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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
OctOgre 2017
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Xanth #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky will be on sale in the USA on OctOgre 17, 2017 for $2.99, by Open Road. This is the one where a frustrated Mundane writer makes a deal with a young night stallion, and they go out into the sky at dawn and dusk to spread dreamlike story ideas that Xanth folk get caught in and have to follow. For some reason Princess Rhythm is not much amused by the title “The Princess and the Pee” or by the potty that awaits her, but she wakes in the scene and can't get out of it without fulfilling it. Other folk are similarly bad sports. So they decide to do something about it, and the novel proceeds to some wild adventures. Spoiler alert: she manages to change “Pee” to “Peeve” and goes to see the obnoxious pet peeve bird, thus fulfilling the title. So you won't have to read about anything dirty. I know you're relieved. Go buy the book. It may be a while before the following Xanth titles appear; we're waiting on the Xanth movie, hoping it's a blockbuster.

I read The Heartborn Mate by Dawn Edelen and David Brumbley, sequel to The Ironborn Claim reviewed last month. This picks up where the first left off, with formidable new complications. They won the battle against the Council but know that the war is not over. To simplify the detail, when Aura can't completely choose between Nick and Orlando she alienates both to a degree, and they find other companions. Nick takes up with Zara, a Heartborn wolf, telepathic and caring, who helps him know the true loyalties of those he encounters. But she was with the enemy; can she be trusted? Orlando goes with Candra, a Lightborn, a source of the very power Orlando as a Shadowborn needs; it is impossible for them to stay away from each other. But Aura discovers that she is pregnant by one of the two. Which one? She doesn't know, and doesn't tell. Her childhood boyfriend Ziem comes to her rescue, marrying her despite knowing that her pups aren't his. When her pregnancy becomes evident, others naturally assume he is the father. Then the Council attacks, and in vicious fighting Orlando is taken prisoner, Ziem dies fighting the Council leader, and Zara is revealed to be a traitor. They win the battle, but their losses are ugly. Aura births four pups which appear to be two from each father, one of which is a Heartborn. The complications seem likely to worsen in the third novel. I found the powers of the several wolf clans fascinating; all are deadly in their fashion, and the action is compelling. The Stoneborn can rapidly shape stone into prison cells, the Waterborn can manipulate water, such as by wrapping it around enemies so they drown, the Fireborn con summon flames, and so on.

I read The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, by Shawn Inmon. This is actually the first section of a serial novel being published in installments. Tommy is 15, and for his birthday his older brother Zack takes him to a lake party, unbeknownst to their mother, who would not approve. There's drinking and smoking and sex and who knows what else a teen boy shouldn't be into. Zack is everything Tommy is not: gregarious, handsome, popular. The kids there tolerate Tommy, but it's plain that he's not one of them. He talks with Georgia, from Hawaii, who is also a bit out of the swing but makes in plain she doesn't think much of him. Then it rains and the party breaks up, but Zack is too drunk to drive, so Tommy does it. He is speeding when he almost hits a deer, swerves, brakes, and goes out of control and into a rollover. That made me wince, because I did a similar thing when young, surviving with a battered car and bruised arm, just as Tommy does. Only in this case drunk Zack gets thrown out of the car and killed. Then we jump to Tommy's later life, which isn't much, thanks to his guilt for killing his brother. At age 52 he commits suicide—and finds himself back at age 15, memories intact. So maybe this time he can do it right, and save Zack. End of the section: we'll learn more in future installments. I am intrigued. It is something I am surely not alone in pondering, whether given such a chance I could significantly improve my life. Will Tommy? Okay, I sent this review to the author, and he sent me the rest of the novel. So now I can report that Thomas's second life is indeed unusual. He encounters a boy he knows will turn out to be a later serial killer; now he is merely torturing animals to death. Thomas messes that up, and that starts a kind of war between them that gets ugly fast. It does have its moments, such as when Tommy puts a dog turd in the killer's sandwich, discovered too late. He meets a classmate, a girl others belittle, and discovers she's another second lifer. They fall in love—and the angry serial killer kills her. Thomas manages to put the police on the matter, but it doesn't bring her back. But does he save Zack? Well, read the novel and find out. It is clear that nothing is simple, and his second life is nothing like his first life. I regret mainly that the girl did not return this time; they could have had a life together. This is one compelling story, and presumablsy loose ends will be clarified in the sequel.

