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Piers the handyman 2007
Jewel-Lye 2010

I read the huge 300,000 word novel The Walrus & the Warlock, by Hugh Cook, sent by PAIZO publishing as part of their Planet Stories series of reprints. Paizo.com/planetstories. I had never heard of this author, and indeed this novel was not published before in America. Hugh Cook was born in 1956 and died in 2008, with Walrus published in 1988. He was taken out by cancer at age 52. That makes it personal for me in my fashion, because my daughter died of cancer a year later, a decade younger. At any rate, the title refers to two pirate ships that generally oppose each other. The protagonist is sixteen year old Drake, who longs for adventure and power but hardly has the wit to survive his teens. On his sixteenth birthday, we learn, he celebrates by getting (a) laid; (b) drunk; (c) into an enormous amount of trouble. That's typical of the way this novel summarizes key aspects; we never learn much more about the detail of those three activities. Thereafter his foolishness gets him into legal trouble, and the ogre king of the country has him dumped in the sea several leagues out. If he swims back to shore by nightfall, maybe he'll get to marry the king's daughter. He doesn't; on the verge of drowning he is rescued by a passing boat, which is how he meets the fair red maiden Zanya and falls instantly and desperately in love with her. He pursues her through the rest of the novel, though at first she is not much interested. Drake is constantly getting into trouble, sometimes because others betray him, sometimes because of his own recklessness, and barely escaping with his hide mostly intact. He more or less involuntarily joins a pirate crew and learns a lot. He encounters assorted vicious monsters. He experiences man's brutality to man. At once point he is imprisoned with a garrulous old man as a cell-mate. Then the man dies, and Drake longs to have him back. "In fact, Drake got some of the old man back as part of his next dole of soup, but he did not know that, and thus gained no comfort from it." That offers a notion of the harsh dry wit. It's really quite a story, though it has its problems. In the center it lapses into summary, as if the author meant to return to fill it out but forgot. There are also typos, and I think some missing text: illustrations were inserted, but these replaced rather than adding to the prior text on those pages. A competent proofreader should have caught that. The story ends abruptly without a resolution, as if part of a longer narrative hacked off to fit the volume. A competent editor would have fixed that. But I seem to be of the quaint old school, where competence counted. It is part of a series. But for rollicking adventure, this suffices.


