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Piers the handyman 2007
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J R Rain and I completed Aladdin Relighted, and I proofread it for marketing. It's fantasy set in the Arabian Nights milieu, wherein Aladdin is older and sadder, having lost his beloved wife and son to foul play and resigned from being king. Now he's a sort of anonymous private eye using the name Niddala (Aladdin spelled backwards) specializing in finding things, helped by the ifrit bound to his ring. He is not using the Lamp, with its far more powerful djinn, partly because he doesn't want to be dependent on such help, but mostly because the djinn no longer answers, having evidently been imprisoned in Jinnland. A lovely woman, Jewel, hires him to rescue her son, who is to be a human sacrifice. Aladdin soon realizes that to accomplish this he must first enter Djinnland to rescue the Djinn of the Lamp, who can then help him rescue the boy; no lesser force can hope to do it. So Aladdin and Jewel enter Djinnland, and it is some adventure. Fast moving, often lighthearted, by no means deep, but I think a lot of fun. One example: when attacked by two charging warriors on horseback, Aladdin makes a peculiar hissing sound and the horses immediately rear and dump their riders. Why? Because it is the sound of an annoyed basilisk, one of the deadliest creatures of mythology. Aladdin fights as much by cunning as by the scimitar, though he is good with that too. Jewel is no slouch either; she guts any man who tries to force sex on her. Thus Aladdin is interested, but cautious.

I read Coming From Nowhere, by Pembroke Sinclair, published by eTreasures Publishing, www.etreasurespublishing.com. This is adventure science fiction featuring the young woman JD, standing for Jane Doe because they don't know where she comes from and she had no memory. She is a warrior woman who fights like a man and heals fast when beaten up, as is often the case. It turns out that she was laboratory produced, a kind of retread made from a human woman who was killed or wiped out, and improved to be stronger, faster and maybe smarter than normal. There's a hint of romance, but no sexuality; she's attractive but never uses her feminine wiles. There's a plot to make many more like her, to serve as a superior fighting force to take over the human realm. Whenever she balks or fails in a mission she gets brutalized as a lesson for the future. But of course she does come to realize that she is on the wrong side, and strives to stop the ugly project. Roger, her vicious supervisor, always seems to be a step ahead of her and the others who try to resist. Until intelligent alien creatures enter the picture. It gets complicated. I find this novel to be imperfect, but it does have imagination, violence, and human feeling, and I think many readers would enjoy it.

I read The Ghost in the Water by Andy Kaiser. Http://LeagueOfScientists.com. This is pitched for sixth grade level, but don't let that fool you; it's a very nice story. Five bright six graders form the secret-membership League of Scientists to solve supernatural mysteries by explaining them in natural terms. It reminds me of the old radio program, circa 1950, House of Mystery, that did something similar, only for adults. I remember when the head of a cursed castle had to go down in the dungeon overnight to face the malignant spirit of a criminal ancestor whose body was shackled in chains; prior men had done this and been found dead in the morning, unmarked. Indeed, the spook was expecting him: the coffin stood upright facing the door. What a manifestation! It turned out that the tide came in and flooded the dungeon, drowning the poor men locked there. The coffin was standing because the chains around the ancestor's feet weighed down that part, and the water lifted the rest up. Okay, Ghost in the Water is not as ugly, but you get the idea. The school's leading swimmer is attacked by a green ghost in the water and doesn't want to swim any more, meaning the rival teams will win by default. Time for the League to step in; there has to be a natural explanation. Doesn't there? The protagonists are realistically described; one is being pursued by an implacable bully, complicating his existence, because of course the school authorities are oblivious. I loved this novel, and believe most readers of any age will too. It's one great adventure with an educational theme, with luck the first of a series.

I watched via DVD Mrs. Henderson Presents, a 2004 movie sent to me by Robert Katayama, featuring Judi Dench as a widow with a theater in England prior to World War II who wants to make something of it. Dull stuff? By no means! She hires a manager and they put on a popular series of shows, but then other theaters copy their formula, dilute the market, and they are failing. What to do? Ms. Henderson gets a bright idea: do the shows nude. Well, of course they have a problem with the authorities, who finally compromise: any nudity must be stationary, like living statues. How can they put on an animated show that way? So they do regular shows with a background of living statuary featuring some of the most esthetically sexy nudes I've seen. At one point a mischievous man in the audience puts a live white mouse on the stage. Then suddenly the statuesque nudes are very much alive. I love it.

