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AwGhost 2008

Last time I mentioned how once I got my system online, and tested it by looking up a number of people, and how my Google on my boyhood friend Craig Work messed up, because it found Does Jenny Craig work? That was intended mainly as a halfway humorous example of my marginal competence in using these new fangled mechanisms. Remember, I'm pushing 74, and should achieve that dread age about the time this column appears. But several folk took it seriously, and sent advice how to get around the problems. Such a using the minus sign before a word you don't want found: -Jenny. Such as using quotes or parentheses so it would find exactly that name. The first to do this was Michelle Dill, who provided several links to sites that look up names, such as this name. So I tried her links, and soon had a snail address for the most likely prospect, three years older than I. I wrote him a snail letter, explaining my interest. Was he the one? My interest in him is because my best friend as a child really was black, and it has colored my perception ever since, influencing my writing, where for example there is a black genius in Macroscope, and my liberal philosophy, such as supporting Obama for president, though already he is reneging on prior commitments, being a politician. I believe in tolerance, except for one class of people I would gladly relegate to eternal torture in Hell: the bigots. I can be quite cutting when I encounter one, as occasional correspondents have discovered. I once remarked to noted black genre writer Chip Delany that I might be more race conscious than he was. He may have thought I was joking.

Another example requires an explanatory diversion: My blowout with once important editor Dave Hartwell, that arguably in the end may have cost me some key sales and him his career, occurred when he implied in a fanzine review that my novel Race Against Time was racist. I sharply refuted that, and he subsequently blacklisted me at three publishers because of that, until he lost his position because, his publisher said with delicious unconscious irony, he had been unable to develop best selling writers such as Piers Anthony. It seems his publisher didn't know he had been blacklisting me. I think it served him right; he was wrong first to move a fanzine quarrel into a pro arena, showing that he cared more about a private grudge than about doing his job, which was an ethical issue; and second to blacklist a developing bestselling writer, which was a tactical career error. Evidently he did have a thing about the matter of race, and was on the wrong side of it. After he lost his position he wanted to kiss and make up with me; I didn't bother to respond. I am a bad person to cross, as some others in Parnassus have learned, because I don't quarrel capriciously and don't forget or readily forgive. Remember, I was the one who was generally blacklisted for six years in the 70s because I protested being cheated by a publisher; it's a sensitive matter. Think of the wife whose errant husband wants to return to her only after his mistress dumps him. That's too late. Hartwell had a right to do an ignorant review, and I had a right to respond in the same venue. He should have let it go at that, instead of trying to send me a message that was likely to bring a return message he would not like. I think he was the last of my blacklisters to fall, none of them by any direct action of mine, but there's nevertheless a certain cosmic justice. I remain militant, in the manner of one who manages to avoid the bullet aimed at his head; that person prefers to see justice done. Anyway, Craig Work never spoke of race, but my contact with him surely had a profound impact on my outlook, as this peripheral discussion may hint.

And in due course I got an email response: yes! Craig was delighted to hear from me, 65 years later. He remembered me and my sister. He was intrigued by my Web site, and may set up one himself. He belongs to a Unitarian-Universalist church. Small world! I have been married 52 years to the daughter of a U-U minister, who married us in his church. I'm not religious, but when you marry a minister's daughter, some concessions are in order. Craig's a musician who accompanied Harry Belafonte in night clubs, radio, and television. He is an athlete, winning four national championships in handball. He is a mathematician who was on the team that programmed computers for the Apollo flights and the Space Shuttle. Drafted for the Korean war, he taught grades 1-12 for the Army in Europe. So it is evident that he was always vastly smarter and more talented than I, yet he says he is slightly jealous of me for my writing. It is an irony of existence that the race (no pun) goes not always to the swift. He has written a memoir for his grandchildren. So I mentioned my ongoing electronic publishing survey; maybe there's something there for him.

Well, now. If my passing reference to one failed search for a person resulted in belated success, thanks to my readers who generally know more than I do, should I try it again? Maybe so. Back in the 1930s my parents' marriage was troubled from the outset; they were perfectly matched in religion, philosophy, intelligence, age and so on, and it didn't matter that he was American and she English (a generation later I, English, married an American girl, and that worked out), but their differing personalities made their association a disaster. They didn't even have sex until months after marriage, when his psychologist told him to stop stalling and do his duty. I was the result. It did not improve things. They soon went to Spain to do relief work feeding hungry children in the Spanish civil war of 1936-39. They tried to bring the children—my sister and me—along, but it was too dangerous and awkward, so we were returned to England, where our English grandparents hired a nanny to care for us, per the British way. It was just a passing convenience for them. But I came of age, as it were, in that year or two with the nanny. My earliest memories at age two or three are of her. I thought she was my mother. Then when I was four it was time to rejoin my parents in Spain, who were then two people on my peripheral awareness. "Are you going?" I asked the nanny. She said no. And thereby occurred the first and perhaps greatest emotional separation of my life. I don't think I ever fully got over it. It has been said that a happy childhood interrupted by circumstance is what makes a writer, "the gift that keeps giving." That was surely the root of my subsequent writing career.

