I've listed below 13 of R. A. Lafferty's SF novels, omitting non-SF works such as Okla Hannali and The Fall of Rome, and limiting the list to works which are currently available at reasonable prices, arbitrarily defined as books listed for sale at AbeBooks.com for under $50.

What I'm interested in is the order in which the books should be given to a neo who has not previously read any Lafferty. I appreciate the likelihood that nobody here is familiar with all of them (I've read 7 of them myself--Master, Chantey, Reefs, Mansions, Devil, Aurelia, Klepsis), so feel free to add to or subtract from my list in answering. Here are the titles, roughly in order of publication.

  1. Past Master [Wikipedia page]
  2. Space Chantey
  3. The Reefs of Earth
  4. Fourth Mansions [Wikipedia page]
  5. The Devil Is Dead
  6. Arrival at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine
  7. Apocalypses
  8. Aurelia
  9. Annals of Klepsis
  10. Serpent's Egg
  11. Half a Sky
  12. East of Laughter
  13. Sindbad: The 13th Voyage
  • It's difficult to answer your question because it's not clear what you want to achieve. Are you an educator planning a course on The Novels of R A Lafferty? Or do you just love RAL's work and want to introduce a friend to it? In the latter case, I wouldn't start with one of the novels at all, but rather with a collection, maybe the first - Nine Hundred Grandmothers, published in 1970. Of course, copies of this, and most RAL books, are collector's items, and I myself would only lend any of mine to a very close friend in whom I had absolute trust - once read, they won't want to return it...
    – PeterClose
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 14:49
  • I didn't know 900 Grandmothers was rare, interesting. I would hate to get rid of it though. Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 10:14

1 Answer 1


Since Lafferty isn't really anything like any other author, a lot of the choice of where to start people depends on what they're already most familiar with, and what will allow them to make the Lafferty leap. For instance, readers somewhat familiar with Catholicism would move up Past Master and Aurelia; I've listed the 13 novels you gave below, with notes as to what might move each up or down.

Below that, I've listed the other novels (the actually published ones at least — he has at least 12 unpublished ones!) to show where they would stand if money were no object or genre no obstacle.

  1. Space Chantey — Short, hilarious vignettes about planetary exploration/conquest, instantly familiar (in form, if not language) to almost any reader of science fiction. Like The Odyssey, on which it's loosely based, it's very episodic.

  2. The Reefs of Earth - Another familiar SF trope: aliens adjusting to an Earth town (or the Earth town failing to adjust to them). Only drops for readers who can't stand precocious kids, although Lafferty's kids aren't like others'.

  3. Annals of Klepsis - Fish out of water story set on a hallucinatory pirate planet. A little bewildering at times but, c'mon: hallucinatory pirate planet.

  4. Fourth Mansions - Conspiracy novel with one naive reporter trying to stay afloat amid four very different secret societies. Packed full of vivid, startling imagery. The novel has a deeply Catholic core, but that can easily be overlooked on a first read.

  5. Past Master - A utopia turned dystopia, but with many strange asides and a lot of philosophical speculation. The plot doesn't ever quite come together, but it's nothing if not audacious.

  6. The Devil Is Dead - Fantasy novel, where a ship full of villains (some mixed with good, some deeply evil) spreads . It's a beautiful book and less episodic than it seems at first, but it can be hard to follow unless accompanied by its companion novel, Archipelago. And even then...

  7. Apocalypses - This is actually two novels packaged together as one. The first, Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?, is a Mediterranean spy/caper novel set on an island newly appeared one day and which might disappear again at any moment. The second, The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny, is a sort of alternate history in reverse. Both are odd, though Sweeny in particular gets very weird and powerful. (There's no obvious theme binding the two other than that of creation and forgery.)

  8. Sindbad: The 13th Voyage - A SF/F story of aliens infiltrating and influencing Earth's past set within a Thousand and One Nights motif, with ongoing squabbles between narrators over who gets to actually tell the story. Wild and hilarious; especially the more familiar you are with the Arabian Nights stories.

  9. Serpent's Egg - A future dystopia that tries to contain and monitor super-intelligent children (and baby animals!) in order to assassinate any that might pose a threat to society. Which, of course, happens. Lots of characters to keep track of, lots of striking scenes, can be a bit bewildering.

