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Past Master

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  583 ratings  ·  50 reviews
The golden planet of Astrobe, made in the image of Utopia, now faced a crisis which could destroy it forever; & yet, no one could understand it:
In a world where wealth & comfort were free to everyone, why did so many desert the golden cities for the slums of Cathead & the Barrio? Why did they turn away from the Astrobe dream & seek lives of bone-crushing work, squalor & d
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 1st 1982 by Ace (first published 1968)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Megan Baxter
Nov 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Past Master reads like a lesser The Einstein Intersection, which was published a mere year earlier. Both are looking at future societies, and attempting to integrate myth and legend into the stories they tell. But what Past Master lacks is the lyricism of Samuel L. Delany. Similar figures, archetypes of myth and Christian legend occur, but Lafferty tells these stories in much more prosy prose, and having read and loved The Einstein Intersection earlier, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the ...more
Printable Tire
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Like most people, I don't like feeling like an idiot, and I usually don't like books that make me feel like an idiot. Yet Lafferty often leaves me feeling like an idiot, or a happy fool who thinks he understands the world when like some denizen of Plato's cave I really only understand a very small piece of a shadow of it. And, just when I believe I am starting to understand, the rug is pulled again and I am once more the fool, grasping for meaning, looking at the other side of the tapestry.

Unfinished, unrated. Roger Zelazny blurbed, "he's good." No he isn't. The book ought to be a blast, a gonzo time travel dream where Saint Thomas Moore attempts to save a future planet from its decadence. The result is an unreadable mess, a jumble of self-indulgence that never coheres into a compelling narrative.

Of the many bad tendencies in Lafferty's writing, here's one. He never follows through on consequences. A couple of times in the early pages, a main character is attacked as suffers serio
Perry Whitford
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The planet Astrobe was almost Utopia, yet now it was being pulled apart by marauding machines and threatened by Holy Ouden - utter nothingness.

A time for desperate measures, the three Masters of the Inner Circle decide that they need a different kind of World President to rally and rebirth humanity, a figure from Old Earth, a Past Master.

The list of candidates contains one name: Thomas More.

Why chose to go back in time to fetch More, the author of Utopia and defier of Henry VIII, from 16th cen
Katie Daniels
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
My second Lafferty novel--Past Master is as similar as it is different from Fourth Mansions. Fourth Mansions is a psychological thriller--Past Master is straight up scifi. Both plots a battle for which the fate of the world is the ultimate prize. Both novels end in a semi-satisfactory manner in which a twist ending has a twist ending...

Past Master is set in the future when men have colonized a distant planet and achieved perfect unity. Called the Astrobe Dream, it is the ultimate achievement of
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
In truth, this is a four-and-a-half star book.

This is a magnificent, mind-bending, hallucinatory book, full of intricate plotting (that is not immediately apparent if you don't pay close attention) and powerful, haunting, and deeply symbolic imagery. It was Lafferty's first novel, but is an acknowledged science fiction classic. It's more difficult than Lafferty's short stories, but I understand it's easier than the rest of his novels.

The only thing that's detracting half a point, for me, is that
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was for the most part, a little jarring and surreal. After a while, I lost the thread of the narrative. Everything came on interesting, but somewhat jumbled. The concept of Utopianism is thoroughly well played out in this book. We encounter Astrobe, the Golden Planet. A haven of comfort, health and wealth, but with a growing number of its citizens rejecting this perfect life to go and dwell in the slums of Cathead. The masters cannot stop this tide of people, neither can they figure out wha ...more
Maxwell Foley
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
I continue to be impressed by the synchronicities that manage to arise between the books that I end up reading. Just a few days ago, I finished CS Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet", a fantastical outer space story involving an expedition to a utopian planet, serving as a Catholic allegory. I then decided to read this book not knowing anything about its contents, simply because I liked its cover (not the one on this page, this one), and it turned out to be a book that could be described using the ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Aug 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mid-century-sf
Past Master was R. J. Lafferty’s first novel. I hope that has something to do with why I found it unreadable. After several years of short story publications, he issued Past Master in 1968. That same year he published The Reefs of Earth, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. But Reefs is almost a novella, and it has the sparkle of Lafferty’s short stories. Past Master was a chore I was not up to.

