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

I have mentioned that there has been a movie/TV option on the Xanth series. There have been options before that looked promising, but crashed before takeoff, and this one has been on, off, on, off, and on, so until it actually happens, I am cautious. I fear the example of Philip K Dick, a talented writer who became far more successful and famous after he died than before. I suspect that annoyed him. I would rather have my fame before I die, thanks all the same. According to the announcements, they are planning to do both a movie and a TV series. More details will follow, and I will mention them here as I learn them. Those who are able to go freely online, as I am not, may know them before I do.

Xanth #38 Board Stiff will be featured in Early Bird Books on May 3rd, downpriced to $1.99 in the USA. You can just catch it, if you read this column on time. That's where lovely Kandy goes to a wishing well to ask for Adventure, Excitement, and Romance—and gets changed into a wooden board. Actually the well has granted her wish, just not in a way she understands at first. Her would-be boyfriend uses the board to bash monsters. The board is very good at that.

I read One Love by H T Night, the fifth in the Vampire Love Story series. It starts slowly, but does get there. Josiah's girlfriend Lena is hugely pregnant with twins and would like to get married. Can this be done among their kind? It seems it can, and he buys her an engagement ring. Meanwhile he is organizing for the big battle against Krull, the evil enemy vampire, and learning new things about himself. Such that he is mortal, not immortal; he can die; that affects his outlook. Also, he is also a werewolf. A vampire werewolf? He may be the only one. But this helps him recruit werewolves to his cause. Then Krull captures him and tortures him cruelly before his friends rescue him. He really needs more troops on his side, so he sets out to get his former enemy Atticai to join him. How to do that? He learns that Atticai's one true love, Donya, was killed over forty years ago and Atticai never got over it. But Donya lives; she was abducted and word was spread that she died. So Josiah gathers a task force and makes a daring raid to rescue Donya. She is now 40 years older, of course, but still a lovely woman. They succeed, and Josiah returns her to Atticai. Then, his force augmented, he makes a surprise daytime raid on Krull's army. Vampires aren't supposed to be active by day, you see, but there are ways around it. They kill half of Krull's warriors and retreat. The second part of the campaign is a trap: they are more than ready for the inevitable counterattack. They win and kill Krull, then retire to three private islands. Lena's twins are born, one of who has extraordinary powers from the start. For example, while being born he reaches out and touches his mother, healing her and restoring her to full health. It is clear that we'll be hearing more about him. So all ends well, for now.

I read Divine Blood, by H T Night, the sixth in the Vampire Love Story series. In this one Josiah become a family man devoted to raising his twin boys, Joshua and Jason. But sometimes he neglects to give his wife Lena enough attention, and this annoys her; there are family arguments. There is also mischief on the vampire islands they have settled on. A new vampire leader, Brock, comes and is competent but not wholly ethical. His young son is ill, so he asks Josiah to have his boy Jason heal him. Jason starts to, then quits, because part of his healing process is to sense the future life of the patient, and he sees that the boy will grow up to be utterly evil, causing global disaster. Better to let him die. That does not sit well with the father. When the boys reach their 18th birthday, Jason disappears. Brock has taken him, and says that when his son dies, so will Jason. That does not sit well with Joshua. This probably means war among the vampires. So he organizes to search the island and rescue Jason—when the novel ends. Fear not, there are two more novels in the series.

I finished writing Xanth #43 Jest Right, and promptly pigged out on videos. The first one was Summer Heat, a soft core erotic story of a young man staying the summer at the estate of his attractive aunt. There's a door between their rooms, and he can see through the keyhole when his aunt changes clothing and when she makes love with her husband. Naturally he gets all excited. There's an appealing French maid his age, and she seems amenable, but he's really more interested in his aunt. We get to see their lovely nude bodies when he does. He persuades Maid to seduce Uncle, so as maybe to make Aunt available. He imagines seducing Aunt. And Aunt, increasingly annoyed by Uncle's dalliance, finally allows it to happen, though the movie ends before we see any detail. The problem with regular films is that they don't dare show too much lest the religious folk go after them, and with porno films that they're all repetitive sex with no stories. So how is this as a compromise? Not bad, though not great. It does have a story and does have bare bodies, and simulated sex, and realistic emotions. So it will do.

