Last column I left out several things. They were in a bunch of papers that got mislaid until after the column was posted, so I added them to the pile for this one. That means I have a folder about the size of a ream of paper, containing whole magazines and whatnot. I'll do my best to boil it down somewhat. But this is as usual a hodgepodge of disconnected items and thoughts and opinions. I have a sweatshirt that says I'M NOT OPINIONATED, JUST ALWAYS RIGHT. You can see me wearing it at the head of this section. So if you don't like opinionations, what are you doing here?
The big news in Florida has been the drought, which is now near or at the record for the century. There is a dryness scale wherein 800 is a desert, and we're at 752. We are in one of the two Florida counties hit worst. It did affect us personally, and not just because the trees of our tree farm are a crop that would cost a good deal more than a season if lost. Pine trees are tough, and ours seem to be surviving. But the water table has dropped ten to twelve feet, and anything with roots that can't go that much deeper is hurting. One magnolia tree along our drive starts flowering early, flowers profusely, and finishes late; this time it started, then quit, too stressed for more flowers. Other trees are dying. At the house our water turned muddy, and got full of air; it would fizz out as the tiny bubbles dissipated in the glass. This was because the water table had dropped below the level of our pump, so it was drawing air. The well man came and made it well (note for critics: yes, that is an egregious pun) by lowering it fourteen feet. Considering that when we built this house it was ten feet above the level of the lake--yes, the lake is long since dry. Our worst fear is fire: if it comes, we won't have much way to stop it. We were a peninsula the approximate shape of the Land of Xanth, in Lake Tsoda Popka, with our house about where the North Village is on the map, but we're land-bound now. Each morning I dip water out of our returned-to-nature swimming pool to water our yard plants, and we are saving otherwise wasted water wherever we can, such as from the air conditioning condensate and the water-filter system, for more watering. However, this past week, as I type this, we did get rain, almost two inches, the most so far this year. That helps. Now if the regular rainy season will just return
However, there has been one silver lining to the absence of rain clouds: birds patronize our birdbaths. We now keep them filled, and they represent pretty much the only game in town, or at least in this neck of the woods. So we get the usual small birds, like cardinals, wrens, tanagers, and titmice, but also some rarer ones, like an out-of-district black throated blue warbler, and big ones, like a pair of red shouldered hawks, a whole family of four piliated woodpeckers, and barred owls. The hawks are finicky, but an owl can splash out a third of the water in one set of plumpings. We can see the bird bath from the front window of the house; the birds don't know they are being watched, so are less wary. No, we haven't seen any harpies. Yet. And rocs are too big for an eighteen inch diameter bath.
As I make sure is no secret, I am on the board of directors of Xlibris, the publishing services company. This was my introduction to the realm of venture capital investment, and it has been like riding a roller coaster across heaven and hell. At present it seems to be shaping up to be a very good investment, both in terms of money and of accomplishing something I deeply desire: to help change the face of publishing to give every writer his fair chance. The company has extraordinary ambition, and aspects of that will be appearing in the coming months, some very soon after this column. But one problem has been contracts: it proposed to work with writers without personal contracts. Hoo, that's a minefield, as I have tried to get across to the management. Now they are laboring to get their agreements straight, and asked for my comment on a draft. I suggested that plain-language capsule summaries of the actual meaning of the necessary legalese be included so that real folk could understand what was what. Such as for the liabilities clause, which is a liability to the health of the eyeballs just to read: "e;When the poop hits the fan, it's my fault."e; That's what the writer is signing, in essence, in this or any publishing contract; I have merely proffered an efficient translation. I sent in my assorted suggestions and heard no more, not even acknowledgment. I have been known to have that effect.
I have suffered mild chronic fatigue for 38 years. Not the official syndrome, because the definition of that seems to be designed to exclude real people, with stipulations like having to suffer a sore throat for six months, as if that's relevant. I just get tired soon when I stand on my feet, and am always a little tired. It started in 1962 when I was under stress: the twin threats of losing my job, and of my wife losing her third baby. I saw a doctor about it, and he concluded that I was imagining it all, and told me it would pass when my fears proved groundless. He told me this on the day that I did lose my job and my wife did lose the baby. This may offer a hint why I can be a bit cynical about the competence of doctors: their attitude seems to be that if they can't diagnose it, the patient is crazy. I was thereafter excluded on my health insurance for all mental diseases, and the premium was raised to almost double. Yes, I dumped that insurance, and have had no respect for the company, which I think was Aetna, since. A decade later a more comprehensive medical exam indicated that I might have a marginal case of Type Two diabetes. That's also called Adult Onset, and is not the killer that Juvenile Onset is. My insurance, arranged via the Author's Guild, did not appear to know the distinction, and had all kinds of stipulations relating to Type One. I dumped that too. Two decades after that when I was writing Killobyte the doctor I was consulting on that project remarked that no way did my medical statistics indicate diabetes, and indeed, I have suffered none of the complications thereof, other that the chronic fatigue. But I was hesitant to pursue the matter, because I didn't want to be medically diagnosed crazy again; wouldn't that confirm my critics worst certainties! So for a decade I was simply in limbo, no viable diagnosis, my fatigue unchanged. In fact it was been just about the most stable aspect of my life; my wife and I went from the prospect of being unable ever to have a family, to the survival and growth to adulthood of two bright daughters, and we went from near poverty to outright wealth, and my career went from nowhere to highly successful--but the fatigue never changed. I take that as an indication of a physical or chemical problem, not a psychological one.
