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Piers signing books
JeJune 2008

A reader, Bob Michielutte, suggested that I space between paragraphs, to make the material easier to follow or find a place in, so I'm trying that this time, spacing between subjects.


I proofread the page proofs for Xanth #32, Two to the Fifth.  I have already written the following novel, #33 Jumper Cable, and am making notes for the one after that, #34 Knot Gneiss, but the publisher takes two years to get them into print.  Publishers are notoriously slow.  I remember when agent Richard Curtis tried to set up a challenge: his authors could write their novels from scratch faster than their publishers could draw their advance checks.  But no publisher would take him up on it; they knew they would lose.  It's not really inefficiency; it's that they are reluctant to give up any money one day before they absolutely have to.  So authors can wait years for advances, and longer for royalties.  I've been there.  Anyway, this novel is due to be published in hardcover OctOgre 2008, and a year later in paperback.  Is it worth the wait?  Yes, I think so.  I form my best opinion of my novels when I proof the galleys, because they typically have aged a year or more (less for small press) and time lends perspective.  I do the best I can on every novel I write, but some, in my private estimate, turn out better than others.  You can't win the jackpot every single time.  Two/Fifth strikes me as one of the best of the recent Xanths, and I like it about as well as my last “best,” Pet Peeve.  It's the story of Cyrus Cyborg, a playwright who is considered a catch by several of the lovely actresses in his plays.  Then Princess Rhythm, age twelve, confesses to having a crush on him.  He refuses to take that seriously; she's a child.  Bad mistake; she's also a Sorceress.  Never antagonize a Sorceress of any age.  She enchants herself to be ten years older, grabs him, and hauls him into a love spring.  Gives one heroic ellipsis...  And reverts to her normal age after an hour, leaving him hopelessly in love with a woman who won't exist for another decade.  Did I mention about the folly of antagonizing a Sorceress?  But the stork, having received the signal, brings her a baby.  There are reasons for the dread Adult Conspiracy that children don't necessarily appreciate.  Then it gets complicated.  Even when unapproachably young—Cyrus naturally honors the Adult Conspiracy throughout—and with a daughter who can't be explained to others, the princess proves to be a dangerously jealous lover, and Cyrus is constantly wary.  At one point there is an expression on her face that would have been better on some other face.  Aside from this incidental interaction, there is the challenge of Ragna Roc, who means to take over Xanth in a dramatic final battle, or destroy it.  He does have the power.  The three princesses together, their magic cubed, take him on in the finale without any certainty of winning.  If that's not enough to evoke your interest, you must be a cri-tic.


Then I read Ice Trap, by Kitty Sewell.  My wife bought it and tried it and didn't like it, finding it tedious, and I think never finished it.  I saw it sitting on the floor with other books, waiting to be donated to a library.  Then I read a review of it in PARADE, saying it was a compelling novel.  That aroused my curiosity, so I read it, one of the few I read for pleasure rather than business.  I found it well done and, yes, compelling.  Oh, it could have used a more competent copy-editor, but that's true for most books, and the author evidently does not know the distinction between “may” and “might.”  Join the throng!  I'm not a reviewer or critic, so I make allowances, and I recommend this novel to anyone.  The protagonist is a married doctor who suddenly receives a letter from his daughter.  But he never had children, so it has to be a mistake.  Then the girl's mother sends in blood samples, and they confirm it.  That plays havoc with his marriage, apart from threatening him with long overdue child support.  He travels to investigate, and things just keep getting more confusing.  I love some of the description, such as this: “[Brenda] turned coquettishly on her heel and clicked her way back to the bar, buttocks grinding proudly against each other under the slinky red fabric.”   A woman wrote this?  Wow.  So I wound up delaying writing my own novel to finish reading this one, a pleasant rarity.


 I read Berserker Wars, by the late Fred Saberhagen.  My interest was because I learned, late, that the berserkers are machines that are methodically destroying all life in the galaxy.  My magic folk in the fifth ChroMagic novel, Key to Survival, now theoretically for sale at MUNDANIA, encounter similar machines.  Had I done what Saberhagen did forty years ago?  That bothered me.  So I read it, and it's a collection of berserker stories, rather than a real novel.  It satisfied me that my approach to the life vs. machines war is different.  Mine is like a galactic-scope chess game, with the machines negotiating for advantage; they even send a lovely humanoid robot to be the king's mistress.  He accepts, and converts her to the living side, thus reversing the ploy.  Saberhagen's stories feature different takes on the problem, as one person or another encounters the deadly machines, which are far more than brutes.  One person succeeds in nullifying a berserker's ability to act, so he can question it, but the machine is not cooperative.  It demands “In return for giving you such records, what lives am I offered to destroy?”  Beautiful!  The machine is not interested in food, money, sex or notoriety; it merely wants to forward its program.  But because of the brevity of the stories, and the different characters, I had some trouble getting a clear sense of the whole.  So I read a berserker novel, Berserker Blue Death.  Saberhagen writes well, with many original elements, but for my taste there is a certain distance between the reader and the characters.  I focus on immediacy, putting myself and my reader into the scene so that we live it together.  Saberhagen seems to have less personal feeling.  He describes it, but seems not to experience it as I do.  At least, so it seems to me; other readers may differ.  This novel seems to separate into two novellas, wrapping up one chase, then starting another, with several new characters in place of old ones.  I was not thrilled with the manner of one exchange: the captain, Domingo, survived an encounter with a berserker thanks in significant part to the ability of his pilot, Polly.  She even boarded him at her house for weeks during his recovery from severe injury, nursing him back to health.  He was aware that she was personally interested in him, but he was concerned only with his mission: to locate and destroy the Blue Death berserker that had killed his daughter.  Then he attended a festival where Polly was a leading dancer.  She danced beautifully, and she was beautiful, and she was doing it for him.  A lovely, competent, and feeling woman, one any man should be glad to love.  After the dance she came up to him, still breathing hard.  “Did you like it?”  He, still distracted by thought of the berserker, said “What?”  Her expectant look changed to something else.  She drew herself up straight, and departed wordlessly.  She had seen how little he cared.  So he got a new pilot for the new mission.  Okay, that certainly made the point.  Domingo reminded me of the TV Doctor House in his autistic inability to truly relate to the feelings of others.  But not only did it alienate Polly, it alienated me, the reader.  Polly deserved better.  So I wonder whether Saberhagen, like Domingo, truly cared about the feelings of his readers.  Some excellent writers can observe, organize, and describe things well, and tell good stories, yet display a treacherous insensitivity.


