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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
JeJune 2017

I'm between novels, and catching up on videos and books, making this one of those interminably long columns, over 10,000 words. Just skip over the stuff that bores you. Here and there I may say something of interest.

Open Road's Early Bird Books will offer The Metal Maiden collection on sale JeJune 24 for $1.99. That's the one that features Elasa Fembot, crafted as a sex robot, who achieves consciousness and sues to be legally recognized as a person. You can't tell her from a flesh woman, except that she doesn't need to eat and she's better in bed. She wants to marry her boyfriend and love him alone. I can't say it's great literature, but the first novella, To Be A Woman, does contain one of my favorite sequences, which I am rephrasing inaccurately from memory, where the opposition lawyer berates Elasa, saying she will never conceive a child by her lover, become pregnant, give birth, or be a mother. She's a machine, incapable of any of that. Faced with that harsh reality, heartbroken, she breaks down in tears. But here's the thing: they were trying to make her react like a machine, saying in a monotone I DON'T CARE. Instead, she reacted like a woman, devastated, and the heart of the world went out to her, and she won her case when she thought she'd lost it. Then she set about trying to do those very things and become a mother. One reader remarked in amazement: that's some sex! Yes, it is. Three days before that, JeJune 21st, they will offer The Xanth Novels bundle, down priced to $2.99. I'm not sure what's included, but it is surely a bargain. You can't go wrong with Xanth, unless you're hopelessly sane. You wouldn't be reading this if you were, now would you?

I watched The One I Love. The blurb said they were on the brink of separation, so went to a beautiful vacation house in an attempt to revive their marriage. Then it became surreal. That intrigued me, so I bought it and watched it. And—that's exactly how it is. Ethan and Sophie start having discontinuities, she saying they just had sex when he knows they didn't. It turns out that there are alternate versions of themselves that appear when only one of them enters the house. These versions are more appealing than the originals. It's a weird kind of therapy. Finally the two of them meet the two alternates, making an interesting foursome. It seems that only one of each can escape this setting, and the alternates do want to escape. The men fight, and Ethan takes Sophie home—only to realize too late that he got the wrong one. That's a disturbing conclusion. If I understand it correctly, the therapy is to use duplicates to interact with the originals and get them to appreciate each other better. But in this case the duplicates fell in love with the originals and wanted to go home with them. And the duplicate Sophie winds up getting the original Ethan. If that's meant to make me wince, well, it does. What of the original Sophie?

I watched Under the Skin, set in back country Scotland. This is a slow moving story of a predator alien female who looks like a lovely human woman who lures men into sexual liaisons and it seems consumes them, but we see it only symbolically: she, nude, walking backwards, he, nude, walking forward to her and gradually disappearing into the ground until he is gone. Then she hunts for another. As erotic science fiction goes, this is minimal. She tries to eat human food, but it just makes her sick. She picks up an ugly man, and spares him. Then she dates a nice man and has actual sex with him and is surprised; it seems she didn't know what went into what, before. Then she gets chased down in the woods by a man intent on rape, but he is spooked off when her torso gets ripped and it turns out to be a covering for the robot-like alien creature inside. Then she goes up in flames. It seems that starting to feel human was a mistake.

I watched Transcendence. They are working to develop a sentient machine, or conscious robot with the full range of human emotions. But there is opposition: AI labs are simultaneously attacked and many scientists killed. Dr. Will Caster's lab is the only one still capable of developing machine sentience, or “transcendence.” But he has been wounded and will soon die. So he arranges to have his own consciousness uploaded, so he can continue his work. But is the resulting cyborg still human? Is it really Will? The opposition remains active, determined to prevent transcendence. So this is a much a thriller as as exploration of the subject. Will's girlfriend Evelyn is now a target. They construct a new city in the desert, with solar collections and equipment. The opposition doesn't hesitate to make brutal raids, but at the same time Will is spreading his awareness across the world, integrating global resources. Evelyn is pleased; she's gotten everything she ever wanted. But a friend passes her a note saying RUN FROM THIS PLACE. That's probably excellent advice. There's no telling what side this global intellect is on. Nanobots are ubiquitous, floating in the air, changing the world. But is it a better world? We can't be sure.

I watched Far and Away, set in the largely barren landscape of the west coast of Ireland, 1892. Joseph wants to bring justice to his oppressive landlord, who burned down Joseph's house when Joseph's father died with the rent unpaid. But the gun explodes when he shoots at the landlord, knocking him out. He winds up in the care of the landlord's mother, and a series of mishaps sees hem accompanying the landlord's pretty daughter Shannon when she runs away from home to America. As it turns out, they need each other, this lowborn brawler and highborn lady. They pose as brother and sister so they can share a room. She gets a job plucking chickens while he does prizefighting. Then things go bad. Meanwhile back in Ireland the landlord's house gets raided and burned down. The man there who likes her, Stephen, comes to Boston to recover her. She gets shot and Joseph turns her over to Stephen so she can survive. Then we jump eight months, to out west where he is working on the railroad. Then he joins a caravan to Oklahoma, where there is a race to win free land. Shannon is there; Stephen means to win prime land for the two of them. It's a phenomenal race, with riders getting dumped, wagons overturning, and general chaos. And in the end Shannon chooses Joseph, and they have their land. So it's a standard love story, but a fine one.