But when all is said and done, I'm tired of being tired, and even this late in life would like to be free of the fatigue and the mild depression that may be a concomitant. Of course it might be that I owe much of my success as a writer to it, because the fatigue keeps me sitting longer, and the depression enables me to relate to depressive readers, as the Mode series shows. I have asked myself: if I found a pill that would cure me, and abate both conditions, giving me energy and happiness--but also reduced my effectiveness as a writer, would I take it? And I think I would not. Well, that question may no longer be academic. Here is the story behind the story on that. I look at everything that comes my way, including every piece of email--readers who think I don't see their missives are mistaken--and every piece of spam and junk mail. Sometimes I find value in that ongoing slush pile of life. I saw a simple test for low thyroid function in an ad for SECOND OPINION, a health newsletter I once subscribed to but didn't keep. It was okay, but I had five newsletters, and wanted to cut them down to two or one. The one I stayed with was ALTERNATIVES. But I looked at the ad anyway, and it had this test I had forgotten about: paint a silver dollar sized swatch of 2% iodine solution on the skin of your belly. It should take 24 hours to fade; if it fades faster, you may be deficient in iodine, and the body is greedily absorbing it so your thyroid can function better. The thyroid gland relates to the energy level of the body, and to mood too. Well, now. So I tried the swatch--and it faded in less than six hours. I tried it several times with similar result. That may not be a valid test, but if valid, it was a strong indication. It happened that I had a routine appointment with the doctor who checks my skin for cancer--in 1992 I had spot surgery to cut out a basil cell carcinoma from my right ear, a not very dangerous variety of cancer, but cancer nevertheless, which is why I now wear a hat outside to keep the sun off my face--so I asked him for a blood test for thyroid function. That did indicate a thyroid imbalance, so he referred me to an internal medicine doctor, who turned out to be pretty solidly booked up, but there was a new doctor sharing the office who was open, so I took that appointment. This tuned out to be an attractive lady doctor, about the age of one of my daughters. She may become my primary care physician. She says it could be "e;subclinical hypothyroidsm"e;--medicalese for not quiet enough oomph in the energy gland. Meanwhile she prescribed thyroid pills--the K-Mart pharmacist recognized me and got an autograph, though all of this was done in my anonymous legal mundane identity, not my public writing pseudonym--and I have been taking them about three weeks. They do seem to be helping, but the effect is slight, within the range of the placebo effect or imagination, so I can't be sure. What will count is the six week blood test, which won't depend on subjective impressions. If the pills are really helping, the dosage can be increased so that I get the full benefit. So maybe, just maybe, I will finally get a diagnosis and effective treatment for my fatigue of nigh four decades--thanks to looking at my junk mail. Meanwhile I don't know if that iodine swatch treatment is valid, but readers are welcome to try it if they want to. Stay tuned for a further report, when.
My effort to put my out-of-print novels back into print continues, and now at Xlibris, in addition to Volk and Realty Check the first five Bio of a Space Tyrant novels are coming out at one month intervals, JeJune through OctOgre. Somewhere parallel will be Chthon and Phthor; the latter in British format because the only spare copy I had to work from was the British edition. Actually I think single quotes for dialogue, and double quotes for dialogue inside dialogue make sense; America has it backwards. But you can be sure some idiot American reader will trash Phthor for that, and some genius British reader will love it for the same reason. We are now struggling to scan Mute from the original manuscript carbon; that novel was cut from 190,000 words to about 165,000, and I want to republish it restored. But fuzzy carbon doesn't scan well, so this is a very slow process. Others in mind for republication: the martial arts series with Roberto Fuentes, the BATTLE CIRCLE trilogy (that was going to be five novels, but I lost my market, way back when), the Cluster trilogy, the Omnivore trilogy, and we'll see what else as we muddle along year by year. Eventually I want to have all of my novels in print, which means over a hundred. But I have to have some time to write my new novels.
Which brings me to what I am writing now: the ChroMagic series. The first novel, Key to Havoc, is 250,000 words long, and the sequels will be similar. The setting is the planet Charm, so called because it looked charmingly colorful from space when a ship from Earth came to colonize it a thousand years before. It was one of two sister planets orbiting each other, Charm and Counter-Charm, in turn orbiting a normal sun-type star and a companion black hole. So the orbital dynamics are something else, as is the climate. Little did they realize that this was the least of it; the color is from myriad volcanoes that cover the entire planet--no oceans, just some scattered lakes--each belching a different color of magic. The vegetation and animals near a blue volcano are blue and do blue magic; human settlers in that region gradually turn blue and do blue magic too. Those near a red volcano turn red and do red magic, and so on. Some volcanoes erupt water; some suck inward. Some are invisible, and so are their creatures, who must use magic illusion to become apparent; it is not entirely coincidental that all of their women are beautiful. But their magic works only in its own color; a Green man can do no magic in a Yellow zone. Thus the Chroma: magic colors. The plants and creatures of a Chroma zone are a good deal smarter and more self-willed than is any nonChroma life and can't be taken for granted. Some human beings live between volcanoes, so are nonChroma, and these are the ones that actually govern the planet, in part because they can travel freely without losing magic they never had; Chroma folk are pretty much bound to their Chroma by choice. Would you leave your home territory if that cost you all your convenient magic, while all the creatures of the place you visited had their magic? Different Chroma tend to specialize in particular types of magic, such as fire, water, golems, plants, demons, or science--others regard that last one as distinctly odd, but it does seem to work in its zone. The story starts when the able and smart but ignorant nonChroma villager Havoc is selected to become King, and he is not pleased, but will be executed for treason if he declines or messes up. Thus the key to Havoc--and he does wreak some havoc before he is done. The sequel, Key to Chroma, pertains to the mystery of the origin of the changelings; King Havoc and his girlfriend Gale are changelings, and something is trying to kill them. Overall, this is a richly magical setting, probably more sexy than any fantasy gets that is not pornographic, and each novel is an exploration of the by-paths of the planet and its culture and creatures. There's not a lot of humor, violence, swordplay, evil wizardry, or political conspiracy; this has its own original flavor of manners, insights, and inset stories. There are dragons and horses, spiders and millipedes, but these are not of any types remotely known on Earth. The third novel will explore the ultimate secret of Charm, which is surprising and vital. I love this series, and think it will make some waves, because you ain't seen fantasy quite like this before, and if no publisher has the gumption to take it, I'll put in print myself via Xlibris, in due course.