I read Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells, research for my historical novel Climate of Change.  This is about the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC's Genographic project.  They are taking cheek swabs from people all around the world, and analyzing their DNA to trace the patterns of man's colonization of the world during the last fifty thousand or so years.  With DNA they can track it, time and place.  I find this absolutely fascinating.  My whole GEODYSSEY project originated with my curiosity about just this process, forty years ago.  Readers who have seen my early science fiction career, and later fantasy career, may not be aware that all along my truest interest has been historical.  Now at last they are zeroing in on the answers to abiding mysteries of our kind.  Such as if modern man emerged from Africa 110,000 years ago, why did he wait 50,000 years to check out Europe?  Now the answer is coming clear: it was a combination of things, mainly an event not discussed in this book, the eruption of Mt. Toba 73,000 years ago, that may have wiped out 99% of the human species, including perhaps all of them outside Africa.  That's one likely reason they waited: they were extinct.  And a qualitative advance in the nature of our species, when language and the arts emerged and flowered.  Genetic drift can occur rapidly in a small sample, and the human nucleus may have become as small as 2,000.  That's when it occurred, and the far better organized and effective species then recolonized the world.  The book traces the routes, and it makes revelatory sense.  Unfortunately two thirds of my novel was written in 1997, before the Genome Project, so some “errors” are built in, but I'm really glad to see this knowledge expanding.


I read Waking God II The Sacred Rota, by Brian L Doe and Philip F Harris.  This is a sequel to Waking God, published in 2006, or really a continuation of a three part story.  It is a science fantasy theological thriller, odd as that combination may seem to be.  The final battle is developing, and while they do argue theology, there are also people getting killed wholesale as the several themes slowly integrate.  I am agnostic, with no belief in the supernatural, but as before, I found portions of the discussion more interesting than the action.  Here's when Lucifer harangues an Archangel: “You create demons and false hopes of redemption.  You build them mighty temples and give with one hand and slaughter with the other.  You have kept them separate and ignorant and give just enough to raise empty hopes.  You destroy their prophets and burn their seers.  If they question, you put them to the rack and crush all semblance of free thought.  You give them a doctrine of poverty and offer riches in your fantasy heaven.  Kill in the name of god and your treasure shall be immeasurable.  You divide them and thus conquer them, and tell them they have no responsibility but to be good sheep and to follow your demented dictates.”  This strikes me as an apt description of global religion.  I was intrigued by the Tarot discussion, because I did some research there, thirty years ago, when writing Tarot and devising my own 100 card Animation Tarot deck, because the established decks are clearly incomplete.  I conjecture that one author in this collaboration knows how to write, and the other knows his occult lore, because they clearly have done their Tarot homework.  So this is a novel worth reading, but it will help to have an open mind.  I fault it for developing serious characters who may then be thrown away, or suddenly having new significant characters for whom there was no prior reference.  (But it turned out I had forgotten that one of those was in the prior novel.  That will be clarified in the published edition of this one.)  So I think it needs better overall organization, but there is nevertheless much here that you probably won't find in the tacitly expurgated traditional press.


And I read The Dark World by Henry Kuttner.  There's a small personal story here.  Well, yes, I do see things as stories, being a story teller at heart.  I was contacted by the editor of the contemporary PLANET STORIES, which is not the same as the original magazine of that title;  they are an imprint of Paizo Publishing www.paizo.com/, which I understand was once part of Wizards of the Coast.  Anyway, they are republishing a number of the great old novels, with introductions by contemporary writers, hoping to attract a new audience.  Would I be interested in letting them have older novels of mine, like Steppe and Sos the Rope?  A writer has only one scripted answer to such a question: “Talk to my agent.”  So now editor and agent are in dialog, and I trust that something good will come of it.  He also asked whether I'd like to do an introduction to one of their other books.  One by Henry Kuttner was open.  Kuttner was one of the genre golden age writers, married to another, C L Moore, who used her initials rather than her name, Catherine, to mask her gender, because in those days women were thought not to be able to write straight hard-hitting science fantasy.  They were a remarkable team, until his untimely death from a heart attack at age 43.  So yes, I agreed to tackle Kuttner.  It was an interesting experience, because today I am old and critical and flaws in the text stand out like warts.  Had I read this novel in my impressionable teen years I surely would have been swept away.  But now—well, I'm still impressed.  The style is florid and yes, there are some warts, but the man was clearly an apt and imaginative writer, and this is the kind of tale to haul the reader in by the scruff of his neck, spin him around, and bash him into submission.  There is the sorceress Medea, with dark hair falling softly to her knees, loveliness and evil incarnate; what man can resist that?  There is our protagonist, an ordinary guy of 1946, which was when this was first published.  Except it turns out that that personality and those memories are an imprint on a far more cynical figure who simply wants to regain power and doesn't mind whom he cheats or kills to get it.  Who will prevail: mister innocent nice guy, or mister competent mean guy?  So this is not a simple slay-the-monster, win-the-beauty story.  Yes, it's worth bringing back for today's readers to consider.


