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.