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Piers Anthony at work
FeBlueberry 2006

Last column I remarked on the interior architecture of green peppers. That incurred several responses, so here is a sequel comment. One person remarked that the other colored peppers have similar architecture, and are easier for him to digest. Well, the store had a sale on the other colors, bringing them down to the price of green peppers--$2.99 at Publix--so we bought one each of yellow, orange, and red. They do seem to be similar except for the colors, and I can't tell any difference in taste. Maybe my palate is uneducated. The orange one looks like carrot when sliced, and the red one like tomato. Since the carrots on sale locally tend to taste like turpentine--I was raised on a New England farm, so I know what decent carrot tastes like--this tended to fake us out. As it happened they raised the price of tomatoes, so we substituted apples, and again were faked out by the apple-colored pepper. Then they dropped the price of green, so we're back green again. At least we got try try the full color array. They sure are pretty.

One person marveled that we couldn't afford the more expensive peppers. He thought I should have made enough money for them via my writing. Herein lies a lesson in economics that voters would do well to heed. I'm not poor; my estate passed a million dollars twenty years ago and is far beyond that now. It's that I don't care to pay more than a thing is worth. As I put it to my daughters when they were children: I would not pay two cents for a one cent gum ball. (Never mind that today you can't get a one cent gum ball for a nickel.) So we shop the sales and stop buying what gets too expensive. My wife, who is surely typical of the distaff gender in this respect, zeroes in on sales from miles away. Half price sheet sets, reduced price chairs, food--anything. She buys her prescription medication pills at double potency and we cut them in half for the doses, saving money. When haircuts passed a dollar I stopped getting them at barbershops and my wife and I started doing each other's hair. When she was unable to continue that, because of her illness last year, I started growing my hair long, and now have a solid ponytail behind, and comb-over thinness on top. Getting old is a bitch. We are aware of the fuel economy of our cars, which is why the 45 mpg Prius gets most of the driving rather than the 19 mpg Town & Country van. Anywhere you look, we are living economically. It's our nature. So yes, we could afford a dollar more for a colored pepper. And no, we won't spend it; we'll substitute or do without, as we did with the tomatoes.

So what's the economic lesson? It's that this is the typical pattern of the self-made millionaire. Someone who grew up poor and then got money by hard work and frugal habits. Folk who inherit fortunes don't necessarily appreciate the value of money, and may spend it wastefully; they don't count. Most of us keep the economic habits that got us where we are now. So if the government cuts taxes on the rich to stimulate the economy, it won't work; the rich will just put more money in the bank or investments. They won't spend it on more expensive peppers. That's why the tax cuts of recent years have had minimal effect on the economy, and major effect on the number of billionaires extant. To stimulate the economy you have to put the money in the hands of the poor; they will use it to survive, having no choice. That's what isn't being done. So are those currently in power economic idiots? No, they know this. It's that they want to reproduce their kind, and make more billionaires, buy more politicians, and fuck the poor. It is happening exactly the way they designed it. The economic idiots are the poor who continue to vote these fuckers into office. Anyone who shops for peppers should be able to appreciate this reality.

More adventure in groceries (you can tell I lead a dull life): they had a nice price on five pound boxes of Clementine tangerine/orange crossbreeds, so we bought a box. I'm not sure how an orange mates with a tangerine, here in Mundania, but we do have their offspring. But I wondered about the box: it is sort of thin wood panels with four very solid uprights, and only netting for the top. That surely helps them to stack high without squashing the delicate fruit, but it's an unusual design. Then it came to me: herring boxes without topses. From the song “Clementine.” “Light she was and like a fairy, and her shoes were number nine; herring boxes without topses; sandals were for Clementine.” Cute. My wife says that number nine is humor, as it is a large shoe size. She wears size twelve. I say the angels have big feet. But there remains the specter of the shoe salesman who may inquire snidely “And do you want the oars with those boats?” Now that song is running constantly through my noggin. I have the words in my spot song collection I typed out as a teen, and when I couldn't remember some words, I looked them up. I like the conclusion: after Clementine hits her foot upon a splinter and drowns, “How I missed her, how I missed her, how I missed my Clementine. Till I kissed her little sister and forgot my Clementine.” I think he was a turd to forget her like that, but that sister was probably a pretty girl. I wonder what her name was? Tangelo?