I watched The 5th Wave. This is a story of the end of the world as we know it, as experienced by the girl Cassie. There are five waves of destruction. First all electronic communications are wiped out. Then a tsunami wipes out much physically. Then deadly illness strikes. The 4th wave, they believe, is aliens taking over humans and sowing dissension and death. Finally will come the dread fifth wave that will finish the job. Cassie and her little brother Sam are on the bus to safety; she exits to rescue his teddy bear and the bus leaves without her. Gunfire breaks out and her father is killed. She takes a gun and flees, heartbroken. We learn that the aliens are like tentacular parasites that get into human brains and run the bodies; the only way to eliminate them is to kill the hosts. The alien campaign, in broad outline, is first to pick off the easy ones, like children and the ill and old; that's the first three waves. Then go after the harder ones, as is occurring in the 4th wave. Cassie, alone, fights on. She gets shot in the thigh, passes out, and is rescued by Evan. They go to rescue Sam, and become lovers. Meanwhile Sam gets together with Zombie, a regular teen, and they are recruited into a fighting squad with a tough female leader. They can track the Others because they glow green when seen through the right lens. Then they discover that it's backwards: humans glow green. They have actually been trained to kill the last humans. They are the 5th Wave. And Evan is a double agent. Then it gets complicated. This is about as effective an action movie as I've seen; it pushes the right buttons.

I watched The Perils of Pauline, which I got from curiosity, having heard about it all my life. It's in black and white, as it dates way back, from 1933. It was run as a weekly theater serial. The good guys are clean cut and well spoken, while the bad guys are mean looking scoundrels. Pauline is a pretty young woman, always completely clothed, whose father, Dr Hargrave, is a noted scientist searching for a secret nerve gas in Indo-China. That gas wiped out an ancient civilization. The evil Dr. Bashan plots to steal it. Thugs try to abduct Pauline, but American hero Robert Warde fights them off. Meanwhile bombs are falling and the building is collapsing around them. End of chapter 1. They find the ancient formula engraved on a stone disk, in Sanskrit, but there is only half the disk. Pauline tucks it into her waistband and catches a rickshaw while the bad guys follow. They catch her and take the disk. Now the search is on for the other half, which may be hidden in Borneo. If the bad guys find it, they will have the world at their mercy. They head out to sea in a speedboat. A violent storm comes as they fight. End of chapter 2. Having gotten away from the bad guys and the storm, they continue the search. A bad guy sneaks in while they sleep on the boat, but a python scares him off. Then a leopard pounces at Pauline. End of chapter 3. But the replay in the next chapter shows that she was merely screaming to the side while the big cat landed on a crewman. The bad guy, Fang, escapes in the water, but there are crocodiles there. No matter; they don't bother their own kind. Our heroes proceed inland with native bearers, going to the temple. The legend says the hand of a white woman will take it. Pauline, a white woman, does get it. Then apes chase her. And the bad guys catch her as she screams. End of chapter 4. The replay has the bad guys get the disk with no screaming. Nice glimpses of local wildlife: apes, leopard, hyena, warthog, hippopotamus, zebras, antelope, tiger. Even a native war dance. There is a raid and the village is set afire. End of chapter 5. Pauline unties and rescues her father during the distraction. They take the two halves of the disk from Bashan. Pauline is chased by natives and hides in a cave. Then a tiger pounces. End of chapter 6. The replay shows Warde arriving just in time to scare off the tiger. They run to the airplane and take off. Next they catch a ship to Singapore. The bad guys pursue them there. A woman sneaks into Pauline's hotel room to steal the disk halves; they fight and Pauline falls into a shark-infested pool. End of chapter 7. The replay shows them escaping the sharks. They catch a plane to India, following directions on the disk. I gather that one half disk has directions rather than the formula; it's like a scavenger hunt. They go to a temple, run afoul of the bad guys, get locked in, and fall into a deep well. End of chapter 8. The replay shows them falling into the well, which has water below. Their friends lower a ladder and they climb out. Next they catch a plane to New York. But the bad guys are on the same plane. They go to the Egyptian wing of the museum, where one of them falls into a plaster container and becomes a comically ghostly figure, and to a sarcophagus, carrying the key vase, Pauline trips and falls, and it breaks open—and explodes. End of chapter 9. The replay shows she survives it and they get the half disk. Now they have the complete formula. Hargrave will test it before turning it over to the government. Meanwhile Pauline will carry the formula on her person. But the bad guys are still scheming to get it. They sneak into her room at night and grab her. End of chapter 10. The replay shows the good guys arriving just in time to scare off the bad guys. All is well, for now. Hargrave discovers that a single drop of part of the formula can make an explosive reaction. The bad guys attack the laboratory, fire breaks out, and the building is burning. They are trapped. The building collapses. End of chapter 11. The replay shows them running to a window and calling for help—then being fished out of water. Did I miss something? They must have jumped just in time. So Hargrave is in another laboratory to compound it. The bad guys ace still scheming. They invade, there is fighting, and the police catch them. Bashan and Fang are gabbing the mix, release the gas, and die. Warde and Pauline decide to become a couple. End of series. Not much as today's adventures go, but it satisfies my curiosity.

