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Piers the handyman 2007
AwGhost 2012
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Twenty five years ago at my house in the pasture I received a surprise visitor: a fifteen-year-old boy who had run away from home and come to live with me. I brought him inside and talked with him, expressed sympathy, and managed to persuade him that it was better for him to return home, hunker down, and endure until he reached a legal age and could escape an unkind situation. I phoned his mother to let her know he was all right; she had been beside herself with alarm. He stayed the night, meeting my wife and daughter Cheryl who was close to his age. Next day we drove him to the Tampa airport and saw him off on the plane home. That was about it, until this month when I did a phone interview for NPR's This American Life as a favor for another fan. Suddenly I'm getting a slew and a half of appreciative responses, mostly from folk who didn't read me or never heard of me before. So it is turning out to be good publicity, though I had not had that in mind. I just did what I felt was right at the time, as I would hope anyone would. They seem to feel I'm a very special man for what I did, but I don't see it that way. One frequent question they have relates to something I said once that I had forgotten — that happens to old fogies like me — that resonates with them. So finally I looked it up, and here it is, from the Author's Note in the second Mode novel, Fractal Mode. “One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not: we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors — we are not that way from perversity, and we can not just relax and let it go. We have learned to cope in ways you never had to.” I resolved as a child never to forget what it was like, and to try not to pass along the unfairnesses I saw adults rendering to children and each other. I tried to maintain a secure and loving home environment for my own children, and I did not make them eat things they detested; I still can't stand raw celery or sweet potatoes, having had them forced on me as a child. I can't say I was the perfect parent, but I tried my best, learning sometimes too late from my mistakes, as is the case with so many of us. I also decided that if I ever got rich, to use my money for good purposes rather bad ones. I have done my best to honor such resolutions, as I hope my various endeavors demonstrate, and I don't take any shit from bullies or ignoramuses who try to interfere, being no longer helpless to oppose them. I made memorable waves in college, the US Army, and as a writer, as I refused to back down in the face of ignorance, wrongness or outright illegality, and I think none of my opponents are eager to make their cases today, and not just because I always did have the right of the case. I have enormous sympathy for whistle-blowers. So I am a very bad enemy to make, as some wrongdoers in Parnassus have discovered, but also can be a good friend to those in need. That runaway teen was hardly the only case, and the sudden publicity in that incident surprised me. I never was a go-along, get-along person; I orient on honor as I see it, and enforce it where I can in my sometimes subtle, sometimes in-your-face manner, depending on how obnoxious my opponents are. I can be like a mirror, reflecting back what they give me. Now maybe you know why. The broadcast for This American Life #470 Show Me The Way originally aired 7-27-2012 at www.ThisAmericanLife.org. You can get a printed transcript or an MP3 podcast, which I believe are free.

 

I read The Mysterious Planet by Lester del Rey. I saw a coral snake during my morning exercise run and didn't pause, because I time my runs and don't like to dawdle. Corals have some of the deadliest poison extant, but aren't dangerous, because they are shy and their teeth are barely enough to penetrate human clothing; leave them alone and they leave you alone. We are glad to have them with us, and don't see them often. But I wanted to verify that it was a coral snake, and not a scarlet king snake or some other imitator. So I checked for my reptile book — and couldn't find it. It's a rule: whatever you want offhand isn't there. In searching for it I discovered a paperback book, out of place; we bought it in 1982, the year it was republished, maybe for a daughter, as they were then 15 and 12, and it must have gotten lost in a shuffle. So I read it. I have a history with Lester Del Rey; he lifted the six year blacklist the publisher had against me, because he had been similarly cheated, and bought 17 of my novels, not only establishing me in the fantasy genre but with the considerable help of his wife Judy-Lynn putting me on the national best seller lists. Then he got old and started what I call meat-cleaver editing and I had to leave to protect my novels. I think he never understood why; that's one of the problems with age, sometimes: denial that you are the cause of the rejection of others. That's another route I am determined never to go: denial. I prefer to alienate people because I choose to, not because I don't understand their positions. So anyway, this novel of his was first published pseudonymously in 1953, then republished under his byline in 1978, and this was the third printing in 1982. I was curious just how good a writer he was in his thirties, before he became perhaps the most successful book editor the genre has seen, before he destroyed it by alienating a number of writers like me. Now I can report that he was average. This is a decent novel, but like science fiction of that time, is stronger on technical details than on effective action and human interaction. It's about three teenage boys who get involved when a planet from another star comes barreling into the solar system, with weapons way ahead of any the human forces have. Will there be war? The boys sneak off in their small spacecraft to check an alien ship that crashed on an asteroid, only to discover it's a set up to lure idiots like them. They become captive of Thule, the alien planet, whose folk are very similar to humans. They are well treated, as the aliens want peace; they're not looking for conquest, just a decent orbit to park in, since their own star messed up. Things finally muddle through, war is averted, and all is well. I think much more could have been made of the notion of a traveling planet, and it's a cop-out to have them coincidentally very similar to humans, with all their women in storage, but it will do. It satisfies my incidental curiosity: del Rey was a medium, not a superior, science fiction writer, at least in this intstance. He was a better editor, before he slowly lost it. He was said to be the most successful SF/Fantasy genre editor ever, thanks to his ability to discern good fiction and the promotional efforts of his wife. I regret their passing; they helped put the genre on the big map.

