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Piers the handyman 2007
Apull 2010
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Marsh was a reading month, because books piled in. I'm a slow reader, and I read selectively, but it is a constant struggle to balance what I do for others, such as blurbing books, with what I do for myself, which is writing my stories and novels. Most folk have to weigh their needs and wants against their finances; I weigh them against my available time. But I have to say that though I seldom read for entertainment, any more than others spend money for the love of spending, I do enjoy much of what I read, and sometimes learn from it.

 

I read The Weaving, but Gerald Costlow. This is the story of Rose, the Witch of the Woods, who is a nice person who uses her magic to help others, and Lilith, an evil demoness who feeds on human flesh. In between are three Ladies, who are telepathically linked oracles, Rose's husband Tom, and assorted royal men who seek power for good or ill. What counts, of course, is how the story is told. It is interesting as the characters interact personally and magically. At one point Rose's party is ambushed by almost-invisible elves who are definitely not cute figures; they are deadly. Rose warns her companions to cover their eyes, then invokes a blinding spell. This makes a brilliant flash of light that blinds all who take it in open-eyed. That effectively incapacitates the enemy. She also adds an unbinding spell that further complicates things: things come untied, from clothing to bowstrings. I like that; I picture pants dropping to the ground as bows lose their tension. So the action in this novel is not conventional swordplay or sorcery, though that exists; there are different yet effective uses of magic. Another touch is the way the three Ladies relate. They are lusty, and when one has sex, the others feel it too. They have no privacy from each other, but don't need it. So this novel is fun without being phenomenal. Pill Hill Press, www.pillhillpress.com, their titles available from most online retailers.

 

I read Mirror of Opposition, by T S Robinson. This is the story of three boys in a martial arts school, curious and rebellious in the normal manner, imaginatively punished for their infractions. It quickly gets serious, as they discover first a mysterious cave, then an eyeless body in the sea. The latter means the school has been discovered by the enemy, and the attack is soon upon them. Their fellow samurai students are soon slaughtered, and they are separated. One goes to the cave, that conceals a potent mirror; another is taken over by the enemy and comes to kill the first and gain the magic power of the mirror; the third is sent on a deadly route of discovery. There is mayhem and bloodshed galore, but also a fair grounding in the philosophy of the art. Years pass, and in due course they interact again, finally reunifying against a common enemy. This may sound standard, but there's a difference: one is alive, one is dead, and one is undead. Thus they have three rather distinct perspectives. It's an almost all male cast and there is no romance; it's pure combat adventure, but it does move well and should appeal to those who have any notion of the discipline of martial art. Available at Xlibris, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. www.tsrbook.com. t-s-r@juno.com.

And I read The Vault of Heaven, by Peter Orullian. This won't be published until April 2011; TOR sent me an advance copy for blurbing. (Clarification: a blurb is a brief favorable comment used to help promote a book; authors do it for other authors all the time. I mention this because once when I mentioned blurbing a book, a reader bawled me out for my insulting language.) It is 891 pages long, a first novel. At my normal 10 pages a day rate, or half an hour a day, that would take me three months to finish. The problem with reading longer at a time is that reading tends to put me to sleep, so it's a struggle. Well, as I like to put it, editors are not, despite appearances, total idiots. They don't like long novels, they don't like unknown authors, they think that one book a year is all a reader will read by a given author, and who knows what other fallacies that are deadly to an author's success. They cling to their fables despite constant refutation by the marketplace. A woman once told me that sequels never sell as well as the original novels. What bothered me was that she was the publisher of a major imprint, interested in Xanth, which did not make the national best seller lists until the fifth novel in the series. You bet Xanth did not go there. But once in a while an editor recognizes a good book, and it gets loose despite the publisher's best efforts to stifle it. Then all other editors try to copy that book the following year, desperately questing for the next bestseller. It's a crazy business. So when I see a publisher gearing up for a major promotion on a long novel by a first time author, I figure there must be something special going on. Chances are it's a remarkable book, so I make the effort to read it. In this case I did so on a crash basis, that being more efficient, though it meant I had a constant battle against sleepiness. I read at 50 to 150 pages a day, squeezing out my writing on my own novel, my card games, the TV news I like to watch, the pretty girls on LATN, and anything else that could be spared, letting stray chores like accounting, updating my ongoing Survey of electronic publishers, and recording fans' Xanth puns accumulate. That's what it takes. I still had to keep up with our family doctor's appointments, my exercise routine, making meals, and other household chores, of course; life does tend to interfere with work.