Another book sent by the publisher, PLANET STORIES, is Black God's Kiss by C L Moore, with an apt introduction by Suzy McKee Charnas.  I read it because it's a collection of Jirel of Joiry stories dating from around the year of my birth.  Jirel was perhaps the first shapely sword-swinging cursing female warrior in the genre.  She's always getting into dire mischief and somehow surviving.  These are six tales of magic, mood, and grim prospects.  For example, in the title story Jirel is captured by a handsome male conqueror what has the nerve to kiss her.  She bites his throat, but he knocks her across the room, unconscious.  A real man's man.  Jirel is furious.  She escapes and goes pretty literally to hell, determined to find a weapon that will destroy him.  Hell is not a nice place, not at all.  The weapon turns out to be a kiss of death, which will kill her if she doesn't deliver it soon.  I found not a lot of plot, just the struggle against foul things in darkness.  The other stories are similar in essence, each one a dip into awfulness.  But well done.  It occurs to me that this is like Romance, only instead of constantly yearning for love and fulfillment, the girl is constantly struggling to survive horror.


Movies: We saw the movie Horton Hears a Who, adapted from the Dr. Seuss children's story we read to our children way back when.  It's a nice family movie, as Horton Elephant tries to communicate with, and safeguard the folk of Who, who live in a tiny speck.  It's amazing how complicated that gets, as other creatures of the jungle refuse to accept the reality of a world they can't see or hear.  As with other Dr. Seuss stories, there's a gentle moral message in the background.  We should be more tolerant of things we don't quite understand.

We saw Iron Man, which I understand developed from a comic book hero.  A wealthy playboy type industrialist (was Bruce Wayne/Batman the model?) suffers a revelation and builds a suit that converts him to an almost invincible metal man so he can do good in the world.  This stirs up opposition from those who prefer him simply to keep making conscienceless money for them.  Plenty of spectacular violence for those whose intellectual/emotional horizons extend no further.  I like his personal secretary, Pepper, the one close associate who is utterly loyal, whom he can't do without, and whom he treats, well, as House treated Cameron and Domingo treated Polly.  But there's a hint at the end that he will discover her, as it were, in a sequel movie.

And we saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Sitting in theaters makes me sleepy, as does reading, so it was a struggle, and I surely missed some in the middle.  But then it got moving on a prolonged action sequence involving quicksand, swarming biting ants, a chase by the bad guys involving sword-craft while standing on trucks racing along the brink of a precipice—I mean, this one had everything, in conscious parody.  Including a wildly unbelievable conclusion that makes sense, on its own terms: a five thousand year old alien inter-dimensional flying saucer.  My kind of junk, for sure, despite their inaccuracy about the Maya, who were not current 5,000 years ago.  The original central American civilization was the Olmec, and even they did not go back that far.  Certainly they were not in the Amazon, where much of the movie takes place.  But this is a movie; for all their millions of dollars spent, they can't afford a genuine historian or archaeologist.  Who knows: maybe aliens did sponsor the first civilization, as suggested.  There is even a kind of retroactive romance.  It turns out that Indiana Jones has a son, and still likes the feisty mother.  So we liked it, regardless.


I wrote a letter that became a spot essay on the problems of publishing.  Here, with identifying references censored, is an excerpt.


You are doing what you have to do.  I think the problem in publishing is not stupidity per se, though there is plenty of that, but the fact that there are a limited number of publishing slots being chased by more than a hundred times as many manuscripts.  So those slots are quickly filled, and editors don't read any more prospects.  What's the point, when the roster is already full?  So though some of those other manuscripts may be better than the ones being published, they don't have a chance because there's no room in the inn.  It is why luck plays so large a role: the luck to hit the right editor's desk on that day when he has an open slot, before it is filled by some other manuscript that may not be as good as yours, but was there first.  So some superior novels really do get shut out, from pure bad luck.

That is apart from the problem of marginally competent editors who may not be able to tell the sheep from the goats, or dishonest ones who have agendas other than merit, or publishers that want only big sellers regardless of their quality.  I like to liken it to the unfunny joke about the woman who says “You think I'm good for only one thing!” and the man's cynical response “And not very good at that.”  All many publishers want is to make money—and they're not very good at that.  So it's a crap shoot in a partially corrupted game.  Welcome to Parnassus!

I got my break back in the 1970s and rode it to bestsellerdom.  Now, with my career stifled by that same refusal of editors even to read my material, I am trying for the end run around the closed shop: the movies.  Should I get famous again, through no merit of my own other than the luck to score with a movie, I think I'll set up a small list of worthy novels to mention if any publisher should ask for a recommendation, and [his novel] would be among them.  I resolved before I ever made it as a writer to use any notoriety I developed for good purposes, and I am still trying to do that.  My investment in the self publisher Xlibris is part of that—organized self publishing did not exist before Xlibris got on the scene a decade ago—and my ongoing survey of electronic publishers is another.  I can't promise anything—they might change their mind about the movie, or it might have no effect—but if the opportunity should come, and I am able to help you gain significant traditional print publication, all I ask is that in the future you remember what it was like to be on the outside looking in, and assist others as you find feasible.  The world already has too many selfish “I got mine; too bad for you” writers.  Maybe a little bit of reform will come.


You might think that my attitude would stir up resentment and opposition among publishers and “I got mine” writers.  Maybe so; I have a 40+ year history of trouble with both, remain a pariah in some circles, and I suspect there are still those who condemn me on grounds that can't actually stand the light of day.  Even some “name” writers seem to have little concern for the truth, and publishers, like politicians, should never be completely trusted.  But I hear from many who appreciate my efforts, and that helps make it worthwhile.


