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Piers the handyman 2007
JeJune 2010
HI-

I watched an amateur video, Matsy Palmer, produced by David D'Champ. This is a naughty 90 minute cartoon showing the story of Earth in the year 2069 when the Nazi Unification Terrorist Society NUTS has stolen the Polar Elliptical Navigation Intercept Station PENIS and is holding it for ransom. So Matsy Palmer must activate the Tactical Women's Assault Team TWAT to deal with this threat. The figures are animated drawings of the kind where only the mouth moves when speaking, and only the active figure in a scene moves at all. So there wasn't a spare hundred million dollars to make for more realistic animations; what there is is sufficient to carry the story. The figures talk, move, and have simulated sex. That is, there are bare figures rocking together and with effects, but you don't actually see the intimate details; call it soft core. Many are well endowed young women in colorful two-piece outfits that, being holographic, can fade out on occasion to leave them naked, albeit with breasts that show no nipples. One messed up her captors by wearing real clothing that wouldn't fade. The sound is a bit fuzzy. Once you accept the limits of the staging, it moves along okay. The Nuts capture the Twats and try to sexually torture them to death, but it doesn't work, I'm not sure why. So in the end the home team wins after heroic struggle. Web Site is www.317Prod.com. Or it can be purchased at www.matsypalmermovies.com. Anyone interested in licensing it for broadcast can call (213) 925-7768.

A correspondent sent me the video movie Up in the Air, featuring George Clooney as a professional firer. That is, a man who travels around the country to fire people who work for other companies, I suppose because the company bosses don't have the gumption to do their own dirty work. So he leaves a trail of destroyed lives. He is breaking in a new employee, a pretty woman who is learning how to fire. He also encounters a woman who shares his philosophy of challenging sex and non-commitment. They have trysts in various airports, and he really get to like her. But in the end he discovers that this woman is actually a married housewife with children; her traveling trysts are just a way to get relief from the humdrum mundane existence. The woman he is training learns that one of her "clients" whom she doesn't even remember committed suicide, and she quits this job. So he is left with his job, his traveling, but a rather empty existence. Moralistic, if you well, but realistically portrayed, and I did find it moving and saddening. It made me glad that I am coming up on 54 years of marriage. After three miscarriages we feared we could never have children, and after years of rejections I feared I would never be a pro writer, but in time we got it all, in spades. How much better it has been than the high life that is shown in the movie! So now I better appreciate what I have, yes, even the tragedy of the loss of our daughter. It has been a full life.

I read Sun Symbiosis, by Forrest Sol, a pen name for a PhD in environmental science. This is presented as a novel, but is actually a book-length essay phrased as an extended interview. I had to tell the author that it really didn't work for me as a novel, because there is no human interaction other than between the interviewer and his subject, both male. A novel does better with a rich background of science or fantasy and a telling human story, preferably a romantic one, and perhaps a moral theme. An example is the movie Avatar. I'm not sure whether that was a novel first, but if so, it was surely a good one. Sun Symbiosis has the background, and is in fact a work of formidable imagination, and a moral theme: saving the environment. The author clearly knows what he is talking about; I am judging not by his doctorate but by my own awareness of the issues. For example he has a major project to reverse global warming by flooding deserts with sea water and letting it evaporate. Ah, I thought, but that would load the land with salt. Then he addressed that aspect too, so it was factored in. He addresses the arguments made by the naysayers, those who prefer to pretend that there is no warming, and if there is, it is not by human hand. There is an impassioned speech made by the female president of the USA invoking God, I think not really as a religious concept, but as a common belief most of the world shares, so that there can be a way to unify diverse people in the effort to save the planet. "You are right to believe in God. I know that some of you become very uncomfortable when I speak this way. If it is any consolation to the skeptics, I have great respect for science, and I defer to the advice of scientists in all technical matters. But it is also science that informs my faith. And it is my joy to affirm the miracle that nature and the natural world are more clear than any ancient text written by human hands in the search for consciousness greater than our own." As a lifelong agnostic I find this a worthy statement.