Readers ask my about movies: has it occurred to me to make one of my novels into one? So here is a brief rehash of that situation: movies are made by studios financed by the cousins of Scrooge McDuck, with so much money they need depth gauges to measure it in the vault. I don't have that kind of money, so all I can do is say yea or nay to an offer by some outfit that does. So far none have been interested enough to make a movie. My closest call was Killobyte, where I was paid about a quarter million dollars for the movie rights; I understand they paid several times that much to a script writer who didn't write anything close to the novel. Since the novel is structured as a big computer game, translating that into a movie should be easy, but since they wouldn't follow the novel, they got too far away to make it viable. That's my theory on why it foundered. Hollywood really does seem more than somewhat addled, from here. Sometimes I have had hopes, but all were dashed. Once a script writer did a script for Firefly with my approval, and he followed the novel exactly; I loved it and felt it would have been great. It got nowhere. I guess he violated the cardinal rule: thou shalt not follow the novel. On a Pale Horse is a constant center of interest, but so far no substance. Xanth--similar story. There are others percolating now; if everything fell into place at the same time, I could have half a dozen movies. More likely, nothing will fall into place. It really is a never-never land.
The disconnect between the official hit counter on the HiPiers home page and the recordings of actual site hits continues. The daily hits used to be around 4,000, but more recently jumped to 8,000, and the last week was over 9,000 a day. I don't know whether the growth of the Internet leads to a growth in hits on every site, or whether more search engines are listing this site, or whether I am holding on to old visitors while finding new ones. The hits come from all over the world: Australia, Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa--every so often some come from Nepal. I have a fan in Nepal?
I have had a fair amount of feedback on my comments on God and agnosticism; some agree, some feel I have not properly explored the situation. It is not a subject I care to discuss at length; there must be whole web sites devoted to religious thought. But I will say that one reader caused me to look up a couple of words and learn something: he mentioned a-theism and a-deism. So I looked of theism, and found that it reflects belief in god, supernatural included, while deism is belief in God but not the supernatural. Neither seems to relate to religion. That's interesting. But I remain uncommitted to any concept of God with or without the supernatural, and am rather strongly doubtful that either exists.
One of my concerns is self defense, which really is a part of my larger concern with health. I try to eat right, exercise, keep emotionally stable, buckle my seat belt, avoid pollution and so on, but suppose I am out in the forest and an aggressive boar attacks me? No, I am not referring to a critic; that is spelled "e;bore."e; Or a rabid raccoon? That's why I go out with my spear, or telescoping baton, or my "e;Armadillo"e; knife with the shielded hilt; these are deadly instruments. I hope never to use any of them, but want to have them in case the need ever arises. It's the seat belt analogy: I never want to crash (again), but if it happens, I want to survive it. But suppose I am on a distant city street, trying to find my way (I just do seem to get lost too readily) and a mugger accosts me? I won't have any of those weapons, because you can't take them on an airplane, yet I don't want to be helpless. I took judo classes for three years, twenty years ago, and while I never got beyond green belt--that's midway through the student grades--I did learn what to do if charged by a mayhem-minded man. But is there a simpler way? So I have kept my eye out, and may finally have found what I want. This is a piece of hard plastic shaped like the capital letter L, five and a half inches tall, with a big eyelet at the top, as if someone thought it was the lower case letter "e;i"e; and dotted it, only with one of those circles some girls use instead of a dot. (Girls tend to be rounded in various ways; I love that too.) A pretty silly looking item, of no apparent practical use. Yet it is one neat defensive weapon. You put your forefinger through the loop and wrap your hand around the stem; the base of the L sticks out awkwardly below your fist. But if someone attacks you, this dingus is deadly. If he grabs your shoulder, pretend you are holding a hammer, and hammer his hand with that base; he'll let go in a hurry, or get his hand broken. If he remains aggressive, hammer him on the head; if he doesn't retreat, it could break his face. If he tries to choke you, jam the tip of the base of the L into his hand or arm until he changes his mind. This is like brass knuckles, only plastic, with the base becoming the striking part, not the knuckles. I believe a woman could use this as readily as a man, and I think she could give a purse snatcher or rapist one hell of an ugly surprise before she retreats to safer territory. In fact I think any concerned woman should carry one, on her body, not in her purse, so that she can get her hand on it instantly. Meanwhile, I'll be carrying mine. So what is this tool? It is called an Impact Kerambit, pronounced keRAMbit, and I found it for $8 plus postage in a catalog titled SHOMER-TEC that specializes in law-enforcement equipment, but I suspect it is also available elsewhere. I also bought the instruction video for $29, and that's okay, but I have covered the essence here. I regret sounding like a salesman, but this was one item in a junk mail catalog that made a real impression on me. I see that the Impact Kerambit proprietor has a web site: www.kellyworden.com, so folk can check it out directly. However, that seems to be concerned with martial arts in general, rather than this particular instrument. I suppose if you went there and asked for it, they would respond. Actually I took an hour off work one day--a real sacrifice for a workaholic--and ordered things from three catalogs, and they all delivered promptly. From COLD STEEL I ordered a six foot long Lathi (Lah-Tee), which is a rattan hiking staff, for $28, and a Sjambok (Sham-Bock) for $6, which is a kind of cross between a club and a whip, useful for non-lethal self defense as it can inflict a painful welt. From the CABELA'S archery catalog I got The Block, a $150 (plus $20 postage) 28 inch square target that is supposed to last for tens of thousands of shots with my field-point arrows. My old target was getting worn, especially in the center region. This thing is beautiful. It weighs just shy of fifty pounds and is composed of about 250 thin layers of foam plastic. The arrows go between layers and are stopped by friction. I expect to be my main target for the next several years. It better be; I don't spend that kind of money lightly. I have drawn a one foot square on one side, and a 13.5 inch diameter circle on the other (the two have about the same area) to serve as my bullseyes. My system is to count +1 for each score in the center, and -1 each time I miss the target entirely, shooting right handed with the compound bow at 150 feet, and left handed with the recurve bow at 100 feet. So far my best score for 24 arrows (12 each way) has been +12, and my worst -4, so I do usually hit the center more than I miss the target, but it's no sure thing. Usually I do better right handed than left handed; I think that's more because the compound bow is easier to use, than the fact that I am right handed. I have baffle targets around the main one so that my misses don't lose or break arrows. So how does it work? During this column, which took several days--chores have a way of extending themselves--I had an archery session, and it was awful. Not because of the new target; my arrows kept falling out of the bow, and one fell out just as I loosed it, causing the bow to dry-fire and messing it up so that I missed several following shots. Bad business. I concluded that the heat--it was about 90°F--and the dryness of the drought expanded the arrow nocks and dried out the bowstrings so that the fit was no longer tight. But I did get a few good shots off, and the Block has a sort of dull thunk when struck, as if made of porridge. The arrows are not easy to pull out; the friction grabs them whichever way they are going, but steady pressure does it. So I would not recommend the Block to someone who prefers two finger arrow removal, but otherwise it seems to be a good target. I may have a further report in four years, after I have put 10,000 arrows into it.