My geek who moved to Texas returned to Florida briefly after Harvey, and checked my computers. He couldn't figure out exactly why this one had dumped my keyboard, but he got it back for me, and now the system no longer randomly dumps my text either, so far. As for the new system—it turned out that I simply didn't understand it, not recognizing the functions that it had. As I like to say, computers are like the opposite gender: can't live with them, can't live without them, and it is tricky even to understand them. Any of you who encounter the opposite gender will know what I mean. When he showed the functions to me, then it was functional. Except that he could not install my keyboard. That turns out to be a Known Problem with Red Hat. So I have a lovely system but not my keyboard. Sigh. Fortunately the regular Dvorak layout is close, so I'm typing my next novella on it anyway, constantly correcting the punctuation.

I remarked last HiPiers column that Hurricane Harvey missed Florida and hit Texas, and I feared our time would come. Well, it did, with the next one, Hurricane Irma. Irma had three days of sustained 185 mph winds, record strength for the Atlantic scene, and her malignant eye oriented directly on us here in central Florida. I remembered Hurricane Donna, in 1960, whose similar course came right up western Florida, devastating the region. A coworker reported that he drove up from southern Florida and discovered an airplane upside down on the highway. It was that kind of storm. At the time I remembered a popular song whose refrain went “But I loved my girl, Donna was her name,” only I thought of it as “But I loved my hurricane, Donna was her name.” But Irma, taking the same course, is a worthy successor. We suffered a four day loss of electric power, and eight trees down across our drive, plus the massive top of one in our back yard. Had that fallen toward the house instead of away from the house we could have had a real problem. I had a job to do, and was glad I remained in condition as I sawed, chopped, pried with the six foot crowbar, clipped entangled grapevines out, and heaved, getting them wedged off the drive. I wound up with a slightly sore back and scratches on my legs, but those healed in time. The power outage was worse, overall, because of the stifling heat that put my wife in misery and wiped out our frozen food supply. We were prepared, to the extent feasible, and had gallons of potable water and room temperature food. We got soy milk in cartons that would keep at room temperature until opened. We washed up with cupfuls of water on washcloths, and flushed the toilets with buckets of water from our returned-to-nature swimming pool. I had to be careful not to dip out any of the cute little floating plants, called duck weed, and once I just missed flushing two tadpoles, fortunately seeing them in time and returning them to the pool. I did miss my twice weekly showers and hair washes, but could live without them for the nonce. We read a lot, in the absence of TV. When the power returned, all was not necessarily well. Cleaning out and burying all that spoiled food was another chore; it was like handling packages of vomit. We had done all this work saving and freezing the food for the future, only to have to throw it away; that hurts psychologically as well as economically. My most painful memory is of having to compost twenty blueberry muffins. At least the house suffered only minimal damage—some soffiting torn off--and there was no flooding though we got eight and a half inches of rain; it was much worse to the south. We saw what flooding was like with Hurricane Donna, that made parts of St. Petersburg look like Venice, and ever since have selected our residences carefully with flooding in mind, and never been flooded. Our phone was out two weeks; fortunately we had cell phones. So we escaped serious consequences, as such things go, though we did not enjoy the experience. An encounter with a hurricane is like one with a kidney stone: you know you never want another.

So was there an upside? In a manner. I had just gotten a new Kindle reader with its own text lighting, and I was able to read it bare-eyed thanks to my cataract removal surgery, and a couple books arrived the day before the storm hit, so I had opportunity for heavy reading. Details of the reviews may be imprecise, as it is hard to keep them straight during the aftermath of a hurricane, but I'll try.

