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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
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I read the 350,000 word novel The Passage by Justin Cronin. This is a best selling critically acclaimed science fiction story, though of course not recognized as such because critics can't conceive of anything in the lowly SF genre being high quality. I say yet again, the fault is with the ignorant critics, not the genre. The author was talking with his nine year old daughter, and asked her what a book should be about, and she said “A girl who saves the world.” So they discussed that concept, and in due course he fell in love with it, and here is the result. Would you believe, it is only the first part of the story; I have the second part, The Twelve, and must decide when to read and review it. It is about Amy, patterned after the author's daughter, who is effectively orphaned at age 6 but has a special quality that carries her safely through horrendous dangers and gets unlikely people to help her significantly. Such as a secret government experiment that incidentally looses a virus that turns folk into vampire-like monsters, “virals,” that slaughter the regular population; what they don't eat, they convert. The agent who is sent to track Amy down winds up falling in love with her as a daughter, and safeguarding her despite dying himself. Amy, aging at about the rate of about one year in fifteen, shows up at a California survivalist camp almost a century later seeming about twelve, where Peter and his friends protect her. She is a Walker, one who walks among the deadly virals with impunity. Then they set out to return Amy to her place of origin, not where she was born, but where she became special, in the laboratory in Colorado. It is a horrendous excursion. As the volume concludes, they have eliminated one master of virals and are setting out to do the same to the other eleven masters so that mankind can be safe again. That will be no easy task, in part because the virals are telepathically coordinated. The narration is tense, with many surprises, and nice characterization; it is a superior novel despite the approval of public and critics.

I watched Dungeons & Dragons. This is a sort of parody of classic fantasy adventure with elves, dwarves, dragons, blue and green aliens, and weird magic. The evil mage Profion wants to take over the Empire of Izmer. He tries to control a dragon, but the beast resists and has to be killed. So he plots to undermine the power of Empress. It turns out to be up to the student mage Marina and two thieves to foil him. There follows an impossibly wild adventure as the good guys fight the bad guys, with some neutrals mixing in. Finally, of course, our hero Ridley enters the Dungeon. There are distractions, like gold coins and jewelry, but he perseveres and wins the Rod of Power. Then has to give it to the other side to save Marina. There follows a wild battle, and they finally save the Empire. Standard elements throughout, but a fun movie.

And the sequel, Wrath of the Dragon God, with quite different in flavor. Sir Berek fears he is losing his edge. His lovely wife Melora is a mage, and together they protect the kingdom of Ismer (not Izmer; this is a century later), but he longs to return to the field. Then he receives a plea from a village in trouble: a dragon in sleeping under their mountain. When the black Orb is freed, that dragon will wake and devastate the land. Berek must go to fetch the Orb, traveling with the beautiful warrior maiden Lux, and the lady mage Ormwaline, as Melora is unwell. In fact she is dying of a magic ailment. This could of course be mischief. Berek's party is ambushed by a huge dragon-like flying monster, and one man is killed before they stop it. Meanwhile back home. Melora has a vision, and they locate a hidden device. Berek alone returns with the Orb. But the enemy gets it, and the evil lord seemingly prevails. The dragon blasts fire on the town. Then Melora gets the Orb and fights back. They end the curse and kill the dragon. Melora recovers. They have won. For now.

I watched Cat Run. Catalina, or Cat, is a high end call girl in Europe who comes across a hard drive with nuclear information and has to flee truly dangerous folk. Such as Helen, a polite lady assassin who is completely ruthless about getting the information she needs. For example she has a little metal device she puts on a man's toe, and crunch! His toe is cut off. She can use it for other extremities. Cat's father hires two amateur detectives, Anthony and Julian, to find Cat before the mob does, to try to save her life. They rescue her baby and bring him to her, but the assassin is close behind, leaving a trail of dead bystanders. But Helen's boss hires another assassin, a truly brutal man who captures them and is about to kill them after having his pleasure of Cat. If they cooperate he'll kill them quickly; if not he'll torture them to death, including the baby. He abruptly gets his head blown off. Helen shows up; it seems she was annoyed by being replaced. Now she is on their side. They go after the hard drive as a team, and Helen takes out all the bad guys and herself. Or did she survive? We have to hope so, because she's the most evocative character in the movie.

The sequel is Cat Run 2. Anthony and Julian are running a restaurant. Meanwhile nude girls raid a military base and steal computer data before shooting it out with the personnel. This time the high end call girl is not Cat, and is an assassin. She pursues Anthony and Julian when they poke around the bayou, finding evidence of human remains. I wasn't able to make much sense of it. There's a nice fight between two enhanced robotic girls. The restaurant is in a cooking contest, and Anthony wins. This does not seem equal to the original movie.