I use a credit card when I need to, when traveling or for target orders, and there's a story there too. Back when I first applied for one, at DISCOVER, I was turned down, because they said I had insufficient credit history. I had paid off all debts, such a mortgages, long since, and incurred no new ones; I owe nobody nothing. I thought their definition was backwards, and sure enough, later they had financial problems. I mean if you turn down your best credit risks, what kind will you be accepting? Another year they phone-solicited me, and I told them that they had rejected me, so now I rejected them--and the phone girl said the same thing had happened to one of their own executives. Wow! Talk about ironic justice. I love it. I have had a similar attitude toward agents and publishers who rejected me when I was in my early career, and who later wanted my business. I mean, why would they want me late, when the critics agree that I was marginally publishable only early, and promptly degenerated to hack level the moment I became a bestseller? So we went to MASTER CARD and they accepted us instantly, and we have been satisfied with them ever since. But we use a defensive strategy, just in case a card gets stolen: my wife uses the MASTER CARD, while I got a VISA card. That way the loss of one card won't compromise the other. The card I got was tied in with the Wilderness Society, kicking in a bit of cash to them when I used it. It's a good card. But then I read about the head man of the Wilderness Society bulldozing old-growth trees from his private property. What hypocrisy! So I wrote them a letter inquiring about that, in case the report was in error. They did not answer, and as far as I know they never addressed the matter in their publications. I take that as confirmation. I am an environmentalist, and a situation like this turns me off. I am no longer willing to support the Wilderness Society. But that VISA card was better than any other I've tried. So I am in the odd position of liking the huge monolithic money-minded corporation, while disliking the environmental outfit. So when they phone-solicited me for an upgraded card, I accepted, asking that it not be tied to the Wilderness Society. Then the card arrived, and it was a beginner-entry MASTER CARD, not as represented, and not close to the Platinum VISA I already had. They blew it, and I still can't get away from the Wilderness. Sigh.
As I have mentioned, I answer over a hundred letters a month--currently it averages 130--and read about 300 emails. Every email addressed to me at HiPiers gets printed out and I read it. Most I don't answer; HiPiers does, saying that I appreciate the compliments on my novels, that we still don't know when DoOon Mode will be published, that I am not the one who decides whether there will be a Xanth movie, and so on for the routine stuff. If the emailers can't be bothered to look at the information here at HiPiers, I don't see why I should take special time for them. I will add brief notes to some, and sometimes tear loose with a full letter. The fact that I don't add a note to a particular email answer does not mean that I don't appreciate hearing from teen girls who adore me and my works (one even signs herself "e;Smooches"e;), or older readers who have been with me for a score or more years, or teachers who use my books to encourage reading in their classes. I love them all. It's just that if I don't have something more to say than "e;thank you,"e; I leave it to HiPiers and get on with my writing. Sometimes I make a note for this column. Here are some notes: one reader, Teri Small, expressed outrage that the dictionary of imaginary places did not list Xanth. I replied: "e;This is unfortunately typical. As far as I know, none of my fantasy worlds are in any of these listings. It seems to be part of a general policy of ignoring my works, pretending they aren't there, or aren't important enough to notice. I don't like it, but am not sure there is anything I can do about it. It is similar with recommendations: my fantasies are never included in lists of good fantasy."e; I am not sure how much of this exclusion is ignorance and how much is malice, but suspect it is a bit of both. The critics do not just disparage me, they try to see that others do not learn of me, because a person who actually reads one of my novels is apt to became a fan of mine. One year the genre news magazine LOCUS skipped its annual listing of the British Fantasy Awards: the year A Spell for Chameleon won. I asked the magazine proprietor, Charles N Brown, about that when I met him at a convention, since theoretically LOCUS has no private malign agenda; he more or less shrugged, and no correction was published, and currently my fantasy is never recommended there, or even reviewed. This is hardly the only case. So I welcome the outrage of readers when they see it happening, but until such time as my readers grow up and become editors and critics (is that an oxymoron: a decent critic?), the situation seems unlikely to change.
Another reader discussed rape: of men. I wanted to tell him about the organization fantasy writer Stephen Donaldson set up to address this problem, but don't know the address. Briefly, from memory, Donaldson, who later became the best-selling author of the Thomas Covenant fantasy series, participated in a passive demonstration against a local outrage, was arrested, and gang raped in prison. Now he's trying to do something about that sort of thing. I'm sure he could give far more current and valid statistics, and if any reader of this column knows the address of that organization, such as maybe a web site, let me know and I'll give it here. It is possible that more men get raped than women, fantastic as that may seem. It happens in prison, and they are raped by male heterosexual criminals. Which is not to say that women don't get raped in prison too; they do, by male guards. Prison authorities seem to be in general denial; it is one of the ongoing shames of our prison system.
Another reader asked about Xanth role playing games. I told her that there are many of them, and that a web search should turn them up. She replied that she had done such a search, and it turned up nothing. Something is out of kilter here, so maybe I need to start listing such games based on Xanth or my other settings, the MUDs and such, so that she and other readers can find them. If anyone cares to inform me of these, I'll add their sites to the links section of HiPiers. You may wonder why I don't simply perform my own web searches for such things. Right: I get lost there too. Programs just don't seem to work for me the way they do for others. I just tried to load Adobe Acrobat so I could read a file sent by a reader; my system refused to recognize the disk. Maybe some year they will make computers and programs usable by ordinary folk without endless hassle; that day has not yet come. I hope LINUX doesn't turn out to be a similar case, when I go there.