I encountered a reference to the claustrophobic properties of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI.  I never suffered from claustrophobia, until I got into one of these machines.  So I devised a little mental distraction to help others through the process.  Imagine there was a wreck, and you are trapped under a semi-trailer truck loaded with anvils, dynamite, and chlorine, that is slowly settling, clank by clank.  There is the faint odor of spilled gasoline and burning insulation.  Don't worry; you probably won't suffer more than a few minutes before oblivion mercifully extinguishes you.  Happy MRI!  (No need to thank me for this mental device; it's a public service.)


Obscure words dept.: I encountered reference to the exclamation “Yikes!”  So I looked it up, just to verify its meaning.  Not in the big dictionaries.  So I went to the ultimate, the Oxford English Dictionary, OED, and that does have it.  It says it's an exclamation of astonishment dating from 1971.  And Dork, which OED doesn't have, but Random House does: a stupid or vulgar person, or, vulgarly, the penis, dating from 1960.  Oh?  It was a popular word and concept in Westtown, my Quaker high school circa 1950.  The dork was the fourth finger of either hand, hanging loose while the other fingers were firm.  You would crack it stingingly against the back of the victim's head, dorking him.  Symbolically smacking him with a swinging penis, an insult.  So naturally you had to dork him back, lest you be considered a dork in the modern sense, and there could be horrendous dork fights.  It was a matter of dubious teen-boy honor.  I doubt it was confined to my school, but if it was, then we were its origin a decade before the dictionary got wind of it, and its true nature has remained obscure until this moment.  It's about time the world knew the truth.


That little floating plant I mentioned last column: my wife had a brainstorm and remembered a term: duckweed.  I looked it up, and it described ours exactly.  Then a reader identified it also.  Supposedly ducks like to eat it, and inadvertently spread it in their feathers.  Maybe we have invisible ducks.  Now it threatens to take over the whole of our pool, so when I dip out water to quench our plants in our Apull-Mayhem drought—we now live in a fire zone—I dip out some duck weed too.  That may not be enough, and I may have to take a net and scoop it wholesale.  I don't mind having some, but I don't want it to rule the world.


I have been getting some reactions to a couple of recent books.  Under a Velvet Cloak, the Nox novel, Incarnation of Immortality #8, has garnered several quite positive reactions, one seriously negative one, and one sensible center one that concluded that it's okay as an individual novel, but not up to the standard of the others.  I think that's accurate.  Alfred, my biography of my father, is not a commercial book, but is available at Xlibris where I self published it, and last statement indicated a dozen sales, royalties of $30.  Family reactions to that have been generally positive, and there has been some agreement with my thesis that he suffered from Asperger's syndrome.  The second Relationships erotic stories volume has been on sale at PHAZE, but I have as yet no responses from readers.  The publisher has the third volume, and I have notes for stories to make up a fourth volume, when I get around to it.  I'm really enjoying those stories.  I regard myself as a natural story writer who got into novels for economic reasons, being a commercial writer.  Now as I sink slowly toward senescence, I am returning in my fashion to my roots.


About publishing: it seems it is in trouble, with flat sales that may become declining sales.  Now of course that's partly self inflicted.  I like to say that just as the IQ of a mob is lower than that of any of its members, the IQ of a publisher is lower than that of any of its participants.  There are ways it seems feudal, with each outfit competing for a larger share of the diminishing pie without much regard for the welfare of the industry as a whole.  Editors seem to have little notion what readers actually want, or maybe they just don't care.  Booksellers are wedded to their procedures, similarly careless of the desires of readers.  Consider the books put on display: our local Publix store nook has space for maybe 200 titles, but displays only a fraction of that, because instead of one book per space, they put out maybe a dozen copies of the #1 bestseller, and six on the #2, and so on.  Those copies sit there for weeks, mostly unsold until eventually remaindered, while heavy readers like my wife look in vain for anything worthwhile she hasn't already read.  So usually she passes it up, frustrated, buying nothing.  She would buy more if they had a better variety of titles by better writers.  Why do they do it?  Because, as I understand it, those spots are for sale.  If the publisher buys ten spots, it gets ten spots, regardless what the readers want.  That will sell a few more copies of that title as reluctant readers are corralled with little choice, but they will seek elsewhere when they can.  And there's the situation of the industry, not understanding why it is selling copies of pushed titles but losing readers.  Same way the airlines make things as complicated, annoying, and expensive for their patrons as they can, and wonder why they are alienating travelers.  Serious reform is needed, but the Neandertal bosses won't change, so it's likely to be too slow to save their sorry asses.  It should not be long before electronic readers emerge which are truly light, cheap, easy to read, with maybe a hundred different titles of the user's choice in memory, selected from electronic publishers who actually care about the tastes of their readers, and the drift away from physical books will accelerate while the archaic physical book industry scratches its collective head in puzzlement.  Maybe the industry is autistic, and can't relate to the needs of real human folk.


Our well pump burned out, meaning another thousand dollar expense because we really can't do without water.  I had our sun dial sitting on top of the well housing, and when I went to put it back, after, I tried to set it on Daylight Saving Time.  I discovered that it is locked on standard time and couldn't be set an hour ahead.  It's just a molded one piece unit I thought I could turn an hour's worth.  Not so.  I was amazed, but it's so.  Check yours; you're likely to make the same discovery.


We got a slew and a half of returned bounced email messages we hadn't sent.  Some spam outfit borrowed our address.  Not our computer, which is offline 23½ hours of the day, just our address, faked.  So if you got spammed by us, it wasn't us.  Yes we complained to the server, and it took them a while to understand.  What, this never happened to anyone before?  Or did they just not want to be bothered?  Not all the deadheads are in publishing, it seems.


I saw a reference to Piers Plowman, the subject of a classic poem.  He symbolizes the virtues of hard work, honesty, and fairness.  I have no problem with those.  Dare I say that the world could use more Pierses?  No, I'd get crucified.