Ever since, I have wondered about the nanny. How did she do in life? Did she care for other children? Did she remember me? She was probably just a teen girl hired to keep the children occupied. But to me she was the world. I understand there were two of them, Scottish sisters, who perhaps alternated in caring for my sister and me. They certainly did a good job, because it was the happiest point in my early life. Maybe what a child needs is someone who pays constant and supportive attention. It's a critical time for the development of the brain, and I may owe such intelligence and empathy as I have to her care. Her name I believe was Bunty Stewart. That's not a typo; it's spelled with a T. When I Googled her I did find the name, but I'm not at all sure it's the right person. The first entry says Actor: The Jade Heart. There are several movie references. I think that must be someone else. So the search foundered, the name perhaps obliterated by a more famous occupant. I don't even know if she's alive; she would be 88 to 92 by now, I think. So it may be a lost cause, regardless. But if any readers want to tackle it, welcome.

It's the movie season, and we saw some. Wife #1 and Daughter #2 essentially make the viewing decisions, and for some reason they're not much interested in the sexy stuff I am. So we saw Prince Caspian, which was okay but leaning more to war and violence than characterization, with just a hint of potential romance stifled. By the skewed standard of our contemporary culture, that makes it suitable for children. Me, I'd rather make love than make war, but I am evidently out of step. We saw The Incredible Hulk, which also was supremely violent, but with intriguing aspects. We saw Get Smart, which was fun, and I think the new actor for the role played it perfectly, and the new Agent 99 was cute. I especially like the dance sequence, wherein 99 does a fantastic and sexy dance with the host, while Smart selects a woman twice his mass and by damn makes it work. She's not a total foil, either; at the end she gives the other girls the finger. And Wall-E, the best of the lot, about the best animation I've seen since Cars. I love the way Wall-E is obviously male, being squared off, dirty, rugged, and not phenomenally bright, while Eve-A (I may have the spelling wrong) is obviously female, being white, rounded, smooth, clean, with gentle doe-eyes, and she floats. I like the background concepts, such as Earth overwhelmed by garbage, the surviving humans so perfectly cared for in space that they are all nearly terminally fat and indolent, and the show run by the auto-pilot, who doesn't want to give it up. I think it's a gentle parody of a sequence in the classic movie 2001. Regardless, man is made to be in harness; give him everything without challenge, and he becomes a slug, pretty much as shown. No lecturing in the movie; it's just the background, but obviously carefully thought out. It's a great job.

And I watched a video. I buy, watch, and save videos, mostly VHS but increasingly DVD, and expect to watch the best ones again. But years go by and I'm always busy on something else, being a workaholic. But finally I had an afternoon free, and I re-watched Starship Troopers, based on Robert A Heinlein's novel of the same title. We skipped it in the theaters, because it was apparent that his dark, brooding, thoughtful book had been debased to a shoot-em-up war with big bugs. But in 1999 I got it as a reduced-price video, being a chronic sucker for sales, watched it, and found it to be a nicely done juvenile in its own right. So this time, re-watching it after nine years, I was impressed with the tightness of the formula and the unremitting narrative tension. It just never lets go. As a writer, I admire that. Sure, there's abuse of coincidence, such as when the protagonist's family is wiped out back on Earth by an enemy meteor right when he's talking with them via video. But formula is like that; you just have to accept it and appreciate it for what it is, an artificially fast moving story. I like the scene with the communal shower, where all the boys and girls wash together, thinking nothing of it; that's a potent commentary on the future society. I note the tight military discipline, a hallmark of Heinlein, who was a military man before getting washed out, I think, by tuberculosis. Writing was his second love; he missed the military career, and it showed. He evidently believed that military service should be a requirement for citizenship. At least the movie is true to that. I like the way it showed the importance of using a knife despite having guns and spaceships galore, and has that knife make the difference in the terminal sequence. That's good writing. So yes, this one was worth re-watching.

So I watched another video: Scent of a Woman. I bought it in 1995 and watched it, and regard it as my #2 video of all time, following What Dreams May Come. (I suspect my best theater-watched movie would be Titanic.) But the tape is getting old, and these things don't keep forever, and I realized that I had better watch it again soon if I was going to. So I did. The story is of Charlie, a high school senior at a fancy college prep school in New England who happens to witness a prank that infuriates the headmaster. Pressure is put on Charlie to snitch on the perpetrators, which he doesn't want to do. Meanwhile he gets a weekend job accompanying a blind retired Lt. Colonel with a sarcastic attitude. That turns out to be quite an adventure, as the Colonel means to visit New York, do all the fun things he has wanted to, and then shoot himself. There's a lovely dance scene as the blind Colonel teaches a young woman the tango, turning out to be an excellent dancer. And when he drives an expensive Ferrari at speed. And when he comes unexpectedly to serve in loco parentis for Charlie at his hearing, and gives a speech that totally changes the picture. I remember how the headmaster was about to pronounce sentence, and the Colonel said "Not so fast!" and went on to lecture the school on the values it was inculcating: did it really want to teach students to betray their companions for personal benefit? Well, this time around there was no "Not so fast," and the Colonel's speech was anything but eloquent; it was replete with gutter terms. Memory is treacherous. But the essence and result were the same. Is it as good a movie as I remembered? Perhaps not, but still one well worth re-watching.

