O’Sullivan heads west with a head full of death,
A wet-plate photographer fresh from civil war.
Years among mountains, in desert starknesses,
He hopes will serve as an optic purge. He needs
Beauty badly, without the cruel counterpoints
Served up at dawn on misty battlefields.
O’Sullivan harbors secret germs. TB.
He fights them, though, with wild joy,
Dragging boats against the Colorado, long days of
Labor, careful with the fragile plates, and
At the end of every grueling day hikes alone up
Canyon walls with all his gear, prepares the plates,
Staggers a tripod in shifting rocks, and lays
The groundwork for the scene-smiths to come after him.
O’Sullivan never sees the bald rocks crazed with snow,
Or alkali flats smelting under blazing Utah sun,
Or empty Anasazi caverns, ruined homes like honeycombs,
Without facing what lies under every vision
He has pinned to paper, with albumen plate and silver salts,
Hung on walls for all to view, though none but he can see
The ghosts that cloud his mindful eye;
They find only beauty unsullied. He’s done his job.
Tuberculosis catches him on Staten Isle, years and
Miles from fields of war or granite peaks.
Still, he was a civil servant. He lives on.
In the National Archives, O’Sullivan’s Antietam and his
Gettysburg, his Devil’s Den strewn with soldiers,
Allow us through his eyes. It’s tricky, though.
Two precious negatives, superimposed: One of rocks
Peppered with bodies, blasted limbs,
Grey rags we know are bloodied;
One of rocks sifted with snow, a rugged slope,
Twisted pines and white water whipped in a froth
And frozen like snow by long exposure.
Print the pair, or merely hold them to the light,
And you will see a gorgeous battlefield,
Mountain cataracts aswirl with corpses.
We’re in through his eyes. We’re heading west.
Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category
O’Sullivan heads west with a head full of death,
From deep in the files, freshly scanned, an old cover I did back when I was reading lots and lots of Vollmann.
Click a couple times to enlarge.
The Eldritch Dark is a Clark Ashton Smith site, and quite lively. Tons of Smith’s original art, as well as lots inspired by him.
(Interestingly enough, I took this photograph, along with some others of Smith’s sculptures that may be found on some CAS sites, while visiting the house of Smith’s old friend Bob Elder, in Auburn, California. I shared my shots with Ron Hilger and some of the other keepers of Smith’s legacy.)
–“Grossbarts,” the pig said, licking its teeth.
–“There’s no need to amend your typical discourse on my account. I know the difference twixt a turn of phrase and a considered sin.”
–Blood can go bad in a single generation or it can be distilled down through the ages into something truly wicked, as was the case with those abominable twins, Hegel and Manfried.
–As the first syllable left her mouth the gentle waves cupping the boat glowed, and as her voice rose so too did the sea emit brighter and brighter luminescence, a sea-foam-shaded light shining on her joyous face.
–The flow of fluids from the armpit quickened and thickened, and then the pus, blood, and biles poured upward into the frosty air, swirling into a hovering humoural maelstrom above the corpse. The growing mass of liquid let off a meaty, musky, hot-rot stench that curled the nose hairs of all present.—
–Manfried imagined the stars to be jewels shining in the depths of a long-sealed crypt and, drifting off, he almost glimpsed himself prying open the lid of night and stuffing his pocket with the glittering gems.
–They were accustomed to being the sinister voice in the night, and did not care to be on the receiving end of such a discourse. “You’ll beg and cry and I’ll suck the marrow from your bones before you expire. You’ll feel bits of you sliding into my belly still attached, and I’ll wear your skins when the weather turns.” “Uh,” Hegel managed. Manfried could not even get that much out.
–They spent several days scouting the stone monoliths, choosy as nobles about their grapes.
–Despite his charitable decision to knock her with the blunt end of the ax head, the metal crumpled in her skull and she collapsed.
–“Next time I’ll leave you to the crow’s mercy!” Hegel barked. “You got no concept a what I done for you, and you act like I shit in your beard. Some brother!”
-His gums remembered the method to coax out milk, and with the first drop he felt heat returning to his limbs. His hand went to her flabby breast and squeezed, frigid as what it was, his slurping mixing with her rising moans; a nearby bear retreated up the slope in search of less sinister prey.
–“Witches, in my voluminous experience, do not have goddamn fish parts stead a legs. Monsters, on the other hand, have all kinds a weird animal parts. What makes’em monsters, after all.”
-The thing rubbed itself against her side, and she realized the low growl was it purring like the cats her father would not let her keep but drowned in the pond to spite the Devil. She silently pleaded with her eyes to remain fixed on the fire but they gazed down at the brute as it moved to the corpse.
–From the window one of the guards hurled an oil lamp at those swarming the front door, setting several ablaze and then catching a bolt between his eyes.