I read The Lightborn Queen, by Dawn and David Brumbly. This is the third novel following The Ironborn Claim and The Heartborn Mate. There is evidently a story just in the authorship; David married Dawn Edelen, maybe for greater convenience in writing the novels. There may be only so much a man can handle with claims, mates, and queens before it gets to him. This is another strong one, gripping in its complicated developments. We see Aura's four pups in all their cuteness as their iron, fire, and heart natures manifest. Then the enemy pup-naps them, to use as leverage against Orlando, who fathered two of them. He is now their prisoner, but uncooperative, and they need his formidable power if they are to win the war. Suppose they agree to let the pups go unharmed if he cooperates? He reluctantly makes a deal, but suspects they will cheat on it, in which case he will be free to pulverize them. Meanwhile his Lightborn girlfriend Candra is caught by a supposed ally, chief of the Earthborn, who tries to rape her. She has to kill him to stop him, and that, it turns out, makes her the new chief of the Earthborn. So she comes to rescue Orlando, backed by the formidable earth movers, which is exactly the trap the enemy has set, to capture them both. But they, catching on to that, separate so she is not caught. Aura gets back together with Nickel, the father of the other two pups. The action, again, is complicated and tense; it's one hard hitting story, and I recommend this series, which substantially redefines the nature of werewolves.

I read Gargoyle Scourge by Keith Robinson, third novel in his Island of Fog Legacies series. Remember, the original island of fog was a special place protected from the plague that largely destroyed the rest of the world, where the children became shape changers as they matured. The Legacy series features their children, also shape changers, and I have to say it matches the first in imagination and power. Robinson is a potent writer, one I always enjoy reading, and that should go for anyone else who likes fantasy. The children are Melinda and Travis, ages 11 and 12, who have such strong immune systems that the treatments to make them shape changers last only two days. You might think this was a disastrous liability, but no, it means they can become different shapes after two days. This makes them useful for special missions. Travis becomes a dragon, and must remain in that form because the fearsome Dullahan is searching for him, to steal his soul. Melinda is, well, maybe a kind of gargoyle. There is a problem in the town of Garlen's Well, which is getting overrun by destructive gargoyles who come to life at night. Maybe she can talk to the gargoyles and get them to stop. Simple enough, right? First she should talk with Molly the Gorgon, the local librarian, to get more of the background. Don't worry, Molly is veiled. Naturally, being a child, Melinda skimps on the research, and winds up making serious mischief, because the gargoyles are actually holding off the sylphs, nasty spirits who steal souls. There are tense moments before she manage to undo the damage and put the town to rights, gargoyles and all, and Travis manages to escape the dread Dullahan. This may be considered a juvenile novel, but it's scary in places and hardly gentle.

I read Haunted Fortress, by Keith Robinson, the fourth in this series. This one is even more hard hitting. It's a complicated time-travel story, among other things, with some mind bending flirtations with paradox. This time Melinda is a naga, a kind of human/snake crossbreed, and Travis is a cherufe, resembling a walking pile of burning hot stones. They are supposed to go to the haunted fortress and figure out its nature so they can show that it is not really supernatural. And melt a block of ice that is there. Simple enough, right? Naturally it turns out to be not at all simple. For one thing, this ice is a huge coffin shaped floating block that is highly resistive to melting despite Travis's formidable heat. For another, it contains a naga who has been there for two hundred years. Who is it? The answer is astonishing. After that it gets more complicated, as some of the local naga folk are magicians and have their own notions about what Melinda and Travis should be doing. Such as donating their blood to fight off a terrible illness. They are trying to help, but become prisoners as the naga pursue their own agenda in alarming fashion, leading to wholesale bloodshed and ironic spread of the plague. This is one compelling narrative, but I'm not sure it is really for children.