More contemporary movies: Mama Mia. This is a musical romp, a lot of fun. It does many of the songs of ABBA, a name I understand was formed from the initials of the names of four founders, a great group in its day. Unfortunately it did not include "Fernando," which for my taste may be the best popular song ever recorded. I remember seeing ABBA on TV once, and they sang that song. Their two female singers were pretty girls, blonde and brunette, and when they sang together it was simply delightful. Anyway, the story line is that a girl about to be married does not know which of three men is her father, so she invites them all to the wedding. This does not please her mother, who wants never to see any of them again. Not all the singers are great, but there's a folksy quality that makes it fun regardless. And finally the Batman movie, The Dark Knight. This was fully of sound and fury, signaling not much. As with the coyote and roadrunner cartoons, there's always something afoot to get foiled, but not much of a resolution. They are trying to clean up Gotham City, preferring to do it without Batman's help if they can, and the Joker is constantly messing it up. Where the Joker gets the resources to do such massive mischief is unclear; for example he blows up a hospital, which must have taken a huge pile of explosives and manpower without being observed. He abducts and booby traps a leading citizen and his girlfriend, in different places, so that Batman much choose which one to save. He saves the man, and the girl, whom Batman also loved, dies. Was there a point to this?

I read books. City of the Beast, by Michael Moorcock, another of the PLANET STORIES reissues. The original title was Warrior of Mars, which was more relevant. There's something about publishers that makes them change good titles to inferior ones, apparently just because they can. It reminds me of Robert Heinlein's remark that after an editor pisses on a manuscript he likes the taste better and he publishes it. This novel is a conscious emulation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, full of unlikely adventure on a neighboring planet. It is worth remembering that out of such junk developed our modern science fiction and fantasy genres. Genres, like people, have their wild youths. So this is fun, but hardly deep.

Then I read a relative heavyweight: the manuscript The Ride, by Erinna Chen. This has its special story. Here, let me run the introduction I wrote for it, indented so readers can skip over it if so minded.


Piers Anthony

Erinna was supposed to mow the lawn that day. Instead she went bicycle riding with her friends. She was fifteen, after all. And got struck by a car. As she lay beside the road with compound fractures, half delirious, she decided she would write a letter to her favorite author of the time, Piers Anthony. Me. That was May 29, 1988.

But one thing led to another, and it was twenty years before she actually did so. Maybe that was just as well, because I was busy at the time. The day before, my wife's birthday, we had moved with our two horses and three dogs to our new house on our small Florida tree farm. That day and the next we were in the throes of settling in, setting up computer, washing machine, cabinets and such. The last day of the month I tackled backlogged correspondence, typing 26 letters. Meanwhile my career writing continued. I was editing my novel And Eternity, the seventh in the Incarnations of Immortality fantasy series, featuring the replacement of an inattentive God with an activist woman.

In June I started writing Through the Ice, a collaboration with a young man who had died in a car accident at age 16, leaving his promising novel incomplete. His friends had asked me to finish it, and now I was doing so.

The following year I would begin a one-way correspondence with 12 year old Jenny, who was hit by a drunk driver in December 1988, spent three months in a coma, and who was roused from it by my first letter to her, sent at the behest of her mother. That was when they learned she was completely paralyzed except for a couple of fingers and a toe. She couldn't even talk. That story was to be told in my Xanth novel Isle of View, with the character Jenny Elf, and in Letters to Jenny, publishing the first year of my letters to her. In 2008 I am still writing weekly letters, as she remains paralyzed. So it seems that period was a time of devastating car accidents for my young readers.

It may not have helped that this was the summer I taught our younger daughter to drive, preparatory for her departure to college. I had had a rollover at age 22 when I took my eye off the road to verify an address and found myself sailing off a six foot drop-off. I wondered, in mid-air, whether I would regain consciousness after landing. As it happened, I suffered only a bruised shoulder and a badly battered car, but knew I was lucky. I have never been a careless driver since, having learned my lesson well. I remain hyper-aware how suddenly deadly a moving car can be, and always use the seat belt. And as far as I know, my daughter has never had an accident, other than getting rear-ended at a stop, so it seems I taught her well enough.

Meanwhile Erinna's experience became a book, tracing her slow recovery, her long relationship with Anthony (no relation to me), and her development as a person. I read it and found it interesting, thoughtful, and wholly worthwhile. No, not just because it mentions me. Because Erinna's experience relates to the others of my experience at the time, mentioned above, with other details I never thought of. She turned sixteen in traction, in a partial body cast, her legs locked wide apart, no underwear (it couldn't be fit over the cast) for any passing male or female to contemplate. When she started walking again, on crutches, after months off her feet, at one point children stared at her emaciated right leg. So her friend Nancy said loudly "Erinna, tell me again, HOW BIG WAS THE SHARK?" That awed the kids. Friends can be great.

The narrative is centered on her accident and grueling recovery, interspersed with incidents of her life before and after. Such as sex education. Age 5 with the neighbor boy: "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine." "Why?" "Because then we can go inside and watch TV." The author remarks reminiscently "Already at age five I was agreeing to trade a glimpse of my naked body for something I wanted." Age 11, visiting New Zealand relatives with her brother, with her vociferous grandmother in a public restaurant. Grandma talked loudly of her own sexual escapades, and of "leading young men into a frenzy, begging me with their erections!" Erinna almost died, but she learned.

