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Piers the handyman 2007
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I watched the movie Prometheus. My wife wasn't interested, so I saw it with my daughter Cheryl. The graphics are excellent, and the story is comprehensible; I enjoyed it. It starts out like a mainline science fiction adventure, with hints that aliens may have visited Earth 35,000 years ago and generated the human species, as a seeding experiment. Then a private enterprise space ship sets out for a distant planet that may relate, looking for the secret of eternal life, with a lovely female archaeologist (what else?), a robot man, and assorted other intriguing characters. They land on a barren world, near a kind of pyramid, and of course explore it. I love this kind of story, before it turns to horror. A dust storm smashes them back, but after that they continue, finding assorted artifacts. There is a bit of life left, and it infects some of the humans. Then things get interesting. One of the infectees is the archaeologist. When she realizes she is pregnant she knows this is mischief, and demands an immediate abortion. She's right, but of course they don't understand. She fights her way to the surgery facility and has the fetus cut out of her while she's conscious, showing guts in more than one sense. It turns out to be an octopus-like monster. See, they should have listened! She tries to kill it and thinks she has succeeded, but it survives and grows enormously despite having no food. So this is actually science fantasy, as I think most such movies are. There is a series of horrors as aliens and monsters take form and fight each other and people are gruesomely killed. One alien about to take off in an alien space ship for Earth, to spread its kind; they succeed in stopping that by crashing their own ship into it. It's delightful the way the alien station slowly activates, and the way the monsters interact. In the end only the pretty archaeologist survives, along with the talking head of the robot, and they head out to discover who made the aliens who in turn made humans. I will be interested to see how that turns out.

 

I read my own novel, Luck of the Draw, #36 in the Xanth series, proofreading the galleys; it was relatively fresh for me because I have already written the one following it, as it were erasing some mental traces. This is the one featuring an 80 year old Mundane man with a year or two left to live who gets brought into Xanth, youthened to age 21, given a magic talent, and assigned to court 16 year old Princess Harmony. This is not his idea or hers, but it's set up by Demons for one of their bets, so there's no choice but to play it through. There are six suitors sponsored by different Demons; which will win? In the end they do develop some respect for each other; the Mundane is level headed and realistic, if locked into his somewhat archaic mindset, and Harmony is the most sensible and motivated princess of her generation, destined one day to become King of Xanth. I enjoyed it, and trust readers will also; I found a number of nice touches, such as the way the princess conspires to recover her freedom to choose for herself, despite the Demons' directive. Some of the puns are sickeningly egregious, another plus for a Xanth novel. Look for it in hardcover in Dismember, 2012.

 

I read Shadow Dragon, by Lance Horton. This is a science fiction horror thriller self published at iUniverse, and is another example of the inadequacy of Parnassus, the traditional publishing establishment. Because this is a fully worthy novel. The author couldn't get an agent? Couldn't get a publisher? No wonder sales are declining! The author wrote to me thirty years ago, and I described the closed shop that traditional publishing tends to be, designed more to keep newcomers out than to locate and promote the best fiction. As old-timer Robert Moore Williams told me maybe 40 years ago, the fat hogs have their snouts in the trough and they're not about to let any piglets get any swill. Nothing much has changed in the interim, except for this: the advent of electronic publishing and affordable self publishing is bypassing the limited trough and letting everyone else in. There are those who hate that, but I am convinced that this is good for publishing, because the readers want the best, not the best that's on paid-for shelves by fat hogs. With the Internet a reader can find just about anything, ranging from abysmal to excellent, and this is a novel that needs finding. The author says that the monster herein was inspired in part by my mantas in Omnivore, and I can see bits of that inspiration, but that's not the reason I like this novel. It's that it is well crafted, well developed, and supremely compelling. Kyle is investigating multiple savage homicides in the Montana backwoods. Carrie goes there because her beloved grandparents are two of the victims. Neither is satisfied with the official explanations, and indeed it turns out that the monsters of the forest are complemented by the corporate monsters of the boardrooms, who are as ruthless in covering up their awful errors as the monsters are in shedding blood. It seems that a corporate plane crashed and something got loose, and innocent residents are paying the price. By the time our protagonists come to grips with the deadly forest monster, the corporate killer is on their trail. It's a nice interweaving of the elements, with a hint of romance. If you want a story that will keep you nervous until the end, this is the one. It's slightly out of my genre, as I'm more into humorous fantasy, but this one held my attention throughout. It is available electronically, Kindle and such. Look for it.