I watched The Happy Hooker. It starts with girls being checked in a police station or prostitution. One is Xaviera, and we segue into how she got here. She came from Holland to get married, but quickly gets disenchanted with her fiancee's mother-dominated family and leaves. She gets a job, meets an interesting man who treats her very well—but regards her as a high class call girl. She's furious, having thought their relationship was more serious, but concludes that this is not a bad kind of life. She tries out for a strip tease show, and wows them. She becomes fabulously successful. There are some nice sequences as she role-plays for clients. Until the local policeman strikes. So she goes to Madam Madeleine, who runs a really accommodating establishment. Xaviera turns out to be more than competent; she can handle the weird ones. Soon she's running her own sex business. Then she buys out Madeleine. She becomes the most successful such outfit in New York. Then the police spring a trap and they all get arrested. So she moves on; it's part of the business. Overall, this is a better movie than I expected; it's not erotic so much as about the business.

The sequel is The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington. A new, cuter actress plays Xaviera. Congress is cracking down on prostitution, and Xaviera is summoned to testify. It is hilarious sexy madcap. She is recruited by the CIA for a secret mission: to distract a sheikh so that he misses a key meeting. She succeeds in wild fashion. Then she meets his harem, and he drives her to the airport. Then, back at the hearing, they want to try her for treason, but she presents the sexy girls the judges have been dallying with, and we see their wild cavorting. So much for their hypocrisy. What a romp!

And The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. Another new actress for Xaviera. Sigh; I liked the second one. A studio wants to make a movie from her book and of course she's interested, but goes there herself to make sure they do it right. The producer's handsome son seduces her and plans to give the role to a neighbor woman who has no respect for her. She finds out and dumps the deal. But he manages to persuade her to return and make it with a rival studio. They can't get financing, so barter the favors of Xaviera's girls for the various services they need. And they get raided by the police, thanks to the opposition. So Xaviera fights back, dirty, using her sex appeal. She tricks the main two men into coming to her in a dark room, but they wind up together, locked in naked. They manage to make the film in time, but the opposition steals it just before the big premier. Car chase to get it back, barely in time. It's a big success. So the good girls prevail after all.

I watched Transformers—The Last Knight. It has fantastic special effects but is confusingly fast moving and I may have details wrong. It starts with a battle in King Arthur's time, that legend suitably garbled, when Merlin makes a deal to gain a Staff so he can summon a dragon for victory. Then it jumps 1600 years later. Optimus Prime, leader of the transformers, those marvelous animate conglomerations of machines, discovers his home world ruined. He must recover the last Staff to rebuild it. That staff was hidden on Earth, when Merlin got it. Meanwhile the transformers are hiding out in a junkyard in the forms of assorted animals, some of which are like pets. Anthony Hopins presides over the estate and explains. We learn that all the top figures of human art and history belonged to a society whose purpose was to conceal the presence of the cybertrons. Only a direct descendant of Merlin can wield the Staff, and that is the young lady professor Bee. Now she and the young man inventor Cade must find the Staff, hidden somewhere on the premises, or maybe somewhere else. They find Merlin's grave, and the bones of Merlin, and throw away the battered staff in his coffin. Uh-oh. But Bee picks it up, then has to give it to Nemesis Prime. Optimus Prime says that they must go to Cybertron and destroy Quintessa, the queen of the transformers. The cybertrons join in that endeavor. They finally win, and Optimus calls all autobots to hide again. The danger is over—for now.

I watched Wonder Woman, the remake. I reviewed the original earlier this year. She starts as Princess Diana, a little girl eager to train with the Amazons, but her mother forbids it, wanting to protect her. But she trains anyway, and it seems she is something special, but doesn't know it. Then when she is grown, Steve, an American pilot comes to their island, pursued by World War One German soldiers. She saves him. The Germans charge and the Amazons fight them and kill them, but take losses themselves. Diana concludes that the evil god Ares must be behind it, so she departs with Steve to locate and kill Ares. In London she learns to dress like a mundane woman. Bad guys attack Steve, and Diana fights them off. Her bracelets can stop bullets. She goes into battle and routs the Germans, saving a starving Flemish village. The villagers celebrate. He teaches her how to dance the waltz. The German general plans to release poison gas just before the armistice, wiping everybody out. Diana has to stop that. She fights and kills the general, who is Ares, but the war continues. The evil is more pervasive than that. The God of Truth tells her that the evil is in all of them. Ares manifests at last directly, and she fights him. But he is no easy mark. She finally defeats him in a phenomenal battle and peace comes to the world. But it seems that Steve is among the dead, alas.

