Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Past Master” as Want to Read:
Past Master
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Past Master

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  462 Ratings  ·  34 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 w
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 1st 1982 by Ace (first published 1968)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Past Master, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Past Master

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
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 cent
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
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
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
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
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, 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
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.
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.
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.
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Such a weird book, yet it was hard to stop reading it.
Thoyd Loki
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
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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.
Bob Rust
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Past Master places Sir Thomas More on the planet Astrobe, where he is tricked into becoming World President and suffers once again a martyr's death: the contrasts between Utopia and life are laid down without the normal derision.
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's crazy! It's been around ten years since I read Thomas More's Utopia. But of course I remember "A Man For All Seasons," both the movie and a community theater version. Well, this novel is a "false utopian" story full of what I am discovering is Lafferty's delightfully fruity style and strong opinions about human nature. The novel opens on a future world which is modeled after More's Utopia...and More is quickly retrieved through time to help lead/save/grok the troubled paradise.

I noted sever
Jan 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-scifi
Brilliant writing, if not brilliant storytelling, which only gets going in the last third of the book. Thomas More is plucked from his life in 16th century England a few weeks before his own death and transported a thousand years into the future to another planet, Astrobe, which has been designed in similitude of his own "Utopia," but to utter disaster: when people get government-mandated perfection, they inexplicably rebel from it, for government-mandated perfection is nothing short of totalita ...more
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
Peter Dunn
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have always meant to get round to reading some Lafferty and where better to start than with one that throws together: thoughts about the future of religion, a sub plot on artificial life forms asserting themselves with shades of the musings in the modern Battlestar Galactica, resetting universes, meanderings on Thomas More's Utopia, oh and just for good measure Thomas Moore himself ripped out of time. I am not sure yet if I am going to like the general oddness of any further Lafferty books I c ...more
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.
Erik Graff
May 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: R.A. Lafferty & Th. More fans
Recommended to Erik by: Rick Strong
Shelves: sf
This is another science fiction novel with a theological theme: Thomas More is brought to cure a dysfunctional utopia in the far future. As it turns out, appearances are deceiving. It isn't a utopia--nor, for that matter, in Lafferty's opinion, was More's Utopia.
One is reminded of a crazed Dostoevsky.
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wow, thanks, Goodreads. I had forgotten all about Lafferty. The earlier books are the best. My favorite is "The Devil Is Dead" , but Past Master is way up there, too. I'm going to pull it out and read it soon.
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Intense writing. Speculative fiction with mythological/magical realist elements. Everything is epic. Thought provoking twists.

What are the costs to having a society more and more controlled by machines?
Simone Scardapane
L'autore oscilla costantemente fra uno stile fiabesco ed uno surreale, il che rende il libro di difficile lettura e con molti livelli di interpretazione. Un'idea intrigante con un risultato non di certo eccelso.
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.
Gail Gawlik
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is great, a real thinker with a lot of hidden meaning. Don't read it unless you are ready to take your time and do some pondering!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Shadrach in the Furnace
  • The Year of the Quiet Sun
  • Half Past Human (The Hive, #1)
  • Black Easter (After Such Knowledge, #2)
  • And Chaos Died
  • On Wings of Song
  • The Road to Corlay (The White Bird of Kinship #1)
  • The Jagged Orbit
  • Good News from Outer Space
  • Blind Voices
  • The Exile Waiting
  • The Byworlder
  • The Paradox Men
  • Mars Crossing
  • Juniper Time
  • The Computer Connection
  • Crescent City Rhapsody (Nanotech, #3)
  • Temporary Agency (Unquenchable Fire, #2)
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.
More about R.A. Lafferty...

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“Paul, there is something very slack about a future that will take a biting satire for a vapid dream.” 5 likes
“Creo plenamente en la santa pobreza, pero aseguro que la miseria es como la bebida; un poco resulta estimulante y constructiva; demasiado es denigrante y horrible.” 0 likes
More quotes…