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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Dismdember 2016

Between writing projects I catch up on reading and DVD viewing. NoRemember was an interim month, so this column is mostly reviews. Bear with it; some of those items are interesting.

I watched Apocalypse Earth, as I unwound from the rigors of wrapping up OctOgre. It struck me as essentially junk from the start, but fun. Earth is being destroyed by what looks like a meteor shower, and a lifeship launches with a halfway random group of refugees. They land on another planet that just happens to have Earth type plants and breathable air, plus other refugees and a humanoid robot who wants to help, and a sexy young greenish native woman, Lea. She is an outcast from her people, because of her skin hue. They fight off huge largely invisible bugs and flee a giant bug-like device that shoots fire. They manage to persuade Lea's people, who are not green but white, to make common cause. Meanwhile the leader wins the love of the green girl, who joins their party. Who cares about her color, with a shape like that? The two do have fun in a pool. They fight the invisibles and take off in the other ship. And land on Mt. Rushmore, Earth. Presumably they will win Earth back for mankind. Sure it's junk, but fun junk. I watched “the making of” and learned it was filmed in Costa Rica. Okay.

I read Act Two by Nancy Anne Lane. This is a mainstream novel featuring Anna Marie, married twenty years, who directs plays, and her platonic friend Bill, who helps make them happen. The author clearly knows her subject, as she directs plays in school. There are countless details constantly needing attending to, and egos requiring encouragement or discipline; it takes the right person to hold it all together, and Anna Marie is that person. Then she gets The Letter: from the other wife of her husband Kevin. That's right; he is a bigamist. The other wife is younger and more recent, but she has a five year old child who is named after Anna Marie. This complication throws the original AM for a loop, and she flees to visit her sister in Florida, leaving the play in the competent hands of Bill and younger understudies. What is she to do? The other woman, Darcie, is quite unrealistic, hoping that Anna Marie will divorce Kevin so that Darcie can live happily ever after with him. Things come to a head while the play is being presented, so that some actors get involved, and even the child is there. The errant husband is telling each wife that the other means nothing, but Anna Marie senior has had it and just wants to be rid of him. That's unrealistic also; for one thing, Kevin has a gun and seems to be going off the deep end. This is out of my genre, but strikes me as a pretty good story, and I suspect there is more coming, because there are loose ends, such as the fate of the child. I believe it is being published on Amazon.

I watched Petticoat Planet. This is soft porn with much suggestive dancing and simulated sex. The story is minimal, as is the scenery. A spaceman crashes on a planet where there have been no men for twenty years, and naturally the women all want him. All of them are luscious dolls with perfect hairdos, in a fake western town. They come on to him with few if any inhibitions. Finally he chooses one to keep, while the others hope for another ship to crash their way. There were nine trailers almost more interesting than the movie, featuring gruesome zombies, scary live dolls, and screams in the night. I'm satisfied that none of those movies would interest me.

I watched Wildthings. This was indeed wild, sexy, violent, and with so many twists that in the end it became nonsense. Two shapely high school girls are coming on to Sam, the counselor. Then one accuses him of raping her. There is a trial, and it comes out that she's lying, and Sam gets a huge settlement from her wealthy family. Then it turns out that Sam and two girls are in it together, to split the money. Then he kills one girl so the three way split becomes a two way split. It continues with cross, double-cross, triple-cross, with others getting into the act, and more bodies. But fun to watch.

I watched Wild Things 2, not really a sequel but in the same genre: pretty girls, money, simulated sex, and double crossing at a bewildering rate. In this one the girl wangles a seventy million dollar fortune to share with her supposedly dead mother, dead bodies left behind. If there's a moral, it's never trust a pretty girl. Ditto for #3, Diamonds in the Rough, similar elements. Fun to watch for the girls in bikinis, but really not credible. In this one the fight is over four million dollars worth of diamonds, and hell with the casualties. It does have some cautions about teens getting too freely into sex and drugs.

