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August 2007

We have feral philodendrons growing around our returned-to-nature pool, escapees from once potted plants. Then one showed up just outside the screen door where I always had to struggle to avoid stepping on it. I don't like mistreating plants any more than mistreating animals or people, though pigs, mosquitoes, biting flies, and neo conservatives do strain my tolerance at times. So finally I dug it up and transplanted it to a safe spot on our garden square. It flourished, now receiving attention instead of neglect, and put forth a second leaf, then a third and fourth. I noticed that there was a whitish pattern on those later leaves, now that it was showing its true colors. I discovered when looking for the identity of another plant that this was not a philodendron, but a more exotic Xanthosoma lindii. It figures: that a Xanth plant would come to me, hoping for preferential treatment. The others are philodendrons all right; where this one came from who can say? Yes, they are related and look similar; both grow their leaves curled up, then spread out to catch the sun. The Xantho merely has a pattern of whitish veins on its leaves, making it prettier. Still, it can hardly be coincidence, can it?

My wife had her heart surgery June 5, 2007. Technically it was to fix a thoracic aortic aneurysm, or in English, the main artery leading from the heart had swollen until almost the diameter of the heart itself, and if it came apart she would have been dead in seconds. To fix it they had to stop her heart, bypass it, cut open her chest, put in a synthetic tube, and put her back together. It was done by the heart surgeon, in the heart ward of the hospital, and the risks were similar. She was a high-risk patient, being 70 and with the complication of her peripheral polyneuropathy. They feared they might have to replace the valve between the heart and the aorta, but it was okay, so that risk was abated. And by that margin it wasn't quite heart surgery. Medicare is giving some static on that. But she came through it all right, was in intensive care a day, the hospital a week, and now is recovering nicely at home. They gave her a heart shaped pillow with a diagram of the heart on it, that she had to hug when I helped her to stand, as she wasn't allowed to use her arms to push herself up. She had a row of 25 stitches down her front, making it seem as if she were a doll stitched together there. She has taken over the email again, and is driving again, and grocery shopping, though of course I'm with her, pushing her around in the riding cart at Publix. So with that behind her, and the CIDP (the ailment that put her in the wheelchair two years ago) under control, the outlook is positive, and we should be good for a few more years. It will be another couple of months before she recovers her prior strength, but she is gradually getting there.

I think Cingular (by whatever name it hides behind) exists to screw me. Twice before it screwed us on cell phone charges, so we quit, but were still using a phone our daughter provided, which happened to be Cingular. We had all the Family numbers programmed in so that when I knew the result of the surgery I could call out and let them know. But when I did, the phone refused to make the connections. Well, as it happened, our daughter was with me, so she saw it happen, and the phone balked for her too. She'd been paying ten dollars a month; evidently the infernal contraption didn't realize that it wasn't just me this time, so pulled its usual stunt of denying paid-for service. So she had to make the calls instead, using her similar phone, on the same service. Apparently they were happy to continue billing her for the service on the second phone, but balked at actually delivering it. There oughtta be a law. I think after this, she too will be dumping Cingular. Wouldn't you? I am now using a Trakfone, and so far it's fine.

I have mentioned our discovery that high fructose corn syrup is an increasing threat to our wellbeing. It messed up digestion, sometimes leading to near diarrhea, and we simply have to get it out of our diet. But it's everywhere. It has been appearing in the yogurt we get, so now we have to read the labels on each cup of fruity bottom or screamy blend we get, to avoid the contaminated ones. It's in dry cereals, like corn flakes; I had innocently thought that syrup would be only in liquid things. So now we read those labels too. When we celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary the week after she came home from the hospital, she thought it would be nice to have an éclair. I checked in the store, and both varieties they had listed high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient, meaning there was more of it than anything else. Huge no-no. So I got a bright notion and checked cheesecake, and it was sanitary, so I bought a two-slice package. Thus our limited celebration. At our age and health, this is equivalent to a young couple's weekend fling in Las Vegas.

And thereby hangs a tale. She liked the cheesecake so well (I had guessed right: every dog has his day) that she decided to get some more, once she was shopping herself. So she bought a whole cheesecake that was on sale, 50 cents off. Then challenged it at the checkout counter: how come they charged $7.49 instead of $6.99? The checkout girl verified that they had not honored the sale price, evidently a glitch in their cash register programming, and gave it to us free. I have heard of this policy, that if they make a mistake, you get the item free, but we weren't trying for that; we just wanted the advertised price. So that turned out to be some bargain, and it was excellent cheesecake. And verification that the surgery did not affect my wife's mind. As I remarked in a prior column, she can smell a sale from miles away, and she expects sales to be honored. I'd have missed it.