I read Always Darkest, by Jess and Keith Flaherty. This ranges from Heaven to Hell, with most of the action in between, on contemporary Earth. The assumption is that Jesus Christ was not celibate, and married Mary Magdalene and sired a line that continues to this day. That has been done before; my fading memory can't quite recall the title. The Celestine Prophecy? But this is a different story. There is one Emerald Hill Prophecy that indicates that a part angelic girl will be born in this line who will have the power to severely shake things up, perhaps even change the balance of power between Heaven and Hell. The minions of Hell question the validity of the prophecy; it may be fake; but they don't want to take the chance. So when news comes that she has in fact appeared, Hell marshals its forces to take her out promptly, by assassination or capture, maybe torturing her into compliance. The problem is they don't know exactly where she is; Heavenly wards hide her well. One of those minions is Lord Ronoven, and he, among others such as the evil Lilith, heads to Earth to locate her. As Ben he quietly moves around, gradually getting a sense of her location. But there are problems. One is that Ben is at heart a decent fellow. Another is that Mal, the girl in question, turns out to be a lovely creature. One thing leads to another, and they fall in love. Now Ben is out to protect her, not kill her. Some of his friends from Hell side with him. Then Lilith comes, leading to an ugly confrontation that literally lays things waste around Burlington, Vermont, where Mal lives. Much of this novel is Romance, but when the minions of Hell make the scene it gets savagely violent. Mal escapes, but it's not over; there will be another novel. There are nice quotes prefacing the chapters, such as “If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.” Hyman Rickover. “The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” Leon Trotsky. Taken as a whole, it's a solid fantasy novel with interesting thoughts along the way.

I watched Forbidden Zone. I thought it was an alien possession story, but it turned out to be soft core sex. Five young women get together naked at a swimming pool and exchange their memories of an odd night of bliss with a handsome man. This leads into some flashes of past times, such as the old American west, and remarkably artistic erotic sequences. Images from each girl's mind are projected so that they all can see them and feel them. Their erotic fantasies intersect, making a weird montage. The alien is trying to discover what turns them on. So is it all imaginary? We're not sure. But it's about as interesting an erotic vision as I have seen.

I bought the entire Star Trek series on sale, from 1966 through 2005, over 500 hours of it, and in due course I'll watch it. I was unable to watch them on any regular basis when they came out, and wanted to start at the beginning. Finally I can. In 1967 our (late) daughter Penny5 was born and we were in the throes of family-hood. It worked out that my TV watching time was limited to the second halves of a number of early episodes. Now, fifty years later, I am able to see the first halves. Thus some of these episodes became familiar only at their halfway points. I suspect this is an unusual, if not unique, perspective.

The first episode, “The Man Trap,” starts right in without preamble and no explanation of details such as how the personnel were selected for this important mission, or the different colors of uniform worn by different crew members. The women are sightly with flattering costumes; I love those legs! They are routinely checking a planetary settlement, when a crewman dies of sudden salt depletion. Then another. One of the settlers changes instantly to another person, clothing and all. Something sinister is going on here. He/she assumes the likeness of a crewman and gets beamed aboard ship. Uh-oh. He desperately craves salt. More crewmen turn up dead. They catch on: the shape changer needs salt. Finally they manage to kill it, and it is revealed as a hideous monster.

The second episode, “Charlie,” concerns to a seventeen year old youth by that name who comes to the Enterprise with strange powers and social ignorance. He has never seen a live woman before, and is instantly smitten. When objects bother him, he makes them disappear. When folk annoy him, he makes them disappear. He can make people act completely out of character or transform them into animals. Thus the ship is in the power of a badly mixed up adolescent. Finally the godlike power that made him takes him back despite his desperate protests. I saw part of this when it first came out; viewing it fifty years later I am struck by the quality of the acting. Star Trek was well done from the start, and the emotions come across persuasively.

The third episode, “Where No Man has Gone Before,” has the Enterprise on the track of a ship 200 years before that mysteriously disappeared. Some intangible force in space burns out the drive. A crewman has been injured, and seems to have developed extraordinary powers, and they are wary. This echoes the prior episode. They need to be rid of him in a hurry. Spock says they should kill him while they still can. He reads their minds and knows it. On a barren planet he makes a marvelous garden, and the comely lady doctor joins him, becoming like him. But she retains enough humanity to help Kirk kill the man. There is also a twenty minutes discussion on the disc of three episodes, describing the effort to recover the faded original material, and to replay the music entirely. How they added some relevant details to make it more realistic, while remaining true to the spirit of the original. The design of the Enterprise, making it theoretically functional in real life. These are dedicated fans, and this is a quality effort.

I read Snake in the Grass by Ron Leming. Snake is a feisty sexy hundred pound girl whose job is to go get the oddball stories for her newspaper, assisted by her friend the weird photographer Batty. One story is about gold balls that are appearing around a village in Mexico, apparently dropping from the sky. Finding one is easy; keeping it is dangerous, because thugs are going after them. When they go after other stories, there are more gold balls. One is huge, a yard thick. Snake has a bad feeling about this, and she's right. The mystery builds, becoming more fantastic—we're talking gnomes, zombies, alien incursion, and religion here--until there is a wild battle at the end, where Snake discovers formidable powers she hadn't known she had, such as instantly healing injured people. Along the way she also discovers love, no, not with Batty, who turns out to be a brother, but with a fine handsome man, Dakota, who is truly her type. We also get the full sermon delivered by a religious snake handler, and a Hell bender it is. This is a delightful novel to read, starting fast and continuing fascinating, with candid thoughts throughout. I love Snake; any reader will, male, female, or other. I recommend it to any reader who wants to be entertained while learning about the world, natural and supernatural.

