'Atrox Fabulinus, the Roman Rabelais, once broke off the account of his hero Raphaelus in the act of opening a giant goose egg to fry it in an iron skillet of six yards' span. Fabulinus interrupted the action with these words: "Here it becomes necessary to recount to you the history of the world up to this point. After Fabulinus had given the history of the world up to that point, he took up the action of Raphaelus once more. It happened that the giant goose egg contained a nubile young girl. This revelation would have been startling to a reader who had not just read the history of the world up to that point: which history, being Fabulinian in its treatment, prepared him for the event.
— Auctore, The Fall of Romenote
There was a writer from Tulsa, Oklahoma (he died in 2002), who was, for a little while in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the best short story writer in the world. His name was R. A. Lafferty, and his stories were unclassifiable and odd and inimitable — you knew you were reading a Lafferty story within a sentence. When I was young I wrote to him, and he wrote back.
Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, more commonly known as R.A. Lafferty, was an American author of Science Fiction
. He is most associated with the state of Oklahoma, where he spent most of his life, although he was born in Iowa. Something of a late bloomer, he first started publishing fiction in his mid forties, midway into a successful career as an engineer and well after a stint in the army during World War II
. Lafferty's fiction is blatantly anti-realistic, taking as its model tall tales, oral folklore, and standup comedy more than mainstream fiction or non-fiction, and the Fourth Wall
is frequently broken
. He is also one for Mood Whiplash
, and his stories and novels often start off in the comic realm before switching to tragedy or horror and maybe
Tropes associated with R.A. Lafferty's work include:
- Bears Are Bad News: Snuffles intially subverts this. Snuffles is an somewhat intelligent alien creature that resembles a bear and is very friendly until the second chapter where it's played straight, then taken Up to Eleven.
- Bigger on the Inside: In Narrow Valley an entire valley resembles a ditch from outside. "Its like one of those trick topographical drawings."
- Christianity Is Catholic: Lafferty was a lifelong Roman Catholic and theologically conservative, and religious themes show up in a lot of his stories.
- Contemporary Caveman: The recurring character of Austro, a bona fide Australopithecus.
- The Fair Folk: The creepy children in The Reefs of Earth are supposed to be aliens, but behave more life enigmatic and mischievous fairies.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: In essence what the scientists want to do in Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne. By killing one messenger they can, in theory, open up scientific exchange between Charlemagne's kingdom and the more advanced Muslim Spain, thus ending the Dark Ages centuries earlier. They succeed, but don't realize they did. They attempt something similar and end up sending civilization back to the Stone Age.
- The Hidden Hour: The former kind of time in "Days of Grass, Days of Straw"
- Historical-Domain Character: Thomas More in his debut novel, Past Master.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Despite acclaim from fellow authors like Neil Gaiman, comedian Bill Hader and several awards Lafferty tends to fall out of publication from time to time. Some of his books can go for three times their original worth second hand. His only historical non-fiction book, The Fall of Rome, has never been republished since the 70's.
- Master Computer: Epiktistes the Ktistec Machine, performs this function at the Institute for Impure Science. Epikt is several rooms big, but his user interface module looks like a sea-monster from a carnival float and he talks with "a blend of Irish and Jewish and Dutch comedian patter from ancient vaudeville." Lafferty's novel Arrive at Easterwine is his memoir.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: A scientist creates a device that helps to see others' subjective impressions in "Through Other Eyes" and uses it to see the way a woman he believes himself to be in love with does. He doesn't like what he sees, and it's mutual.
- Mind Screw: Almost every story of his has an element of mind screw in it, some more than others, but his novels like Not to Mention Camels can take it to extremes. Averted with Past Master, which is fairly straightforward in terms of plot.
- Mood Whiplash: One of the masters of this trope. Snuffles starts as a whimsical science fiction story but ends as an unsettling horror.
- Plausible Deniability: A supercomputer in "What's the Name of That Town" reveals that there used to be a city called Chicago that was destroyed in a horrendous accident. As soon as the story is told, all the listeners forget, as does the computer.
- Recurring Character: Several of them, in fact.
- Austro, the Contemporary Caveman
- Epiktistes the Ktistec Machine
- Gregory Smirnof and several members of the Institute of Impure Science
- The three "eminent scientists" Dr. Velikof Vonk, Arpad Arkabaranan and Willy McGilly (whose scientific method is magic) who usually function as a team.
- The Camiroi (an entire race of eccentrics)
- Unreliable Narrator: Lafferty is one of the few authors who could play with this in the Third Person, usually to great effect. For instance, The Name of the Snake is about a Catholic Priest who sets out to convert the Analoi on a distant planet. A first it seems like a normal, if jocular, third person narration until the end where you realize that the story is being told by an Analoi who, in the last paragraphs, brags about what a good meal the Catholic missionary made.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Lafferty's prose is filled with language and historical jokes that few will perceive.
- World of Symbolism / Rule of Symbolism: Prevalent in most of his novels, though not in his short stories so much. Lafferty remarked that his novels were 'more rewarding' than the short stories.