I read AngelWing Cove Prophecy, by Lora Goodnight, published by PublishAmerica, www.publishamerica.com. This is a contemporary fantasy set in a seaside village with a supernatural history. There had been a peninsula marked by a vertical stone formation resembling wings, thus the name of the cove. An ancient Chieftain had grown too hungry for wealth and power, and finally been imprisoned there. A fierce storm separated the peninsula from the mainland, making it a haunted island. No one dared go there, until a wealthy man, Jedidiah, buys it and builds a mansion there despite being warned of the danger. Then things start getting ugly, as the curse manifests, killing a number of the workers and finally Jedediah himself. His sister Phoebe inherits and comes to take possession. Then they get really ugly as the evil spirit of the island does its worst to prevent her from foiling it, which the prophecy says will occur when two powerful family lines are joined to produce a woman with the ability to do so. Phoebe must not marry, because that will produce the prophesied woman, and when she tries to, a phenomenal storm develops that threatens to wipe out the entire village, while the spirit tries to kill her via possessed agents. It's an interesting story, and one hell of a storm, marred by mediocre writing. Fans of the supernatural should like it regardless.

I moved to my new PCLinuxOS system as of Jamboree 1 and am generally satisfied with it. Except for printing. If I want to print I have to back up my file, then crank up the old Ubuntu system and print there, or reboot into the Windows half of this one and print. The printer works perfectly in Windows, just not in Linux. Two readers of this column have advised me on the matter, but so far no luck. It says it is sending to printer, than that it is printing, then that it has printed. Only it hasn't. One thinks it is a problem with the spooler. Okay, how do I tell the spooler to spool? It seems its one of those dread Known Problems that others merely get fixed online. Since this system doesn't go online, I have a problem. I'm working on it. Meanwhile, I have tried their card games and come to like the "This game is winnable" feature, as it can tell me when I am going wrong. It doesn't say what is right, just what is not. But once in a while in Free Cell I come to a place where it says it is winnable, but I can find nothing to do to make progress. So I think it may actually be unwinnable, without admitting it. Once in Klondike it said the game was lost, but I made a move and won, so had simultaneous Lost and Win notices onscreen. Not, it didn't give the computer a fit; it pretended to ignore the conflict.

I don't pay much attention to the continuing solicitations from my old high school; I figure if they wanted my goodwill late in life, they should have treated me in a manner that earned it. But I do glance at passing news of the Class of 1952, which consists often now of deaths. In a recent issue they caught up with last year's deaths of Ernest Kalibala and Nancy Horsefield Hoskins. Ernest was one of the first token blacks in this white school, perhaps THE first. He was a nice guy and a good athlete, as I recall, and got through okay. Nancy was my first and only date. It was set up as an introductory measure by the school; I was assigned to attend a function with this girl I had hardly seen before. She was, even in ninth grade, a very well endowed girl, while I was a boy still four years shy of puberty. We sat through the program, not touching, and that was it. I never formally dated again, not even in college; I just sort of associated with the girl of my choice, and finally married her. I guess I simply was not socially apt.

Christmas day Daughter #2 Cheryl lent us her iPod and showed us the game Angry Birds. It was fun. It seems the green pigs were robbing the birds' nests, so the birds are determined to get rid of the pigs. They do this by catapulting bombs at the pig house. You aim and let fly; you see the trajectory, and the bomb hits and does more or less damage to the log structure depending where it strikes. When fails to get the hiding pigs they chortle evilly. That's about it. But it's a lot of fun to play, simple yet challenging. A newspaper article says it cost $100,000 to make, and in a year 50 million copies have been downloaded, and it's Apple's bestselling app of 2010. I don't like Apple, dating back to their early predatory marketing, but have to give credit where due. They did well on this one. I haven't played more after Christmas, but remember that half hour fondly. I wonder if those birds could drive our pigs out?

Theoretically writers exist in a rarefied atmosphere, heedless of mundane pursuits as we coax our creativity. Would it were so. I was making lunch for my wife and me—I do most of the meals, because standing on her feet tires her too soon—and put two bowls of frozen soup in the microwave oven. And they didn't melt. It turned out that the microwave was delivering only fractional power. It had been fine that morning, but now was defunct. We can't blame it; it's about 23 years old. We bought it for my wife's father, circa 1987, and inherited it back when he died in 1988. So we tried the newfangled contraption, and it worked; we liked its rapid convenience, and we have been using it ever since. But machines don't live forever any more than people do, and its time had come. Since now we can't live without a microwave, using it for every sort of thing from slightly heated water for my denture cleanser to frozen vegetarian dinner entries, we headed into town and bought a new one at Walmart, reduced from $150 to $130. We always shop the sales. It has push-buttons instead of dials, but we are struggling to learn the 21st century way of doing things, and it works well enough. But the afternoon was shot. Our second refrigerator is also 23 years old, laboring faithfully in the garage; I fear it too may suffer a heart attack and die, one day. I do tend to personalize machines as I do animals, plants, and people; you have a problem with that?