I looked at a book of haiku at the author's invitation. I said that the poems weren't following the traditional haiku form: three lines, of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. He said that's passé; no one writes them that way today. Oh? I like to think of myself as forward-looking, if not actually a maverick, but some things don't really change. I'm not a poet or poetic scholar, but in poetry, more than in almost anything else except maybe a woman, form defines the type. You don't have an 18 line sonnet or a three line limerick; you do them as they are defined, or you have something else. So how can a non 5-7-5 poem be a haiku? Am I really out of touch?

Ed Howdershelt, a sometimes correspondent, told me of Xandros, a Linux distribution. Now that interested me, because I use Linux and I write a fantasy series called Xanth. If ever something seems cut out for me, it would be Xanth Linux, or something in that neighborhood. He said it installed on his system with four clicks, just as advertised. Okay, we had a dialogue. He got an extra distribution he didn't need, so he motorcycled up and brought it to us. We have an extra system we've hardly used because we couldn't get my keyboard on it, and my wife didn't want to struggle for hours to download the current Eudora mail handler; typically the download of anything gets interrupted and we have to start over, and then it doesn't work anyway. So we much prefer to load from discs; at least they work, and serve as a backup when there is need. Four clicks? Xandros didn't load at all. Well, it got on the system, then refused to recognize us. It kept asking for a nonexistent password. Finally my wife managed to get it reinstalled, and this time it worked. But the keyboard section was hidden, so couldn't be modified. I thought it was only Windows that took pride in hiding things to the user can't find them, let alone adapt them. But my theory is that disaffected Windows programmers migrated to open source, taking their used-be-damned attitude with them.

Came a fan letter from Farrell McGovern: he's into Linux; anything he could do to help? I told him about the Xandros problem. So he got it and downloaded it, and soon got us the name of the key file. With that my wife was able to trace it, buried way deep in the labyrinth, and modify it. So now I could use that system. Except that it won't go online. The Windows that it came with uses its modem to go online, but Xandros can't figure it out. I love the open source idea, but sometimes I wonder whether its programmers actually know their business. I just assumed they knew about modems. So that system remains unused. So why don't we query the Xandros proprietors about it? Actually, I'd like to register with them, because it seems like a nice software package, and I'd be happy to put it on my writing system and review it in this column. You know the song about the hole in the bucket? Catch 22? We can't take the system online to make that query or registration. I suppose we could do it via Windows, but that doesn't seem quite Kosher. But Xandros has had one effect: for years I've been telling my wife what a fun game Shisen-Sho is. It's a sort of a gravity-tile/Mahjongg variant, and I play it to relax when I have time. But it's on Linux, and she's on Windows. But Xandros has it, so she tried it--and became addicted. My fastest time is just over 15 minutes; now all of her top ten are well under that. What have I done?

My recumbent bike ran over a roofing nail and got a flat. I pondered, and concluded it was overdue for refurbishing anyway, after 9 years, so took it into the bike shop. They said they were so busy they couldn't handle it then. So I took it home and trotted out my adult scooter, with 16 inch wheels (I won't use one of those scooters with chair casters for wheels), and for a month I scooted the 1.6 miles round trip to fetch in the newspapers and mail. And you know, it was okay. The scooter runs about two minutes slower on that trip than the bike, 17 minutes instead of 15, but that's not bad. I changed feet every tenth of a mile, but later tried it more often, and now I just push three times per foot and switch. It takes more energy than the cycle, so I wear lighter clothing to alleviate overheating. When I finally got the bike fixed, after a month--they had to replace the whole chain assembly--I decided to continue using the scooter too, alternately. The thing is, I'm getting older, my balance may become less certain, and the scooter is easier to handle in that respect. In a few days the bike suddenly dumped me, as if proving my point about balance. Then I discovered that it wasn't me; the metal rod that connects the steering for the front wheel had severed, corroded through. Well, I could fix that by putting the wheel in its rear position, that did not need that rod. Only the connection would not budge. I put a pipe wrench on it and hammered: nothing. Sigh. So I took it back to the shop. The man put an ordinary wrench on it and it came loose no effort, making me look like an idiot. You know how a jar with a tight lid can be passed around a room of men, and they all try it, but it won't budge? Then a woman tries it and it comes right off? Maybe the last man got it started and didn't know it. Maybe. So the shop did it for me, and now I'm getting used to the bumpier ride and hypersensitive steering promoted by the wheel set back. I'll get used to it in time. I had the wheel set forward for seven years; those reflexes aren't undone in a day. I had to adjust the front wheel brake after I got it back; it was too tight so the wheel would not spin freely. You'd think shops would check for such things. So the main thing is the discovery how well the scooter can substitute. The whole scooter cost less than just the repairs on the bike. I'm still learning things, even at age 71.

