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Piers the handyman 2007
Mayhem 2010

My reading continued unabated. I read My Brother's Keeper, by Adron J Smitley. This is what I would call dark fantasy, with very little magic in it, but considerable imagination. The author, like so many, had poured his soul into his novel, then found no publisher for it, and finally had to self publish. He wondered whether he should simply give up his dream of being a novelist. I have been there, done that, and have considerable sympathy. I was even told by the editor of GALAXY magazine H L Gold to stop even trying to compete. It was with considerable private relish I later saw my writing career surpass his. He was for a time a good editor, but he was also an arrogant anus and I keep him in mind as an excellent example never to emulate. Arrogance goeth before a fall. So I try to be fair minded and treat all aspirants courteously. I can give an informed opinion on fantasy, and it may be negative, but seldom if ever dismissive. That's more than it seems most established writers will do.

My Brother's Keeper does not generally sparkle stylistically, and it moves slowly. Nevertheless it has power, both in its setting and its story. You see, it is Biblical is a special sense. The protagonist is Seth, a later son of Adam and Eve. Seth is consumed by hate for his older brother Cain, who killed his other brother Able. No, no, don't stop reading there. Consider the source material. In the Bible, Adam and Eve, and perhaps Lilith, were the first human people on Earth. When Cain was banished for his crime, he went and dwelt among the people of Nod, marrying and siring his own line. Where did these Nod folk come from? They must have been human, because they could interbreed with Adam's descendants. But if they weren't other children of Adam, how could this be? And Adam's other children: assuming they did not suffer a procreative orgy of incest, whom did each marry? We have to assume that the Bible is speaking at least somewhat figuratively. That enables it to align with science and archaeology. As I see it—remember, the major project of my career was the historical series GEODYSSEY, whose last novel Climate of Change is about to be published, so I have thought about human descent a lot—there was always a slowly evolving human culture. The genetic pattern of one man and one woman were passed on to the people of today. That does not mean that they were the only people then, just that when two people make a baby, the baby gets aspects from each, and what it doesn't pass along is lost to the record. There was a viable community throughout. That is what is in this novel: a viable community. It tells a story of those particular people that could have been close to the reality, with love, betrayal, and hate. Because Seth is determined to seek out and kill Cain, but in the intervening years Cain has changed and is no longer the brutal warrior he was. Seth's hate causes him to become somewhat like Cain, and there is no easy resolution here. It's an ugly but compelling story, with thoughtful points. The kind of thing that traditional print publishing evidently doesn't want, but that readers might find worthwhile. The kind of thing self publishing was made for. So the author has an offer: he will give away signed copies, postage paid, to the first ten people who contact him at coinspinner@zoominternet.net. Maybe that will start to get the word out.


I read Search of the Sunken City by Marion R Jones. This may have been inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a map discovered that may identify a leading city of Atlantis. A college professor is dating a young woman, but her wealthy banker father objects to her going into anthropology and breaks it up by getting him reassigned far away. She doesn't know why he left, and isn't pleased about being dumped. Then they are thrown together again as they search for Atlantis, with mutual attraction warring with anger. It is like a scavenger hunt, taking them to the Sphinx in Egypt and an underground temple for a necessary artifact. It is the time of Pearl Harbor, and a Japanese mission is pursuing them, wanting to get the secrets of Atlantis first and have power to win the war and rule the world. Every time they make a breakthrough, the Japanese catch up and try to take it from them. Thus mystery, action, romance, fantasy, and brutality mix to make a fast moving adventure. They finally do find Atlantis under the sea, and it is a marvel. This was self published, with no address listed to buy it. There are copious typos, but it is a good story.


And I read Xanth # 34 Knot Gneiss by yours truly, proofing the page proofs. This will be published in OctOgre in hardcover. It's a sort of sequel within the series to #33 Jumper Cable, where Jumper Spider's best friend was Wenda Woodwife, who is hollow behind and speaks in the forest dialect: “I wood knot dew that to yew.” I liked her, so this time she's the main character. She is married to Prince Charming, who was dumped by the Little Mermaid, and has become a whole woman. But she suffers violent mood swings, so goes to the Good Magician to get them abated, and has to transport a 150 pound knot of petrified reverse wood to his castle so it can't do damage elsewhere. If nasty goblins should get hold of it, they could use it to terrify and conquer Xanth. She's a wood nymph so can handle wood, you see. She enlists Jumper as a Companion, and it builds from there. That petrified knot is definitely not gneiss or nice; it terrifies everyone but Wenda. Petrified, terrified, get it? Another Companion is Princess Ida, who is forlornly hoping to find her ideal man, though she is now in her forties. So it's a typically wacky adventure, down to the Xanth standard.