I went to the Inverness Festival of Books on Saturday Jamboree 29. My wife accompanied me, and we brought the wheelchair. She can walk well enough, but could not afford to be caught stuck on her feet for an extended time, and the wheelchair guaranteed her a comfortable seat. I was the featured author, but there were about 30 others, and they had some interesting books displayed for sale. I'm a slow reader, and my time goes mostly to writing rather than reading, so I did not shop for books, but my wife bought some, and some were given to us. For example, Gay Courter is a successful Citrus County author; she was there, and so was her daughter Ashley, who has become an author in her own right. She was a child whose natural mother could not support her, and she spent nine years shuttling between 14 different foster homes. That would have been one hell of a disruption even had all of them been good, but not all were. Finally she was adopted by Gay Courter. She tells the story in her book Three Little Words. I have not yet read the book, having just gotten it, yet I can see that she was not an easy girl to take in, but it did work out and she went on to college. This is surely worth reading, and I will probably have a book report in a future column. I was also given a copy of the huge Environment by one of its authors Linda R Berg. This is an illustrated 7th edition published by WILEY, 2004-2010. Again I have not read it, but I can see that it is comprehensive, with clear discussions of every aspect of the problem of environmental sustainability. My guess is that if you know nothing about the subject and want to learn, and can afford only one book, this is that book. It has questions or discussion points following the sections, as would be useful for a class; indeed, it's a textbook. Don't let that turn you off. For example, checking randomly, I find a clarification of thermodynamics, in this case the distinction between energy potential and kinetic: the first is a man with a drawn bow. The second is the arrow being loosed. That gives you a mental picture that enables you to grasp the underlying material. I also am reading a short autobiography by E J Glover, now 97 years old, who came to the Festival. He was a prominent restaurateur, but there's more than that here. For example, back around 1930 he had a job as a waiter, and when he delivered a tray to the actress Alice Fay he found her drunk, running around the hall naked. He managed to get her back into her room, where it turned out the steak was for her dog and the hamburger for her. Anyway, I met many people, signed many books, and it was a good event, as you can see by these examples. They may do it again some year.

Stray notes: The Sunday supplement PARADE had yet another discussion about the common cold, and as usual says there is no cure, but doesn't mention Vitamin C, which can stifle a cold so that it feels a lot like a cure. The local newspaper, the CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE, had an end of year summation of the best from their Sound Off feature, where readers express themselves anonymously about whatever is on their minds. Sometimes they make sense, as defined by my liberal bias. One says that if President Obama barehandedly saved a small child from being mauled by a rottweiler, FOX News would report it "Heartless president murders family pet." Another says that folk who protest being checked before boarding airplanes should quit their stupid griping or take the bus, because the personnel are trying to save their life. Another says that in countries with universal health care, patients sometimes have to wait for appointments. In this country, in contrast, do you think it's okay for 45,000 people to die every year so that you do not have to wait for an appointment? And about mandated health insurance being unconstitutional: what about auto insurance and home insurance? What's the problem?

I maintain my ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services for the benefit of aspiring writers, and try to state each case fairly, though exposed publishers can get nasty. Sometimes a situation gets too complicated for my minimal entries and I tackle it here in the Column. Here is one. The publisher EIRELANDER changed ownership, because the former owner, Belladonna Bordeaux, got cancer and faced a bone marrow transplant and possible death; she simply couldn't handle the business any more. But it seemed she is still getting blamed for whatever goes wrong. As readers know, last year I lost my elder daughter to cancer, and in the past adversaries lied about me, so I may overreact here. But to phrase it politely, Belladonna seems to have enough problems without suffering an evident campaign against her. I NO LONGER OWN ANY PART OF THE COMPANY she says. That seems clear enough. I think those folk should leave the poor woman alone.

Meanwhile, of interest to other writers: Congress changed the law, and now publishers can't hang on to an author's rights until 70 years after s/he dies. The new Copyright Act allows authors and their heirs to terminate contracts 35 years after the contract date and "recapture" the books, regardless whether they remain in print, beginning with contracts dated 1978. All my books are on license, meaning I can get my rights back after about ten years, except for 17 at Random House/Del Rey. Now, year by year, I can start recovering them. Other writers should check this out, because their publishers will not tell them. Publishers are anal-retentive by nature. Details in the Summer 2010 AUTHORS GUILD BULLETIN.