But this is only part of it. Much of the story centers around a special project to study dark energy. This president fully supported that, and it seemed to be on the verge of a phenomenal breakthrough, when she abruptly canceled it, erased the records, and arranged to have laws passed to prevent any continuation of the study made for three generations. What happened? That is the mystery of this story. Because as it turns out, they discovered a universe of dark energy beings who might be considered alive but not at all in the manner we think of life. One inhabits the sun, and is a significant component of it. Others travel across the universe to tune in on the flickering consciousnesses that we know as people. It seems the dark energy beings are addicted to consciousness; it's like a drug or perhaps pornography. We are not aware of them, and they do not harm us; they are part of that other, overlapping realm we can barely fathom even conceptually. But with this dark energy project we could become aware of them, and just possibly interact with them. Are we as a species mature enough to safely do that? Maybe in three generations.

So I deem this book not to be a proper novel, and I suspect the average reader would not understand or appreciate it. But it ranges into territory that not much science fiction does, and I think it should be worth the while of the intelligent, motivated, moral (in the sense of doing what is best for the world) reader. If it can find a publisher.

Mayhem was a mixed month for me. My wife's incapacity soaked up much of my time, but it was good to have her home. I did not like living alone, the generous three weeks she was gone. When she returned she couldn't mount the stairs to the bedroom, so she slept on her bed in the living room, set up five years before when she was similarly incapacitated for different reason. She could walk with the walker, but the question was suppose she fell in the night, walking to the bathroom, and I was asleep upstairs and didn't hear and couldn't help? So I unlimbered the hide-a-bed in the living room and slept there, almost adjacent, and that solved that problem. Gradually she improved, and was able to walk with a cane instead of the walker. It was great when she was able to go grocery shopping with me again. I pushed her around in the riding basket cart and she was able to find whatever she wanted. Then I came down with the stomach flu and spent a day pooping at either end. A day or so later, on her birthday, she got it too, which sort of spoiled things. But we handled it, as we do the rest of life. I have had to master things outside my normal mode, such as fixing her breakfast including the morning cup of coffee. That's less simple than you might think. On Sunday it consists of three quarters of a cup of water heated in the microwave two and a half minutes—more than that, it furiously boils over when the coffee is added, as I discovered—then one quarter teaspoon of regular instant coffee, three quarters of a spoon of decaf, one spoon of Ovaltine, and fill it up with whole milk. On other days it's a different formula. This doesn't come naturally to me, as I am a lifelong non-drinker of coffee, tea, and soft drinks. The rest of breakfast is similarly intricate, as is the array of nine pills in the morning. Handling the laundry is similarly devious. We have a washer and a dryer, and she made printed instructions, but still I managed to pour the detergent into the fabric softener slot, a no-no. I struggle to remember that towels, alone of the loads, do not take fabric softener sheets in the dryer. Even folding clothing has its pitfalls. For example, I fold a shirt forward; she folds it backward. I think this is a natural reflection of gender roles: men are essentially forward, women backward. So I fold mine forward, and hers backward. But maybe you can see why my writing slowed. Sunday I got up at 5 AM, but did not turn on this computer until after 3 PM. I was busy attending to household functions.

I finally got my dentures, after seven months and about ten thousand dollars. I'm not using them, because they chafe my gums so that it's too painful to put them in. I daresay we'll get that straightened away in due course. I wish Florida allowed denturists to practice; I suspect one of them would have been faster, cheaper, and made a better fit. At any rate, I'm sure the dentures will get adjusted in due course, and I'll be able to chew more thoroughly than I do now.

My mind is always working, even during routine chores. For example, when doing the laundry I have learned that socks exist to fall on the dirty floor, no matter how carefully you handle the batch, and they're not too keen on pairing off correctly. Lint is surprisingly intriguing; it's like gauze, and you might be able to make a fluffy garment from it. When grocery shopping I like what I call shopping card diplomacy: if you need a cart you take it, and when you no longer need it, you leave it. If another shopper is just finishing as you arrive, you take her cart, saving her a trip to the store or cart hanger. It's all so convenient and amicable, without possessiveness. Now if only the world could be run like that!

