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Piers the handyman 2007
Dismember 2010
HI-

About reading: I am a slow reader, so a novel that another person might read in a day will take me three days full time, and longer if I read it in stages. Usually the latter; I do have other things to do, such as making meals and writing my own fiction. If it is by an aspiring writer, chances are it won't be great, but an honest comment will cost me a fan. Since I refuse to do dishonest comments, it can be an expensive business for me in more than one sense. Any ignoramus can dash off an uninformed opinion, but an informed opinion requires thought. That's why I'm cautious about committing to read books. Yet I remember the problem I had getting any competent feedback on my own early work. Had I had it, I might not have taken eight years to make my first sale. So I do read and comment some amateur novels. Even so, they threaten to monopolize my time. At the turn of July/August I had entirely caught up with my science, news and opinion magazines. Now four months later I have a 20+ magazine backlog. I am so busy reading for other people that I'm not reading what I want to for myself. I shall have to become less accommodating, which will annoy some folk. Yes, sometimes I discover novels that are real fun, as was the case with Island of Fog, but usually the reads are somewhat plodding. So this is a sort of vague announcement of whatever. I just seem not to be able to keep up with everything.

 

I read Before They were Giants, edited by James L Sutter, a PLANET STORIES book published by PAIZO PRESS, paizo.com/planetstories. The publisher sent me a copy because I'm in it, and I read it because I wanted to see what company I kept. This is an anthology of the first published stories by authors who later became famous. I regard it as historically valuable. We all had to start somewhere, and this shows where. Of course to me the names in the genre are Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, Jack Williamson, Poul Anderson, and others who were famous when I came on the scene as a reader in the 1940s and as an author in the 1960s. None of those are here. I presume it's limited to living authors, because there's a collection of interview questions each must answer. Even so, where are Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Philip Jose Farmer, Ann McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, and such? So this is by no means complete, but it will do as a sample. It does have Ben Bova, Greg Bear, Cory Doctorow, William Gibson, Joe Haldeman, China Mieville, Larry Niven, Spider Robinson, and others. In general the stories are competent but not outstanding. My own is a perfect example of that: a brief light fantasy that just happened to be the first that caught the eye of an editor. Some of the stories I had trouble making sense of; others were fine without being memorable. I did however, like the last one, Ginungagap by Michael Stanwick. It seems he has won numerous awards, as most of the authors in this volume have, but I never heard of him before this. I will be aware of him hereafter, though, because this story is sharply written and intellectually stimulating. Maybe it's that it addresses one of my mental hobbies: what really is a life? If a person is dismantled, converted to light, and reassembled elsewhere, as in Star Trek beam me up, is he the same person, or a duplicate made with his body and memories? How can he be the same, if he is now made of different atoms? But if he is not, then what about the fact that from moment to moment we are all changing, sloughing off parts of ourselves while incorporating new parts? I remember a wise man saying that you can't step in the same river twice. Another wise man said you can't step in the same river once, because the water is constantly changing. Unless the river is the process of water flowing, rather than the particular molecules that pass. In which case we are the same despite our constant changing, being a living process, and a beamed up or otherwise transmitted person is the some even if his old body is left behind. A story that addresses such questions while having a coherent plot and intriguing main character is my idea of a good one.

Of equivalent interest are the interviews following each story. The questions are the same throughout, but the answers differ. What do you think works well in this story? How would you change it today? What inspired it? Where were you in life when it was published? Advice for aspiring authors? Anecdotes? The advice can range up to a page in length. I think mine is the pithiest: Have a working spouse. An aspiring author could get a fair education just by reading the interviews. But it is indeed interesting to see how successful authors started. They had to scramble, just as new authors do today. So while I can't say this is the best anthology, ever, it is worthwhile.

 