I watched Star Trek #4, “The Naked Time.” They discover the planet barren, the colonizers dead. The people seemed to be going about routine activities when they suddenly died, except for oddities, such as a fully clothed man dying in the shower. Were they mad? Then the crewman who beamed down there with Spock gets restless and questions man's mission in space. He gets violent, then dies. Spock, with a different metabolism, is unaffected, but then the malady spreads. Something gets on the skin that soon makes them crazy. Seemingly drunk crewmen get hold of key controls and the ship is in chaos, spiraling down to doom in the planet's atmosphere. Then it starts affecting Spock too. His human half is overwhelmed, but his Vulcan half steadies him. And Kirk. Then Dr. McCoy--”Bones”--gets it analyzed, and makes a formula to nullify it, and starts curing stricken crew members including Kirk. They power away from the planet, but go so fast they go backward in time to three days before. With that warning they will surely avoid mischief this time.

Episode 5, “The Enemy Within” starts weird: Captain Kirk beams back aboard from planetside. Then, moments later, a second Kirk is beamed aboard. A transporter malfunction made a duplicate. But the duplicate is opposite in nature. Uh-oh. The other Kirk attacks a woman, who scratches him on the cheek. So he is identifiable—until he covers the scratch. Then the two Kirks encounter each other, two halves of the same man; neither can fully fill the office of Captain. They find a way to phase the duplicates of an animal back together, but the animal dies. That's a bad sign. Meanwhile four crewmen are freezing to death, literally, on the planet. They have to act. They beam the duplicates and bring them back, united. Then beam up the four stranded crewmen. All is well again. But it was a scary business.

Episode 6, “Mudd's Women” They encounter another spaceship that is trying to avoid them. It gets struck by an asteroid, but they manage to beam aboard four people: a cowboy type man, Mudd, and three lovely women: his cargo. The women have a magnetic effect on all men who see them. Mudd has a bad police record which includes smuggling. The ship used up most of their lithium crystals in the rescue, and now needs more. Then the women start aging. Mudd gives them pills and they become young again. So that's their secret: they're artificially young. The lithium miners want the girls, but Kirk says no; this evidently smacks of white slavery. But they do finally forge a deal.

Episode 7, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” They are checking a planet whose illustrious Dr. Corby has not communicated in five years. Is he still alive? One of the Enterprise ladies, Nurse Christine, is in love with him. Then he contacts them. Kirk and Christine beam down, but things are odd. Crewmen get killed. There are humanoid androids, robots that look and act just like humans, such as the lovely Andrea and the giant Ruk. They make an android copy of Kirk who acts just like the original one, except for his contempt for Spock as a halfbreed. But things fall apart, and the androids start killing each other as they wrestle with nascent emotions. Dr. Corby is also an android, and also is destroyed.

Episode 8, “Miri,” has them discover another Earth, far from the original one. A party beams down: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Janice, plus two guards. This one is set in 1960, deserted, except for children, such as Miri. But the adults died of plague 300 years ago; how can there be children? They age only a month in a hundred years. As they enter puberty they contract the disease, go mad, and die. Now the Enterprise folk are getting it, except for Spock. They need to develop a vaccine, but the children have stolen their transmitter and refuse to take the threat seriously. Finally Kirk convinces them, and they make the vaccine. The children will be saved.

Episode 9 “Dagger Of The Mind,” has the Enterprise delivering supplies to Tantalus, a penal colony. A prisoner manages to get beamed aboard and starts making trouble. He is Dr. Simon Van Gelder who got fouled up trying his own treatment. Kirk beams down with sexy Helen Noel, a qualified psychiatric doctor with whom he has a prior relationship. He finds this awkward. But all may not be as it seems. Dr. Adams, at Tantalus, may not be legitimate. On the ship, Van Gelder is trying to warn them, but evidently has an imposed mental block. Spock uses his mind meld on him and learns that Dr. Adams has placed his own thoughts in Van Gelder's mind. Meanwhile at Tantalus Kirk is suspicious—and Adams implants wrong notions in his mind. But he gets Helen to cut off the power, interrupting the treatment, and allowing the enterprise crew to get past the force field and set things right. Phew!

I read Survival of the Prettiest, by Nancy Etcoff. The title is reminiscent of one I reviewed last year, Curvology, and they address a similar interest, but are different books. This one establishes that our appreciation of female beauty is universal; there may be cultural distinctions, but a lovely woman in dark Africa is lovely in Asia or Europe too. It's in the genes. Folk assume that prettiness equates to niceness, intelligence, health, and so on, though often this is not the case. But prettiness is a significant factor in our culture. Pretty folk are more popular, earn more, marry better, and are more respected. There are nice comments along the way: “Racism is real, race may not be.” For most of human history, marriage was for the young. “The highest frequency of brides was in the twelve to fifteen years old age category, and the largest category for grooms was eighteen.” It turns out that in movies younger women are in such favor that there was considerable opposition to matching forty five year old Meryl Streep in the role of the forty five year old farmer's wife in The Bridges of Madison County. “Women who had never married turned out to be significantly more intelligent than the woman who had married.” Of course there's more than one way to interpret that: men marry pretty girls rather than smart ones, but it could be that the smartest women prefer not to get involved with men. Times are changing: “If the sixties was all about sex without babies, the nineties is all about babies without sex.” While men are generally attracted to women for their appearance, and women to men for their money, you would think that once a woman gets well established she would look for other things in a man. But women who make good money still want men who make more money. Some things don't change: using makeup goes back at least 40,000 years. But when it comes to breasts, the author misses the point, she remarks how human females are the only mammals to develop and maintain breasts throughout adulthood, though they signal infertility in all others. I have discussed this before, and it seems that I alone in the world understand the reason. When our species rose from four feet to two feet, it lead to a cascade of complications. Babies could no longer run along with their mothers; they had to be carried. This meant that the woman was handicapped in fleeing enemies or in foraging for herself. She had to have the assistance of a man not just for one minute to get pregnant, but all the time. Without it, she and her baby could not survive. So nature made an amazing reversal, and made her lactating breasts become sexually appealing rather than a sexual turnoff. Because only sex would compel the constant closeness of a man, and she had to be ready to provide it at any time. A woman can give a man sex day or night, standing or lying, awake or asleep, front side or back side, clothed or unclothed, healthy or ill, willing or unwilling. In fact she can do it even when freshly dead. She's a sex machine, and her breasts constantly advertise it, even when covered. And it works. That's what the family unit is all about: survival of the woman and the offspring. Men know this, but are largely helpless to avoid it. Because only the offspring of the breast worshipers survived to make our present society. That's the power of the breast that the author missed, the real reason for its constant fullness. Still, this is a good and interesting book.