April is the cruelest month. Remember, last month as I was updating the Survey of Electronic Publishers and Related Services, my wife fell and fractured her left elbow and right knee. Nothing showed; the fractures were hairline within the joints, but nevertheless debilitating. She was in the emergency room, then the hospital, then the rehabilitation facility, which I abbreviate to “The Madhouse.” She could not get a decent night's rest or sleep there because the noise was continuous. She had to take sleeping pills, and they were not always effective. Carts being wheeled along the halls, people coming and going, other patients calling out. Some had mental as well as physical problems. The man across the hall was supposed to remain in bed or wheelchair, but didn't, so was rigged with a warning alarm to summon a nurse when he got up. So he got up, the alarm would go off, and he would scream “Turn the damn thing off!” not realizing that he was the one activating it. Her roommate had the TV on continuously, not set to my wife's stations, watched or unwatched. And the physical therapy she found horrendous, because they took it seriously, but she is weak because of her CIPD—Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, or shorting out of the nerves controlling the limbs—and it seems they did not quite understand she wasn't malingering, she was weak. I sneaked her vitamin pills in to her, because the personnel did not allow self medication and it seems distrusted foreign pills of any kind, probably with reason if any patients are closet addicts. I took her dirty clothes and washed them at home and brought them back, and I took her in the wheelchair for walks along the adjacent Nature Trail, where it was serene, quiet, and wholesome. Yes, I also stole some kisses. It was a great day, after three weeks, when I could bring her home again, because at home it is quiet and she could finally catch up on rest.

So I got in the Prius to drive there to fetch her—and the car wouldn't start. It absolutely balked, flashing red and orange warnings and listing the fuel as empty. It had worked fine the prior day, and I had just filled the tank. What had possessed it? So I had to switch to our other car, a Chrysler Town & Country van we have driven only 3,000 miles in five years because we bought it to accommodate a driver, wheelchair, groceries, and others, when my wife was wheelchair bound and fading, but then she had gotten better and we didn't need those other things, and the Prius gets twice the mileage. I did not like the van, finding it balky, cumbersome, and unfamiliar. But now I had to use it—and it behaved perfectly, giving me no trouble. I picked her up and brought her home, and have been using the van for my routine grocery shopping and mail trips, no trouble. It certainly came through when the Prius balked. But what was wrong with the Prius, which had picked the very worst time to balk? Well, after a week we arranged for AAA to haul it in to the dealer, and when the man checked under the hood, there was a rat's nest with six mostly unused packets of rat bait. There had not been any rat's nest when I checked it when it first balked; I conjecture that first the rat chewed the wiring to make sure the car stayed in place, then built its nest and started collecting baits for the future. Rats are smart vermin. But then the bait it had eaten at the outset caught up with it, and the rat was gone, leaving the nest and hoard of baits to its heirs. Mystery solved. Relatives helped bring the car back from the dealer once it was repaired—that rat cost us $350—relieving me of the worry about leaving my wife home alone longer than minimally. Families can be a great help when you need them.


So now my wife was safely home, and I was back to making all meals and things. She had been making her own breakfasts, doing the laundry, and the email, but now could do none of those things, so I did them, as I had five years before. This is the nature of marriage, from each according to his ability, to each according to her need. I kept up with that and the reading, but my writing disappeared again, and I was tired and short of sleep. I was glad to have her back, regardless. She could not get up the stairs, so used the bed we had installed 5 years before when she was incapacitated, and at night I unfolded the hide-a-bed and kept her company in case there should be any problem then. She can walk with the walker, but transitioning between it and bed, toilet, or wheelchair can be difficult, so I stay close. It occurred to me that it could be difficult for an outsider to distinguish between spousal protectiveness and spousal abuse. She was asked at the hospital whether she was a victim. She said no, but many victims do say no, covering for their abusers, and abusers can be men who favorably impress everyone else. I suspect that even some writers are abusers, sacrilegious as that notion may be. I trust there are other signs they could check, like whether she flinches when anyone comes close, so that they were reassured. It is ironic that she volunteers one afternoon a week at CASA, the abused women's shelter; they sent her a friendly get-well card.


I used the new Windows 7 computer to start my Survey updating, with my wife safely in bed in the living room, and after a half hour struggle by us both, user-hostile Windows 7 finally let me import my file and get online to work. After a couple hours I broke for lunch, going offline, then returned—and it balked, saying the protocols were wrong and it couldn't go online. Did I mention user unfriendly? So I had to go to my wife's older system, which is less argumentative. It wasn't until next day when our daughter visited that the new one got unwillingly functional again; she's of the next generation, and computers are more cautious about pointlessly messing those folk up. So I got the update done, no thanks to Windows.