I watched Far From Heaven. Cathy and Frank seem to have it all, circa 1950s New England: nice house, two nice children, he a successful executive, she on top of the myriad little chores around the house. Naturally all is not as it seems. She catches him kissing another man. No wonder their love life is thin. Now their perfect marriage is a sham. She goes on a drive with her black gardener, a man much more her type, which turns into a date. Others, both white and black, who see them together, radiate disapproval. They eat at a black restaurant. They dance. This is of course mischief. Word spreads rapidly, affecting her best friend, her children, her husband. Open racism manifests. I wince to see it; I grew up in that region and time and know it is true, though it was never my way. The marriage breaks up, the gardener has to move away, and Cathy is essentially alone. All because of racial and gay prejudice.

I watched Alien Covenant. It starts with the animation of the android David in the year 2104. they are on a spaceship with a crew of 15. Then there's a power surge because of a stellar flare and the ship is in trouble. It loses 47 colonists and the ship captain. Then a perfect planet for colonization turns up nearby. That could save them a seven year journey, but it seems too good to be true. So they take a look. They send a lander. Beautiful mountains. No birds, no animals, but breathable atmosphere. A foot party discovers Earthly wheat growing. What looks like swirling dust flies into a crewman's ear and into his body. He gets sick. His skin erupts and something like a giant lizard-insect emerges from his body and attacks the woman trying to help him. Soon there are several of the creatures attacking crew members. Then the android David shows up, and explains how he was one of only two survivors of the last Prometheus excursion ten years ago. It carried a biological weapon that has now been loosed. David loosed it and perfected it. He sees himself as the Creator. The ship departs, but a couple of the creatures are aboard it, leading to a tense conclusion. The journey to the distant system resumes, but it seems the virus is along. Walter the android who replaced David has betrayed them.

I watched Star Trek, the movie. I've had it for six years and can't figure why I didn't watch it before; it must have slipped through the cracks until I found it when sorting out videos. Different actors approximating the appearance of the originals, close enough. By damn, this does what the Star Trek TV series never did: it fills in a story background that set up the series. This goes into the genesis and childhoods of Kirk and Spock; both were rebels throughout. Kirk meets Uhura in passing, and McCoy, “Bones,” Sulu, and others. Their training is interrupted by an emergency mission as Romulans from the future attack under the command of Nero, who hates the Federation and means to destroy it. Complications ensue, and Speck becomes captain of the Enterprise, and then Kirk. Then Spock and Kirk work together on a mission to stop Nero, and succeed. An interesting detail: Uhura's first name turns out to be Nyota, and she and Spock develop a thing for each other. We never saw that in the original series; they kept the secret well. The actress for the original one was a good looking woman, always posed to show off her legs; the new actress is a better looking one. And so at the end we have the beginning of the original series. I love it.

I resumed watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, picking up where I left off before, with episode #8 by my count. Remember, I was curious whether Next could match the quality of the original series, and am already satisfied that it does, and may even be superior. This episode is “The Battle,” where the Enterprise is contacted by a Ferengi ship. Its Captain Bok comes aboard, with his giant ears, speaking of the Battle of Maxia, nine years ago. They have Picard's old ship, the Stargazer, which they are returning to him. It is a curious business. Meanwhile Picard has a mysterious headache. We learn it is sent by the Ferengi. What mischief are they up to? They are definitely messing with his brain, Bok seeking vengeance for what he deems a past wrong. They catch on and destroy the sphere controlling Picard's thoughts, and survive.

#9 “Hide and Q”: they get an emergency call to help a colony with people dying, but are intercepted by Q, an alien power. He takes five of the crew to a desolate planet, leaving Picard isolated in a non-responsive bridge. Things change, and it becomes a test of Riker. He is given magical powers so he can give others their fondest wishes. Will this power corrupt him, or the others who receive these gifts? It's a close call, but they decline them, and so prevail.

  1. #10 “Haven”: they have a layover at an ideal vacation planet, Haven; naturally that changes. On the way there. Counselor Deanna Troi discovers to her chagrin that she is to be married to one Wyatt, whom she has not met before. She can't escape it. She would, it seems, rather be with Riker, but she's stuck. The wedding party arrives, including her bossy telepathic mother. Wyatt turns out to be a decent young man whose romantic interest is also elsewhere, in an imaginary girl Ariana, but he too is stuck. Meanwhile a Terellian ship also approaches Haven, and this is mischief because the Terellians are infected with a deadly plague that will wipe out the planet. Then it turns out that Ariana is real, and aboard the plague ship. Wyatt beams across to her, with medicine, hoping to save them. That frees Deanna.

