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Rafael A. Lafferty, 87; Wrote Historical and Science Fiction

April 01, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Rafael A. Lafferty, prolific writer of historical fiction and science fiction known for his short stories as well as his novels, has died. He was 87.

Lafferty, who spent much of his life in Oklahoma and often wrote about Native Americans, died March 18 in Broken Arrow, Okla., of undisclosed causes.

His output included 21 novels and more than 200 short stories, among them satirical tales pondering what would happen if everybody in the world owned a gun or describing the consequences of fads that lasted a single day or of a child's camera that makes things disappear.

Lafferty earned the Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Society in 1973 for his short story "Eurema's Damn."

Among Lafferty's historical novels was the 1972 "Okla Hannali" set among Choctaw Indians in the 19th century.

"Falsehoods and cliches about Indians and the American West die sprawling all along Lafferty's path," wrote a Times book reviewer, "and this noble carnage is what elevates the book, makes it more than a charmingly told family chronicle."

Lafferty, a Roman Catholic, often included theological themes in his writing as well as elements of folk tales and even dreams.

In the 1971 science fiction novel "The Devil Is Dead," a reader has trouble identifying the devil in the struggle for control of humanity between the "Demons" who are descended from aliens and the "Elder Race" of pre-humans.

As "A Reader's Guide to Fantasy" once noted, "Lafferty doesn't see the world in quite the same way that most people do; his logic is rigorous, but his premises are deadpan insanity."

Born in Neola, Iowa, Rafael Aloysius Lafferty moved to Perry, Okla., with his family at age 4 and later settled in Tulsa. He attended the University of Tulsa for one year, but was mostly self-educated.

He served in the Army during World War II and worked for many years in Tulsa's Clark Electrical Supply Co. before beginning to write in middle age.

His first story was published in 1959 and his first novel nine years later.

Lafferty, a bachelor, left no immediate survivors.

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