Our Town & Country van started acting odd. It would surge and fade, surge and fade. We took it in to Chrysler, and they discovered that mice had eaten away the insulation of a key component, so the wires were shorting out. We know how that works; it's like the demyelinizing my wife's nerves suffered, shorting out and putting her in the wheelchair for months. She's fine now, in that respect, thanks to treatment, and so is the van. But that alerted us to the problem of mice in the garage. Now normally I prefer to live and let live, but that $200 repair bill was a nuisance. So we put out bait. The mice loved it; they carried off whole packets of it unopened, hoarding them in their lair. Then they died. That puts my mind into depressive channels. I relate well to depressives; there could be a reason for that, could I but fathom it. The problem is that the mice know no bounds; they chew into anything that interests them, heedless of the harm done. That in time incurs a deadly response. Now a rat has moved in, and is gobbling up the bait. It will be sorry. Okay, there is one species that's worse: mankind. We delve into all corners of the world, exhausting resources, generating garbage and destroying wildlife, just because we can. At what point will God conclude that mankind is a mistake, and put out bait? Yes, of course I'm agnostic, so this is just a thought. But if I were religious, I'd be distinctly nervous. Is there a Heaven for those who ruthlessly despoil the world? I doubt it.

Every so often I report on my ne'er-do-well archery. I finally put the old fashioned arrow rest on the left-hand bow, hoping the wild misses would stop. Well, they have; now the misses are much closer to the target. This morning, Sunday, before I started this column, my score was 3.5-3 right side because of two misses at the end, and was 2-2 with 3 arrows to go. The first hit the center; was I finally going to break even? The second missed touchingly close low right. Now it was 3-3. So I aimed a bit left and higher for the final loose--and the arrow sailed up to miss high. So it was 3-4, another losing session. Then as I put away the bow I discovered that the sights had dropped, causing me to aim high. Equipment failure had caused me to lose. So maybe there is hope for the future--or maybe that left side will find other ways to preserve my losing streak. And a later note: this column is running a day late, so my Thursday archery session come the day of this editing. Right side was 2.5-2, and left side was 4-2. Wow--I had a positive score! (Did someone say it couldn't be done?) Maybe that's a fluke, but I'm taking it as hope for the future.

I used to like to watch TV football. That interest has gradually waned. I can give a reason. I watched the game between the #1 and #2 College teams, from California and Texas. At one point the Texas runner's knee was down, ending the play. But he lateraled to another, who scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown. They showed the video several times, but the officials had missed it and apparently the California coach wasn't allowed to protest. So the college championship of the nation was decided by a bad call. What did they think it was, an election? Why, when the truth is known, don't they do it right? Was the Texas team proud to “win” on that basis? I wouldn't be. They may have their reasons, but this sort of thing alienates me. Why play a game unless it is correctly called? Which puts me in mind of a story I made up years ago: two billionaires made a bet on who could assemble a winning football team. One spent money like water, signing up the best players in the world and training them rigorously. The other didn't bother; any cheap players would do. Then came the time for the game. The two billionaires didn't watch; they relaxed over a nice meal and drinks. They didn't care about football, just about their bet. Then came the result: Team B, the poor one, had won. “How did you do it?” the first billionaire asked. “You couldn't have found better players or coaches. I bought the best there are.” “I bought the officials,” the second billionaire replied smugly.

I read recently that a study shows that couples who have a TV set in their bedroom have sex only half as often as those who don't. Once a week instead of twice. And all this time I thought it was my advancing age. Sigh. And we don't even turn on that bedroom TV.

Relationships has now been published by Venus Press. I received a fan letter remarking on how I had done an erotic novel for Venus. This requires a bit of clarification: this is not a novel but a collection of 12 stories, and it's not erotic but has erotic elements. That is, some stories have no sex, some have some, and some have a lot. The point is not sex but the relationships, mostly between men and women. It has always bothered me how published stories were generally either the prince kisses the princess and 9 months later the stork delivers a baby, or the prince fucks the bejesus out of the princess for six hours straight, and is just warming up, no other details. Phew! Bring out the saddle soap. I prefer fiction that is in between, with neither the sex nor the humanity ignored, and that is the type I have written here. I wondered how Venus classified the volume, as it doesn't have a story collection category, and saw it labeled as Contemporary. So I checked the Contemporary section of the site, and it wasn't there. Didn't make the cut, I guess.

