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Piers signing books
Apull 2008

Once in a while we go to the movies.  Not often, because I'm a workaholic and my wife  isn't a movie freak, while our local daughter is a movie freak but is generally kept busy by her newspaper job.  We also have different tastes.  I like sexy action, while for some reason wife and daughter look for other things.  So it can be tricky to form a party of three, the way we generally do it.  Fortunately we all like SF/fantasy.  This time, going to The Spiderwick Chronicles, which was our kind of fantasy junk, I noticed that a different person was selling tickets.  I had gotten used to Tara, a dark haired slip of a girl maybe in her late teens, maybe 90 pounds, pretty behind her glasses, always courteous and smiling.  There are various folk I notice in drear Mundania as we go our routine rounds, and she was a private favorite of mine, my passing bit of cheer, for the one minute I saw her every couple of months.  But she was gone.  Then I learned that she was dead.  There was a memorial plaque on the theater lobby wall.  Tara Lynne Nagri, 7-8-1973 to 2-7-2008.  My word--she was 34!  Apparently a jealous boyfriend took her out, in a murder/suicide incident.  Damn.  That theater will be under a pall hereafter, and I will always think of Tara as we buy our tickets, and wince, missing her.  I never knew her, but in my fancy she will always be a nice person without faults, and I wish her well in that hereafter I don't believe in.  Maybe if they have a movie theater in Heaven, she'll be there giving out tickets, smiling at the customers.  Rest in peace, Tara.

More than ten years ago, in 1997, I abruptly stopped writing the fifth GEODYSSEY novel, Climate of Change, when I lost my market for historical fiction.  The publisher had bungled the series, labeling it Dark Fantasy, run sales into the ground, and was not interested in more.  SOP for publishers.  So I moved on to the ChroMagic series, my best fantasy, but publishers were interested only in Xanth and refused even to look at anything else.  That's why that series went in due course to small press, Mundania.  But now as I age I am trying to wrap up loose ends, and am returning to unfinished projects like Climate and my horror novel The Sopaths.  Who knows; if I get a good movie, publishers may rediscover my books.  Not every aging writer has that prospect.  I spent two months cleaning up my study and sorting accumulated clippings by spreading them across the study floor in categories, then finally oriented on the novel itself.  I read the first 12 chapters, 112,000 words, making notes, and got ready to write the remaining 8 chapters.  I remembered exactly where to begin on Chapter 13.  It features a once nomadic people, the Alani or Alans, who settled in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and today are known as the Ossetians.  I had read a charming incident of their history, wherein their army was defeated by an enemy and their prince captured.  So his sister the princess went to the enemy leader to plead for the release of the prince.  Probably she had ransom in mind; it's customary in such situations.  Instead, the enemy leader took her prisoner too, and married her.  That's all I remembered; I never followed up because that's when the novel foundered.  In addition, when I sorted my clippings, I discovered that the legend of King Arthur in England derive from the Alani: the Romans sent a contingent of 3,000 Alani and other “barbarians” to patrol the unruly borders, and they brought their mythology with them.  That's why it has been so hard to locate any physical or historical evidence of Arthur in England; he was a mythological immigrant.  I love these eye-opening aspects of historical research, and enjoy flashing my readers with them.  This was a double barreled way to got back into it.

So at last in mid March I set out to write the chapter.  And discovered that the Arthur clipping was missing, though I had just sorted it within the month.  So was the princess history.  I turned things upside down; neither was to be found.  Okay, I could do Arthur from memory, as I have plenty of material there.  As it turned out, I just bought a book on Arthur that covers that origin.  But the princess—I couldn't make it without her.  She was the star.  That volume simply seemed not to be on my shelf, a decade later.  I didn't note the title or author, but knew where it was.  I thought.  Sigh.  So was my project to founder thus ignominiously?  I didn't know how to Google it, as I had no names, no exact date, though it was circa 1,300 AD.  But I might have an avenue.  My readers have come to my rescue on several prior occasions, finding things I couldn't.  It certainly helps for a writer to have readers who are smarter than he is.  An example is my quest for The Green Girl, reviewed later in this column.  So maybe someone could help me now.  It was possible that in my search for Alani I did corollary research in adjacent cultures, like the Georgians and Armenians.  I would like to address the question of the Armenian genocide of 1915-23, but it may not be in my present compass.  Fantasy is easy to write; historical fiction is glacially slow in comparison, because of the enormous research required, and about 99% can't be used.

I tried one more thing: I paged through my accumulated notes of a decade ago.  I am a well documented writer; every page I write is dated and printed out, every note too.  And there after an hour I found it: one reference to the Alan princess and the Armenians.  So I checked in a history of the Armenians and found it.  I had missed it before because I was checking Alani history, and it wasn't there.  Maybe they weren't proud of the incident.  But the Armenians were; she may have been the grandmother of their greatest early hero.  So I got it after all, after I had written the chapter set in AD 1300.  Confirmation is wonderful.  Except for one small hitch: the princess incident happened circa BC 180, almost 1,500 years earlier.  Oh, no!  What to do?  Okay, I made it mythological, reenacted by my cast of characters in 1300.  That worked fine.  So I'm happy; the bold lovely princess is mine, in her fashion.  And this is a taste of what writing historical fiction is like.  I love it, but it does have its challenges.