I watched Episode 10, “The Corbomite Maneuver.” The Enterprise encounters a big spinning multicolored cube in deep space. It blocks their way, wherever they go. Then it closes in on them, emitting dangerous radiation. They finally blast it, its mystery remaining. Then comes a sphere a mile in diameter. A voice says they have ignored and destroyed a warning buoy, and will be destroyed if they make any hostile move. They prepare to depart, but an alien head appears and says they will be destroyed. Kirk regards this as a kind of game of poker, and bluffs, saying they have corbomite that will destroy any attacker. Then the alien assigns a tug to haul the Enterprise to a planet for internment. They manage to stall the tug, then beam aboard it and encounter—a childlike human, looking maybe four years old. Now they will establish relations.

Episode 11 “The Menagerie Part 1” Spock receives a message to divert immediately to a space station. But that station sent no such message. What's going on? Spock talks privately with the paralyzed former commander of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, under whom he served, telling him that he has no choice but to disobey that man's order. Then he fakes an order from Kirk to accept special instructions, beams aboard, and hijacks the ship on a secret mission. What is he up to? Kirk and the base commander follow in a shuttle. Spock turns himself in for mutiny as Kirk is beamed aboard. Kirk, Pike, and the base commander conduct a trial for mutiny. They review the odd events of thirteen years ago, when a landing party seeks to rescue a group of scientists stranded on a distant planet Talus IV, for eighteen years. There is a pretty young woman there, born when they crashed. Except that it's all an illusion; there are no survivors. Instead there are big-headed aliens who take the landing party captive.

Episode 12 “The Menagerie Part 2” picks up where Part 1 leaves off. Captain Pike is captive on Talus IV and subject to the illusion of a primitive castle, being attacked by a warrior. The girl Vina is there, but since she is imaginary he doesn't accept her. Or is she? She says she is a human woman, but she can appear as any woman he might like. She was the sole survivor of the crash. He is to be breeding stock, with her. First they are in a lovely park, Vina a sweet innocent girl, then in a show where she is a sexy green exotic dancer. But it turns out that the real Vina was adult, and is now 18 years older. Hmm. She is also ugly; the aliens had no good model of a real woman when they reconstructed her features. But with illusion that can make her beautiful. The aliens conclude that humans are too violent for their purposes, and let them go. Now Captain Pike will join Vina on Talus IV, living a life of wonderful illusion. That is, he with his body restored, she with her beauty. And Spock will not be prosecuted.

I read Sons of Josiah by H T Night, the seventh in the eight novel series. This picks up where the sixth one, Divine Blood, leaves off, with Josiah going to rescue his kidnapped son Jason. The nasty vampire Brock wants Jason to heal his son Pierce, but Jason refuses because Piece is evil in a manner reminiscent of Adolph Hitler and if he lives will ruin the world. Several of Josiah's closest friends refuse to accompany him, which is odd, but werewolf Tommy does, along with his wife Lena and other son Joshua. They fight their way into the enemy island, which is defended by vampire bats who believe that they are the good guys. Along the way Josiah suffers a transition that gives him added power, but he is confused by the forces acting on him. Finally they find Jason, who has been crucified, literally, with pins through his wrists and ankles, and a dreadful crown of thorns jammed into his head. They do manage to rescue him, but all are badly injured. There is a question whether it was right to save Jason, as it seems he was fated to die. Then Tommy tells Josiah a secret he has kept for decades, which is that love can do anything. Then there is a bright light, and—it is time for the next novel, Love Conquers All.