I finally watched the first season of Danger Mouse, the British cartoon series. It's fun, though it is the type where only the person talking moves. He's sort of an ordinary mouse with an eye patch, not handsome or muscular or brilliant. He just sort of muddles through the various adventures, somehow prevailing. Many of them feature arch enemy Baron Greenback, a frog also known as the Terrible Toad, who constantly tries to eliminate Danger Mouse and conquer the world. Huge robots, ghosts, all manner of threats—I don't know how the Baron manages to develop such fancy devices, but Danger Mouse always manages to foil them, somehow, barely.

Robert Tralins died, age 84. I knew him by correspondence; he was a character. He sent me a clock that runs backward, and it still keeps time in my study. I learned more from his epitaph than I remembered from his letters. I am mentioned, as is L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics and Scientology, who was a science fiction/fantasy/horror writer in his day. Tralins authored 251 titles, which puts him safely ahead of me, and some were wild. One was with Madame Sherry, who ran a bordello frequented by wealthy and famous clients, which got raided, and she spent a year in jail. Then Tralins worked with her on her tell-all memoir, Pleasure Is My Business, published in 1961. It was banned as obscene, lewd, degrading, sadistic, masochistic, and disgusting, until that was reversed by the US Supreme Court in 1964. He lived in Tampa Bay. He had prostate cancer, that it seems finally took him out. But clearly he was a writer you could call a writer, and to paraphrase a more famous quote, we may not see his like again.

Martin Gardner died. He was known for his clever books of mathematical games and puzzles, some of which influenced my writing. He had a column in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN for a quarter century. He was twenty years older than I. It's nice to see a person carry his intellect into old age.

Frank Frazetta died. He was about six years my senior, one of the phenomenal genre artists. I'm not sure he ever did a cover for any of my books, he being more into high-paying movie and TV art, but I'd have been honored if he had. I do have a book of his fantastic art. It seems publishers were known to buy one of his paintings, then commission a writer to turn out a novel to go with it. That's pretty potent art. Muscular heroes, awesome monsters, and bare women—oh, those women!

I read Irving Wishbutton: The Questing Academy, by Brian Clopper, at least the portion sent by the author. I reviewed his children's books Graham the Gargoyle here back in 2001, and Paul the Pillow Monster in 2004. This one is also for young folk, but I think older ones. It's fabulous. Irving Wishbutton discovers himself atop a hill. He learns that he is a character in an as-yet forming novel, and he has to attend a school designed for such characters so that they can fill out and in due course do justice to their stories. There are things like the Office of Fine Aunts (yes, there's a pun there) and many weird characters from other stories. Irving is a "smudge" because his author has not yet worked out his full description. Characters become more fully formed as their authors do them. Once their novels are fully realized, they will go into them and play their scenes. Right now it's like a wild boarding school. Irving's roommate is a ferocious column of ash that can coil like a rattlesnake. Then he learns that he has no roommate, and others think he is making it up. This, among other things, messes up his relation with a prospective girlfriend. Characters are not allowed to date other characters in their own books, but can associate with those in other books. The scenes alternate with glimpses at reality, as Irving's author handles his routine household chores, his children, etc., and gradually works out the details of his novel, which will really put Irving through a wringer with monsters and threats galore. But the story Irving is experiencing here is not the one he is destined for; the school has its own intrigues and dangers. Overall, this strikes me as one great story, and I hope the author is able to get it published traditionally. Readers of any age should enjoy it. The author is looking for an agent, having struggled for years with the giant bottleneck that is our traditional publishing system. He deserves to be known.

