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Monday, December 31, 2001

The morning's mail brought a bunch of stuff I'd ordered from Amazon.com -- Nalo Hopkinson's short story collection Skin Folk, the new Avram Davidson collection The Other Nineteenth Century, a copy of R. A. Lafferty's The Devil is Dead (-the Wildside Press reprint -- it's a gift for someone) and the Strokes CD Is This It?

I'm pleased that Avram Davidson is, in death, gaining a measure of the respect he did not have in life. I wonder if Lafferty (87, Alzheimer's-senile now, in an old people's home in Tulsa) will be recognised as a genius once his death is announced. (I did the entry on Lafferty in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which ended by pointing out that the only person in the body of SF Lafferty could be compared to was Avram Davidson.) I suspect that he won't be, not unless someone who is in exactly the right place culturally introduces a collection of Lafferty stories designed for the mainstream, much as the Avram Davidson Treasury helped define Avram and what he did, and used a number of major authors to do so. And it probably won't happen. But one can hope. (Does it matter if he's respected? Not a bit. Does it matter if he's read? Damn right it does: no-one else did the things that Lafferty did in prose-and-occasionally-poetry, although Flann O'Brian came close.)

When I was a kid I corresponded with Lafferty -- sent him some of my stories to read, asked him about writing. He'd send me long, brilliant letters back. I always planned to write a definitive article about him and never did (which was one reason why, twenty years later, I did the enclopedia entry on him). I introduced a Lafferty story in a Marty Greenberg My Favourite Fantasy Stories collection, in which authors get to introduce their favourite story. I picked one called "In Our Block", although it could as easily have been any one of a dozen other stories.

This was what I wrote...

In a typically quirky piece, accompanying the photo
of himself in Patti Perret�s book The Faces of
Science Fiction
, R. A. Lafferty said, of himself,
� When I was forty-five years old I tried to be a
writer... I became the best short story writer in the
world. I�ve been telling people that for twenty years
but some of them don�t believe me.�

He was right. For a while in there, he was the best.

His stories brimmed with ideas that no-one had ever
thought before, and a use of language that was
uniquely his own - a Lafferty sentence is instantly
utterly recognisable The cock-eyed, strange and
wonderful world he painted in his tales often seems
nearer to our own, seems more joyful and more
recognisable than many a more worthy, or more literal
account by other authors the world stopped to notice.
�This is how it is!� you tell yourself on discovering
Lafferty, delighted, awed, changed.

His SF story �Slow Tuesday Night� (which, like �In Our
Block� can be found in Nine Hundred
Grandmothers
, Lafferty�s finest collection) seems
more and more relevant as the rate of change in the
world out there grows ever-faster, ever-weirder. But
some things don�t change - and that�s what this story
is about. Here Lafferty paints a blue-collar portrait
of immigration into an American city. It�s a tale of
immigration and integration, and it has a measure of
sly humour and wonder in there with which to be
getting by.



...


And I just realised I probably won't post again in 2001, so this is by way of being a New Year's greeting to all of you out there who read this. May your 2002 be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't to forget make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in 2002, you surprise yourself.

My own new year's resolution? I want to write more. There are too many stories not told, and a limited amount of time to tell them in. And I want less stuff around. I've spent 40 years accumulating stuff, and now can't remember why.

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