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Piers the handyman 2007
Marsh 2011

I have been working to get more of my novels published electronically, and now at last it is happening. March 1—today--is supposed to be when a package of up to ten of my novels appear on Kindle and/or other electronic platforms. If not all of them make it now, well, they'll be along soon. That's my sexy erotic romance Eroma, and my children's fantasy Pandora Park, both new. Also my World War Two novel Volk, which was first self published at Xlibris, Realty Check, which has had only brief small press publication (both publishers went out of business, coincidentally I think), and the six Bio of a Space Tyrant novels, five of which were published by AVON, the sixth, The Iron Maiden, only at Xlibris. So it's a fair assortment of new and old, including erotic, fantasy, historical, and science fiction. All are worth reading, depending on your taste; I do different things. I'm hoping for nice success here, but if they fall flat, well, I tried. Meanwhile, Amazon has big plans for Kindle. They plan to make every book ever written, in or out of print, in any language, available to a reader within a minute. That's good for readers; my wife, who is the reader in our family, loves that virtually instant service. They give self published authors there a 70 percent royalty rate, compared to the 50% that is standard for electronic publishers and 15% down (often way down; my first such publication in 1967 was 4% and they cheated on that) for traditional print. I am the writer in our family; what's not to like? I am among those successful authors seriously considering leaving traditional print behind in favor of electronic, especially Kindle. They are now selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, and expect soon to outsell all print books. They are indeed transforming publishing. I have had as much trouble with arrogant, dishonest, or just plain stupid publishers as any writer. Now there is somewhere else to go without necessarily losing my shirt. I will be reporting more on this in the future, as I test these waters of the Amazon river directly.

This is a book review, but first some personal background. When I was four years old, in England, one day they told me and my sister that were were going to Spain. "Will you be there?" I asked the young woman I thought of as my mother. "No," she said gently. "Then who?" She indicated two other people I knew vaguely as peripherals, a man and a woman. "Oh." That was the beginning of my odyssey that, in pained retrospect, I see as the moderate hell my life was to be for the next decade. During that siege, I rationally assessed my situation, and concluded that I would have preferred never to have existed. I wasn't abused or mistreated, and we never went hungry, merely poor and emotionally isolated. Probably my later success as a writer stems from it; I have read several accounts that indicate a happy childhood followed abruptly by an unhappy interlude is a gift that keeps giving, in the form of imaginative writing. The woman was my nanny, whom I never saw again but still miss over 70 years later; the peripheral couple were my parents. The full story is too much to detail here; my autobiography Bio of an Ogre covers it. In severe summary, we went to Spain where my folks were doing Quaker relief work, feeding starving children after the Spanish Civil War. Then my father was arrested without reason by the paranoid Franco regime and expelled from the country, and we came to America on the last ship out as World War Two engulfed Europe. I had a problem learning to read, and it took me three years to make it through first grade. Then my parents' marriage foundered. The uprootings and tension caused me for several years to wet my bed at night, and to twitch my head and hands every minute or so, and to be so phenomenally afraid of the dark and the world that Fear was the transcendent emotion of my youth. No one understood why. I date the onset of my recovery from when I realized that the pressures on me were not of my own making, but came from outside me. I had to shield myself emotionally from those destructive forces, which meant learning to manage without family commitment. I have been an independent cuss ever since, with a long record of trouble in college, the army, and as a writer. But I was always right, as I believe any objective assessment will verify; I was fighting corrupted systems. It was a great day when I discovered science fiction, which gave me better realms to inhabit; sometimes escapism is vital for survival. I labored slowly to remake myself, and finally emerged into an adult life that was well worthwhile, with a long-term marriage and considerable success as an author. Some don't make it through; I was a lucky one.

Not that marriage was innocent heaven. I didn't like traditional work; my dream was to be a writer despite having no success. After a decade and three miscarriages we considered adoption. But we knew they would never let an agnostic vegetarian science fiction writer have a child; they had standards. How laughable this is will soon become apparent. But because we had no children, my wife was able to go to work so I could stay home and make my utmost effort to break into print. That was when my career got its start. We finally managed to have two children of our own, fortunately, with all the attendant travails as my writing efficiency was cut in half, and the grief as our elder daughter died halfway through her life. I'm wearing a shirt she gave me as I type this. She never lived in this house, but reminders of her are everywhere. But that is not really relevant to this review; I simply get caught up in the emotion as I pass within haling distance of it. The point is that adoption is not necessarily a matter of what is best for the child.

