R. A. Lafferty

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (November 7, 1914 – March 18, 2002) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer known for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure,[1] as well as for his etymological wit. He also wrote a set of four autobiographical novels, In a Green Tree; a history book, The Fall of Rome; and several novels of historical fiction.

In March 2011, it was announced in Locus that the copyrights to 29 Lafferty novels and 225 short stories were up for sale.[2] The literary estate was soon thereafter purchased by the magazine's nonprofit foundation, under the auspices of board member Neil Gaiman.[3]

R. A. Lafferty
Lafferty in his library in 1998
Lafferty in his library in 1998
BornRaphael Aloysius Lafferty
November 7, 1914
Neola, Iowa, United States
DiedMarch 18, 2002 (aged 87)
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story author
GenreScience fiction, Fantasy
Notable worksOkla Hannali, Past Master, Nine Hundred Grandmothers


Lafferty was born on November 7, 1914, in Neola, Iowa to Hugh David Lafferty, a broker dealing in oil leases and royalties, and Julia Mary Burke, a teacher; he was the youngest of five siblings. His first name, Raphael, derived from the day on which he was expected to be born--(the Feast of St. Raphael). When he was 4, his family moved to Perry, Oklahoma. He graduated from Cascia Hall[4] and later attended night school at the University of Tulsa for two years starting in 1933, mostly studying math and German, but left before graduating. He then began to work for a Clark Electric Co. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and apparently a newspaper as well; during this period (1939–1942), he attended the International Correspondence School.

R. A. Lafferty lived most of his life in Tulsa, with his sister, Anna Lafferty. Lafferty enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. After training in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and California, he was sent to the South Pacific Area, serving in Australia, New Guinea, Morotai and the Philippines. When he left the Army in 1946, he had become a 1st Sergeant serving as a staff sergeant and had received an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal [4]. He never married.

Lafferty did not begin writing until the 1950s, but he wrote thirty-two novels and more than two hundred short stories, most of them at least nominally science fiction. His first published story was "The Wagons" in New Mexico Quarterly Review in 1959. His first published science fiction story was "Day of the Glacier", in The Original Science Fiction Stories in 1960, and his first published novel was Past Master in 1968.[5]

Until 1971, Lafferty worked as an electrical engineer. After that, he spent his time writing until around 1980, when his output declined due to a stroke. He stopped writing regularly in 1984.[6] In 1994, he suffered an even more severe stroke. He died 18 March 2002, aged 87 in a nursing home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. His collected papers, artifacts, and ephemera were donated to the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Other manuscripts are housed in the University of Iowa's Library special collections department.

Lafferty's funeral took place at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tulsa, where he regularly attended daily Mass. He is buried at St. Rose Catholic Cemetery in Perry.[4]

Selected works

Lafferty's quirky prose drew from traditional storytelling styles, largely from the Irish and Native American, and his shaggy-dog characters and tall tales are unique in science fiction. Little of Lafferty's writing is considered typical of the genre. His stories are closer to tall tales than traditional science fiction and are deeply influenced by his Catholic beliefs; Fourth Mansions, for example, draws on The Interior Mansions of Teresa of Avila.

His writings, both topically and stylistically, are not easy to categorize. Plot is frequently secondary to other elements of Lafferty's writing; while this style has resulted in a loyal cult following, it causes some readers to give up attempting to read his work.

Not all of Lafferty's work was science fiction or fantasy; his novel Okla Hannali (1972), published by University of Oklahoma Press, tells the story of the Choctaw in Mississippi, and after the Trail of Tears, in Oklahoma, through an account of the larger-than-life character Hannali and his large family. This novel was thought of highly by the novelist Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), who on the back cover of the edition of published by the University of Oklahoma Press, writes "The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it ... Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian." He also wrote, "It is art applied to history so that the legend of the Choctaws, their great and small men, their splendid humor, and their tragedies are filled with life and breath."

