Monday, August 17, 2015

Reviews of my short story. . .

My new short story at, "Islands off the Coast of Capitola, 1978," has some cool reviews popping up. 

Lois Tilton at deemed it "A fine homage to Gene Wolfe’s Island stories."

Quick Sips Reviews said, " It's a creepy story, disturbing and surreal and the ending is tragic and trippy and has left me a bit numb."

And Morgan Crooks at Ancient Logic called it " A hazy and hallucinogenic coming of age story."

Monday, June 29, 2015

New Short Story coming to

A new short story debuts at 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.


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.  


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

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

from SFRA Review #251 March/April 2001


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

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Weird Old Weird

I'm hard at work on The Cold Heavens, an epic old weird planetary romance (150.000 words, so far). It's the first half of a double decker sparked by C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett, as well as Kurt Weill, Béla Bartók, G.W. Pabst, Fritz Lang and the sadly-unknown Austrian fantacist Gustav Meyrink (author of The Golem and the brilliant The Opal and Other Stories and the brilliantly disturbing The Angel of the West Window).
My protangonist is part Jirel of Joiry, part Louise Brooks, part Tolstoy heroine. From her crumbling chateau on a lush, Austro-Hungarian Venus (called Krasopani by the Cechs) she embarks on a quest for revenge that becomes a quest for gnosis in a solar system which is also, somehow, a magic-lantern projection of Europe before the first World War. Angels exist here; or rather, they existed in the last century, often interacting with mankind in glorious and terrifying ways. Now, the Heavens are in retreat, and the worlds occupied by Austro-Hungarians, Prussians, Serbs and Russians are hurtling toward apocalypse: a Götterdämmerung (minus Richard Wagner).
In addition to Brackett, Moore and Meyrink as major influences, I'd include H.J.C von Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus, Robert Musil's Man Without Qualities, Alexandra Ritchie's Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin, as well as a boatload of books on Weimar. The results might be termed German-Expressionist Space Opera.
Or how about Weird Old Weird?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Some Chop-ek

To coincide with the publication of The Luminous Depths, I would like to present a sampling of work by Karel Čapek. Along with his brother Josef, Karel is a major character in my new novella and its upcoming sequel, the novel One Who Disappeared (For more on the Čapeks, see entries below).

First, an extract from the Brothers' 1921 From the Life of Insects, aka The Insect Play. The oddness and dark humor of this particular scene is found throughout the play, which was a hit far beyond Prague.
Second, two examples of Čapek's feuilleton-style: Inventions (1924) and "From the Point of View of a Cat." He wrote these almost daily, for the Brno newspaper Lidovy noviny (the People's Newspaper). These, as well as From the Life of Insects, were taken from Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Čapek Reader, and reprinted with the permission of Catbird Press.

Third, a larger excerpt from Čapek's forgotten Krakatit (1925), his long-out-of-print SF novel -- in part a prevision of the absurdities of the atomic era -- which easily begs comparison to such feverish fantastic nightmares as G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday and Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.

From The Insect Play, Act II. . .

MR. DUNG BEETLE: What, rolled away? My ball? Good God! Catch him! Catch him! Thieves! Murderers! (He hurls himself to the ground.) My hard-earned fortune! They've killed me! I'd sooner give up my life than my golden ball of manure! (He jumps up.) H-e-e-e-lp! Catch h-i-m! Mur-der-ers! (He rushes off left.)

TRAMP: Haha, a dung ball got stolen! Cry murderer! Cry thief! And you expect the sky to fall and share your awful grief! And yet, my friends, cheer up and try to smile a bit: The thief was one of your own. Who else would want a ball of shit? (He sits down to one side.)

MR. CRICKET (offstage): Careful, darling. Careful you don't stumble. Here we are, here we are, our little home! Our new little house! Oops, careful. Did you hurt yourself?

MRS. CRICKET: No, Cricket, don't be ridiculous.

MR. CRICKET: But darling, you must be careful. When you're expecting. . . (Enter MR. CRICKET: and pregnant MRS. CRICKET.)

MR. CRICKET: Open your eyes now. There! Do you like it?

MRS. CRICKET: Oh, Cricket, I'm so tired!

MR. CRICKET: Sit down, my little soul, sit down. Wait, nice and easy. There.

MRS. CRICKET (sitting down): Such a long distance! All that moving! Cricket, you must be out of your mind.

MR. CRICKET: Hihihi! Mother! Peek-a-boo! Mom! Mamma! Momsie!

MRS. CRICKET: Leave me alone. Don't be a pest.

MR. CRICKET: Hihi! I won't say another word. I was just joking around. Mrs. Cricket is not expecting babies, of course not! Shame on you, what do you take her for!

MRS. CRICKET (tearfully): You nasty thing, it's easy for you to make fun of it!