I watched Blackway, a tough adventure of the Pacific Northwest in winter. A nasty rogue cop, Blackway, is harassing Lillian and she needs help, but everyone in town fears Blackway. Lester, played by Anthony Hopkins, who lost his own daughter, decides to try to help her, though it seems hopeless. He enlists his friend Nate, quiet because he stutters, but one tough fighter. They search for Blackway, but nobody wants to tell them where he is. Lester doesn't take no far an answer, sometimes resulting in violence, which Nate handles, and even a fire that brings the fire trucks. Finally they locate him, in an isolated cabin in the forest. There is an ugly fight and Lester shoots Blackway to death. He will not be mourned. Probably Lillian and Nate will get together. An ugly but compelling story.

I watched Abandoned, wherein Mary, a high powered career woman, takes her new boyfriend Kevin to the hospital for minor outpatient surgery on his leg. It will be only an hour. Except that when she returns to his room he's not there, and there's no record of him. They say his doctor was not in that day, and there's no record of his nurse. Even the security camera hardly shows him. In fact no one was scheduled on the entire floor today. His bag with his computer is gone from the car. She can't even prove Kevin exists. They think she's crazy, and put her under 72 hour observation. She flees and hides in the morgue. She gets a call from Kevin: they've got him somewhere in the hospital. He says not to trust anyone. Then she gets hit by a car in the parking garage and knocked out. Then comes the pitch: she must arrange for a ten million dollar payoff or Kevin dies. It is a conspiracy, and Kevin is in on it. They say Kevin never existed; it was fake for their whole relationship. But there is one honest detective who was working on her case and smells a rat; he alerts the police and returns to rescue her. No, he's married; he was just doing his job. This is reminiscent of Jodie Foster's FlightPlan.

I watched God Help the Girl. Eve sings and writes songs while in a mental health clinic. She runs away and gets together with a young aspiring musician, James. They get together with one of his students, Cassie, and do impromptu little songs and dances. They form a band, recruiting other musicians to fill it out. The blurb says it's charming. The blurb is correct. Eve is singing with Cassie when she deliberately overdoses on her pills and winds up back in the clinic. This is no horror incarceration; they really do want what is best for her. It amounts to a summer when things are confused but essentially right. Then it passes and the three will go their ways, Eve to sanity, Cassie maybe to fame, James to his music, none of it quite as right as it was in that magic season. It's lovely and sad.