I took over the laundry for the duration, using the new washer and dryer we bought doing the first month's reprieve from the surgery, and have some impressions. I have learned to sort out sheets, towels, whites, and darks for separate loads. I note that most of the crude darks are mine, the delicate whites hers; this is the nature of male and female apparel. When the dryer is nearing its culmination, it beeps three times. That always sends me into a memory reverie of a popular song in my bygone day, “Knock Three Times.” It's about a boy who has fallen for the girl who lives in the apartment immediately below his. “One floor below me, you don't even know me, I love you. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me...” Boys are like that; I'm in a position to know. So I find the dryer romantic. Also the Prius car, which beeps when backing. “Twice on the pipe if the answer is no.” And of course the girl is oblivious. Which in turn takes me back to the twelve year old girl I mentioned before, Herta: she finally did respond, and I learned that she had no idea of my feeling for her, which never did completely fade. See? Proof! She never knocked three times. Anyway, I have discovered what the human chin is for: folding sheets and shirts. And the human belly: rolling socks against. And knees: to hang loose socks on while you sit searching for their lost mates. Ask any housewife. The first time I was replacing towels on the rack, I discovered that they were all folded wrong—and of course I had folded them myself. I'm doing them right, now. I've been changing the beds ever since the first siege over two years ago, and have that down pat. We have colored sheets, and I get the blue-eyed ones while she gets the brown-eyed ones, matching our natures. Things make perfect sense when you understand the keys.

In this time of surgery, the minor adventures never ceased. Our upstairs air conditioner went out twice, forcing me to shut down my writing computer and work on the backup one downstairs for a week. Our power failed once, fortunately returning after 22 minutes. And on two different days chimney swifts got lost in the fireplace and we had to help them out of the house. The second one seemed unable to fly more than two feet, and kept landing back on the drive. In time it disappeared, and I hope it finally made it all the way into the air, but fear it may have made it into a predator's stomach. We feel so helpless when wildlife is in need.

We don't pay a lot of attention to TV, though it's generally on in the evenings. We give new shows a chance, but most aren't much. However, there's one now that does intrigue me: Age of Love. One man, 30, a handsome tennis player, looking for a woman to marry. Six women in the 40s, six in their 20s. Each week he eliminates one: “I don't think it will work out.” All are choice, svelte, shapely, lovely of feature, with long dark hair. My type; I wouldn't kick any of them out of bed. The youngest is 21, the oldest 48. No, it's no pushover for the 20s; he's been eliminating them evenly from each age. I'm rooting for the oldest, Jen, on general principles. And of course it makes me wonder what I would do in a situation like that, with a dozen attractive women vying for my hand. Then reality smacks me in the face: what would the ideal woman ever want with a fading writer in his 70s, apart from his money or notoriety? So even the thought experiment puts me back with my mundane wife who enabled me to achieve that money and notoriety. One criticism I have of the show: it's hard to tell the women apart when they're not directly labeled. It would be better to have a variety of hair colors, heights, shapes, attitudes and clothing, so each woman is distinct.

I had a small adventure one morning. A gusty storm front had passed, and I discovered several trees blown down across the drive and a lot of incidental debris. So I took out gloves, electric saw, and clippers and scooted out to clear them. (I use an adult large-wheeled scooter to travel the long drive, alternating feet for pushes; it works fine.) The work proceeded well enough, and after an hour I phoned my wife, using the Trakfone (the cell phone that actually works when I need it): it was done, and I'd be back in half an hour, allowing time to clear out the small brush on the drive. Because I don't like leaving her alone in the house more than an hour, while she's recovering. Then I set about putting away the saw. I had to put my thumb on a release button while I folded the saw blade down so it could be detached. It didn't budge. So I banged it with the heel of my hand, and suddenly it moved—right down onto my other hand holding the button. Ouch! And blood was everywhere: on the blade, on the foliage, on the clippers, and it looked as if I had dipped my whole left hand in blood. I quickly licked off my punctured knuckle, but blood welled out so rapidly that I feared I had somehow opened an artery instead of a vein. Rather than struggle with the tools in the scooter basket while blood flowed, I chose discretion, and called my wife again. She drove out—she had been driving for a week—and picked me up. When we got home I washed off my hand, ready to put a compressing bandage on it—and there was nothing. Only four little dots like an ellipsis .... and no new blood. Apparently the flesh had swelled, closing off the flow. It never even needed a bandage. I remain bemused by how horrendous the wound had seemed, considering how little it was. There is surely a lesson of life there, of some sort, had I but the wit to fathom it.