I have been frustrated by not being able to take my system online as has been the case since I upgraded from Xandros to Kubuntu last Dismember, thence to Ubuntu in Jamboree . When I do my monthly Survey update, for example, I have to copy the file to a backup disc, then copy it into a Windows system, do my updating there, and then copy it back to mine. Windows can get balky about it, sometimes refusing to recognize my disc or flash drive. Microsoft does like to poke its finger in the eye of competing systems, without being obvious enough to get the government down on its back for abusive competition, which I suspect it finds a nuisance. It's easier and cleaner for me simply to do it on my own system, staying entirely clear of Windows. I didn't parody it as Macrohard Doors in Xanth for nothing. This month I heard from a local fan, Brian Smith, who is also a Linux geek: that is, one who knows how to crack the whip and make the ornery animal that is the average computer behave. He came here on Father's Day and we spent seven hours battling the monster, in the course of which I learned that having to click Okay 15 times to get a macro placed on a key is an OpenOffice problem, rather than an Ubuntu problem. Well, if I have any OpenOffice programmers reading this, I hope they will risk the wrath of their braindead administration and fix that glitch, and while they're at it, restore the paragraph place-switching option it used to have. I wanted a KDE system, but some Brian brought turned out actually to be Gnome when we checked them on Live, that is, looking at them without installing. Kubuntu still is incomplete, with no access to the section that includes games; I think it's been about five years now, and either they haven't noticed, or don't want their KDE version to be too useful compared to their home-base Ubuntu. PCLOS had no OpenOffice suite; too bad for that. OpenSUSE looked good; I asked whether it was related to Dr. Seuss, but we concluded probably not. So we installed that—and it wouldn't let me have my Dvorak keyboard. In fact it refused to allow any alternate to the standard American QWERTY layout. This turned to to be a Known Problem, but it didn't matter; it was adamant. Too bad; I would have switched to it otherwise. So finally we returned to Ubuntu, this time the current upgrade, 10.04. But it wouldn't print. Turned out you need to download the driver for the printer, something that was unnecessary before. I guess Ubuntu thought it was getting too damned user-friendly, so it threw in the monkey wrench. I have remarked before how programmers for Linux distributions seem to be fugitives from Windows, and bring their user-be-damned attitude with them. How to download, when Ubuntu won't deign to touch a modem? Ah, here's where geekdom scores. Brian hooked up an external modem he had brought, USRobotics, and got Ubuntu to recognize that. Voila! Maybe he caught Ubuntu off-guard, and next revision they'll make sure to eliminate access to external as well as internal modems. Presto, we were online and downloading the software, which took about an hour. Then the printer worked. Next day I went online to look up some sites and update a couple of entries on the Electronic Publishing Survey. The new Ubuntu has its little hangups, of course, like insisting that I invoke my variant Dvorak keyboard by opening a terminal and typing "xmodmap .Xmodmap" each time I crank up, when the prior Ubuntu accepted it automatically. Say, I wonder whether xmodmap would enable me to reprogram the number-pad Enter key to be SaveAll, as I did a couple decades back? I don't dare try, because if they treat that key as the same as the regular Enter key I could lose my ability to use it.  They are different keys, but Microsoft refuses to recognize that, and maybe Linux copies that bad attitude. It also can't save my OpenOffice working session; it thinks I have crashed when I shut down, and insists on running the Recovery process. And Firefox automatically checks "Work Offline" so that I can get mousetrapped when I'm trying to go online, and the Nautilus File Browser still won't tell me the size and date of a file I'm replacing on the backup disc, and of the myriad options Ubuntu offers it takes care not to make these snags optional. I think programmers do know what options are useful, and make sure to exclude those, somewhat the way Windows takes care to gray out only those particular options you most need to invoke: you can see but can't touch, which is of course more maddening than if they simply didn't include them. I also get annoyed at the constant solicitation for a four hour upgrade download I don't want and can't use, each time I crank up, and it seems there's no way to turn off that solicitation. But the system is working in its fashion, with some prior nuisances fixed, and I can now access the Internet. I did do the latest month's Survey updating on it, relatively fast and easy. If I want the perfect system I guess I'll have to design it myself, including simple obvious user-friendly features, then hire an independent programmer to shape it up. It would make the kind of simple easy macros that used to exist on primitive computers, include the Move File option that also once existed, have the ability to save layouts of called-up files so that they will appear where they were when you closed, when the system is cranked up again, so you don't have to load a bunch each time and reset defaults, it would be bug-free, and so on. Above all, it would run correctly out of the box, with no extended setup hassles. Then finally there will be a system that is not only user friendly but writer friendly. Ah, it is to foolishly dream; the geeks would never let me have it.


On our 54th anniversary my wife and I joined with Daughter Cheryl to see the movie Knight and Day. It was essentially action-packed fluff, verging on parody of James Bond and other movies, but fun. The man has a C-cell sized battery that can power a small city, so naturally the bad guys want it and will kill to get it. Girl gets involved, apparently just because she's there, not realizing the danger they are in. So while she's changing her shirt in the airplane's toilet stall, he's fighting the ambush on the plane, which consists of everyone else on it, including the pilots and stewardess. It goes on from there. He warns her that official-seeming men will tell her that they are taking her to safety, when actually they mean to kill her, and he drugs her to get her out of it. Gradually they get interested in each other; it is a romance. By the end of the movie he is injured and recovering; they are ready to take him to a safe place, and she, catching on, drugs him and rescues him in a nice reversal. They expect to be hidden and happy together in South Africa.


A reader, Chad Woody, clued me in: I did have a cover painting by artist Frank Frazetta, for the SF Book Club edition or Orn. The copy was on my shelf; I just didn't know to check for it.


We bought things. We use remote phones in the house, because it's a big house and my wife can't get around rapidly, and it easy to keep those phones close by. Our old set is Siemens, and for almost a decade it has served well. But they are starting to waver, so when there was a sale we bought a set of 4 Vtech remote phones for $70, and they work well. We did not disconnect the Siemens, so now we have 7 remote phones scattered around the house, plus our Tracfone cell phones, which also work well, in contrast to he AT&T cell phones we had before. We have two refrigerators, one from our prior house that now sits in the oven-like garage and for 23 years has worked perfectly. But we fear it is not immortal, so we replaced—the house refrigerator, which was leaking and knocking and not keeping things fully cold. We got a larger, 26 cubic foot, Samsung that should be able to take most of what's in the garage machine if it croaks and meanwhile is keeping things cold. In fact when I first tried to scoop frozen yogurt—it's almost indistinguishable from ice cream, but we think healthier—it was rock hard. So we had little adjustments to make, and now the stuff can be scooped. Since I took over meal making five years ago I have gotten more interested in things like stoves and refrigerators.