I generally have more reading than I have time for, being a slow reader, but since my business is writing, I have trouble passing up a worthwhile book.  So I chug along, trying to read at least ten pages a day, a book a month, and whatever else is needful, like the daily newspaper, science and commentary magazines, and mail.  Once in a while I actually get a book I want to read, instead of one for business or critique.  In this period I finished The Diary of Anais Nin 1931-1934.  I mentioned it last column, but had not yet completed it.  My wife gave it to me for Christmas, knowing my curiosity about this woman who lived from 1903 to 1977.  Did she actually seduce her own father?  Well, I still don't know, because it turns out that there are eleven published volumes, from 1914 to 1974.  Yes, from her age 11 to age 74.  But only about 50% of the content of her diaries are published in the volumes, because a number of people with whom she interacted had privacy issues.  Including her husband, who is thus not mentioned at all.  She gets pregnant and loses the baby at six months, with no mention how she achieved that state.  Presumably her husband had something to do with it, but as far as the published diary is concerned, it was immaculately conceived.  So as for any possible sex with her father, forget it; there is no reference.  He did say “You are the synthesis of all the women I have loved.  What a pity that you are my daughter!”  But no evidence of actual sex between them.  She surely described it in evocative detail if it happened, but the expurgation banished it.  Coincidentally, she lost her baby in August, 1934, the same month that I was born in England.  But for the fickle finger of fate, I might have been hers.  Had that been so, who knows; I might have grown up to be a sensitive, expressive, evocative writer like Anais.

Sample quotes: she describes her residence in Paris, and says “I am aware of being in a beautiful prison, from which I can only escape by writing.”  “I feel like a well-appointed laboratory of the soul—myself, my home, my life—in which none of the vitally fecund or destructive, explosive experiments has yet begun.”  “The brain of man is filled with passageways, like the contours and multiple crossroads of the labyrinth.  In its curved folds lie the imprints of thousands of images, recordings of a million words.”  Of June, Henry Miller's beautiful, conflicted wife (he wrote Tropic of Cancer, which June felt portrayed her horribly) she writes “she demands illusion as other women demand jewels.”  Of Henry she wrote “There is a world which is closed to him, a world of shadings, graduations, nuances, and subtleties.  He is a genius and yet he is too explicit.  June slips between his fingers.  You cannot possess without loving.”  When as a teen she found a hidden cache of erotic books, she read them secretly and eagerly.  “I had my degree in erotic love.”  And of her analyst, who soon enough fell in love with her, as it seems just about any man who knew her did: “Suddenly I realized the tragedy of an analyst's life...he is only allowed to look, to be the 'voyeur,' not to touch, not to be loved, desired, or hated.  My whole life was offered to him but did not belong to him.”  On love: “The idea of deserving love.  And then watching love being given to people who did nothing to deserve it.”  On Man and Woman: “Man attacks the vital center.  Woman fills out the circumference.”  On her father, when she met him after a decade's separation: “I lose my terror and my pain.  I meet him again when I know that there is no possibility of fusion between father and daughter, only between man and woman...My father comes to me when I no longer need a father.”  And to her diary, perhaps her only true friend: “My dear Diary, it is Anais  who is speaking to you, and not someone who thinks as everybody should think.  Dear Diary, pity me, but listen to me.”  And I, as a diarist in my own right, understand.  She would have had me in thrall in five minutes.  In fact, she has me anyway.  I just wish I knew: did she have sex with her father?

One of the organizations I support is the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, FSEEE.  Every so often they send me a book.  I commented in prior years on Welfare Ranching, which showed how ranchers effectively leach off the government land that's supposed to be in trust for all of us, and Wild Fire, which shows the ongoing disaster of America's fire-controlling commitment.  This time it's Thrillcraft, edited by George Wuerthner, and it is another volume of terrible beauty.  The articles range from mild to impassioned, and the pictures are lovely and horrible.  The essence is that motorized off-road vehicles ridden for fun are literally tearing up private lands, our state forests and wilderness areas.  They are only about five percent of the users of those wild areas, but they ruin it for everyone else.  Their loud noises freak out wild animals, driving them away so that their effective habitats are seriously reduced.  Their churning wheels tear up local plants and start erosion gullies.  They are doing far more damage that I had realized, and they need to be banned.  It isn't as simple as trying to talk with them, to make them see the error of their ways.  They don't give a shit about that.  A spot case history shows the way of it.  Colonel George had flown 500 combat missions over Viet Nam, so he was not a man to be intimidated.  Thrillcraft had done an estimated $1 billion worth of damage, tearing up ground cover so badly that utility poles were falling over.  On his property in Michigan in 1990 he found trespassing All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) operators popping wheelies in his private trout stream.  When he demanded their names, one rider dismounted and attacked him, breaking his nose.  When he fenced his posted stream and property, they cut the wire and pulled out the stakes.  When he reinforced the stakes with cement, they knocked them down.  When he pushed for a state policy of “closed unless posted open” he received death threats, his street lights were shot out, his mailbox smashed, his driveway seeded with broken glass, his eight-string fence on his Christmas tree farm cut in eighty eight places, and his wife was run over.  Talk to these criminals?  You talk to them.  But maybe have an irate posse from the NRA to back you up when you do.