On Mayhem 27, 2008, a milestone: acquaintance Ed Howdershelt, whom I have known for 15 years, drove up with a friend and installed a Xandros-compatible modem for my system.  Now I can finally go online without having to use the Windows system.  I, naturally, was too ignorant to manage such a thing myself.  I don't have it set up for email; that will still go through the Windows system my wife uses.  But future updates of my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishers and Services will be done here, so I won't have to constantly copy the file back and forth and wrestle with a system that doesn't understand why I don't use the QWERTY keyboard and keeps trying to switch me back to it.  There's nothing like executing a command when suddenly in the wrong keyboard.  I should now also be able to Google for research from this system.  I must say that I have found the combination of Google and Wikipedia to be a real pleasure.  You see, a decade ago when I lost my market for Historical Fiction, I let my researcher go—no, he's doing fine elsewhere—and I feared I would never be able to match his expertise doing it alone today.  But in the interim these online features came into being, and they are simply great.  So I am getting there, as I slowly complete my final GEODYSSEY novel Climate of Change.  These are invaluable tools for this purpose.  I'm sure they are similarly useful for other researchers.


I don't pay a lot of attention to TV.  I'll put on the TV news at 6:30 PM and largely ignore it as I focus on my writing, and we have it on in the evening, when I largely ignore it as I focus on reading a science magazine.  But I do pick up on somethings peripherally.  One is CSI Miami.  No, not the story line; in my secret heart all the clones of the original CSI are fakes with characters feebly imitating the originals.  Not that I would say that in public; I'm sure they all have their points.  Sometimes I pick up briefly on the fine sweatered points of their females.  Why aren't there bosoms like that in real life?  But CSI Miami gets a larger share of my attention because of its photography.  It's beautiful.  Just about every scene is carefully framed with a pastel background.  You could hang it on the wall as a painting.  I was an aspiring artist before I was an aspiring writer, and I still regard myself as an artist with words, and I notice.  There is an artist in the CSI Miami works.  More power to you, sir.


I run three times a week for exercise.  It's only a 1.6 mile round trip along our long drive to pick up the newspapers, but I do it at my best feasible velocity, trusting that this is good for muscles, lungs, and heart.  There are stops along the way, so I'm not sure exactly what my speed is, but probably around seven miles per hour.  I was faster when younger, but I'm at an age where others are kicking the bucket with increasing frequency.  When I had some foot trouble in 2006 I had to go to larger running shoes--size 13—which feel like boats.  They remind me of the supposed remark by a shoe salesman when a woman gets large shoes: “And do you want the oars with those boats, ma'am?”  If I were in the market for a woman, other things being equal (not that they ever are), I would look at her feet and take the one with sensible shoes: sneakers, loafers, slippers, sandals, squared off boots, whatever, not those ridiculous high heels that give women ten times the foot problems that men have.  Women think they have more sense than men, but the case is questionable as long as they prop themselves up on painful stilts.  Anyway, those boats, uh, shoes, slowed me down so that my running times were 18-20 minutes.  But as I got the hang of them I started getting into the 17-18 minute range.  Then in March, for the first time this year, I started running under 17 minutes, sometimes even under 16:30.  I knew it wouldn't last; for one thing, the heat of spring and summer vitiates my velocity.  But it did last, right through Apull and Mayhem, with my fastest run 16:01.  How could this be?  So I looked for any changes in my lifestyle, and found one: I had a bottle of the amino acid L-Arginine pills I had bought to try for erectile dysfunction.  When that didn't work, I settled on 1/8 Viagra pills, which do work.  (There was even a seminar on “Viagra—10 years later,” in Orlando, May 19, 2008.  My daughter received an invitation, as a newsperson.)  The remaining bottle, 60-70 pills, was on my shelf, so what the hell, I took one a day just to use them up.  And that's when my run series started.  Maybe it's coincidence that my runs averaged a minute faster, but it does say that L-Arginine relates to exercise.  So I bought another bottle, for now.  What the heck, it's cheap.

Perhaps related: Stuff comes in the mail.  One is The Sex Patch, guaranteed to make your penis start to swell within seconds and be rock-hard for four hours or more.  Seems to cost about six dollars a patch.  There's a version for women, too, to arouse her and make her eager.  Another is a chewable erectile tablet, which makes your penis hard in a few minutes, for as little as a dollar per, if you buy 50.  Why don't I quite trust these ads?


When I got my modem, I tested it by Googling a number of names, including my own.  I decided not to glance beyond the first ten entries of the almost 800,000 on me.  But not every name was there.  There are bigots who say “Some of my best friends are black.”  Well, my best friend, when I was in first grade, really was black, an I'm curious about him.  His name was Craig Work, and he had an IQ of 180, which is flirting with genius.  He was quite a guy, and he did much to make my hellish first grade boarding school experience survivable.  What became of him?  So what did Google find?  “Does Jenny Craig work?”  I realized it was hopeless, unless there is a way to make Google orient on a specific name and nothing else.


Someone forwarded a circular to me, an excerpt from a new book by Lee Iococca, who rescued Chrysler from doom.  “We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff...”  Well, yes, even if it is a mixed metaphor.  But it's easier to call names than to really solve a problem.  What does he propose?  Essentially, find a strong leader.  I agree that would help, but even so, the remaining clueless bozos would filibuster to prevent any genuine reforms.  Even if reforms were accomplished, in a few years a promise-everything liar would get in and mess it all up.  We have seen it before.  We have too many clueless bozos in the voting population.  I remember debating with a Reagan supporter, circa 1980.  I asked him how Reagan could cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget as he promised.  “I believe he can” was the reply.  Faith can be marvelous.  Then Reagan got in, and cut taxes, increased spending, and tripled the national debt.  That was reality, but conservatives seem never to learn.  Later Democrats got in and undid some of the damage.  Then came 2000, and that same agenda got in again, only worse.  As long as so many voters believe in fantasy, we'll have a problem.