 

And I read my own 30,000 word novella Odd Exam, developed in the month of Mayhem and  written in the month of JeJune. Ike is an extremely bright high school graduate who's never been really challenged academically, and lacks motivation. Felony is a conflicted girl, smart and motivated but prickly about her ordinary appearance and her conjectured origin as a child of rape, hence her name, so that she has trouble getting along with others. Naturally they meet and interact. Noting that Ike likes pretty girls, she borrows magic to make her body stunning. That gets his attention, even though she soon reverts to ordinary, by his preference. The college admission examination is in the form of a virtual reality game: get killed therein, and you won't be admitted. That's part of what's odd about it. They have to get familiars, that is animals to work with; his is a flying blue snake, hers an intelligently talking but dull-colored parrot. That's another part of the oddity. But, as they gradually realize, there is reason. So, with the help of the familiars, who know more than they are allowed to tell, they struggle to figure it all out. This one should be posted on Kindle by year's end. I'm still playing with the novella length; so far it seems ideal to tell a more-than-incidental story.

 

Let's talk about the weather. Early in JeJune our power failed and was out all day, 13½ hours. I went out on my morning exercise run, and when I returned, no lights. The power company folk finally dug up our cable in three places and replaced the big transformer and got our lights back on by evening, to our relief. Its amazing how incapacitating lack of electric power is, considering I was brought up on a farm without electricity. But that was a long time ago, actually about 67 years, and I have gotten soft in the interim. At any rate, we had the repaired cable and transformer, and that was just as well, because it surely would have gone out when the weather came. As it was, we survived Tropical Storm Debby with not even a blink. Debby bumbled up from the south as a mass of clouds, reached the Gulf of Mexico to our west, and formed the circular wind pattern that indicates a tropical storm. She had sustained winds up to 60 miles per hour, short of hurricane force, but brought in a lot of rain. The idiots who predict storm paths, including several computers, kept saying she would go west to Texas, but I said there's a high there; she'll go the other way. I could see that she was looking around, trying to find us; that's what the eye is for. Every storm looks for us, but most get lost along the way. Sure enough, she moved east, not west, crossing north Florida. We track our rainfall, so I know our record for a single day and night was seven and a half inches, and in recent years of drought we seldom come close to half that. But on Sunday, JeJune 24, we got 9.8 inches, shattering our record. Others got more, so it was no anomaly. And Debby moved on into the Atlantic, dissipating as she went; her job was done. But would you believe, our water table is still below par; one day does not a drought abate.

 

My wife and I had our 56th wedding anniversary on the 23rd, conscious that at our septuagenarian age each one could be the last one. We remain in good health, considering. We celebrated by having some cheesecake for dessert. Yes, at our age that counts; we lead dull lives by choice. I tease her that she was nineteen when I married her, but then she didn't stay nineteen. I mean, look at her: she's at least 29.

 

The Supreme Court finally decided on Obamacare, largely upholding it. What do you know. I suspect that they made the right decision not entirely because it was right but because they feared that if Obamacare was overthrown, and the grasping insurance companies reverted to business as usual, stiffing policy holders in myriad ways, there would be public outrage that could wash Republicans out of office next election and give Obama a filibuster-proof mandate that would enable him to put in many more worthwhile reforms, and to appoint liberal justices that would end the gang of five's reign of horror. So they backed off as a matter of political expediency. Obamacare is imperfect, thanks to retards in Congress who torpedoed key provisions like the public option, but still far better than what has been. I'm liberal, of course, but my position is essentially endorsed by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who makes the case that the swing vote, Chief Justice Roberts, had other concerns than the merits of the case. That he knew that if the Court made yet another regressive decision like Bush vs. Gore or Corporations are People and can spend all they want to buy elections, it would sink even lower in public esteem. He wanted to rescue the Court from that ignominy. So he crafted a decision to uphold Obamacare on the narrow technical ground that the individual mandate is actually a tax, something that is within the purview of Congress. And maybe he will be remembered as presiding over a Court that was not the cesspool of the country. That's evidently his hope, according to Krauthammer, as interpreted by me. Could be. But I can't help missing the time when merit rather than politics or personal foible was the overriding consideration.