As I proofread the galleys I enjoyed revisiting the stories. I like them all; otherwise I wouldn't have written them. But different ones strike my fancy at different times. This time it was “For Real,” in which a college boy is assigned a pro girlfriend. That is, a company sends him a girl without charge, and sends a college girl a boy, to demonstrate its wares to the college and the world. It's a free-sample advertising ploy. The “partners” are trained to be ideal. And you know, they are; it goes way beyond sex. If you were looking for the ideal partner, this would be it. She's pretty rather than beautiful, average rather than smart, and she can be hurt, but she is totally dedicated to his welfare, to the limit of ethical responsibility, and she is ethical. She has a significant beneficial affect on him, and the boy has similar effect on the college girl. At the end of the semester it is over, but he is signing up with that company to learn to be a partner. So that he can become the kind of boy a girl like her could love for real. And this is the kind of story I write when I'm not catering to the market, but writing for real. It may pass without much notice, satisfying neither the prudes nor the prurients and certainly not the critics, but I like it regardless, and believe it could make a great movie. Dream on.

So okay, Venus is an erotic publisher, and this collection remains a marginal call. I remarked before about how some of my fiction would likely poop their panties, but that this wasn't that. I was slightly in error: they did edit out a bit of poop, where the girl hacked into the school video surveillance system and watched her boyfriend when he was sick with the runs; I can't think why jetting out hot brown sludge would turn off a sex-minded reader. But there was another effect: the proprietress remarked in passing that she wouldn't mind seeing another such collection. That got my attention, and I checked my Story idea file. Now I'm writing another collection. I was writing a story titled “Doll,” the doll being a life-sized android that can be fitted with anatomically correct male or female parts and is programmed to respond to key commands like “kiss” or “thrust.” It's some doll. Three college boys and three college girls share expenses purchasing it, and they have a sexual ball with it. But no need to bore you with dull details. The Relationships galleys arrived amidst this story, so I had to break off writing. An inset story in “Hot Game” caught my attention, and fermented in my mind, and when I completed the proofing I wrote a sequel to that inset, titled “Friends of Bolivia.” I don't think I've done that before: sequeled an inset. It's about an affair between a homely black female prisoner and the white post commander, which leads in a surprising and savage direction. Then I returned to “Doll.” Thus the ongoing adventure of writing; I can never be quite sure what I will write next.

I receive fairly regular queries about the 8th Incarnations of Immortality novel I wrote, Under a Velvet Cloak, featuring Nox, the Incarnation of Night. It has not found a traditional print publisher, and since earlier volumes in this series were bestsellers and there may be a movie made from the first, On A Pale Horse, I am reluctant to let this go to small press or electronic print just yet. But I wonder. One editor had every reason to take the novel, but found it to be not up to the standard of the others and turned it down. So I have shown it to I think five non-editorial readers, and only one even commented, liking a particular scene, not expressing an opinion on the novel as a whole. That's it. I can't even get an opinion on its merit. What does it mean when a novel disappears into a void: no positive, negative, or in between comments? It may be that it is inferior to the others; writers have their ups and downs and things don't always come together perfectly. But why didn't anyone say so? I mean, any real reader; editors don't count. So it could be that there are elements in it that turn off readers for other reasons, but that they find awkward to remark on. So they simply shut up. Such as when the Angel Gabriel is portrayed as having a robust interest in sex. I don't know. I suspect it is both: not as good, and with turnoffs. And I'll wait. If there is no interest, come the movie, I'll reconsider.

As I believe I have mentioned, Wife #1 and Daughter #2 control our movie schedule, which is why we don't see hot-girl movies. But we did see the first Narnia movie, and the King Kong remake. Both were pretty good, if not perfect. Both tended to throw in fantasy creatures or dinosaurs galore with no real rationale; do you really think human beings ever mixed with dinosaurs or unicorns? It's been a long time since I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I didn't remember a big battle in it; I understand the battle occurred and took something like one and a quarter pages, while in the movie it's the main event. Par for that course. And how did a 25 foot tall ape exist on an island, with no big-ape community? But let's face it, these are movies; there's no place for common sense or fidelity to the original stories.

