that Body Parts, Arthur Herzog’s latest and bizarre sortie
in fiction. wouldn’t have claimed attention as a print publication,
what with its provocative title and stunning cover illustration by Chris
Rush showing nine body parts cleverly insinuated into letters forming
the title. But as good as the cover looks in print, it looks even better
online and that's good, for the fact of the matter is, Herzog is writing
this collection of short stories "somewhere between science fiction
With 14 tales already up, he's five over
the body-part letters of the title, but who's counting? Besides, what
could be illustrated for stories called "Fat" or "The Voice"?
What new body parts is Herzog, of Wainscott, working on? He smiles, a
cross between mischief and edginess. Has the interviewer noticed that
the 14 stories of Body Parts go from head (“Craniums")
to toe ("Feet")? Actually, it’s the area in between that
seems to interest Herzog the most – “Groins," "Sperms,"
"Vagina Dentata"– though all the tales are intended to
illustrate Herzog’s sense of having created a new genre, “near
sci-fi,” he called it, a "fictional form that combines theoretical
scientific phenomena with realism."
Sounds heady; he's done his homework, but the tales are far from academic.
The style is direct, colloquial; the science accessible, the reading great
fun. What his "near sci-fi" definition leaves out, however,
is how delightfully quirky the stories are, in some cases, downright outrageous,
Peck's bad boy who boasts in a bio online, of having only a Master's in
English from Columbia, because he had an "aversion to both libraries
and authority," is out to shock and satirize. Where else but on the
So what would prompt a well-known writer of fiction and nonfiction to
go electronic? Especially one who confesses that he doesn’t write
on a computer (he uses an electric typewriter, "10 of them").
Herzog stared at the interviewer, a cross between amusement and deadpan.
"Money." Considering that Body Parts' 14 stories can
be downloaded for $5, that's about 35 cents per body part. Money?
Well, perhaps in the long run. In the short run, www.ArthurHerzog.com
would hardly be unhappy to have heavy hits and maybe even host a chat
group. Another time, the author of The Swarm and Orca,
both of which were made into popular movies, and IQ83, "very
popular in Great Britain and under development by Dreamworks." might
have disdained e-book publication, but now several of his books have been
converted to e-books, including the highly successful Seventeen Days:
The Katie Beers Story, Vesco: From Wall Street to Castro's Cuba,
"Stephen King did a good thing," Herzog said, speaking of the
blockbuster author's recent foray online with a novel that gives two chapters
away. Herzog leaned back to announce that he had just arranged a bit of
beneficence of his own: a free short story.
He seemed genuinely pleased to be creating directly for the web. but surprised
to hear that his stories are a perfect fit for the medium because they
arc short, full of lively dialogue, and simply written, which is not to
say that they are simple. Indeed, many of the tales have a sly, oddball
aspect, satiric and fantastic. The opening story, "Craniums."
opens with President Janus (!) tracking down rumors of "torsectomies"
in a bio lab, only to meet up with officious personnel who convince him
how easy it is to live without bodily functions, or a body.
Unfortunately, the "decaps" in the lab were never told that
reconstitution was not possible. Typically in a Herzog story the outlandish
resonates with truth. Take a real situation, up the ante, extend the premise
a decree or two, and voila!
"Loose Tongue," for example, starts with a morning-after binge,
when a man discovers a human tongue on the floor but sees no body. Like
Kafka, Herzog takes a preposterous circumstance and spins it into seeming
normal. "The Voice" begins with an erratic radio station that
suddenly comes on the air and grows increasingly menacing. Sometimes,
however, the weird is slightly delayed, lulling the reader into an unwarranted
sense of the familiar, as in "Operation Heart" that begins on
a South Dakota prairie with generally engineered pigs. Well, okay, the
familiar in Herzog is already a bit askew.
Where do the ideas come from? He works on the stories between novels he
says, and free associates. Observes, also, “A Burn Ticker,”
he points out, originated in overheard conversation at a Southampton health
club. As for “Fat,” one of the best constructed short narratives,
while the girth of the central character does not suggest Hampton’s
chic, the political party cum affectation certainly resonates.
Timely events also jog Herzo's creativity. "Glands,” with its
Sex Olympics, almost numbing in parodic details, seems to owe its origin
to the competitive Olympic clones seen on TV; “Groins” mocks
a country obsessing on game shows and affairs. Sometimes, the satire can
be wickedly punny, as in Vagina Dentata,” where a scheme to bypass
normal pregnancy, is said to “give the women’s movement teeth.
As for what he's working on now, all he'll say is that it’s called
911 and is about two murdered detectives who try to solve their own case.
Sounds like an ideal e-book
in the making.