Another reader sent me a copy of a paper on the Hyperphoton, which is supposed to be a quanta of the Fifth Force. Understand, we know of only four forces in the normal universe: The strong nuclear, the weak nuclear, electro-magnetic, and gravity. In my fantasy there is a fifth, magic. This paper suggests that there is a Graviphoton, which is a weak anti-gravitational force emitted by all matter, and that both are boson particles, or nutrinos, and together comprise Dark Matter. It also discusses the Graviscalar, a quanta of a sixth force, that can be used to read human verbal thoughts from as far away as two thousand miles, or to disable or even kill a person. Sorry; I am a skeptic about this; in fact I think it is nonsense, but it does lead into my own discussion of Dark Matter, below.
My favorite magazine is the British NEW SCIENTIST, a weekly compendium of everything relating to science. I also like the science section of the British THE ECONOMIST. I have so many subscriptions to magazines it's a chore to try to count them, but if I had to cut back to only one science magazine and one news magazine, those would be the two. Fortunately I don't have to cut back, so I get to read SCIENCE NEWS, DISCOVER, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, and my wife only knows what else. The problem is that they are all so good I can't let them go. They stretch my mind, and evoke thoughts that I'd love to share with my readers, but these columns are already way too long. So let me just give a couple of examples, and then stifle it lest I never get back to paying writing. NEW SCIENTIST (and others) had an article on the proposition that creatures who eat less live longer. Underfed mice can extend their lives significantly. But I am in doubt: are they really living longer, or merely living slower? That is, adopting a lower metabolism, fewer heartbeats per minute, and so on, so as to conserve energy. I suspect that if lives are measured by accomplishment, a normal healthy diet best facilitates that. Next subject: I'm a fan of Dark Matter--you know, the mysterious substance that permeates the universe. THE ECONONOMIST had an item on that, suggesting that perhaps only 4-6% of the universe is apparent to our senses; the rest is some unknown substance that indicates its presence only by its gravitational effect. It can't be conventional matter, or hidden in black holes; it has to be weird beyond our present comprehension. NEW SCIENTIST might have a lead on that: its article presents the notion that both space and the material world may be created out of nothing but random noise. That jibes with my theory that the universe is like a mathematical equation set to zero: 10-4 = 2X3, 6=6, 0=0, canceling out. Something like that, only more complicated. So if you took all the matter and antimatter and put them together, you'd have nothing; they equal each other. But as long as you keep them apart, you have substance on either side. That's our universe, created from nothing. But these magazine articles gave not yet reached that conclusion; they're still working on the half of the equation we can see. The detail of such articles gets too complicated to get into here, but for those who haven't wondered about Dark Matter, I'll just say that the evidence for it is that the galaxies are rotating at such rates that if their visible matter were all they had, they would fly apart. So there must be something else holding them together, something that generates enormous but diffuse gravity, and the great mystery is what that is. There have been many theories, but so far nothing has been nailed. But we seem to be getting closer to the answer, and I am reasonably confident that it will be known in my lifetime. Meanwhile I have a simple fantasy explanation: all the myriad multiple alternate universes where magic works do exist, and only a trace of their gravity leaks through to our own universe, contributing to its stability. So we can't see those other universes, which overlay ours, but they are there. Isn't that as satisfying an explanation as any?
But apart from fantasy, the riddle of Dark Matter is serious, and I take it seriously. And I may have a serious answer. We may have been looking in the wrong place. I understand that recent studies have indicated that the vacuum of space is not exactly empty; it has enormous energy. Could we but tap that energy for useful purpose, we'd have a virtually inexhaustible supply. Well, Einstein's E = MC2 equation indicates that matter and energy are merely different forms of the same thing, and the one can be translated into the other. Nuclear power is an example of such a translation. Matter has gravity--so shouldn't energy have gravity too? It doesn't make much sense to assume that gravity magically appears when energy is transformed into matter; where does it suddenly come from? That energy is merely highly concentrated when it forms atoms, so that the trace gravity begins to be felt. Think of grains of sand making a mountain, or drops of water making an ocean: concentration works wonders, and you discover qualities that weren't evident in the single grains or drops or quanta. In which case the enormous energy of space itself should have diffuse gravity. The theory of interstellar ether was discredited, but maybe it was merely not understood. We have been looking for something, when we should have been looking at nothing--at pure interstellar and intergalactic vacuum. That's why we can't see it: there is nothing to see. No matter, just energy. A lot of it, exerting its gravitic force on the universe. Of course this doesn't explain why there seems to be more Dark Matter in the vicinity of galaxies, or why the universe appears to be expanding more rapidly as it goes; I'll leave those mysteries for another column. I try to limit myself to solving only one riddle of the universe per column. Meanwhile if there are any scientists among my readers, I'll be happy to listen to reasons why my conjecture is wrong.
I got a survey about sleeping problems in the mail, no solicitation for donation, not trying to sell me anything; they just wanted information, and in return they would send me the results. So I filled it out. The fact is, I don't have much problem sleeping; I get sleepy around 10:30 PM and wake around 5:30 AM, and when I read I get sleepy, so have to break it up and do writing or something else. But when they sent me the results, they had marked in my supposed answers, all wrong, pretending that I have bad sleep problems, and offering a Free Video & Information Kit. Yeah, sure. So it's a fake. Too bad. I have a real interest in the nature of sleep and dreaming, as shown in Shame of Man, another universal riddle that it seems only I have solved. Next survey for something, I'll toss it out.
I received an ad from DNA PUBLICATIONS. No, not a genetic research outfit; it publishes five genre magazines: ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE, ABORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION, WEIRD TALES, PIRATE WRITINGS, and DREAMS OF DECADENCE. I no longer have time to read genre magazines; I'm too busy with news and science magazines, but it seems worth a mention. This is unabashed pulp fiction, and I have no objection, but critics will surely savage this. I grew up on pulp science fiction, and have fond memories. They don't seem to have a web site, though.
