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Jewel-Lye was my month off, catching up on things before resuming Xanth #36 Luck of the Draw in AwGhost. I wrote the first chapter back in Jamboree when I got an inspiration, but the hard work remained for later in the year. I expected to do a lot of reading, as I had agreed to look at several reader novels, and I'm a slow reader who tends to fall asleep after ten pages. It's not that reading bores me, but that it relaxes me. It's a problem that senescence is not ameliorating; chances are that by the time you read this, I'll be 76. But then the expected novels didn't arrive. So I wrote three erotic stories, to be saved for Relationships 5, some time after Relationships 4 wends it's way into print. I find I enjoy writing erotic stories; there are numerous ideas for them in my voluminous Ideas file. Maybe I'll make it yet as a dirty old man. So I wrote “Statues” about a man who volunteers to help with weighing and marking bales of donated clothing (a job I once did for pay between college semesters), on the weekend when the air conditioning is turned off. It's 90 degrees F in there, and he and the woman volunteer will both be sweat-soaked in minutes. So they agree to work naked to save their clothing. They each have significant others and don't want to mess up up those relationships, but they do start turning each other on, and it shows in rather obvious fashion, as can happen with men. How can they abate this burgeoning desire without cheating on the others? Maybe it's a matter of technical definition; there are other kinds of sex that the partners don't go for, so doing that shouldn't be regarded as cheating on them. You bet it goes on from there, in spades. Then I wrote a sequel, “Just Desserts,” when their partners learn about it and catch them in an unnatural act. And, surprise, are turned on by it, and want to participate. That gets really unnatural, as “desserts” becomes literal. Then another story, “Difference,” wherein a young man moves in with three attractive young women: a bisexual, a lesbian, and a transsexual, all of whom expect regular sex. The lesbian only because she wants to have a baby and doesn't want artificial insemination; she's a really nice girl who is conservative about that sort of thing. Then he falls in love with the lesbian. Uh-oh. So you can see I have fun exploring special relationships in fiction that I have no experience with in real life; it's sexual fantasy. Then halfway through the month the books piled in together, and the stories came to a screeching halt. My free time had evaporated. Much of this column will consist of book reports. Such is a writer's dull life.

 

In Dismember 1999 I bought several VCR videos. One of the ones my wife and I watched together was What Dreams May Came, starring Robin Williams, which we had missed in the theater the year before, based on a 1978 novel. The best movies don't necessarily come to our conservative county. We loved it; in fact it became my favorite movie. Five years later, on my birthday in AwGhost 2004, I watched it again. More recently a reader, Greg Miller, knowing I liked it, sent it to me on DVD. So now, six years later, I watched it again. And what a movie it is! Robin Williams was known for humor, as in the TV series Mork and Mindy, but in this one he is deadly serious. There is heartbreak here, and stunning beauty, and devastating despair, and I still do feel that it is one of the greatest movies ever made.

Chris is boating when he collides with Annie, and they hit it off. She has long brown hair and is always laughing. Then they marry. Then they have children, a boy and girl. It is deliberate summary, setting the scene. The children are abruptly killed in a car accident, and Annie doesn't laugh any more. Then four years later, Chris dies in another car accident, and Annie is inconsolable. Chris finds his way to Heaven, where the imagination of each soul generates the setting. Heaven is exactly what you choose it to be, in this case a splendidly colorful painted landscape modeled after his wife's art. He is guided by a man who turns out to be his son in disguise, and by a woman who turns out to be his daughter. Then distraught Annie commits suicide. That does not mean she joins him in Heaven; as a suicide she goes to Hell. Chris refuses to accept that, so he tries what has never been done before: to rescue a soul from Hell. And we see the horrors of Hell, as ugly as Heaven is beautiful. He finds her, but her Hell is of her own making and she won't leave it. Until at last, unable to bring her out of it, he decides to join her in it, so they will be together. That gets through to her, and she returns with him to Heaven, where she gladly reunites with their pet dog and children. Now it will be happiness ever after.

I have no belief in the supernatural, and do not believe in Heaven, Hell, or any Afterlife. But I appreciate their appeal; indeed I earn my living from fantasy. It's a matter of the willing suspension of disbelief. I love the idea of defining your own Heaven or Hell; it makes so much sense. I love the imagery, the lovely flowers of Heaven, the ugly fires of Hell, and the challenge of recovering true love. The real horror it presents is not eternal torture, but the risk of losing your mind. This is about as nice a presentation as I have encountered. But this time I watched it with a difference: the memory of the death of my own daughter. Now I relate to the loss of a child in a way I did not before. To lose two children, and then a spouse? I can appreciate how suicide would become an option, to escape the unrelenting grief. So there was a special emotional impact. I am all too much aware how fragile life can be, how tenuous our relationships are. I know my life will end in due course, and so will my wife's life; chances are that one of us will outlive the other, and I dread that conclusion, in part because for me it truly will be the end. It would certainly be nice to believe in Heaven, where we could be together again, but despite my appreciation of fantasy, I am an utter realist.