Readers send me invitations to be a Friend or to join a Site. Look, folks: I'm in the backwoods, on dial-up, because here in the primitive hinterland for all I know they think broadband is a stripe around the posterior of a heavyset woman. Downloads of pictures can take literally hours, tying up our phone line. It happens periodically when well-meaning souls forward two copies of a folio of pictures. So I don't do YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, Flog or whatever. I'm not sure I would do them even if I had broadband, because as I have said, I'm from another century that predates much of this new-fangled stuff and I have other uses for my time, such as writing my stories and novels and keeping up with the constant barrage of fan letters. So thanks for your interest, but please leave me out of it. What would I do if I did have broadband? I'd probably watch The Naked News, if it still exists; I've never seen it, alas, but it seems like my kind of program. Which gives a hint what fogies did in my day: girl watching. I wonder what today's folk do?



I mentioned correspondence. Every so often I actually say something in a letter. Here are a couple of examples:


You ask what the one greatest obstacle is for me when I start to write a new book: mental, physical, legal, or political?  None of the above.  I love writing, and am constantly getting ideas for it.  I take care of my health so have no physical barrier.  I am an established writer, and know of no legal obstacles in that respect.  I am an ardent independent liberal politically, but that does not interfere with my writing.  No, the single worst obstacle is marketing.  I have great imagination, and skill honed over the course of decades, but I want what I write to be read, and that means getting it published, and that in turn means catering to the limited tastes of publishers.  So there are projects I never tackled because I knew they could not be published.  Every so often I make another effort to be different or original, and have just completed a novel titled The Sopaths that may be unpublishable.  Its thesis is that overpopulation causes the world to run out of souls, so babies start being born without souls, and thus have no capacity for conscience, remorse, empathy, or appreciation of the arts.  They are incorrigible little monsters in human form.  They will do anything without hesitation to get what they want, lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, and killing without compunction.  Because that includes using sex, and they are children, publishers will freak out for that reason alone.  I may have to self publish it instead.  We'll see.  But there's the obstacle, and it's one all writers face.  They must hew to narrow channels, or go unpublished.  Now you know.


I was asked a question: "How do I stop their suffering?"


I presume you mean the suffering of folk who are confined to drear Mundania for life. The only way I see to stop that kind of suffering is imagination. Xanth is an imaginary realm that isn't actually all that safe or fun for ordinary residents, because there are dragons, nickelpedes, and nasty clouds that like to soak parades, picnics, and sun bathers. Even the fact that every resident has a magic talent doesn't help much, because most talents are minor like the ability to make a spot appear on a wall. But there's always the hope of discovering something nice, like a friendly tangle tree or a healing elixir spring.

But in Mundania there is no promise of magic, apart from things like the rainbow that can be seen from only one side. About all a person can do is try to help others get along better. That's about as close as Mundania comes to personal magic: when you help someone else, you feel better yourself. Even just talking to someone who is lonely, using your imagination to make it interesting, can make you own life more interesting. Weird, isn't it?


News items: In Toronto Canada a neighbor's 5 year old grandson was driving a loud ATV for hours along the quiet street, disturbing the neighborhood. Not a crime, just a nuisance. Obviously the brat's family didn't care who else was disturbed. Finally Marika De Florio had had enough. So she went out topless in her 56 year old splendor just, you know, taking a little walk. And that child was suddenly whisked off the street. Problem solved. Well, the police were called, but they said there was no law there against such exposure. I mean, what's wrong with the human body as God made it? Thus peace returned to the neighborhood. In South Africa women are trying out a new device: a female condom with rows of hooks that latch on to a man's penis when it penetrates. If he tries to remove it, it clasps tighter, maybe in the manner of a thumb lock; he can't get it off without a doctor's help. Thousands of these are being distributed to women in South Africa, which has the highest rape-rate in the world. I suspect that will change, especially if they start arresting men who get the condom on them, as there's really no way for that to happen except by poking into it inside an unwilling woman.


They have discovered why chimpanzees make war, and it may be an insight into why humans like war so well. They make raids to harass and kill members of other tribes, weakening those tribes, until it is feasible to take over their territory. Then they have more fruit trees to forage among, their females eat better, reproduce faster, and the tribe grows bigger and stronger. So the instinct for aggressive territoriality may date back to before the separation of man from chimp.


 Fifty years ago there was a scary movie, Psycho. I remember. We saw it. We still wonder whether there was a trigger in the movie to set off screaming, because when the famous shower scene came everyone was suddenly screaming and thrashing around. We were not in the first row, and had to thrash too, because we were trying to watch the damn scene and every time we got a glimpse, the folk in front of us would shift to block it off. It was one damned effective sequence in a movie that had up to that point been moderately dull, featuring Janet Leigh's long drive alone. I understand that she insisted that the movie be changed to feature her more, regardless of the harm done to it. Hitchcock should have known better.