Another Internet essay commented on a movie, “Zeitgeist.”  The word means the Spirit of the Age.  The thesis seems to be that once the United States of America was respected, but not any more.  “We humans are myth-driven creatures.”  We have a three part myth of God, Country, and Prosperity.  Thus we believe in Jesus Christ, that ours is the greatest nation that ever existed, and capitalism can make us all rich.  This justifies enormous disparity in wealth, justifies war, and justifies atrocities against heathen non-believers.  And we are on the verge of a full-blown police state.  Unless we recognize what threatens and change course, soon.


AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL reports that political imprisonment, “disappearances” and torture continue, seemingly at an accelerated rate.  Yes, in America too, to our shame.  Because too many clueless bozos voted in politicians without conscience or any real appreciation of the American Constitution.  It reminds me of a card game.  I don't know its name, but it is simple to play.  The object is to prevent any tens or higher showing, or any two cards adding up to ten, like six and four or seven and three or five and five or eight and two or nine and one.  The ace is a one.  Shuffle the deck and deal them out singly, face up, each card in a new pile.  See a Queen?  Quick, deal another card to cover her up.  See a six and a four?  Cover each up with a new card.  By the time the deck ends, with a number of face-up piles, you'd figure there would be few if any tens.  You'd figure wrong: all of them add up to tens.  Try it and see.  Okay, see a bad politician?  Vote him out!  But in the end, the bad ones dominate.  The deck is stacked.  Partly it's deception, stupidity, cheating, and the corrupting effect of power.  Mainly, it's that we are an imperfect species with skewed values.  We have the capability to be rational, but don't necessarily exercise it.


I was curious how many books Andre Norton had published in her lifetime, as she may be one of the few who have had more than I.  So I Googled her and got a bibliography.  It goes only through 1998, says it lists 165, but when I counted the titles, it was 178, and I suspect she did some more recently, and some collaborations.  So she does have more, as I am now about about 135.  Of course I have a number of quarter million word novels, so my total published wordage could be more.


My correspondence with the minister continues, perhaps to his discomfort.  This time I said, in part, “I should think that you who believe in God would also believe that God put in place certain procedures to automatically update the cosmos, among them evolution, and would not violate the protocols by practicing magic.  That would  suggest that the original system was fouling up.  So as I see it, those who believe  in the supernatural don't quite trust God to have done his job properly.  Prayer would be another example: the idea that God is so vain he needs constant praise from flatterers, or that anyone should be able to gain favors by asking for them instead of working for them.  Why should God violate his rules of procedure for such selfish loafers?  I think he would be disgusted by their attitude.”


Last time I mentioned the parody song, “I Dream of Brownie With the Light Blue Jeans.”  Betsy Kane sent me a link, and I learned that it's an actual song that was recorded by Spike Jones.  Brownie turns out to be a beloved pet dog.


Another reader who attended The School in Rose Valley, where I was from 1945-47, covering grades 5-7 (I took 3 years to get through first grade, so was still making up time), remembered me, and sent a copy of the school magazines LEAVES, which I edited for an issue or two.  Volume 12, No. 2, March 1947.  It was basically a mimeo production, 25 pages, with articles, reports, and stories by the students.  Yes I had a story therein, “The Rose Valley Witch,” about a witch who stole a child and zoomed off on her broom.  Fortunately a quick-thinking boy followed her on his scooter and squirted her with a water pistol and peppered her with his beanshooter, rescuing the child.  Perhaps that foreshadowed my later career in fantasy.  Critics may say that nothing I have written since measures up to that one.


Carla Rothacker discussed my prior comment on how many breasts a centaur might have.  She concludes that the front breasts would be used, with the mother crouched down for the very young foal, later standing as the foal grew taller.  So she wouldn't need a rear udder, and there would be no point in having an unused one.  That makes sense to me.


I received a flier on a prospective Death with Dignity law, to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to obtain and self administer life-ending medication.  That makes sense to mo, but I don't think it goes far enough.  What about the person who is almost totally paralyzed, in chronic pain, with no prospect for recovery?  Should he be forced to live decades in that prison of a body if he doesn't want to?  What about the person whose life work is finished, his family has died, and he does not care to live longer in that bleak aftermath?  Or the one who can survive, but only with prohibitively costly medication that will bankrupt his whole family, leaving those he loves with no resources?  There may be rational cases for ending one's life at a time of one's choice.  Maybe a pill: obtained by court order, after making a persuasive case.  Take it, and in one hour there comes a jolt, maybe a bad catch in the breath and a leap of the heart that can't be ignored.  At that time he can take the antidote and recover, if he has changed his mind, as some well might.  Or maybe the deathpill is in two parts which must be taken an hour apart or it won't work.  So after the first hour he can take the second part and fade comfortably out, or not take it, and live.  Thus it requires a repeated positive decision to die.  Now before religious folk harangue me with “moral” objections, let me remind them that a fast, efficient, readily available death device already exists: the gun.  Put it to your head and pull the trigger.  It's messy, but it works, and there need be no legal preparations.  The Second Amendment guarantees the right for any adult to possess this device.  I just think the pill would be a better way.


We live in the forest, on our small tree farm.  We've had no rain to speak of in six weeks, and it's a drought.  (Correction: the day I edited this, Sunday JeJune 1th, we got a generous two tenths of an inch of rain.  Glory be!)  Droughts make us nervous, because of the danger of fire.  Any idiot can toss a lighted cigarette out a car window and start a fire; we lost a number of small trees that way in the 1980s.  But the larger risk is our house and lives.  So we're hoping for rain soon.  We have three bird baths, and they get good business in a drought.  One is simple a circular pan I put on the ground, so that forest creatures can drink if need be.  Some days it is untouched; other days it can drop a gallon.  I am curious what could drink a gallon, but never see it happening.  Meanwhile our house serves in its fashion: gopher tortoises have their burrows beside the foundation and graze in our yard, chimney swifts raise families in our chimney, frogs live in our returned-to-nature swimming pool.  Wrens nest on the porches.  But this week the ways of nature got too close for comfort: Caroll and Lina Wren had five nestlings beside the pool, but then Jean Owl spotted the nest and cleaned it out.  We tried to shoo the owl away, but she kept returning.  Sigh.