 

I read The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, subtitled A Tragedy for People Who Eat Food, by Cameron Pierce, to be published in the fall of 2010 by Eraserhead Press, www.eraserheadpress.com/.  This short fantasy novel is weird, wicked, wonderful. It features a sad pickle named Gaston Glew and his girlfriend the pancake Fanny W Fod, who looks literally good enough to eat. She has peanut butter lips, blueberry eyes, chocolate chip dimples, and hair softer than cinnamon. “She lactated the most delicious maple beer in the universe.” She is happy because all pancakes are chronically happy, but she longs for a sad creature to love and make happy. She lives in a zucchini castle and has a Cuddlywumpus locked in the dungeon. But if you think this is a children's story, beware; it is of quite another nature. At one point Gaston the Pickle has somewhat graphic sex with an obliging pancake lass, with a pickle penis that turns out to be longer than he is, ejaculates brine, then butts her face, mashing it in and messily killing her. It's not ill will so much as random mayhem by a really unhappy creature. I recommend this novel to strong stomached folk who prefer something imaginatively different, preferably those who don't eat food.

 

I read The Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman. This is a fantasy adventure, first of a series. Captain Vidarian is required by the head priestess Endera to conduct her niece, the priestess Ariadel Windhammer, to a place of safety, but the journey will be dangerous. It seems that Ariadel is, or is destined to be, very important in the social/political scheme of things, and her life is in danger from the enemy Vkortha. Vidarian tries, but a pirate ship attacks his ship, Ariadel invokes fire magic to destroy it, and thus advertises her presence. Now formidable magical enemies can orient on her. It goes on from there, as Vidarian tries to hide her by taking her overland, but a savage storm comes and sweeps her away just as Vidarian is getting romantically interested in her. So he sets out to recover her, asking assistance from the fire priestesses, and getting some from three formidable telepathic griffins, who are way beyond animals, being intelligent and more trustworthy than most humans. He is also granted magical power of his own, and becomes as important a figure as Ariadel. In fact he is the Tesseract, relating to the magic of the Void between the four standard elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. But he has a lot of learning to do before he can safely handle much of this mysterious and dangerous power. After a horrendous struggle he manages to rescue Ariadel, who was almost killed. And that's just the highlights of Part 1. Part 2 sees Vidarian begin to develop his powers, and of course he and Ariadel are in love. Endera, who sent him on this mission, turns out to represent the enemy, and they have to battle her and the fire priestesses. Yet in Part 3 Endera helps them, because it is the Tesseract who must open or forever seal the Gate to a devastatingly dangerous other world. No one can be sure of his decision, but it needs to be made. The complicated plot may be confusing when jammed together in this one paragraph, but it makes more sense in the novel. If you like hard-hitting fantasy adventure with a lot of magic, this is your series. It is to be published by Pyr Books.

 

A reader sent a link to a discussion I hadn't picked up on before, by Holly Lisle. For years this savvy published author has had sensible discussions of the challenges of writing and selling that should be helpful to novice writers. Now she's getting more actively into it, somewhat as I did when I invested in small publishers like Mundania Press and self publisher Xlibris. I know from experience that this can be a hazardous route; I took some losses, though in the end it was okay. She is setting up an online magazine, REBEL TALES, http://rebeltales.com/, open to Science Fiction and Fantasy stories and novels. But there's a difference: her article is subtitled My War for the Midlist. Her thesis is that too many publishers today focus almost exclusively on the frontlist, the new stuff, then let it drop into the void. In the old days writers could get continuing income from sales of their earlier titles, but now midlist authors are being washed out because their works are no longer being sold. This is bad for literature, because some very good books can be rendered unavailable, and some good writers washed out through no fault of their own. Some authors try to get around this by self publishing their reverted older titles, as I have done. But this should be unnecessary; they should stay in print. So this is to be a publisher dedicated to doing that. With electronic publishing it is feasible in a way it isn't in traditional print; any publisher can do it, so this isn't new in that sense. What's new is the focus on making the midlist work and paying the authors regularly, monthly. I hope it succeeds. But I have seen great hopes in publishing founder before. Holly Lisle is more experienced than most, and is tackling it seriously. We'll see.