My own writing slowed, but I did write another 23,000 words of my horror novel The Sopaths and completed the first draft at about 60,000 words. (In normal times, 60,000 words would be one month's production for me.) It may be conventionally unpublishable, but I think I have finally succeeded in seeing a horror novel through without it veering into something else. For years I didn't write it because it was too horrible; then I succeeded in taming it to the point were it was too un-horrible; finally I achieved the right level, I think. Here is the key: at one point my protagonist picks his little daughter up by the feet and bashes her head into a wall, breaking her neck and killing her, because she is a sopath, really a wild creature in disguise, who has killed the rest of his family and is coming after him. Later another underage sopath girl does him a favor, so he is obliged not to kill her—it's a conscience thing—and she wants to have sex with him. He demurs, of course, but she's persistent and pretty graphic about what she wants, and it is true that sopaths have no civilized restrictions. If killing gets them that they want, they kill. If trading favors does it, they trade. If sex does it, they have sex, age no barrier. They're not ravening monsters, merely individuals with desires and no scruples, somewhat like school bullies or company bosses. I fear publishers will say okay to the killing of children, but freak out at the notion of their being sexual. Yet this is integral to the story; it is the nature of the sopath state. In fact there's a teen sopath who uses sex to virtually enslave men so that they will do her bidding, which includes brutal torture of those who oppose her. It's ugly, but I will not have it censured into meaninglessness. We'll see.

When I delved into my voluminous Sopaths file of ugly news items it turned out not to be a lot of use, because filling a book with repeated and similar examples of man's inhumanity to man does not a novel make, at least by my definition. But some offshoots can be interesting. A newspaper column in May 1989 by Theo Lippman Jr was titled "Conservatism can't cure crime." Conservatives like to say that it's wishy-washy liberalism that encourages crime; start getting tough with criminals, and crime will decrease. Well, Richard Nixon (how ironic: a criminal president getting tough with criminals) and Ronald Reagan put in conservative judges, revived the death penalty—so a few innocent folk get executed, it happens, get over it—encouraged police to damn well not coddle criminals—conservatives don't seem to much like the Miranda rights business, feeling that criminals shouldn't have rights—tromped on the illegal drug trade, and built prisons galore. In twenty years the prison population rose from about 200,000 to over half a million. So what was the result? The annual number of violent crimes more than doubled. I suspect that trend has continued in the intervening twenty years. Does the death penalty have a deterrent value? The statistics give that the lie. I remember commentator Paul Harvey saying that well, the criminal who is executed is deterred from every committing another crime. Uh-huh, and if he is innocent, execution prevents him from ever committing a crime. So let's execute everyone, and have no crime at all. So what do the conservatives say now that the evidence refutes them? That crime is the liberals' fault. You can't get through to a closed mind. Perhaps related: it seems that conservative Republican states have more divorces and teen pregnancy than do liberal democratic states. Denial simply doesn't work, but like faith, it persists regardless.

I read the newspaper comics. Bizarro for 5-03-2010 has the teacher telling her little students "Today we'll pretend to be classical composers." One says "I'll be Brahms!" Another says "I'll be Beethoven!" And young Arnold Schwarzenegger says "I'll be Bach!" Mother Goose & Grimm for 5-13-2010 has one character saying he went to a séance for the male sheep who died last year. What did the sheep say? The grass is greener on the other side. Non Sequitur for 5-28-2010 has the child protagonist traveling back to the dinosaur age in her friend's time machine. She conjunctures that Adam and Eve could have been time travelers escaping their overpopulated world, but got stuck in the past and ironically started the human race. Then she returns to the present. Whereupon Adam says "I thought they'd never leave." And Eve says "Whatever. Now you can get our machine fixed, right?" Holy Mole for 5-31-2010 has their two creatures resting under a palm tree on a sea isle. They are finally far from civilization and its greed and ugly excesses. Then the water turns dark: light sweet crude oil.

I try to answer the questions fans pose. Sometimes it's a challenge. Here's an example. A girl had her topic for a demonstration speech for her English class: "How do you defend your castle from dragons?" She asked my advice. Here is my response.

Well, a good deep broad moat with a huge fierce moat monster would help stop land dragons. If you could tame a roc bird, that could stop flying dragons. Failing that, you might try to buy them off by feeding them, though the delectable maidens they have a taste for might object to being put to that use. Maybe the simplest defense would be to buy a pet basilisk and give it the run of the outer wall of the castle. A mature basilisk is only six inches long, so it's not complicated to house, and the mere sight of it can wipe out any living creature. Even its breath is poisonous, which is why your best friend doesn't really like being called "basilisk breath." In fact you might even be able to fake it by hoisting a warning flag with a picture of a basilisk on it: when the dragons see that, they will stay well away.