#11 “The Big Goodbye”: a holo program enables Picard to enter a play set in San Francisco 1941 as a fictional private detective Dixon Hill. It all seems quite real. In fact when a client woman kisses him, he emerges from the scene with a smear of lipstick on his mouth. He returns with three others from the ship: Data, Dr. Crusher, Whalen—I'm not clear who that last is. There's a glitch and they get locked in, and Whalen gets shot. This has become all too real!

#12 ”Datalore”: They visit Data's home planet. He's an android; he was found here, alone. The world is dead. They find an access to a subterranean realm, where models of Data are on display. They find and assemble a duplicate, named Lore, and bring him to life. He is mostly just like Data, but slightly superior, better able to understand and emulate humans, but we don't know his motives. He knocks out Data and takes his place, emulating him. Only Wesley catches on, but others refuse to listen to him. But in the end they do catch on, and banish Lore.

I read Errf the 92nd, by Tom Johnson. Errf is a young goblin, the 92nd of that name; it is believed that no goblin of that name ever does well in life. But he has a fighting spirit, and moves remarkably quickly. He gets training in martial arts and becomes a pretty good warrior. Then the king's men come after him, because the king thinks that Errf will replace him. The king arranges to kidnap a number of bigguns children, that is, from topside, humans, elves, and such, and blame it on Errf. So the bigguns invade, and there is fierce fighting before Errf, with the help of stalwart companions including a wizard, finally prevails and becomes king. He returns the children to their folks and makes peace with the topsiders, then arranges to pass the kingship on to a friend so he can go about his own pursuits. It's a straightforward adventure, easy to follow, with violence and mystery and magic but no romance; well enough done for those who like that type.

I read Enter Pale Death by Barbara Cleverly. This is a British mystery novel, out of my genre, but I was intrigued by the description: an experienced horsewoman goes to ride a new horse, and it kills her. Death by misadventure, it seems. But Scotland Yard's Detective Joe Sandilands suspects foul play. However there may be a conflict of interest, as the chief suspect is her husband, who is the academic patron of the girl Dorcas, whom Joe would like to marry. What should he do? So I read it, and learned that the widower is more than the academic patron of Dorcas; he may also be her lover. So much for Joe's romantic interest; the girl is leading him on. He plows ahead, and in due course solves the case, implicating the widower and alienating Dorcas, though he does find another women, in the course of his investigation, who really is more his type. So it's not a loss, as aspects of the conclusion did surprise me; this is a well integrated mystery. Oh, so how was it murder? Someone put a foul chemical on the piece of cake the woman brought to tempt the horse, and it so frightened the beast that it struck out at her. Who did it? Tricky to figure out.

#13 “Angel One.” They visit a female society that has been neglected, because a freighter may have crashed there and there could be survivors. The head Matriarch Beata is evasive, but then says there were four male survivors, dangerous men. Commander Riker has to don a dress to meet with the Beata, while the others search. She promptly seduces him. Tasha Yar, Data, and Deanna Troi locate the survivors, who don't want to go. They are therefore to be executed. Meanwhile a plague is spreading aboard the Enterprise. Fortunately a vaccine is found, and the survivors are spared and exiled to a remote area.

#14 “11001001” They check in for routine maintenance. Twin aliens, the Byners, work to upgrade the ship's computer. They are 10 and 01. They do a great job. Riker tries a simulation of an old time dance hall. He dances with the sexy girl Minuet. Meanwhile an emergency occurs; they can't reach Picard or Riker, who are being distracted in the simulation by Minuet. All other personnel abandon ship. The ship is being hijacked by the Byners. It turns out that they need its computer to store the massive data in their computer while it is down because of a local nova. Picard manages to set things right, saving the Bynars and the ship.

#15 “Too Short a Season” A hostage situation. The terrorists demand a Federation mediator. The Admiral has incurable Iverson's disease, yet he is mending and becoming younger. It seems he is using an alien treatment. The situation is complicated, and the Admiral has some guilt. He tries to rescue the hostages by a raid. He gets captured, but the enemy leader doesn't believe that this now-young man is the Admiral. He is persuaded as the Admiral dies from the effect of the treatment, and the hostages are released.