I read The General's Little Angel by Breanna Hayse. This is an autobiography that reads like a novel. The author is a nurse and a therapist dealing with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and it has numbers to call for those who need help. This is not my scene but interests me because some of my readers have suffered, and I have heard some savage stories over the decades. In one case a girl's prom date took a hammer to her, his face expressionless. She thought he was trying to kill her, but he only battered and raped her. In another a woman accepted what she thought was a friendly ride home, only to find herself amid men out for sex, consent not needed. They stripped her, put her on hands and knees, put a pistol to her rectum, and challenged her to protest. Neither dared report the abuse. The police often don't take such charges seriously, and a girl can get herself killed if she squeals. Yes, they told me what they could not tell the police, trusting me, and they remain anonymous. Breanna was conceived accidentally, and survived being aborted, but her parents let her know early on that her very existence messed up their lives. She was truly an unwanted child. She struggled to avoid beatings, and any orifice she had was fair game from age 5 on. She finally escaped into the marine corps, where she became an assistant to the commanding general. She was good at it, and he took her in as a daughter figure. He spanked her bare bottom hard when she misbehaved, such as by swearing, but there was no sex. Then she got raped by a man she had trusted, and rather than tell, fearing for the general's reputation—the rapist threatened to accuse the general of molesting her—she left his employment and married. Her husband was a bad man, constantly abusing her, but she feared she would not be believed if she told the truth. Ever thus. Finally, when she had had a sufficient measure of that punishment, she divorced him and found a good man to marry, and became a nurse and therapist, trying to help other woman in similar straits. Many years later she tried to locate the general, her beloved benefactor, so she could tell him the truth at last, only to learn that he had died several years before. Now she still tries to help others, by telling her own story, publicly baring her ass as it were, and by her fiction, trusting that a fictive narrator may get through where nonfiction would not. I recommend this book to anyone with any similar concern, for the references even if the reader is not interested in the main story. She gives some statistics: one in three woman and one in four men are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. 76% of intimate partner physical violence victims are female; 24% are male. Only half of it is ever reported to law enforcement. Why do some people hurt themselves, such as by cutting? It's a symptom of emotional pain. Or, as my correspondents tell me, because it makes the mental pain go away. For a while. Making the girl promise not to cut herself any more doesn't really help; what is needed is to abate her emotional pain, and that is no easy fix. The last ten percent of the book is the first chapter of Justice for Liberty, featuring a girl named Liberty who escapes a plural marriage type “religion.” This promises to be another kind of revelation. Unscrupulous men use coercive religion to gain sexual access to underage girls, and woe betide the girl who protests. It's ugly and does need to be exposed. But there may be serious consequences for anyone with the temerity to expose it; these are not nice folk.

I read the final novel of the octet, Love Conquers All. There is a bright light, and there are Josiah's dead parents and sister. They have an important message for him, which they will tell him next time they visit. That turns out, in due course, to be that, having messed up the prophecy by saving Jason, Josiah must be ready to give up his life; only then will his wife, sons, and friends survive. He is not willing to do that, and there are huge battles that wipe out most of the vampires. The majority are plainly against him, his success and fame of yesteryear seemingly forgotten. What is most painful is that even many of his closest supporters are turning away. Right and wrong are clear; how can they be confused? This echoes the problem of honest folk who try to do the right thing, only to find that most other folk prefer to take the easier route of not making waves, even blaming the one who is trying to do the right thing. I've been there myself uncomfortably frequently, and I doubt I am the only one. Finally he agrees, bids farewell to his family and friends, and delivers himself to his undeserving enemy to be tortured and killed. His enemy is happy to oblige; it's an ugly sequence. But there turns out to be a hidden loophole, and he manages to kill his enemy and save the vampires. Then his supporters return. This is perhaps the grimmest novel of the series despite the happy ending. What about folk who fade when doing the right thing becomes inconvenient? They seem to be the majority.

I watched Star Trek #13 “The Conscience of the King.” They are watching the play Macbeth and suspect that the actor is actually Kodos, a supposedly dead criminal. They are scheduled to check out a fabulous source of food that could solve all problems of hunger, but delay to check this out first. Kirk arranges to transport the ensemble to its next performance so he can see Lenore, the young pretty actress who plays Lady Macbeth, and investigate the mystery. She is Kodos' daughter. Spock is perplexed, investigates, and discovers that the few witnesses to Kodos' evil actions have been dying when the troupe is near. Kirk is likely to be the next target. But he needs proof before he can act. It turns out that Lenore has been doing the killing, to protect her father. He neither knew about nor wanted this. Then she accidentally kills Kodos, and it is over.

#14, “Balance of Terror,” sees two of the crew are about to be married when news comes that an Earth outpost is suddenly under attack, interrupting the ceremony. There is a neutral zone between the Earth Empire and the Romulan Empire that has not been violated for a century, but now the outposts are being destroyed. An alien ship appears to attack, then disappears. Thu alien's ship and weapon seem to be superior to Earth's. They get a glimpse of the alien captain—and he is a Vulcan, like Spock. The Romulans may be a Vulcan offshoot. The two ships engage, in their fashion, firing blindly. It becomes a match of strategy, each trying to locate the other for an effective shot. The Enterprise plays dead for hours, then catches the other ship by surprise. The other captain refuses to be rescued, and dies with his ship. Only one man on the enterprise is lost: the would-be groom. This is one savagely compelling episode.

#15. “Shore Leave.” They land on a garden planet, to unwind, and find themselves in Alice in Wonderland. Dr. McCoy—Bones—sees a large white rabbit who is running late, and a little girl is pursuing him. Kirk and a crewlady, Barrows, beam down on Spock's advice, because Kirk needs to relax and recover. Sulu finds a delightful antique pistol. Kirk encounters Finnegan, an old nemesis practical joker who decks him and laughs. A flight of birds. And Ruth, an old girlfriend, unchanged in 15 years. But there's also a mounted knight, a tiger, an ancient airplane, all deadly. It's an amusement park, the images triggered by their thoughts. Once they understand that, and govern their thoughts, it's ideal.

And a Star Trek supplement, “To Boldly Go,” telling of the challenge of making it the first season. They ran out of scripts and needed two more, so they adapted the pilot episode, which did not use Kirk, Spock, etc, making an envelope where Spock makes them view what happened thirteen years before, the two parts of “The Menagerie.” Thus they filled in their gap, and the show went on. It was a real challenge, getting through that first season, before the show got really popular with fans and the studio. It was interesting, also, seeing the actors as they were nigh 40 years later, hardly recognizable.