I read The Last Detective by Brian Cohn, www.pandamoonpublishing.com. This is a science fiction murder mystery set in the near future when Earth has been conquered by aliens. Adrian is the detective, out of work as are most human beings who aren't working for the aliens, and life is bleak. Everyone hates the aliens, which they call slicks, but they are powerless to get rid of them. Any attempt to resist is met with savage reprisal; whole cities can be wiped out. Then Adrian gets a call: an alien has been killed, and they want to know who did it. He has no choice but to investigate. He is assigned a woman to assist, a not unattractive lady cop. Ah, you see where this is going already? Well, you're wrong. Clues are few, but he's good at what he does and slowly finds leads. In the process he uncovers a kind of underground railway that is sneaking targeted people out so they won't get shipped to work camps from which they never return. The image is like the folk who got sent to death camps in Nazi Germany. Slowly the mystery deepens; there are things that just don't make sense. The answers are surprising; this strikes me as a finely crafted story with ugly detail; I felt as if I were in that derelict society. It is slightly out of my genre, but I rate it as a superior novel and recommend it to anyone who appreciates the challenge of an unflinching mystery. Certainly I was repeatedly surprised.

I watched Town Without Pity, set in occupied Germany after World War Two. Black and white. A pretty German girl is raped by four American soldiers. There's a court martial. Kirk Douglas is the defense attorney. He believes they are guilty, but must defend them. The investigative process is interesting. It turns out the men could have made it locally with an attractive prostitute for a cheap price; why did they rape an innocent girl? Did all four rape her? The youngest says he did, but there is doubt; he's too innocent, and he was clearly sorry for the girl. He tries to commit suicide. There are indications that the girl is no shrinking violet. She would dance nude in her room, knowing that a neighbor man could see her. Kirk asks the girl's father to withdraw her from the trial, because otherwise he will destroy her credibility. The father does not, and the attorney does, and the defendants get lesser sentences. And the girl committs suicide. It's a powerful story, but I don't see the relevance of the title; the town was in the background and pity was not an issue.

I watched Inherit the Wind, obviously inspired by the famous Scopes Trial, with a teacher arrested and tried for teaching Evolution. Yes, it really was against the law; the good old days were entrenched in biblical preachments and there were hard battles to achieve progress in human thinking. This time Kirk Douglas is the expressive God-fearing prosecutor. But he is matched by the counsel for the defense, Jason Robards. The judge is partial to the prosecution, and allows no scientists to testify. So the defense calls on the prosecutor himself as a witness. He grills the man on the details of the Bible. In fact he makes a fool of him, and a laughing stock. Actually I understand there were arguments that are not present here, such as “Did all the living creatures sail on Noah's Ark lest they perish?” “Yes.” “Even the fishes?” I suspect that this is a movie every person should see, and not just for the validity of the issue or the dramatic flair. This is a finely integrated story. The defendant was found technically guilty, but it was the beginning of the end of that kind of law. It was a significant turning point, leading to the relative enlightenment of today. We still do have a way to go, as contemporary politics shows.

Iwatched the Discover video From the Outback to Shangri-La. This is a travelogue, four shorter pieces. It starts with the latter, Tibet, Nepal, near Mt. Everest, and the mountain folk, the Sherpa, and their stout yak beasts of burden. Their costumes and culture, merging superstition and religion. It's a cold rough life. Then the Australian Outback, hot rather than cold, flat desert rather than steep mountain slopes. Then the jungle, with former headhunters. And to southern China, Guilin, painting the landscape, getting inspiration. Painting reflects the spirit rather than reality. Fishing via cormorant birds, rings around their necks to prevent them from swallowing their catches.

I watched Age of Tomorrow, a save-the-Earth thriller, science fantasy, which means to turn off your awareness of actual science such as acceleration limits, gravity in space, sound in vacuum, etc. A meteor is headed for Earth in 48 hours, so a crack team flies out to explode it before it impacts. Only it turns out to be an alien space station with breathable air, alien plants, robotic humanoids, and floating yard thick laser-shooting metal eyeballs. Which last then appear on Earth, too. Much angst as people are killed. The aliens are collecting people to send to their home planet, maybe for food. Violence. Bloodshed. Explosions. No real resolution. As with the tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. However, one man means to save his teen daughter, and she's one outstandingly pretty girl, even if her role is merely to slowly and tragically die.