There was an article three months back (I'm into the material I overlooked last time) about how three English teachers refused to teach a high school freshman student. He had written a fictional essay describing a shooting at the school. He was suspended, and the teachers are blacklisting him--because he tackled a relevant subject realistically. Now I was once an English teacher. I would have applauded such an essay. I don't know all the details of this case, but that school and those teachers come across to me as folk who need remedial classes in the First Amendment, not to mention Education. To punish a student for writing something some others don't like--this is appalling. What kind of ignorant, vindictive ilk is running today's schools? A more recent case is that of Al-Najjar, who worked for a University of South Florida think tank in Tampa. Members were linked to Arab terrorists, so the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) locked him in jail. He was never charged with a crime or allowed to see the evidence against him, but he remains locked up for three years now. What about Habeas Corpus? What about the right to face your accuser? I am a naturalized citizen myself, and don't like to see the Constitution I believe in flouted this way. I don't care if the man is a terrorist, he deserves fair treatment by our laws. I don't like terrorists, but as I see it, it is the INS that is practicing terrorism here. They should present the evidence and either punish the man or let him go with an apology. If they can jail folk for years without charges, no citizen is safe. Fortunately some Florida politicians are belatedly getting interested, and maybe American law will start to be applied. If I ran things, those who use their authority to violate the Constitutional rights of others would be the ones in jail.
Tovah Veats, a contributor to Xanth, and her daughter, had dessert at Nieman-Marcus, and loved their cookies, so asked for the recipe. The waitress said it cost only two-fifty, so Tovah bought it. Then her credit card was debited $250, a hundred times what she had been given to understand. She called, but they wouldn't budge; she was stuck for it. That made her angry, and she decided that this outfit should never rip off another person that way. So she put the recipe on the Internet, encouraging others to spread it widely about. If you want the recipe, you can get it from her free at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes the worm does turn.
I look at spam too, and sometimes it is interesting, though not necessarily in the way intended. One was headlined FIND OUT (ANYTHING) ABOUT (ANYONE, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, right on the Internet. It says you can get a copy of your FBI file, find debtors and locate hidden assets, check criminal drug and driving records, look up someone's employment history, check out your new or old love interest--maybe I have the wrong attitude, but this makes me wonder who is checking me out this way. Nevertheless, I haven't thrown it out. If I ever catch the license plate of the jerk who dumps his trash in my tree farm, I might use this to get background information before deciding whether to sue.
Then there are the borderline cases, part personal, part spam. One email started out "e;I have been a huge fan of yours ever since I first read Macroscope,"e; and went on to comment on the HiPiers site, contrasting it favorably with those of other writers. I have no reason to doubt his credits as a fan of mine. Then he got down to business: how about helping spread the word about a web cam site? These sites broadcast the daily life of individuals, usually comely young woman; you subscribe so that you can watch them studying, eating, sleeping, showering, whatever. It's voyeurism. Now I don't object to voyeurism, or for that matter to commercializing sex; it's a free country, and if someone wants to broadcast the private aspects of her life, and someone else is willing to pay to watch, that's their business. I object to forced sex or humiliation, like rape or incest, but not to mutually consensual relationships. So gives no moralistic lecture here. But I regard HiPiers as a service to my readers, with information about my books and projects, news of me, links to other sites relating to me or my works, information on Internet publishing, and anything else of relevant interest to me or my readers. I doubt that links to sexy web cams fits that description. I suppose if the young woman were a fan of mine, and had a link to HiPiers, I might see it differently. So I'll give my report here, and will be guided by reader response whether ever to do it again. The one recommended to me is Adora, at www.adoracam.com. Adora is 19 and comely, and seems like a nice girl. As I like to remind readers, once upon a time I encountered a nice brown haired nineteen year old girl, so I married her, and this month we'll have our 44th anniversary. Adora's site, when I checked it in Marsh, had a daily diary and an assortment of pictures, two of them bare breasted, and an invitation to subscribe for a scant $20 a month. It's what in fan publishing would be called a personalzine, only I presume animated, and I admit I wouldn't mind watching Adora for a while, especially while changing her clothing. But I suspect my interest would fade after about half an hour, so it's hardly worth a month's subscription, and I do have books to write. Ads for other life cams clustered the site access, for titles like TrueLesbians, LatinaVista, Aspiring Actresses, Couple TV with sex, and other voyeur sites. So if this is your scene, and you have money to spend, here it is spread out for you.
I received a solicitation to be listed in the SOUTHEAST REGIONAL YELLOW PAGES, for only $181 a year. The entry was for PIERS ANTHOHY (sic) WRITER, with my full home street address. I didn't answer. But just so the rest of you know, I don't care to pay to be listed anywhere, and I don't want my address published. I routinely cut off any outfit that publishes any address of mine but HiPiers.com, and that includes more than one WHO'S WHO series, in case you wonder why those volumes are getting badly out of date on me. I told them not to, they ignored me and did it anyway, so they are gone. A leading fanzine publisher ran my address to spite me; in later years when I was a bestseller he wanted my participation and never got a response. Another fanzine "e;accidentally"e; did it; the proprietor apologized, but I was gone. I don't communicate with the high school I graduated from: same reason. Those who insist on testing the Ogre learn the hard way. If you wonder why, it's the same reason celebrities use fake addresses: to prevent rabid fans from dropping in unexpectedly to take my time, to want to come live with me, or perhaps to kill me and take my place. Only that last has not yet happened. I prefer to get to know someone before letting him/her know where I live. Some fans I have allowed to visit me at home, but it's a rarity--and no, you nascent critics, they have not all been cute teen girls. Anyway, their mothers were along. On occasion some rectum will run it on the Internet, subjecting me to more autograph requests from folk who have no notion of my business. If you know of any site currently doing it, give me the site address and I'll see what remedy I can find. I suspect I have readers who know how to make an errant mischief maker sorry.
A family of wrens nested in our swimming pool enclosure. Understand, our pool has long since returned to nature; a tree poked a branch through the ceiling mesh, and frogs took up residence, and we have had several generations of tadpoles and nesting wrens. They are bold little birds, and the go after bugs; we're glad to have them. But we worried: when the little ones set out to fly for the first time, suppose one fell in the pool? And while I was writing this column--it got spread out over several days, because other things kept intruding--it happened. The nestlings flew, and one was hesitant; we watched from the house, keeping our too-eager dog clear, and did open an enclosure door so it could bypass the pool, and thought it had, but next morning it was floating drowned. Damn! I know it is nature's way, uncompromising, the unfit perish for whatever reason, but still I hate to see it in action. Who knows what illustrious future that bird might have had, had it been given the chance?