Daughter Cheryl—I like to remark how we old fogies who never accomplished anything in life live through our children, so this is our Daughter the Newspaper Woman—bought a Smart Car.  It's a cute little thing that looks as if someone took a cleaver and chopped off the ends of it, so there's just the center section, big enough for two plus bags of groceries.  But it has a safety feature a person needs to beware of: after about ten minutes unoccupied it locks itself.  She had left the key in it as she worked nearby, and got locked out.  Ouch.  That is impossible to do with our Prius; it won't lock if the key is inside.  I tried it, just to make sure.


There's a new service on the Internet: Wikileaks, which guarantees anonymity via computer technology so that anyone in any repressive regime can report the truth without retaliation.  “The Onion Router—TOR for short—feeds the information through random twists, then erases the “footprints.”  So will it make the truth available, or will propagandists also use it to hopelessly confuse the issues?  Some “leakers” may be intelligence agencies hoping to catch whistle-blowers in the act.  So this may require some settling in.


There was a Stamp Out Hunger day, when folk could leave non-perishable food items by mailbox or in post office for the needy.  We no longer have our dog, so I collected sealed cans of dogfood and took them in.  Are they acceptable?  There was no one to ask.  If not, they may simply be thrown out.  But it seems to me that some needy folk may have needy pets, so this should help.  I hope so.


Commentary in NEW SCIENTIST on “Our Mirror Morality.”  We have mirror neurons that activate when we observe something happening, such as someone smiling, yawning, weeping, or grimacing, so that we experience similar emotions.  This undermines moral relativism, which holds that there are no universal truths about right and wrong, only different social traditions.  It suggests that similar values are linked to the involuntary modeling of others generated by the mirror neurons.  Moral judgment may thus be hard wired and universal.  There are strong links between mirror neurons and language capacity, our chief social tool.  In sum, this may be the physical basis for empathy, one of the defining qualities of the human kind.  As I see it, empathy enables the arts, which are typical of humans and of no other Earthly creatures.


Do you need body parts?  A review of the book Body Shopping by Donna Dickenson suggests a horror.  Surgeons pillage dead bodies for bones, ligaments, heart valves, organs, and other valuable tissues.  Funeral directors may be paid a thousand dollars for a corpse, and the parts are resold for about $13,000 per body.  “Some companies boast that one cadaver can reap over $200,000.”  They stuff the bodies with plumbing piping to deceive relatives.  Body parts may be taken from people with AIDS, cancer, hepatitis, and other serious illnesses, in the US and abroad.  It seems the black market in body parts is here to stay.  I had a bone graft when I got my last tooth implant; now I wonder uncomfortably where that came from.


Are you shy?  You may suffer from social anxiety disorder, or social phobia.  The prospect of speaking up in a class or at a meeting can be so frightening that some folk will try to avoid such situations entirely.  But it is treatable.  People with it may be gregarious and outgoing in certain contexts.  But when they are out of their comfort zones they can be in trouble.  Talk therapy and medication may ameliorate it.  I know it's possible to improve, because in the past I had some real problems, and I still would rather visit the dentist than travel alone.  I learned to abolish stage fright and handle audiences of any size.  I seldom attend conventions, but this is not because I have any problem being a public figure.  Anyone who has interacted with me at a convention has found me to be at ease and pertinent.  I simply don't like to travel, and do like to write, so I normally stay home.  When I signed books with collaborator Julie Brady, Dream a Little Dream, she was inexperienced, so I handled it, setting things up for her so that she was able to be confidently public.  Later she said it was the best day of her life.  But if I were in an alien city, alone, I'd be the one needing help.


One of my favorite mysteries is the Higgs Boson.  They call it the God Particle, but that's euphemism for the original description: The Goddam Particle.  It was postulated by physicist Peter Higgs, but it has never been spotted, and there is no certainty that it exists.  But it is needed to vindicate the Standard Model of physics, and there may be theoretical hell to pay of the God particle does not exist.  It is the thing that is supposed to bring mass to all other objects.  In that sense it's a field that permeates the universe.  Now I have a problem with the notion that, say, a baseball will have no mass unless an invisible particle carries it to the ball, but I'm not a physicist.  My vague understanding is that when anything moves, it encounters resistance by the Higgs field, which may be a reincarnation of the ether they thought Einstein had abolished.  If you wade through water, you feel resistance.  If you wade through air you feel less resistance.  So Higgs may be a medium like that, and the degree of resistance encountered by a given object is the mass.  A cannonball encounters more resistance than a tennis ball.  So maybe it makes sense.  I understand that new powerful colliders will be coming on line soon, and they may finally spy the Higgs particle.  Then at last we'll know.  Stay tuned.


I believe I have commented on this before, but still love it when I encounter it: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”  Seneca the Younger.  So when you see a politician pushing religion, be wary; it's more likely to be a tool than a belief.


Outrage: Lilly Ledbetter discovered decades later that male associates were being paid far more than she, for doing the same work.  About a thousand dollars a month.  So she sued and won, but the company appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed it, saying she should have sued at the outset, decades before.  This despite the Court's knowledge that she had no way of knowing, then; only an anonymous tip had clued her in much later.  So Congress worked on a bill to address this obvious wrong—and Senate Republicans filibustered to block it.  I wonder how any Republican can look himself in the mirror.  This makes it clear that they are not merely overlooking such unfairness, they are actively supporting it.


