Why You Should Be Reading R. A. Lafferty: The Madman Of Oklahoma


You’ve probably heard R.A. Lafferty quoted if you haven’t read him. I came across him first when Neil Gaiman said a particularly good line he’d used in his, ‘Sandman’ series was a Lafferty line. Maybe you recall it – the creepy witches called ‘The Kindly Ones’ said something like, ‘They can kill you; but we can kill you worse’. That’s actually a chapter title in Lafferty’s, ‘Fourth Mansions’. A rocking book, if you haven’t read it, about four secret societies vying to take control of the future of humanity. The reason you read it is not the plot, because you know…whatever…I can’t really say what’s going on; and I’ve read it twice. You read it because he drops these word-nuggets that sparkle. The title of the first chapter is, ‘I Think I Will Dismember The World With My Hands’. The ninth chapter is, ‘But I Eat Them Up, Federico, I Eat Them Up’. If you don’t love that kind of thing, then take a pass on the guy I guess; but you’re missing out. At least try, ‘Past Master’ because its plot is good too, there’s a great story, and there are more sparkling quotes for you.

Here are some quotes, see what you think:

  • ‘It looks like a good year for monsters’ – Fourth Mansions
  • ‘I’d like to be gentle to you with with a meat cleaver, Justin’ -The Emperor’s Shoestrings
  • ‘It is an awful and sickening thing to see a good man grow rich and respected.’ – The Underneath Man
  • ‘The first implement made by man was not a scraper or celt or stone knife, it was a crutch.’
  • ‘My magic can whip your magic; and my dog can whip your dog’ -All The Skies Are Full Of Fish
  • ‘Most of the trouble that comes to people in this world comes from reading the wrong books.’ -Try To Remember
  • ‘I have certain riddles to ask the woods and the mountain, and they do not speak when others are present’
  • ‘Which was first, you, or the belief in you?’ -Past Master

So back to what I view as his masterpiece, though everybody you talk to who digs this guy has a different view on that. For me, it’s, ‘Past Master’. A description from the interwebs:

‘Past Master is set in the year 2535 on the world of Astrobe, a utopian Earth colony that is hailed as Golden Astrobe, “mankind’s third chance”, after the decline of both the Old World and New World on Earth. Despite idealistic intentions, it is suffering moral and social decline that may be terminal for both Astrobe and the human race.

In an attempt to save their dying civilization, its leaders use time travel to fetch Sir Thomas More (chosen for his fine legal and moral sense) from shortly before his death in the year 1535 to be the president of Astrobe. More struggles with whether to approve of the Astrobian society, noting its possible connections to his own novel Utopia. His judgements soon lead him into conflict both with destructive cosmic forces on Astrobe and with its leaders who thought him a mere figurehead who could be manipulated.’

End quote. If you’ve ever read Harlan Ellison’s short story, ‘Repent, Harlequin Said The TickTock Man’, and loved it because the trickster guy in the story is thumbing his nose at the people who think they’re in charge, then this book may just work for you like it does me. Thomas More sticks it to the man, if you know what I mean. By the way, if you haven’t read Ellison’s story, what the crap, man!? Get that done, then come back. Sheesh, you’re lucky we found that out!

Lafferty, man. Go read this guy. He saved himself from alcohol through his writing; and he made the world a better place because of it. You owe him at least a look. Let me know what you think!

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