Monday, June 29, 2015

New Short Story coming to Tor.com

  
 
A new short story debuts at Tor.com on July 8, with amazing cover art by Wesley Allsbruck.  “Islands Off the Coast of Capitola, 1978,” is an homage to my favorite writer Gene Wolfe, also my sixth week instructor at Clarion West.  Six years ago I came across Wolfe’s masterful and creepy “Houston, 1943,” and my [re]reading of it triggered a [re][re] reading of a group of stories which always struck me as very (very) loosely a series: “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories,” (already part of its own series), “And When They Appear,”  “The Boy in the Pepper Mill,”  and “Houston, 1943”, each about adulthood as seen from the vantage of a kid named Tacky, or Sherby, or Tippy or Roddy.

I wrote the first version of “Islands” soon thereafter.  After the draft was done I tucked it away.  But I kept returning to it, nagged by the feeling that there was more here than met the eye.   In time I discovered a story beneath the story, one weirdly resonant with Capitola, California, the beach town where I spent summers as a kid.

Prior knowledge of the Wolfe stories isn’t required. 

“The Islands Off the Coast of Capitola, 1978” is dedicated to Gene Wolfe.



WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

I’m writing the second draft of “Standard Records & Hi Fi,” a ghost/fantasy novella set in Seattle in 1988, as well as deep in its history and prehistory.  “The Soul of the Bells” is an sf/mystery among the students of Leos Janacek’s master class in Brno, in 192-.  A sequel, “To the Celestial Country,” exists in early draft.  On the back burner is “Ismene,” (about 47,000 words ) which might be described as Rimbaud Meets Shambleau.  

 
WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING?

Nobody’s Home by Tim Powers
Angelica Lost and Found by Russell Hoban
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson.
Vampire by Hans Heinz Ewers.
Nothing by Henry Green

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Tsar of the Forests

The second half of John Tyrrell’s eagerly awaited Janáček biography -- Years of a Life Volume II 1914-1928: Tsar of the Forests -- arrived last week from London. A highlight: Tyrrell’s focus on The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, Janáček’s longest and most troublesome project. Here, the tussles with librettists, publishers and opera houses, the stops and starts, the loss of momentum followed by years of inactivity and the fierce, patriotic inspiration brought about by the end of the Great War are all brilliantly sketched by Mr. Tyrrell.

As a fan of science fiction, I’m especially fond of Broucek -- in particular the first half, Mr. Broucek's Excursion to the Moon. As proto-SF, it’s a charming artifact of the genre’s earliest days, all but unknown to SF fans. As opera, it’s full of lovely, beguiling, often startling music, and beery humor, with a touchingly beautiful ending. Here, it’s enthralling to see its creation and eventual failure on the Prague stage unfold as though for the first time.

In the months before the 1920 premiere of his opera, The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, Leoš Janácek was battling a lingering flu.


The malaise developed during what the composer called those "damp days in Prague." He was never very happy in the Republic’s capital — the setting of his latest opera — and he would find much woe there in the months to come. Back home in the Moravian capital of Brno, the composer treated himself with slivovice, a heady mixture of horseradish, honey and camphor. Later, when the brew hadn’t cured him, he turned, ominously, to "electricity."
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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A book report.(from 2008)


Yes, I finished Volume 2 of Professor John Tyrrell's magnificent biography last night.

I thought I'd toss out a few tidbits:

Janáček's endless tweakings.

Like any great artist, Janáček was meddling with his creations up to the very last moment -- in this case, his adaptation of Čapek's science-fictional stage play The Makropulos Thing. As he put it (in uncharacteristically clumsy syntax), "When one hears one's things, here and there [extra] filling in the orchestra occurs to one." He began to send insertions to the score up to and during rehearsals. According to a witness:

"Even at the final dress rehearsal he was still interposing with suggested alterations. At last the conductor lost his temper, 'This is impossible,' he shouted. 'No more changes!'

"Janáček appeared to accept the situation and disappeared. But on opening night, at a certain point, the cello leader looked up at the conductor in astonishment; the conductor maintained his beat, but in equal bewilderment -- both were hearing music they had never heard before. Although Janacek appeared to have been defeated, what he had done was to go to the library after the music was put away, and write into the cello part a solo that he felt should be in there."

Janáček's prose style.

The composer was always brilliantly -- and strangely -- expressive, especially in his later years. Not only in his music (as John Clute puts it, "the driven patchwork onomatopoeia of his mature music), but in his writings. Here is part of a feuilleton unearthed by Tyrrell, regarding how the composer felt at the end of Makropulos:

"I think of Abel's sacrifice -- an upright column of fire blazing up and disappearing high in the air in acrid smoke. [...] How many mosquitoes, wasps and beetles have had their wings singed. I was able to finish Makropolus. [...] I feel as if my pen wanted to drop out of my hand. Breathless, run off my feet -- I wait to see whether some little distant star will fall ringingly into my mind. [...] Tame as a dog, fierce as a vulture, dry as a faded leaf, crackling like a breaking wave, sputtering like brushwood consumed by fire. Receptive to every stirring of the mind -- and silenced in the holy stillness."

Rest in Peace, Russell Hoban (post from 2011)

Russell Hoban died Tuesday in London. His achievement is known; he is recognized, canonized both by the high-lit set and lovers of children's literature. He will forever be tagged as the author of the beloved Frances children's books and the classic post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker (and rightly so). But it seems to me that all these accolades merely skip around the boundaries of what was wonderful about him.

He was a writer of bold variety, one whose predilections tipped toward the fantastic. He was a writer of obsessions and used them so boldly, and always so strangely—the Klein bottles, the London Underground, the obsessive Museum walks, the Meissen girls, the plentiful Glenfiddich—that they never became irritating tics or symptoms of creative exhaustion.