I completed my annual Xanth novel in OctOgre, and figured my time would ease up in NoRemember. Obese fortune! The rush continued unabated. Reading socked in immediately as I read three novels by aspiring writers and proofed one of my own. That was my erotic romance Eroma, you know, EROtic ROMAnce. This is being epublished experimentally, really a kind of self publishing, as I hope to see whether good fiction, good packaging, and good electronic distribution makes for success. You should see it available this month, Dismember 6 or thereabout. It is phrased as a virtual reality sex game, where the players are represented by avatars in a series of erotic challenges, and interact and have sex, and when the man penetrates to full depth in the woman, so that his hard penis touches her trigger where the cervix is normally, both are plunged into an intense thirty second orgasm. Sex is an equal opportunity activity. In some settings they must have sex with different partners to make progress in the game, while in others it is competitive, with the man trying to accomplish it and the woman trying to prevent it, or vice versa. Each has a 50% chance to prevail, and there are devious strategies. All of it is broadcast to tens of millions of viewers, and no detail is spared. They can even see the woman's avatar body become translucent to show the exact penetration of the penis. So there is a phenomenal amount of sex, with the women as aggressive as the men. But what about the romance? Well, that's the main point. Some existing couples enter the Eroma game in order to practice safe, mutual-orgasm semi-public yet anonymous sex, as only they know the identities behind the avatars. Some get interested in each other for reasons other than sex. My male protagonist encounters and helps a novice female player who is in it because her family needs the prize money to survive, and they come to like each other. That interest then extends beyond the weekly Game sessions, as they meet in person and fall in love, and feeds back into the Game, where they must compete against each other. I loved reading this novel; it's original, challenging, imaginative, and sexy as hell. I think my favorite line is when his sensitivity impresses a female player favorably, and she remarks that there must be a woman in his ancestry. Shrewd guess. But this novel is definitely not for children or conservatives.

 

I also continued with my fantasy collaboration with J R Rain as we alternate chapters. The original Aladdin never had adventures like these. For example, instead of the Djinn of the Lamp rescuing him, he has to go to Djinnland to rescue the Djinn. And work with Evan Filipek on my prospective anthology of my favorite early stories, One and Wonder, continues. They were the stories that most moved me when I was a teen and twenties age aspiring writer. Evan has been doing the brutework of locating, obtaining, and scanning them. You see, I was a collector, and I had maybe a couple thousand magazines, but when we had children we got squeezed for space and I gave away my collection. Then years later when I thought of this anthology, I no longer had the issues with those stories. So it's being done the hard way. One example will suffice for now: the story that brought me into the science fiction genre, The Equalizer, by Jack Williamson. I reread it 63 years later, and discovered that in the interim someone changed the conclusion, and there are ugly details I had forgotten, but it's still a great idea story. A military mission returns to Earth after 20 years only to discover that the planet has regressed; the moon base is shut down, the spaceports are empty, the cities are deserted. The people remain, happily farming. What happened? Well, the equalizer happened. This is a peculiar twisting of wires that enables anyone to draw unlimited free power from the energy of the universe for any purpose. No one has to work any more, and no dictator can push anyone around, lest an equalizer be tossed as a bomb. Would it work in real life? I doubt it, because energy and its related complications like pollution and depletion of resources is not our only problem. What about overpopulation? Food? But what a dream! I think it was that dream that beckoned me into the science fiction genre, and thus my subsequent career. Later I met Jack Williamson and told him what his work meant to me, exactly as fans of mine do for me today. He was a great writer and a great man. This is just one entry in the volume, and I hope readers will find it to be of historical value even if some of the stories have become dated in half a century.

 

And I had a cold. My wife got it and passed it along to me. We use mega-doses of Vitamin C to abate colds, and seldom have any. But one thing C does not handle is a fever, and this was a nasty cold with an attendant fever. Mine peaked at 100.1, and my nose fauceted; it seemed that every five minutes I had to pause to blow out another pint of snot. I had to lean back when making supper or typing lest my nose drip onto the plates or keyboard. At least I was able to read, holding the book over my head as I lay back. But Vitamin C and D did help, and in a few days I was functioning reasonably efficiently for a fogy of my age. It was just another thing that helped jam my month.

 