A reader sent me a link to a www.boingboing.net site that featured a discussion of my dirty fantasy Pornucopia. It shows the cover, quotes blurb material, "And a few words, supposedly written by Piers Anthony..." I did indeed write them, warning readers that this is not Xanth. "But those who want their minds wickedly stretched, read on." Then comments by site participants, dated June 15 and 16, 2020. "It's not my mind that I'm used to getting wickedly stretched." "Pornucopia is amazing! I've read it three or four times." "I would have preferred to have heard about The Magic Fart, for what are obviously mature and thoughtful reasons." "Good lord, I'm surprised nobody mentioned Firefly." "If you're shocked by this, do not read his Bio of a Space Tyrant, or Apprentice Adept series, or his Tarot series...Xanth is actually kind of out of character compared with his other books." And on, with many generally perceptive comments. Until I encountered this one: "I tried to read his books...the writing was so bad!" I would have liked to have some specifics there, as I doubt there is much that can be faulted grammatically or in general presentation. I do know my trade. I suspect this person encountered mind-stretching concepts and couldn't handle them, so condemned the books. That is, a conservative. "Then he had some other book that was focused on a tree in a backyard or something that was all pedophilia." This, too, is curious. The novel in question must be Shade of the Tree, which contains no pedophilia. Maybe a confusion with Firefly, which does have a graphic child sex scene? One of the things I question is why the author of a murder mystery is not branded a murderer, or the author of a war adventure a warmonger, but the author of a book with a child-sex scene is suspected of pedophilia. I think that ugliness, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. But here in this same forum is what I consider to be an excellent discussion by "Coherent": "I have always thought very well of Piers Anthony for having the balls to put erotic images and concepts in his writing. Even, yes, underage sexuality. My youth was filled with sexual discovery: Sex isn't something you discover magically at 12 or 14 or 18 by someone flipping a switch in your body. For me, the introduction to sexuality was a journey that started at 6 years of age and continued to flourish until maturity. The idea that children are sexless is a myth. It's perpetuated by those who would prefer to forget how sexuality gently pervades our lives, from our conception until our death." Exactly. I try to write realistically, even in the oxymoronic boundaries of fantasy, and this includes references to natural functions and childhood awareness of sex. But for the record, for those who evidently doubt, my private personal taste is in slender, long-haired brunette women from menarche on.


The price of e-readers is coming down, with Kindle now under $200, and there is increasing competition. I am trying to make all of my titles available electronically, but accomplishing that is a challenge. Fans assume that electronic publishers are eager for my books; that's not necessarily the case. For one thing, I'm fairly knowledgeable about terms, and won't sign a bad contract. Publishers can get annoyed by authors who insist on fair deals with things like audit clauses.


Article in NEW SCIENTIST titled "Dream Catcher" explores lucid dreaming. That's when, as I put in when I book-signed Dream A Little Dream with co-author Julie Brady, whose novel was based on her lucid dreaming, you are asleep, and dreaming, and you know it's a dream and you can change it. One of my favorite science fiction stories is "Dreams Are Sacred" by Peter Phillips, published in 1948, where they had a device to enable a man to enter the dream of another man and change it. I liked the beginning of it, wherein a boy was afraid of monsters in his dreams, so his father took him out for a day of practice with a powerful handgun that could blast apart old treestumps. Its detonation numbed the boy's hands; he really appreciated its power. "Tonight when your dream monsters come, this gun will be with you..." his father said. And it was, and those monsters didn't stand a chance. Anyway, now lucid dreaming may provide an insight into the nature of consciousness. Three mysteries that have fascinated me all my life are (1) why is there something instead of nothing, enabling our universe; (2) how did life come to be; and (3) what is consciousness. Progress is being made on all of these, and I hope to have answers before I die. I believe that consciousness may be the first to be solved, and that it will turn out to be an emergent property of feedback loops. That is, circuits of the brain looking back at their own functioning processes, and when this is done on a sufficient scale, voila! Consciousness. So machine consciousness should be possible, when the design is right. But as usual, I'm ahead of science, and doubt I will get credit for my insights when the official answer comes. Anyway, the article says (I am simplifying considerably) there are two types of consciousness, Primary and Secondary. Primary is what everyone has, including animals, essentially seeing and feeling and reacting. Secondary is more complicated, because of an extra feedback loop: you are aware of being aware. This is thought to be unique to humans. Dreams are Primary, where you accept without much question what you see, even when it is nonsense. Lucid dreams may be Secondary, as you analyze and second guess your dreams. So they are studying the brains of sleeping subjects to see what lights up during what kind of dreaming. This separation of brain areas can't be done with awake subjects, because they have both kinds of consciousness in gear. Only when dreaming does Secondary consciousness tune out so they can define Primary alone. Then when Secondary kicks in, in a lucid dream, what brain circuits are added? They are teaching people to learn how to lucid dream, so they can be studied. They are trying to zero in on why some things, like reading, can't be done in dreams. They are finding that lucid dreaming is not simply consciousness in dreams; the brain is in a different state than full awake consciousness, between the other two states. I think this is a great line of research.