I also watched some videos, before my supposedly relaxed schedule socked in tight. House of Sand and Fog, which depicts a dreadful struggle for a house that winds up pretty well destroying the participants. Ugly, but a savagely good movie. Dangerous Life of Altar Boys, which I think had potential but in the end sort of fizzled. So alter boys are not angelic, and they do have dreams of super-heroes; is that all? Blazing Saddles, a parody of westerns that lays it on so thick it becomes dull. But the discussion following it was interesting. It explained how the notorious farting scene, where the cowboys ate beans and eased themselves up to let out foul-smelling noises, was expurgated of the key sounds for the theater. So the cowboys lifted themselves in a kind of slow silent ballet, the point lost. Wow.

Richard Vallance sent me a video that appeared in England and may not make it to uptight America: The Root of All Evil? The answer: Religion. I have pondered for decades whether religion has not brought as much harm as good to the world. I never joined a religion, not because I lacked a moral compass, but because I saw no clear consistent ennobling of participants brought about by religion. I did see evangelistic hypocrites, and historically there was the Inquisition, which was about as unJesus as anything could be. Well, this video's thesis seems to be that there is no doubt: religion is evil. What about indoctrinating children into organized superstition rather than letting them grow up and make their own choices after studying the issues? Is this a form of child abuse? What about threatening children with Hell, literally, eternal torture, if they aren't scared into being “good”? (What is it about those who proclaim their religion, and their affinity for torture?) The case is devastating, as an evangelical minister lectures the interviewer on his arrogance, showing astonishing arrogance himself. Why struggle with all the conflicting theories of Science, when you can settle for Faith with no thinking at all? What I find frightening is how many people of this nation do settle for just that. The video suggests that religion is in fact a dangerous virus, warping people's minds with twisted “morality.” I remember a comment commentator Paul Harvey made decades ago: all over the world, people are killing people, in the name of religion. I do believe that were Jesus Christ to return to Earth today, he would reject the warmongers and moneychangers who are so freely taking his name in vain.

I squeeze in reading when I can. There was The Kinshield Legacy, by K C May, a rousing hard-hitting fantasy adventure. Two novels by Marilyn Peake, completing her Fisherman's Son trilogy. Rarity From the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton, featuring a precocious child who saves the galaxy from destruction by infesting roaches. And PLAYBOY 50 YEARS, a compendium of their art and intention. Some nice pictures.

When checking my library for something else--ever thus!--I spied my collection of MALEDICTA, the International Journal of Verbal Aggression edited by Reinhold Aman. This was published annually in book form for a quarter century or so, and there's not much like it elsewhere. Some tidbits selected from pages of them: how different folk “do it”: Admirals do it fleetingly. Bigots do it intolerably. Cardiologists do it heartily. Hitchhikers do it with their thumb. Seventh Day Adventists do it until the Second Coming. Writers do it literally. Then there are the mock book titles: The Golden Stream by I P Long. The Tiger's Revenge by Claude Balls. Under the Grandstand by Seymour Butts. Antlers in the Trees, by Hoo Goost, the Moose. The Hole in the Mattress by Mr. Completely. I used to love those in high school. And colorful insults: She's so dumb she couldn't add up to two without taking off her blouse. You're slick as snot on a marble. She's a girl who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. You should have been a hemorrhoid because you're such a pain in the ass. And how to decipher personal ads: Athletic = no tits. Good Listener = borderline autistic. Redhead = bad dye job. Young at heart = old bat. Free spirit = banging your sister. Thoughtful = says “Excuse me” when he farts. Honest = pathological liar. And Shit Happens as interpreted by various religions, politics, famous people, professions, etc.: Confucianism = Confucius say Shit Happens. Creationism = And the Lord said “Let there be shit” ... and there came piles of it. After six days of this shit, He rested. Islam = If shit happens, it is the will of Allah. Jehovah's Witnesses = Shit happens door to door. Quakers = Let us not fight over this shit. Libertarianism = Hands off my shit! Beethoven = Shit, shit, shit ... shiiiit! Descartes = I shit, therefore I am. Julius Caesar = I came, I saw, I shat. Teddy Roosevelt = Grunt softly and take a big shit. Politician = My fellow Americans, all I stand for is shit. Psychologist = Shit is in your mind. Waitress = You want fries with this shit? Microsoft = NO! That shit looks and feel like our shit. Wal-Mart = We sell our shit for less, always. Dyslexia = Tihs happens. The address is MALEDICTA PRESS, Dr. Reinhold Aman, PO Box 14123, Santa Rosa, CA 95402-6123. aman@sonic.net www.sonic.net/maledicta/ . Tell him I sent you; he could use your support. No shit. His politics are not mine, but MALEDICTA is some effort. What he doesn't know about verbal aggression isn't worth shit.