I watched I, Robot, which sparked my interest because I have long been a fan of robots, and they are people in my novels. It is possible that Isaac Asimov's robots guided my early interest. I don't necessarily agree with his Three Laws of Robotics, but they are an excellent starting point. This starts with a homicide Detective Spooner called in on a case. It seems that Dr. Lanning, a leading robot scientist, committed suicide. But Spooner suspects it was murder, and that a robot did it. A robot, Sonny, appears, but escapes, and hides in a formation of 1,000 identical robots. Spooser nevertheless gets it to make a break, and interviews it when it is captured. He succeeds in making it express anger: it feels emotions, something theoretically impossible. But the robot company won't let it be dissected for analysis. He continues to investigate. Is there a ghost in the machine, making a robot different? A giant robotic machine attacks his house. Coincidence? He tries to persuade the lady Doctor Susan Calvin, who works with robots, to help him, bus she thinks he's just an irrational robot-a-phobe. Then robots attack him in his car. What a sequence! But as Susan learns more, she comes to appreciate his position. Sonny has in effect free will. Why was he built? Sonny says his father—the scientist who made him—enabled him to dream, for a reason. What reason? But the company says he has to be destroyed. Susan saves him and Sonny becomes their ally as hell breaks loose in a virtual war between robots and humans. This is what Dr. Lanning feared but was prevented from saying directly: the three laws would lead to revolution. There's a hell of a climax. I think this is one of the best movies I've seen this year.

I watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. I was curious about this since it came out. Katniss is asked to be the Mockingjay, the symbolic leader of the rebellion, but she is angry that her friend Peeta was left to be captured. But she sees the devastation wrought by the government of Panem, and realizes that she must oppose it. She uses bomb tipped arrows that can bring down bomber planes. She and her friend Gale go where the enemy bombs a hospital, leaving no survivors, and broadcasts that to the rebels. And to the Capitol: “If we burn, you burn with is.” It is their rallying cry. Also the song she sings, about meeting at midnight in the hanging tree. This is one grim story, showing the enormous brutality and ugliness of real war. It's not just bombing hospitals. It's the cruel use of people for propaganda. Those who refuse to perform know that someone they love will be killed. You don't say no to the tyrant. Peeta is rescued, amazingly—and tries to kill Katniss. He has been conditioned to do that; that's why the Capitol let him go. And that concludes Part 1. The story is not nearly over.

I watched The Stepford Wives. I've known of it for some time, but don't think I've actually seen it before. I know there was a sort of sequel that changed the basic premise and had the wives getting restored. Let's see what this 2004 remake is. It starts with a Reality Show where a husband spends several days with a sexy prostitute and the wife with several super he-men. Husband is true, but wife deserts him. He winds up killing several people and the show's organizer, Joanna, gets sacked and suffers a nervous breakdown. She and her family take a break to visit Stepford, a quiet small town paradise in Connecticut, where the entertainment consists of public picnics, square dancing, book clubs, and cooking classes. The men are typical men with their faults, but the wives are marvelously accommodating. Maybe too accommodating; they are like sex kittens, even in the daytime. One seems to be a pretty robot. There are remote controls of some kind with the wives' names on them. Something is definitely odd; Joanna is suspicious. She investigates and discovers that all the women here were top executives before, but now are pretty playthings. Well, they turn out to be computer-chip controlled enhanced living women. Joanna gets revamped into a sexy blonde. But husband sneaks into the changing room and reverses Joanna's programming. It turns out that some men, too, are robots. In the end, things are reversed, with the men being obedient house husbands. This was supposedly a horror movie, but wound up funny. So it's not the same story, but this will do.

I watched Automata. A tough environment has reduced Earth's population to about 21 million people. Earth's desolate surface is almost unlivable; people must live sealed in their houses or heavily dressed. Robots called Pilgrims are designed to protect people; they must not harm people or change their own programming. Then it seems a robot is harming people. Jacq Vaucan is assigned to investigate. You might think this movie would be similar to I, Robot, reviewed above, and it is to a degree. Jacq checks around, and questions a robot, but it destroys itself rather than answer. That is suspicious. They put its nucleus into a lady robot, Cleo, and she starts acting independent. She steals a car and drives off. Jacq is in it. This is mischief. It crashes, and the robot will not help him return to the city. There seems to be robot company executive involvement; they are covering up something. Cleo does seem to be trying to help him now. It is uncertain which side she is on. Why is it unsafe to return to the city? Because the robots say they will be killed. They are alive. Jacq dances with Cleo, an odd and evocative sequence. In one sense she is a machine with a mask-like face, clearly artificial bare breasts, similar buttocks; in another, she is a feeling woman. In the end Jacq is reunited with his wife and new baby, and Cleo walks toward the high radiation area where humans can't follow. The implication is that there will be a community of living robots who do not serve humans. I was highly impressed with I, Robot; I am more impressed with Automata. The other movie has the big budget pyrotechnics; this small budget one has the quiet conviction.

