Lafferty and the sunbird…

R.A Lafferty stories are funny, weird, sometimes a little paranoid sounding, often delightfully bizarre, and always very precise. They tell of the secret societies, possessed of arcane knowledge, than run the world. You will find that seven men control our world, that they have four means of doing so, and that they can employ them in precisely six different ways. Further, they can only do so on two occasions in any given year. They belong to the Institute of Impure Science (or some other such organisation), and have colorful and odd names (like Aloysius Shiplap, the seminal genius, orMargaret the Houri, the ageless intergalactic mistress). You can read of them in stories like “Slow Tuesday Night”, “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”, “Narrow Valley”, “Interurban Queen” (which I once saw Howard Waldrop prove to be the perfect short story), or personal favorite “Nor Limestone Islands” and one day, if the world is kind, they will be available to you in a nice big retrospective short story collection.

I mention them now, though, to foreshadow a comment on a short story I’ve recently read. Very shortly indeed, those odd folk at McSweeney’s will publish a book of stories and stuff for less-old readers. It will be called A book of noisy outlaws, unfriendly blobs, and some other things that aren’t as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about lost lands, stray cell phones, creatures from the sky, parents who disappear in peru, a man named lars farf, and one other story we couldn’t quite finish, so maybe you could help us out, which is a very long title indeed. Within its pages, eager readers will find a short story by Neil Gaiman, called “Sunbird” which is, without any shadow of a doubt, his R.A. Lafferty story.

“Sunbird” tells the tale of Augustus Two Feathers McCoy, who is a member of the Epicurean Club, a private and eccentric group who claim, amongst themselves, not only to have attempted to eat everything that is edible (and several things that aren’t), but to know how best to prepare and serve each one of those things. The story opens with the observation by McCoy that “We have eaten everything that can be eaten”, which is much an announcement as it is a challenge. The rest of the story – and I have no intention of telling you any more of its details, for such pleasures should be yours – covers the response of the club members and one Hollyberry NoFeathers McCoy to that statement.

Because Gaiman seems naturally possessed of a voice that makes him a pleasure to read, it is easy to overlook how clever and accomplished he can be, mostly because he does such things while you aren’t looking. Much of what happens in “Sunbird” is silly, odd, or preposterous, and sometimes all three. And yet, other than when you’re smiling, you don’t particularly notice. I have no idea how it will be received by the world at large – though we’ll know in a week or three – but for this reader, it was a rare delight indeed.

Call for recommendations

I believe in truth in advertising. If you advertise something, you should attempt to deliver. I’m in the middle of working on my year’s best fantasy and year’s best science fiction volumes with Karen Haber and, while the end is in sight, that thought is on my mind.

We’ve read a lot of excellent stuff, and have some very fine stories earmarked for both books, but…. A book called year’s best SF or year’s best fantasy should contain stories that readers would recognize as SF or fantasy. I’m confident that the SF book is going to do that, but I’m a little worried about the fantasy book. The stories we have slated for it are terrific, top notch, but there’s not much in the way of dragons, fairies, elves, or quests. You won’t fit much quest into a short story, but dragons, fairies, and elves are definitely within the scope of the project. So, I have a request. If you, as a reader of this blog, have seen a terrific story featuring a traditional fantasy trope, let me know. I may have seen it, but who knows, and it would be really appreciated.

eels

I have found, by trial and error, that I do not really pick my favorite albums of the year. It seems more like they pick me. The year before last it was The White Stripes Elephant, and last year it was Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. There was a lot to like, and enough not to, with both albums. They both passed a key test, though. When I thought back across the year, it was the sound of those albums that I could best remember amongst all of the thousands of things I’d listened to.

This trip around the sun the prize goes to the latest set from Mark E and his various cohorts who form Eels for the odd, double cd extravaganza that is Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. For all that I’ve loved the Magic Numbers debut, I haven’t been able to escape the beautiful, mournful music that fill up these two cds. The refrain from “Suicide Life” – ‘I’ll go none too bravely, Into the night, I’m so tired of living, The suicide life” – while not very cheery, goes round and round in my head. Superb.

Opening lines…

Just yesterday, Chris Rowe posted a bunch of opening lines from some short fiction on this blog, and asked people to name the stories. Well, here’s just ten opening lines from some SF and F novels. How well do you know this stuff…

  1. A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
  2. Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.
  3. Five hours’ New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythms.
  4. Everyone knows how to find the meaning of life within himself. But mankind wasn’t always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have the easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.
  5. I did not see my first “zombie” until my second day at Tulane when Ezawa permitted me to witness an interview.
  6. Coming into New York City from the north, off the New England thruway, Oliver drove as usual. Tireless, relaxed, his window half open, long blond hair whipping in the chilly breeze.
  7. Milena boiled things. She was frightened of disease. She would boil other people’s knives and forks before using them. Other people found this insulting.
  8. My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male. My analyst (whom I call Sigfrid von Shrink, although that isn’t his name; he hasn’t got a name, being a machine) has a lot of electronic fun with this fact.
  9. Throughout the past thousand years of history it has been traditional to regard the Alderson Drive as an unmixed blessing.
  10. It was the day my grandmother exploded.