The nearly extinct whooping crane is being gradually restored in Citrus County Florida. Each year a light plane leads a new small flock north for the summer, and then south for the winter. But sometimes things go wrong. One crane, dubbed Romeo, lost his mate and was out of sorts; they mate for life. In due course he found another, but she got killed by a bobcat. Then he lost his pride and went slumming. He took up with Peepers, a tame female crane not part of the wild clan. The proprietors moved him out, because it just wouldn't do to have one of the special ones associate with a commoner. He returned, and they moved him out again. Six times. Finally they gave up and let him go tame, clipping his wings. Now he's with Peepers. Isn't love wonderful!

Probably not related: in Arkansas on New Year's Eve, nearly 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell out of the sky, dead. They say it's unrelated to the death a few days earlier of 85,000 fish in the Arkansas River. It may get interesting when thousands of people similarly drop dead for no apparent reason. This wasn't the way Hitchcock's movie The Birds told it.

There are folk who say they died, then returned to life, and recount their journey through a dark tunnel back to the light. They may see it as a signal from God, but NEW SCIENTIST has a more mundane explanation. When the heart stops beating the body isn't yet dead, technically, but it is in trouble. No blood flows to the eyes, so the brain may be aware but can't see. Then with the recovery the eyes resume activity, and the mind emerges from the darkness as the transmitted light expands. Thus the seeming tunnel. It's all in your head.

Another NEW SCIENTIST article describes some interesting ways creatures have of defending themselves from predators. Lizards may let their tails be detached, and they flop about, distracting the predator while the lizard escapes. Sea cucumbers can eviscerate themselves, shitting out their sticky intestines to gum up the attacker. One of my all-time favorite stories, "The Girl Had Guts," by Theodore Sturgeon was inspired by this. Bombardier beetles can shoot out red-dot pulses of caustic liquid, and they have good aim. Texas horned lizards shoot out jets of poisoned blood from their eyes: looks that kill.

More odd notes: Some folk have trouble with their digestion because they lack the proper bacteria in their gut to digest their food. This can be cured by fecal transplants. For some reason neither doctors nor patients are eager for this procedure. If shit will save your life, why not? And Mark Twain's famous novel Huckleberry Finn is having censorship trouble again because it uses the word "Nigger" 219 times. Apparently the censors don't care that the author used it to make a point about bigotry; they just can't get by the word. I guess this is liberal censorship; I don't like it any better than I like the usual conservative bigotry. And now it turns out that music acts on the brain in much the way sex does, releasing the pleasure chemical dopamine. Sex to music must thus be the ultimate. So will the pleasure-hating censors try to eradicate music?

Article in NEW SCIENTIST on invasive species. We know about them; the wild pigs hereabouts will clean out everything and make the land uninhabitable for the natural wild life, if we let them. The pigs descend from those brought here by Hernando de Soto for food; some escaped and thrived. They are the only hunting we allow on our property, and we'd be happy to be entirely of them. But the article makes the point that not all invasive species are bad. Some settle down to become supportive members of the local community, like perhaps the armadillos here. When you think about it, most species that travel at all become invasive where they go. Consider the worst one of all, mankind. We're doing more harm to the environment than the pigs are. Newspaper column by Robyn Blumner reminds us that at some point infinite expansion of the human population will be an unsustainable economic model. Do we try to deal with that before wrecking the environment, or do we speed on over the cliff? I suspect the latter, as there are no hunters to limit our population. We are causing the sixth mass wipe-out on Earth; they call it the Anthropocene extinction. Something about the first part of that word that seems familiar; can't think what it is. Anyway, once we eliminate ourselves, life should recover, though it may consist mainly of roaches, rats, and weeds. Ah, brave new world.

Item in THE WEEK about a mysterious green blob in space 650 million light years distant. I have heard about that before; one reader asked me whether it could be God. Well, the Hubble space telescope focused on it and now we know: it's a massive galaxy-sized cloud of gas that probably once had a quasar. The quasar has faded, but the green afterglow remains.

Column by David Brooks says that intelligence, academic performance, or prestigious schools don't correlate well with fulfillment or outstanding accomplishment. Yes, I was nothing in school, but became perhaps the most successful member of my class; how come? Luck, of course, but also what the column says: the traits that do make a difference are the ability to understand and inspire people, to discern underlying patterns, to recognize and correct one's own shortcomings, to build trusting relationships, and to imagine alternate futures. That last is my business as a science fantasy writer; I'm working on the rest.

I read somewhere—can't locate the clipping now—that they secretly photographed an audience watching a show, and found that one third of the people were picking their noses. That suggests to me than nose picking is natural, but maybe should be done in private, like other toilet functions. With that snotty note, I conclude.

PIERS
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