I allowed the last week of the month to update the Publishing survey and write this column. Naturally everything else socked in to take my time. I had to set two books and the copyedited manuscript for Xanth # 30 Stork Naked aside until the column cleared, and the column is running late. We finally got the heat pump I have mentioned before fixed, after more than two years, but that came out of column time. My front tooth, whose implant was supposed to take 2 weeks, has now been 15 months. The enamel surfacing came, and it fit perfectly--but was the wrong color. Someone in a lab somewhere had ignored the specified shade, so that it would stand out in my face. So it is being sent back, and I have another 3 weeks to go. That too came out of column time. And of course I have household duties; I make most of the meals now, wash the dishes, and go into town and doctor visits with my wife, not taking a chance on there being a problem with her being alone, so my working time is not what it was. I think I mentioned how getting old is a bitch; don't do it if you have a choice.

Sudoku is the number game that has swept the world. You have to fill in the numbers 1-0 on each column and row, and in each of 9 sub-squares. My wife now has whole books of those games. I tried one; it took me an hour, and I wound up with two numbers wrong in the rows; I fixed them, but then they were wrong in the columns. I had to quit; I can't afford the time. But it is clearly a good game: simple rules anyone can understand, but hard as hell to get right. Like writing a story, actually.

I'm a health nut; that's why I exercise and watch what I eat. That's not why I'm a vegetarian, but that doesn't hurt. (SF writer Larry Niven tried to tell me vegetarianism is unhealthy. Well, let's see which of us lives longer.) There are many health newsletters; I subscribed to five, and whittled them down over the years until finally staying with the best: ALTERNATIVES, with Dr. David Williams. Some top-rated ones failed the Vitamin C test, claiming it is ineffective against the common cold. I'll say it again: there are those who know Vitamin C doesn't work--and there are those who have actually tried it. I remain amazed by the determined ignorance of most of the medical profession. C doesn't stop the flu, though. I read recently that selenium helps stop the flu. Interesting; I'm taking that for my prostate, so maybe that will substitute for the flu shot I was unable to get. Anyway, this time ALTERNATIVES talked about lymph, and it's fascinating. We all know how the body is networked with blood vessels, but the lymph network is about as intricate. The lymph is a fluid that comes, as I understand it, from the blood and the interstices between cells; it collects in its own vessels, goes through assorted lymph nodes, and eventually is returned to the blood. But it travels the backwaters, as it were, and lacks the pumping action of the heart, so it can be sluggish. Health is improved significantly if the lymph flow is improved, somewhat the way a city's health is improved if sewer blockages are kept clear. But how is that done? Well, one way is massage--not heavy, but light, more like a gentle stroking of the skin. I'm still reading about it, but I think I want to learn that massage.

Email I received: “Old people are worth millions. Take into consideration the silver in their hair, the gold in their teeth, the stones in their kidneys, lead in their feet and the gas in their stomachs.” I'm glad to know it, having all those assets.

We have a local character. Aside from me, I mean. His name is Joe Redner. I met him once, passingly, at a program. He's about 6 years my junior. He owns several girlie establishments--you know, nude dancing--and seems constantly in trouble with the bluenoses. He claims to have had 25 female sexual partners and has been married twice. Now he says he is gay. Is it true, or is it a ploy? I suspect only he knows for sure. It sure stirred up the community.

They may have found a drug that can be inhaled that stirs passion on both males and females. They tried it on female rats, and one sniff sent them seeking males for sex. I can see the future: men will put it in gift roses and wait for the women to sniff them. Can they call it date rape when the woman is begging for it? There may be some interesting legal cases.