One of the interruptions to this column was The OneRing interview. We had the notice on at HiPiers.com, and a link, so my readers could find it. Naturally when I used that link to go there myself, I got halfway lost; I swear I hit the right keys, but kept getting notices about MICROSOFT IS NOT YOUR DEFAULT BROWSER, DO YOU WANT US TO TAKE OVER, YOU CHUMP? or words to that effect, and then I was in some kind of wrestling site, and finally at OneRing, but there seemed to be no direct way to communicate my presence. So I typed repeatedly THIS IS PIERS ANTHONY--I'M LOST--HOW DO I PROCEED? Eventually one of my online friends, Marisol, spotted me and clued me in, as it were taking me by the hand--bless you, Marisol, if you weren't engaged I'd kiss you--and I finally got set up for the interview, a bit late. After that I was able to muddle through, with plenty of typos, and it was all right, except for the chronic delays; I had assumed they would have questions set up so the moderator could click the next one instantly on, but apparently he had to type each one while I waited. I was also distracted by the interminable ZILCH SIGNING ON and FESTER QUITTING notices. Isn't there some place other than the middle of an interview for that? I was curious who was attending, but my screen showed only the middle section of the list and did not respond to my attempts to see the beginning or end. I kept getting jumped in mid-answer to a private dialogue box, and sometimes my answers simply disappeared and I had to type them over. I guess I don't understand chat rooms, as if that were any news. Aside from that it was okay; I got the usual questions and gave the usual answers. At the end they allowed unmoderated questions in, and then there was a flood so that a number rolled offscreen before I could read them. Overall it was a two hour session, and I hope those there were satisfied. I understand there were a few over 50 attendees: a small audience for me. This is the second time I have tried a chat room interview directly; before I got online I had some telephone ones, where a typist transcribed my ongoing answers, so I didn't have to be concerned about the protocols. Xlibris is setting up chat rooms, and I may participate there; as an investor I feel obliged to support the company, after all. Marisol says maybe she'll run one that is more user friendly. So eventually I'll get it straight, maybe. I did get feedback from a reader who was desperate to "e;meet"e; me there, but got the wrong time and missed it. I got her snail address and sent her a letter.
A reader asked my opinion of the Elian case. In case anyone doesn't know, Elian is a six year old boy from Cuba whose mother died trying to cross the sea to the USA. I have had some interest in Cuba, because of my Cuban exile collaborator on the martial arts novels, Roberto Fuentes. The question was whether Elian should remain here, or be reunited with his father in Cuba. The Miami exile community wouldn't let him go, until there was a gun-toting raid that took him by force, and now he is with his father. I think he does belong with his father, though I have some sympathy for Marisleysis, the 20 year old young woman who was taking care of him. When I was in England, I was cared for by a young nanny who may have been similar, and if the truth be known, I liked her better than my parents, and my abrupt involuntary separation from her at age four was the first of a series of painful emotional wounds that were in time to make me regret living. It is one of a number of reasons I so readily identify with young folk who are hurting; I have been there myself. So I am sorry that the Elian situation has been so difficult, and I hope Marisleysis is allowed to visit him on occasion.
I reported last time on a sweetgum twig I cut when clearing a path, and how it was surviving in water. Well, it did its best, and even grew small new leaves, but never put down roots. Finally, at 11 weeks, its limited resources were exhausted, and it faded. That grieves me. Not all transplanted twigs can survive, despite their efforts or the efforts of others.
My movie-freak daughter sees that we drag ourselves out every so often to see a movie, and we did see a couple recently. She likes the same kind of junk I do, so it's okay. We saw Dinosaur and liked it; the animation was excellent, the story passable, and the authenticity ludicrous. We also saw Mission impossible II, and that was similar in its fashion: explosions were excellent, story passable, and credibility ludicrous. But let's face it: you don't attend such a show to improve your mind. It delivered what it promised, in good measure, and the boy did get the girl.
I am getting queries, so it is time to mention again what happened with the old HiPiers 800 number. When we shut down the bookstore aspect of HiPiers we returned the number to AT&T, and it was taken by a porno sex outfit. We protested, and got the run-around: AT&T claimed it did not handle the number and could do nothing about it. Then to make it worse, the publisher took so long to put the collaborations into print that I forget that there was mention of the number in an Author's Note, and my collaborator didn't realize it was defunct, so it got republished and now new readers are calling it and getting the sexual come-on. I have no objection to sexual come-ons elsewhere, but I hate having my young fans or their mothers getting involuntarily diverted to this; it's like walking into a toy store and getting flashed by a pervert. It can hardly have a positive effect on my reputation. But in the face of the company's refusal to do anything about it, I'm stuck. I'm a minor AT&T stockholder, so I hate to see such abuse from that angle too. AT&T should have a better attitude about such things.
I had an email from Peggy Sanderson of http://fantasypuppet.com/ who has adopted a baby dragon and was looking for a name for it. I suggested Nimby or Draco or maybe DragNet. The site sells small sculpted dragons, so may be of interest to fantasy readers or dragon fans.
There was a news item on the 30th anniversary of the Kent State disaster. This may be old dull history to current readers, but it was fresh news to me when it happened, so I'm rehearsing it here. When the Vietnam war was current, there were many protests, especially at colleges, and one of the riots occurred at the campus of Kent State. The ROTC building was burned, and the National Guard was called out. It fired on the students, and some were killed. There's a famous picture taken at the scene. But a perceptive columnist of the time pointed out a more subtle but perhaps more significant aspect: for generations rioting blacks got shot and it hardly made news, but this time rioting whites got killed. That wasn't supposed to happen. At that point the white community got a taste of what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that sort of law enforcement. Attitudes began to change, and perhaps some good is coming of it, though there's a way to go yet; blacks still get thrown into prison more, and for longer sentences, than whites do for similar crimes. If more whites were treated by courts as blacks are, there would be more attention to fairness.