In a distant galaxy on the planet Astrobe, The Masters are witnessing the collapse of their fourth attempt at
Storyline: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Writing Style: 2/5
World: 1/5

It starts with chaos and ends in a babble; there's a bit of nonsense in the middle, a lot of purposeful incomprehensibility, several nested allegories conveying who-knows-what, some feints at apprehension for what was almost a plot, nemeses that disappear from the tale, and a carefully chosen historical protagonist who could just as easily have been nameless.

There seem to be those that charge Past Master with having been thoughtful, but th
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Lafferty's books always have a breakneck pace in my experience- while this worked wonderfully in Fourth Mansions when all the pieces came together at the end, here the rushed nature was too much. Some of the fun of science fiction is the world it creates, and while The Past Master has an interesting world, the narrative never slows down enough to let the world soak in. Every page there's a fight or a speech or a revelation about a character or a move to another location or a death, and with ever ...more
Mar 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
sort of a satire/ riff on Moore's Utopia- starring Sir Thomas himself. My limited reading of Lafferty so far shows him to be a hallucinatory world-builder with a taste for cruelty matched only by Gene Wolfe. ...and speaking of Wolfe, this book shares a certain fractured disconnect with "5th Head"... at least at the end, which is surely one of the weirdest I've read in a long time. Tripped out 60s vibe without seeming dated- will definitely hunt down more.
Mar 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
A great profusion of characters, none of whom have any clearly defined character, and a great profusion of incidents of no particular importance that seem to multiply like rabbits. Consequently, I stopped reading this book after hurling it at the wall.
Dec 14, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I'm obviously missing the point, because all I see is an incomprehensible, pointless morass of disjoint, unfocussed dialogue, unsophisticated social commentary drawn out over hundred of pages of tiresome, pointless and obtuse writing, with obvious red herrings littered throughout.

The dream/not dream sequences, the parallel timelines, the constant non-sequiturs that pile up (making literally about two-thirds of the book), the non-events that didn't happen, (or maybe did, who knows?) that didn't m
Robert Wigard
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How the heck did this get any one star reviews? But even among Lafferty fans I have heard it said that this book misses the mark. I think the book hits its mark a perfect bullseye. However if you approach this book with no knowledge of Thomas More the man, his most famous work, Utopia, no knowledge of Catholicism nor Christology, this work will be almost impenetrable to you (although you may enjoy the style). Even certain scenes, although funny in themselves, will remain simply nutty if one does ...more
Jan 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
Lafferty's been highly praised by other science fiction writers, but this book is just really crappy, and not in a fun way. The author drops Thomas More into another planet, which is apparently supposed to be some kind of parody of More's Utopia, but there's nothing interesting here thematically [SPOILER: Being a living, suffering creature is better than being a machine. I just saved you a couple of hours.] More to the point (pun inevitable), Lafferty's writing is tedious - he can't be bothered ...more
Yup that was terrible. I read this one because it is going to be discussed at Worldcon in Spokane. Perhaps I would have hated this less if say I were a fan of Thomas More or Utopia. But instead I found this book to be completely full of itself and essentially unreadable. In some ways it reminded me of Brave New World - but memories of that book is that it was good AND had a plot, was actually a story. Instead this book was primarily ludicrous speechifying to no end. Waster of time. I'm curious t ...more
Keith Davis
Nov 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
On the distant future world of Golden Astrobe people are abandoning the utopian cities to live in slums. The leaders of Astrobe rescue Thomas More from his execution in the 16th century and bring him forward in time to serve as president. That sounds like a straight forward Science Fiction time-travel plot, but this is a R. A. Lafferty novel so the plot is just a point of departure for a voyage into craziness. Past Master was Lafferty's first novel and his best.
Vinton Bayne
Nov 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My first Lafferty novel complete! It definitely solidified him as my favorite author. This book is wonderful, full of such literary greatness that I will be squeezing out more and more when I come back to read i again. The story is filled with analogies and imagery, it makes you think and imagine. Beautifully written, and filled with intrigue. It makes me wish I was better at writing reviews just so I could adiquetely express how good it was.
Kind of a slog with enough interesting bits sprinkled throughout to keep you going. The climax is great but I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. Appropriately for a new wave science fiction book about Thomas More, I thought it feels like a lot of Renaissance humanist literature I've read: I can tell a good portion of the little details and references are going over my head but I can get enough of the gist to enjoy it and appreciate the ideas that animate it. I think.
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: carpool-book, sci-fi
The weirdness was certainly entertaining at points, but I like my stories with at least a little plot.