I watched The Man from Elysian Fields. Byron worked seven years to write his novel. It turned out to be a loser. How can he support his family? So—he becomes a male escort. As a novelist myself I hesitate to comment on the message there for writers, but it is true that the average writer can't survive on his earnings from writing; the great majority have day jobs. Byron's first assignment is the wife of a truly successful award-winning author. Who turns out to be okay with the arrangement. He wants his younger wife to be satisfied, he now being too ill to accommodate her. He asks Byron to critique his novel in progress. The problem is, it stinks. Byron has to tell him that. This becomes a collaboration, rewriting the novel. In effect, Byron is becoming the escort of the husband as much as of the wife. He hates it, but he's locked in, financially. It takes so much of his time that his wife is distressed. Then she sees the business card for Elysian Fields, the escort service. Then he gets screwed out of his collaborative credit. This sort of thing, too, happens. All my collaborations have been handshake agreements, but I've always shared the money and credit evenly, except in one case where my collaborator was dead before it started; it was more of a memorial effort, though it is perhaps my favorite and did win an award. That was Through the Ice, with Robert Kornwise. Anyway, the movie ends halfway happily, with Byron finally making it on his own as a writer, and getting his wife back. She had read his book and understood the feeling in it: his love for her, that he had been unable to express before he wrote it. This is a more thoughtful movie than I anticipated.

I watched Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a wild fantasy. Jake worshiped his grandfather, but Grandpa told weird stories about children with fantastic powers, such as being incredibly strong, or invisible, or able to start fires by a touch, or being filled with live bees, or able to project his dreams like movies, and Miss Peregrine, who could turn into a falcon. When Grandpa dies mysteriously, with his eyes missing, they take Jake to the British Isles where Miss P's home was, hoping he'll recover his sanity when he sees there's nothing there. But it was bombed in 1943 and is now a shell, and there were no survivors. He goes there and meets their ghosts, only they're real. Such as lovely Emma, who is so light she needs lead shoes to hold her onto the ground. They have made a loop, repeating a day before the bombing over and over, though they do remember and details change, and outsiders like Jake visit them over the years. They remember Grandpa from when he was young. A rebel discovered that if a person raided the loops and consumed the eyes of others he could reverse the magic that made the rebels monsters. They have a hideous campaign that it seems only Jake can thwart, because he can see the invisible monsters called Hollows. Then it gets wild. Jake marshals the children, and saves them, and thus also his grandfather—who sends him back to find the loop and Emma, for they have fallen in love. This is one great unbelievable story.

I watched Elektra, who the cover blurb says is the sexiest action hero ever to burst from the pages of Marvel Comics. She's the world's most lethal assassin, restored from death herself. She goes to an island, meets her neighbor and his 13 year old daughter, nice folk. Then she gets her assignment: kill them both. She balks. Then The Hand, a Japanese outfit, sends assassins to kill them, and Electra defends them, killing the assassins. They are not pleased, and send their top assassin, who has magical abilities. Electra's associates think she is doomed. So the hunt is on. Why are they after this man and his daughter? We don't know, but it is clear that they are something special. Bit by bit we learn: they too are deadly fighters. The Hand tried to recruit them, but failed, so now means to eliminate them. To save them Elektra makes a deal with the top assassin: they will fight and winner takes all. But there are also the other assassins, who can manifest as hawks, wolves, or snakes. Elektra finally wins as much by luck as skill, and moves on, physically at least. This is a slam bang action adventure, not long on credibility, but fun.

I read Creating Life—the Art of World Building, by Randy Ellefson. This in the first of three volumes. It is nonfiction, though it has every kind of fantastic concept. The author's is a software developer and musician whose heart is in fantasy, who was written novels himself, so he understands the process. His goal is to help you along in the chore of working out your fictive background, so you have a more coherent and consistent framework for your characters and action. It is exhaustive, well written, and knowledgeable, and there's a website where you can delve deeper. I, as a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, have generated many worlds, so this material is familiar, but it would have been easier and probably better had I had a reference like this. It is realistic, recognizing that the average writer may not have the patience to work out all the details before getting into the action. “Only you can decide where to begin, but it's recommended to take any idea and run with it, writing down whatever occurs to you. If there are problems with it, they can be fixed later as you update and improve upon it.” So you can use this volume as a reference while you are writing, and return to it when your writing flags. “So where to you start? Where your heart lies.”