I finally gave up waiting on traditional publishers, and turned Under a Velvet Cloak, the 8th Incarnations of Immortality novel, featuring Nox, the Incarnation of Night, over to MUNDANIA PRESS, along with my spicy story collections Relationships 1 and 2 to PHAZE, their erotic imprint. They put the reprint Relationships instantly online, so if you missed it at VENUS you can get it now, and I think plan to publish the sequel next year. That one features stories like “Faking It” about a young white girl getting trapped in a stalled elevator during an earthquake with a mature black city dump worker, and “Friends of Bolivia,” a sort of sequel to an inset story in “Hot Game” in the first volume. You think you know where these are going as relationships? I doubt it. My favorite is “Seconds,” about double dating couples that are not at all ordinary. My erotic fiction is mostly stories with erotic elements not censored out, rather than straight eroticism. The way I think all fiction should be, could we just get rid of the publishers who think s-x is a bad word, and the ones who think all else is terminally dull. In other words, the middle ground that most real folk occupy.

We saw our first movie since the surgery, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I found it interesting but not exceptional. I liked the way one of the villains was a seemingly sweet natured older woman, but didn't like the way they seem to have run out of illumination, so that much of it was deep in shadow. You'd think movie execs would have learned by now that folk go to movies to see them, not to strain their eyeballs on obscurities. The conclusion was all jets of lighting from wands, as if magic hasn't yet evolved beyond cheap pyrotechnics. Why waste magic power on brilliant displays, instead of just having the wand freeze someone's heart? I don't think those sorcerers would make it if put up against real wizards. Mainly I watch such movies to get a notion what they may do with Xanth, when, and I can't say I'm completely encouraged. I assume that the book is far more nuanced. I understand that they ban authors from the filming sets, so as to ensure unfettered mediocrity.

News item that bothers me: Pat Tillman, who gave up a lucrative career in pro football to do his part in Afghanistan, may have been fragged. I'm not sure that term is current any more; in the days of Vietnam it referred to annoyed soldiers blowing up their commanders. Vietnam was not a pretty war. The charge is that Tillman was shot in the head at close range by others jealous of his fame, and then the military tried to cover it up. He certainly didn't deserve it.

I am between novels at the moment, having wrapped up the fifth ChroMagic novel in June, and plan to start Xanth #33 in August. I try to take time for stories, reading, and of course family matters, because once I get into a novel, other things get squeezed out. So in this interstice I have written six stories for Relationships 3, and read five books. There was The Knack, by Jesse Gordon, self published but worthy of traditional print. It's a vampire story, and I'm not a vampire fan, but this strikes me as an original take. They do drink blood, but actually need any kind of fluid, even their own; it seems psychological as much as physical. They have sex not so much for sexual gratification as for the associated fluid. They do have special powers, but these are difficult to develop, and it's not a happy state. Individuals are finely characterized, and the writing can be pretty: “As she moved through alternating spaces of evening darkness and frosted LED lighting, her hair a vibrant spray, a fiery beacon of femininity, she conversed on her cell phone.” www.jessture.com.

I read a screen play by Scott Gordon—no relation to Jesse Gordon, above, that I know of—titled The Slayer. This is about a dragon in Mt. Vesuvius name Pao (no connection to Paolini, author of Eragon, which itself is merely “Dragon” with the first letter advanced one place in the alphabet) that few folk know of; indeed when the boy Manawor speaks of it, he is ridiculed, except by his friend and later girlfriend Secret. Later the dragon attacks cities, destructively; then others start taking it seriously. In the end Manawor slays it, saving the rest of the city. Would this make a good movie? I think so, because it features good movie elements: a child who knows of a grave danger but isn't believed, a dragon that ferociously attacks cities, and the concluding battle where man slays dragon. What more could you ask of a movie? Whether any move makers have the wit to see that is another question.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher was published about seven years ago, but is circulating around my wife's family as an interesting read. Indeed it is. It's a detective story featuring a magician who is constantly in trouble with the magical powers that be because he's not supposed to use his magic in the mundane realm. Not even when someone's trying to kill him. Again, the writing is nice; I remember one bit where he talked to a woman on the phone, and when she laughed, it was something you could roll around naked in. That would be one evocative voice.