  1. I read The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel. It's about shoe laces, and they decorate the chapters. Actually there's a bit more to it than that. The shoe laces are an analogy for chromosomes, the strings of genes that are fundamental to the building blocks of life. The DNA strands. You know, the double helix. But like laces, they can fray at the ends, and eventually come apart, and that's not healthy. So shoe laces have little caps that protect them from wear, and so do chromosomes. Those caps are called telomeres, tee-lo-meres. End of story? Not quite. With each replication of the chromosome the telomeres wear down a little, having fewer layers, until finally they give out, the chromosome frays, sickness comes, and the cell dies. In a pretty direct sense, the telomeres measure out the lifespan of the cell. Since you are composed of living cells, you can't afford too much of that. So it behooves us to encourage the telomeres to last longer. If they lasted indefinitely, we might live that long, and cancer cells do. The good news is that we don't need fancy medication to do it; simple changes of lifestyle can extend and even sometimes lengthen the telomeres. This book is a virtual how-to manual on how to do that. It is in the process a manual on improved heath. Diet, sleep, exercise, reduction of stress, all contribute. Along the way are some nice observations, such as the overweight woman who said that within her was a thin girl trying to get out, but she could be pacified with cookies. Or the chart that shows how closely income inequality correlates with mental disease and violence. Japan has the lowest rates of inequality and mental disease, while the USA has the highest of both. It seems that's not coincidence. Taken as a whole, this is a book that can benefit just about anyone seriously interested in health and long life. So how do I do in their various little tests of lifestyle? Very well, actually, though one of their tests has a miss-coded answer key that makes its result meaningless. Even books on genetics need proofreading, lest they fray. Elsewhere I read that intermittent hard exercise lengthens telomeres. That's the kind I do. Runners live longer, for similar reason.

I watched Star Trek #16. They must deliver medicine to a planet suffering plague, but also must check out a nearby quasar or odd celestial manifestation. Spock commands the shuttle launched to check the quasar, with seven aboard including Bones and Scottie, but there is magnetic interference and the shuttle gets out of control. They land on a habitable planet, but with the interference the ship will have severe trouble locating them. They are out of fuel and can't take off. But maybe they can use their Phasar pistols for power to take off, in a while. A huge apelike creature hurls a spear that kills a crewman. Are the natives about to attack the shuttle? Should they try to kill the natives first? The natives attack the shuttle with huge rocks. They manage to take off, but their orbit is decaying. The. Enterprise manages to beam them aboard as the shuttle burns up.

#17 “The Squire of Gothos.” They spy a strange planet and head toward it. Then Sulu and Kirk disappear, just popping out of existence in the control room. Spock takes over. Messages appear on the screen. There has to be life on this life-inhospitable planet. Bones and two crewmen beam to the planet to investigate. They find themselves on a verdant green world, not at all like the prior description. There's a castle. They enter and discover Kirk and Sulu like statues. General Trelane, a dude in a blue robe, explains how he summoned them and recreated a familiar Earth setting for them. Except that because this planet is 900 light years distant from Earth, he is 900 years out of date. He has created this oasis on this otherwise barren planet, and he holds them as captive “guests.” But they manage to beam back aboard the ship. Only to be followed by Trelane, who is evidently not a life form. He conjures them back to his castle, including a number of the women. He conjures a gown onto one and dances with her. Kirk challenges him to a duel, then shoots the mirror, revealing the machine that generates this oasis. They beam back to the Enterprise, but when they try to escape the system, the planet Gothos keeps appearing before them. Kirk goes to settle personally with Trelane. Then Trelane's invisible parents intervene, curbing him and allowing Kirk to return to the ship.

#18 “Arena” sees them beam to a planet, invited to an outpost, only to discover that the outpost has been destroyed. They are under attack, and so is the Enterprise. The invitation was evidently faked. Sulu is in charge in the absence of Kirk and Spock. They manage to return to the ship, then pursue the alien ship that attacked the outpost. They go to Warp Factor 7, which is dangerous, then to Warp Factor 8, more-so. They catch up—and find themselves in stasis. A third party sets up a combat between Kirk and the Gorn captain. Only the winner and his ship will survive; the loser will be destroyed. Kirk faces a sort of green man with a reptilian head, Hollywood's idea of an alien captain. The Gorn is strong but slow and clumsy. Kirk finds the ingredients of gunpowder and knocks the Gorn back, but declines to kill him, because the alien may simply have been defending his territory. That impresses the arbiter, who in turn spares Kirk and the ship.

I bought a new computer, so that I can have a more reliable one for the next novel or novella or story. Naturally I'm in trouble. It's not working the way I need it to, and I am running into dead ends trying to organize it. As I have remarked on occasion, I have absolutely no belief in the supernatural, which is why the supernatural seems to be chronically out to get me. I remember way back about 65 years ago, to make a pay phone call you had to pick up the receiver, wait for the operator, tell her the number, then put in the correct amount of change. Simple enough, right? I couldn't do it; my phone jinx prevented it. In fact I developed a phone phobia it took me decades to overcome; modern technology that eliminated the need to wait for an operator helped. My roommate was disgusted. “I'll show you how to do it,” he said. So we both jammed into the phone booth, picked up the receiver, and waited. After twenty minutes of silence he gave up in disgust, and after that he didn't hassle me about my not being able to make a call. It never happened to him on his own, only when he was with me. It's also why I don't like to travel alone; they cancel my flight, they miss connections, and so on. I have stories that are amusing only in retrospect. So now with a new computer the jinx is in force. One example: I need to be able to input and output files, but the new one has no file handler so I can't do it. What? you ask disbelievingly. Okay, I finally did a system Find on Dolphin, my file handler. It turns out not to have been installed. How do I install it? I have to go online. The system doesn't go online; I haven't gotten that far yet, and if it did, I wouldn't know how to connect where I need to. I live and work offline, and use dial-up when I need do, except that that no longer works for me either. So what am I to do? All I want is a computer that isn't Windows or Apple, that I can turn on and use without having to be an expert in its innards, much as I drive my car without knowing its innards, or watch the TV. I'm a writer; I don't want to have to fight the system to get my work done. I use Linux as a matter of principle; I'm not into it for fun, and I don't enjoy the challenge of making it work garden variety style. How did I get by before? I had a geek. You know, someone competent in computers. I had a great one, but he died. I got another, but then he moved to Texas. Okay, let's put this on the line, as it were: do I have a Linux-competent geek type fan in my area, which is Citrus County, Florida, male, female, or alien, who could come in and set my system right, and be available for when it goes wrong, as it inevitably will? I'll pay the going rates for the time. Email me if you're competent and interested.

