to New York and got a real job, it would look a lot like this.” Sounds plenty intriguing to me.

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.

Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.

The Shambling Guide to New York City is the first novel in The Shambling Guides series; the second volume, Ghost Train to New Orleans, is due March 4, 2014.

The Shambling Guide to New York City was published by Orbit Books on May 28, 2013. It is 358 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The marvelous cover is by Jamie McKelvie (click for a full-size version).

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