Lafferty's work is represented by Virginia Kidd Literary Agency,[7] which holds a cache of his unpublished manuscripts.[6] This includes over a dozen novels, such as In The Akrokeraunian Mountains and Iron Tongue of Midnight, as well as about eighty short stories and a handful of essays.[8]


Science fiction

  • Past Master, (1968); Hugo Award nominee, 1969; Nebula Award nominee 1968
  • The Reefs of Earth (1968)
  • Space Chantey (1968); a retelling of the Odyssey in SF terms
  • Fourth Mansions (1969); Nebula Award nominee, 1970
  • The Devil is Dead (1971); Nebula Award nominee, 1972 [Second chronologically in The Devil is Dead trilogy]
  • Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine (1971)
  • Not to Mention Camels (1976)
  • Archipelago (1979); [First chronologically in The Devil is Dead trilogy]
  • Aurelia (1982); Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 1982
  • Annals of Klepsis (1983)
  • Serpent's Egg (1987)
  • East of Laughter (1988)
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? (1989)
  • The Elliptical Grave (1989)
  • Dotty (1990)
  • More Than Melchisedech (1992); [Third chronologically in The Devil is Dead trilogy, consists of three novels]
    • Tales of Chicago
    • Tales of Midnight
    • Argo
  • Sindbad: The Thirteenth Voyage (1989)


  • The Flame is Green (1971); [First in the unfinished Coscuin Chronicles]
  • Okla Hannali (1972)
  • Half a Sky (1984) [Second in the unfinished Coscuin Chronicles]


  • Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970)
  • Strange Doings (1972)
  • Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? (1974)
  • Funnyfingers & Cabrito (1976)
  • Apocalypses (1977)
  • Golden Gate and Other Stories (1982)
  • Through Elegant Eyes (1983)
  • Ringing Changes (1984)
  • The Early Lafferty (1988)
  • The Back Door of History (1988)
  • Strange Skies (1988); poems
  • The Early Lafferty II (1990)
  • Episodes of the Argo (1990)
  • Lafferty in Orbit (1991); World Fantasy Award nominee, 1992
  • Mischief Malicious (And Murder Most Strange) (1991)
  • Iron Tears (1992); Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 1992
  • The Man Who Made Models - The Collected Short Fiction Volume 1 (2014)
  • The Man With the Aura - The Collected Short Fiction Volume 2 (2015)
  • The Man Underneath - The Collected Short Fiction Volume 3 (2015)
  • The Man With The Speckled Eyes - The Collected Short Fiction Volume 4 (2017)


  • The Fall of Rome (1971); reprinted in 1993 as Alaric: The Day the World Ended
  • It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1984)
  • True Believers (1989)
  • Cranky Old Man from Tulsa (1990)

Short stories

  • "All the People" (Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1961)
  • "The Weirdest World" (Galaxy, June 1961)
  • "Aloys" (Galaxy, August 1961)
  • "Rainbird" (Galaxy, December 1961)
  • "Dream" (Galaxy, June 1962)
  • "Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas" (Galaxy, December 1962)
  • "What the Name of That Town?" (Galaxy, October 1964)
  • "Slow Tuesday Night" (Galaxy, April 1965)
  • "Among the Hairy Earthmen" (Galaxy, August 1966)
  • "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" (Galaxy, February 1967)
  • "How They Gave It Back" (Galaxy, February 1968)
  • "McGruder's Marvels" (Galaxy, July 1968)
  • "The World of Will and Wallpaper", the title a wordplay on The World as Will and Representation from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3.

Awards and recognition

Lafferty received Hugo nominations for Past Master, "Continued on Next Rock," "Sky," and "Eurema's Dam," the last of which won the Best Short Story Hugo in 1973 (shared with Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's "The Meeting.") [9]

He received Nebula Award nominations for "In Our Block," "Slow Tuesday Night," Past Master, Fourth Mansions, "Continued on Next Rock," "Entire And Perfect Chrysolite," and The Devil is Dead. He never received a Nebula award.[6]

His collection Lafferty in Orbit was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and in 1990, Lafferty received a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. His 1992 collection Iron Tears was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.[6] In 2002, he received the Cordwainer Smith Foundation's Rediscovery award.[10]

The Oklahoma Department of Libraries granted him the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.[11]

Fourth Mansions was also named by David Pringle as one of his selections for Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels.


"[Once a] French publisher nervously asked whether Lafferty minded being compared to G. K. Chesterton (another Catholic author), and there was a terrifying silence that went on and on. Was the great man hideously offended? Eventually, very slowly, he said: 'You're on the right track, kid,' and wandered away." [12]

In his 2006 short story collection Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman includes a short story called "Sunbird" written in the style of Lafferty. In the introduction, he says this about Lafferty:

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.