We bought a new computer. My present one is four years old and it getting dated. In my day four years was still just a child, but in my day computers existed only in science fiction. Ubuntu is doing the job, but every so often it crashes, and there are constantly niggling annoyances, such as the lack of the thesaurus feature (yes I know: in Xanth that's a scaly reptile with wordy teeth) and the way it thinks a routine shutdown is a crash that must invoke the recovery process. Maybe Ubuntu fans think this is normal, but I'm ready to try a different distribution. We were simply waiting for a sale on the right machine. Then Office Max had a hundred dollars off on one with a one terabyte hard disk, and we bought it. Of course it came with Windows pre-installed. Ed Howdershelt brought disks with PCLINUXOS and Open Office, but it turns out that PC doesn't let you install OO from a disk; you have to go online to download it their way. With a system that has no modem, yet, here in the hinterlands where broadband is a blank stare. (Sure we could get it if we wanted to pay a mini-fortune for cable or satellite. We're too cheap.) Next step was to summon geek help. Brian Smith, who had gotten my present system functioning, came up, and used his geek magic to connect the system to the Internet via his cell phone. He downloaded the stuff that way, and voila! I had PC on a partitioned half of the hard drive. It does have a functioning thesaurus, and it does shut down without thinking it's a crash. But it lacked two things: a Record Macro key, and my variant Dvorak keyboard. So Brian told me how to get into the guts and add a record macro key, and I did, and now I have my macros, and no, I didn't have to fend off any fake error message 16 times to get them, as I have to in Ubuntu. Why PC should choose to delete the key entirely is beyond me, but it hadn't allowed for geek help, so I prevailed anyway. The keyboard was more of a challenge. In Ubuntu I open a terminal, say abracadabra (in computerese that's xmodmap .Xmodmap) and I have it. PC would not let me set it up. I tried gedit, but it never heard of it. I tried kedit, on the theory that G is for Gnome so K must be for KDE. No luck. The key was kwrite. That brought me three separate error messages. Well, that was progress. So Brian gave me the really obscure magic code, something like I hereby sell my soul and worship the KDE Flying Spaghetti Monster forsaking all others especially Gnome on pain of being damned forever to hell with no system other than Windows. That worked, and now I have my keyboard. There are still kinks to be worked out, such as the way it won't save my defaults, but on the whole PCLinux seems to be my future. We'll see how stable it is. I'll keep the old system for things like my ongoing survey of electronic publishing, since I need to go online to update that. Fortunately I can write my stories and novels without going online.

 

I read Lyam's Awakening, by Jeramiah Wade (available at Amazon.com). This is a self published fantasy novel. I find no indication where it might be ordered. It is not well written or motivated, but it does have a good story. Lyam is an officer assigned by the King to investigate the mysterious deaths of a party of men in the haunted forest. Soon his own party is similarly decimated. Lyam continues, and the adventure forms around him. Someone is evidently watching him. He does incidental good works along the way, helping people, treating them courteously. They are surprised, as the King's soldiers normally simply take what they want, whether food or women. More than one young woman gets interested in him, but he is not seeking such interaction. He discovers a horse caught by a trap; he frees the animal, who then joins him as his steed, Midnight. Midnight is no ordinary horse; he's a carnivore, and partially telepathic. He becomes a loyal assistant. Later Lyam is attacked by a forest cat, kills her, and cares for her seemingly orphaned cub, whom he names Rose. It turns out that the cub is a were-cat, and when she changes to woman form she becomes the one he wants to marry. There is a surprise about Lyam's own nature as he gradually awakens to it. So I can recommend this novel to those who are not picky about style or taut plotting; there is a fair story there.

 

I read a major segment of the unfinished fantasy novel Into the Lairby Jerry Bridges. This starts with a listing of the races, kingdoms, and characters of the setting that I think should be in an appendix. It is the story of the young man Sionn (pronounced Shoon) and the girl Rana, both brutally orphaned as teenagers and subjected to rough lives. The girl was forced into prostitution at age 12 and has some difficulty adjusting to the idea of a man who thinks of her as a person rather than a sex object. They are cared for by a woman of another species, and they start working out the traumas of their situations, and falling in love with each other as they navigate hard-hitting adventure. This is potentially a powerful story, but it is marred by myriad typos and errors. A professional copyediting would improve it greatly. There is nice description and nice characterization, and the background world is quite well worked out. It is well written, apart from the errors, and you can care about the characters, other than one who is a turd, and the enemy royalty, hideously vicious. So I see this as a good strong novel, once it achieves its majority.

 

I get routine medical checkups, and I think generally impress my doctor with my disciplined health. It is not coincidence that I remain lean and fit in my seventies. But my body isaging, and I can no longer do what I could when younger. Every so often I get another little reminder. This time it was my shoeless height. They measured me at five feet nine and a quarter inches. My height has always been five ten and a half inches. There had to be a mistake. So I checked it at home: five nine and a quarter. Next morning I checked, and it was five ten and a quarter. But soon it settled back down. Sigh. I no longer stand quite as tall as I used to. Probably the same thing is happening to my mind. Age is a female dog, but I refuse to indulge in denial. I am notas good as I ever was.