All this came back as I read Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, published in hardcover by ATHENEUM in 2008. And here I need some spot specific background. Circa 23 years ago we visited compatibly with Phil and Gay Courter, then got so caught up in the complications of building and moving to our present house on the tree farm that we were never able to reciprocate. I have felt guilty ever since. Gay Courter is the other established commercial traditional print writer in Citrus County, Florida, and we have been in touch sporadically, having a certain common interest in the business of writing. Now via her daughter's book I have learned a good deal more of her personal life in the interim. Gay gave the book to my wife, who read it and passed it along to me.

Ashley's family was fragmented, and she wound up in the Florida foster care system, with 14 "homes" in nine years. She always longed to be reunited with her natural mother, but it was not to be. The foster homes ranged from decent to appalling, while the authorities seemed not to know or much care which was which. The worst foster parent was a grim woman who freely punished the children for real or imagined infractions, forcing them to squat uncomfortably or to eat hot sauce. One meal was so bad that Ashley ran for the bathroom, didn't make it, and vomited on the floor. The woman pushed her face in it, training her in the manner of a dog. Yes, there were complaints galore, but the authorities were willfully blind; at one point Ashley was rebuked for "lying" about the finest foster care mother in Florida. That reminded me of when I protested getting cheated by a publisher, and was similarly rebuked by an officer of a writer's organization for maligning the finest publisher in the world. Yeah, sure. So today I don't protest to corrupted organizations, I get a lawyer and have always made my case. And yes, when she was able later on, Ashley did sue that woman, who was convicted, then given a slap on the wrist as punishment. Florida it seems is not much interested in cleaning up its act.

It wasn't all grim. At one home Ashley wowed the other children by demonstrating with two teddy bears her observations of how adults have fun: tightly face to face, or front to back, or face to crotch. For some reason the adults were Not Amused. Later when Phil and Gay Courter took her in and went through the legal process to adopt her, she was asked whether she agreed to the adoption. Because she was an older child, she had to consent. "I guess so," she said grudgingly. Those were the three little words of the title. Gay comes across as near saintly in her patience and persistence. Ashley did not like the way Gay was always on her case, wanting her to eat wholesome food instead of junk foods, to help wash the dishes, to wear proper clothing, to be a responsible family member. So she figured out little ways to get back at Gay, doing things that could not be pinned on her, like peeing in her favorite rosebush or slicking the rim of her travel mug with dish soap. Children who have been abused by the system do not emerge as sweet innocent personalities; they can have issues, which is one reason fewer families are interested in adopting them. Ashley seldom ate the excellent meals Gay prepared, and seemed not to much understand, then, the marvelous life the Courters provided her. For example, pictures in the back of the book show Ashley with J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, and shaking hands with President Clinton in 2000. These were merely highlights of the travel and privilege she experienced as she was encouraged to flower to her full potential.

So why did the Courters adopt Ashley? They traveled a lot, and at one point the engine quit on their small plane and they crashed. They concluded that there must be something remaining in life for them to do. Ashley was a bright child, talented, motivated, expressive, with genuine promise. She was worth saving. The Courters did that, tiding through the difficult stretches until, slowly, Ashley came to believe it was true. Until at last the three little words did become "I love you." I think in the end she did appreciate the phenomenal effort the Courters made, and the support they provided her. Ashley wrote up her story, and it was published, surely thanks to the knowledge Gay had of the publishing system, which is no easy matter. Ashley does have writing talent. This is a nice, readable book, apart from being a savage indictment of the system. It moved me, as this discussion shows.

So is anything being done about the sad state of foster children in Florida? No. Article in the ST PETERSBURG TIMES February 27, 2011 is titled FLORIDA DEADLY FOR KNOWN AT-RISK KIDS. Florida leads the nation in the number of such deaths. When they know there is a problem, yet it just keeps getting worse—197 deaths in 2009—what are we to make of it? As Ashley shows, deaths are by no means the whole problem; they are just an extreme example of a larger ailment. Prospects are not bright; you can be sure the current administration will be more interested in cutting the budget than in improving performance. There are some dedicated people in the system, and one woman in particular helped steer Ashley toward successful adoption, but I suspect the bureaucrats in control hardly care about these. It's too bad.