I read Murderous Minds, by Dean A Haycock, PhD. This is a detailed exploration of the nature of psychopathy. My interest dates from when I wrote The Sopaths, my novel of the related condition sociopathy. Dr. Haycock says that most folk use the two terms interchangeably, though he seems not entirely easy with that, and neither am I. The former condition is a mental disease, while the latter, as I define it, is not. In my novel overpopulation results in the supply of souls running out, so that babies starting getting born without souls, and therefore no capacity for empathy, compassion, or conscience. You might think small children would not represent much of a threat. Think again. In the mundane realm the cause is less clear, but the symptoms are similar. A full psychopath—there is a gradient, with some being worse than others—doesn't give a shit for the rights or feelings of others. He—most are male—wants what he wants, be it power, money or sex, and hardly cares how he gets it. There are gruesome case histories of men raping and murdering children, of violent crimes done on the spur of the moment for money, with no pangs of remorse. Psychopaths are not nice folk, for all that they can often charm psychiatrists when they want to got out of prison or mental hospitals. This rings true in my experience; I recognize the syndrome in a number of folk I have interacted with in the course of my life, and as a child I soon ascertained that child psychiatrists had little notion of the real nature of children. I told them what they wanted to hear and went my way. It is similar with psychopaths. They fool the psychiatrists and get released, and resume their asocial ways. As the book points out, there are two general types: the stupid ones that wind up in prison, and the smart ones that don't. I am bothered, though, by one of the defining attributes: bed wetting. I was a bed wetter as a child, but never a psychopath. In distant retrospect I conclude that I wet my bed because I was a deep sleeper and troubled by tensions in my family. The transforming point in my life was when I figured out that I was the recipient of, not the cause of, those tensions. In due course my parents divorced, and I made my own marriage, profiting from the lessons I had learned the hard way, so that my own marriage has lasted over 60 years and my children never suffered the way I did. I am different from regular folk; I have seen the astonishment in the faces of others many times as they realize how they misjudged me, but that's not psychopathy. The real psychopaths are folk you don't want to know, associate with, do business with, room with, or marry. I recognized the type as I read about it in this book; I wish I had recognized it before interacting, as that would have saved me grief. At any rate, there do seem to be some differences in the brains of psychopaths, though a brain scan can never identify one for certain. Why does the syndrome survive in our species? Because in some instances it is a net benefit. I regret that when discussing empathy the author does not discuss mirror neurons, the basis for empathy. On the other hand I appreciate his discussion of the works of Philip K Dick, who was not a psychopath but did address problems of the mind. Dick may have been halfway crazy but was a good writer with some quite challenging thoughts about the nature of reality. This book is probably too technical for the average entertainment reader, but it does have its points. The author refrains from making pointed parallels to our present political spectrum, where psychopathy is an evident advantage. Maybe he lost his nerve, not being psycho himself.

Our TV now comes in mostly by day and not by night. But we had rain, and wet weather makes it come in, so we got to watch an evening movie. This was the remake of Dirty Dancing, whose original version I remember from decades ago. This struck me as less dirty and more artful, with the protagonist being a young woman who always preferred books to social activities. But she gets interested, and when the partner of a leading man has to drop out, she steps in to take her place. It is a steep learning curve, but she is determined and manages to carry through. I loved the mannered dancing, side by side as they get the steps and motions exactly right. I admired the scene where she does the challenging swan-like pose, held up at arm's length over her partner's head, as if she is flying. Her mother rises up out of her chair in sheer amazement. Her bookish child is doing this? I also liked a scene near the end, where her partner is trying to preserve her innocence, and she bangs on his door demanding to be let in. Finally he charges out and sweeps her in for an ardent kiss, and more. She has in a sense graduated.

We live in the forest, on our tree farm, so we see the local wild life and sometimes get involved. Gopher tortoises burrow beside our house, and an armadillo likes to dig out our buried garbage, leaving it freshly strewn. That's not ideal for composting. Finally I put fencing down flat on the ground, and that seems to have stopped the digging. Now there are several volunteer tomato plants growing there. We like the deer, but one comes and munches on our Turk's Cap Hibiscus, so that while we had up to a hundred flowers in prior years, this year it's more like ten, if that. I'm trying to figure out how to protect them, but it's harder to outwit a determined deer than you might think. This year a lady wasp decided to colonize our rain gauge, attaching her beginning nest at the one inch line. I didn't know how to tell her that this was not a safe place. Sure enough, when we had a two inch rain it got submerged. I emptied it carefully, and business continued; now there were half a dozen wasps. What, spray it out? Surely you jest. I'm trying to get along with our forest neighbors, not exterminate them. Then the nest fell down to the bottom of the gauge, but they continued. So finally I put up a second gauge, as I do track our rainfall. Whereupon the wasps vacated. So now I have two gauges there. Ah, well. Meanwhile another wasp nest formed near our back door, and the wasps started stinging me when I passed by to water our plants during the drought. I try to practice live and let live, but this crossed the line. They figured they now owned our yard. So I clipped down the frond where the nest was located and took it to the far slide of the yard, where they are free to continue or depart as they choose. Maybe they got the message; they no longer harass me.