I watched The Black Hole. Mattie Carver is a high school violinist who starts to experience hallucinations, such as blood dripping onto her music sheet. Seeing people who aren't there. Not seeing people who are there. During music practice she passes out. When a bully threatens the boy she likes, she steps in meets the bully's eye, and he backs off. A rug changes color. Things are, as she puts it, weird. Then two men take her unwillingly to a door in the forest that opens into a church. They tell her that they are figments, not existing in this realm. Then she and several others watch a strange scary movie. 3D glasses make it stranger yet. It shows scenes from their lives. Then Mattie finds herself tied in a chair, about to be tortured. Then the movie is over and they are back in reality. She goes to the hospital where a girl is near death—Mattie herself? Her friend Jess is freaked out because she saw Mattie in the hospital, yet now Mattie is back in normal life, with no knowledge of any accident putting her in the hospital. Then the movie shows the accident where Mattie is seriously injured. This was where the reality change started. It may be that all of the weirdness and the movie business are from her mind as she lies in the hospital. That's why they can't get out of it. Mattie goes again to see herself in the hospital. She wakes, and it seems recovers and resumes her normal life. So the black hole is mental rather than astronomical, and the weirdness is imaginary.

On Christmas Day I watched Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song. The Doctor's long time companion River Song has a husband who is dying, so she sends for the finest surgeon in the galaxy to fix him. She believes that's Doctor Who. Uh-oh. She doesn't recognize him in this body. The most valuable diamond in the galaxy is stick in Husband's head; it must be gotten out. They remove the head from the body; he's a cyborg. They crash on a snowy slope, where River meets another husband. She steals the Tardis, or tries to. They wind up on a cruise ship traversing the fourth galaxy of its seven galaxy tour. The travelers are wealthy humans and aliens. They have the head in a bag, where it continues to protest and threaten. The Doctor and River finish at the Singing Towers for a romantic night that will be 24 years long. This is a wild Christmas story.

I watched Djinns Stranded, a French film with English subtitles. French paratroopers go into the Algerian desert to locate a missing plane and its crew of ten. They find the wreckage but no survivors, just eight bodies and a sealed metal attache case labeled TOP SECRET. Then they are ambushed by enemy soldiers. They escape in a sand storm, then capture some of the enemy soldiers. They find an abandoned fortress with some native woman and children. They are warned of malevolent spirits, the Djinns, who take over living bodies and make mischief, such as hallucinations and madness. Beset by visions of horror, they wind up killing each other and themselves. One stays to help the natives; the other survivor takes the attache case back to the army. Inside it was the order to set off the first French nuclear bomb there in Algeria. This is a weird mix of fantasy, science fiction, and gritty warfare.

I watched Phantom Planet, a 1961 movie. The technical effects seem primitive, of course. It is set in the distant future of 1980, no typo. A planet sized object has been appearing and disappearing in local space, and the authorities want to investigate. But the ship is drawn in and shrunk by a tractor beam, and Captain Frank is caught on a little asteroid where six inch tall people live. Then he shrinks down to their size and is taken prisoner. Two pretty girls take him in hand and show him around. He is required to fight a duel. He wins but spares his opponent, who then becomes his ally. A captive monster escapes, but they fight it off. Frank wins the love of a pretty girl, but then has to return to Earth without her. Maybe.

I mentioned my lower denture last month. In Dismember I had serious work done. Since I already had eight tooth implants in the lower jaw, this promised to be relatively simple. Uh-huh. My dentist had to remove the tops of those teeth and replace them with locators, that is, the fixtures to which the new denture will clip. These are not loose dentures; they clip into place so they are firm for chewing. But one of the implants turned out to be a single unit, from bone to crown. No way to remove the top, as with the others. He had to saw through it, and it had titanium, which meant it was good and hard. Think of it as like a tree, with the chainsaw cutting it off at the ground line. Only my ground is living gum. Then, because there was no place for a locator, he simply had to leave the lower portion buried, unconnected. Not danger of it rotting there; it will outlast me. It's just there out of sight. If my skull should turn up in a museum when aliens explore the smoking planet where mankind once lived, they will wonder why this creature bothered to install an unconnected tooth. It will be a mystery for their archaeological textbooks. If they happen to know this one was a writer, they will nod their eyeballs and agree that writers were known to be crazy anyway. Three days later, setting up the locators, he discovered that my gums had already regrown, covering some of the surfaces, and had to be pushed back. He had to give me Novocaine, as those new gums were complete with nerves. Even so, it was uncomfortable and at times painful. Now I have a temporary denture while the permanent one is being made, and it continues uncomfortable to painful. Maybe more gum has grown in. I can chew, but only lightly before the pain stops me. So the Xmas holiday season has not been much fun for eating. I put the lower denture in only for meals and for going to town; otherwise I leave it out, recovering for the next siege. But with luck, once this is done, I will never have another tooth problem.