I watched Saddle the Wind, a western. I generally prefer science fiction, but a quality western can be better. This is a quality western, taut and tough. The title is from a song sung within it. There are no black/white characterizations here. Steve is an ex gunfighter, now a rancher. His younger brother Tony brings back Joan, a pretty girl he met in a saloon and means to marry. She's actually sensible, while Tony isn't. It's clear that Steve is a better match for her than Tony. A gunman comes for Steve, and Tony kills him. Settlers come, planning to fence and farm a section. The cattlemen don't like that, calling them squatters. But they have title to their property and Steve honors that. Tony doesn't. Tony starts killing people, and Steve has to stop him. They face off, and Tony shoots himself. Joan I think winds up with Steve. That seems best.

I watched Cast a Long Shadow, a western, this one in black and white, dating from 1959. Matt is a largely worthless kid who mainly drinks his life away, when he inherits an 87,000 acre ranch from his likely father, to the surprise of all. A friend offers to buy it from him. That money would keep him in booze a long time. Janet, the girlfriend of four years ago who refused him now is interested. Is it just the money? But it turns out the ranch is deep in debt, and will be foreclosed by the bank soon. Matt decides to keep the ranch and deliver 3,000 head of cattle to Santa Fe in time to pay off the debt. But there is mischief made by enemies. But they make it. A bonus feature on the lead actor Audie Murphy tells how he was rejected by two military services, so joined the Army—and became the most decorated soldier of the war. The feature morphs into an ad for US Savings Bonds.

I watched My Favorite Wife, a romantic comedy from 1940 wherein Nick, played by Cary Grant, loses his wife Ellen at sea, and seven years later when she is legally dead he marries Bianca. Then Ellen shows up again. He needs to explain things to his second wife, but has a problem finding the words. Ellen decides to pretend to be an old friend. Then he learns that she spent seven years on an island with a man she called Adam, who called her Eve. Hmm. But she wants to recover Nick. Their two children catch on and have some fun of their own. The new marriage is annulled, the old one happily restored.

I read Huge in High School by G C Schop. THESCHOP.COM. This is a body building book for teens. Have I lost my marbles at age 82? Not exactly. The author has been writing to me for a decade, and this time he sent me a copy of his book. So I read it not because I have delusions about being young again, but because I know the author, in my fashion. I do exercise regularly, not to build muscle but to extend my health, vigor, and life, so do have a peripheral interest. From this perspective I can say that this is a sensible book, with frequent cautions to prevent teens and others from hurting themselves. Such as to stay away from enhancement drugs. It discusses diet, mind and purpose as well as detailed exercises, so yes, non-bodybuilders can benefit from it in a general way. If you're not a young body builder you won't find it compelling, but you may learn things of interest.

We don't have cable or satellite TV here in the Florida backwoods, and I can hardly even get online. So I am out of touch with some good shows. I saw one called Necessary Roughness, the complete series, six DVDs, twenty seven and a half hours, for fifteen dollars. It looked interesting; how could I pass it up? It's about Dani, a feisty lady psychiatrist who catches her husband cheating, divorces him, struggles to manage her two rebellious teenagers, and winds up as a therapist for a pro football team. Her own life is as fouled up as those of the men she treats. She demonstrates hypnotherapy on the trainer. Impressed, he introduces her to his boss. After a ragged start she succeeds in turning a key player, wide receiver TK, from disaster to championship performance. So she has the job. Naturally it's one challenge after another. Thus she gets into it, and not just for football players. Different sports. The pay is great. But it's wild. One client is an announcer who breaks into uncontrollable laughter when he's on the air. Another is a racing car driver who hit a wall at 175 mph and wants to quit racing, though he still loves racing. A pro gambler who is off his mark and owes money. Not only do these folk have problems, they have attitudes that are as hard to deal with as the problems. Dani's own problems continue, as her husband wants to reconcile but she doesn't. There is trouble among the football team's Wives and Girlfriends—WAGs—that erupts in a public melee. That's bad publicity, so Dani has to stop it. The women are as complicated as the men. Sometimes a Player messes in with her children, doing favors for them, crossing an awkward boundary. A pro golfer loses his touch. Dani meets an old professor she likes, and beds him. Her children find out and turn the tables on her, judging her social life instead of she judging theirs. A lady boxer has a problem; she sort of zones out during a match, and then gets creamed. The team mascot, a man in a hawk costume, returns to torpedo the team. Actually he just wants to apologize, but they don't want him near them. She has to talk him down from the top of a building so he won't jump. In so doing it seems she lifts a six year curse on the team. Meanwhile her children think there's a burglar in the house but can't reach her by phone, so they call TV, who comes to help. It's a fine mix of story threads forming a tapestry. After a while the constant personal interactions became like a soap opera, but as with soap, they are compelling. Then the finale, of the Hawk's season and of the show's first season, ending with a bang.