In between times I played some card games. I have been stressed recently, and a card game seems to relieve that somewhat. Originally I liked the easier variant of Scorpion, a playable game—by that I mean you have a reasonable chance to make choices and use your mind, rather than having it be pure dumb luck—and when I changed systems they didn't offer that, so I moved to Grandfather, which was similar, with about a one in three chance to win. When I moved again they didn't have that, so I tried other games, and liked Gypsy, where I won 15%, but finally settled on Baker's Dozen, which may be the best one yet. There are different versions, but the one Ubuntu has is simply all the cards laid out face up in four rows so that you can see exactly what you're getting. You have to uncover aces, then twos, etc, building up to kings, as is the case with so many games. Suits are irrelevant in the main layout; any six can go on any seven, for example. They make sure to see that all kings are on the top row, because kings can't move to empty columns so it would be impossible to get past a king burying lower cards. Seems easy to play, but I won only about one in three games. Then I learned how to play it better; don't just look for easy aces, consider where the later cards will balk. One game I struggled with over 40 minutes and could not win; it had one king atop another, the one exception to kings being on the top row, and four queens over lower cards, so that no matter how I played, one queen would always block a lower card. Now when I see that setup I skip to another game, because I want to be able to win at least theoretically. Actually if the bottom row had all even cards it would be unplayable, so I would avoid that layout too. There are surely more subtle unwinnables. I started winning nine of ten games and bringing up my average from 33% to 50%, then to 67%. It can be a challenge; I have won in four minutes and in 40 minutes, and some layouts are more challenging than others. So I like it, and will stay with it until the next Linux distribution, when I will surely have to find a new game.


On to incidental items. It seems that chocolate is related to depression. Depressed folk eat more chocolate. But it is as yet uncertain whether chocolate mitigates depression, or causes it, or there is a craving that does not actually ameliorate the condition, like a man longing for an unobtainable woman. There was a picture of a local car crash, the car lying upside down before a billboard advertising for help with car accidents. Nice juxtaposition. The ASK MARILYN column says that “multitasking” is a myth; folk who do it, do worse on the separate tasks. I'm one who normally eats supper, watches TV, and reads a science magazine at the same time, and I agree. Eating is on auto-pilot, but my attention goes back an forth between the other two, and normally the TV loses out. She remarks that you can't write a paragraph and read one at the same time. Again I agree, having tried to do it. And of course folk who text while driving are begging for trouble. NEW SCIENTIST had an article on “Loony Moons.” When I was young I thought the local planets were boring, but that was because little was known about them. When I research them for the Space Tyrant series I was satisfied that they can be fascinating. Consider Jupiter's moon Io, the most volcanic body in the system, looking like a cheese pizza with pepper and onions, surely an incarnation of Hell. The assorted planets and moons are wildly different, and some may harbor life, not as we know it, but nevertheless valid. Another article suggests that the online game World of Warcraft is an opportunity to study social science, because they are dynamic and every facet is recorded so it can be analyzed. So it's virtual; it remains valid. What, it asks, if religion is factually false, but necessary for human well-being? I find that question intriguing as hell. I received a snail letter wishing to enlist my support for the thesis of the book Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Addiction, by Ryan C Van Cleave. I am demurring, in part because I am largely ignorant of online gaming, and because I suspect that addicts will find something to focus on, whether cocaine, gambling, sex, writing, or the Internet. Trying to erase one facet won't eliminate the problem, and I'm not even sure that game addiction is an evil. Consider sex, where virtually every man is an addict; is that bad?  Maybe if I knew more I'd be more alarmed. But I will relay the news that Video Game Addiction Awareness Week is May 21 – June 6. And an item on insect brains: large integrated social structures make for bigger brains. This has serious implications for the development of the human brain. We are a highly social species, and that may have powered our unusual brain development. And slow thinking may nurture creativity. I have always been mentally slow, by which I mean not stupid but taking time to get there, like a locomotive getting started, and I am one of the more creative persons I know. It seems there is a physical brain connection, gray matter vs. white matter. Fascinating.


I received an email solicitation for a 28th amendment to the Constitution that makes sense to me. Here it is: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the united States.” I would vote for that, but it has a snowflake's chance in Hades of passing the corrupted governing body we have at present. It would stop them from voting themselves privileges, like low-cost top of the line health insurance, that they won't let the rest of us have.