I read Unveiled, by Francine Rivers, because a minister correspondent sent it to me. This is about the biblical Tamar, Canaanite wife of a son of Judah, an Israelite with his own issues. The abusive son died without getting her pregnant, so she was passed along to his brother Onan, who practiced coitus interruptus to avoid getting her pregnant, so he would not have to share the inheritance with his brother's family. But he too died. She appealed to the father to impregnate her, so she could fulfill her duty to provide the family with an heir, but he sent her home to her family in shame. Finally she dressed like a temple prostitute, waylaid him, seduced him, and thus got pregnant by him. Thus did she finally achieve her duty, and become accepted. This short novel shows the grim state that was the lot of women in biblical times, with really no rights and destined for household drudgery and the birthing of babies, no more. I did not enjoy it, but of course wasn't meant to. So is this I justification of technical incest? I say technical because she never had sex with a blood relative, only members of her husband's family, for the express purpose of producing an heir. In that culture it seems justified. It's the demeaning of women in every other respect that depresses me.

Chris Ceranski sent in an anagram of Piers Anthony: Horny Panties. Hmm.

I am now writing a new science fantasy series specifically for original Kindle publication: Trail Mix. The first novel is Amoeba, wherein Tod, an ordinary contemporary man, discovers a trail leading into the unknown. He follows it, and soon discovers it is no ordinary path; it leads to weird landscapes and to other hikers who make a remarkable mixture of characters. Yes, the trail mix. One is a woman from 50,000 years ago. Another is a BEM, you know, Bug-Eyed Monster, except that it has no eyes, just a light-sensitive band, and it is an advanced civilized creature who views human beings as primitive. Another is a sexy female vampire, who changes to bat form almost as often as she seduces Tod. No, she doesn't prey on the blood of friends. The fifth is a genuine wizard who can do magic. They were summoned here by the Amoeba, who spans all space, time, and alternate reality, to perform a challenging mission. If that works out I'll do the sequel, Beetle Juice, with a slightly different trail mix and a different mission. So far it's fun.

I continue to use my new PC LINUX OS system, and like it, despite its inability to print being a Known Problem with no solution for me. At the end of the day I have to back up my material, switch over to Windows, call up the files and print them out. Sometimes Windows reformats my files, such as one word per line; I'm not sure why, unless it's trying to discourage me from using Linux. It's tedious, but until there's a fix I'm stuck with it. I had trouble with the file handler Dolphin, so switched to Konqueror, until one morning it called up dead, absolutely refusing to either handle files or be abolished. So I switched back to Dolphin, which worked fine. Then after about ten days, Konqueror restored itself, and is operative again. So I'm using both, to be ready when one fails. Someone mentioned another Linux distribution, Mint; I wonder whether that knows how to print? All I want is something that will work comfortably and reliably, indefinitely. Is that too much? Linux keeps laboring to drive me back to Windows, but I'm foolishly resisting.

Sunday supplement PARADE had an article on the myths of living longer. It turns out that marriage does not guarantee a longer life. Married men live longer, but married women don't. That's better news for me than for my wife, though I like to think that my promotion of a healthy lifestyle has added years to her life. Taking it easy doesn't help either; continually productive folk live much longer than those who retire and relax. That's more good new for workaholics like me. Can you worry yourself to death? No, sensible worry such as being prudent, well organized, and persistent extends life. People tell me that vegetarianism is unhealthy, but I pay attention to what I eat and see that I get what I need; in short I don't just worry about my health, I act to promote it, and I expect to outlive most of those who disparage my diet. Does higher education mean a longer life? No, persistence in the face of challenges does. That's yet more good news for me, though I am college educated. Do friendly outgoing optimistic people live longer? No, the realists survive better. Do jocks outlive nerds? Not if the jocks don't keep up their physical activity. I was neither jock nor nerd, but started my physical exercise program at age 40, and I have the impression that I am, despite bad back and knees and teeth, the healthiest person my age my doctor sees. If I die tomorrow, I'll take that back.

