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The Man with the Speckled Eyes (The Collected Short Fiction, Volume Four) Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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These are the stories in this volume, in the order in which they appear:
"The Man with the Speckled Eyes." A hayseed inventor develops anti-gravity.
"Primary Education of the Camiroi." An alien educational system a la Lafferty. Seriously mind-bending.
"Polity and Custom of the Camiroi." A sort of sequel to the above. I detect some Swiftian satire here.
"Funnyfingers." One of my favorites. A Greek myth set in Oklahoma.
"For all Poor Folks at Picketwire." Another wacky inventor story, until the bottom falls out, literally, and we're led into an underworld that's part myth, part legend, and all Lafferty.
"Mr. Hamadryad." I can't describe this story in one sentence. It seems to be about the downfall of the human race into some lower life form. But maybe it's about something else.
"Thieving Bear Planet." All right, some straightforward, conventional science fiction! Sorry, this is Lafferty. It's more like a very weird ghost story.
"The Transcendent Tigers" Children with strange, evil powers. At last a story I can compare to some other writer's. Think Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life."
"Bank and Shoal of Time." A time travel story, and the first story in this book that didn't quite gel for me. Too much philosophizing, too much Socratic dialog. Lafferty's "Rainbird" is a much better time travel story.
"The Emperor's Shoestrings." Here's one for all the little people, and I mean little people literally. And I can't resist a quote: "You know, of course, that the Emperor really was wearing adequate and even splendid clothes until a hostile psychology was brought to bear on him."
"McGruder's Marvels." And even littler people, several orders of them, so small they're invisible. They must have made those tiny boxes in Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.
"Been a Long, Long Time." Six monkeys with typewriters punching random keys are given the task of re-creating the complete works of Shakespeare. A work in progress.
"Entire and Perfect Chrysolite." A major Lafferty story, one of his best, an example of his work for Damon Knight's Orbit series. (In the early 1980's, I came across a book called The Best from Orbit, read "Continued on Next Rock," and was instantly hooked on Lafferty. I'd never heard of him before that.)
"The Cliff Climbers." A minor story, not well known. Originally appeared in Quark/1 edited by Delaney and Hacker, a volume I actually own, due to my habit of wandering into used book stores and scanning the tables of contents in SF anthologies for Lafferty stories
"And Now Walk Gently Through the Fire." A major story, with major references to Christianity and enough Biblical allusions to keep a hundred Catholic scholars busy for a hundred years. Woven into this is Lafferty's common theme that we live in an age of great spiritual darkness, if we can even call it living, and subhumans have taken over, if we can even call them human. Yet there is hope...
"Ishmael into the Barrens." It's a nice piece of editing to put these last two major stories at the end, and in this order, so hats off to John Pelan. This is a dystopian future, published in 1971, where the hippies have taken over. Lafferty hated all that New Age stuff, he saw it as the death of humanity, and perhaps he was right. To some degree the hippies have taken over, only now they have short hair and wear suits and ties, and talk about institutionalized diversity, carbon footprints and sustainable development. Into this dystopia two non-conformists are born, and conspire to have a wunderkind called Ishmael, who will be hunted down and killed ritually, with the same sort of inevitability we see in Aurelia. Lafferty nails it, no pun or disrespect intended, and supplies a bittersweet ending. There is still hope, as long as people keep reading him. I'll leave you with the first line of this story: "It was early in the morning, which was illegal."