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Piers the handyman 2007
Dismember 2012
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I finished writing Xanth #38 Board Stiff, the one where she wishes for adventure and romance but gets changed into a board, and used my brief slack time following it to catch up on some backlogged reading and video watching. I don't do much else when I'm writing a novel, and things can accumulate. I watched Inception, as dreams within dreams are my sort of thing, with its phenomenal visual effects. A Serious Man wherein an ordinary Jewish man's life and family pretty much come apart. His wife wants a get, which I learned is a Jewish divorce, and while fixing the antenna on the roof he sees his new neighbor sunning herself nude and has fantasies about her. The Hanging Garden, wherein a troubled gay teen returns a decade later to attend his sister's wedding. He is now a balanced gay man, which is more than can be said for his family. That wedding is the wildest I've seen. A Clockwork Orange, a shocking feast of violence, sex, and black humor, wherein a completely amoral young man who beats up people, rapes women, and finally kills a woman (with a statue of a penis) is rehabilitated by aversion therapy so that he can no longer contemplate any bad acts. That makes him helpless, and he finally tries to suicide. The theme reminds me of my collaboration with Robert Margroff, The Ring, wherein a criminal has to wear a ring that shocks him when he tries to do wrong, and the conclusion is similar in that it shows that this kind of treatment, however promising, is ultimately not fair or feasible. This is one great movie, with truly lovely music. I love the frequent bare-breasted women, such as in the demonstration of the effectiveness of the programming when a well formed woman in panties comes to him, and he is unable to touch her. The audience applauds, and she takes several courtesy bows for her performance. Hilarious! There is a commentary that is as long as the movie, two and a quarter hours, that is also interesting. Seems Stanley Kubrick received death threats in England, where the movie was made, and had to withdraw it there. The main character of course is a severe mixture of good and evil. So are other characters, including his parents, friends, victims, and the police. Only the pretty young women seem entirely innocent. Is this a work of genius? It may be. Blade Runner, said to be the fourth best movie of all time. I doubt it, but it is a good one. Several very sophisticated androids — not robots but living flesh made in the laboratory, superior to normal humans — have returned to Earth, where they are forbidden, and they have to be hunted down and killed, or “retired.” It is the protagonist's job to do that, and each one is a formidable challenge, male and female. Since they don't live long anyway, I am not clear why they have to be killed. Testing for them is interesting; a series of questions designed to evoke emotions that humans feel but the androids theoretically don't, such as “Tell me about your mother.” The androids don't have mothers. Are they really unfeeling? It seems that they are starting to learn to feel, so they really may be becoming fully human. All they want to do is live their limited lives in peace. My sympathy is with the androids.

 

I read FUTUREDAZE: An Anthology Of YA Science Fiction, edited by Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood, for blurbing. This is to be published by UNDERWORDS PRESS http://underwordspress.com in February 2013, both print and ebook. YA stands for Young Adult, what in my day was called juvenile. I vaguely expected somewhat sanitary, simplified stories, the kind that parents, teachers, and librarians approve. The hell! It turned out to be aimed and young readers, yes, but these are hard-hitting pieces with alternating poems. I don't properly understand poetry, so will pass on that; it seems competent here. The stories are something else. They don't hesitate to tackle significant issues like ambition, desire, and mortality. There are too many to cover completely here, so I'll mention some. “Clockwork Airlock” is really a competent retelling of “The Lady or the Tiger” transposed to SF. “Spirk Station” has future teen lingo in an alien culture and danger that only alien contact can bring; I might subtitle it “Beware of Aliens Bearing Gifts.” “The Stars Beneath Our Feet” is perhaps my favorite, wherein on a sneak space trip the boy suddenly kisses the girl and she complains about his trying to suck her face off, but actually she likes him as they work together to save themselves from probable doom, and winds up sucking some face herself. I like that girl. “Powerless” shows a boy who is allergic to electricity. He can't use any electronic device, and it could kill him if he tried. That really isolates him. He loves a girl who understands, but she's part of the electronic culture. “A Voice in the Night” has the novel idea of recovering a space traveler's lost last words by intercepting a message 40 light years downwind, as it were. “The End of Callie V” shows Death calling courteously to terminate a fifteen year old android girl; her time is up, but he's really nice about it. “String Theory” has a 17 year old girl involuntarily exploring alternate world versions of herself, trying to find her way home; many are unpleasant. “Hollywood Forever” shows that stardom in the future is not necessarily any better than it is today; the stars may look a lot finer and happier than they are. “The Cleansing” depicts mass euthanasia to extend limited resources; I told you, these stories don't pussyfoot. “Over It” tells of a girl who gets raped in virtual reality; since nothing physical happened she's supposed to just get over it. She doesn't, and I don't blame her. Rape really is more emotional than physical, forced pseudo intimacy. “Me and My Army of Me” describes a plan wherein a boy who must fight a bully will summon multiple copies of himself from the future to reverse the odds. Overall, this is a fine assembly of science fiction stories that are provocative, entertaining, and sometimes nervously mind-stretching. They should appeal to teens, and to their parents.