 

The Vault of Heaven is a major fantasy adventure, standard in general outline but original in detail. The protagonist is Tahn (I have to fight my spell program, which automatically changes it to “than”) a young man of an outlying village who can't remember his life before age 12. He's a hunter, and what he looses an arrow at he hits; he doesn't brag about it, but it shows. Once an innocent man was being hanged; Tahn's arrow severed the rope as he dropped, saving him. For that Tahn got arrested and thrown in a vile dungeon, but it does make the point. His sister Wendra was raped and is about to give birth just as monsters called Bar'dyn attack. A strange man called Vendanj and his intriguing female companion Mira require Tahn to travel with them for reasons they won't say. But first Tahn hurries back to help his sister in her hour of need. There's a Bar'dyn looming over her. Tahn draws his bow—and something prevents him from loosing the arrow. The monster escapes with the stillborn baby (I think because it was squeezed prematurely out of her by the monster). He has betrayed his sister. Why? He trusts his insight, but doesn't understand it. Indeed, he is not an ordinary man, and that insight relates to his unremembered origin. This kind of mystery and emotional torment pervade the novel, and not all of it is explained or justified by its conclusion. There will surely be a sequel. This is one huge, powerful, compelling, hard-hitting story, splitting into several story lines in the center, then reunifying, and with a background that is well conceived and motivations that are at times painfully realistic. Including the brutal arrogance of power, that could have been describing, oh, the attitude of the huge-bonus-taking bankers after receiving public bailout money: “But it is also the vile product of Quietgiven [the enemy], prideful, lustful, scornful creatures who would take for themselves and leave the penalties of their avarice for us all to pay in the body of a wounded land.” Justice is not necessarily served in the courts, as political convenience trumps truth and honest men are framed and removed. There is magic, but it has its costs, so is used only sparingly. There is slight romance, as Tahn's interest in Mira just may be returned. She's the sister of a queen in her land of Far; the fact that she's along on this mission hints at its importance. So does the determination of the enemy to stop it. Mainly, this is a pyramid of a story, laid down block by huge block as it slowly builds toward the sky. Yes, it is well worth reading, and the author will surely become known hereafter.

 

I read Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman, an author appearing in the period I was a genre devotee whose work I somehow never read. Maybe I thought that with a name like that he would be stuffy. Well, he's not. This collection is published by PAIZO, www.paizo.com/, and they sent it as part of their PLANET STORIES series of books that include a couple of mine. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: I believe PAIZO is doing a real service by republishing the classics and fellow travelers from the heyday of science fiction/fantasy/horror magazines and small press, before it was discovered by mainstream interests, notably the movies and comics and games. I probably would never have read this author otherwise. This is the complete series of Silver John stories and vignettes. John is a wandering folk singer of the Appalachian Mountains, centering on the Asheville, North Carolina region. I'm aware of that because when I got out of the U S Army in 1959, stationed in Oklahoma, we considered where to go, and Asheville seemed ideal in many respects. So I wrote to the chamber of commerce and got a welcome. I wrote back and asked what prospects were for employment there, and got no answer. That was answer enough, and we moved to Florida instead. I retain a certain fondness for this place where I have never been. Anyway, John is called silver because his guitar has silver strings, which are said to sound better and they prevent the devil or his minions from molesting John. There's a rich local background, replete with many a winsome girl, most of whom have rose cheeks and butter-colored hair. Magic pervades it, often mean-spirited. We get to see some of the nocturnal menaces, such as the Toller, the Flat, the Bammat and the Behinder. You never see that last, because it's always behind you. Right; I know that from my own experience as a boy walking miles through the forest in the Green Mountains of Vermont in the 1940s. The Behinder followed me, but no matter how quickly I turned around, it always hid before I could see it. But if I did not constantly turn, it was likely to catch up to me, and then I'd be doomed. John does catch a glimpse of it as it attacks another man. “Then I knew why nobody's supposed to see one. I wish I hadn't.” So be warned not to try too hard to see it. The stories have some intriguing titles, like “Oh Ugly Bird!” “Frogfather,” “The Desrick on Yandro” where the Behinder is, and “Where Did She Wander?” That first one is more or less typical: there's a mean man who wants to make out with Winnie, a young pretty girl, and no one dares oppose him. Anyone who tries gets attacked by the ugly bird, sort of a vulture thing. When it attacks John, he whams it with the guitar, and the silver strings wipe it out and the man too, because both were aspects of the devil and silver was deadly to them. Thus John inadvertently saves the day. He's not really a hero, just a singer in search of new songs, but somehow he generally finds some supernatural threat and/or a blonde damsel to be rescued. One of them is so grateful she decides to marry him, somewhat against his will. He flees, but she follows, and when he sees her feet bleeding from her desperate effort, he can't flee any more, and does marry her. This is a nice collection, and I recommend it to horror fans and to those who like intriguing stories of any kind.

