Dobson Science Fiction, 1976, 123p.
The title implies a romp along the lines of a sea adventure. And in many ways Space Chantey is just that – a picaresque work whose main inspiration is not difficult to discern. It has a group of spacefarers roaming the galaxies and encountering, among others, fatally attractive songstresses and a race called Polyphemians who farm men with the attributes of sheep. A modern Odyssey, then. Lafferty doesn’t stick rigidly to that template, though, in particular with his ending.
Each chapter is preceded by an illustration and a piece of Gilbertian style verse which verges on, if not crosses over into, doggerel but can be amusing. Other such verses are sometimes included within a chapter. The tone throughout is jaunty, light hearted, almost off-hand – which detracts from any serious occurrences such as deaths – and characterisation is almost non-existent. That lends a certain distance to the reading experience.
Lafferty’s œuvre is replete with the outré: who else would have titled a Science Fiction book Not To Mention Camels? (And who could resist reading a story titled Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne?) But his skittishness sometimes makes reading him a touch difficult. You have to go with the flow.
Written in 1968, Space Chantey is not at all representative of SF either then or now. It is, however, very Lafferty; an example of a truly unique vision and idiosyncratic writing approach.