Necessary Roughness, second season: the bang was when TK, the champion receiver who has become a peripheral part of Dani's life, got shot. He survived, spent months in rehabilitation, and now is returning to the game. But suffering from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which makes him try to shoot someone at a public gathering. The team is coming under new management, shaking hings up. Meanwhile, there;s a lady roller derby player who collapses during a match. No physical problem, so it must be psychological. Dani catches her teen son in bed with his pretty tutor. TK decides to retire from football and run a small eatery. A promising new recruit deliberately flunks a written test. A baseball player's “slump-buster” is a woman: the sex fixes it. But she gets a boyfriend, so he needs another: meanwhile his slump is awful. Why isn't Dani interested? Even the football team owner needs therapy: he is the throes of a nasty divorce. A stage magician who loses his nerve. Meanwhile there are nuances to the football draft picking I never knew about: sometimes the players they want most are at the lower levels, for reasons beyond ability. Daughter wants to join the Peace Corps and go to Africa. New player hazing that gets out of hand. A player is not sleepwalking but sleep-eating and getting dangerously overweight. A child champion speller who faints during a competition and stutters thereafter. A bull rider who fell off. A competitive animated war games player who loses his touch. I have never been into such games, because I date from before computers and TV existed, which is just as well: I'd have disappeared into them and never come out. Husband and wife doubles tennis team, successful until he went awry. The team HQ gets bugged, also Dani's office. Someone is collecting dangerous information. Is it an inside or outside job? Business partners in a Rock and Roll band have problems with each other. Dani starts dreaming sexually of a coworker—not the one she means to marry. TK has to go to rehab, because he's popping too many pain pills. The team owner dies in a plane crash. The team is in chaos. Dani's mother and sister visit: that's also chaos. The quarterback is secretly gay, and his lover wants him to come out. Dani breaks up with her boyfriend, then changes her mind—after he gets involved elsewhere. The dead owner's rich daughter Juliet takes up with Dani's son. The gay player comes out—and he's the quarterback. They have not been friends, but TK saves his ass in the game. And Dani's boyfriend's Other Woman, Noelle, turns up pregnant. This ends Season Two; there's mischief for Season Three.

