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Piers the handyman 2007
Apull 2013
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I read Shadow Masters: an Anthology from the Horror Zine, edited by Jeani Rector. 38 horror stories, and while this is not my genre, I have to say they are good ones. This is I gather an impressive roster of top horror authors who obviously know their craft. I can't cover them all here, so will just mention some, without claiming they are better than the ones not mentioned; they are simply ones that made a bit more of an impression on me. Such as “The Night Hider” by Graham Masterton, wherein Dawn sees a soot-black man, who later tries to rape her. How did he get into her apartment? Well, she has a big old wardrobe, which turns out to be the one in C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a kind of portal to another realm. The soot man has a justified grievance, but has mistaken her for someone else and will not be denied. So they have to burn the wardrobe to cut him off. That bothers me on more than one level, which is of course what makes this a horror. Then there's “The Classmate” by Melanie Tem: at a class reunion there is one woman who clearly knows everyone but whom none of the others remember. Who can she be? They also realize that a classmate dies between each reunion. And the unknown classmate turns out to be Death, who is now warming up to the protagonist. Uh-oh. Then “Dream House” by Cheryl Kaye Tardiff, whose taut tense novel Submerged I read and reviewed here but did not blurb because I felt it was mainstream rather than supernatural. Well, this story is supernatural. A couple buys their dream house as odd things happen, like eyes watching through knotholes. The house has a history of a curse on young children, and sure enough, it is after these ones. “The Wood Witch” by Jonathan Chapman. He remembers his first love at age 13, but she is taken by the Wood Witch. Now as a social worker he tries to save other abused children. I was once a social worker, and I really relate to this rationale. Neither have I forgotten the girl I loved at that age. Adults disparage it as puppy love but I remember how total it can be. “Suka: The White Wolf” by Jeff Bennington. He buys a wolf pup, and she's a fine pet, but she grows up wild and starts killing dogs, and people, and has to be put down. The horror here is not supernatural, but painful in its realism. Real wolves don't make good pets. And “The End of the Trail” by Bentley Little. Beyond the bridge folk disappear; what happens to them? There is some evidence that they don't die, but may change age and gender. This story intrigued me because I've always loved paths, and want to know where every one of them goes. To paraphrase Edna St. Vincent Millay, there isn't a path I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. (She was speaking of trains, and I share that love too.) Overall, this volume would seem to me to be a significant contribution to the horror genre, and horror fans should love it. Maybe even some non-horror fans.


A decade ago I queried readers of this HiPiers column about whether to have a gay (that is homosexual, male or female) character in Xanth, maybe a protagonist whose romantic interest would be in the same gender, not the opposite gender. The vote was decisively against it. I don't think my readers are prejudiced against gays; they simply felt that this was a serious issue not suited for the unserious, punny Xanth. Readers generally come to Xanth to laugh, rather than to address divisive issues, despite some pretty pointed parody. The whole Adult Conspiracy is an ongoing critique of the silly attitude that children are welcome to see gut-wrenching violence, but that loving sex will damage them for life. So I bowed to their preference, and there has no been a gay protagonist, and that has cost me some gay readers. Since gays are perhaps only five percent of the population, if I have to alienate one or the other, it costs me less to alienate gays than heteros. But it's not an equation I like. In the interim there has been a sea change in mundane attitudes. For example, gay marriage, once overwhelmingly disapproved, is now favored by a majority. So at the request of a gay reader I am re-querying.


Let me rehearse my attitude toward gays, which I have expressed before. I am adamantly heterosexual myself. I love the look and feel of women, especially young shapely ones. I wish I could see, kiss, undress, fondle, and have sex with all of them. This is of course fantasy, as I am old and married and have a pretty good notion of the social, ethical, and physical limits. If I were single and beset by adoring women I still might not be able to implement much of my fond desire. But as they say, you can't be imprisoned for what you're thinking, and the practical limits are inoperative in imagination. That does not mean that I hate gays. I have had gay friends, male and female, and they can vary from great to awful, same as it is with heteros. They are people who happen to have a different sexual orientation but are otherwise essentially normal. But the very thought of making out sexually with another man repels me. No, I don't want someone suggesting that I open my mind and try it, that maybe I'd like it. I already know I wouldn't want it. My normally open mind is closed in this respect. Okay, having said that, I assume that it is much the same for a gay man or woman. That they are repulsed by hetero-sex in much the same way. So I follow the Golden Rule, and I leave them to their preference, just as they leave me to mine. That settled, we get along fine, with the whole non-sexual world in common.


I have had notions for gay fiction that I have not developed, partly because I don't want to display my naivete in their nuances, but mostly because of a forbidding market. For example, there is my idea “Hell of a Route” wherein the leader of the gay coalition meets with the leader of the lesbian coalition to plan strategy in the face of a serious threat to their interests, such as a push for a law to ban all gay marriage forever. They are very much of the same mind about this, and admire each others' efforts. And—they fall in love. They remain gay and lesbian, but just have a serious thing for each other. This is of course disaster, betraying the very principles that brought them together. What to do? Have a secret affair while pushing their agenda? Come out about it and suffer the phenomenal fallout? Resign their positions for unspecified reasons so that others can forward the cause? Regardless, it's one hell of a route. Meanwhile one reader asks whether a gay couple could summon the stork and get a baby, in Xanth. I don't have an answer yet, but I fear the storks are too conservative for it. They are firm believers in opposite-gender signaling.


So now the question: have a major gay character in Xanth, sympathetically portrayed, yes or no? If readers care to let me know their preferences, I will tabulate their votes in the course of the month and report in my next, Mayhem 2013 HiPiers Column. Should the vote this time be in favor, I think I would still have to query the folk who are organizing my self publishing effort, in case they should feel that it would seriously diminish sales. I may not agree with the hangups of Mundania, but do have to be aware of them, since they pay my way.