I read Schooling the Teacher, an erotic romance by Luna Starr, genre pen name for H P Mallory. Having a separate name makes sense, so readers can orient on the type of fiction they want. I never had the wit to do it, myself, and all my fiction has been published under just one pseudonym, so sometimes readers get a shock. I got this book for three reasons: it was on sale, I was curious how a woman writes sex, and it has one element that intrigues me. The sale price was 99 cents, down in my range. I expected to find very little straight hard sex and was not disappointed; it is mainly one long tease. Nikki and Derek are student and teacher; she's a really pretty smart shapely young woman, and he is a handsome smart man. They are soon hot for each other, but it would be bad form to have an affair, and anyway he has a reputation for dumping women after getting sex from them. Nikki, twice recently dumped that way by other men, is wary. Then she discovers a forgotten manual in the library, maybe not even a published book, The Femme Fatale Handbook. It spells out exactly how a woman can use her assets to attract and manage a man and finally land him for keeps. What better man to practice on? She certainly gets his attention, but in the process falls for him herself, and it's all she can do to keep her hot groin off his stiff member. You know that in the end they will be in bed together; that's essential. What about that manual? I love it. It spells out the process step by step, and it is quite possible that the average young woman could use it to nail the average man. One weakness as I see it is that it is supposed to work regardless how pretty the girl is, but that is untested because lovely Nikki can damn well get a man's attention regardless. I'd like to see a plain girl use it. I'd also like to know who wrote it, and why she left the unpublished manuscript hidden on a library shelf; there is surely an interesting story there. If there's a sequel covering those aspects, I will be happy to read it. Meanwhile I recommend the manual to any girl who wants to get more effective in her pursuit of the man she wants. For that you'll have to read the novel, which really is no chore.

I got to writing the novella Hair Peace, third in the Hair Power, Hair Suite series. Fate likes to find ways to interrupt my work, which may be what summoned the hurricane; sorry about that, Florida. But I did get half way through the novella before the month was out. Remember, originally Quiti was about to commit suicide at age 20 because of terminal brain cancer, but an alien hairball gave her a phenomenal head of hair that cured her and made her smart, beautiful, telepathic, sassy, and more. In this third book she encounters a Ghobot, a contraction of Ghost Robot. You didn't know that robots had ghosts? They don't; this is an alien child who merely looks the part. He's lost, so she decides to return him to his folks on another world, traveling via the Worm Web, a galactic pattern of wormholes, that regular Earth folk don't know about yet. Then it gets complicated, because Ghobots are like Gypsies, generally unwelcome. Why? I'd tell you more, but I haven't written it yet. Read the others so you'll be up to speed for this one, in due course.

A new meatless fast food has made the scene: the Impossible Burger. It tastes just like dead cow, but no bovine had to sacrifice its life for it. As I have said before, I am a vegetarian because I don't like slaughtering animals, and actually I wouldn't be too keen on killing people for meat either. There is also solid economic and environmental reason to get off meat, as overpopulation strains the resources of the world. Animal agriculture uses 30 percent of all land and 25% of all freshwater, and generates as much greenhouse gas as all cars, trucks, trains, plane, and ships combined. The Impossible Burger is healthier than the real thing and uses only 5% of the land and 26% of the water to produce. And NO COWS DIE. So am I dashing out to buy one? No, after over 60 years as a vegetarian I don't crave the guilty taste of meat. But I encourage the rest of you cooked carrion eaters to eat this instead.

The Hightower LOWDOWN, one of the “little” publications I read, has an issue on “Thinking” Robots. The machines are getting sharper every moment. Are they depriving working folk of jobs? Yes, but remember, so did the automobile with the carriage industry. We don't want to stifle progress. Oh, you think I'd feel differently if a robot took over my profession as a free lance writer? I am fairly confident that no machine is going to have quite as crazy a mind as I do, any anyway, by the time a robot starts writing Xanth novels I'll have long since taken my shot at the bucket with KICK MEE printed on the side, and disappeared from the scene. The critics will say its work is not up to my standard, and it will constantly have to replace burned out fuses from temperamental overload, and I'll be laughing all the way from Hell. Of course the critics will be robots also, if they aren't already. Anyway, my point is that the robots are moving up the corporate ladder and starting to replace the bosses as well as the workers; one is already on the board of Hong Kong's Deep Knowledge Ventures. When robots start replacing human CEOs, doing better jobs for no pay at all, then will come the corporate wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it will be too late. I have no sympathy for those vultures; in fact I hope I am around to see that reckoning.