Necessary Roughness, season three. Starts with a bang. Tough new coach expects Dani to tell him the players' secrets. She says that would be unprofessional. He fires her. Bang. Another boss man hires her to get a phenomenal baseball pitcher over his fear of flying, so he can make it to his games. Back at the team, that Hawks' new head coach is insufferable, my way or the highway, as it was with Dani. Dani takes the new job, and it's wild from the start. She has a huge fancy office, a personal assistant, a rack of dresses to wear for public appearances, etc. An actress, Buttons, is childishly irresponsible, costing the studio big money; Dani has to hold her hand. In fact Buttons is a stalker of men. Dani diagnoses it as Love Addiction: intoxicated with the idea of love. But will Buttons accept treatment? A basketball player who is missing his shots. His mother is too involved in his games; there's the mischief. The company discovers it has been hacked. This means war. The author of a motivational book wants to kill himself, and may be sending explicit messages to twelve year old girls. Dani meets an interesting new man and has a two night stand. TK goes into business with a sexy white lady to make a new lingerie line, Brick House. (You know: built like brick shithouse, a compliment in my day.) Dani as a confidential therapist learns dangerous secrets. But her secretary may be betraying her. The author of a bestselling series that is making movies, is late turning in his next book, by nine months. In fact he hasn't left his house in nine months, and has not written a single word in that time. He is waiting on inspiration that doesn't come. And the dead man, Carl, returns to talk with Dani—in her tortured dreams. She believes she failed him. He left her a coded flash drive she can't read. It surely has phenomenal revelations once it gets decoded. TK has a painful breakup. The boss says “The only way to get over a good woman is to get under an even better one.” Hmm. A rising baseball phenom is one strike away from a perfect pitching game—when he collapses. Niko, the Hawk's security man, who moved to the new company when Dani did, is involved in something private that may impact her situation. She demands to know everything—and he kisses her. Then tells her that a year ago the Government caught up with nefarious things he did for his then employer, that could put him in prison. They made a deal: he does them a key favor, they make all changes go away. That's what he couldn't talk about. Now the question is their relationship, Dani and Niko. Female relay runners are sisters having trouble with the hand-offs. Naturally there's a hidden issue. A boxer who is scared of being hit. Complicated dealings. Then Niko is about to walk out, and Dani kisses him, and more, reversing the ploy. She loves him back. Meanwhile they are on the trail of what turns out to be the biggest sports doping scandal ever. And now TK, undoped, is playing against his former team. And is part of the final play that wins the game. Then Dani and Niko head into the sunset together. Yes, this “dramedy” is not to be believed, but I loved it. It was certainly worth the price of fifty five cents per hour. If sequel seasons appear on cheap DVD I'll surely get them.

I lead Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand. I have a crude rule of thumb for novels: if the critics love it, beware; it may or may not be readable. This is an example. It is exquisitely written, but so slow paced that I doubt many readers actually finish it. It is set in post apocalyptic Washington DC, and mostly follows Wendy Wanders, a “neurologically augmented empath” through a weird culture patterned in part on mythology. She gets out of her niche in life and into weird adventures. She can bite a person, taste the blood, and know much about that person. But she seems not really sane herself. This is a kind of travelogue, showing odd characters and situations, then moving on to more. It concludes in somewhat grisly fashion, and the larger situation is fundamentally bleak. There are companion novels, not sequels but relating to some of the same characters. I'll pass.

I read The Witch and the Gentleman by J R Rain, Book #1 of the Allison Lopez spin off series. Spun from the original Samantha Moon, the housewife turned vampire that made the author's fame. I picked up on an offer of four Rain books for $.99, which are packaged as Rain Dance; the author does have fun with his pseudonym. I'll get to the other books in due course. Allison is a telephone psychic, responding to questions coming to The Psychic Hotline. The difference between her and others of that ilk is that she really is psychic. In fact she's a witch, with more powers than just supernaturally sensing things. One caller is Peter, the Gentleman of the title, who seeks the identity of the killer of his ten year old daughter Penny. Coincidence, I know, unless the psychic bit is real: my name is a variation of Peter, and I lost a daughter named Penny. Peter turns out to be a sad man who can't let himself depart until the ugly mystery is solved. His mother is a ghost, anxious for Peter to join the others in a happy future. Alison solves it, almost getting herself killed in the process, and that concludes this volume. She's a fun character, and the following volumes are surely interesting, but my interest here is exploratory rather than comprehensive. You should enjoy it.

NoRemember was a reasonably adventurous month for an old fogie like me. I wrapped up my material for the prior month, ready to pig out on accumulated videos before starting my next writing project. Next morning, NoRemember 2, when I cranked up the computer it went POP! and died. I checked with my geek, and he said it sounded like a hardware problem. So I unplugged the machine and took it to a local shop, and they replaced the power supply apparatus, and in a week I had it back. Which incidentally is why I maintain a backup system, though its functions no longer work and it's a pain to use. A few days later I was typing a sentence when all my files and icons disappeared. I was able to call up the files again, but not the icons, which meant I could no longer go online—not that I've been doing much of that, since it mainly take ten of fifteen minutes to tell me it can't connect—or invoke my special variant keyboard. So when I typed “don't” it came out “don;t” and my dashes came out as brackets; that sort of thing. Sigh. Back to the geek. He pondered, then suggested I try a long shot: click the one icon that remained, DESKTOP, then ACTIVITIES, then Desktop again. And lo, everything returned. It seems that the computer has, well, screens it can slide over other screens, so you can have a clear desktop without disturbing all your work in progress. Live and learn.