–“What brought illumination to your ignorant fuckin ass?”
–Just as there exist dark things that traverse oceanic abyssess as if they were dry land, so too do fell beings troll the skies as if they were seas. The releasing of the artifact brought the attention of one of those, which might otherwise have failed to notice the object from such a distance. With the speed of God it descended from the heavens in pursuit of the shimmering prize for which all vile powers lust.
–“Stow that noise or I’ll demote you to bishop.”
–“One ear each, to hear your commands, and so in Hell I can hear the Grossbarts scream. One eye each, to hunt their quarry, and so I can see the Grossbarts die. Half a nose, to smell them out and inhale the last breath breathed by Grossbart lungs. Half a heart to live, to live despite all wounds! My tongue—” But her instructions turned to a scream as they devoured the region whence they had so freshly birthed. “You eat. Or. They’ll eat. You. Alive.”
–Before he could recover, half a dozen slaves on the edge of the firelight disappeared, yanked backward into the darkness without a scream among them—but their fellows who had seen what had taken them supplied shrieks to go around.
–“She’s already seen my sins and absolved me. Every rotten trespass I committed washed clean.”
–“How is your horrid country?”
–“You can look all over the world but you won’t find neighbors as kind and thoughtful as the people in Bullet Park.”
–He possesses for a moment the curious power of being able to frighten himself.
–“Oh, I wish it would never get dark—never. I suppose you know all about that lady who was mistreated and strangled on Maple Street last month. She was my age and we had the same first name. We had the same horoscope and they never found the murderer…”
–I heard her swear and a moment later I heard the noise of falling glass, and why is this sound so portentous, so like a doomcrack bell?
–He turned on a light and saw how absorbed his son was in the lisping clown.
—society had become so automative and nomadic that nomadic signals or means of communication had been established by the means of headlights, parking lights, signal lights and windshield wipers. Hang the child murderer. (Headlights.) Reduce the state income tax. (Parking lights.) Abolish the secret police. (Emergency signal.) The bishop had suggested that churchgoers turn on their windshield wipers to communicate their faith in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
–The place had long ago gone to seed and had then been abandoned. The water traps were dry, the windmill had lost its sails and the greens were bare concrete but most of the obstacles were intact and on summer nights men and boys still played the course although there were no trespassing signs all over the place.
–“I was feeling good too but we have a problem here and we can’t evade it just because the veal birds smell good.”
–The man explained that he was after draft evaders because he had spent a year and a half in a POW camp in Germany, eating rats and mice. He wanted the younger generation to learn what it was all about.
–“Alchemy is, of course, the transmutation of base metals into noble ones and when an extract of beaver musk, cedar bark, heliotrope, celery and gum resin can arouse immortal longings in a male we are close to alchemy, wouldn’t you say?”
–She’d keep saying hello all through the preliminaries and then when we came to the main feature she’d keep on saying hello only louder and louder and finally she’d sort of yell hello, hello. Then when I got dressed and said good night she’d keep on saying hello.
–Rainwater had collected in one of the commemorative urns or ewers and he scooped enough up with his hand to get the pill down.
–“I suppose I’d drug him or poison him at some cocktail party. I wouldn’t want him to suffer.”
–Snowcapped toilet seats.
— It was the turtle’s lawn, the turtle’s sky, the turtle’s creation, and Nailles seemed to have wandered mistakenly onto the scene. He fired again and missed.
—looking through my handbag I found an invitation to spend a weekend with Robert Frost. Of course he’s dead and buried and I don’t suppose we would have gotten along for more than five minutes but it seemed like some dispensation or bounty of my imagination to have invented such a visit.
–Out of the window he can see his lawns in the starlight. HOPE, HOPE, HOPE, HOPE. Their voices sound like drums. His lawns and the incantations came from different kingdoms. Nothing made any sense.
–“Where’s the body?” “I don’t know.” “There’s his loafer. He was standing right there and the train came through and he was gone.”
–She claimed only last month that her windshield wiper urged her to invest in Merck Chemicals which she did, making a profit of several thousand. I suppose she lies about her losses as gamblers always do.
–Boarding a DC-7 one night in Innsbruck I distinctly heard the engines produce some exalting synthesis of all life’s sounds—boats and train whistles and the creaking of iron gates and bedsprings and drums and rainwinds and thunder and footsteps and the sounds of singing all seemed woven into a rope or cord of air that ended when the stewardess asked us to observe the No Smoking sign–
–“I would entertain in order to conceal my purpose.”
–That road and all the rest of the freeways and thruways were engineered for clowns and drunks. If you’re not a nerveless clown then you have to get drunk. No sensitive or intelligent man or woman can drive on those roads. They ought to sell pot and bourbon at the gas stations. Then there wouldn’t be so many accidents.