Local news: we saw it on TV, female road rage in Pasco County, just south of us. There must have been something preceding it, but the finale was on TV because another driver turned on a camera. Two women got out of one car at a stoplight, went to the other car, hauled the woman driver out of the window, threw her on the ground and beat her unconscious. They were arrested, and tried to deny it, but there it was on film. It seemed there was a traffic incident. What had she done, cut in front?

More on free speech. Again I wonder what is being taught in college today. A fifth of undergrads now say it is acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes offensive and hurtful statements. That's obviously a matter of definition. To a Trump supporter, saying that global warming exists may be offensive and hurtful. To a leftist, it might mean having a conservative speaker on campus. I am liberal, and this is to me the opposite of liberalism; it is brute censorship. Those folk evidently have no idea of the meaning of the First Amendment, and they do need to be educated on American values so they can become decent citizens. So why isn't it happening at the colleges? Fortunately a majority do still favor free speech, but it's a worrisome trend.

Science: you know the Electron, the simple blob of negative charge that orbits the nucleus of an atom? This quickly leaps beyond my comprehension, so my summary here surely is crude. It is a Lepton, roughly parallel to the Quark in being one of the fundamental units of matter. It turns our that there are three forms of it, called flavors. The Electron has a charge of 0.511 MeV, not a designation I understand, but it will do for comparison of the flavors. Its cousin is the Muon, with 105.5 MeV. I take that to mean it is about 200 times as massive. The third flavor is the Tau, 1777 MeV, or about 15 times as massive as the Muon. Why these flavors exist, and why they have those particular masses, we don't know, but they are firm in their orientations. It's all part of the mind bending mystery of the universe. How did it get organized this way, and what made the rules? There is so much yet to discover.

There's a sour comment on the Battle for the Heart and Soul of the Republican Party, by Mike Ervin in THE PROGRESSIVE magazine. It seems that prominent conservatives are fighting over how to define the heart and soul of it. “This is all very fascinating to me because I never knew the Republican Party had a heart or soul. When did that happen? Did I miss something?” It seems that Trump's more civilized opponents deplore the racist, sexist, and homophobic tone of his rhetoric, and say that such blatant bigotry will ultimately doom the party. They long for the day when Republicans expressed racism, sexism and homophobia in a much more subtle and coded manner. And there you have it: they always did have a heart and soul, but dared not say its name, because too many voters don't really like bigotry. Now they are saying it openly. That's actually more honest.

I get occasional requests to mention useful services and provide links here. I have tried to oblige, but now I am receiving what are evidently impersonal Googled references to columns up to ten years old. This monthly HiPiers column is a blog type personal commentary reviewing movies and books and displaying my political, social, and humorous opinionations, rather than a listing service. So I am listing a couple more here, and hereafter will resist such requests unless I feel my readers would find them of immediate interest. One relates to vegetarianism, one of my interests, as a prior reference in this column indicates. For those interested, the link is http://www.improvenet.com/a/at-home-vegan-vegetarian-resources. I do feel that vegetarianism may be the salvation of the world, and I encourage those with a social conscience to consider it seriously.

And a link to an article on Pet Adoption. I'm a vegetarian because I don't like mistreating animals, and I support those who prefer to have animal friends. They interviewed about two hundred rescues and shelters, so as to address questions and myths, and things to consider before taking responsibility for a new pet. https://www.homeoanimal.com/the-ulitmate-guide-to-pet-adoption.

I am concerned about threats to the world as we know it, and despite its faults I am not eager to see it end soon. But some are not obvious. Here's one from NEW SCIENTIST: box jellyfish. They look like inverted jars with several long streamers below. The eat copepods, which are tiny crustaceans. Despite their small size, copepods are the most abundant animal on Earth when measured by mass. Just about everything else feeds on them; they are the bottom of the food chain. Well, the oceans are becoming more acidic, I think a result of global warming and pollution, and the box jellyfish thrive in that environment, and consume more copepods. Taken too far, this means that they are grabbing the food first, leaving less for the rest of the creatures. When the copepods suffer, the rest of the food chain suffers, and we could see calamitous consequences. We don't want to be replaced in the chain by jellyfish.

PIERS
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