 

I read Birth By Fire's Embrace, by Ashleigh Galvin. This is a fantasy about a teen girl, Sharrlette, who suffers nightmares of being attacked. Meanwhile her father brings in a house guest, the handsome Billeaphrin, who treats her with contempt. Gradually it becomes apparent that he is from a magic realm, fighting an enemy, and is here on Earth to locate something important before the enemy does. That, as it turns out, is Sharrlette herself, who has the potential to become a person of magic power like Billeaphrin, if she can just learn to use it. By the end, Sharrlette and Billeaphrin must go to his realm to wage that war. The version I read was in serious need of copy-editing, which diminished my appreciation of the whole. There are scenes of intense action, such as when Sharrlette is pursued by the cynical enemy man, but much of the story lagged. It has, however, set the scene for the continuation, which I suspect will be more dramatic. This is the first of the Amethyst series.

 

And I read my own novella, Flytrap, the third in four novellas relating to Elasa, the conscious female robot. The first was To Be A Woman, the second Shepherd, and the fourth will be Awares. The first was supposed to be a singleton, but Elasa's living friend Mona Maverick co-opted it by volunteering to exchange bodies with a five-months pregnant colonist for a six month stint. I can't think why there was a shortage of women who wanted to be there on a primitive colony for the pregnancy and birthing, then return to Earth alone. So this is Mona's story, as she tries to study the precognitive sheep of the colony. She gets more than she bargained on, as she has to deal with vampires who threaten the sheep. Then it turns out to be more than vampires. Stay tuned.

 

Also my own story collection, Relationships 5, proofing the galleys that arrived from PHAZE. These are eleven stories, all but one erotic. I try to write the kind of fiction I would enjoy if someone else wrote it, and I did enjoy this volume. They are all stories, with plots and conclusions, with plenty of sex along the way. Story and sex, not one or the other; that's my formula here. I feel that both traditional fiction and erotic fiction tend to miss the mark by being one or the other. I don't want to spoil it for the two or three readers here who might want to read it, so will summarize only one of the stories. “Beast Wife” is about a Realman woman in trouble; her man got killed, and she can't get another because she refuses to kill her baby by her first mate and no man will raise another man's child. Life is rough and the rules are firm; she and her baby will starve when winter comes. Then while picking berries she hears a hunting party of Thinmen coming. She ponders, and gambles: instead of fleeing she remains, letting them surround her. She sets down her baby, removes her weapons and clothing, puts her hands against a treetrunk, and proffers her bare bottom. She is young and well fleshed, and men are men, whatever their tribe. Enemy men don't usually kill women who give sex without resisting. They have at her in turn, then give her something to eat, per the protocol. Then she nurses her baby, sets her down again, and lies on her back on the ground, arms and legs spread. They have at her again, while she makes no hint of resistance. Liking what she offers, they take her home with them. Of course their woman are unlikely to want her there. But there is a man injured in the head who lacks civilized restraint, constantly grabbing at any woman in reach. She takes him over, giving him sex often, in private or in public, so that he no longer bothers other women. That is the service she provides for the tribe in return for her and her baby's food and shelter. The women do appreciate that, and tolerate her and her child. Unlike Realmen, Thinmen take care of those of their number who are injured and don't demand that the children of widowed wives be killed; this is something she can understand. And in due course she is pregnant with the first Cro-Magnon/Neandertal crossbreed, explaining how there came to be about a one percent mixture of Neandertal genetics in our heritage. Romantic? No. Practical? Yes. It could have been like this. Slated for AwGhost 2012 publication.

