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Past Master ()

Nearly six hundred years into the future, mankind inhabits the space colony Astrobe and is down to its third chance, after the Old World and the New World failed back on Earth. Though Astrobe is a utopia, devoid of crime, illness, poverty, etc., people are repulsed by their lives and have taken to migrating into a kind of ghetto, called Cathead, where they toil in oppressive conditions until they die early. Desperate for a leader who can save their world, the powers behind the throne transport Thomas More to their time, because they are impressed by the one truly honest moment that led to his martyrdom. They expect to be able to manipulate him, as a mere figurehead, not least because their society resembles the one he called for in his Utopia.

A bizarre decision that, given that he'd lost his head precisely because he refused to be used in that fashion. And, sure enough, he's no more amenable to being a puppet this time around. He is attracted by the good that the system of Astrobe has achieved, but comes to see that it ultimately dehumanizes life too thoroughly to satisfy its citizenry and inevitably leads to even the extreme measure of seeking freedom at the cost of one's comfort and life in the Cathead. Thus begins his march to his next martyrdom.

The author R. A. Lafferty is notoriously idiosyncratic and his novels hard to follow (one review was particularly helpful in piecing together the actions and themes of Past Master). As a result, the books are often out of print. But conservatives, generally, and Catholics, in particular, continue to be drawn to his work. Past Master is a difficult read but a worthwhile one, if you can find a copy of the book.


Grade: (B)


R. A. Lafferty Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: R. A. Lafferty
    -OBIT: Rafael A. Lafferty, 87, Science Fiction Writer (NY Times, March 29, 2002)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Past Master
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Past Master
    -R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page
    -ESSAY: R. A. Lafferty: Effective Arcanum (Don Webb, April 24, 2002)
    -TRIBUTE: (Re)Introducing R. A. Lafferty, a “Master” for the past, present, and future (Andrew Ferguson, Library of America)
    -LECTURE: The Cranky Old Man of Tulsa (Brad Sinor on March 4, 1995 in Oklahoma City, at Ray's 1995 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award
    -ESSAY: RAPHAEL ALOYSIUS LAFFERTY’S Burlesqued Black Mass in his book Past Master (Hieronymopolis)
    -ESSAY: Who Is R. A. Lafferty? And Is He the Best Sci-Fi Writer Ever?: You’ve never heard of him, but your favorite writers have, and his mad-drunk prose will knock you sideways. (Jason Kehe, 3/02/21, Wired)
    -ESSAY: The Cross and the Stars: Catholics in the field of fantasy and science fiction. (Sandra Miesel, Catholic World Report)
    -REVIEW: of Past Master by R. A. Lafferty: R.A. Lafferty, Sir Thomas More, and the Problems of Utopia (Robert Bee, IROSF)
    -REVIEW: of Past Master (Claude Lalumière, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of Past Master (Bill McClain, watershade)
    -REVIEW: of The Flame Is Green by R. A. Lafferty (John Reilly)

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