Saturday, April 10, 2021

"But What Have the Polite People To Do with Murder?"

"The Polite People of Pudibundia."
By R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Worlds of IF Science Fiction, January 1961.
Reprinted many times (HERE).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
     "This was a world where minding your manners was more than just a full-time job—it was murder!"

A homicide investigation on Pudibundia? Absurd! "Crime," we're assured, "is unknown" there. Our detective, however, thinks it's worth looking into: ". . . what I am going to find out is this. There have been pilots for many years who have brought back stories of the Puds, and there are still a few—a very few—young pilots alive to tell those stories. What I am going to find out is why there are no old pilots around telling those stories . . ."

Main characters:
~ Marlow:
  ". . . a captain in Homicide on the Solar Police Force . . ."
~ The Pudibundians:
  "They become people only out of politeness."
~ The One-Million-Times-Lesser-Marlow (OMTLM):
  "There is a real reason for it. I cannot tell it to you now, though, and perhaps not ever. But there is a chance that you may be given a demonstration of it just before you leave. And if you are very wise, you may be able then to guess the reason. I believe that there are several who have guessed it."
~ The Miniature Image a thousand-times-removed of the Zestful Irma (Mitzi):
  "But you will not return. Nobody ever does."

References and resources:
- "Not only is the Second Person eschewed out of politeness, but in a way all the other Persons also": It's all about point of view; see Writing Explained (HERE).
- "the Betelgeuse Bar and Grill": Named for a reddish star that's prominent in Earth's sky uncertainly located at a distance of between 500 and 600 light-years; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Today's tale is part of a "universe" of stories called the Habitable Worlds Series; see the ISFDb (HERE) for the full list.
- You could never be certain what you would be getting with a story by R. A. Rafferty, but you could be sure it would be interesting: 

   "Raphael Aloysius 'Ray' Lafferty, the self-described 'cranky old man from Tulsa, Oklahoma,' is a genius: I state that flatly. He is one of the eminent English-language writers of, at the very least, the twentieth century—yet he remains little known, little read, and much misunderstood and underappreciated. Indeed, much of his oeuvre exists only in very limited print runs of cheap paper chapbooks.
   "As the thoughtful will deduce, the problem is that Lafferty is not an easy writer. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that under superficial consideration he looks easy; were he as obviously complex as, for example, James Joyce (and, of course, were he not 'just' an SF&F author), readers and critics would likely have made some effort to look beneath the hood to see what was what; but because his works can, by the careless, be taken for ordinary stuff, his complexities—of both language and meaning—end up dismissed as just nonsensically bad ordinary writing. As a thirsty drinker expecting the taste of a soda pop might well spit out in disgust a mouthful of vintage brut champagne, so might an SF reader expecting typical SF reject vintage Lafferty.
   "Even experienced readers of SF&F, accustomed to unusual and complicated tales and worlds, can find Lafferty puzzling or worse at first blush." (From Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works; see below).

More at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works (HERE), the R. A. Lafferty Devotion Page (HERE), and, of course, the ISFDb (HERE).

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