 

I still practice archery, as part of my exercise regimen. My aim remains awful, though some time I'd like to see what a pro archer would do if he used my equipment; I suspect he would say “No wonder you can't hit a barn door! Nobody could, with this.” When my left-side bow broke, I learned to use my right-side bow for right and left side archery, but it got so I couldn't even draw an arrow without it flipping to the ground. Finally I got smart and checked the arrow-rest. What do you know: it had rotted away so there was only a stub remaining. So I put on a plastic circular arrowrest I gave up on years ago because it tended to fling my arrows randomly to left or right. Since they were now doing that anyway, what was there to lose? And you know it's working; no arrow falls out when drawing, and when loosed it does head in the right direction. My scores are still awful — counting +1 for each bulls-eye and -1 for each total miss of the target, my last scores for a 150 foot range were 0-8 right side, 0-9 left side — but I'm not losing so many arrows in the forest. Some do still mysteriously disappear, though. One mystery: on the same setting on the same bow, arrows loosed right handed tend to go high, and arrows loosed left handed tend to go low. It seems to me the laws of physics say that should be impossible, but it happens.

 

They think they have finally spotted the Higgs Boson. That's one of my hobbies, but I've always had trouble understanding it. The notion of a particle that carries mass to other materials seems ridiculous; I picture a little cartoon character named Higgs rushing madly to catch up to every bit of matter to deliver its mass. Is there a big box of mass it carries from? But gradually it has clarified: it's not the particle but the Higgs field that does it. In fact I think the old concept of the Ether, a substance to push against, has returned, renamed Higgs. Think of it as like water, that resists the passage of other things through it. Needle-shaped things have little resistance, while broadside paddles have much. Things push against the Higgs field, and the resistance they encounter is defined as their mass. That makes more sense to me. It also makes the Higgs field fundamental to the nature of the universe; without it there would be nothing but radiation. So what about the particle? As I dimly understand it, if you bash at the field with sufficient force you may be able to knock out part of a thread (string?) of that universal tapestry, and that's the particle. That's what they're doing at the super collider in Switzerland. It's not natural to separate it, and it disintegrates immediately, and I presume the field fills in where it was, like water when you remove a globule of ice. But spying it confirms the existence of the field, and that's what counts. There may be even more exotic particles in the offing, as they bash harder. I'm interested. Because this may be only the beginning. What about Gravity, that the Standard Model does not address? What about Dark Matter? If they start finding bosons for those...

 

A female columnist for SLATE, Emily Yoffe, has come out of the closet about her own history of molestation. I applaud her candor. Mostly victims seem to hide it, often for good reason: they get blamed instead of the perpetrator. I was never a sexual victim, but I remember the way I got badmouthed and blacklisted because I protested getting cheated by a publisher, so I know this sort of thing happens. You'd think those who blame the victim instead of the perpetrator would have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror, but apparently it's standard practice. Why? Because victims generally have less power than perps, so it's safer to blame them. It's disgusting. Anyway, she tells of when she was 9 and a 14 year old boy would not stop feeling her up. She protested but he held her down and put his hand between her legs and under her underpants. She got away and did not tell, because she feared she would be called a liar and he hadn't actually done much before she escaped. Which I suspect is typical. Boys figure girls are fair game, and parents are typically in denial. The second time was when the father of a friend she'd done homework with gave her a ride back home, as it was late. She was fifteen. He pulled up short of her house, told her that men have sexual needs and when their wives won't put out they are frustrated. Then he lunged for her, hands on her breasts, pressing his face to hers. She pushed him away, got out of the car, and ran home. Again she didn't say anything, fearing that her father would commit mayhem on the perp. In following years he tried to get her alone again, but she was too smart to be caught. Then when she was 18 or 19 her congressman, a Jesuit priest in his 50s, gave her a ride, and he talked about men and women, lunged, grabbed her breasts, put his tongue in her mouth. She struggled free, escaped, and didn't tell. Until now, commenting on the Sandusky case: why more victims didn't tell. Because, with our society's warped values, it was better not to tell. Let's face it, it will be the man's word against hers, and there can be false accusations; how can a third party be sure of the truth? I have a policy of never being alone with a young female fan, so there is never any question. I think my daughters thought I was being foolish, until they encountered stuff elsewhere. Another writer was once annoyed when I declined to drive his teen daughter somewhere. Probably it would have been okay, but I didn't care to gamble.

 

I'm a humanist; they stand for the things I stand for. I'm not an activist, but if I needed compatible company, I'd seek a humanist. So it's painful to see a fracas in the Humanists of Florida Association. A former executive director authored a petition “Withdrawal of Support from the Humanists of Florida.” The full thing is too voluminous to cover here, but points in the rebuttal are worth noting. “Humanism, at its care, is anti-bigotry.” That's in answer to the charge that it is “anti theist.” There are theistic humanists and they are not rejected. “The primary enemy of Humanism is dogmatic religion.” That is, we don't hate religion, just the oppressive kind. I married a Unitarian-Universalist minister's daughter. “We seek equal treatment for gender and sexuality minorities.” Like gay marriage. “What is atheism? It is a single disbelief...of all gods.” I'm actually an agnostic, because while I don't believe in any god, indeed in anything supernatural, I accept the right of others to believe without belittling their faith. I am not aware of any humanists belittling the faith of theists, that is, those who do believe in God or gods. This seems to be a point of contention, however. At any rate, I hope this schism is settled without further ill-feeling. It's like angels quarreling in Heaven.

