Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Pokky Man, A Film by Vernor Hertzwig (Excerpt)


In 2004 I was contacted by Digito of America to review some film footage they had acquired in litigation with the estate of a young Pokkypet Master named Hemlock Pyne. While I have occasionally played boardgames such as Parchesi, and various pen and paper role playing games involving dwarves and wizards, in vain hopes of escaping the nightmare ordeals that infest my soul, I was hardly the target audience for the global phenomenon of Pokkypets. I knew only the bare lineaments of the young man’s story—namely that he had been at one time considered the greatest captor of Pokkypets the world had ever known. Few of these rare yet paradoxically ubiquitous creatures had escaped being added to his collection. But he had turned against his fellow trainers, who now hurled at him the sort of venom and resentment usually reserved for race traitors. The childish, even cartoonish aspects of the story, were far from appealing to me, especially as spending time on a hundred or so hours of Pokkypet footage would mean delaying my then-unfunded cinematic paean to those dedicated paleoanthropologists who study human coprolites or fossil feces. But there was an element of treachery and tragedy that lured me to look more carefully at the life and last days of Hemlock Pyne, as well as the amount of money Digito was offering. I found the combination irresistible.


To be a Pokky Captor was for me the highest calling—the highest calling! I never dreamed of wanting anything else. All through my childhood, I trained for it. It was a kind of warrior celebration…a pokkybration, you might say, of the warrior spirit. I lived, ate, breathed, drank, even pooped the Pokky spirit. Yes, pooped. Because there is dignity in everything they do. When it comes to Pokkypets, there is no room for shame—not even in pooping. In a sense, I was no different from many, many other children who dream of being Pokky Captors. The only difference between me and you, children like you who might be watching this, is that I didn’t give up on my dream. Maybe it’s because I was such a loser in every other part of my life–yeah, imagine that, I know it’s difficult, right?–but I managed to pull myself free of all those other bonds and throw myself completely into the world of Pokkypets. And I don’t care who you are or where you are, but that is still possible today.


Hemlock Pyne’s natural enthusiasm connected him ineluctably with the childish world of Pokkypets—the world he never really escaped. The more I studied his footage, the more I saw a boy trapped inside a gawky man-child’s body. It was no wonder to me that he had such difficulty relating to the demands of the adult world. In cleaving to his prejuvenile addictions, it was clear that Pyne hoped to escape his own decay, and for this reason threw himself completely into a world that seems on its face eternal and unchanging. The irony is that in pursuing a childish wonderland, he penetrated the barrier that protects our fragile grasp on sanity by keeping us from seeing too much of the void that underlines the lurid cartoons of corporate consumer culture, as they caper in a crazed dumbshow above the abyss.

(I will post details on the full story’s publication when I have them.)


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.

Why So Little Zothique?

Why has Clark Ashton Smith had so little influence on gaming?  Grognardia, to which I have recently become addicted, has some good thoughts on this.

(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.)

Text Trailers: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

–“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.”

–“Circles!” Hegel shouted. “Draw circles bout you in the dirt! Now!” “Ah fuck it all,” Manfried groaned, seeing what his brother was on about. “Not all this again.”

Amazon listing.

Text Trailers: Bullet Park by John Cheever

–“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.”

Modest Proposal #37: A Novel Kind of Trailer

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.)