Also along the way are her life lessons, given in Italics after the sequences that caused her to draw such conclusions. It is very easy, by not saying anything, to become an enabler to someone--a friend--who has a drinking or drug problem. This, after she learned from observation that a house mate was a functioning alcoholic. Trying to get past a slow-moving and shedding manure truck on a curvy road, and getting, well, shit on. If shit rains down upon you, it is an entirely different experience if you can laugh about it.

There was her father's memory of leaving behind half their water during a long hike, and winding up drinking water from a horse trough with a rotting raccoon floating in it. Her experience in nursing school, where the authorities seemed to have a different agenda than the patients' welfare and made it hard for anyone who might object. Marvelously insensitive doctors, one with a bedside manner like a rattlesnake. Observing surgery: "You never would forget seeing a person’s—your new friend’s—entire small and large intestines lifted up through a large incision and dumped on his chest in a glistening, malleable heap."

On the unavoidable death of a premature baby who fought for life though doomed: "She was close to the edge of several borders: life, death, ethics, legality, choice." My wife had three stillbirths in our first decade of marriage, the last one living for an hour. We know that grief. Erinna as a student nurse handled two live "dead" births, and went on with her life. But a week later she was suddenly, uncontrollably crying, as it caught up with her. Sometimes one’s mind and body know more than one’s consciousness. Sometimes responses to events are delayed; good and bad experiences take time to digest. Food takes time to digest, too, whether it was good, or so bad it made you sick.

As a nurse in training she went to Nicaragua, in 1998, where the situation was desperate. She quotes a poem: "Broken tools/ broken bodies/ broken promises/ broken hearts/ broken dreams./ Everything is broken/ except the people-/ still pushing.

The women there could get their tubes tied, for birth control. But the surgery was done without anesthetic. It was essentially torture. If they writhed or screamed in pain the doctors chided them. Yes, there was supposed to be anesthetic; the suspicion was that it was being siphoned off to sell on the black market, while the women suffered. Such is life in the Third World. When something unexpected and terrible happens, one does not believe it is really happening. You do not believe your own senses; you do not want to; you question what your mind is relaying to you.

This is Erinna's twenty-year autobiography, just another largely anonymous life. It is also an exploration of learning and feeling that touches universal chords. Perhaps it was her accident that lent her perspective for the ages. I regard this as worth reading for its insights. Erinna has a pretty mind.

Yes, I'm trying to help her market it, but it remains hard to get the attention of anyone in Parnassus, the traditional print establishment, regardless of the merit of the piece. That's just one of many ways I fault Parnassus, though I made my fortune there.

I read the manuscript The Cat in the Cradle, by Jay Bell. This, too, is different. On one level it is a straightforward fantasy novel, inspired to a degree by my Adept series, with Oligarchs with different colors of magic and varied motives. There is troubled romance, before things work out in the end. But it is very much its own novel, proceeding in different directions. And it features a gay protagonist. No, no sneeringly; the author is gay. So in this respect it is authentic. There are worthy girls interested in the protagonist and a man he meets, but it is the man he falls for. I was told years ago by a lesbian that gay romance is much the same as hereto romance, only with the genders changed. My limited observation since then (I'm not into that persuasion, so my view is somewhat distant) bears this out. And it is true here. I suspect this novel will get savaged in some quarters because of this aspect, but really, it should be appreciated for what it is, a fantasy with a slightly different love interest. There is no sex, just some kissing; it is G rated. It is worth reading. You know, they are still learning things about homosexuality. Bigots want to say "They choose that lifestyle!" without saying what is wrong with it. They claim the Bible forbids it, but they have to stretch and interpret to make the case, and I don't think Jesus Christ ever commented on it. In fact I doubt he would have condemned it, because his philosophy was love, not hate. So I think the bigots are clothing their bigotry in religion, thus degrading their religion. Anyway, it seems that straight men have larger right brain hemispheres than straight women, whose two sides are symmetrical. Gay men also have symmetrical brains, while lesbians have larger right hemispheres. So it seems that if you like women, sexually, your right side is larger, regardless of your gender, while if you like men, your sides are even. It makes me wonder whether there are male and female hemispheres, with the right one being male, the left female. If the right is dominant, you go for women. But it is surely way more complicated than that.

One correspondent is what I would call a rabid anti-gay bigot. I'm absolutely heterosexual; I love the look and feel of women. But I support individual preference, following the Golden Rule: they don't try to convert me, I don't try to convert them. So I give him no satisfaction, but he keeps coming back (no pun intended). Last time he said I missed the point that gays don't reproduce. Without it, he assures me, our human society would cease to exist. Here is my response:

You think I missed your point? Missing is not the same as disagreeing. I think your point is nonsense. I am enclosing a clipping of a letter published in the newspaper July 6, about how identity can hang on belief. It concludes "...you can probably never prove any disagreeable facts to such people. They've traded introspection and reason for the security, comfort, and certainty that their viewpoints, and thus their identity, are always 100 percent correct."* In your viewpoint, homosexuality is evil, and reason won't sway you.

