By John Hertz: (reprinted in honor of RAL’s birth month from Vanamonde 485) A.E. van Vogt called R.A. Lafferty the most original writer in s-f (Science Fiction Review 23, 1977). There’s a tribute.
Lafferty is gone now (1914-2002). He was a strange dreamer, a strong drink. He published 200 short stories and 20 novels, if that’s what they were. He won the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award (1990), and a Hugo for “Eurema’s Dam” (1972); he was nominated for three other Hugos and seven Nebulas.
His best may be Past Master (1968) and The Fall of Rome (non-fiction, 1971). Okla Hannali (1972), an Amerind novel, is celebrated. Small presses reprint him; you can get Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? (short stories, 1974; repr. 2000) or many others.
He worried about men who knew everything, machines, manipulation; they made him mordant, and Gene Wolfe says he was the favorite of Joe Mayhew (Locus 496, 2002).
Damon Knight in the original-story anthology Orbit ran nineteen by Lafferty, and introduced the collection Lafferty in Orbit (1991), attracted, I fear, by satire, praising diamonds most for their hardness.
Even the title Past Master is a jest; the expression is “passed master”, i.e. one who has passed the test – “of the guild or public opinion”, W. Follett, Modern American Usage p. 312 (1966) – and earned recognition, but Sir Thomas More has been brought centuries into the future, because or in spite of his mastery. At the end, re-reading just now, I cried.
Lafferty beginning Rome starts on mosaic chips in the Empire, catches himself with Dimitte nobis rhapsodia nostra, “Forgive us our rhapsodies”, and sails away.
Knight did have another side. In the “Arcs & Secants” part of Orbit 18 (p. 249; 1976) he printed from Lafferty “the following poem about Ms. Wilhelm:
“Oh Kate has gone to writing pomes!
She writes them bright without the bromes,
She piles them up as tall as tomes!
She routs the temper of the times,
She cuts the strings that worked the mimes,
It doesn’t matter if they rimes.
“This was a contribution to a round-robin letter circulated among a few Orbit writers. Mr. Lafferty later withdrew from it, alleging unparliamentary remarks and stuffiness.” R.I.P.