November 7, 1914
-March 19, 2002
Relatively little known author of many works of fiction and non-fiction. While the bulk of his fictional work is usually considered to be science fiction it isn't usually a clear-cut case. Weird or fantastic fiction and magic realism are labels that apply equally.
Lafferty's stories and novels are rich in a mythology that is both familiar and entirely his own at the same time. His fiction is such stuff as are dreams are made of, and the dreams are by no means always sweet. The stuff that isn't pure sf seems often rooted in an uncomfortably familiar reality next door.
An often recurring theme in Lafferty's work is travel by (space)ship, and classic mythical tales of great voyages (for instance The Odyssey and The Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights) are often used as a source of inspiration / parodied / expanded upon.
Though many sources list almost all Lafferty's books as out of print and hard to find, quite a few were actually still in print at least as late as 1999, and can be purchased online quite inexpensively.
R.A. Lafferty, who died at 87 on March 18, was undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did that ever there was. He was a genius, an oddball, a madman. His stories (his short stories were, in the main, more powerful than his novels) are without precedent: If he can be compared to anyone it might be to a more whimsical Flann O'Brien, but comparisons are pointless. The world only got one Lafferty. Nine Hundred Grandmothers was the first collection of Lafferty's shorter fiction. It is currently in print -- the small presses work to keep Lafferty in print -- and is a fine place to start. It contains a number of points of view you may never have encountered, embodied in stories such as "Narrow Valley," the tale of a huge valley in a tiny ditch, or "Primary Education of the Camiroi," a short story that is mostly syllabus, or "Slow Tuesday Night," which tells of a world running at Internet speed. Funny, wise and odd, his tales are unique. One sentence in and you know who you're reading. Lafferty never fit as an sf writer, as a fabulist or as a horror writer, although his work was sold as such and he won the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award. He was a genre in himself, and a Lafferty story is unlike any story by anybody else: tall tales from the Irish by way of Heaven, the far stars and Tulsa, Okla.
From the Washington Post, April 4, 2002
Recommended starting points for new readers:
(Strangely enough released earlier under the title Dagen van Gras, Dagen van Stro in Dutch only.) Arguably some of Lafferty's finest short stories. Actually picking up any one of his collections is a good introduction. You'll know after reading a few stories whether or not his style agrees with you.
This novel (one of his longest at a little over 200 pages) shows Lafferty at his, well, Laffertiest. In the author's words it is a
"...do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare. Its present order is only the way it comes in the box. Arrange it as you will." Not an easy read, but you may find it well worth your time. Then again, you may absolutely hate it...
A moving novel about a fictional Choctaw chief Hannali Innominee, and his family. The book provides the reader with plenty of background information about the period (early nineteenth century), and the plight of the Native American peoples at that time, without drawing the attention away from the main plot. Again, in his own words:
"Chronicles are all very well, but an epic--and we aspire to no less--has to have a man in the middle of it."
This book is by no means a typical Lafferty book, if such a thing exists, and may appeal to a broader audience than some of his other work, although classic Lafferty myth and magic do play a part in the story.