–He enjoyed maneuvering the howling, screaming engine and its murderous teeth.
–Had she gone mad? She watched the procession until it had wound out of sight. Shit was the last placard she saw.
–“I heard him talking to himself. ‘I can’t stand it any longer,’ he said. I still don’t know what he meant. Then he went out into the garden and shot himself.”
–They were merely acquaintances but the casualty had thrust them into an intimate relationship.
–We do not fall in love—I thought—we re-enter love, and I had fallen in love with a memory—a piece of white thread and a thunderstorm. My own true love was a piece of white thread and that was so.–
–I sat in a chair by the window feeling the calm of the yellow walls restore me.
–The woman who dreamed of a mink coat had more sense than the woman who dreamed of heaven. The nature of man was terrifying and singular and man’s environment was chaos.
–“Get out of here,” the swami said. “Get out of the Temple of Light.”
–“Mr. and Mrs. Hammer, may I present your neighbor Mr. Nailles.”
I think book trailers are dumb. Partly it’s due to the fact that most are badly done (although they seem to be improving), partly it’s that the experience of watching a trailer is nothing like reading a book. A movie’s trailer at least gives you scenes from the movie it advertises. A book trailer gives you nothing of the experience, which is that of reading a written word. When I think about what attracts me to a book, it is usually a jumbled impression of fleeting sentences gained by flipping through the pages, catching sight of stray, disconnected sentences, and wanting to know more. Since the books themselves already contain these sentences, what is needed is a way of simulating that experience of skipping through pages as you’re standing in a bookstore or a library. As more of us buy from online dealers, and spend less time in bookstores, the act of riffling pages has become endangered. So trailers seem like a decent form for catching the attention of internet readers–except for the fact that, for me, they just don’t work.
What I’d like to see is something closer to a written trailer–a heavily edited, chopped-up, artfully scattered and rearranged, breathless set of passages from the book itself. Stray sentences, evocative names, intriguing set-pieces–spoiler free, or at least extremely misleading. Something that gives you the flavor, the scent of a book; sentences that convince you that you’ve got to dive in and find them in context.
Someone, some publisher, should have a contest. Encourage readers of some of your recent books to put together clever text-only teasers. Use the winning entries to promote those books.
(I tried this in the preface for my novel KALIFORNIA, which seemed justified then because the book was about TV. But really this approach, if it worked, wouldn’t need any meta-justification.)
2009 Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced
The judges of the 2009 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society, along with the Philip K. Dick Trust, are pleased to announce seven nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:
BITTER ANGELS by C. L. Anderson (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
THE PRISONER by Carlos J. Cortes (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
THE REPOSSESSION MAMBO by Eric Garcia (Harper)
THE DEVIL’S ALPHABET by Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
CYBERABAD DAYS by Ian McDonald (Pyr)
CENTURIES AGO AND VERY FAST by Rebecca Ore (Aqueduct Press)
PROPHETS by S. Andrew Swann (DAW Books)
First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 2, 2010 at Norwescon 33 at the Doubletree Seattle Airport Hotel, SeaTac, Washington.
The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society. Last year’s winners were EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD by Adam-Troy Castro (Eos Books) and TERMINAL MIND by David Walton (Meadowhawk Press). The 2009 judges are Daniel Abraham (chair), Eileen Gunn, Karen Hellekson, Elaine Isaak, and Marc Laidlaw.
For more information, contact the award administration:
David G. Hartwell (914) 769-5545.
Gordon Van Gelder (201) 876-2551
For more information about the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, http://www.psfs.org/:
Contact Gary Feldbaum (215) 665-5752
For more information about the Philip K. Dick Trust: www.philipkdick.com
For more information about Norwescon: http://www.norwescon.org/:
Contact NorthWest SF Society: (425) 686-9737
Every Friday, Tor.com has been posting selections from Year’s Best Fantasy 9. Today, my story “Childrun” is among them. (Howard Waldrop and Paul Parks, too!) Meanwhile, the latest story “Songwood” is in this month’s issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and I’m waiting to see if my preparation of “Dankden” shows up at F&SF’s website to run along with it. If so, I will provide a link.
At the end of this month, I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention for the first time in many years. I am scheduled for two events:
Friday, 5 P.M. – A Reading. Location TBD. I will probably read “Songwood,” before its appearance in the Jan.-Feb. issue of F&SF.
Saturday, 8:45 PM – 10 PM. Crystal Room. Group reading to celebrate the publication of Lovecraft Unbound, with Ellen Datlow and the following authors reading selections from their stories: Laird Barron, Amanda Downum, Brian Evenson, Nick Mamatas, Michael Shea, Anna Tambour, and me.