So is anything being done about it?  Yes, in some areas, and the book details the progress being made.  But it is encountering a hostile national administration.  The Southern Utah Wilderness Association (SUWA) filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1999 to force it to do its job and enforce protective laws.  In 2004 (note the tediousness of the court procedure, while the damage continues unabated) the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in SUWA's favor and ordered the BLM to protect the wilderness from thrillcraft.  So then the Bush administration appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the public had no right to compel the BLM to enforce the laws protecting the wilderness study areas.  This is what happens when you stack the court with so-called conservatives who aren't interested in conserving anything that private companies might exploit for money.  Manufacture and sale of thrillcraft is big business, and to hell with the pristine wilderness.  Forests, swamps, deserts, mountains, snowscapes look literally like hell after thrillcraft have torn them up.  Those vehicles need to be gone.

I read Immortality, by Kevin Bohacz, a self published 200,000 word science fiction novel.  I liken this one to Miss Universe with warts: an excellent novel marred by poor paragraphing.  Paragraphs are not simple collections of sentences, any more than galaxies are collections of stars; they are or should be far more dynamic, steering the reader persuasively along the course.  Not all writers seem to understand that.  But setting that aside, this is a well-written novel that has just about everything.  Something is killing animals and people in spot circles.  Things are normal, then suddenly in the course of a minute or so everyone drops dead, with no marks on them.  The story is the effort to fathom what is happening, and stop it.  It turns out their nerves have been neatly severed, without the surrounding flesh touched.  How can that be?  Then it turns out that there is something odd about certain bacteria; they seem to have, well, microscopic machine balls in them.  Is this connected?  It is hard to be sure, because the circles of death continue to appear, getting worse, disrupting human society.  Things fall apart; gangs develop and start wreaking their own mayhem, and the military units that are supposed to maintain order seem to have their own separate agendas.  There's a good deal of violence.  Amidst this a few people labor to unriddle the mystery without getting killed themselves.  There is love and loss in a disintegrating society.  Gradually the truth emerges, and I have to say this is new to me, a truly intriguing mechanism by which our civilization is taken down.  What this novel needs is a going-over by a competent copy editor, and then it would be fully worthy of traditional print publication.

And I read The Green Girl, by Jack Williamson.  I had been looking for it, and mentioned it in my last column, and Eric Stover offered to send it to me.  I traded him for it, sending some books of mine he wanted.  And it is intriguing.  The book is a garish paperback of the sort that got the genre unfairly branded as junk.  Publishers have little if any taste in covers or in titles, as can be seen by the way they retitled Hamilton's The Star Kings as Beyond the Moon, or Farmer's Sketches Among the Ruins of my Mind as Blown.  The author died in 2006 at age 98, and was the one whose fiction hauled me into the genre, back in 1947, so he has a special place in my heart.  He discovered the genre in 1926 or 1927, was entranced by the works of Merritt and Burroughs, and soon was writing his own, getting serialized in the magazines.  A generation later I was the one entranced by Jack Williamson's works, and later yet, new readers were similarly entranced by my own fiction.  Thus the torch is passed, in its fashion, and it is a special and fitting thing.

I can't be sure, because the evidence is spotty, but I think The Green Girl could be his first full individual novel.  The book is a 1950 Avon paperback, but the copyright is 1930 by E. P. Inc, which I presume is the company publishing the magazine where it was serialized.  It must have been written circa 1929.  Thus we see Jack as a lad of perhaps 20, drastically overusing exclamation points and lurid phrasing, but nevertheless showing real talent.  He was after all still young, as was the genre.  So there are chapter titles like “The Globe of Crimson Doom,” “The Depths of Fear,” “The Lord of the Flame,” and “The Hill of Horror.”  I'm sure teen boys (girls knew better than to read this stuff) were utterly turned on.  The book is of course dated, being set in 1999 when an awful green cloud hides the sun and Earth plunges into cold, but of course that was 70 years in the future when this was written.  We all get caught by the march of heedless history, so much duller than our imaginations.  There are the mandatory (for the time) spot science descriptions to render verisimilitude for what is actually science fantasy.  But once that is taken into account, this is a fun adventure.  The girl's name is Xenora, and she fears the chasm of Xath.  There is something eerily familiar about this nomenclature, though I swear I never saw this novel before.  I suspect that Jack was influenced by Coleridge's poem Xanadu, as I was, and retained a certain liking for fantastic places or names beginning with X.  The adventure itself is fraught with wild coincidences, as our hero helps build an omnimobile that can traverse air, earth, and sea, and arrives in a land ten miles below sea level just in time to rescue his beloved green girl from the clutches of a tentacled flying monster.  You see, he had dreamed of her since childhood, and she had dreamed of him, so they knew each other from afar, perhaps telepathically.  So maybe their meeting wasn't totally coincidental after all.  She's a luscious princess, fighting to save her kingdom.  Unfortunately she loses it, and our hero saves her by further wild coincidence as he destroys the evil empire and brings her to the surface to live with him.  It is hardly great literature, but I found it instructive as a visit to the genre that existed prehistorically—that is, before I was born.  I was interested to note, in the spot research on the author that this prompted, that in his twenties he had psychological problems.  I suspect that this is true for most writers, and especially for SF/Fantasy/Horror genre writers.  Ordinary well balanced folk don't conjure imaginative green girls or red tentacled monsters, and they certainly don't subject themselves to the soul-damning gantlet that is the publishing process.  Jack Williamson truly was one of us.