 

I read Roads of Madness by Keith Robinson, www.UnearthlyTales.com. This is the fifth novel in the Island of Fog series, featuring shapeshifting twelve year old children. This time four of them, Hal (dragon), Abigail (faerie), Robbie (ogre), and Emily (naga) have been stranded off the island, without their magic. That means that they can't assume their fantasy forms; they are stuck as they are. Worse, Emily is deathly ill. Worse yet, there are people in the vicinity who have been reduced to zombie-like savagery they call scrags. A deadly virus has crippled those it did not kill. The four are desperate to get back to the Island of Fog, where they may recover their magic and be safe, but how can they get there when hunger, thirst, and a helpless girl prevent them from even walking there, let alone getting across the water to it? They try their best, managing to more or less hijack a supply truck, until the scrags get the truck and burn it. The scrags have a teenage prisoner, Ryan, who is immune to the virus, therefore worth something in trade for experiments. Hal foolishly risks himself to free Ryan, who later joins their party and is a considerable help. The five plow on together, but somehow it just keeps getting worse. This is a tough, harsh, brutal story, compelling in its ugliness; nothing is easy here. It is nevertheless well worth reading, as are all the novels in this series. I think there is one more to go. I hope that an intriguing character, the lovely evil Queen Bee, turns out not to be dead; more needs to be known about her.

 

I read ALMOST UTOPIA: The Residents and Radicals of Pikes Falls, Vermont, 1950, by Greg Joly with photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, published by the Vermont Historical Society in 2008. This put me through an emotional wringer. What do I care about pictures of people in Vermont 62 years ago? Well, I was there, and I am referenced several times in the book. It is possible I am in one of the pictures, as there are some crowd scenes, though I doubt it. But I can prove I was there. In AwGhost 1950 my father, my sister, and I attended a community picnic in Pikes Falls. I had spotted a foot-wide fungus on a tree in the forest along the way, the kind you can write on, so I harvested it and took it to the picnic and got everyone there to sign it. I still have that fungus, and the names are still mostly legible. It says SUNDAY AUGUST 27, 1950 WENDLAND'S PICNIC, and then there are 50 names filling it, including most of the folk pictured in Almost Utopia. So it's a perfect complement to the book. Susan Leader, who sent me the book, was born a year after the date of that picnic; she was checking with me to verify our family's involvement in the utopian community effort. A friend is researching a biography of the radical leftist vegetarian Scott Nearing. Then my wife, whom I had not yet met at that past time, remembered the fungus. We photographed it and sent pictures. Scott and Helen Nearing are on it, and Susan's father Herbert Leader, and so many others, just as their pictures are in the book. Most are long since dead, of course. I was just 16, and I'm 78 now, which gives perspective. And that's part of what hit me with a bomb of nostalgia, because these were people I knew, and now all that's left of them are the pictures and the fungus. It feels almost as if they died yesterday.