 

Stray notes: Walmart and Publix are battling for domination of the local grocery market. Walmart is a much bigger corporation, but in central Florida Publix has 42.9% compared to Walmart's 26.3%. We shop mostly at Publix, liking it, no doubt accounting for the difference. There have been five Catwomans in the Batman movies. I think my favorite was Eartha Kitt; she had a sinuous purring presence that seemed dynamic and apt. But I haven't seen the 2012 movie. I do find Catwomen fascinating, regardless of the actresses. The mystery of existence continues, with a book titled Why Does The World exist? That's a pet mystery of mine, but I don't think there's an answer yet; Higgs is only a little part of it. Also whether Life is inevitable or a fluke. And the development of mankind's intelligence may have been a series of flukes. Fracking is the fracturing of deep underground rock to get the natural gas out. Natural gas is an improvement over coal or oil, but fracking is dangerous to our welfare; there may be small earthquakes, and sometimes flames come out of water taps. Poverty is predicted to plummet by 2030. That would be nice, but I don't believe it. Does God's mercy account for crime? A University of Oregon study comparing crime data from 67 countries with beliefs in the Afterlife shows that there is more crime where they believe in Heaven but not in Hell. Makes sense, doesn't it? And they may finally be addressing cyber-bullying, creating software to identify the bullies. Elimination of their anonymity is half the solution. There are places for anonymity, like voting or telling the truth about vindictive publishers, but using it to drive teens to suicide needs to stop. Article in the AARP BULLETIN says that belly fat is the most dangerous fat. Oh? I would have thought fat in the head was. It's not inert; it actually secretes hormones that are harmful to the body. It may trigger inflammation that causes heart disease, and can cause colon cancer. Diet and exercise can reduce it, though I know from my own experience that it's just about impossible to get rid of all of it.

 

I got my driver's license renewed. I showed my birth certificate, naturalization papers, US Army discharge, Social Security card, and two bills with my name and home address on them, took a spot eye test and got a current mug shot that makes me look bald. Okay, I did it, and am good until 2020. My wife, in contrast, renewed hers by mail earlier this year. Why the difference? Because of a change in the law. They are making it harder for folk to qualify for voting, knowing that most of the “lower class” tend to vote Democrat. Republicans in state after state, including Florida, are doing it in the name of eliminating voter fraud. The Doonsbury comic strip has a savage expose of that; there has been practically no voter fraud. They figure this will turn swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania Republican, simply because many Democrats won't be able to vote. That's the real fraud, as I see it. I am and have always been a registered independent, free to vote my conscience, but the present day Republicans have nothing for me. Apparently the Democrats are unable to stop this theft of their support. The liberal columnist Eugene Robinson put it nicely: “Voter ID states have, in a sense, passed laws that will be highly effective in eradicating unicorns.” “The problem seems to be that too many of the wrong kind of voters — low income, urban, African-American, Hispanic — are showing up at the polls. Republican candidates have been vowing to 'take back' the country. Now we know how.” Liberal columnist Charles Blow makes the same point: “Make no mistake about it, these requirements are not about the integrity of the vote but rather the disenfranchisement of voters. This is about tilting the table so that more of the marbles roll to the Republican corner.” So what do the Republicans say about such charges? The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, put it frankly: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.” Ditto for Florida, per my experience. Now that the real reason has been exposed, will the courts act to restore fairness? I'm not holding my breath.

 

I received a different kind of solicitation from a fan. How about a Piers Anthony credit card? It would be one of a number of celebrity cards that people could choose when the mood hit them, and I would get some income when mine is used. “If you have 100,000 people following your app, you will make roughly $5MM a year.” I don't know what those letters stand for; the Roman one thousand? So I would make a thousand thousand dollars a year, that is to say, one million? I find this difficult to believe. Probably it would be more like a thousand pennies. But more important, I'm not sure it's ethical. So I did not answer the solicitation, having nothing kind to say about it. If fans have input on this, positive or negative, let me know.

 

The Olympics are running now. I'm not paying a lot of attention, because by day I have writing to do and in the evening I'm busy making supper, washing dishes, and falling asleep over supper. I'm sorry I missed the girls in their skimpy suits doing volleyball on the beach. But it seems to be a good show. I wish all the contestants well, not just the Americans.

PIERS
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