MR. CRICKET: But honey! I'm just so happy! Just think: all those little baby crickets, all the screaming, all the chirping, hihihi! My darling little wife, I'm going crazy with joy.

MRS. CRICKET: You. . .you silly little thing! Peek-a-boo, Daddy, hihi!

MR. CRICKET: Hihihi! How do you like it here?

MRS. CRICKET: Nice. This is our new home?

MR. CRICKET: Our nest, our mansion, our dear family shop, our -- hihihi! -- place of residence.

MRS. CRICKET: Is it going to be dry? Who built it?

MR. CRICKET: Would you believe it? Another cricket used to live here.

MRS. CRICKET: Did he? Why did he move away?

MR. CRICKET: Hihihi! Yeah, he sure moved away. He sure did! Bet you don't know where to! (He begins a children's song.) "Close your eyes and take a guess. . . "

MRS. CRICKET: I can't. Lord, it takes you forever to say things. Hurry up, Cricket!

MR. CRICKET: Well then. Yesterday, a shrike got him and stuck him on a thorn for his supper. I swear it. Honey, spiked him all through and through. Just imagine! He's up there wiggling his legs like this, see? Hihihi! He's still alive. And I thought right away, there's something in this for us! We'll move into his apartment. Bang! What luck! Hihi! What do you say?

MRS. CRICKET: And he's still alive? Ugh! What a horror!

MR.CRICKET: Isn't it? Oh, we're so lucky! (He launches into song.) Tralala. . . Wait, we'll put up our shingle right now. (He pulls out a sign which reads "Mr. Cricket's Music Shop.") Where shall I hang it? About here? More to the right? More to the left?

MRS. CRICKET: A bit higher. And you say he's still wriggling his legs?

MR. CRICKET: (hammering and demonstrating): I tell you, like this.

MRS. CRICKET: Brrr. Where is he?

MR. CRICKET: Would you like to see him?

MRS. CRICKET: I would. No, I wouldn't. Isn't it horrible?

MR. CRICKET: Hihihi, you bet. Is this hanging straight?

MRS. CRICKET: Yes, it's fine. Cricket, I feel so strange.

MR. CRICKET (runs toward her): Oh dear, maybe. . . your hour is here. . .

MRS. CRICKET: Stop it! Ooooo, I'm scared!

MR. CRICKET: But Momsie, who would be scared? Hihihi! Any woman can do it!

MRS. CRICKET: How can you talk like that! (She starts to cry.) Cricket, will you always love me?

MR. CRICKET: Of course, my little soul! (yammering) Yihi! Don't cry! Mommy!

MRS. CRICKET (sobbing): Show me how he jerks his legs.

MR. CRICKET: Like this.

MRS. CRICKET: Hihihi, that must be funny.

MR. CRICKET: There, there, there! You see? No more tears. (He sits down beside her.) Just wait, we'll make it all nice and cozy, and as soon as we're a bit better off, we'll put in. . .

MRS. CRICKET: Pretty curtains.

By Josef and Karel Capek (1921)

Translated by Tatiana Firkusny and Robert T. Jones

From "Inventions" (1924)

I like all kinds of technical inventions, not because they seem logical to me, but because they fascinate me beyond all belief. I don't like them in the sense that an expert, or an American, likes them; I like them the way a savage would; I like them as wondrous, mysterious and incomprehensible things, I like the telephone because it provides a person with all sorts of experiences, as when the operator connects you with the wrong party by mistake and you heartily greet that party with "Listen, you big ox," or something similar; I like the streetcar because it is unpredictable, whereas going on foot is utterly predictable and lacking in adventure. I acquired an American coke stove because it demands so much caution and constant personal attention, as if I had an Indian elephant or an Australian kangaroo in my house. So now I have acquired a Swedish vacuum cleaner. I don't know but what you could say that the Swedish vacuum cleaner acquired me.

Up until now I believed in a whole range of things: in the Good Lord, in universal moral law, in the atomic theory and other things more or less inaccessible to human understanding. Now I am compelled as well to believe in Swedish vacuum cleaners. I am even compelled to believe absolutely in the metaphysical, ubiquitous and extraordinary presence of dust. I now believe that dust I am and to dust I shall return, and furthermore that I am now in the continuous process of returning to dust. I think that I scatter dust wherever I walk or sit. I think that even as I write this, a small pile of dust is coming into existence under my chair. My thoughts descend to the floor in something like a rich gray dust. If I speak, dust pours like lies from my mouth, even when I speak the holiest of truths. Everything is turning to dust. Otherwise it is not possible to explain the existence, the quantity and the first-class consistency of the dust in my vacuum cleaner. In that enchanted pouch, rather.