Let's move back a step, going to yet more distant and perhaps fallibly memory. My folk were doing relief work during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, feeding the hungry children, and after the war General Franco's minions did not much trust foreign do-gooders. There was supposed be be a trainload of refugee Jews coming through Spain from Germany, and we knew they would need food on the way. So my father, Alfred Jacob, went to the station with a lot of money to buy local supplies for them. The train never came, but I think it was the time when Germany's Hitler was going to meet with Franco in an effort to win Spain to the Axis, and security was sky high. So they picked up anyone who was remotely suspicions. And there was my father, with a passel of money. To spend on Jews? Ha-ha, sick joke. So they took the money and put him in jail, denying that they had done so; he had been “disappeared.” But he managed to smuggle out a post card, and with that proof my mother was able to secure his release. Rather than admit error, they let him go only on condition that he leave the country. That was how we came to America in 1940, on just about the last ship out, the Excalibur, the same one the former King of England was on as he went to govern the Bahamas. But what to do in America? My folks were emphatically pacifist Quakers, and World War Two was burgeoning, and they wanted nothing to do with it. Thus we wound up moving to a farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1941, which was coincidentally adjacent to Pikes Falls valley where Scott Nearing lived. We immediately got to know Scott, and he was an excellent neighbor. My family knew nothing of homesteading in a New England winter; we had no electricity and a wood-burning stove for cooking and heat. Chop wood for it? They discovered that green wood does not burn well. So Scott appeared one day with a truck full of seasoned firewood, saving our first winter. On my birthday, I think when I was 8, I walked to Scott's to buy some of his maple sugar. “It's my birthday,” I explained. “Mine too,” he said. So it was, 51 years before mine. We got along. Scott lived to be 100; I'm not sure I'll match that, though I'm trying. So we liked Scott Nearing, and he was a fine intellectual fit for my father. He is the author of more than 50 books, notably The Conscience of a Radical, and a host of “Good Life” books such as Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. He practiced what he preached. I have a myriad memories of Pikes Falls, and not just the frigid swimming hole there at the Falls or the three-foot-deep snow of winter that my sister and I trudged through two and a half miles to school; let's give just one sample. We bought a 60 pound keg of honey, which we shared with neighbors. Another boy and I carried it to Marshall and Lois Smith's house, where Lois tipped it over and let the honey pour slowly from the spout into a smaller container. The honey was thick and a bit uneven, and it sort of dribbled and oozed. Just as a larger segment was pushing out I made an urgent grunt as if it were defecating, and the other boy burst out laughing. Lois glared at him. I had gotten away with one. Lois is one of those shown dancing and smiling in the pictures. Now I know how difficult her life was, and that she later died of cancer in her 40s. That hurts.

Others were attracted to Scott and to my father, and a modest community built up in Pikes Falls. They are in the book and on the fungus; I won't go into all the names here. Some refused even to register for the draft, and a number of them were imprisoned for that. More than one stayed with us between prison sessions. I mean, these were dedicated pacifists and back-to-the-land fundamentalists. The pictures show them in all walks of life, some dancing with apparent abandon, as mentioned above. Oh, I remember! But here is the dark side: there was mischief in paradise. One war-resister, Cliff Bennett, painted a beautiful mural-size picture of our farmhouse on the kitchen wall, with the inscription “Let not the seeds of war be found on these our premises.” Later those words were painted over, having proved to be false. One of those supposedly happy marriages began with a rape. There was a four year affair between one husband and a neighbor's wife. My mother could not stand the primitive isolation and left, in effect breaking up the marriage that was already in trouble. Economics gradually separated the community; there just wasn't enough money to live on. It was also the time of McCarthyism, a blot on America, where there were constant witch hunts for supposed Communists. That made it increasingly awkward for Scott Nearing, who was not a Communist but an outspoken leftist — he had been tried for treason in earlier years, defended himself, and won acquittal - and finally he moved to Maine and started over. For me it was a subdivision of Hell, with cold, fear, and emotional stress that made me wet my bed at night and twitch my head and hands uncontrollably by day. I had to get out of that situation, at first emotionally, later physically. I remember Norman Williams' jaw literally dropping when I registered for the draft at age 18; he couldn't believe that the son of Alfred would do such a thing. Well, I was my own person, then and now; that was my deliberate route to emotional salvation. I had concluded that time in the U.S. Army would do my conscience less damage than time in prison, knowing how incarcerated conscious objectors were treated, and I stand by that as the proper decision in a difficult venue. The U.S. Army was no picnic, but I did get my American citizenship there. I am no pacifist, having seen the underside of that; neither do I practice subsistence farming, having experienced poverty. It wasn't all bad; I retain a love of the forest, and I am solidly liberal and environmentalist, and a vegetarian. Can a person really be an environmentalist without being a vegetarian? But my childhood was not happy, and I am amazed by the power of the heartstrings pulled by this memory of it. Yet as I see it, even Hell is not entirely bad; there are good aspects, just as there surely are bad aspects in Heaven. Not that I expect to go to either.

