too much typing—since 2003


it's just like sreeping gas - it's oh so ethereal

When I was in my teens, I devoured science fiction. I must have checked out a goodly percentage of the books filed under SF at the Wauwatosa Public Library - so that institution deserves credit for my having discovered the works of R.A. Lafferty. Lafferty's books were filed under science fiction, yes; but that's more a matter of convenience (and publication history) than of description. The closest comparison to Lafferty's writing I might make is Flann O'Brien, at least in The Third Policeman - which is exactly as science-fictional as most of Lafferty's work, and exactly as little.

Lafferty's work has rarely been in print long, however - but fortunately, the Wildside Press has reprinted a number of Lafferty's titles, which is why I've been able to reread one of his novels, Not to Mention Camels. The excerpt below gives a good sense of the flavor of Lafferty's style and ideas, and I think it also stands on its own nearly as a short story. (Lafferty's stories are generally more highly regarded than his novels, in fact.)


The Resurrection of Lazarus was the best of the dramas: it was always a joy to watch. The Christus would raise him quickly and then be called away on other matters. Lazarus would rise from the dead putrid and thirsty; and putrid he would remain with rotted and half-rotted streaks of flesh, and the more completely rotted pieces sometimes falling clear off of him. And thirsty he would remain, and this was the delight of the whole animation. The elite audience would order cold drink after cold drink to allay in themselves the thirst of Lazarus. The Resurrection was always an audience-participation drama.

But Pelion Tuscamondo could hold more than eight attentions in his multiplex mind. This Resurrection of Lazarus didn't seem sufficiently researched to his taste. He felt that it needed mountains for its backdrop, and he ordered mountains. He had "Faith Sufficient," and he had station and connections. How could they refuse him mountains?

Albert Fineface, as spokesman for the elites that day, effected the order. And there were mountains, Gothic mountains, Dore mountains, steep menacing mountains, but their spires were twinkling blue instead of midnight black. Lazarus was resurrected in Bethany, perhaps, or in some other small town very near to Jerusalem. And the Anti-Lebanon mountains, or the Hermon or Hauran or some such mountain mass, loomed into the foreground with the breath-catching thrill of very great depth both above and below. And there was very great depth in the resurrected man, depths of thirst and agony.

A cup of water was set before Lazarus. Then, by the power of the group mind of the partakers of the drama, the cup was set out of reach of the suffering man. Once more, small and putrid pieces fell off that good man (where would be the drama in torturing an ungood man?) who did not seem aware of his good fortune in being alive again. With a frantic, animal cry, Lazarus reached mightily for the cup, and the audience-participation group mind moved the cup away from him again.

"It's authentic," Albert Fineface said. "One always experiences intolerable thirst on being raised from the dead. But now, friend Pelion, turn one facet of your jeweled mind to me. You, who have everything, have been wishing for one additional thing; you have not yet formulated this wish well, but you've been wishing it for a long interval. You wish to give testimony of your personal flame and image. As a cult figure, you wish the largest possible publication for your testimony."

"Yes," Pelion declared. "I would like to publish myself in every extent of every ocean that underlies every world. There is a deal to be made somewhere. I've followed some unusual commerces, but I don't know where to make this transaction."

"I can help you," Fineface said. "We've both followed unusual commerces, and we'll let our trading realms intersect here."

The avid crowd with its avid mind power moved the cup just out of the reach of Lazarus again.

This man, Albert Fineface, was a factor in some very dubious transactions, but he did not fail in any of his promises. Should a genie, for his own cloudy reasons, wish to be back in his imprisoning bottle, Albert could arrange it, for a fee. He could fill stranger requests.