 

My daughter the Newspaperwoman -- I may have remarked before how we worn out old fogies tend to live through our children -- attended a convention and picked up some European advertising in the form of a hardcover book. It seems they are a bit sharper on such things in Germany than here in the States. This one is a catalog of slides made by the company Atlantics. Not just any slides; there are play slides, water slides, and evacuation slides. It is that last that intrigues me. These are gleaming steel tubes that emerge from the upper windows of houses and wriggle down the sides of the buildings to the ground, like giant worms. If there's a fire, you jump in and slide down to safety. An emergency evacuation that might take half an hour conventionally because the exits are blocked or jammed can be done in half a minute. Meanwhile they can be fun for children. It makes sense. If I lived in a high-rise apartment, I'd feel safer if it had one of these. From inside the house it looks like the opening of a round drying machine. It might be fun to jump into one and see where it leads. Maybe to Germany or some other realm? The water slides have pretty girls in bathing suits to show them off, but I don't think the girls are included in the price of installation.

I get on the darndest mailing lists. I received a small package of books and a DVD from he Most Holy Family Monastery in Fillmore NY, that says the Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church, and givens the life history of Padre Pio, a Catholic priest who worked miracles and bore the wounds of Jesus Christ on his body. The disc promises to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima, and the End of The World. Alas, Philistine that I am, I'm not much interested. The world will surely end, in due course, but I don't believe these folk have any serious insight. Which reminds me of the beginning of the universe. NEW SCIENTIST article says that the sudden inflation that started off our universe is not justified mathematically, unless you assume that a prior universe collapsed to a pinpoint in a big crunch, and bounced back as our universe. The math works for that. So now we know: the Big Bang was not the creation, but the continuation of a cycle. Then end of the world may not be the end after all though you might not like passing through the eye of that needle to achieve the New Universe. But the more immediate prospect is for global warming to make half the world uninhabitable, because it would be too hot and damp for mammals to survive. Hot and dry allows effective sweating for cooling, but hot and wet doesn't. Heat waves already claim more lives than do hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

 

Stray other notes: Happiness may not be locked in the genes. A study suggests that it correlates with the neuroticism of your partner. The wrong partner can make you miserable. For women (not men) being overweight costs happiness. Bullying: it was always bad, but now the Internet can make it worse, with cyberbullying. Yes, I have felt all along that it needs to be dealt with. One study shows that 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school had criminal records by age 24. A bully is a baby criminal. The roots are complicated, but the moment one child starts pushing another around, I feel the pusher should be taken out of circulation. It isn't limited to children; it seems that workplace bullies can ruin lives. Ignoring them and the harm they do seems foolish. I wonder whether there should be a Wikileaks-type organization set up, that reports on bullies wherever they occur, publicizes them, and publicly shames them? If they persist, sets them up for legal action? We'd be a happier society without them.

 

Someone suggested that I add a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) tap to my website. I have been pondering it, but in the constant rush have never gotten down to it. Well, at such time as the rush eases, maybe I'll do it.

 

Couple comics: Candorville suggests that we're angry nothing's changed so we vote for those who have spent two years blocking change. Is America the only country that votes sarcastically? And how Democrats reduced taxes, but Republicans convinced voters that taxes had gone up. The health care reforms will reduce the deficit, but they convinced voters of the opposite. They got unemployed people to vote for the party that blocked the extension of unemployment insurance. So now they will have bonuses for all their operatives. Pretty sharp comic; pretty stupid voters. You doubt? Consider how the Republicans just swept Florida. The prosecution rests.

 

Yet another survey on sex suggests that Baby Boomers are unhappy about it as they age. 72% of the men have fantasized about having sex with someone other than their present partner. I'm pre-Boomer, but I wonder whether my novels and stories represent such fantacizing. If so, I do a lot of it.

 

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT is folding, physically at least. We've subscribed for decades, but recently it seemed to lose its will to live. It went from weekly to bi-weekly, then monthly, and was no longer much of a source of news. We have replaced it with THE WEEK and are satisfied.

 

Two years ago Susie Lee of the Ferret & Dove Sanctuary sent me several crocheted angels, so I formed them into Angela Angel in Knot Gniess, which has now been published in hardcover. Angela, like the dolls, has a skirt but no legs. Her quest is to obtain enough mass to fill out her body, so she can settle down and marry her lover Beauregard Demon. They were giving visitors guided tours of Heaven and Hell, and accidentally stepped in a love spring. Truly forbidden love. She was horribly ashamed that in the passion of the moment she let him see her panties. Truly a fallen woman. Naturally in the course of the novel, which is about Wenda Woodwife, Angela finally manages to win her mass and become a woman of substance. I listed the Sanctuary in the Author's Note, But in the interim Susie Lee's husband died, and she has had to shut down the Sanctuary. Now the place to go is www.angelfire.com/theforce/ferret_rescue/index.html, or http://ferretanddovesanctuary.petfinder.org.

PIERS
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