Newspaper item titled “You just cannot multitask.” Its thesis is that you need to focus on one thing at a time, or lose efficiency. Toggling back and forth between tasks actually slows you and impedes creativity. Truly innovative thinking occurs in monotasking, following a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas. That's persuasive, but wrong. We constantly multitask, and benefit significantly thereby. For example, when I make the mile and a half loop along our drive to pick up newspapers or mail, part of my attention is on my feet as I walk, run, scoot, or trike along, and on the territory, noting the scenery, plants, and bunnies along the way. Most of my mind is on the current nuance of the fiction I am writing at the moment, and often enough I get nice breakthroughs then. Two quite different tasks, and meanwhile my body is tending it its own functions, like breathing, digestion, and memory processing. We spend much, perhaps most, of our lives on autopilot, our bodies doing routine things like making beds, washing dishes, eating meals, driving to work, and other repetitive chores, while our minds explore more interesting things, such as just what the cute neighbor girl meant when she glanced sidelong at you and quirked a smile. The problem comes when we try to do two physical things at once, like making beds while washing dishes, or two mental things, like reading a book while talking with a friend. Driving while texting is a no-no, of course; both require attention and eyes. But you can listen to a radio song while driving, or an audio version of one of my novels. So multitasking is a fact of life. Just don't abuse it.

Provocative sport decision: a female golf player had a two stroke lead. Then a viewer noticed something from the film of the prior day's play. She had had a one foot putt, marked her ball, put it back and made her shot. But she had inadvertently put it back in a slightly different place. No one noticed until the spectator saw the replay. So they retroactively penalized her two strokes for that, and then, because she had signed her score card which was, retroactively, decided to be wrong, she got another two stroke penalty. So instead of being two strokes ahead she was two strokes behind, and it cost her the match. This is what golf officials feel is fair play? In other sports, if the officials miss an infraction, it is ignored, especially when it make no difference in the play. She could have sunk that one foot putt from any place around it. Maybe we should apply those rules to other sports, and retroactively change the scores of football, basketball, baseball games and such, because of fouls the officials missed at the time. Or maybe the dunderheads who evidently rule golf should be called to account. Maybe when they die and go to Heaven, St. Peter should penalize them retroactively four marks for that wrong decision and they will wind up in Hell, where their concept of fairness is standard. Then justice will have been served, no?

I was sent a link to a site relating to which countries have the least internet freedom. I do believe freedom in important, but am not sure that the status of a given country with respect to internet freedom is relevant to my interest here at HiPiers, which is mainly promotion of my books, helping other writers find publishers, and exhibition of my opinionations. But for those who are interested, here is the site: https://www.comparitech.com/blog/informaton-security/cyber-security-statistics/

Interesting word: Mpemba, though it is not in my big dictionaries. Take a cup of hot water and a cup of cold water and put them in a cold environment, and some folk claim the hot water will freeze faster than the cold water. This is called the Mpemba effect. This should be very easy to test, but it seems there has been no credible experiment to verify it. I think it's nonsense, and suspect that it such time as a test is done, the word will fade from circulation.

Which brings me back to another fantasy concept: Dark Matter, which I have discussed before. It is conjectured to exist because galaxies spin faster than they should without flying apart, so they figure they must be more massive that they look and conjecture that this ghostly stuff provides the extra. Only problem is that they can't find it, any more than they can find any other invisible ghost. A more likely explanation is that they simply don't understand how gravity works on that scale. One alternate theory is MOND, or Modified Newtonian Dynamics, which says that gravity is a bit different at the galactic range than it is up close. Another is that it is an emergent phenomenon relating to entanglement. Maybe the way human literature is emergent when we get a large enough number of smart apes together learning language.

I believe in free speech, from the First Amendment on down. But it is getting difficult it places. What about those who freely spread falsehoods? They have been known to win elections thereby. Now it seems there are those who, in the name of liberalism, are practicing censorship. Banning conservative speakers from college campuses; rioting in the streets and beating up supporters of conservative causes; that sort of thing. I have been out of college for some time—I gradated in 1956—but if a conservative speaker came to make his case, I'd listen, then refute his nonsense in an orderly matter. Now with the internet and anonymous bots the lies can drown out the truth. But if we start censuring the bad stuff as obscene, soon it won't be safe to say “America and Apple Pie” without getting censored for obscenity. I don't know the answer.