Much has been made of Obama's racist pastor, Jeremiah Wright.  But little has been made of McCain's racist pastor, John Hagee, who says the Catholic Church is The Great Whore who has thirsted for Jewish blood throughout history, from the Crusades to the Holocaust, and that God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its sins.  If candidates are to be blamed for the words of their pastors, let's be even handed about it.  Apart from that, we need to take a hard look at the way religious leaders are compounding the problems of the planet, by preaching the gospel of be fruitful and multiply—when perhaps the root cause of most of the world's problems is overpopulation.  We need to reduce the birth rate, not increase it.


What's the truth about inflation?  There is evidence that the official figures are significantly understating it.  I remember tricks from my own experience.  For example, when we had our Volkswagen Bug, there were several prices for license tags, the bottom ones being D for Diminutive, and T for Tiny.  Ours was a T.  They did not raise the fees for a given category, but they did eliminate the lowest category, so that thereafter there was no T and we had to pay the higher rates for D.  So officially there was no price rise, but we were paying more.  It happens with groceries, too; the cheapest brand is discontinued, so you have to buy a more expensive one, while officially there has been no change.  The official tallies may arrange not to count the faster rising things.  Do they count paperback books?  In my day they were a universal 25 cents.  Now they are, what, eight dollars?  That would be 32 times the original price.  Gasoline was 29 cents a gallon.  Now it's pushing four dollars.  That's over 12 times.  Once you could practically buy out the grocery store for twenty dollars.  Now you need more like a hundred dollars, and you won't be living rich.  But the authorities want you to think inflation is low, so they arrange the figures to match.  They change the basis for calculation.  They claim it is something like four percent a year, when actually it may be closer to ten percent.  A published graph shows superimposed lines of official vs. estimated real inflation for the period 1980-2008.  The official shows  it currently at about 4.5% while the real is just under 12%.  Exactly.  Perhaps related: it now costs more to make a penny than it's worth: 1.26 cents.  Ditto for a nickel: 7.7 cents.  Four cents for a dime, ten cents for a quarter, 16 cents for a dollar coin, so those remain profitable.  In 2007 they produced 7.4 billion pennies and 1.2 billion nickels.  That would mean a loss of several billion cents.


Columnist Bill Maxwell had an article on stuttering.  It seems he was and is a stutterer.  But he learned to control it, though it was a private hell.  He avoids radio and television.  He reports that more than three million Americans, mostly males, stutter.  Famous people, like Winston Churchill, James Earl Jones, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Aristotle were stutterers.  Okay, Maxwell is a good writer, so obviously it has little if anything to do with intellect.  But it is my understanding that stutters can chant or sing, so if they have to, they can sing their messages.  Would a simple sustained note do it?  It would be better than being unable to get the words out.


Are older writers getting screwed?  Of course, because just about all writers are screwed.  But in this case the question is age discrimination.  It's not supposed to happen, but it does.  AARP reports that Larry Mintz, age 58, former writer for shows like Mork & Mindy and The Nanny, has filed an age discrimination suit against the Hollywood establishment, for himself and 150 other writers.  They will give statistical data to demonstrate a pattern of discrimination against writers over age 40.  I wish them well, being 73 myself and not inclined to go gently into that good night.  Writing ability, relevance and reliability are all that should count.

But speaking of getting screwed: the statistics of women getting raped in the military are horrendous.  The indications are that more than 40% are victims of sexual assault, and almost 30 percent report being raped during their military service, some by their superior officers or even their physicians.  During a routine gynecological exam, one female soldier was attacked and raped by the military physician.  Naturally many are afraid to report it, because retaliation can be physically deadly in the military, apart from wiping out any career prospects.  These women are trying to serve their country, and this is their reward?  I'm a man, and I like women and sex, but this is outrageous and I'm disgusted.  There should be serious courts-martial to rout this out.   It's the abusers, not the victims, who should have their careers ruined.


About the universe: why is there something, rather than nothing?  Cosmologist/theologian Michael Heller, 72, won the Templeton Prize for addressing this question, but the article doesn't give his answer.  Adolf Grunbaum addresses the subject in the June/July 2008 issue of FREE INQUIRY, saying it is perhaps philosophy's most profound and disturbing question.  But as far as I can tell, his complicated discussion does not provide an answer.  However, this is merely Part 1; maybe he'll answer it in Part 2.  Certainly it's a question that bugs me.  My conjecture: there must be some problem even conceiving of nothingness.  Who is doing the conceiving?  Can there be nothing if there is nobody to appreciate it?  Can it even be imagined if there is no mind to imagine it?  So it might be a paradox that requires something to exist, if only a slight echo of thought energy.  And the tiniest of echoes could account for all the disorderly matter and energy in the cosmos.


Ends & odds: they have invented a device to repel teens.  It's the Mosquito, a device that generates a shrill, piercing noise that only teens can hear.  Older folk, with degenerated hearing, can't hear it, so aren't repelled.  PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—is offering one million dollars for the first person to bring test-tube meat to the market.  They hope that by 2012 it will be possible to grow meat that isn't run through animals.  It would look and taste the same and maybe have the same nutrition, but no animals would have to be killed.  But some PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, regardless.  I'm interested, but would prefer to grow substitute meat via bacterial or fungal cultures.  We'll see.  And Columnist Robyn Blumner has an excellent commentary titled “You bet I'm bitter.”  She has watched our country get hijacked by self serving incompetents without much conscience, who systematically void the Constitution, waste our former wealth, destroy our health system, manipulate data on climate change in favor of greed, dismantle the separation between church and state, practice torture, and trash our global reputation.  She concludes “You bet I'm bitter.  And when more than 80 percent of Americans think that we're on the wrong track, I'm not the only one.”  Amen, sister, amen.

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