Even without reading the byline, you could always identify a R.A. Lafferty story. He had one of the most individualistic voices in the genre, and one of the most amazing imaginations. Since his best work was in short stories,* he is slowly fading from consciousness.
Lafferty came to science fiction relatively late (especially for the 1960s, when people were breaking in to print in their early 20s). His first story was published when he was 40, and he didn't begin to establish himself as a writer until his 50s. He worked for many years as an electrical engineer and still managed to crank out hundreds of stories, and was a regular in Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies and in the magazines of the time.
His stories were generally tall tales. There was a larger-than-life feel to them, and they were filled with surprises. Some of my favorites included:
- Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne. A fable on the dangers of messing with time.
- Slow Tuesday Night. A society where everything happens very quickly -- and 15 minutes of fame is a very long time.
- What Was the Name of That Town? A search to find something not known to exist by a close study of the absence of evidence. With a brilliant solution.
- Continued on Next Rock. A prehistoric romance of a sort.
- Incased in Ancient Rind. A sad and beautiful tale about pollution and what it brings back.
- Rainbird. The story of an inventor, and the dangers of going too far.
- Euremia's Dam. The real mother of invention.**
Lafferty merged both Irish and Native American storytelling methods and the result was always a delight.
But Lafferty was never a fan favorite. He did win a Hugo Award for Euremia's Dam," but he got few award nominations and no other wins. And the changes in science fiction in the 80s and 90s left Lafferty behind. He still hadn't lost his skill, but readers didn't appreciate his style any more. His work tended to be published in smaller SF presses to excellent reviews but little exposure. I remember one year when the Nebula committee begged someone to publish a Lafferty story so that they could recommend it.
Lafferty died in 2002, pretty much unknown to the Star Wars generation. His work remains in print, but only in limited editions. You owe it to yourself to pick some of them up.
*He wrote quite a few novels, but most did not live up to his short fiction; the only one I found that came close was his Past Master.
**And nothing to do with Frank Zappa, thank you very much.