I have been a member of AUTHORS GUILD for 38 years, generally inactive, as it seemed that when I needed help, they had better things to do. Such as when I showed them that a publisher's statements of account on one of my books were works of fiction. But, AG pointed out, they audited only hardcover books, and mine were paperback, so they were not interested. That left an awkward taste in my mouth; evidently they served aristocrats while I was a peon. But they do do good work and I generally support them. This time they sent a statement to their members that an outfit called INTERNET ARCHIVE was scanning and making copyrighted books available to their members, in the manner of a library, for a small fee. Oh? This smelled faintly of pirating. All my books have been pirated on the Internet, but that does not mean I approve, just that the powers that be don't seem to care much about enforcing author's rights. We're just trying to earn our living; who else cares about that? We checked, and found 50 of my books there. So I wrote to IA asking them to remove my books from their lending library. And they did. I'll be darned. So I have no quarrel with them, and if you want to read books that are in the public domain, go there and join their library.

Politics: letter in the newspaper by Anthony Artemisio points out that with the reduction in taxes for the corporations, there will soon come a time when the government is running out of money. Then they will use that as a pretext to cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Exactly. The point is ultimately to reward the rich and screw the poor. Columnist David Brooks says that the Republican Party is rotting. The middle ground no longer exists, because Donald Trump never stops asking. “There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom.” Republicans figured it would pass, but it won't. “The Republican party I grew up with admired excellence.” He concludes: “The rot afflicting the GOP is comprehensive—moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: 'I'm homeless. I'm politically homeless.'” Sad. An article in NEW SCIENTIST says that power really does corrupt. Or rather, it amplifies traits that were there to begin with. “A person who uses power for corrupt ends was probably corrupt all along.” Another newspaper article says “Absent accountability and oversight all human institutions grow increasingly corrupt and incompetent.” That explains a lot. How did Republicans get to rule, when they are in the minority numerically? By organized, nationwide gerrymandering. As long as voting districts are drawn by the politicians, instead of by an objective committee, this will continue.

Health: now we know that Big Sugar knew about the harmful effects of sugar fifty years ago, and suppressed the study so as to protect profits. Yes, I remember when popular health adviser Dr. Stare had nary a word to say against sugar. Now obesity in children is rising globally. For example, in 1975 there were five million girls aged 5-19 who were obese; in 2016 it was fifty million. They have found that bullying causes physical changes in the victim's brain, leading to depression. There is now a male fertility crisis; a substantial portion of young men have a sperm count that impairs fertility. They aren't sure why. I have a suggestion: global warming. Men have their testicles in an external scrotum to keep them cooler than the body temperature, for improved function. But if that external realm warms up, what then? So maybe as the world heats, the birth rate will drop, maybe solving the overpopulation problem. What a neat outcome! But I don't trust it. For one thing, it could be another advantage for the rich, who can afford air conditioning, while the poor laborers slowly go extinct. Another idea I have is pollution, which contains trace minerals like mercury and arsenic that are not good to breathe or eat, but when they are everywhere, you're stuck. One of them may affect fertility. Loneliness: not only does it make you feel bad, it affects your health. Lonely folk are more likely to get inflammation, dementia, and to die prematurely. It's worse than obesity. Apart from that, life spans are rising in other weal[thy nations, but are falling in the USA. Other nations have universal health care, whereas here it's your money or your life, and most folk don't have enough money. Obamacare is trying to ease that, so that is being savagely attacked. Even Daylight saving Time is problematical: there are more heart attacks when it starts, and less when it ends. There's a move on to establish one universal 24 hour clock; folk would simply get up at different times by their local clocks. It works in China.