Then there's the Xanth TV Option. It seems there were some really big ideas out there, with more than one TV network in the dialogue. But in the end it foundered. The ball was on the five yard line, ten seconds remaining in the game, but the final pass was incomplete. Sigh. I'd love to have a TV series or a movie, and get catapulted back onto the bestseller lists before, instead of after, I die. I suspect Philip K Dick, contemplating his phenomenal success from the Afterlife, has a similar regret.

Politics: I had an awful dream that Hillary gets Trumped, and we find ourselves chained in a torture chamber, watching the proprietor heat irons in the fire, hoping that he just wants to warm his hands. I hope to wake up any time now, before he gets around to his agenda. I read were someone says not to worry, because Trump will either quit or be assassinated within a year. Well, I don't care for that kind of situation either. There could be a silver lining to this horror: I understand he's big on making a massive infrastructure improvement effort, putting millions to work on worthwhile projects. I think that's a great idea, but when Obama tried it the Republicans stifled it, and I suspect they will again, because it is simply too sensible. Meanwhile I received an Internet circular giving the Warren Buffet Rule: just pass a law that says anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GNP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. Sorry, I don't agree, first because the sitting members would never pass such a law, and second because if they did, they'd either ignore or circumvent it. And if by some fluke they both passed and honored it, exactly how would they fix the deficit? By passing other laws to confiscate all private wealth, as has happened in other countries? Quick simplistic fixes seldom work out well in practice. But I support one: make America a true democracy, where the winner is the one who receives the most votes, instead of the present system where the loser of the popular vote can win, as happened in 2000 and again in 2016. That could help in local races too, eliminating gerrymandering that severely distorts government.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST titled “Our Implausible Universe” shows just how unlikely the existing order is. There are a number of fine tolerances that if changed even marginally would wipe it all out. The chances are much against our existing at all. How do we explain this? We really can't/ unless we invoke God or multiple universes. Do invisible Dark Matter and Dark Energy really make up 95% of it? My bet is that they don't; that they don't exist. That's why even the most sophisticated studies haven't confirmed them. They exist solely to explain certain effects we can't otherwise explain. So—we need a better explanation. We're working on it. I remain fixed on the original question: why is there Something rather than Nothing? Because there really should be Nothing. Maybe there is a certain stress in the concept of Nothingness, and every so often something pops into existence to relieve that stress, its qualities random. Most pops quickly dissipate back into the stress of Nothingness. Out of a googleplex to the Nth power of random combinations, one just happens to have qualities that enable it to exist a bit longer, maybe twenty billion years or so, and that's our universe, part way along, with its almost nonsensical collection of rules and mysteries. That's also the Multiverse, with an infinite number of trials, only one of which can we see, because it's the one that happened to last. It's just meaningless chance, and our very existence is a fluke. Get over it.

THE HORROR ZINE for Dismember has a story of mine, “The Shell,” about a remarkable seashell found in gravel that turns out to be something other than natural. Also a rerun of an interview. In addition I have a new interview at Cultured Vultures, http://culturedvultures.com/piers-anthony-discusses-writing/. That is, my writing and passing thoughts, sort of like carrion for those vultures.

Guns: I am an advocate for the so called Smart Gun. That is, one so designed that only the rightful owner can fire it. Would you believe, the National Rifle Association, NRA, is adamantly opposed to this obvious safety feature that would save many lives and maybe prevent some robberies too, since why steal a gun that would be useless to you or anyone else? A child might get hold of the gun, but it would be inert, preventing an all too frequent tragedy. I think the NRA fears that any restrictions at all might decrease gun sales, no matter how sensible they are or how many lives might be saved. This attitude is what I'm thinking of when I mention gun nuts. They try to clothe it in other terms, such as the Second Amendment, whose cautionary initial clause about the militia they typically omit, but the gist is that they want nothing to interfere with gun sales or ownership. May the carnage continue. In the name of freedom.

And so I conclude another month of opinionations. Would you believe, they do have their fans. More anon, when.

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