 

For the past six months or so I have been working on my partial dentures. It's been a slow and expensive and at times painful process. This time it was the plaster casts they make, the impressions, so they know what space the dentures have to fit into. I thought that would be routine. It wasn't. It seems my jaws have bone in odd places, and the frameworks for the molds didn't fit well. They had to try several, and each painfully bashed a bone. They had to try three times on the upper, twice on the lower. O ugly mold! I hope that's the last time I have to go through that experience. With luck during the month of Apull I will have a full set of teeth again, and will be able to chew my food without a struggle.

 

Once I caught up on the reading, to a degree—I still have several hundred thousand words to catch up on--I viewed some videos. One of these was The World's Fastest Indian, with Anthony Hopkins. There's something about that actor I like; it must be the first name. He's one fine actor, with a number of excellent movies. I borrowed it from a correspondent who is a Hopkins fan, sending her Forbidden Planet to view similarly. Our taste in movies overlaps only peripherally, but every so often we find one we agree on. This is one. It it about motorcycling, based on a true event, not something I have had interest in, but when Hopkins does it, it's interesting and charming. He wants to set a world speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats. He's also a character. He pees by his little lemon tree, to give it nitrogen fertilizer, just as I pee for plants I value.  If you like it, pee on it. He lectures people on the evils of smoking. He makes the trip from New Zealand on a shoestring budget, sailing on a tramp steamer, staying at a flop house, and so on. He brings out the best in people. For example the transvestite clerk at the flop house is charmed by him, and helps him get around Los Angeles. The used car man is impressed by the way he tunes up the motor and offers him a job. An Indian gives him a folk remedy for prostate trouble that helps. A woman running a junk yard where he gets a broken axle fixed, and winds up sleeping with her in every sense. A hitchhiker he picks up. A racer he meets, who intercedes to get them to let him race when the authorities balk, because no way does he qualify: too old, no safety equipment, didn't register in advance, and so on. He just seems to have that effect, and it's heartwarming. So the officials bend the rules to give him a chance, expecting him to wash out. Their cars track him up to 95 miles per hour. Then he accelerates and leaves them behind. They conclude that he is qualified to try the official time trial. The personnel pass the hat around to raise money for him. They are all rooting for him. They time him mile by mile as he gets up over 150 mph, 170, 190, and finally for the 8th mile just over 200, the record for this type of cycle. Which was made for 54 mph; he has tinkered with it. And crashes, but survives. He has achieved his dream. I loved this movie, and recommend it to anyone who likes a good human interest story.

 

Here in Florida we have been in semi-drought conditions for years, and the water table got so low at one point that we had to have our well redrilled to be deeper. But this is an el Nino winter and we are finally getting rain. We got over six inches in one day, and twelve inches for the month of Marsh. Glorious! Back in 1998 we had flooding during the el Nino, but that was followed by a prolonged drought. I hope that doesn't happen this time. Water is precious, and to me here on the tree farm good weather is a rainy day.

 

I fussed before about the new Windows 7 system not getting online. Then my wife made a startling discovery: it did have a modem. It simply didn't bother to let us know about it. She saw the plug in back, so connected it, and then it admitted to the modem. “Oh, you mean that modem...” as it were. So we have taken it online. We haven't gotten it set up for email yet, but surely will when we find the right program that can handle the kind of boilerplate texts HiPiers needs. Things like “Piers Anthony appreciates hearing from you” and the complete Xanth list of 36 novels to date (#36 I'll write this year; I have done one chapter) that would be tedious to type out ever time. It also has Word. I tried typing one of my weekly Jenny letters on it and it was weird, as I have not used Word in a decade. It still doesn't let me know the saved status of a document, which is dangerous when importing and exporting files; I don't want to overwrite the new one with the old one, for example, as can happen. So it is evident that Microsoft still has a mean streak, sticking it to the user. But it does show the ongoing wordage count, something I have longed for for decades. I looked in vain for a way to back up my file, until my wife clued me in: there seems to be no command, but you can drag it to the backup disk. Oh. I started updating my electronic publishing survey on it, again testing to see how it worked, and it was okay for one hour. Then--

 

Then I heard a cry. It was my wife. She had stumbled and fallen while handling the laundry, and had bruised her ribs and fractured her left elbow and right knee. I managed to get her into the wheelchair and then the car and drove her to the emergency room and she wound up in the hospital and then at a rehabilitation unit, where she is doing well enough considering that her arm and leg are in casts and she hates being helpless. Meanwhile I'm home alone and not enjoying it. Doing my own email was a challenge but I am managing as I remember the protocols. My wife gives me email advice when I visit her, and my daughter comes over to help me past the hangups, so I am keeping up. But my Survey update and HiPiers column halted in place at that moment. The Survey will have to pause where I was, through the letters G and H, and the latter portion of the column will be abbreviated. Fortunately I had done the reviews as I read the books.