And I read Bread of Dreams, by Pierro Camporesi.  There's something about that first name that intrigues me; can't think what it is.  This was for research for Climate of Change.  I bought it back in 1993, so was a bit slow in getting to it.  Its thesis is that the great motivator for human endeavor historically was hunger.  People in the lower tiers of the population were chronically starving, and they scrambled desperately for anything to eat.  They would dry and grind up locusts to make locust bread, or poppy seeds to make poppyseed bread, or worse.  Some of the ingredients were hallucinogenic, and that, combined with the mind-altering effect of hunger itself, put them in a chronic state of delusion.  That helped them cope with the awfulness of their situation.  They also suffered all manner of vile diseases, including intestinal worms; there was no way to escape them.  Filth was a way of life.  Cannibalism occurred distressingly often; sometimes they held lotteries for old folk to see which one would become food for the others.  It was said that carrion birds would not touch some who died of starvation, because there was nothing worth eating there.  I found this book depressing, sometimes stomach turning, and I am very glad I did not live (or die) in those times.  But you know, if our present population growth remains unchecked, we will in due course be returning to this state as the food runs out.  One of my mental hobbies is to try to figure out a way to avoid that crisis.  More, perhaps, anon.

I use a recumbent bicycle, partly for exercise, and an adult scooter, ditto.  Each morning I make the 1.6 mile round trip to pick up the daily newspapers, alternating running and scooting.  That's fine, but as I age my balance becomes less secure, and I am concerned about the time when I will no longer be able to bike.  The answer may be a recumbent trike, ideal in the sense that it can't fall over.  I prefer recumbent because that has a comfortable seat, instead of the banana-type seat that jams your crotch.  But I have remarked before on how inordinately expensive they can be, as much as twenty times the cost of a garden variety standard bicycle.  So we tried again, this time buying a Triton recumbent trike for about $400.  Alas, while it's a decent machine, it's too low for my wife to use—she can't readily get up from floor level—and has only one gear, set for slow, which makes it essentially useless for my much faster travel.  Sigh.

I always did have a scientific bent.  Recently the store was out of our regular eggs, so we bought a dozen brown eggs at a higher price.  This reminded me of my experiment in first grade.  The question was, which was better, brown or white?  It stood to reason that the smaller the air pocket in an egg, the more egg you got, which was of course better.  So we opened one hard boiled egg of each persuasion and checked their pockets.  The brown egg had the smaller one.  So brown was better; I had verified it scientifically.  I never saw reason to repeat the experiment, or to change my conviction.  Yes, I know the color is determined by the color of the chicken who lays it, and the pocket grows as the egg ages.  We use whites because they are cheaper, even if inferior.  (Please, those of you who are convinced I am evincing bigotry here: this is irony.)

Generally I am trying to cut down on magazine subscriptions, but every so often I'm tempted by another.  This time it was SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED.  Science fascinates me, for all that I make my living in fantasy.  This magazine is okay, but we'll probably let it drop after a year, as it has to be more than okay to warrant my continuing time.  I've always liked puzzles, but often avoid them so I won't get sucked in to their addictive nature.  I glanced at the Brain Teasers page and saw this one: “Do this problem in your head.  Subtract the combined total of 4,000; 2,100; and one half from the combined total of 12,000; 1,200; and 12.  What do you get?”  Okay, the first two figures total 5,100.  The last three total 13,212.  But what about that one half in the middle?  The semicolon separates it from the second figure, so it doesn't go there.  Does it mean 13,212-.5?  thus 13,211.5 minus 5,100 equals 8,111.5.  That is the answer they give.  My wife had no trouble with it; she made it 13,212 minus 5,100.5 equals 8,111.5.  Same answer, either way.  But this bothers me in two ways: why have that ambiguity in the .5, so you can't be sure to which side of the equation it belongs?  And why have a straight math problem as a brain teaser?  That's not cleverness, it's just memory.  I think they made a mistake in punctuation.  Punctuation counts.  I remember in the old feature Believe It or Not they told how a life was saved when someone changed a message from “Pardon impossible.  To be shot at dawn” to “Pardon, impossible to be shot at dawn.”  Believe It or Not also had a riddle: punctuate this sentence: “The king and and and and and and and the queen.”  I pondered that for years, and concluded that there must be a man named Andand.  So it became “The king and Andand, and Andand and the queen.”  So I pay attention to punctuation, and judge that magazine in part by its failure to do so.