"This ocean that underlies every earth," Fineface was saying, "that underlies every creature and manifestation, that infuses every mind and memory, even the memory of that concocted mountain there, the pervading water that is the uterine as well as the ultimate ocean, this ocean may be suffused as well as suffusing. We will suffuse it with your flame and image. You will publish your testament in every gout of its water. And then you will be permanently in the cellar of every mind that is, and has been, and will be. When a cobwebby bottle is brought up from the cellar of the mind of glowworm or giant, drops of your own flame will sparkle out of that bottle. It will cost you, though. You will buy the pervading water as Lazarus does, but you will buy oceans as he buys drops."

By a dramatic device not immediately explained, Lazarus had mortgaged the livings of his descendants for seven generations, and he had turned it all into mortgage-gold. He was allowed to drop gold coins into the cup of water and to lap up what drops of water overflowed the brim of that cup. But the cup itself seemed insatiable, and it drank up many coins for every drop of water that it brimmed over.

"The recording ocean is known on some of the worlds as the 'Group Unconscious' and on others as the 'Folk Ocean,' " Fineface was saying, "and any trace of substance in any part of it is immediately in all parts of it. This ocean, as you may not know, Pelion, is made up of the personal testaments of a group of devils. The testaments of these devils may be known and distinguished by their literary or eidetic styles in this repository, which is the most plastic of all the mass (non-lineal, of oblated bulk or mass) media. And each of these testaments receives very wide publication (infinitely wide, in billions upon billions of minds and nexuses); but most of them are without excellence. There are not many (a few more than one hundred) of these testifying devils who have achieved group-unconscious publication. When they were first raveled out and identified by their styles, they were given letters, as 'a,' 'b,' 'c' scrivener or eidetic devil, to distinguish among them. Soon it was seen that the conventional alphabet would not have enough signs. The Tarshish Syllabary was therefore used.

"Symbols of the elements are also used in the latest literary criticism of these authors and creators. It is believed that there will be the same number of these devils publishing their testaments as there are elements in the universes. It is worth noting that the discovery of the nine most recent elements has coincided with the discovery of the nine most recent of the scrivener or media devils. Should you reach this inner circle, Pelion, your equivalent would have to be an unstable element; that's the only kind left."

"I wouldn't want it any other way, Fineface."

"So it's been asked for some time, 'Cannot others play this game?' And we say, 'No way'; we say that if the asker is short of heel. But must it be restricted? May one not, by fabulous expenditure, buy a membership? May one not buy a pew-stall in this most unchurchly of churches? Yes, I think it may be done. I think it has been done. I believe you or I might be able to do it, Pelion. We are very rich, and we are very flexible in our talents."

"Is it really worth it, Fineface?" Pelion asked. "I don't fund every extravagant idea that comes into my head."

"It will be worth it to you. You will be able to lodge your flame and your image in every mind and every flesh, from the most attenuated flesh to the most gross, from the fire-flame spirit-flesh of the ethereals to the gamy and humpbacked flesh of the camel (your totem animal, is it not, Pelion?). For all of these drink out of that rank-water ocean called the group unconscious, or called other things."

"Other new ones have joined in this?" Pelion asked. "It has been done?"

"Yes, it has been done by several of the Media or Eidetic Lords of various worlds. It has been done by several of the cult figures on and between the worlds."

"With whom might I deal?" Pelion asked. "This is a thing I would like to master."

"Pelion, I can tell you who can tell you who can tell you who. You must pay heavy toll at each station, of course."

"Ah, who can tell me who can tell?" Pelion asked.

"Oh, I can." Albert Fineface made ready for the commerce.

So Pelion paid him very heavy toll and was on the way to contrive entree in and influence on the inmost under-minds of all creatures and uncreatures, living and dead. When one is "in" there, one is in forever.

The cup from which Lazarus sought to drink developed a deep crack from the weight of all the heavy gold coins placed in it, and all the water ran out of it. It was a badly built cup. And Lazarus moaned with his mouth in the sand.

(A nonessential change in worlds and lives and persons happens here.)


(from R.A. Lafferty's Not to Mention Camels, pages 140-44, Wildside Press edition.)

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