 

I read The Return of Ixtab, by Robert Zitella. This is a near-future science fiction action novel with three main settings. One is an office worker who is mysteriously gaining muscle. Another is a company security man who does what the boss requires, including killing strangers. A third is two brothers, Maya princes of another time, vying for leadership. The unifying aspect is the end of the Maya calendar in 2012: is this really the end of the world coming? I have an incidental interest, as I have reference to the Mayan calendar in my novel Climate of Change; Zitella's discussion seems competent. The story lines are interesting, the novel is hard-hitting with a smashing conclusion, but I see no deeper meaning here, and the outcome is not entirely satisfactory for my taste. This is entertainment only. It is to be published in February, 2011, by Emerald Publishing. I take this to be www.emeraldpublishing.co.uk, not normally an entertainment publisher.

 

I read The Train Ride Home by Jason K Albee. I had read this a decade ago as a screenplay; now the author has novelized it. I really didn't remember it. It is an action-packed fantasy that has just about everything: mystery, murder, betrayal, love, monsters, magic at a nonstop pace. The protagonist, Pete, loses his fianc้e to his twin brother, who then is killed. Pete goes to the funeral, planning to ride a train home, using a ticket his young secretary gives him. But it's hardly that simple. The fianc้e he lost now seems desperate to win him back, but he's not interested, and his brother had connections to the Mob which is trying to kill Pete, who elected not to sign up. He barely makes it to the train, which stops at a station that was shut down half a century ago and has a conductor who is nine feet tall. I did mention that this is fantasy? It turns out to be some ride home, as mobsters get on the train and try to kill him there. Pete gets a magic sword from a stranger and manages to escape into a fantasy realm along the way, where he winds up working for a kingdom and falling in love with Princess Red, though she is betrothed to a possessive prince. It's wild throughout as Red's twin sister, Princess Blue, seems interested in Pete, and enemies galore try to take him out.  After several years he has to flee to the train again and finally get home, where one more paradoxical surprise awaits him, tying the whole thing together. However, the novel is not well written or edited (maybe this is a before-editing copy), and important events are glossed over rather than properly exploited. So I can recommend this for those who like wild fantasy adventure and romance, but not to more literate readers. www.double-dragon-ebooks.com.

 

Newspaper column by Leonard Pitts, prefaced by a quote from Francis Jeffrey 1773-1850: “Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest violence.” Amen to that; it's easier for some folk to get mad than to admit their bigotry. The column exposes the unfairness of the no-fly list. If you get on that list, they won't let you fly, won't tell you why, won't show you the list, won't remove your name, and won't let you appeal. So if you're there because of a confusion of names, tough shit; you're screwed. This is what the government considers fair play in America?

 

Creason's Archery went out of business after 55 years. This was the Citrus County shop where I bought bows, arrows, targets, and got advice. I still practice twice a week, and my aim remains abysmalactually I think I aim well, but the arrows simply don't go where I aim them, their flight I think distorted by the arrow restand mean to continue, as I do it for exercise. I can get supplies by mail order from Cabela's, but I'm sorry to see Creason's go.

 

It turns out that the odds of winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes are one in one and three quarter billion. Lotsa luck there, you dreamer. Other statistics quoted in THE WEEK: in 1928 the top 1% of Americans received almost 24% of the nation's total income. After the crash and the Depression and reforms that dropped to under 9% in the 1970s. Then came Reagonism and Bushism, greed ruled supreme, and in 2008 it was back up to 23.5%, and the economy crashed again. Because the mass of peons below don't have enough money to buy what the economy produces, such as cars and houses. Or, in too many cases, food. You do have to feed the cow if you want her to produce; conservatives seem not to understand that. Perhaps related: newspaper article about the Elliott Wave theory that, for one forecaster, predicts a market slide ahead worse than the Great Depression or the Panic of 1873. The Dow may drop from 10,000 to well below 1,000 in the course of five or six years. I'm a skeptic, but your know, there was a prediction a few years back that the Dow would halve its value, and it did, briefly. This sort of thing makes me nervous.

 

Article in DISCOVER MAGAZINE on the Streetlight effect: researchers tend to look where the looking is good, rather than where the answers are likely to be. This is capsulized in a joke: police find a drunk man crawling on hands and knees under a streetlight. He's searching for his wallet, which he dropped across the street. So why is he looking here? Because the light's better here. That would be funnier if serious researchers didn't do much the same thing. It seems that irregular heartbeats were associated with a higher risk of death, so they focused on medication to smooth out heartbeats. That worked, but also tripled the death rate. Because researchers were focusing on regularity rather than on death. It seems examples abound across many sciences. HmmI wonder whether that could explain the medical establishment's inability to appreciate the way Vitamin C can stop the common cold? Maybe, but I think it more likely that the sponsors of the myriad expensive alternate medicines simply don't want to study and verify something that would gut their business. They don't actually want the common cold abolished; it's a cash cow. Too bad about you folk who have to keep suffering from it.