Odd notes: There was an eclipse of the moon in mid FeBlueberry.  We missed it, so what could we do?  Right: we rescheduled it for the following day, 2-20-2008 and saw it then.  I don't think anyone else noticed the change.  A chain of thought took me back to a favorite phrase in the martial arts series I did with Roberto Fuentes.  I did not like expressing violence in familiar ways, such as heads getting squashed like dropped pumpkins, so asked my collaborator whether he could come up with some original ideas.  He did, and thus came to be my favorite: “His fist swung toward my face like a wrecking ball toward a condemned building.”  I have this mental picture of a giant face crumbling slowly, slowly to the ground as rubble.  Even as a child I tended to push the literary limits.  Theoretically The School In Rose Valley, the second best of eleven educational institutions I attended, at ages 11-12, was a creative non-censorship kind of place.  Until I wrote in an essay about religion that when Jesus died he went to occupy the Son, only they changed the O to U to show that he died for U.  Can't think why they objected to such a clear explanation.  And I note with glee the rare reappearances of Gunk in the “Curtis” comic strip.  Gunk is a token white in a black strip, a crazy vegetarian, with magic and devious savvy.  Can't think why I like him.  This time he was wearing an elegant white fur coat—surely fake fur, because he would not touch a dead animal hide—and a local bully wanted it, so Gunk gave it to him.  Only then did the bully discover that it made horrendous smells and could not be taken off.  And we discovered some new little plants floating in our returned-to-nature pool.  They were tiny green leaves with descending roots.  What were thy?  Then I checked a nearby mosquito pond—the county made it to attract mosquitoes, so they would know when there were enough to warrant dealing with—and it was covered by a mat of the same little plants.  So obviously they are common stock rather than a new form of alien life.  Ah, well.  They must reproduce mainly by fission, because we have seen no blooms.  But there must have been airborne spores to seed them in to our pool for the start.  And I fear for the little mulberry tree I rescued several years back.  Last year it did fine.  Then in the fall it put out root sprouts.  This spring those sprouts are flourishing, while the main tree is apparently dead.  What happened?  And once in college a song came on the radio, “I Dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair, Floating like zephyr on the soft summer air.”  Lovely song.  But someone sang a loud parody: “I dream of Brownie in the light blue jeans.”  I can't remember the rest.  Maybe it was “Floating like zephyr on a soft hill of beans.”

Politics: as I see it, the Republicans know their presidential candidate will go down in flames, so they let McCain have it, so he'll get stuck with the blame.  After all, they wouldn't want one of their own to be lost in such a doomed cause.  McCain's problem, for them, is that he thinks for himself and doesn't always follow the party line.  For example, he says we shouldn't torture.  That's a party no-no.  Meanwhile my earlier prediction that ultimately the bigots hate women worse than blacks is playing out.  Of course there was another factor: my wife liked Barack, while I was leaning toward Hillary, despite her wrong vote authorizing the Iraq war and her failure to repudiate it in a timely manner.  But then she started playing dirty politics that hinted of racism.  That was Strike Two, and it reversed my tilt, and I leaned toward Barack instead.  It was a fateful decision, because thereafter he took a dozen primaries in succession, finishing with Vermont, where I came from, and developed a fair lead.  Too bad for Hillary, but she shouldn't have gone dirty; some of us care about that sort of thing.

Ed Howdershelt, who got us to try Xandros before, sent Version 4, so I tried it.  For the past year I had Xandros on my correspondence computer, that doesn't connect to my paying-writing computer (sorry, hackers), and it has worked okay.  A prior edition trashed my files, but this version didn't, so I was willing to give it another try.  I liked Kubuntu, but it was incomplete, and it tended to make OpenOffice crash when I used escape to escape a menu.  I didn't like that.  So I tried loading this new version on my writing system, and lo, it loaded and was complete.  Only then did I discover the key files I had forgotten to back up, or that I had backed up but when I went to read them turned out to be merely titles with zero bytes.  My bad; I should have verified them more carefully.  But the new Xandros' most recent file was 15 months old, the same date as the version we already had set up a year ago for correspondence.  I am bemused that Xandros couldn't find any improvements to make in a year.  I can suggest some.  The speller doesn't know the most common word in the world, “okay”; sure, I added it, but it's a curious omission.  When I used the word “jew” missing the capitol, the speller did not know that either.  Does it think it's a bad word?  It has a panel for “Home Folder” but it appears to be pre-set; I set my default home path, as I did with Kubuntu, but Xandros ignores it.  Apparently Xandros turned off that useful feature, or didn't know how to implement it.  So I have to stair step to and from my home directory, which is a nuisance.  Xandros evidently can automatically load OpenOffice, and correctly place the files I call up according to where they were when I closed, as Kubuntu did, but it refuses.  I know, because one time it did it, on March 20, 2008; all other times it doesn't.  Why did they turn off that nice feature?  It forces me to waste extra time each day setting up, and yes, that does make me miss Kubuntu.  With Xandros it seems I can have either an automatic sleep mode after a certain time inactive, or I can have a screen saver.  Not both.  It's like your date saying you can kiss her or hug her, not both: frustrating.  Xandros also has hangups about printing: it likes to offer K-print as default, ignoring the default Hewlett-Packard printer I use.  If I make it use HP, it starts it blinking, then goes to orange, refusing to print until I go there and physically press the green Print button.  If I accept the K-print it offers, it hesitates, then offers HP on a second menu, then it prints without making me hit the green button.  Is there a reason, other than Xandros proprietors showing their power by such stupid teasing?  On the other hand, it does back up my files when it says it does, unlike Kubuntu, which saved them only as I exited, and it has an easy time change, and it doesn't crash when I use Escape, though it can crash when I plug in the backup flash drive, as Kubuntu could.  (And my wife's Windows can crash when she disconnects from online; it seems to be an equal-opportunity type of foul-up.)  It can also write a file to another file's name, obliterating that other file; I almost lost my most recent Survey update that way, when it became Chapter 13 of Climate of Change.  Fortunately I had a backup, and was able to restore it.  Xandros does have the games Kubuntu did not, which is nice.  So it's a mixed bag.  More mixed than it ought to be.