 

I listened to The Book of Mormon. I had had it six months, gift of a reader with a mind, and it's a remarkable presentation. I'm sure the legitimate Mormons would like to A-Bomb it, because it's an intemperate parody of their religion. The music is lovely and the pictures are sharp; I looked at them and read the lyrics while listening, and it was like attending a living presentation. But it is sacrilegious. “Baptize Me” makes it seem as if he's having sex with her. Then there's “Joseph Smith! DO NOT Fuck a Baby!” So he fucks a frog instead, to get rid of his AIDS. Remember, Joseph Smith was the founder of the Mormons. How would Christians like having the same lyrics applied to Jesus Christ or the Apostle Paul? Actually, Jesus is referenced: “Shit come out de butt, Jesus says fuck fuck Mormons!!!!” And of course Jesus is very much a part of the Mormon religion. Those who claim that the Mormons are not Christian have not looked at the real Book of Mormon. Nothing is sacred here. There are lines like “When God Fucks you in the butt, Fuck God back right in his cunt!” But apart from the dirty lines, it's quite a show, and songs like “I Believe” are lovely in their fashion. So I am intrigued and amazed.

 

I use a recumbent bicycle and an adult push-foot scooter to fetch in newspapers and mail, since it is a 1.6 mile round trip on our long driveway. I regard it as supplementary exercise. The bike front tire went flat, so I took it down and patched it — and it went flat again in the course of 24 hours. Ouch! The patch was in an awkward place, near the nozzle, so I figured I had botched it. But when I took it down again I discovered it was a new puncture. I have a hard plastic tire lining to prevent punctures, but this was just in the half inch where the lining didn't quite reach. Before I got to it, the front tire of the scooter also went flat. That turned out to be a tire casing that was so worn out I could put my finger through it. So we bought a new tire for the old patched tube. It was a struggle to locate the invisible holes and cover them with the patches, because we had nothing to mark the place with while I dried the tire. I put the tires in water in the sink to locate the leak, but you can't patch it underwater. It was such a relief when both tires held their pressure for 24 hours! The new tire is larger than the old one, a consequence of metric not being available here, and would not fit within the V frame of the scooter fender. We tried to bend it into a U shape, but lacked the muscle and tools, so finally removed it entirely. I will simply be careful how I splash through puddles. I think many folk today don't get the simple frustrations and pleasure of doing a low-tech job right.

 

America had an election. In case any of my readers aren't up on the mundane news of the day, Barack Obama retained the presidency. The TAMPA BAY TIMES listed seven tossup states, and Obama took them all. Florida, which could have been pivotal, has a Republican governor who did his best to exclude likely Democrat voters. He did not succeed; instead they piled up past midnight in many polling places, and Florida was four days late in determining the victor, by which time it was irrelevant; Obama had won without it. I understand that key Republicans were astounded; they had believed their own nonsense and thought regular people favored them. They may still be in denial. Next up is the so-called fiscal cliff, engendered by Republican obstructionism. Well, let's go on over that cliff; I suspect the disaster will turn out to be as illusory as the Republican presidential prospect. Remember, when the tax rates were higher in the Clinton era, we had boom times; it was the Bush era tax cuts and invasion of Iraq that contributed significantly to the monstrous deficit and financial crash, and lax financial regulation did the rest. Newspaper column by Rick Outzen says that in GOP/Tea Party World, the rich pay no taxes, people don't want Obamacare, women don't have privacy rights to their bodies, but oil and coal should be unregulated. Paul Krugman wrote that the GOP is so obsessed with taking down Obama that good news for the nation's workers drives its members into a blind rage. “It is, quite simply, frightening to think that a movement this deranged wields so much political power.” And a newspaper article by Harold Meyerson says that we must credit gerrymandering for the GOP control of the House despite a majority of the voters favoring the Democrats. They hardly care what the voters want.

 

Songs constantly run through my hollow cranium. One was “The Keeper.” “The keeper would a hunting go, and under his cloak he carried a bow, all for to shoot a merry little doe, among the leaves so green-o.” One doe crossed the plain, and he fetched her back again, and where she is now she may remain, among the leaves so green-o. Another crossed the brook, and he fetched her back with his crook, and where she is now you may go and look. But there was another deer, and I could not remember where she went. So finally after years of wondering (I'm a slow learner) I Googled it, and discovered she also crossed the plain, and his hounds fetched her back again. Oh. That's why I couldn't get it; it was a retread. Maybe if she had hidden in the forest she would have escaped. My sympathy was always with the deer.