  10. Aurelia - Another fish out of water book, this time an alien high school student landing on a planet that may or may not be Earth in order to "govern" them. The book has been called a "gospel" in the way that it mixes accounts of her doings with recordings of her words--but it's way funnier than that description would seem to leave room for. The supporting characters in this one are particularly good.

  11. East of Laughter - A philosophical fantasy novel as well as a murder mystery (kind of), involving a group of characters unsure whether or not they're dreaming, and also a group of Giants who write all the stories and histories of the world. Hugely ambitious, with lots to chew on, but definitely not for novices.

  12. Arrival at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine - This ties into one of Lafferty's short story series, involving the Institute of Impure Science and Epiktistes, the "machine" of this title. As promised, it is Epiktistes' autobiography, but because he is a machine, it doesn't much resemble any autobio you're likely to read. This book is very dense and trips up even experienced Lafferty readers, though it is hugely rewarding when given close study.

  13. Half a Sky - Fantasy-tinged historical novel set in the mid-19th century, involving an Irish hero meeting many of the figures of Europe and South America. It's actually the second novel out of four; the first one, The Flame Is Green, I've listed below. The other two remain unpublished.

The others (again, in order of the average SF/F reader, plus where it would fit on the original list):

  1. (1a). Okla Hannali - The 19th century as told through the eyes of one way larger-than-life Choctaw. Not a genre novel, but an utter masterpiece.

  2. (5a). Archipelago - Novel of the varying adventures and travails of a group of five friends after being demobilized following the end of World War II. A "non-category" work in that it's not really fantasy or even magic realism, though does have some fantastic elements. Companion book to The Devil Is Dead, the two books together showing two of the many sides of the character Finnegan.

  3. (8a). Not to Mention Camels - Almost an anti-cyberpunk novel, featuring a charismatic villain navigating different lives while trying to stay ahead of the consequences of the evils done in previous ones. Very much SF, but also very much engaged in the mythic play that is Lafferty's trademark.

  4. My Heart Leaps Up (9a) - A sort of autobiographical novel about Lafferty's childhood, though less about him than about the classmates around him. Extremely vivid evocations of the boomtown Tulsa he grew up in, written with the wide-eyed wonder of a kid experiencing everything for the first time. Published in five chapbooks, planned as the first volume in a series of four (collectively, In a Green Tree) - however, only this one and the first chapbook of the second one got published; the rest is only in his archives.

  5. (9b). The Flame Is Green - First novel in the Dana Coscuin series of mid-1800s historicals, seeing Dana from his home in Ireland to half a dozen hotspots throughout revolutionary Europe. Puts forward a really remarkable view of history, with sharply drawn portraits of figures real and imagined, including the Son of the Devil, Ifreann Chortovich, perhaps Lafferty's best antagonist.

  6. (10a). The Fall of Rome - At once a fantastic fiction filled with historical research, and a history filled with fictional speculation and fantastic elements, it tells the story of the Gothic king Alaric, who very nearly became emperor of Rome. A little less pyrotechnic in its language, but a very well developed story, as long as you can stand mixing your facts and fictions.

  7. (12a). More Than Melchisedech - Originally published in three volumes as Tales of Chicago, Tales of Midnight, and Argo, MTM follows Melchisedech Duffey from childhood through to his old age as a hero aboard the Argo. Connects in many ways to Archipelago and The Devil Is Dead (actually, all of Lafferty's fictions connect on some level...), but on another level entirely in terms of philosophical speculation and narrative manipulation. A great, great book, but one of the last to pick up.

  8. (12b). Dotty - Life story of Dotty, a side character in The Devil Is Dead and a ferocious presence in her own right. Maybe his best character study, much concerned with Dotty's complicated relationship with God and the world.

  9. (13a). The Elliptical Grave - A group of researchers explore a haunted castle that is also a valley, a grave, a cinematic set, a projected screen, and many other things. Densely packed with symbol and myth, difficult to make much headway in until you have quite a grasp on Lafferty's tendencies.

edit: wrote all that without refreshing or seeing the edit on your original post; although the rights are now very thoroughly secured by the Locus Foundation, if you were to reissue the books, I expect you would start with the best known ones and go from there; so start with Past Master, then Space Chantey, Fourth Mansions, The Reefs of Earth; The Devil Is Dead, and so on roughly chronologically.

  • 2
    Holy amazing first answer, Batman! +1 and welcome to the site!
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 2:52

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