 

For men only: I am 77, going on 78, and though I do my best to take care of my health, age slowly encroaches. I'm not nineteen any more either. One symptom is ED, erectile dysfunction; I'm ready for sex, but my member rises only to half mast and doesn't last, making penetration and culmination difficult or impossible. This is frustration, as my interest remains keen; I am intensely aware of the female gender and its attributes. Yes, Viagra works, and I suspect the other leading ED dregs do too, but it costs $30 a pill. I don't like being gouged like that. I cut the pills into eighths, but even so, that's over three dollars per time. So I quit using it. I tried herbal remedies, like L-Arginine, L-Carnitine, Horny Goat Weed, Maca, and too many others to track. None of them worked, though L-Arginine may have helped. What to do? Well, in the past month I tried a different approach, a mechanical one, what I call the Penis Pump. There are a number on the market, ranging from $25 to over $200, essentially using vacuum to inflate the penis to full size. That worked, but when I removed it my penis deflated, losing half an inch and softening. Then I added the ring, colloquially known as a cock ring. Use the vacuum, then immediately put the ring on the base of the penis, and it constricts it and holds the blood in place, maintaining the erection. It's not close to rock hard, but let's face it, it doesn't need to be; it just needs to be hard enough to do the job. No, the ring does not hurt, though it is advised not to leave it on more than half an hour. All I need is five minutes. And it works, solving my erectile problem. I paid $30 for it, the price of one Viagra pill, and it costs nothing additional for future times, so in effect becomes cheaper with every use. Of course sex is not just the erection; you need to climax and ejaculate, and at such time as age takes those away from me I may be finished. But that time is not yet, and not soon, I hope. So if other men chafe as I do at the exorbitant cost of Viagra and its cousins, this is worth trying. And for that naughty woman who peeked at this paragraph (for shame!), if your man has an ED problem you want to abate cheaply, suggest this.

 

I still do archery for exercise, loosing arrows with the right-hand bow, both right and left sides. The problem is I keep losing arrows, and damaging them. So when TS Debby blotted out my archery day, I set about repairing them instead. I wound up fixing 31 arrows, 26 by fletching repair, 6 with new nocks. (One required both, hence the overlap.) That should last me a while. They still don't go where I aim them, which is frustrating, but I do get the exercise. It's amazing how an arrow can miss my target array and disappear in the forest. There's only a limited area it can be, but it's not there; I have a metal detector. I don't know how they do that.

 

Ray Bradbury died. He was 91, living from 1920 to 2012. He was not my favorite science fantasy author, but he was a good one, author of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 and others. What I admire about him is that he never renounced his origin, the way, for example, that Kurt Vonnegut did, gaining the applause of ignorant critics who condemned science fiction without ever reading it. Bradbury was a genre writer to the end. I remember that as a novice, Bradbury was said to have written a huge amount of fiction, much of which was very bad. But he kept trying, gradually improving, until he cracked through to pro publication and kept going, right up to movie scripts such as Moby-Dick. That's a model anyone can follow; you don't have to be good at the outset, you just have to keep going until you get there. It took me eight years to make my first sale, and I don't blame the editors for that, much; I slowly improved and oriented until I got there, like Bradbury, and kept going. Bradbury lacked money for college, so sold newspapers and wrote furiously in his spare time. In short, he worked at it. More power to him.