Meanwhile I am in touch with a reader who is sending me a modem he says should work with this system.  I'd love to go online and quote the above paragraph to the Xandros folk; who knows, they might know how to fix some of it.  Maybe a version of Xandros actually exists that is less than a year old.  I will surely have a report on that aspect next time.

Speaking of my Survey of Electronic Publishers and related services, above, here is an excerpt from my update for Ellora's Cave, the leading Erotic Romance electronic publisher: “This time I looked up their definition of Romantica, and I recommend their discussion of it to aspiring writers in this genre.  But one thing would help: how about spelling out exactly what terminology will do for what heat level?  Where do you say 'love channel' 'cleft' 'vagina' or 'cunt'?  'Masculinity' 'member' 'penis' or 'cock'?  'Love' 'sex' 'intercourse' or 'fuck'?  Some straight lists of words should help.  I speak as one who has used all terms, but prefers to avoid extremes of political correctness or gutter talk.” And here is outrage: Amazon.com, which I think is the largest online bookseller, now is refusing to sell POD books that are not printed by its subsidiary, BookSurge.  I should think this is an antitrust law violation, but regardless, it seems like sufficient reason to stop doing business with Amazon.  They have already done it to Publish America.  I have my issues with PA, but on this one I'm with them, and I applaud their defiance of this power play.  Does Amazon think it's Microsoft, which seems ready to use any tactic to further its own business regardless of its legality or the harm done to others?  I share the massive outrage this is generating.  Angela Hoy, of Booklocker, and publisher of Writers Weekly has a long discussion.  http://writersweekly.com/.

I received a couple ads for Pshsht!, a product guaranteed to provide a man an erection.  “Just spray a little Pshsht! on your penis, and it immediately will get hard...” and stay rock hard for hours.  You can have sex as long as you want, because it also slows down ejaculation.  So you can do it many times a night.  Okay, that's their pitch, but they leave out some details.  Such as what does it cost, and how many doses are in a tube?  This could be a very expensive treatment.  I conjecture that it summons blood to the penis, like an inflammation, regardless whether the man is sexually aroused, and the reason he can last for hours it because he can't necessarily climax with that hot dead stick.  Can he turn it off when not in the mood, or is he locked into rigidity until it wears off in its own sweet time?  So thanks, but no thanks; I don't trust this.

Internet circulated humor: church signs.  One says “God does not believe in atheists.  Therefore atheists do not exist.”  Another says “Read the Bible—it will scare the hell out of you.”  And a cartoon showing Moses with the Tablets.  “Now let me get this straight.  The Arabs get the oil, and we have to cut off the ends of our what?”  One saying the woodpecker has to go, showing Moses' loaded Ark getting pecked full of holes.

Internet Information on weddings: most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June.  Brides held a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor.  With thatched roofs, things could fall into the house, so they had to string a sheet over the bed.  That's how canopy beds got started.  An old Mark Trail comic remarks on fleas: before regular bathing was introduced, they were a problem for humans, and English noblewomen were the first to wear flea collars.

Outrage: here in Florida a 17 year old boy and 16 year old girl took bare pictures of themselves—and got prosecuted for violating child pornography laws.  Normally those laws are meant to stop adults from abusing minors.  From here it looks as if there are adults abusing minors: the police and prosecutors.  They are the ones who should be canned, not the kids.

Paul Dolan wrote me with an interesting question: how many teats does a centaur have?  His student Gina Battistella researched and found that horses have 2, cows 4, cats 8, dogs 10, and pigs 12-14.  Since centaurs have horse portions and human portions, would that be 2 above (humans have 2) and 2 below?  From which would a young centaur nurse?  My impression that only the upper 2 would be functional, because young centaurs have heads that reach up well above their bodies, and are not good at bending those heads down toward ground level.  But maybe there's somebody out there who is more conversant with centaurs and can clarify this.

I contributed to, and received a copy of, FARMERPHILE, the special 90th birthday issue of a fanzine devoted to Philip Jose Farmer and his works.  Phil is one of the significant writers of the genre, and though publishers seem no longer to know whether he exists (I know how that is) it's nice to see such recognition.  Folk interested in acquiring issues—the first 11 are available—can contact mike@pjfarmer.com. 