Every belief and every idol requires certain ritualistic ceremonies. Ever since I have been serving the Vacuum Cleaner, a ritual ceremony takes place at my house each morning: Shaking Out the Pouch. It's very similar to when a parlor magician shakes a dozen glasses out of his sleeve, or a rabbit, a sheaf of paper and a live girl out of a hat; it is, in short, magic. You shake out the pouch in a more or less ritualistic fashion and anxiously lift it aside; a pile of dust appears; as I say, it is sheer sorcery. Dust from the Vacuum Cleaner isn't dirty, ordinary dust; it is dense, uniform, heavy and mysterious; it is conjured in some way or other, for you never understand how so much dust gets in there.

If it so happens that the pile of dust is smallish, you are instantly alarmed; no doubt heathens likewise are alarmed when their idol refuses to devour an offering. As far as you are concerned, it is a matter of faith and even ambition, of a sort, that the pile of dust be large. You search for some forgotten corner where there is still some secret and unexploited dust. If you weren't so bashful, you would go out and suck up dust from the street, in order to pay homage to your idol. When you are off visiting somewhere, you envy those people with beautiful, un-vacuumed dust. I think I'll begin secretly bringing dust back to the house with me, as I've probably extracted the last pinch of it at home.

by Karel Capek

Translated by Norma ComradaOriginally published in 1924

From the Point of View of a Cat

This is my Man. I am not afraid of him. He is very strong, for he eats a great deal; he is an Eater of All Things. What are you eating? Give me some!

He is not beautiful, for he has no fur. Not having enough saliva, he has to wash himself with water. He meows in a harsh voice and a great deal more than necessary. Sometimes in his sleep he purrs.

Let me out!

I don't know how he has made himself Master; perhaps he has eaten something sublime.

He keeps my rooms clean for me.

In his paws he carries a sharp black claw and he scratches with it on white sheets of paper. That is the only game he plays. He sleeps at night instead of by day, he cannot see in the dark, he has no pleasures. He never thinks of blood, never dreams of hunting or fighting; he never sings songs of love.

Often at night when I can hear mysterious and magic voices, when I can see that the darkness is all alive, he sits at his table with his head bent and goes on and on, scratching with his black claw on the white papers.

Don't imagine that I am at all interested in you. I am only listening to the soft whispering of your claw.

Sometimes the whispering is silent, the poor dull head does not know how to go on playing, and then I am sorry for him and I meow softly in sweet and sharp discord. Then my Man picks me up and buries his hot face in my fur. At those times he divines for an instant a glimpse of a higher life, and he sighs with happiness and purrs something which can almost be understood.

But don't think that I am at all interested in you. You have warmed me, and now I will go out again and listen to the dark voices.

by Karel Capek

Translated by Dora Round; revised by Peter Kussi. Originally published in Intimate Things, 1935

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tyrrell's masterpiece

I recently received, via London, John Tyrrell's long-anticipated, massive (971 pages), magisterial biography Janacek: Years of a Life Volume 1 (1854-1914) The Lonely Blackbird. It fully lives up to its intention: namely, to gather and reconceptualize all previous Janacek scholarship through the lifelong studies of Mr. Tyrrell. Volume 2, of similar heft (due in October) covers the years 1915-1928, which goes to show that Janacek lived his life most fully in his golden years.

I've never felt such love for a book before. I've jacketed it in a fine plastic Brodart cover. I feel as though I should be wearing a tie while reading it.

Incidentally, while I was in Brno, in the Janacek archives, I sat not five feet away from Mr. Tyrrell while he was at work on this book. I did not disturb him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gregor Mendel, A Strange Nightmare, and Stalking the President

I'm continuing the immensely enjoyable voyage through Tyrrell's Tsar of the Forest (see below). I thought I might offer up a few random highlights from Volumes 1 and 2.

Certainly for me, one of the coolest revelations of Volume 1 regards Gregor Mendel, the famous Father of Genetics.

I'd become accustomed to the charming fact that most everyone in the Czechoslovak Republic (and the Austrian suburb that preceded it) knew one another; that here, there were no six degrees of separation, only two or three at the most. I could accept (gladly) that Janáček's foremost champion, Max Brod, performed a similar chore for his friend Franz Kafka, and that Brod also enjoyed playing Mozart duets with Albert Einstein. Or that Karel Čapek, whose sister worked with Janáček at the Brno newspaper, was also a close friend and acolyte of the Republic's President, Tomáš Masaryk, and that Čapek's anti-fascist science fiction novel The White Plague was made into a film by Hugo Haas, the brother of Pavel Haas, Janacek's student.

But Mendel, who died when Janáček was in his (relative) youth? When not experimenting with peas and bees in his garden, Mendel was Abbot of the Augustinian monastery in Brno. I knew this, and knew also that Janáček had spent his youth at the Monastery, but one of the marvelous nuggets of Tyrrell's exhaustive research, hitherto unknown, was this from Volume 1: