Monday, April 4, 2011

R. A. Lafferty, Saved from Drowning


Because I once wrote the introduction to the R. A. Lafferty collection Iron Tears, a fan of the great man contacted me to see if I had any idea where he could get ahold of a copy.  So I did a little research and discovered that every single book Lafferty ever published is out of print.  Let me repeat that.  Everything ever written by one of American literature's greatest short fiction writers is out of print.  Which means, as a book dealer friend told me, that a copy of Iron Tears would probably go for a couple hundred bucks.  The cheapest anybody is offering the Ace paperback of Nine Hundred Grandmothers for is fifty dollars!  Eek.

It appears that the Lafferty estate was systematically withdrawing his works from print preparatory to offering the collective copyright for sale.  I poked around and found the following statement by Elizabeth Kennington, the executor for the estate:

On May 1 the Lafferty Estate tentatively plans to sell the rights to the entire literary output of the science fiction writer, R.A. Lafferty, to the Locus Science Fiction Foundation for $70,000 plus 50% of any future profit from the Lafferty rights in excess of $30,000 in any single year. The sale will proceed unless someone makes a more favorable offer.

The Locus Foundation is the legal entity which owns Locus Magazine, and has a mandate to perform good works in the service of science fiction.  So this is welcome news.  I have no idea what they plan to do with the dozens of novels and hundreds of stories they've just acquired -- presumably they'll tell us when the deal is finalized in May.  But I can't think of anybody I'd trust more with the rights.

Incidentally, if you've got any duplicate Lafferty books, this is probably a good time to place them on eBay.

Above:  Me standing before one of the worst portraits of Yuri Gagarin ever committed to canvas.



Victoria Janssen said...

Ooh, that IS good news.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Remember the Vance Integral Edition? It's nice to think that such a thing could happen for Lafferty. I don't know if they'd have the numbers...

Vance and Lafferty complete editions both present the problems that their respective authors wrote a fair amount of dross (or perhaps in Lafferty's case, work that is just too idiosyncratic for normal mortals. Or perhaps just dross.) as well as books of unparalleled importance. The completist in me would still like to see complete shelves of both. (I think I recall saying on this very blog that Lafferty was like Snuffles, an imperfect creator, and that was appropriate)

I know I've got at least two copies of 900 Grandmothers around the house, and it might possibly be three. I tend to buy copies of that one when I see it secondhand, as it - and perhaps - damn - the Thomas Moore one - Past Master - are excellent introductions for non Lafferty readers.

Just checked the Bookshelf Where the Good Stuff Goes, and I've got 26 Lafferties, a few of which I must confess to not having read. About half are from small presses and are graced with odd font choices, strange margins, and illustrations by someone's cousin who likes to doodle.

But they exist. We live in the golden age of the SF reprint, but even so, when I look through the shelves in my local SF shop, so many of the authors I grew up with have been reduced to one canonical work:

- Joanna Russ is the Female Man
- John Brunner is Stand on Zanzibar
- Fritz leiber is the Swords books
and that's good, but there's room for so much more...

Let's raise a toast (of tea, as it's breakfast time where I am) to Coroboree, U.M., Morrigan, Broken Mirrors, University of Oklahoma, Edgewood and all the other small presses which have kept the flag flying.

Michael Swanwick said...

Hear! Hear!

My own theory about Lafferty's difficult works is they're not science fiction or fantasy but a separate genre, a kind of religious allegory, of which he was the sole practitioner.

Which didn't stop me from acquiring them all. But there's no getting around the fact that those are the titles I don't reread very often.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant news indeed! I'd give several eyeteeth for the chance to edit the R. A. Lafferty Treasury. There have been rumors of Neil Gaiman weighing in to pick up the estate and get Lafferty back in print.

Alas, I don't think there would be a Lafferty Integral Edition - LIE. Paul Allen is otherwise occupied slapping Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer upside the head.

David Stone said...

Thank goodness, all of the Lafferty stories I own in print are scattered around four or five anthologies, and I've probably read only a tiny fraction of them all. The most recent one I have read is in the Best of Crank! anthology, and it was easily on par with the first story of his I read, "The Land of the Great Horses", which was published almost 40 years earlier.

Michael Swanwick said...

An R.A. Lafferty Treasury would be a book to cherish, especially if it were modeled after the Avram Davidson Treasury, with intros to each story by name writers.

Particularly since, like Davidson, Lafferty published stories all over the place, so that even long-time fans would discover top-notch stories new to them.

Shinji Maki said...

I translated your "Despair and the Duck Lady" into Japanese as a reference text for a Lafferty workshop which was held in SF Seminar at 3rd May. SF Seminar is a non-profit convention which takes place once a year in Tokyo for over 30 years. I apologize to you that I did not contact you beforehand about the translation. I made a booklet including your essay with other articles about Lafferty. The booklet is not for sale, and the number of copies is very limited. I'd like to send you the booklet. Could you tell me your mailing address? My e-mail adress is smaki[atmark] I'm so sorry my poor English.