I'm not sure how I get on some mailings lists. I am an unabashed social and political liberal, but I get some catalogs from hard rightist outfits. Such as CLS PUBLISHING: "e;What type of criminal is Bill Clinton?"e; According to it, Bill and Hillary were involved in the supposed murder of Vince Foster, and a respected businesswoman was brutally raped by Clinton. Suspicious deaths of government personnel, Clinton friends, parents and business associates, terrorism, airline disasters. Then on into the Oklahoma City bombing, TWA Flight 800 crash, Waco, and so on. I save such stuff because otherwise folk I mention it to may not believe me when I say it exists. For the record: there are some questions about these matters, but I doubt that these folk are interested in the truth unless it has potential to put a Republican conservative into office. Since I am interested in the truth about anything, of whatever nature, this sort of agenda turns me off. I will confess that some liberal propaganda turns me off too, such as when liberals endorse protectionism or oppose free speech for conservatives. But overall I think the liberals are more realistic and decent than the conservatives, with some appreciation for ordinary folk and the environment rather than just money and power. I wish more folk of all persuasions had more interest in the truth and fairness than they show. The idea of publishing only what agrees with a particular political persuasion, whatever its nature or accuracy, disgusts me.
Readers recommend many sites to me, and I try to check them out, and comment on them here, or add them to the Internet Publishing survey, or put links to them. Some are tricky to classify, and some surprise me. For example, one flashed an error message at me with the words "e;You don't have permission to access."e; I concluded that that would not be suitable for my listing. Some seem to be prone to locking up my system. One took more than five minutes to load, and wouldn't let go. My main interest is in listing online publishers for hopeful writers to try, and services that will help hopeful writers find their way. What, then, of general information sites? The line becomes fuzzy. Www.mervius.com is for science fiction and fantasy fans, and has relevant book reviews, movie reviews, news, commentary, crossword puzzle, bestseller list, box-office movie figures, and links to recommended writers such as Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. But not to Piers Anthony, which lets me know where I stand. It did, however, have a timely and accurate report on my OneRing interview. It seems useful enough to readers, so I'll add it to our links, but not to the publisher survey because it isn't a publisher. Www.sffworld.com interviewed me and posted the interview, and has similar interviews with other genre figures; again it is not a publisher but is worth a link. Http://virtualxanth.homepage.com is hosted by the Demoness Metria, hugely bare breasted; how could I pass that by? So gives another link. Www.justbooks.de is a German site with more than 400,000 titles, including some of mine, so there's another link. Artemiy Artemiev sends me his Electroshock CDs; I don't claim to understand this music, but maybe others will; he's at www.gamma-shop.com/. But I am conscious of the huge number of informational sites out there, and I can't list them all, so this is haphazard.
In a prior column I commented on several things, like a recent study that indicated that Vitamin C might be mischief for the body, and my wariness of cell phones because of the expense and possible radiation to the head. Readers let me know that the evidence in both cases is suspect; Vitamin C remains healthy, and told me that there is a deal for prepaid wireless cell phone: you buy your minutes ahead, and use them up at your convenience, without ongoing service charges. That could be worthwhile for occasional use. Another told me of a vegetarian site, www.ivu.org. IVU stands for International Vegetarian Union. Since most of my readers are not vegetarians, I think it doesn't deserve a link. Unless maybe it listed me somewhere. So I checked--and it lists Famous Vegetarians, and under Writers, there I am. Okay, it got me; it gets a link. Have I mentioned recently my encounter with an ignoramus on that subject? He asked me whether I was a vegetarian, and I said yes, and he asked whether I ate fish, and I said no, and he said then I wasn't a vegetarian because his cousin was a vegetarian and he ate fish. Years later SF writer Larry Niven tried to lecture me on the unhealthiness of vegetarianism; that showed me something about the depth of his knowledge. It would be nice if folk who don't know much about a subject did not try to teach those who do; I call it the arrogance of ignorance. I already have more than enough ignorance of my own to advertise in this column. Someone clued me into a fun site, Barbie Dolls of the 90s, such as Divorced Barbie, Teenage Single Parent Barbie, Crack Addict Barbie, Breast implant Barbie, Feminist Barbie--you get the idea. I don't think it deserves a link on the links section, but maybe here in this column: www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Cove/1416/Study/barbie90.htm.
There was an item on a posh new Florida gated community development that was overrun by snakes. Folk were horrified, and killed the damned things as fast as they could. What perverse idiocy! It was obviously a breeding ground for snakes that the people moved into, and they weren't poisonous, just going about their lifestyles. For those who don't know it, snakes are essentially beneficial to the purposes of man, as they eat things like rodents that otherwise invade houses, and they seldom seek to bother people. We have rattlesnakes and coral snakes here on our tree farm, and we leave them alone and they leave us alone. We also have the handsome rare indigo snakes, a protected species, and value them. I was annoyed that the newspaper article went into none of this, just the horror of having snakes in your yard. Fortunately some newspaper readers did respond with some common sense comment. The rule is simple: if you see a snake, leave it alone.
We have occasional dealings with the P&C Bank in Pennsylvania. Our grown daughters are named Penny and Cheryl, so I always think of it as the Penny & Cheryl Bank, in PennyCherylvania. I don't know why I keep hearing groans in my wake. Penny now lives on a farm in Oregon with Llamas, emus, and four-horned Jacob Sheep, while Cheryl, our daughter the Newspaper woman, works at the local paper. One day it ran a news item about a fabulous cache of dinosaur footprints that had been discovered; some big newspapers didn't bother, having ignorant editors, but the local one did. Because Cheryl, an erstwhile dinosaur fan, chose to run it. Thus the small paper may have more class than the big one. For those who wonder why Penny moved so far away from me, an episode of family history may suffice: as a child, she had been given a fancy mug. When we had company, she called from upstairs "e;Shall I bring my mug down?"e; I called back "e;Yes. And bring the rest of you too."e; I get letters from young fans saying my daughters are lucky to have a father like me. My daughters could scorch their ears with their response.
And I have a 11,000 word column, again. These novelette length columns have to stop; they gobble up my time, and may be putting readers to sleep. As I edited it, I heard a noise on the roof over my study; when I went out to check, several big black vultures flew off. Wow; those critics are getting bolder! Next time I'll tackle the riddle of consciousness, another of my private fascinations. Until then--
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