A reader sent me a link to www.asimovs.com/discus/ where someone opened a discussion “Anyone read Piers Anthony? Or do you consider him a hack? Seems this person read one of my columns and wondered why I wasn't mentioned elsewhere. The initial consensus seems to be that I'm a hack despite showing promise early on. Well, two things about that: early on I was just another writer, struggling to get my work into print. Then I moved to fantasy, became a best seller, and didn't have to struggle any more. But the choice was really that of the publishers. Readers are great at blaming the authors, without realizing that they don't see what the publishers don't publish. So I made my fortune on what the publishers wanted. But I did not stop writing ambitious things, and the leverage of my bestsellers enabled me to get some serious work also into print. Like Tatham Mound, Firefly, and the GEODYSSEY historical fiction series. Or, for that matter, Relationships. If someone reads those and still calls me a hack, well, that's his opinion; he's locked in. But I have noticed that generally the hack-accusers don't read my serious work; indeed they seem deliberately unaware of it, and they prefer to judge me on their own ignorance. I call those the real hacks. Still, some here do read; one says that Spider Legs, my collaboration with Clifford Pickover, was possibly the worst book he'd ever read. “It was so bad I couldn't stop reading it.” Interesting comment. Another said “With a name like Piers, he's got to be good.” To which another replied “Just think, if he called himself 'Mangled Baby Ducks Anthony,' he'd be even better!” Another liked the Incarnations of Immortality series, but felt the “blogging” at the end was distasteful. That's the Author's Notes, written before blogs existed; most readers really like them. Another conjectures that I'm a strong backer of self publishing because I want to write what I want to write. That's a half truth: each part of it is correct, but my reason for supporting self publishing is to make it possible for other writers, who haven't gotten lucky as I did, to get published too. That's a rather different motive than the one implied. Another says that she (I suspect it's a she) read a book of mine that was so AWFUL that she blocked the title from her mind. It is about men needing to cheat and women having to put up with it, with a portrayal of “love” that is violently sexual with emotional betrayal. This is interesting; can anyone out there tell me what title she was thinking of, because I'm not aware of writing such a book. Could it be her take on Firefly? Then she tried what sounds like DoOon Mode, and it made her sick. The next person says that's the most outrageous thing he's read in months, and is beneath contempt. He's not referring to the distorted comment, but to the author, me, and in contrast he extolls Terry Pratchett as one of the best writers in literature today. Others comment on my story “In the Barn,” wherein the milkers are big-breasted women--and, surprise, one gets it right, as a message story intended to be an animal-rights shocker. Some wonder whether my stuff is really science fiction. No, it's mostly science fantasy or straight fantasy. One person conjectures that I spent ten times as much time writing Macroscope as a Xanth novel, and that the Xanth earns ten times as much as Macroscope. Well, not quite--five times might be closer--but the essence is correct. The other part of that equation is that I may not be able to get a quality novel into print at all, while I have actually sold Xanth novels on titles alone--without even naming the titles. If publishers wanted quality material I'd still be writing GEODYSSEY novels. Another person says that he puts me firmly in the misogynist category, and that in my collaboration with a dead teen boy, Through the Ice, “Anthony spends a bunch of pages telling everyone how busy and successful he is, and what a labor it was to pick up a juvenile attempt at writing--basically, if it sucks, don't blame me.” I hope some readers will check that book to see what I actually said. He concludes “After reading that, I can barely stand mention of the pompous ass.” My impression is that he hated my fiction before he ever read it; a reader does sort of get out of a book what he puts into it. Then comes one who says “Could it be possible (Anthony) enjoys Xanth as much as the people who still read it? I feel moved to say--don't hate the player, hate the game.” Yes, I love Xanth; I just don't want to be limited to it. And I'm trying to change the game by supporting self publishing and electronic publishing. Another says “Piers Anthony is a midget of a man who likes to call himself OGRE!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Shorty short short!” I presume he means intellectually, as I stand 5' 10½ inches tall barefoot, which is more like average than midget--and what would be wrong with being physically short, anyway? My publisher Judy-Lynne del Rey, who gave the name to DEL REY Books, stood something like three and a half feet tall, but I call her a giant for what she accomplished, and I liked her personally. I took the ogre identity when I was accused of being an ogre at conventions, before I had ever even attended a convention, which shows the way of that. My critics never bothered unduly with accuracy. But of course the ogres of Xanth are justifiably proud of their stupidity; maybe I'm missing something. Further along another person nails it: consider the PUBLISHERS, who look only at the bottom line. Amen.