 

I have a pile of clippings I saved for passing comment. I will remark on a few of these. NEW SCIENTIST had an article on a survey about belief, and there are some oddities. As a general rule there is a correlation between education and lack of belief in God, but this does not apply to the supernatural. Under 30% of folk without an elementary education believe in telepathy, while over 50% of those with degree-level education do. There has not been much research about atheism, so that's vague. It asks the question if religion comes naturally to mankind, why are so many resistant to it? I'm agnostic, which means I do not pretend to know the nature of ultimate reality, but I strongly doubt the supernatural. So call me a resistant. The distance between me and a true believer is about 99%, and between me and an atheist about 1%. I just don't feel the authority to say there is no God, though I doubt it. I mean where aside from the fallible Bible do Christian believers get their information, and where do atheists get theirs? How can they all be so sure, one way or the other, without tangible evidence? I think they are all arrogant. And no, I don't believe in telepathy, though I love it for my fiction.

 

Elsewhere in NEW SCIENTIST I learn that they have developed a new treatment that is 100% effective against bedbugs: heat. Heat the room to 56 degrees C (I'm not sure how much that is in Fahrenheit) and it's lethal to all insects from egg to maturity. They have found what appears to be writing on 60,000 year old eggshells. I believe it; surely writing had a long slow development from marking how many eggs someone found to describing the type of chicken. Mankind of that day was about as smart as mankind today, just not as educated. And a capsule description of game theory, something that has come into my writing, notably the Game in the Adept series. It's the classic Prisoner's Dilemma. A and B are arrested for a suspected crime and placed in separate cells. If one confesses and the other doesn't, he will be set free, while his adamant partner gets 10 years, and vice versa. So it seems better to confess—except that if both confess, each gets 5 years. If neither confesses, each will get 6 months. Neither knows what the other does, until it's too late. So do you confess and get zero to five years, or do you remain silent and get 6 months to ten years? It's one hell of a nervous gamble either way, because so much depends on your partner in crime. How well do you know him, and how bad a dirt bag is he? If you can trust him to keep his mouth shut, you can both get off with 6 months, but if he betrays you, sucker...

 

I like chocolate, as most folk do. But child slavery is involved in much of its production. Look for Fair-trade certification to be sure that stringent environmental and labor standards are met. I'll be checking that; I hope there's an indication on the package.

 

Newspaper item: There was a prom in Mississippi that a girl wanted to bring her girlfriend to, and she wanted to wear a tux. Right, a lesbian date. Rather than allow it, the school canceled the prom. Now there's a lawsuit. Why the hell couldn't they have allowed her to bring her date? As I see it, the problem was not with the girl but with the bigoted authorities.

 

From THE WEEK: a new study indicates that liberals are 11 IQ points smarter than conservatives. Well, duh! I hadn't realized that the difference was that close. Another from THE WEEK: looking at curvy women can be as rewarding for a man as the buzz from drugs or alcohol. I wouldn't know, because I've never been drunk or done drugs, but I sure do like to look at curvy women if they are young and svelte. I remember a lovely description: “She has curves in places where other girls don't even have places.” I assume that does not refer to a corpulent lass.

 

Personal note: I saw in a sale catalog a Seiko watch with a rotating timing bezel for half price. We bought a similar sale six years ago and were quite satisfied, so we ordered two. They arrived when my wife was in rehab, and helped cheer us in a dark moment. Now if only we can figure out how to remove some links in the metal watch bands so as to make them fit our wrists. We did it before, but have forgotten how. Ah, senility. Regardless, they are very nice watches, our splurge of the month.

 

Bizarro cartoon: two pigs riding in a car. The driver says “The cops never stop me since I got these vanity plates.” The plate says H1N1. That is, swine flu. Mother Goose & Grimm comic: the insurance agent is telling Noah “Yes, it rained 40 days and 40 nights, and yes, your boat landed on the top of a mountain...But that's not how we define a 'Flood.'” Which in turn reminds me of my flood novel, Rings of Ice, where I wanted a flood of 80-100 feet sea rise, so I calculated a reasonable rate of one inch an hour day and night, across the globe. It came to 40 days and nights, so I used that, figuring the scholars of the Bible must have known something. I figured there would be runoff from the higher elevations, so the sea level would rise a bit more than an inch an hour. Sure enough a critic took off on me for that seeming Biblical reference. Remember, critics are fashioned of fecal matter, and not just in their heads.

 

Okay, there are more clippings, but not more time. I hope next month is less disruptive. I hope my wife gets safely home; the house is too damned quiet. Would you believe, with all the reading I did this month, I still have three novels to go? While my current novel-in-progress waits. I get antsy.

PIERS
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