Well, here's another example of reason for you to avoid: today's greatest global crisis is probably human overpopulation, despoiling the world, so any deviant sex that lessens the reproductive rate is surely beneficial. Human society will not survive a continuation of the present population trend. But if enough people divert their sexuality to nonreproductive forms, that may leave room for the remaining folk to continue normal reproductive behavior. You should be encouraging such diversion; human society as we know it may depend on that.

Okay, that surely won't persuade him. In fact it may give him apoplexy. Which is part of the point; you get into this arena with me at your own risk, which may include getting your point rammed up your own ass. (The * asterisk [no pun on "ass"] is to credit the author of the quoted letter: Bret Coffman.)

For research I read A Book of the Basques, but Rodney Gallop. I bought it cut-rate from Daedalus in 1992, and then it sat neglected while I was on hiatus from historical fiction writing, but in Climate of Change one of my featured settings is Basque and now was its time. It was written in 1930, before I was born, but is quite relevant to my purpose. I learned that the Basques call themselves Eskualdunak, and their land Eskual Herria or Euzkadi, maybe derived from their word for Sun. So they are the Sun people. Similarly the Armenians, another of my settings, call themselves Hai. Yes, I explore the Armenian genocide of 1915, an ugly but mixed case. History is fascinating in its bypaths. Here is a quote from A Book of the Basques: "It will be recalled that since the dawn of civilization it has been a guiding principle of religious thought that spiritual power is a sublimation of sexual power. By the renouncement of the sexual function man gained a proportional increase of spiritual virtue." That explains a lot. I have now completed Climate of Change, 172,000 words of human history told in human terms, and like it well enough, though I don't know whether I can find a print publisher for it.

And one I haven't read, but probably will: No Such Thing as a Free Ride, edited by Simon Sykes and Tom Sykes. This is a collection of hitchhiking experiences written by 57 contributors in many areas. I was asked to contribute years ago, and did so, and it is here: less than a page, remembering the kindness of a young woman who picked me up at night as I hitchhiked, though surely fearful I could be a criminal. She was relieved to learn I was just a college kid going home for the summer. She saved me miles of walking. I conclude "It was just a kindness one person did for another: one of the redeeming features of the human race—a bright spot in a dark night." I wish I could thank her now, but I have no idea who she is. I am partway through the book, and the experiences cited by others dwarf mine in magnitude; it's a fascinating book.

My wife and I had our 52nd anniversary, and celebrated by having a slice of cheesecake. At our age and diet, that's a big enough deal. Death will us part, but at present that does not threaten to be soon. I wonder: what percentage of marriages make it this distance? One? Two? Death and divorce are horrendous adversaries.

Sex ads keep coming in. What I noticed was the Free Gift associated with one horrendously expensive pill: a pheromone spray to attract women. Note the implication: use this, and a woman's mind, convenience, or rational choice become irrelevant. She's a slave to her nose. Were I a woman, I'd be annoyed. I wonder: assume that it works, and that the woman knows the otherwise unappealing man is using it. Will it still work?

Here is an excerpt from my update on NEW CONCEPTS publishing, self explanatory: "And a bad complaint: an author submitted a three chapter partial book, per their guidelines, then took time to work on it—and they published it as part of a three author collaboration, with the other authors picking up from her beginning. Now this sort of thing can be done; I've done it. But it has to be by contract, and that was not the case here. So it was an involuntary collaboration. The publisher says she was in breach of contract by not delivering; author says there was no specified due date. Looks from here as if the author has the right of it. Yes, it happened to me, in traditional print, decades ago when a publisher rendered my novel But What of Earth? into a collaboration without my knowledge, in egregious violation of the contract. I objected, and the publisher apologized, reverted the rights to me, fired the editor, and shut down the line. And fans said I was too easy on them because I didn't sue. Okay, they were in the process of doing the last two things anyway. But I could have forced it, had I sued. I saw no need; I'm tough minded, but not that much of an ogre. I had the novel republished elsewhere, restored, with 25,000 words of commentary on the idiocies of the original editing. So in my judgment, unless the publisher can prove breach of contract by the author, such as a delivery deadline, it owes the author reversion and public apology, and shutdown of the book unless it can negotiate a contractual compromise with the author. Because arrogance like this needs to be curbed, for the good of the field."

More on my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishers and related services. I do it as a service to my readers and others, in significant part because folk that tell the truth can be subject to retaliation by errant publishers. Preditors & Editors is being sued right now, for telling on PUBLISH AMERICA. I am a battle-scarred veteran of that sort of thing, and am essentially immune to it today, and have an ornery attitude. I do have the will and the means to take it to any outfit that doubts, and I will demonstrate that in spades if challenged. So I am one of the few who both can and will do it, let the burning drops of saliva fall where they may. The service is generally appreciated by writers and even some publishers; they let me know. I guard my objectivity. But sometimes it get compromised regardless. Here is an example. In the course of an update dialogue with COBBLESTONE PRESS, one of the better electronic erotic publishers, I learned that they might be interested in a submission from me. As it happened, I had just the prior week summarized an idea that I thought I might never write, because it was too edgy even for the erotic market, which has its own taboos. But it just might fit this publisher's interest in just such themes. So I described it, got interest, and in three days I wrote "Knave" and sent it in. Three weeks later came an acceptance. So now I am doing business there, and my objectivity has to suffer. Ah, well; readers of my Survey can take warning, though I will still report negatives I may receive on the publisher. They have a form for the Cover Art which should prevent the kind of miscues I and other writers have suffered. I mean once a foreign print publisher even put a Philip Jose Farmer cover on one of my novels; that's how little they care about relevance. Yes, I sent Phil a copy. I doubt that will happen here, though Cobblestone ignored my art form, with my acquiescence. It's that they had a better idea than I did.