Interview in NEW SCIENTIST with Physicist Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, a bestseller on string theory. "Is there any question that keeps you up at night?" He has two. One is why is there something rather than nothing? The other is, what is the nature of time? You and me both, Brian; great minds are said to run in similar channels. (Before my illustrious critics detonate into outraged nothingness, that's oblique humor.) Actually the three things that chronically bug me the most are the origin of the universe, that is something rather than nothing; the origin of life from non-life; and the origin of consciousness. I suspect that the third could be solved in my lifetime, when they find the key feedback circuit that gives a robot consciousness. I'm also interested in Dark Matter, which I'm not sure really exists, and the Higgs boson, ditto, and any trim young woman who walks by, though considering the surgical enhancements available today, she may not really exist either. She remains interesting, regardless.

Couple of interesting articles in DISCOVER. One clarifies that the two hundred trillion microbes that live in the human gut are 20 times as many as there are cells in the body. We might be considered walking talking containers of gut flora and fauna. When you use antibiotics, it's like dropping a bomb on that community, as likely to do harm as good. And another threat to the world's environment is acidification of the ocean, which is getting rapidly worse. At some point it will wipe out marine organisms, seriously depleting our food chain. You don't see much about this in the news, but you should; it's a real danger.

The Green Bay Packers won the Superbowl. I was rooting for them. How come, since I'm a vegetarian? It's because they alone, of all the major league football teams, are owned by their community, rather than some reclusive money-minded billionaire. I approve the principle. They became a publicly owned nonprofit corporation in 1923. And they don't pack meat anymore. So is this socialism instead of capitalism? I like it regardless.

We read our junk mail too. The Hammacher Schlemmer catalog has the Light Cycle, a kind of motorcycle featuring hubless wheels. That's right: no axles. You can see right through them from one side to the other; they are hollow. The machine looks like one huge burrito with doughnut holes. It seems it was inspired by the movie Tron Legacy. So how does it power those wheels? It seems to have a connection that reaches in from the side of the top, though maybe that's the brake. There must be clock-like gearing inside the wheel housing to make it go. 6 speed manual transmission. You can buy one for only $55,000.

You con find disturbing things in comics. "Doonesbury" had a discussion purportedly by a radio commentator pointing out that nine years ago on 9-11 we were attacked and almost 3,000 people died. In response we started two wars and revved up our military efforts into the trillions of dollars. In the intervening years 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home. Our response? We weakened our gun laws.

Newspaper article on kissing says that when humans walked upright, women's genitalia became less visible, but lips came to mimic them in shape and color. So when a man kisses a woman's lips, its something farther down that he's really interested in. I also note that women tend to wear clothing that mimics the cleavage of their nether region, and men's formal attire has a penis symbol hanging from his neck, the tie. Or bow-tie; guess what that emulates. Nothing like symbolizing what the clothing covers.

My wife and I make sensible decisions and we don't waste money. So I have a certain awkwardness explaining this. In early Jamboree we were shopping at Office Max when they had a 20% off day, and I saw a video that intrigued me, La Femme Nikita, so I bought it. The sale brought it down to $8.79. When we got home we discovered it was a Blu-Ray disc that we were unable to play. So we started checking out portable Blu-Ray players so that we could watch videos without being chained to an existing TV set. None were available locally. Amazon has them from about $250 up, but we weren't sure. Then we saw another sale at Office Max for a laptop computer that also played Blu-Ray, about $850 reduced to $650. We pondered, and concluded that $400 for the computer and $250 for the player made this feasible, as my wife was wanting to upgrade her system. So we bought it, and the computer works for her, and the last afternoon FeBlueberry I took off from work and watched Nikita. Too violent for my taste, though of course in the 20 years since it was made violence has only gotten worse; I glanced peripherally at The Cape on TV that evening and all I saw was gruesome violence. They censor sex out of TV, and it seems to sublimate to violence. Teen boy has sex with his teen girlfriend, but you can't show that on TV. Teen boy shoots her to death, TV will show every gout of blood in superfine detail. No wonder America is the land of violence! I don't like the way any nut can get a gun and blast away at innocents, so our gun death rate is horrendously worse than that of civilized nations, but I suspect the real problem is the violence that motivates these freaks. They are immersed in it on TV from infancy on; no wonder they think it's okay. But if the Second Amendment guarantees the right to buy guns, the First Amendment guarantees the right of TV to show what it chooses, and both those rights are sadly abused. Anyway, Nikita was interesting as this 19 year old girl is required to become an assassin. It ends indifferently, with the implication that she'll have to continue killing people until she gets killed herself, while the folk who set her up for it escape untouched. But with luck maybe in future there will be better Blu-Ray offerings. I suspect it's too much to hope that we get better values.

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