"Sunbird" was my attempt to write a Lafferty story, and it taught me a number of things, mostly how much harder they are than they look....[13]

Gaiman and Lafferty had corresponded for several years during Gaiman's adolescence; he remembered Lafferty's letters as "filled with typical cock-eyed Lafferty humour and observations, wise and funny and sober all at once."[14]

Further reading

  • R. A. Lafferty (1990), Cranky old man from Tulsa: interviews with R.A. Lafferty, Weston, Ontario, Canada: United Mythologies Press, ISBN 092132216X, OCLC 26768241, 092132216X[5]
  • Andrew Ferguson (January 2012), "Unpublished Lafferty: 1", NYRSF (281)


  1. ^ Gene Wolfe wrote in an introduction to Episodes of the Argo that "[Lafferty may be] the most original writer in the history of literature"; Michael Swanwick has written that "if there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him", this is quoted on the back cover of the original edition of Lafferty in Orbit; Neil Gaiman has said that "[Lafferty's] stories are without precedent"; Harlan Ellison wrote that "Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else's"... See "Quotations about Lafferty" for more: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/R._A._Lafferty
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-03-07. Retrieved 2011-03-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) http://www.sfsite.com/news/2011/03/02/lafferty-estate-for-sale/ http://locusmag.com/2011/Ads/digitallafferty.jpg
  3. ^ http://thislandpress.com/11/05/2014/lafferty-lost-and-found/?read=complete
  4. ^ a b "Sci-fi author R.A. Lafferty rites set." Tulsa World 21 Mar. 2002, Final Home Edition, NEWS: 12. NewsBank. Web. 31 Mar. 2010.
  5. ^ "Rafael A. Lafferty, 87, Science Fiction Writer". The New York Times. March 29, 2002. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d "R.A. Lafferty (1914-2002), Locus, May 2002, p.9, 68.
  7. ^ "Virginia Kidd (1921-2003)" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Paul Di Filippo reviews R.A. Lafferty
  9. ^ [1] Archived 2013-01-20 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ From an SFX magazine column by David Langford; issue #92, June 2002
  13. ^ Introduction to Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman. published 2006 by William Morrow. page xxvii
  14. ^ "Lafferty," Neil Gaiman, Locus, May 2002, p.68.

External links

Works available online

Ace Science Fiction Specials

Ace Science Fiction Specials are three series of science fiction and fantasy books published by Ace Books between 1968 and 1990. Terry Carr edited the first and third series, taking the "TV special" concept and adapting it to paperback marketing. The first series was one of the most influential in the history of science fiction publishing; four of the six novels nominated for 1970 Nebula Awards were from the series.

The date given is the year of publication by Ace; some are first editions and some are reprints. Also given is the Ace serial number. The serial number given is that of the first printing in the Ace Special series (except for the reissue of Rite of Passage). Books with a previous first edition are noted as "reissue" below. The order listed for series one is the original order of publication; the price is given. Ace reissued many of these books outside of the Ace Special line with different covers and prices, and sometimes different paginations. Award winners are noted; many were nominated for awards.

Alpha 1 (Robert Silverberg anthology)

Alpha 1 is a science fiction anthology edited by Robert Silverberg first published in 1970.

Alpha 3 (Robert Silverberg anthology)

Alpha 3 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Robert Silverberg. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in October 1972.The book collects ten novellas, novelettes and short stories by various science fiction authors, together with an introduction by the editor.

Alpha 4 (Robert Silverberg anthology)

Alpha 4 is a science fiction anthology edited by American writer Robert Silverberg, first published in 1973.

Catch That Zeppelin!

"Catch That Zeppelin!" is a 1975 alternate history short story by American writer Fritz Leiber. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Emmanuel Jouanne

Emmanuel Jouanne (born 1960 in Caen; died February 6, 2008) was a French science fiction writer who won the Prix Rosny-Aîné twice. His first novel came out in 1982. He has collaborated with Yves Fremion on a series of political science fiction and was a member of a writer group called "Limite." He is also noted in France for translations of R. A. Lafferty and Philip K. Dick.

His interest in Philip K. Dick has found expression in the English speaking world as he has written on his influence on French science fiction.

Eurema's Dam

"Eurema's Dam" is a science fantasy story by R. A. Lafferty. It was first published in 1972 (although written in 1964) in the Robert Silverberg-edited anthology New Dimensions II, and subsequently republished in The Best Science Fiction of the Year #2 and Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, Second Annual Collection (both 1973), in The Hugo Winners, Volume Three (1977), in Golden Gate and Other Stories (1982), in Space Odyssey (1988), and in Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Century (2001).

Fourth Mansions

Fourth Mansions is a science fiction novel by American author R. A. Lafferty, first published as an Ace Science Fiction Special in 1969. A UK hardcover was issued by Dennis Dobson in 1972, with a Star Books paperback following in 1977. A French translation appeared in 1973. American reprint editions were later issued by Bart Books and by Wildside Press.Fourth Mansions was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1970, and placed fifth in the Locus Poll for best novel in the same year.