I read Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card, sent me by a reader who liked it. The first novel, Ender's Game, was published in 1985 and I read it then, along with one of his fantasy novels, and was struck by the similarity in our writing styles. Card was winning awards and I was a bestseller at the time; when we met at a convention I told him that if I wrote a novel and put his name on it, and he wrote one and put mine on it, mine would contend for awards and his would be a bestseller. Facetious, but with an edge: I was blacklisted from any award consideration, and he lacked the connections to make the national bestseller lists, but critics in either milieu would be unlikely to know the author by style. I have always held both the critical establishment and the commercial establishment in a certain muted contempt; neither seems to know or care much about real storytelling. I suspect Card thought it was only a joke, though as time passes and he sees more of the systems in operation he may reconsider. Anyway, Ender's Shadow is a kind of sequel, telling the same story from a different viewpoint, and it's an excellent novel. It's the story of a boy who learns to survive on vicious slum streets, who gets selected for military training, because mankind is fighting the Buggers and needs truly innovative strategies to hope to avoid destruction. There's no romance, no sex, so it's considered a young reader's story by the twisted definitions that obtain; the thesis is anything but childish. The description of how leaders are selected among the child warriors got my attention. To summarize: in the military you don't get promoted just because of your ability; you have to fit in the system, to be liked by your superiors, and think in ways they are comfortable with. The result is a command structure top heavy with guys who look good in uniform, while the really good ones quietly do the serious work. Students are selected on the same screwed-up priorities. Which is no way to win a serious war. So they have to go outside the system to locate and promote those who could win the war. Okay, I was in the army, and this resonates. It explains a lot, such as how we got into Iraq when Vietnam had already taught the necessary lesson: stay out. Not that Card is commenting directly on that; it's a chronic military and political failing. I suspect that on Card's bookshelf apart from his official credits—the unsung actual sources of his inspiration, per the system--are novels like Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Asimov's Foundation series, Dorsai! by Gordon Dickson, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and maybe even my own Macroscope and Refugee, for they address similar cases. These novels of Card's have stirred deserved attention.

And I read Alfred, which is my fictionalized biography of my father. I wrote it three years ago and let it jell; now I read it to catch typos and spot errors before self publishing it at Xlibris. I inherited my father's lifelong journal that covers over 60 years, from age 15 to the 80s, several million words. I tell his story from the viewpoint of the four or five most important women in his life, one of which was my mother. It's no puff piece; in the end I make the case that my father suffered from the Asberger's syndrome, that high-end variety of autism. I don't see this as any commercial piece; it should be of interest primarily to family members, and not many of them, and perhaps some readers who want to try to understand me by contemplating my ancestry. Lot's of luck. I remain bemused that out of that emotionally septic maelstrom that was the hell of my parents' marriage, came I. The mechanisms of fate and God can be devious indeed.

There's a cartoon in the daily newspaper, “Bizarro,” that sometimes passes me by; I can't see whatever point it's making. But sometimes it really scores. Here's the one for June 28, 2007: tech support made easy. “Go to the Preferences File, click on the pull-down menu, find the option that says 'Nothing Works Right,' and uncheck it.” Beautiful! Unfortunately my Linux systems lack that option, and if they had it, that box would be tantalizingly grayed out, so you would know that they aren't going to let you uncheck it. As I see it, hardware's from Jupiter, software from Saturn, and it's a matter of principle that the twain not integrate well. I remain more or less satisfied with both Kubuntu and Xandros, but the former has crashed many times when I have the temerity to use the Escape key to depart a menu, and the latter can't even shut down completely; you have to crash it too, at the end. Neither does what Linux used to do: hold your place in a closed file, so next time you call it up you can resume working where you left off. Why do they eliminate good features? Sigh. I may have mentioned before how I suspect that Linux is populated by refugees from Windows who bring their user-be-damned attitude with them.