 

Random House and Penguin may be merging. I have dogs in this fight, I mean books with both, and am watching warily. Meanwhile I am moving my books to electronic editions. It's a huge chore, as I have had more than 160 published and am not even close to retiring, and some electronic rights are entangled; I have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to clarify mine. If it comes to a choice between Penguin House or Amazon, I'm uneasy. Regular writers are like fleas on mice running around the feet of the elephants of Parnassus, in constant danger of getting squashed unnoticed.

 

I received three notices, I think from three different outfits, informing me that the domain name hipier.com (like hipiers.com without the S) is becoming available soon. I presume they want me to purchase it. No thanks; I'm satisfied with what I have. This is just to let the public know that if someone mistypes and gets that site, and gets a porno ad, don't blame me. I've had more than enough trouble with the old HiPiers phone number that is now porno, with fans blaming me for corrupting their children though it was AT&T that sold it there and gave me the runaround when I protested.

 

RESIST www.resistinc.org is an outfit that funds social change, contributing relatively small amounts (what they can afford) to organizations that don't get much notice, such as in the current issue  that promotes Hawaiian rights and culture;  that helps farm workers in Vermont get justice; helping LGBTQ youth, women, victims of AIDS, and low income folk gain social justice; and The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa stand up to the Religious Right. You never heard of any of those? That's part of the point; your charitable contributions are more likely to go to widely publicized charities that probably don't need the money as much as these little ones do. The July-August-September 2012 issue makes some good points, such as that Big Energy is going into solar power by bulldozing wilderness for huge arrays of solar panels. Solar power is great, but it's better if individual homes can do it on their own, in an environmentally favorable manner. Also how West Eugene, Oregon is badly industrially polluted, being on the wrong side of the tracks; Latinos living there are largely helpless to stop the unhealthy conditions generated by industry wastes. But there is a new movement that may be effective: a big polluter will receive a Notice of Intent (NOI) that lists all the violations, and if it doesn't clean them up within 60 days it will be sued for each one. That is apt to be expensive. Corporations generally don't understand decency as well as they understand losing money. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

 

Essay by Thomas Friedman Why I am Pro-Life clarifies my own attitude. I don't like abortion, therefore I support contraception. Friedman takes it farther. “In my world, you don't get to call yourself 'pro-life' and be against common-sense gun control...” Or shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and water, biodiversity, and combats climate change. Or oppose programs like Head Start, that provide basic education, health, and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. Pro-life, he says, can mean only one thing: respect for the sanctity of life. If it starts at conception, it can't end at birth.

 

Remember Hurricane Sandy? Paul Krugman points out the difference between the Obama response and the Bush administration's response to Katrina. The Republicans gutted FEMA so that it couldn't effectively help New Orleans, and that city was pretty much wiped out. Obama restored FEMA and it was there to help the victims of Sandy. What a difference! Orrin H Pilkey remarks on a corollary aspect: folk who insist on rebuilding exactly where they were before getting wiped out by a coastal storm. This is madness, he says. Rebuilding should occur in a hurricane-safe area.

 

I live in Citrus County, Florida, pretty much a backwoods area. Now there is a problem: Duke Energy, which bought out local Progress Energy, has decided that its property is appraised too high, so they won't pay $16 million per year in taxes. If the county doesn't like it, well, they can sue. That will take years to resolve, and meanwhile represents a major shortfall in the county's income. This is a tactic this company has used elsewhere; they decide what their holdings in a given area are worth, and that's all they will pay tax on. They figure they can push a small county around. Nice work if you can get it. We, at the edge of the county, use a different electric company, but we'll be affected as county services are curtailed.

 

Article in NEW SCIENTIST says a person's place in the political spectrum is largely determined by biology. Conservatives prefer white people, straight people and high-status groups. Liberals are more comfortable with ethnic and sexual minorities, and are more creative, curious, and novelty-seeking, while conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and organized. Or putting it negatively, liberals are motivated by deep-seated psychological needs to manage uncertainty and threat, while conservatives are rigid, fearful, and intolerant. So maybe it's not coincidence that I am a liberal fantasy writer; it's biological, my dear Watson.

 

Bill Keller comments on How to Die. The idea of preserving a life despite the patient being in pain with no hope of recovery, at great expense and use of facilities that would be better used to treat folk who can recover, is noxious. Better to let the subject decide sensibly when and how to end it. That's what I want for myself, when my own time comes. How about you?

PIERS
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