And they are now catching on to something I figured out long ago: asteroid impacts on Earth can trigger shock waves that evoke monstrous volcanic action. So the Deccan Traps in India that released a huge miles-deep amount of lava and evidently helped extinguish the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have derived from a meteor impact. There's iridium in that lava, which is rare in the Earth's crust, but common in meteors.


And the wider effects of agriculture. Yes, it feeds the world, and wipes out native life. It also changes the situation of man. In the old, pre-ag days, if a man had a nasty neighbor he could walk away and hunt/gather somewhere else, avoiding trouble. But agriculture meant sedentism, that is settling down in one place, so he could no longer walk away. He had to deal with that neighbor, and that could get violent. Thus, perhaps, war, as with the chimps.


British Petroleum will fork out $20 billion to compensate business losses by those dependent on the Gulf for their livelihoods, as in fishing and tourism. It won't be enough. Is the oil spill the worst American natural disaster? A newspaper article says not yet. The Dust Bowl of the thirties, brought on by poor farming, economically wiped out whole states. The Johnstown Flood of 1889, caused by a poorly maintained dam,  killed about 2,000 people. But the Oil Spill ain't over yet.


Opinion essay in NEW SCIENTIST on lying by Dorothy Rowe. It seems we all do it, and shouldn't. At about age 3 or 4 children learn that if they want to get along, they can't stick entirely to the truth. It's a matter of self image. We can't see reality directly, only our interpretations of it. I think of an analogy with the computer: we don't see the dots and spaces that make up the numbers zero and one in endless lines, we see the graphic interpretations of those codes, which form words and pictures on the screen. We need those translated images. If the computer glitches and we get screenfuls of numbers and symbols instead of pictures, we have a problem, and we try to get the comforting images restored. So in life we lie, to others and to ourselves, to maintain those pretend pictures. It seems we even lie about lying, calling it denial. "Lying gives us the temporary delusion that our personal and social worlds are intact, that we are loved, that we are safe, and above all, that we are not likely to (be) overwhelmed by the uncertainty inherent in living in a world we can never truly know." "Lies have networks of consequences we did not expect or intend." They may protect us in the short term, but can be disastrous in the long term. So it is ultimately better to come to terms with reality. I agree, and try with imperfect success to be rational and honest at all times. This does complicate my life, as when I challenge a dishonest publisher or when I call a spade a spade and lose a friend. There's a long potential discussion there; I do have specifics in mind. Complete honesty at all times may be impossible, because there are those who will kill rather than suffer their delusions to be exposed. Isn't that what killing in the name of religion is about?


Which reminds me of the organized lies that are advertising. There's an ad on TV that I haven't figured out what for, about the delights of a five year old imagination, with crudely drawn paper figures mixing with a contemporary city background. My favorite part is where it is singing about defying all expectation, and a paper bus is passing, and opens its mouth wide to sing expectaTION, making the paper picture come alive.


In the month of JeJune I finished writing my horror novel The Sopaths and sent it to my agent to see whether it is conventionally publishable, which it well may not be. I wrote a short story, "Privy” for an original anthology The Forsaken Ones. That's about an old outhouse that still stinks after a decade of disuse. So why didn't the shit compost and lose its smell? Therein lies he story. I read a big novel. I ran the household, and saw my wife gradually improve, until by month's end she was, if not 100%, coming within sight of it. I had the pleasure of updating my Survey of Electronic Publishers on my own Linux system again. So it was, really, an upbeat month, though the death of my elder daughter last year still weighs upon me. I expect to take Jewel-Lye off, as it were, then get to work on Xanth #36 Luck of the Draw. Normally my slack time fills in solidly, instantly, but I do hope to watch some more videos. Relaxation comes hard to a workaholic. We'll see.

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