Two incidental quotes from THE WEEK: “Life is one long process of getting tired.” Samuel Butler. “Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 percent of them are wrong.” H L Mencken. Reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon's observation that ethics is what a person decides for himself, while morality is what society decides for him. Thus killing innocent people is considered moral in war, while a girl showing too much breast in public is immoral. I have always been impatient with this sort of thing. From DISCOVER MAGAZINE: Scientists at Oregon State University have identified vast quantities of water beneath the ocean floor. There may be more water under the oceans than in them. Ah, but is it fresh water? Can we get it cheaper than by filtering it from the seas?


Newspaper item: sex makes a person as happy as money. The value of going from sex less than once a month to more than once a month is equivalent to about $40,000 in annual income. People who have had no sex in the past year are especially unhappy. People under age 40 have sex about once a week; less for those over 40. Well, I am well over 40, and have sex once a week when my wife is not away in hospital or rehab, and my income is well over $40,000 a year, so I should be pretty happy. I am actually somewhat depressive, but probably would be far worse if I lost sex and income. I just renewed my prescription for Viagra, and discovered that six pills now cost $102.98. That's over $17 per pill. Sure, I cut them into eighths, reducing the cost per dose, but I think I won't be buying more of that brand, maybe because it makes sex lower my finances too much. I understand that in the old days a man could hire a whole prostitute for the same amount, $2. Probably not related is another sex ad I received, this one for the penis-hardener STRONG. Typically they show men having sex with luscious eager young women, themselves a potent aphrodisiac. For about $48 you can get 12 doses, which comes to $4 per dose. Thanks, but I'll stick to my fractional Viagra pills this year. Then we'll see. Item in THE WEEK remarks that most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve their lives. Being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year. Wow! I've been married almost 54 years; that would come to about $5,400,000. I'm rich! Or would be, if I could afford the Viagra.


Column by Gene Lyons blows the whistle on Republican leaders. A party document recently uncovered reveals that they divide potential donors into two groups: simple-minded dimwits and the thy egoists. They dazzle the simpletons with scare talk about socialism, invented death panels, baby-killing abortions, and such while plying the rich egoists with luxury retreats, tickets to pro fights, and association with luminaries such as New Gingrich. “The people who put the thing together not only don't believe in the causes they advocate; they have no intention of delivering on their implied promises should they return to power.” For sure. “More than 90 percent of the budget deficits the Tea party activists rail about were created on President Bush's watch.” Meanwhile according to columnist David Brooks, President Obama is doing better than many folk realize, pushing health care reform “with a tenacity unmatched in modern political history” and “has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.” So why is his popularity dropping? Partly from a continuous Republican barrage that simply makes up many of its “facts” such as trying to blame him for the deficit they created. There is also racism; liberal columnists report getting deluged with the N word. “We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.”


NEW SCIENTIST had an article on the eruption of Mt. Toba 74,000 years ago. It may not have wiped out humanity as badly as was thought, but it remains the largest eruption of the past two million years. It blew out nearly twice the volume of matter contained in Mt. Everest. Here are comparisons: Mt. St. Helens put out about half a cubic kilometer of matter. Mt. Pinatubo put out ten times as much, 5 cubic kilometers. Krakatoa in 1883 put out 12 cubic kilometers. Toba put out 2,500 cubic kilometers, or 5,000 times as much as St. Helens. I don't think we would have wanted to sit near the rim to get a ringside view of the action.


The greed-heads have been pushing to drill for oil off the coasts of Florida, claiming that with modern technology it's safe. Well, the Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing a number of people, and it is now spewing out over 200,000 gallons a day, and it could take as long as 90 days to cap it. Meanwhile the Gulf Stream could bring some of it ashore along the Florida Gold Coast. It may be America's worst environmental disaster in decades. Safe? My aching ass! And they wonder why we Florida residents don't want more such drilling in our neighborhood. What will it take to satisfy them that it's dangerous--Mt. Toba in oils?


Meanwhile there has been a constant influx of letters and manuscripts from readers. I try to respond responsively, and to give good advice when asked, but some readers seem to be dedicated to simply taking my time. It gets wearing. I make my answers as brief and polite as feasible, and turn down about half the manuscripts I am asked to read, but still seem to be operating on a deficit of time. I did manage to write one more chapter in The Sopaths, and made notes for the continuation, before things blocked up again, and maybe in Mayhem I can write some more. Fortunately I had allowed about six months for it, more than I ever expected to need. Fate and fans rushed to fill in that time.


As I like to say: more anon, when.

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