Then there was the wren's nest. One day it appeared in our closed garage, complete with five eggs. Carroll and Lina Wren had set up shop midst our junk, evidently having a way in and out. So we let them be. But maybe two weeks later the nest was empty and the birds gone. The eggs never got to hatch. We figure a snake found it. Sigh. We like all the local wildlife, but nature is indeed red in tooth and claw, or maybe in this case, scale and fang.

I wear sandals made of rubber, plastic, or imitation leather, but they are getting old and don't always glue back together perfectly. So Daughter Cheryl, who keeps an eye on we fading oldsters, found some new ones on sale for about a hundred dollars less than the Birkenstocks (I call them Burp 'n Stops), being about $25 instead of $125, and they are doing well. Cheryl also brought truckloads of gravel to fill in the holes along our three-quarter mile drive. There is a poem that says “A son is a son until he takes a wife/ But a daughter's a daughter all of her life.” We had the wit to have daughters.

I have been slowly going through cartoon books we have been given or loaned. One is the complete New Yorker set, 650 pages, maybe 2,000 cartoons, with included discs covering the rest of their 38,000 cartoons. Some are funny, while some I simply don't get. My favorite so far is a picture of a couple floating along a blissful river, with perfect weather, harp playing heralds, towering columns, peacocks, a damsel with a dulcimer, and so on, a virtual paradise. “What was the name of that tranquilizer we took?” he asks her. I'd like to know that too. Another is from the sometimes naughty Shoebox Hall of Fame volume, “Chad is disappointed to learn that the see-through nightie he bought doesn't work.” She is posing right in right in front of him, gloriously visible through the nightie, but he can't see through her to watch the game on TV. What an idiot! And a dumb blonde joke: he gives her a surprise party. “Today's your birthday.” “It is?” she asks, surprised. I used to send my blond daughter Penny dumb blonde jokes, and she used to send me dumb blond jokes. Note the spelling: with the E it's a woman; without it, it's male, or the color. Many people get it wrong. And no, blondes aren't really dumb; for one thing, half of them are dyed brunettes. For another, dumb often means mute, which they aren't. And one I encountered when cleaning up the study, from The Far Side: a man entering Hell has to choose between two doors. One says “Damned if you do.” The other says “Damned if you don't.” Forget Hell; Life is too often like that, isn't it?

I am a workaholic. I am constantly going, whether writing, reading, watching videos or whatever, as this column indicates, and the very notion of doing nothing appalls me. I am also a writer some fans call a creative genius. (That ugly sound you just heard was my critics choking to death on bitter laughter. My critics have a high attrition rate. Serves them right, no?) Article reprinted in THE WEEK is titled “A Better Way to Work.” It seems that many of our most revered figures work with intense focus, but only for four hours a day. The rest of the time they are hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Charles Darwin, who expounded the theory of evolution, was one. Charles Dickens, the literary giant, was another. Leading mathematicians, great musicians, chess legend Bobby Fischer, Microsoft founder Bill Gates—they're all over. Where did I go wrong? My writing time is indeed limited, because I have letters to answer, books to read, meals to make; life constantly gets in the way. Maybe it's all for the best after all.

Admiration: in Mexico a young woman won an ultra-marathon—31 miles—wearing sandals and a skirt. She carried no special accessories, she just ran—and beat the other women. More power to her!

Editor's letter in the June 2, 2017 issue of THE WEEK scares me in retrospect. Editor in Chief William Falk remarks on the meteor of 66 million years ago, that did enormous damage and wiped out the dinosaurs. He says that according to a new BBC documentary they have found that it had hit in the worst possible place: the shallow coastal waters where the underlying sediments were filled with gypsum, that generated a cloud of sulfur that brought on a record cold snap. Had it hit thirty seconds sooner, or later, it would have struck deeper ocean and not done that, and most dinosaurs would have survived. Probably the mammals would not have risen to prominence, including we humans. Thirty seconds! We like to think that we came to the fore from merit, but we were remarkably lucky.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST about atheism. Let me clarify, as I have done before, that I am an agnostic. The theist says “There is a God, and He is Mine.” How does he know? For this, faith is not sufficient, as every religion thinks it is the only true one. There needs to be something objective, and so far that evidence has not been produced. Yes, many of the religiostic folk are ready to kill in the name of their gods, but that's passion, not proof. The atheist says “There is no god.” Okay, how does he know? Maybe there's no objective proof that any god exists, but neither is there any proof that no god exists. So the atheist is operating on faith also: faith that there is no god. The agnostic says “The proof is not in, either way.” I am agnostic because that is the only truly rational position . Show me a god, and I'll believe. Show me a flying saucer, and I'll believe. Show me a real live ghost and I'll believe. Until then, I have faith that I am the only really sensible one in the arena. Okay, the article has interesting thoughts, such as that the reason churches are full of death imagery is that the fear of death is good for their business. Religion usually features a belief in the supernatural. Also there are creation beliefs, afterlife beliefs, magical causation beliefs, rituals, and sacred non-negotiable values. But, some say, atheism must be a religion in itself, the religion of non-belief. They may have a case there, if the atheist s operating on faith. But the article refutes that, because it is like saying that the OFF switch on a lamp is a form of light. Nonbelief is nonbelief, not religion. I conclude with a lovely motto the article presents: “Thank God I'm an atheist.” Or in my case, an agnostic.

No new word on the Xanth movie or TV series, but they surely remain in the works. I've got faith. Stay tuned.

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