Newspaper item: the estate of J R R Tolkien is suing New Line for unpaid royalties on Lord of the Rings.  They were supposed to pay 7.5% of gross receipts, and have paid nothing after the upfront license of $62,500.  You see, traditional print book publishers pay advances against royalties, and if the royalties earn out, they pay more.  But movie outfits pay licensing fees, which are not charged against royalties, so the royalties are owing from the start.  These are generally figured from a percentage of the net profits.  But they almost never actually pay; their creative accounting manages to show no profits, regardless how well the movies do.  But the Tolkien folk specified a percentage of the gross receipts, which is quite another matter.  It's like the difference between the net after expenses, which can be vanishingly small, and the gross, which is a firm figure.  Lord of the Rings grossed almost six billion dollars worldwide.  That, if my math is correct, means they owe Tolkien about $450 million.  The suit wants $150 million (do they have a problem with their math?), unspecified punitive damages, and a court order giving the estate the right to terminate related rights, such as on The Hobbit, scheduled for 2010-11.  That could scuttle that upcoming movie.  Okay, this interests me, because I have movie deals on three fantasy series (well, Xanth is still in the option stage), and I don't want to get similarly ripped off.  That's why I have a high powered lawyer in on the deal.  I feel there should be some integrity in accounting, regardless of the medium.  This could get interesting, in due course.

I generally ignore ads, but sometimes I do read Flame, a Jewish-perspective discussion of situations in the Middle East.  One in March says that about two years ago, yielding to the pressure of world opinion, Israel decided to abandon Gaza and withdraw about 8,000 Israelis who had lived there for generations.  That decision was not well received by those settlers, who were doing well, but they did it.  And almost from the first day of the Gaza liberation the Gazans launched daily rocket attacks at Israel.  So much for appreciation.  There is more, but this may enough: do you think Israel will be eager to withdraw from the West Bank?

Email circulation has the story of three women who die together in an accident and go to heaven.  St. Peter tells them there is only one rule: don't step on a duck.  But there are ducks all over, and one woman does step on one; as punishment Peter then chains her to a really ugly man for eternity.  The second woman tries hard, but later steps on a duck  and gets chained to another extremely ugly man.  The third woman tries harder, and manages to avoid doing it for months.  Then Peter comes and chains her to the most handsome man she's ever seen.  “What did I do to deserve this?” she asks.  The man replies “I don't know about you, but I stepped on a duck.”  Ouch.  But you know, I would hope that heaven has a better way of judging souls than their physical handsomeness.  And why is it overrun with ducks?  It must be knee-deep in poop by now.

It is to wince: US NEWS, March 10, has a discussion of the risks of oral sex.  It seems that there is more of it than there used to be, and young folk are getting venereal diseases orally.  Gonorrhea of the throat can be ugly.  The Last Word in NEW SCIENTIST had an interesting discussion relating extremes of hunger.  A reader pointed out that in an emergency, one could eat his own feces, which contain lots of good protein.  They could be cooked to eliminate the possibility of disease.

I ran into more odds and endments as I completed my study cleanup and organization of clippings.  August 3, 1997 Ask Marilyn column, where she says the Great Wall of China as 25-30 feet high, 15-30 feet across, and 4,000 miles long.  I remember I sent her a letter, then, pointing out that the 4,000 mile wall is a myth; it does not now, and never did exist.  I gave my source: The Great Wall of China, by Arthur Waldron.  It was an intermittent series of walls, with armed forces defending the spaces between them.  Marilyn never acknowledged or, as far as I know, ran a correction.  She may be smart, but not smart enough to be always accurate.

Clipping from 1992: the vegetarian diet has benefits.  Tastes good, costs less, low in saturated fats, cholesterol and calories, high in soluble fiber, loaded with vitamins and minerals.  In short, healthy.  No, of course I have no ulterior motive in presenting this; I'm merely commenting on an old clipping.  But as a lifelong vegetarian, I do seem to be reasonably healthy for my age.  A 1997 clipping says that vegetarianism is the wave of the future.  The number of vegetarians in the US is about 13 million and growing.  I suspect that trend has continued in the intervening decade.  Another 1997 article says that as more people around the world add meat to their diets, hunger looms.  If everyone adopted a vegetarian diet, current food production would feed ten billion people.  But problems of depleting aquifers and distribution make hunger endemic.

Clipping from 1990: psychologists find no link between religion and helping others.  The more intense the religion, the greater the cruelty.  No correlation between attendance at religious services and altruism.  In a check on cheating when on the honor code for an exam, the only group majority that did not cheat was the atheists.  In 1973 people on their way to give a talk on the Parable of the Good Samaritan were unlikely to pause to help an injured man.  Churchgoers are more intolerant of ethnic minorities than non-attenders are.  It concludes “No version of religious belief offers an ironclad guarantee that the followers will follow the Golden Rule.”  I have observed this sort of thing all along; it's why I never joined a religion.  People are as they are, good, bad, and indifferent, and religion seems to make little if any difference.  1990 Dear Abby column: “Can religion be taught without teaching bigotry as well?...As long as 'true believers' are taught they are in any way superior to non-believers, they are well on their way to becoming qualified bigots, religious fanatics or members of one of the many hate groups spawned by such teachings through the ages.”  Were I religious, I would be appalled.  As it is, I'm not pleased. What would Jesus say?