So what's "Knave" about? Jack, a young man between semesters in college, needs work for the summer. He answers an ad for a Knave, duties undefined, but the picture is of the Queen of Hearts card, and the Queen animates, doffs her clothing to reveal a figure that would make an hourglass clog its sand in shame, and beckons him to come to her. How can he resist? Thus Jack finds himself being sexually interviewed by the Queen of Clubs, who is mistress of all golf links and uses golf balls as sex toys on her and on him, and by the Queens of Diamonds and Spades, who deal respectively in money and gardening in sexual ways I doubt you have seen before. Until finally he comes to the Queen of Hearts, who really educates him. That's where it gets edgy. It's a sexual romp that is, I trust, unlike the usual erotic fare. We'll see.

The old order passeth. Tom Disch died. Back in my day, everyone was talking about the two outstanding new writers, Roger Zelazny and Tom Disch. But, they said, Zelazny had far more potential. I'm not sure that was the case. What I remember about Disch was that he wrote a novel titled Camp Concentration that was the odds-on bet to win awards. It was published in hardcover, and a paperback publisher made an offer of about triple the going rate for it. The hardcover publisher controlled the rights, and brushed it off, maybe thinking it could get more. Better offers did not come, so the hardcover went back to the paperback—who told them to fuck off, understandably. Publishers routinely treat authors with contempt, but they forget themselves when they do it to other publishers. Might as well call a feminist Amazon "Cutie" while you're at it. And so the novel was sold for much less, and received less promotion, and got nowhere. Disch was so disgusted he thought he might quit writing in the science fiction genre, and of course SFWA—Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America--was no help. They actually facilitated the illicit blacklist against me. Meanwhile Zelazny's career got the right breaks and flourished, while Disch was largely forgotten. Because there is little fairness in publishing. I, then an unknown writer but ornery as ever, was commenting on the best novels of the time, and mentioned that I had spent about a year looking for Camp Concentration but couldn't find it; it seemed to be already out of print. So I couldn't review it. But, I said, by all accounts it was an excellent novel. And wouldn't you know it, a critic—critics can be utter turds—chastised me for commenting on a book I hadn't read. Years later I did find and read it, and it was a good novel. At any rate, Disch was probably the best writer you never heard of; now you have half a notion why.

Better known was Algis Budrys, who also died, age 77. I remember him for his taut SF novel Rogue Moon. He was some writer, when he was "on." Later I read a lesser effort, whose title I don't remember, and it wasn't much, but part way through it suddenly came to life for me, and I was in the scene. Curious to know how that worked, being in the business of writing myself, I went back to locate the precise point where it happened. I located the sentence: "She ran gracefully beside him." Huh? That was it? Maybe I visualized the girl's graceful breasts bobbing as she jogged, and that visual flash tipped me into the scene. I'm a typical male, when it comes to girl watching. The lesson, if there was any, was that some random element may do it; a writer doesn't always know what will draw the reader in. At any rate that was as close to personal as I got with Budrys, but I do remember him.

And Robert Asprin died, known for his humorous, punny Myth-begotten series, about the closest thing to Xanth extant. I met him in Dallas in 1982 and later contributed to an anthology he and his wife edited. I quipped that if there was a problem, take two Asprin and call in the morning. We weren't close, but I'm sorry to see him die young. He was 61, a dozen years younger than I am, done in by natural causes.

Andre Norton died three years ago; I knew her and liked her, but read little of her fiction because I didn't want to judge her. Now her estate is enmeshed in legal strife: who should control the rights to her published books? The issue is between her caretaker, Sue Stewart, and a long-time fan, Victor Horadam. I have no opinion, being ignorant of the issues there. But it does seem too bad there there has to be a problem.

But no, I did not die. I received yet another query whether I was alive. I wonder who starts these rumors? My guess is critics who wish I was dead. Wishing doesn't make it so.

A reader advised me of an article about Lord Piers Anthony Weymouth Wedgwood. Now that's an interesting name. My full name is Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob, so we have a similar handle on the name. We're both from England. Maybe some day we'll meet.

I graduated from Goddard College with a BA in creative writing; that's where my career really started. I also became a vegetarian there, and found the girl I married. Another Goddard graduate wrote to introduce me to TLA, Tranformative Language Arts, which hosts an annual The Power of Words conference: Liberation Through the Spoken, Written and Sung Word—September 12-15, 2008 at Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont. Conference costs start at $210, with additional fees for pre- and post-conference workshops. Lodging and all meals on campus begin at $216, double, or $276, single. www.goddard.edu/powerofwords or call 802 454-8311. X204. Goddard today is not the same kind of institution it was when I attended, but this is surely worthwhile for those interested.