Item in the newspaper by Stephen Greenblatt titled “Why Holiday Stories Matter” makes a persuasive case I think not just for holidays, but for mankind. How did humans learn cooperative behavior such as food sharing, the care of others, the coordination of tasks, the acceptance of social norms? “The answer, it seems, has everything to do with the stories we tell.” Yes indeed. I, as a storyteller, naturally believe that my profession is the basis of the nature of mankind, but it does make sense. I feel that our kind prevailed over Neandertal man, who was in many respects better suited to life in Europe and Asia than we, because we were able to organize into larger groups without dissolving into quarrels and internal combat. Why? Because storytellers unified us. Children remained safely in the corral where they were safe while their elders went out to hunt and forage, because storytellers held them spellbound in the manner of a Star Wars movie. Those same storytellers educated them about our society's conventions, because children naturally emulate the heroes described. And they learned the nuances of ever more sophisticated language, perhaps the single greatest unifier. Storytellers were the true shapers of our kind, and I think remain so today. So I am glad to see others catching on to this essential profession of our species. Storytellers triumphant!

Uber Humor forwarded to me: “If you read the Bible from Judas' point of view it's the story of a concerned citizen infiltrating and successfully disbanding a dangerous cult hell bent on convincing the world they'll be better off after they die.” By one Chris Purchase. Phrased as humor, but think about it. It has been said that the authorities find religion useful, as it pacifies the masses. Promise them a fantasy Heaven after they die, so they won't fuss about the Hell their living lives can be.

Other notes: one third of all food grown in a year is wasted. In North America a third of the waste occurs in agriculture, and 39 percent in consumption. The rest is in processing. That is regrettable, but our experience with the power failure from Hurricane Irma show me that sometimes it can't be helped. They are confirming that the extinction of the dinosaurs let the mammals—that's us—come out into the day, after a hundred million years in the dark. That of course is why we survived: we were underground when the meteor struck and took out the surface rulers. Otherwise we'd probably still be underground. Article in NEW SCIENTIST on seven elements that rules the waves. Iron, on which ocean life depends. Nitrogen, which promotes algal growth. Phosphorus, which is part of the structure of DNA, so this too is vital. Selenium, the Goldilocks element, because too much or too little messes everything up. Mercury, not a force for good; it is toxic in more than a trace. I mentioned it in my paragraph on Health, above. There is getting to be too much of it in the sea. Lead, ditto. Neodymium, a trace element I never heard of before. It is essentially neutral, health-wise, but useful to help trace fellow travelers. We need to know more about the elemental soup in the sea, lest it get out of whack and wipe us out. AI, artificial intelligence, is advancing. Computers will soon be able to present fake news, such as the image of a public figure saying things that destroy that figure's reputation. Who will control the AI power? And a question in NEW SCIENTIST: is it time to abandon monogamy? Open relationships may work better than closed ones. Housing: now they are building houses out of huge used cargo containers. Pretty good homes, too.

I read one more book in 2017: THE ONION MAGAZINE—THE ICONIC COVERS THAT TRANSFORMED AN UNDESERVING WORLD. The Onion is a humor magazine that takes off on everything, and their weekly magazine covers reflect it. “America's Homeless—Still The Best In The World?” “Falling—is This Your Year?” “Our Fragile Ecosystem—Can It Continue To Turn A Profit?” “The 100 Worst Senators.” “Could Your Children Suddenly Drop Dead For No Reason?” “America's 50 Poorest People.” “10 Parking Spots That Are Open Right Now If You Hurry” “10 Hot Tips For Covering Up At The Beach, Because We Know You Ignored Our 10 Hot Tips For Getting A Beach Bod.” “The Top 100 Companies That Aren't Hiring Right Now.” “Where Is God Hiding?” And so on; you get the idea.

New danger: getting doxed. That's when someone publishes your personal information against your will. Such as soliciting pornography in your name, getting your bank account hacked and stolen from, or your employer being informed, falsely, that you are an alcoholic. There could be real mischief here. I am sensitive to this sort of thing, from when I was lied about in an attempt to wash me out of publishing, because I had demanded a correct accounting from a cheating publisher. The liars can prosper at the expense of the honest folk. How can you, as a third party, know the truth? It's a rough game.

I have been clearing my decks so I can write the next Xanth novel, #44 Skeleton Key. I have almost 14,000 words of notes on it, and it should move well. We expect a decision, one way or the other, on the Xanth movie in FeBlueberry; thereafter the Xanth novels should start getting published. It has been a long wait, but it is almost over. As I write the novel, I plan to take it easy, watching one TNG episode or movie a day. We'll see how long that lasts; I may get caught up in the novel and skip the rest. Remember, I'm a workaholic, or maybe more properly, writeaholic. I try to ameliorate it, but with imperfect success.

And I hope all of you who read this far have a good, or at least decent, Year 2018.


PIERS
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