This book felt more like high-minded surrealism with the merest semblance of a story frame on which to hang. I like surrealism, and even high-mindedness, in reasonable doses. But not unmoored from any characters, circumstances, or consequences the reader could possibly care about.
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Such a weird book, yet it was hard to stop reading it.
Scott Golden
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant first novel by an infectiously entertaining teller of tall-tales, with a current of seriousness underneath.
Dan'l Danehy-oakes
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book ... No, that's not how to start.

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, as is generally admitted now that he's not around to have his head swelled by it, was one of the greatest writers of science fiction of the twentieth century. This admission does him no harm, but no good either. But there are his books.
And this was his first novel. I've had it, and a bunch of Lafferty, sitting on my shelf unread for too long.

So, I read it.

It's funny. It's moving. It's peculiar as all get-out. It is, in short, L
David Valentino
Apr 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Is a Perfect World Possible, or Even Wanted?

Speculative and science fiction have proven fine places to explore many large topics, such as the perfectibility or imperfectability of humanity, the commodiousness of utopian society or the brutality of dystopian ones. Thinkers have pondered on these and other topics like them all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But more to the point of R. A. Lafferty’s first novel, so did the English lawyer and devout Catholic Sir Thomas More. In 1516, More publi
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Semi-spoilers ahead: Certain things about this book rule beyond comparison. The familiar scummy slum of Cathead, the penetrating curiosity in Rimrock the Ansel, goat men, a planet gone mad with time and progress and an endless procession of "great men" and monsters. Every paragraph is equal parts depraved and illustrious. Often, the narrative shapeshifts into poetry with lines like, "the short account that follows is, necessarily, mystic." Lafferty's grandiose literary style is mercilessly under ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century, sff, 1960s
"You're a string-puppet that's left off being a man."

That quote, spoken to Thomas More in the book, is taken out of context but it's perfect for repurposing here. Past Master would work as a puppet show, or a cartoon - but as a novel it is bad. It is a bunch of flimsy constructed word puppets flung about in nonsensical and would-be shocking ways. It didn't help that I read Thomas More's Utopia directly before this, as it was more apparent that the Astrobe society that is supposed to be so Utopia
Michael Jones
Available on Audible--this is the best Audio Lafferty to Date.

Waterson is an excellent reader! He seems to get the nuances of the story.

This is a very interesting exploration of utopia and Sir Thomas More pushed into the future. I actually really enjoyed much of the dialogue and his imagination of space travel and the way things might be with artificial intelligence in the future is really something.

Honestly, I am a bit of a simpleton when it comes to sci-fi. But if you enjoy some of the humor
Charles Harrison
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have never read anything like this book before. There is very little direct description in this book. In stead you are told the impression a character gives you or their mythology or their current agendas or how they are currently feeling. This makes the book hard work but unbelievably rich. There is a sense of myth about the book with a modern twist on classical structures. Everyone who is met along the way is somehow involved in a deeper manner as you watch a legend being constructed from sc ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three people selecting someone to solve their utopian planet's problems, choose Thomas Moore from the past: 1000 years earlier. Then it deteriorates into sluggish, disconnected, uninteresting 'adventures' that had me wondering if it was worth continuing. Then a bit over halfway got super interesting, and continued in a (coherent) strong vein till the end. After the first 20 pages I'm not sure I really got much out of the first half, but I'm also not sure the second half stands alone...
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Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, published under the name R.A. Lafferty, was an American science fiction and fantasy writer known for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure, as well as for his etymological wit. He also wrote a set of four autobiographical novels, a history book, and a number of novels that could be loosely called historical fiction.

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The must-read summer beach book is a kind of American tradition. The crash of the waves. The glare of the sun. The sand in the pages. Is t...
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“Paul, there is something very slack about a future that will take a biting satire for a vapid dream.” 6 likes
“I know the look of a hunted man, even a defiant one. Surely there are not King’s Men on Astrobe who hunt down and kill.”
“No, they are different, Thomas. They are Programmed Mechanical Killers.”
“No, they are the same, Paul. King’s Men everywhere are programmed mechanical killers. But
I see that I will have to discover for myself the name of the real king of Astrobe.”
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