I received another of those tempting emails, this time from Anna, age 29, a pretty girl in Cheboksary, Russia. "I have gone to the agency of acquaintances and have paid money that to me have helped to find my prince in agency I have paid 1000 roubles that to me distances yours e-mail the address and have told you the person which approaches me, and here now I sit and write to you the letter..." Gee, Anna, I wish I could be your prince, but I don't think my wife would understand.

Some newspaper items: on Senior Moments: they are "a literal paraphasia." Most common is the temporary inability to recall a name or number or what you were about to do. I certainly suffer from it. It's nice to have a name for it. Now instead of seeming like a dummy I can just explain that it's—it's--whatever. On religion: "21% of self-defined atheists believe in God." I have a problem with that. On life: life expectancy for women in the united States is now 80.97 years; for men, 78.06 years. I guess that means when I turn 78, I'll have about .06 of a year to put my affairs in order. On spelling: is it al-Qaida or al-Qaeda? Either will do, though I prefer the latter. On fuel: a blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol will reduce mileage by about 3%. But they don't charge you less for the mix, so you are losing. And a listing of the 35 articles of impeachment Dennis Kucinich read into the congressional record, containing items such as a fraudulent justification of the invasion of Iraq, creating secret laws, authorizing torture, spying on American citizens, signing statements, tampering with elections, and systematically undermining efforts to address global climate change. But congress isn't interested, I think because Bush will soon be out anyway. Quote from Donald Kaul: "We went to war because President Bush and the oil gang wanted to install a puppet regime to ensure that Iraqi oil flowed to favored oil companies." Actually the rest of the world knew that all along; only Americans have been deceived. And by Norman Soloman: "You wouldn't know it from the mainline media coverage, but blueprints are readily available for a careful and complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq." They were made by the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq. All else is largely rightist bluster and a controlled American press. And there are 48 countries in Africa, and 50 in Europe. I thought I was fairly well up on my geography, but I must be missing some. And the risk of homicide in the home is three times as much in houses with guns as in those without guns. I'd like to know how many gun owners actually drive off would-be robbers; that's a key figure that's hard to come by. Well, maybe this is it: Arthur Kellerman says he studied the matter, and guns kept in the home were 12 times as likely to be involved in the death or injury of a member of the household than in the killing or wounding of a bad guy in self defense. Intruders got to the home owner's gun twice as often as the homeowner did. And one on cell phones by Sara Corbett, titled "Can the cell phone save the world?" The thesis is that the ready communication they provide enables people everywhere to make profitable connections they might otherwise have missed. They are becoming part of a person's identity. It took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide, four years for the second billion, and two years for the third billion. 80% of the world's population now lives within range of a cellular network. People everywhere are being empowered. I can see it; I have one, and my wife has one, Tracfones, that we seldom use, but give us time to get into the 21st century. When I managed to get lost in our 90 acre tree farm—remember, I'm pushing senility, as these columns surely suggest—I cell-phoned my wife in the car, and she honked the horn so I knew which direction to go. You just never can tell when immediate personal communication will count.

The "Curtis" comic for July 9, 2008, was fun. Curtis is in summer school, and the teacher is an extremely shapely blonde whose every speech is musical. Curtis, overwhelmed, thinks "Hamina, hamina." That's where it loses me. What is Hamina? I suspect I'm about two generations out of date on slang.

A liberal column by Karyn Langhorne Folan remarks on dating "out." The author is a black woman who married a white man. It seems that a black man marries a white woman as a status symbol, but a black woman must not marry out. "Worse was the dagger-like stare I endured once while at a restaurant with my husband and our baby daughter—not from an old, racist white person but a black man who was seated across a table from a white woman." How hypocritical can you get?

From a brochure for AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: "Throughout history, when religion has been combined with the raw power of government, it has spawned tyranny and oppression." Yes, as in the Inquisition. The religious right seems eager to bring back that sort of thing. Our faith-based government is already torturing innocent people. Another liberal columnist, Ruth Gadebusch, says in part: With the Supreme Court's ruling on habeas corpus that detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "we can at least hope that a modicum of moral direction has been restored to this nation." The imprisoning "was done with malice afore-thought. Then we proceeded to ignore our constitution, the Geneva Conventions and anything else that got in our way." We even espoused the kind of torture that we condemned the Japanese and Germans for doing in World War Two, not even caring that many of the detainees were innocent. I think the officials responsible should be put on trial for treason, because they have betrayed the most fundamental American values and laws.

