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Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine Paperback – 1973
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Perhaps a couple of years from now I will pick this up again and see it differently. For now, however, it is the only book of Lafferty's that I have not enjoyed. For someone who has never read any of his work, perhaps it's best not to start with this. Get some of his short story collections, which are also out of print but not hard to find. Move on to some of his other novels. When you've developed a taste for his writing, a misstep like this won't seem as important.
The book is broken into three fairly well defined sections, one for each task, and each section is broken into several smaller episodes. Some episodes are straight narrative of events and some are ruminations on the meanings of symbols. Some of the events described turn out to be metaphor and not real. However each smaller episode has as its theme the subject of the main task. For example, when Epikt is investigating the nature of love, there is a wonderful story about a well-meaning clod who goes to see a speech by a fire-eyed prophet. Both the clod and the prophet are mobile extensions of Epikt himself, and they both have overwhelming love for humanity, but express it in nearly opposite terms.
I must admit that when I first read the book, the structure completely went over my head, and the book seemed like a terrific mess. My first impression was that the plot quickly unraveled and went nowhere. Then I read it a second time and paid attention to what Epikt told us in the first chapter. I realized just how tightly structured this novel is. Nothing is wasted in the narrative. The beginning of the book tells us what the structure will be, then the story unfolds to fulfill that structure.
The book contains many wonderful moments that are a joy to read for themselves. There are the interactions of the members of the Institute for Impure Science--among the most beloved recurring characters in Lafferty's oeuvre. There is wonderful wordplay, such as the riff on how most of the characters are fellahin, or fellah (look it up), and Valery comments that she looks kind of strange for a fella. There is beautiful, spiritually moving visual description, like the time they start creating snow with unusual geometries that builds towers that give tantalizing almost-glimpses of the form of the ultimate city--the shape of the truly fulfilled and evolved community. There is the introduction which plays on the old fictional trope of an autobiography being mysteriously delivered to the author. Most impressive among all of this is how well Lafferty maintains the voice of Epikt as something slightly outside of and apart from Humanity--providing us an outside perspective from which to examine ourselves.
This book takes patience and an open mind to finish, and it may require at least two readings to understand its structure. If you are willing to give it that effort, it is a richly rewarding read.
Lafferty is best known for short stories that appeared in various sci-fi mags, including Orbit, and in a number of paperback collections (and some in hardback book club editions) such as Ringing Changes, Nine Hundred Grandmothers and Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? I first discovered him after reading a review that made his books sound so oddly intriguing that I had to have a go at them, and initially read numerous short stories and novellas.
However, I much prefer his longer novels, or rather some of them. Lafferty is an odd duck--read: original writer and unique visionary, but even within his own canon his books vary widely, arguably not in quality but in style (while remaining unmistakeably Laffertarian). At least as few are classics, but they are often the least available (and least read). My list of greats would include: Fourth Mansions, Past Master, Not to Mention Camels, Annals of Klepsis, and Arrive at Easterwine. Books I can't get into or through (although they may be favorites of other readers) include The Devil is Dead and Apocalypses. Somewhere in the middle I would place Space Chantey and The Thirteenth Voyage of Sinbad, but I have not begun to exhaust his catalog.
This book is told in the first person, and as with Asimov's I Robot (recently recast as an excellent film) and Kate Wilhelm's The Killer Thing, that first person is a machine. Not as light as Lafferty's Reefs of Earth but not as heavy as some of the above novels, it remains a flight of fancy where all deals are off and reality (whatever that is) is turned on its head in a typically? Laffertarian fashion that readers who've caught the Lafferty bug (and are therefore doomed to endlessly seek out and devour more R.A.L.) may enjoy.