Feast of Laughter 2 by Kevin Cheek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fanzines are a new thing for me. But when I was approached about one of the reviews I published here about Lafferty’s collection Strange Doings appearing in the Lafferty fanzine Feast of Laughter, I was happy to oblige. And then when the editor asked whether I had any Laffertesque pieces of fiction that might fit its remit as well, I was even happier. Which is how a contributor’s copy of volume 2 of Feast, “An Appreciation of R. A. Lafferty,” appeared in my mailbox.
And what a fanzine! Feast, which I read from cover to cover is indeed just that: a veritable feast for anyone interested in Lafferty or his works. The table is set equisitely: the magazine is well put together, with a gorgeous cover (which I’ve admired but only just realized the creepy details from the story it illustrates depicted), perfect-bound, nearly 300 pages. As lovely as the front cover is, the back is even cooler: an office cameo of everyone’s hero himself. The only way this magazine could physically be better would be if it came with a tiny duplicate of the legendary Lafferty office door itself.
And then there’s the occasion for the meal itself. What other obscure Catholic science fiction writer could generate three hundred pages of prose (and a bit of poetry) simply because people like him so much? One who inspires a great deal of interest and loyalty among erudite fans and even a bit of emulation. A writer whose work is hard to find, difficult yet rewarding to digest, and almost entirely untouched by the popular press. (But you probably know all that already if you’re someone considered a work like this.)
So what are the courses of the feast? First we have essays. Besides Daniel Otto Jack Peterson, I wasn’t familiar with any of the authors. Some of the essays were compelling, especially those that dove into the allegory and Catholic context of Lafferty’s work. A few were as obscure as some of Lafferty’s own difficult work. In particular, I found Persaud’s “Question: Why? Excuse: Because Monsters” montage a bit inscrutable.
The second course consists of articles regarding Lafferty fandom around the world, particularly in Japan and Russia. The Japanese article was especially useful, as it opened a door into a world of Japanese science fiction with a list of recommended works by Japanese readers who love Lafferty. With Lafferty as a common denominator, this could be a powerful window into exploring the speculative literature of another culture, something that’s always daunting to know how to begin.
Then we get an interview with an early and important Lafferty fan, followed by a section of reprinted essays by greats such as Michael Swanwick. I was a bit lost in the contributions by Knight and Sirignano, which attempted to explain the labyrinth that is Lafferty’s Melchizedek saga, but this will likely be an important resource for someone who has read that work and is interested in deciphering its puzzles.Then come the reviews, and I was by this time so immersed in the meal that I had the simultaneously pleasant and disconcerting experience of turning a page and being surprised to see my own name, having forgotten for a moment that the whole reason I had been invited to this feast was because I had prepared a small dish.
The penultimate course is the Lafferty-inspired pieces, which consist primarily of poetry, though I have a story sandwiched pleasantly between a cozily-gruesome little piece by Daniel Peterson and a haunting story by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley (yes, that Howard Waldrop, the one who wrote “The Ugly Chickens”). My piece is “What I Wrote for Andronicus,” which was originally published in Ideomancer in 2010. The meal ends with dessert: a reprinted interview with Lafferty himself and a reprint of one of his best known stories, “Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas,” which is illustrated by the fantastic artwork on the volume’s cover.
Then the plates are cleared away. The feast is over. But we’ll gather here again soon. Roll on, volume three.