NEW SCIENTIST, reviewing books on the root causes of hunger today despite there being enough food to feed everyone, concludes that it is not the textbook free market that is to blame. "It is neither free nor fair." It is distorted by powerful players that control much of the world's food supply. Which can be a problem with the free market: the schoolyard bullies take it over. Another quote from NEW SCIENTIST: "Fiction is a simulation than runs on the software of our minds." Beautiful. Item on how the latest studies make it almost certain: brain scans show that a person is born gay or straight. On gender: girls are just as competitive as boys, they merely implement it differently. Boys are more physically aggressive; girls punish success by excluding her from their clique, whispering about her, or hiding from her. Another: Social Democrat Member of Parliament in Germany says that the great unspoken truth is how painless it will be to convert the world to renewable energy, especially solar power. And an item on emerald oil: emerald green crude oil produced by photosynthesis in algae. It could fuel cars, trucks, and aircraft—without consuming crops that can be used as food. The company aims to produce 10,000 barrels a day within five years. So it seems we can get off Arab oil, if we just do it. And one on the Large Hadron Collider near Switzerland, due to go on line in September. It may finally locate the mysterious Higgs boson, otherwise known as the God(damned) particle or field, and clarify the underlying nature of the universe. I'm a fan of Higgs, so I'll be saying more about it, in due course, if it exists. They abolished the notion of the ether, the background substance of the universe, long ago, but I think it may exist, as the Higgs field. And one titled "Are We Doomed?" whose thesis is that societies inevitably get more complicated and increasingly fragile, until any little thing can bring them down. Ours is extremely complex, so probably doomed. Today's population level depends on fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. Take those away and there would be a reduction in population too gruesome to think about. So we won't think about it, until, inevitably, it happens. I just hope I don't live to see it. Plan B 3.0 by Lester R. Brown addresses this issue with an ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2020, stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth's natural systems. Wind and solar are the centerpiece. More power to that! www.earthpolicy.org.

Susan Lee, of the Ferret & Dove Sanctuary, is a ball of positive energy. The purpose of the sanctuary is to provide a safe haven and humane treatment for small domestic animals and domestic doves. Many are adopted out to good homes (and they do make sure those homes are suitable), and those that aren't are lovingly cared for. A few have been adopted as a result of prior mentions in this column. Those who would like to make a donation can get in touch via http://ferretanddovesanctuary.petfinder.org, or The Ferret & Dove Sanctuary, Inc., 3815 Tom Lane Drive, Pensacola, Florida 32504. I have also added their volunteer site to my Survey of electronic publishers and services; it's a stretch, but some aspiring writers might be interested. I reserve the right to be arbitrary on occasion. Regardless, Susan, in one of her bursts of generosity, sent me several things. One is their little cookbook, Ferretly Fine & Doverly Home Cooking. These are assorted recipes for humans and non-humans, and helpful hints. Such as how to test an egg for freshness: put it in cool salted water. If it floats, it's bad. She also sent four of her hand-stitched angels. Their knit wings are multi-colored, reaching from head to hem of skirt, and some have bead sashes. Their lower halves intrigue me, because there are bell-shaped skirts without legs or feet. That gave me an idea for Xanth: angels with invisible feet, floating o'er the landscape. Maybe one wants to come to earth, but needs to make her legs tangible, so it's a challenge. How can anyone take seriously a girl whose panties are invisible? Maybe her name would be Susie.

And she sent a copy of the children's book her husband, Wes Hurley, wrote, that Susan illustrated. It tells of the green frogs who loved mischief, and messed up blueberry pies cooling on the window sill. Then their feet got stained blue, and it wouldn't wash off. This complicated their existence. It's a nice story, with nice pictures, highly suitable for children. Naturally they can't get the attention of Parnassus, the traditional print establishment, so have to self publish it.

SCIENCE NEWS has an article on edible insects. Yes, insects are a promising food for the future, being nutritious and easy to raise. And the fact is, we're already eating them, though we don't necessarily know it. For example, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams of chocolate, with similar allowances for other foods. So why not go whole hog, as it were, and eat insects openly?

DISCOVER has an article on energy, exploring the several major sources: oil, geothermal, nuclear, hydro, coal, natural gas. We obsess about the amount of oil that's in Saudi Arabia, seeming unable to get off dependence on it, but the united States is just as dominant on coal, for example. And what about wind and solar? Those are everywhere; we just need to develop the instruments to harvest them, to have virtually inexhaustible nonpolluting power.

I contributed a short short story, "The Courting," to the anthology Bits of the Dead, edited by Keith Gouveia. It is an anthology of zombie stories, published in print and electronically. Zombie fans will surely find the volume interesting. It's available at Fictionwise.com, Amazon.com, and from the publisher, Coscom entertainment, www.coscomentertainment.com/bitsofthedead.html. I haven't done much with zombies, outside of Xanth, where they are a rough analogy to persecuted minorities.

As I have mentioned on occasion, I have one big movie option remaining to be exercised: Warner Pictures on A Spell For Chameleon. After more than four years the decision date is finally arriving: when they either exercise the option and make the movie, or decline to. That date was August 20, 2008. But it turns out that they are extending it 100 days because of the writer's strike. The strike of course did not affect this project, as they are not yet supposed to be working on it, but the option contract says it applies. It's a technicality, but that's the way it is. So it will be early December.

SCIENCE NEWS has a review of the nonfiction book Mirroring People, by Marco Iacoboni, which makes the case that mirror neurons are the physical component of empathy, thought to be at the core of human society. It may account for group behavior, and its absence may lead to disorders such as autism. Yes indeed; that has been my thesis. I think it is empathy that enables us to enjoy books and movies, putting ourselves into the places of those we are viewing. So without reader empathy, my career as a writer would tank.

This column is 9,300 words long. I keep hoping to get them shorter, and keep failing. Sigh.

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