Land of the Great Horses

"Land of the Great Horses" is a short story by R. A. Lafferty from Harlan Ellison's science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions. The story takes a broad view of the earth after extraterrestrials (the Outer Visitors) return the native land of the Romany (the Land of the Great Horses), on which they had been experimenting. Roma everywhere leave their work to return to it.

They then scoop up the city of Los Angeles, whose residents become the new wanderers, Angelenos. When asked what happened, they commonly reply, "They came and took our Dizz away from us."

New Dimensions IV

New Dimensions IV is an anthology of original science fiction short stories edited by Robert Silverberg, the fourth in a series of twelve. It was first published in paperback by Signet/New American Library in October 1974.The book collects ten novellas, novelettes and short stories by various science fiction authors.

Orbit (anthology series)

Orbit was an American long-running series of anthologies of new fiction edited by Damon Knight, often featuring work by such writers as Gene Wolfe, Joanna Russ, R. A. Lafferty, and Kate Wilhelm, who was married to Knight. The anthologies tended toward the avant-garde edge of science fiction, but by no means exclusively; occasionally the volumes would feature some nonfiction critical writing or humorous anecdotes by Knight. Inspired by Frederik Pohl's Star Science Fiction series, and in its turn an influence on Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions volumes and many others, it ran for over a decade and twenty-one volumes, not including a "Best-of" collection which covered the years 1966-1976.

Past Master (novel)

Past Master is a novel by science fiction writer R. A. Lafferty first published in 1968. The novel follows the attempt of a future Utopian society in preventing its decline, by bringing Sir Thomas More to the year 2535.

The novel was well received by critics, and was nominated for the 1968 Nebula Award and the 1969 Hugo Award. It is generally categorized as part of the New Wave of science fiction.

Ray Vukcevich

Ray Vukcevich (born 1946) is a writer of fantasy and literary fiction. His stories have been compared to the works of R. A. Lafferty, George Saunders, and David Sedaris. Some seventy-five stories, with titles such as "White Guys in Space," have appeared in science fiction and literary magazines. His online novelette The Wages of Syntax was a finalist for the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.Vukcevich's novel The Man of Maybe Half a Dozen Faces was published by Minotaur Books in 2000. A collection of short stories — Meet Me in the Moon Room — was published in 2001 by Small Beer Press.

Originally from New Mexico, as of 2014 he lives in Eugene, Oregon. He is a member of the Wordos writers' group.

Seiun Award

The Seiun Award (星雲賞, Seiunshō) is a Japanese speculative fiction award for the best science fiction works and achievements during the preceding year. Organized and overseen by the Federation of Science Fiction Fan Groups of Japan (FSFFGJ) (日本ファングループ連合会議, Nihon Fan Group Rengō Kaigi), the awards were given each year at the annual Japan Science Fiction Convention. It is the oldest SF award in Japan, which was first given in 1970 at the 9th Japan Science Fiction Convention and has been awarded every year since that.

"Seiun", the Japanese word for "nebula", was named after the first and short-lived professional science fiction magazine in Japan, which appeared in 1954. The award is not related to the American Nebula Award.

It is similar to the Hugo Award, which is presented by the members of the World Science Fiction Society, in that all of the members of the presenting convention are eligible to participate in the selection process. But it is not strictly correct to call it Japan's "equivalent" to the Hugo Awards, as the Hugo Awards are open to works from anywhere in any language while the Seiun implicitly limited the area and the language like as the BSFA Award.

Space Mail, Volume II

Space Mail, Volume II is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh. It was first published in paperback by Fawcett Crest in January 1982.The book collects twenty-two short stories written in the form of a letters, diary entries, or memorandums, together with an introduction by Asimov.

The Hole Man

"The Hole Man" is a science fiction short story by American writer Larry Niven. It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1975.

The Meeting (short story)

"The Meeting" is a 1972 science fiction short story by Frederik Pohl, based on an unfinished draft by Cyril Kornbluth. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; an audio version was read by Bradley Denton.

Virginia Kidd

Virginia Kidd (June 2, 1921 – January 11, 2003) was an American literary agent, writer and editor, who worked in particular in science fiction and related fields. She represented science fiction American authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, R.A. Lafferty, Anne McCaffrey, Judith Merril, and Gene Wolfe. Wolfe modeled Ann Schindler, a character in his 1990 novel Castleview, in large part on Kidd.

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