One of my concerns is food. That is, with more and more people and dwindling resources, there may come an ugly crunch where there simply isn't enough food to go around, and mass starvation won't be limited to dark Africa. Article in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that we may have to acquire new tech and tastes. Such as city rooftop farms. Such as farming algae. Such as eating insects. Termites, grasshoppers, and caterpillars are better sources of protein than beef or chicken and eat under one tenth the feed. There's efficiency for you! Now they can make yeast that produces milk using only a tenth the land that a cow does. Or we can grind up insects and whatnot to powder, then use that as toner for 3D printing any kind of food you care for. As a vegetarian I suffer some mixed feelings about this sort of thing, but it's definitely interesting. Face it: our overuse of sugar is fattening us into early death. These alternatives could change that, or at least make sugar much cheaper.

Health: eating right is important, but so is exercise. I do both, of course. But there are different types and intensities of exercise. Now it seems that interval training is excellent: short bursts of intense activity interspersed with recovery periods of lower intensity exercise. Our body energy is produced by the mitochondria, but as we age they become less efficient. It seems that interval training can not only slow that process, but sometimes actually reverse it. That smells like getting younger. The best single exercise is running, and I practice that also. Another item says that one hour of running may add seven hours to your life, and runners live about three years longer than non-runners. I am 82 and don't look it. However I doubt I'll ever look 18 again. I will have more on life extension next column; there are interesting breakthroughs.

One of my passing interests is the Shroud of Turin. That's the cloth that supposedly covered Jesus Christ when he died. Some time back it was debated, and I read an article in THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER more or less disparaging it, while the Catholic Church wanted to know whether it was real. Now I am a skeptic about Jesus; I like him, and had him as a character in my big novel Tarot, but I am not sure he ever existed as a person. I am more certain about God and the Afterlife: they don't exist. But in that debate I pretty much sided with the Catholic Church. Why? Because SKEPTICAL seemed to be out to prove the Shroud was a fake, while the Church, which really does believe in magic though they don't call it that, preferring to call it miracles, just wanted to know the truth. I prefer an open mind to a closed one. The conclusion finally was that the Shroud was indeed a fake, unsurprisingly. But now, nigh 40 years later, the question has reactivated. There seems to be new evidence, or new interpretation of old evidence. There was blood on the shroud, red, when it should have dried black. But when a person is tortured, the liver produces bilirubin, which keeps the blood red forever. Jesus was tortured. It was type AB, found in only about two percent of the population, with the highest percentage in Palestine, where Jesus was. They could even determine that some blood was pre-mortem—before death—and some postmortem, or after death. The blood was on the cloth before the image was. Other details contributed to the conclusion that the man was tortured to death on a cross. The fabric was the type used in those days, but carbon dating showed it to be from 1260-1318, way after Jesus' time. However, the shroud had been stored in a casket with silver brackets; a fire broke out, melting the silver and burning portions of the shroud. That would have messed up the carbon dating. All of which leaves a reasonable doubt. It may indeed be a fake, but the case is not closed.

Peace: historians determined that since 3600 BC the world has known only 300 years of peace; there have been over 14,000 wars, killing more than three and a half billion people. I will have more to say on that in future, too; violence is not necessarily all bad.

Now a long-running study indicates that lowering salt in the diet doesn't lower blood pressure. Now they tell us. My wife has been on a low salt diet for decades, and I have gradually lost my taste for salt. We probably won't change at this late date.

Newspaper reports say that there may have been Neandertals in California more than a hundred thousand years ago. I believe it. In fact, I conjecture that they never left. They merged with the incoming folk and took over the movie industry. That would account for a lot of the violence and stupidity, wouldn't it?

Meanwhile, as mentioned above, I completed writing Xanth #43, Jest Right, 102,000 words, about a young woman nobody takes seriously, so she becomes a jester. She does great making folk laugh, but she falls in love with the show's proprietor, who recognizes her as his sort of woman intellectually, but he can't take her seriously emotionally. That complicates their love life. Then they encounter a deadly serious threat to Xanth, and must work with children from Xanth #39 Five Portraits to try to thwart it. I think it's a good novel, and I hope you agree at such time as it gets published.

And Doug Harter has updated the Xanth Character Database; you can find it in its place at the site. I do appreciate the way some fans do the work that is now too complicated for my senile mind.

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