Perhaps related: a 1992 clipping says that capital punishment has no measurable restraining effect on murder.  It is simply a demand for vengeance.  All the countries of the Western world have stopped executing criminals—except the United States.  “In 1988 there were 8.4 homicides per 100,000 Americans.  In Germany the figure was 4.2, in Britain 2.0, in Japan 1.2.”  And a 1991 clipping: “It has been found that societies that are most at ease with themselves and sexuality are least warlike.”  And another: the medicine deprenyl, discovered in the 1960s, was tested on rats. It made them get much more interested in sex, and live longer.  If people responded similarly, they might have more sex and live up to 150 years.  I'll be interested in the human tests, if they are ever run.  But a 1992 clipping says that the simple act of making sperm substantially shortens a male worm's lifespan, and might account for the human male's shorter span.  And one for 1991: Bloody horror films are big at the box office because “there's a thrill connected with terror in the same way there's a thrill connected with sex.”  In movies and TV that children see, “Explicit violence is just fine; explicit sex is not OK [but] if there's anything that's likely to make the human race extinct, it's not sex, its violence.”

1993 article by Carl Sagan on reports of alien abduction and seduction.  Aliens seem to like to probe the sexual parts of human beings, or to have sex with them.  What's really going on?  He finds no physical evidence, and concludes it is hallucination.  He remarks on the ease with which we may be misled, the fashioning of our beliefs, and even the origins of our religions.

1997 clipping: chewing gum dates from about 7,000 BC.  Early gum was made from birch bark tar.

1997 article in TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: dental researchers have found the same microorganisms in human mouths the world over.  They have genetically engineered a strain of harmless bacterium that is capable of killing its cavity-causing cousins and taking over their natural habitat.  Clinical trials were expected to take five to ten years before this becomes generally available.  Okay, now it's eleven years later: where is that magic treatment?  I have given up on expensive dentistry, that has enriched the dental profession without saving my teeth, and expect in due course to lose my teeth and go to dentures.  But something like this could change that picture.  Will they ever let it get through?

1992 article: men are in search of younger women.  Women want an honest partner.  “Is this sexist?  Sure.  It's ageist.  It's narcissist.  It's empty-headed.  It's unfair.  It's loathsome.  And it's true.”

1994 US NEWS article: people focus on IQ, but on average it explains less than ten percent of the variation in human behavior, and it can't explain qualities of insight, morality,  and creativity.  As a highly creative person, I have looked askance at IQ throughout my adulthood, seeing it as a measure of conformity to largely irrelevant traits.  My interests are broader than remembering numbers backwards, as these HiPiers columns may show.  Yes, I could have joined Mensa; my mother did.  I never was interested.

You have heard of babies getting dumped anonymously at hospitals or on doorsteps?  A 1991 article  describes how elderly persons are getting similarly dumped, usually at night.  Some emergency rooms have eight or more cases a week.  Most are women who have outlived husbands and children; many have dementia.  They have become a burden.  I see the problem, but it makes me queasy, and not just because the age of my own senility is drawing nigh.  Is there a better answer?

And a current article: bullies are growing more vicious.  In 2005 28% of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied in the prior 6 months.  It's not just stealing lunch money; one 15 year old was shot in the head in a classroom when he revealed that he was gay.  Increasingly, parents are filing law suits against schools that can't or won't protect the safety of their children.  Is there a solution to bullying?  Here's' a suggestion: remove the bullies.  Put them in separate reform schools or prison, depending, so that only peaceful students attend regular schools.  If it is online bullying, track down the sources and put them away too.  It can be done, if authorities want to.  Administrative indifference seems to be a major problem.

Arthur Clarke died.  Back in my day there were three top writers: Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur Clarke.  Heinlein was the best writer, Asimov was the most knowledgeable, and Clarke—well, I think if it had not been for the 2001 movie he would not have been as well known.  His prose did not sparkle, and his fictive romance was nil; as it turned out, he was gay.  But he had good ideas, and contributed significantly to the reputation of the science fiction genre.  I liked his Childhood's End when I was in college.  The old order passeth.

Article in New Scientist on sleep: what is its purpose?  It's a familiar question, without a satisfactory answer.  They have found that rats deprived of sleep too long die, so it does seem necessary.  But now there is progress: it may be that stress killed those rats, rather than loss of sleep.  Sleep may simply be nature's way to conserve energy and keep a creature quiet during downtime, thus keeping it safe.  Then the brain takes advantage of the downtime to do routine maintenance, such as organizing memories. And REM sleep may be a form of brain exercise.  The brain, like the body, may suffer if it lies fallow too long, so there are maintenance programs to rev up body and brain, so that they will remain fit for activity on the morrow.  Thus a man's nocturnal erections, that exercise the plumbing, may not be the only example.  Bears rouse periodically when hibernating, surely a similar principle.  When you store a motor for a long time, it's best to run it every so often.  I think this is closing in on the truth, at last.

Article on THE HUMANIST on the looming water crisis: we are using up the available fresh water and this is already causing serious mischief around the world.  More efficient use of water could alleviate this—if there is political will.  It may be this, more than oil, that is our most urgent challenge.  I understand progress is being made in distilling it from the sea at lost cost.  That's vital.

I have a huge additional pile of clippings, but have to cut it off somewhere.  They reflect my interests, but I'm interested in just about everything.  So, with muted regret, enough.

I'll close with a couple of personal literary references.  The monograph on Piers Anthony, by Michael R Collings, done in 1983, is being put back into online circulation by Wildside press.  I did not agree with all of his conclusions, but that's a disadvantage of being still alive when such papers are written.  And The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction Volume 1, to which I contributed a chapter, has won a 2008 Eppie for the nonfiction self help category.  I do believe it is a useful reference.

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