Nice article in DISCOVER magazine, “10 unsolved Mysteries of the Brain.” Such as What Are Emotions? It suggests that they are brain states that quickly assign values and provide simple courses of action. If a bear is galloping toward you, Fear gets you the hell out of there; rounding out your grocery list will have to wait. You do need spot priorities. Emotional disorders such as depression may be consequences of faulty emotion regulation. Another mystery is Why do Brains Sleep and Dream? One theory is that these play a critical role in consolidating memories and forgetting inconsequential details. Mental housekeeping during the brain's downtime. So science continues to creep toward the understanding I published in Shame of Man in 1994, and one day may actually catch up. Another question is What is Consciousness? They conjecture that the massive feedback circuitry of the brain is essential to the production of consciousness. To which I say, Duh! This was spelled out by Erich Harth in The Creative Loop—How the Brain Makes a Mind, published in 1993. The essence is that our whole brain is massively looped, with feedback circuitry everywhere. He mentions the homunculus theory, that there's a little man inside our heads reading the incoming data, and discounts it. “The neural message does not have to be read by any homunculus. It reads itself.” And that, by damn, is it; that mystery was solved over a decade ago. The brain is constantly looking at itself, aware of itself. When we finally design a machine to do the same, we'll have machine consciousness too.

Last time I mentioned not understanding why, in the Pirates movie, the British admiral stood mute while his ship was pounded apart. Two readers commented. One said the Admiral Norrington had been betrothed to Elizabeth, so couldn't bring himself to sink the ship she was on. The other said no, that was a confusion. It was because Calypso had taken over his body, freezing him. Okay. It's a good thing I have readers who understand things better than I do in my dotage. Why couldn't it have been made clear in the movie itself? What, and make it easy for the paying viewers? Sacrilege!

On the other hand, there are those who insist on sending me books to autograph, so they can sell them at enhanced prices. So maybe they gain ten or twenty dollars per book, while taking one or two hundred dollars in the value of my time, when bookplates would do just as well. When I explain, they lie low until they think I've forgotten, then do it again. They don't seem to give half a used fart for my convenience, just their own. I get annoyed. Here is the letter I sent to “Heidi”:

So you're still at it, waiting two years, then pretending it's a first time request. So as I did two years ago, I am tucking my home-made bookplates into your books, wishing you'd get the message. I am as annoyed as ever. Back then I was fetching my wife from the hospital following IVIg treatments. Those treatments got her out of the wheelchair, but that was only part of the situation. Today I brought my wife home from the hospital following her heart surgery. I have personal distractions. And yet I have to wrestle with your books. I like neither the time the books take, nor your deceptiveness in masking what is evidently a commercial enterprise. Lady, let it go.

Will she or won't she? Tune in two years hence when she tries again. Meanwhile here's another kind: the phantom fan. I received three nice emails from “Chris & Terry,” where he told of 40 years of insomnia, but On A Pale Horse helped relax him so he could sleep, and now he also loves Bearing an Hourglass. He also remarked in passing “Some day I might even remember my email address.” I responded briefly, only to receive this response: “I'm afraid the original emails -- “Chris & Terry” are spam – since my email addy is [the one on the emails] – theirs is not. There is no one by the name of Chris &/or Terry at this email address.” I didn't answer that one, but I believe it. So either Chris really did misremember his email addy, or he's a phantom.

Michael Z Williamson wrote to me about whether pirated books lead to increased sales of the legitimate ones. You see, I believe most of my books have been pirated on the Internet; I even had a fan letter from a reader who loved them all, none of which had he paid for. I'm glad he liked them, but I'd rather be among those writers who prosper by selling unpirated books, instead of seeing their sales nose down until publishers are no longer interested, as has happened to me. There is a certain disadvantage to having high readership on low sales. However, Michael makes a case. He says there are basically four categories of people who will take free copies: the crooks who get a weird kick out of cheating, including the online pirates; young people who can't afford the price of the books; the blind or disabled; and folk who live where the books are not available. Okay, I do let my books go free for the Library of Congress audio circulation for the blind and disabled. But having commercial books get pirated is like carrying water in a bucket with a hole in it. Maybe the hole covers only one percent of the surface, but who would care to use it? Michael replied that many of these books would not have sold anyway, so nothing monetary is actually being lost. Few people actually enjoy reading on the screen, so after having their interest aroused there, some will go to buy a legitimate physical copy. His own books are made available free, and he feels this enhances his sales. He likes what BAEN BOOKS is doing in this respect, offering free downloads of commercial books, including his. I have digested his discussion down considerably, but hope I have the essence. It is for readers to decide.

Remember how I answered an ad for Vytalin, guaranteed to increase sexual performance quickly and safely? Well, they never filled the order. How's that for dysfunction? So now I'll check with my doctor for some other type of potency pill. I will surely be spouting more of this, anon.

