R. A. Lafferty: Winner of the 2002
Cordwainer Smith Foundation "Rediscovery" Award
Why did our jury of Robert Silverberg, Scott
Edelman, Gardner Dozois, and John Clute select R. A.
Lafferty for the 2002 Rediscovery Award?
I speak of an eccentric author who,
beginning in 1959—in his 40s, rather late to start a
career in science fiction—went on to write more than
200 short stories, which were collected in at least
19 short story collections, and 21 novels. The first
three of those novels appeared the same year,
1968—Past Master, The Reefs of Earth, and
Space Chantey—the very first of those being
nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula
He was praised in the '60s by Roger
Zelazny, Samuel R, Delany and Harlan Ellison, and
embraced as part of the New Wave, but he was never
part of any wave. He was a unique teller of tall
tales, and we were privileged that he decided to make
his home in our genre. Neil Gaiman, writing in The
Washington Post, said that he was "a genius, a
oddball, a madman," and that "he was undoubtedly the
finest writer of whatever it was that he did that
there ever was."
And at the time he was working in a genre
all of his own, the field saw him as one of us, so
much so that he was nominated for the Hugo Award four
times, for the Nebula Award seven times and for the
Philip K. Dick Award as well. He received the Hugo
Award in 1973 for his short story "Eurema's Dam," and
later on, when he was no longer writing, the World
Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. During
the end of his life, small press publishers
championed him, and for that we must all be
He never wrote on anything but a manual
typewriter, and he never learned to drive, but still,
he drove us to see new visions of science fiction and
fantasy. Speaking of his own work, he said that the
life of a writer was like "dropping rose petals down
the Grand Canyon and listening for the
— Scott Edelman, speaking for the award
jurors at the Awards ceremony,
September 1, 2002, at ConJose
(Read the full text of Scott
Edelman's remarks at his website.)
Frederick Pohl's Acceptance Speech:
"Thank you, Scott. On Ray's behalf, I'm
glad to accept it, for I've long been an admirer of
R. A. Lafferty. I'd like to tell you a little bit
about his writing career. It was not always marked
with great success. For the first five or six years
of it, his only reward was a check for a few pennies
a word. His stories hardly ever were much more than a
thousand words. I'll save you the trouble of
multiplying it out -- that meant maybe twenty-five or
thirty dollars at a crack, maybe eight or ten times a
year, for some of the brightest and freshest stories
the world has ever seen. I know how little Ray was
paid in those early days, because I was the editor
who accepted them. [Audience laughter]
"Then to make his problems worse, he took
some bad advice: he took on a literary agent, who
told him at once that his only salvation would be to
get out of this dead-end field of science fiction and
write folk stories... Ray did as he was advised. So
for the next few years he appeared seldom in any
science fiction publication. I don't think he
appeared anywhere outside either.
"Fortunately, he then fired that agent.
Then things began to pick up. Other magazines opened
the floor, book publishers began to bring out his
stories in volume collections, and finally critics
began to notice that he was alive, and so did the
people giving awards.
"He would have treasured this particular
award, and on his behalf I would like to thank the
judges for giving it to him. I just wish he had
received it and some of the others a little earlier
in his life. Thank you."
About R. A. Lafferty
"My brain reels," moaned Homer the man.
"Reality melts away."
This line from Lafferty's "The Hole in the
Corner" captures my experience within a few sentences of
reading his tall-tale style. Guess I'd have to add that I
start giggling as well. Or guffawing. But after a while he
has me thinking.... His dreamlike stories reveal a
world that is truly strange. In browsing the web, I found
more than one comment likening Lafferty's strangeness to
Cordwainer Smith's. Myself, I found Lafferty's worlds
required a greater stretch than my father's, but then I
grew up inside my father's world. Lafferty is definitely
A Midwestern Catholic who lived most of his
life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lafferty was born in 1914, a
year after Cordwainer Smith. He died in 2002, but stopped
writing in 1984 after a stroke. Even a few years ago,
many of his works were out of print, but now you can find
many of them somewhere on the net.
His books at Amazon.com
(Click on the title or the image of a book to
go to Amazon. Once there, you have to click on the title
to get to the page with reviews.)
Nine Hundred Grandmothers
This collection of some two dozen of Lafferty's
stories is an excellent introduction to his writing. One
reader's review at Amazon commented that out of the
perhaps 10,000 books that the person had read in his
lifetime, this one was the favorite!
Lafferty in Orbit
This is a series of stories that appeared in
Orbit, edited by Damon Knight. Side-splitting
humor plus the quirkiness and depth you always have with
This beloved historical novel about the
Choctaw's adaptations to the ever-changing demands of
white encroachment isn't science fiction per se, but its
exploration of how societies modify is a common SF theme.
Being written by R. A. Lafferty, it is funny as well. A
gem that deserves to be better known.
Amazon had many more listings for
Some websites on R. A. Lafferty
A thoughtful essay on Lafferty, at http://greatsfandf.com/AUTHORS/RALafferty.shtml,
extended my understanding in many directions. Good place
to start; includes some lengthy quotes, so you can get a
flavor of R. A. Lafferty.
The R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page at
begins " Reading a Lafferty story is a full body experience.
After a few sentences your brain goes into hyperactivity, your
belly is aching from laughter and..." It includes reviews of
novels and short stories, a brief bio, accolades of others, and
more. By a German fan.
About the Rediscovery Award
"The Cordwainer," as the award has been
nicknamed, goes to to a science fiction or fantasy writer
whose work displays unusual originality, embodies the
spirit of Cordwainer Smith's fiction, and deserves
renewed attention or 'Rediscovery.' It is awarded
annually during Worldcon. Thanks to the organizers, it
has been given during the Hugo evenings.
Jurors for this year's Award are four of the
most distinguished and encyclopedic minds in contemporary
science fiction, all Hugo winners themselves: Robert
Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, John Clute, and Scott
Edelman. They were free to choose any writer, living or
dead, for the Award.