Interesting email I received: Congressman John Conyers, Jr., www.johnconyers.com/ , is taking steps to begin an inquiry into possible impeachable offenses by the Bush Administration. Seems NBC is investigating reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) conducted wiretaps of CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, whose husband served as a senior adviser to the John Kerry presidential campaign. Hm--that's not the first time the spouse of a critic has been illegally targeted by this administration. But that's the mere tip of this iceberg. I will watch with interest as it slowly brings the Titanic down.

I looked up a reader site, http://bambit.kusangpalo.com/, by Balay ni Bambit, a 40+ year old Filipino housewife, because she Googled for “No sex causes bad eyes” and came across my discussion in a year 2000 column, which she quotes. My corollary was that screwing caused better vision for my wife, when I screwed her loose glasses frames tight. That's not the only time I have mentioned screwing with my wife; the other was when I got a burst blood vessel in my eye from screwing bookshelf screws tight as she drilled the holes.

NEW SCIENTIST had an article on the prospect of multiple universes. I have pondered this before, notably in science fiction where we are light years ahead of contemporary scientists, but this is a good take on it. A new String Theory describes 10500 universes (that's ten raised to the 500th power), which is a fair number. So how does this relate to the price of beans in Bohemia? It's that the fundamental laws of our universe seem largely haphazard, coincidentally making it possible for life to evolve, and thus enabling our presence to marvel at it all. How can this be? The chances against such a coincidental collection of just-right laws are astronomical. If you're religious, you don't sweat it; God made this shit in six days, and on the seventh day he was pooped out. But I'm not religious, so I need a natural explanation. And that is this nearly infinite array of universes. You can do things with infinity that are difficult in more limited quarters. There can be every conceivable and many inconceivable variants of universe, each just a whisper of the memory of the odor of fecal difference apart. Somewhere in that vasty array will be a universe where life is possible--and that is our universe. So it's not chance but natural selection and evolution. Sorry about that, God.

Also in NEW SCIENTIST: if you want to help the planet by buying an eco-friendly car, there's a much more effective way: become a vegetarian. Considering the amount of fossil fuel needed to cultivate and process a meaty diet, that's worse than the car. Of course I drive a Prius and am a vegetarian, so you can practically see the halo.

The University of South Florida magazine has an interesting article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their mission was to help the children ages 2-17 who were just coming to the realization that they had lost everything. Some had waded through neck-high rushing water, pushing away snakes and dead birds to evacuate. Many had survived three days without food, water, or toilets at the Superdome. Some had heard gunshots or witnessed a brutal beating. Some were in a bus taking them to safe shelter when it overturned, imbedding glass in their necks and splattering blood. It turned out that mere words were inadequate to soothe them. They needed to be stabilized and calmed, and to feel safe, but the shelters were chaotic. So the USF folk brought toys, beach balls, crayons, pictures, puppets--and tight, tender hugs. And the response was instantaneous, with squeals, smiles, laughter, and play. There is surely a lesson there. My father did relief work for the British Friends Service Council in Spain after its civil war of 1936-39, feeding the children who were suffering the horrors of war, and reported similar reactions. Then he was arrested and kicked out of the country, which was how we came to America as World War Two was revving up.

The Hightower Lowdown, a radical newsletter, describes how Toyota is building cars in America, paying wages and benefits comparable to Detroit's. Its high quality, good mileage cars are selling--yes, we bought one--while the Detroit gas guzzlers are suffering. With a national health care program, General Motors would save $1,500 per car and the health of the nation would improve; but the CEOs seem to be more interested in richly feathering their own nests. “They have become blind to the looming threat that their avarice poses to the social order ... and to their own well-being.” Then Robert Paulk is quoted: “This is the thing that revolutions are made of.” That's my concern. I think of the French Revolution, when the oppressive rulers were finally overthrown and slaughtered wholesale. I don't want to see it in America.

I commented last column on Kothe Gogolewski's children's novel Tato. Her site is www.TRI-Studio.com . She read my novel Pandora Park to a class of children, anonymously (that is, they did not know the author), and recorded their reactions. Half liked it very well; others found it okay, and a few didn't like it. I made many spot changes of vocabulary they had trouble with. So it has been child-vetted. Now my agent will market it, and we'll see.

I have a huge remaining pile of clippings, magazine articles, and notes, but I'm running late, my time is out, and I must stop. I hope I didn't overlook something vital.

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