I read in the newspaper how there's a site with a 12 step plan and a 20 question quiz “How do I Know If I'm a Workaholic?” I already know I'm a workaholic, but I was curious, so I tried to visit the site, www.workaholicsanonymous.org. And got a bum address message. I guess they aren't working hard enough.

PARADE had an article “Why Emotion Keeps You Well.” It says “You can't shut emotions off. Like it or not, you are an emotional animal.” It says women talk with each other all the time, much better than men do, and outlive men by five years. And that a wife's death cuts about five years off her husband's life expectancy. If the husband dies, the wife's expectancy dips for four years, but then she adjusts and actually lives longer than she would have. In sum, men need women more than women need men. However, the claim that women talk 7 times as much as men has been debunked; they talk only slightly more.

Letters in the newspaper responding to an article on school discipline. One reports how an 11 year old fifth grade boy was brought to the office because he was threatening to “Stick that bitch!” That is, a 5th grade girl he thought was looking at him. The behavior specialist tried to reason with him, but the boy was adamant: “I don't care. If she looks at me again, I'm gonna fucking stick her!” So they called his mother, and she said “Well, I told him that if anyone fucked with him, stick 'em!” Even if it was a little girl just looking? She hung up on him. I find this instructive; the parent is a significant part of the problem. I was once a teacher, and it was essentially the problem of discipline that washed me out. Boys who would give God Himself the finger if He got in their fucking way. I think it has gotten worse in the 40 intervening years.

One of my hobbies, if you will, is empathy. I believe it is fundamental to the nature of the human creature. So I pick up on references I encounter. Article in PARADE titled “How Much Do Animals Really Know?” by Eugene Linden says in part “Empathy—being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes—is important because it is the basis of morality.” “Empathy relies on self-awareness. Only an animal that recognizes itself can understand another's plight.” Newspaper article “The Good Brain” by Shankar Vedantam says “The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy. Being able to recognize—even experience vicariously—what another creature is going through was an important leap in the evolution of social behavior.” “Psychopaths often feel no empathy or remorse. Without that awareness, people relying exclusively on reasoning seem to find it harder to sort their way through moral thickets.” Exactly. I attribute the problems of our current administration to a lack of empathy that allows baser emotions full rein. CEOs who don't care whom they hurt in their pursuit of obscene wealth. Government officials who don't care how much carnage their policies wreak as they pursue ever-greater power. Religious figures who are satisfied to damn to eternal hell all who don't belong to their denominations. NEW SCIENTIST reports a study of 10 volunteers with the condition of mirror-touch synesthesia, who sense physical touch when they see someone else being touched. (Regular synesthesia is when you hear a sound and it makes you see a color, that sort of thing. I think the famous “What smells purple?” was an example.) This condition may shed light on empathy, because these people are especially sensitive to other people's emotions.

Another of my hobbies is the Higgs boson, the theoretical particle or field that is supposed to provide mass for all other things in the universe. I am a bit bemused by the notion that an object doesn't have mass unless Higgs brings it, like the stork bringing a baby to a woman. I should think some things could better be done locally. But a big new particle smasher in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is going to step up our search for Higgs, which is as yet undiscovered. And what if it isn't found? Must we be forever condemned to masslessness? For that matter, what if Dark Matter isn't found? I'm fascinated by these things, but also skeptical; as with God, ghosts, and flying saucers from Mars, I am not sure they actually exist. Perhaps deviously related: some scientists believe that things exist only when being observed. A letter in NEW SCIENTIST inquired “If it is true, how did the first observer ever come into existence?” I think that punctures that nonsense. The sheer arrogance of assuming that the universe does not exist until we see it disgusts me.

Fred T Saberhagon died at age 77. He was the author of the well known Berserker series. My first direct contact with him was in 1967 when I solicited comments on my first published novel Chthon from more experienced writers. Saberhagen was one who commented. (Andre Norton was another.) I knew him as a somewhat irascible but competent writer, and I'm sorry he's gone.

The owner of Haslam's bookstore, Elizabeth Haslam, died, age 85. I knew her, and her husband before he died; she and I conversed when we met in the course of a promotion I was doing for my books about 15 years ago. And of course I know the store. I first encountered it in the 1950s, where I bought many back issues of ASTOUNDING SF, and later my own novels were carried there. It was a fixture in St. Petersburg Florida. I hate to see the old order pass.

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