But mainly it's like getting into drugs: it's a hell of a lot easier to stay clear of them, than to deal with them once you're hooked. Try to build your castle in a dragon-free zone.

THE DISH generally has interesting material. In their distribution for 5-11-2010 they ask the reader to imagine hundreds of black protesters armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition descending on Washington DC, speaking of the need for political revolution, possible even armed conflict, in the event that laws they don't like are enforced by the government. How would the authorities react? Because that's what white gun enthusiasts did. Imagine white members of Congress, while walking to work, being surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom spits on a congressman for not voting the way the protester desired. That's what white Tea Party protesters did. Imagine a rap artist calling a white president a piece of shit, saying he should suck on the artist's machine gun. White rocker Ted Nugent said that about President Obama. Do we really have color-blind laws and justice in America?

Assorted items: News of a really devious computer virus: it causes the Internet Explorer to pop porn sites, and causes the regular programs to be considered viruses. Followed by an ad for a fake virus protection program. It seems that some new fathers get postpartum depression too. How is that, when I understand that it is mostly a body chemistry thing as the mother separates physically from her baby? Well, dads can have their schedules disrupted too; I remember getting about two hours of sleep a night when taking care of my baby girl. (Who died last year. Sigh.) They can have the stress of juggling work and new home responsibilities. Yes, my writing output cut in half. And they lose sexual intimacy. That could certainly do it; decent sex can be hard to come by in the best of times. They picked a picture taken by the Hubble telescope to celebrate it's 20th anniversary. That's some picture! It looks like a wild science fiction magazine cover showing smoky fiery trolls in space. Letter in Dear Abby from an athletic, youthful-looking mother dining out with her son, being mistaken for a cougar. The columnist remarked that what attracts men to older women is that they are confident, relaxed, comfortable with themselves, and fun to be around, while younger women don't bother to be subtle about wanting men with money. As an older man with money, I can see the cougar appeal. Essay by Dr. Victor C Strasburger: "For American media, sex is fun, sex is sexy, and sex is used to sell everything from cars to shampoo. But mention 'birth control' and somehow you've crossed the line...If we can spend more than half a billion dollars advertising ED drugs, surely we can spend a few dollars advertising condoms and birth control pills." He points out that studies show that giving kids access to birth control does not increase sexual activity or lower the age of first intercourse, but can bring lower rates of teen pregnancy. And, I'm sure, lower rates of VD. Now there is genetic evidence that our ancestors did after all manage to breed some with the Neandertals. Of course they had sex; that's inevitable, if only the raping of captive women. But hitherto there's been no evidence that any of it resulted in any pregnancies. It seems a few cases did.

Quotes published in THE WEEK: "The love of truth lies at the root of much humor." Robertson Davies. "Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice con have." James Baldwin. And a news item: 63% of married women in the US say they would prefer to watch a movie, read a book, or catch an extra hour of sleep, rather than have sex with their husbands. I guess settled husbands are boring. How would they feel about handsome hot potent strangers? Or about letting their husbands do it with sex bombs while those wives take their naps?

Garrison Keillor can be a pretty sharp observer. In a recent essay he says that the onset of self publishing dooms traditional publishing. "It was beautiful, the Old Era. I'm sorry you missed it." Well, I say that it had its joys, but the frequent abusive arrogance of it brought about the need for alternatives, which I have labored to facilitate. Don't miss the New Era, Garrison.

And a promotional note: Paizo Press Planet Stories has brought out its edition of my early SF novel Sos the Rope, with a nice introduction by Robert E Vardeman. I wrote Sos in about a month and it won a $5,000 contest that helped put me on the map. It moved rapidly because I adapted it from a long chapter in my unpublished college thesis novel The Unstilled World, improving on what I had written before. It is sword and club adventure in a post-apocalyptic world that has reverted to near savagery. So those who have been suffering for lack of my early fiction may fulfill their desire now. Who knows, it could lead to one or two sales. Paizo.com/planetstories.

PIERS
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