 

From an article in DISCOVER magazine I learned the names of prior super continents: 100 million years ago there was Pangaea, and billion years before that was Rodinia, and 700 million years before that, Nuna. Plate tectonics keeps moving the pieces around, forming them then breaking them up. A hundred million years hence there will be Amasia. I just thought you'd like to know, in case you need to update your address stickers. NEW SCIENTIST has one on a flying squid. It really does; it has a body shaped like a torpedo, and it forms its tentacles into an air foil and jets into the air for 15 or 20 feet. In SCIENCE NEWS an item on a paralyzed woman who guided a robotic arm with just the power of her thoughts. I hope this research continues; I know my paralyzed correspondent, Jenny, could use it. Item in THE WEEK on a proposal in Sweden to ban male government employees from urinating standing up while using government restrooms. It seems that makes for cleaner toilets. I believe it. In NEW SCIENTIST article on how weight-loss surgery can change people's taste; they lose interest in rich foods, and some seem to improve their minds. But there are negatives too: they can have cognitive problems, trouble concentrating or finding the right word, and short term memory issues. SCIENCE NEWS has an article on mystery neurons found in monkeys, ones that people have too: von Economo neurons, that may contribute to empathy and self awareness. Lose those neurons, lose your self awareness. An essay by Michael Wolff republished in THE WEEK about keeping people alive as long as possible: “My mother is trapped in a broken body and demented mind. Is it cruel to keep her alive?” He concludes that he plainly would not want what long-term care insurance buys. He is working out a do-it-yourself exit strategy to be sure he is never caught that way. “As should we all.” Amen. Another by Jane E Brody in the Jewel-Lye 1 newspaper, just catching this Column (lucky it!), remarks on not wanting to prolong your life after a marked decline in cognitive powers, or if forced to live with severe, distracting pain. But you need to take steps before you get there, because you know your doctors won't heed your preference any more than they did with your terminal grandparent. And in DISCOVER, article on great floods of the past, including the probable origin of the biblical flood: over 7,000 years ago the Mediterranean rose and flooded into the below-sea-level valley that is now the Black Sea. There is evidence that the inhabitants of that region then spread north and south into Europe and Mesopotamia, generating civilization there in due course.

 

I was cleaning up some old papers—those abound at my house—and ran across an article by Deb Price in 2005 on the damage of bullying. She said that 65% of teens say they have been bullied in the past year. That the reason is their size or looks, or if they are thought to be gay, or how masculine or feminine they are, or their ability at school, or their race/ethnicity, or family income, or religion. Or, as I see it: if they are different in any way from the approved common mold, and in a minority, they are targets. I was a small boy, so learned about bullying from the bottom, and I think bullies should be identified early and removed from normal school for retraining until they change. The columnist says that sixty percent of boys who were bullies in sixth to ninth grades were convicted criminals by age 24. That's just the ones they caught. As has been said elsewhere, a bully is a baby criminal. As with other illnesses, tackle this early and it will save greatly later on. A more recent column is by Nicholas Kristof, who sponsored an essay contest for teenagers about bullying. Many of the essays argued that adults were either oblivious or turned a blind eye, and that it seemed that students themselves had to take the lead in dealing with bullies. That was true in my day too. The prizewinning essay was by a 17 year old girl, Lena Rawley. “Teenage girls are cruel super-humans from a distant galaxy sent here to destroy us all...” One even sent her an email titled “Fifty Reasons Why We Can't Be Friends With You,” with the 50 listed. Knowing no more than that, I'm pretty sure I would not want to be friends with the author of that email.

 

Column by Dahlia Lithwick commenting on an incident in the Michigan state legislature. A woman made a statement about proposed abortion regulations, during which she used the word “vagina,” and Republicans were so offended that they banned her from speaking there for a day. One Republican said later that he didn't even want to speak that work in front of a woman. Now the columnist facetiously proposes a bill to require any woman who seeks to use the word vagina in a floor debate be required to wait 72 hours after consulting with her physician before she may say it. I wonder how they would have reacted if she'd said cunt? Will men be barred from saying the word penis?

 

And it seems the US military is building a stink bomb. “It combines the reek of sewage with pungent rotting meat. It is so intense that you rush for the door.” I think they are considering it for crowd dispersal. I don't think it would work well on the battlefield, because the enemy could use gas masks. But I'd rather see stink bombs be used than deadly grenades. I have a lot of fun with the stink horn in Xanth: step on it and it makes a foul smelling noise and emits a filthy brown stench that no one can stand. And yes, of course a critic could suggest that they just read one of my columns aloud to sicken the enemy.

PIERS
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