 

From the USF MAGAZINE (University of South Florida): they have found a sea slug that makes chlorophyll. Seems it has stolen genes from algae so that it can make its own food by photosynthesis. It does it in each generation by feasting on algae and harvesting the key genes. Now if we can just learn that neat trick from the slug, we could profit enormously.

 

So why do the stubborn folk in Afghanistan and elsewhere keep bombing our peacekeeping troops? NEW SCIENTIST offers an answer: its vengeance. Try reversing it to see how it works. Suppose foreign troops invaded your town, burned your house, raped your wife, enslaved your children, and would have tortured and killed you if you hadn't happened to be out of town that day? What would you do? Chances are, with nothing left to lose, you'd go after those troops any way you could, using guerrilla tactics, and you would never agree to peace with the foreigners in charge. Vengeance would be your overriding objective, any way you could achieve it. You would not listen to their rationale that they are merely establishing order. Neither would you care much for the distinction between enemy troops on the ground and enemy bombers dropping devastation like napalm from the sky. Well, this is what happens in a war zone, though you don't see it publicized by the local newspapers. War is not a polite honorable thing. The larger rights and wrongs of the case disappear; all you know is the utter unfairness of what happened to you personally, and your hatred burns eternal. If you could, you would destroy the enemy entirely. Since you can't, you'll possibly settle for them getting the hell out of your territory. Okay, let's moderate the example somewhat: the enemy merely bombs the factory where you work, so you no longer can earn a living. Do you smile and say thank you, massa? Or do you plot retribution? It's not just us; the internal war in the Eastern Congo, Africa, is responsible for 5.4 million deaths through 2007, ongoing at 45,000 a month. Women have been mutilated, children forced to eat their parents' flesh, girls raped so badly that their internal tissues tear and their wastes mix with their genitalia. Collateral damage of war. Would you shrug and forgive that?

 

Interesting item in the AARP bulletin for July/August 2010 about taking a class for those who are afraid to fly, the AAir Born class. On the first day the members shared their stories. Some had been in airplane accidents, some suffered from claustrophobia, some simply feared flying. After two days of discussion and lessons, it was time for their flight. They went as a group, supporting each other. In the plane one young woman wept, but stayed put. And they made a short flight and survived. I have had my own nervousness about flying. I never yielded to it, but can appreciate the feelings of those who do.

 

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not the only oil outrage. It seems that Texaco in the course of 30 years from the early 1960s to the early 1990s drilled for oil in the Amazon, dumped billions of gallons of waste products directly into rivers, gouged out more than 900 unlined waste pits that leach toxic waste into the jungle soil and groundwater, and departed. Now there's a lawsuit, but chances are that a section of the jungle as big as Rhode Island will never really recover.

 

As a vegetarian I noticed this: shapely actress Pamela Anderson ran a vegetarian ad campaign for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It's a picture of her with her body marked for the choice cuts, Breast, Ribs, Rump etc. And Canada banned the ad. So she's not allowed to use her own body as an example; they consider it demeaning to women. But it seems they don't consider what the meat industry does as demeaning to animals.

 

Newspaper article: boys have more trouble learning to read than girls do. Don't I know it; my sister entered first grade with a fifth or sixth grade reading ability, while it took me three years to plow through first grade because I couldn't read. They have discovered that fart jokes help get the boys' attention so they can start reading. I doubt they'd care to use my novel The Magic Fart as a text, but the principle remains. Captain Underpants is mentioned. I remember when they first started substituting terms like underpants for other text in Star Trek. “Captain, that things alive! That blast came from those underpants!” Hilarious, and maybe educational.

 

They are discovering that cuddly robot animals may do a better job with people in nursing homes than normal people do. I can see it. Robots won't be judgmental or impatient. The robots even have essential eye contact.

 

And they have discovered that infections in childhood can lead to lower IQ in adulthood. It seems that the child has to expend resources fighting the illness instead of building new brain cells. I wonder how smart I might have been, had I not suffered childhood illnesses? Sigh.

 

My computer system is working well enough, thanks to geek help, though it has its little ways. For example, my special keyboard will invoke automatically, but only if I automatically summon a Terminal. If I don't, no keyboard, until I do. It seems that calling up the Terminal forces it to run BASHRC, thus invoking the keyboard. Okay, that's easy enough to do. Meanwhile we have been struggling to get our new Windows 7 system to handle email. We downloaded Thunderbird, but it wasn't suitable for our need. But it turned out that the Windows email program that came with the system does suit our need, so we set up with that. Sometimes Windows does do something right. So we moved the new system into the place where the old one was, and connected the printerand it can't recognize the Brother printer we've been using all along. Sigh. That means another hassle. Nothing is ever as easy as it should be, with computers. We'll get there eventually.

 

Now on to Xanth #36, trusting that life and computers will allow me to write in peace.

PIERS
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