And for a high-lit/children's author, much of Hoban's work sits firmly (if peculiarly) in the genres of SF and fantasy. 

How many are familiar with his riff on Bester's The Stars My Destination called Fremder (1996), which begins

In the deep chill and the darkness of the Fourth Galaxy, in the black sparkle of deep space, oh so lonely, see a figure in a blue coverall tumbling over and over as it comes towards you: no space suit, no helmet, no oxygen. Is he dead? He can’t be alive, can he? What’s in his mind now? Are there pictures frozen in his mind?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

from SFRA Review #251 March/April 2001




CERES STORM


review by Phillip Snyder

Readers of Gene Wolfe may find much to admire in Ceres Storm, a first novel by Clarion West graduate David Herter. So might fans of Samuel R. Delany’s Nova-era space operas and John Varley’s early clones-across-the-solar-system extravaganzas. But it is chiefly with the far-future sagas of Wolfe that readers of Herter’s debut will feel an unmistakable resonance. The armature for the novel is a hero’s quest across a colorful and mysterious solar system. Young Daric, along with fellow clones Yellow and Black Daric, Jason, and the golden Grandpapa, sweeps across the starlines in quest of the lost technologies of their ancestor Darius the Leader, legendary ruler of planets and creator of the nanotech storm of the title. In the course of Daric’s journeyings, he is kidnapped by agents of a powerful cartel headed by the Krater-Tromon Clan, escapes on the haunted Starswarm Pyre, and gradually begins to piece together both his heritage and his destiny.

Fairly pulpish, this. But ultimately, Ceres Storm is more redolent of Iain M. Banks than of Doc Smith, and more reminiscent of Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerebus than either. Set in a future so distant that its science and technology seem like magic, the novel is a rich blend of myth and machine, of ancient wonder and modern marvel. The timescale alone is gratifyingly vast: it is 8,000 years in the story’s past that Darius the Leader’s thousand-year reign carried humanity to the edge of the solar system and beyond. It is a time of interplanetary telepresence ("doppeling"), of insectile surveillance devices called "weeforms," of "information drinks" permitting the liquid infusion of nanotech databases, and the fabled "Machineries," unimaginably powerful technologies capable of transforming entire planets. It is also, however, a time where far future meets distant past in the Moebius strip of science fantasy. Ceres Storm is a world where characters bear names like Quintillux and Penthesilia, where judgments are rendered by the Scales and enforced by the Pain Dragon, where castles are buried within planets, and a hero may (or may not) be transmogrified to an oak. Most of the time, the result is magical indeed, albeit a bit chilly.

Herter presents the reader with an array of narrative artifacts, their meanings layered like sediments through multiple levels of understanding, and the reader may (or may not) make sense of the pattern. Occasionally, like young Daric himself, the reader is overwhelmed by surfaces and blind to patterns. Amid the novel’s shimmering bits of crystal, of Tyrian purpose, of century roses and eidolons and avatars, it’s not always easy to keep one’s bearings, partly because Herter has yet to learn the trick of deeper, warmer characters to stand out against his exotic backdrop. And for all the similarities otherwise, Herter’s fantasy lacks the passion of Delany’s space operas, the engaging wit of Zelazny’s, the brashness of Varley’s. Minor cavils, perhaps. Ceres Storm is not only a first novel, after all, but also merely the first installment of a series, and its sequels may begin to emulate Herter’s models not only in their density, but in their richness of character, as well

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Moore Inheritance: Part One

At the time of his death in 1999 at age 77, the novelist Brian Moore seemed assured of a lasting place in literary history. From his debut Judith Hearne in 1955 to final novel The Magician's Wife, his work included memorable character studies (Hearne, as well as I Am Mary Dunne, The Luck of Ginger Coffey), rich forays into fantasy (The Great Victorian Collection, Cold Heaven), science fiction (Catholics, surprisingly), Gothic horror (The Mangan Inheritance), and political suspense (Lies of Silence, The Statement, The Colour of Blood, No Other Life). In book after book Moore proved himself deft at plumbing the inner souls of his characters, men and women alike;  a craftsman capable of memorable mise-en-scene, stunning set pieces, nail-biting suspense, and all without an ounce of bloat. He was three times short-listed for the Booker Prize, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize along with a handful of other awards, and six of his books were adapted as movies, several of them memorably (in particular Bruce Beresford's Black Robe and Irvin Kershner's The Luck of Ginger Coffy). His literary light would not soon fade.

Yet now, fourteen years later, fade it has.

Perhaps it was his chameleon nature––he rarely repeated himself––that proves the key to his seeming obscurity.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Locus reviews the First Republic Trilogy

In the new Locus, Paul Witcover devotes his column to my First Republic trilogy (On the Overgrown Path, The Luminous Depths and One Who Disappeared).  He calls the trilogy "deeply affecting," and sums up in part, "Herter. . . poses profound questions about the morality and responsibility of survival, the origins of evil and of art, and the mysteries of science and religion.  It's a dazzling display both of historical verisimilitude and the spec-fictional retconning of history."  But it's also a review that doesn't condense easily into bites, so I recommend you pick up a copy of Locus, on newsstands this week.

Mr. Witcover is allowing me to quote from an email I received from him today, in response to my thanking him, which condenses quite easily into a bite or two: "Thank you for one of the most engrossing and stimulating artworks I've encountered recently.  Truthfully, I'm still unpacking it, still thinking about all the ramifications and implications."

Books One and Two, On the Overgrown Path and The Luminous Depths, are available in revised and expanded editions for Kindle and Nook, and in lovely domestic physical editions at Third Place Press, and on the Espresso Book network nationwide.  One Who Disappeared is available at PS Publishing UK.