Internet humor circulated on the Internet forwarded by Monica Parish, assorted signs seen: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “Make love not war. Hell, do both: GET MARRIED!” “If voting could really change things, it would be illegal.” “A woman's rule of thumb: if it has tires or testicles, you're going to have trouble with it.” “HAPPINESS: To be happy with a man, you must understand him a lot and love him a little. To be happy with a woman, you must love her a lot and not try to understand her at all.”


News item: they have developed female condoms with teeth, to fight rape in South Africa, the Rape-Axe. This would be something the woman wears inside her vagina like a diaphragm or tampon. If a man tries to rape her, the Rape-Axe's inside hooks attach themselves to his penis and don't come off, instead getting even tighter and stopping him from being able to urinate. (I think of a thumb-lock that pulls tighter when stretched.) The only way to remove it is by seeing a doctor—which will obviously help with prosecution. It seems that over 30,000 of them have been handed out free in South Africa. I don't know; I fear the man might pulverize the woman before going to the doctor. Some men might be smart enough to pull the condom out of her before going in themselves. And what about when men start wearing armored condoms that block up the woman so she can't have sex with any other man, the way it is with certain insects? But it's an intriguing notion.


Perhaps related: newspaper article by Joyce E A Russell says that women have trouble saying no. They are people pleasers, putting the needs of others before their own, being compassionate and helping others. They want to be liked and don't want to be rude. They want to be team players, and fear being judged if they say no. They are afraid of conflict and want to keep the peace. They worry about burning bridges. But this means they can get overloaded with chores (and maybe babies?) they don't really want. What to do? There are strategies: make a list of absolute Yes and absolute No. Help your sick child? Yes. Tackle an irrelevant project? No. When in doubt, set No as the default. Pause to consider; the matter may look different when you think about it. Practice. That is, how to look a person in the eye and be direct: No. Maybe also related: weekly “Up From the Clothes Chute” newspaper column by Georgi Davis remarks on people being attached to their cell phones. “It is like no one can be alone without contact with another human being for even a minute. The cell phone has become the security blanket for adults and teenagers.” Maybe they just can't say no to the cell phone.


The newspaper also had a nice analogy to help understand the Higgs boson. Imagine never having seen a snowflake. (Here in Florida that happens.) Try to prove one exists by probing the slush of melting snow. That's what they're doing trying to locate one boson produced per trillion collisions of particles. To understand how it generates mass, start with a field of fresh snow. A skier glides easily over it, meeting little resistance. A woman on snowshoes meets more resistance. A man in heavy boots meets more. The higgs field is like that snow, with some particles skiing across, barely interacting, such as electrons, so they have little mass. Protons and neutrons interact more strongly, like the snowshoer, and have more mass. Other particles interact even more, like the man in boots, and are thus massive. While photons are like birds flying over, not interacting at all, so they are mass-less. Without the Higgs snow, everything would be mass-less.


Another article on meatless meat. Meat from slaughtered animals exacts a heavy penalty on the world; we'd all be better off if that slaughter stopped. Now they can biopsy and isolate cells from living animals, grow thousands of them in the laboratory, and produce meat without the animal. This has the potential of requiring 99% less land and 96% less water, 96% less carbon emissions, and 45% less energy demand for the meat on the table. So the meat eaters can have all they want of the identical cuts without destroying the world and torturing innocent cows in the process. I'm for that. But it leaves me uncomfortable: as a vegetarian would I care to eat that stuff myself? It's the slaughter I object to, and this eliminates that, but most of my life I have avoided meat and meat products and my gut roils at the very thought of changing that. It's about as close as I come to a mindless religion: thou shalt not kill. Even if you know the killing is more apparent than real?


THE HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN has an issue on arbitration. Popular lore says that arbitration represents a simpler, cheaper, and perhaps fairer way to settle differences than going to court. I have my doubts. I was peripherally involved in an author's case against a publisher that had absconded with her project and ripped her off. What struck me was not only that in my opinion the decision was pretty obviously unfair, but that two thirds of the written decision concerned the payment of the arbitrator’s fee. To my mind the fee should be a separate matter agreed on in advance, not part of the decision itself. The whole thing struck me as a miscarriage of justice. Okay, that's essentially what LOWDOWN says. It seems that third party arbitrators are usually chosen by the corporations involved in the cases, and the system is rigged against the consumer. Arbitration is generally part of the small print of a contract, so the consumer (for me in this venue that means Author) is locked in before there is ever an issue. A survey of cases involving a large bank revealed that arbitrators ruled for the bank 99.6 percent of the time. Another survey showed 95%. In a California situation it was 100%. But when one corporation has an issue with another corporation, they choose litigation, not arbitration. They don't want to suffer themselves from a rigged system they impose on the peons. Be wary of arbitration; if you have a valid case, the courts are a better venue for justice, clumsy and expensive as they may be. Don't let yourself be committed to arbitration before a case ever comes up, because that means you're likely screwed, and the corporation knows it and acts accordingly.


  1. Reader Simon Barnett of the United Kingdom (that is, England and adjacent real estate), my original homeland, sent me news of a comment by WORLD WIDE WORDS NEWSLETTER for March 23, 2013, remarking in part on a new word coming into favor: de-extinction. So they checked to find the earliest usage. “As so often, a SF/fantasy author got there first, in a story about a magician,” and quoted from my novel The Source of Magic in 1979, where I used it. Okay. I can't claim this is the absolute high point of my career, or my ultimate claim to fame, but I'll take it.


I am now more than half through writing Xanth #39, Five Portraits, which will be self published in due course. Its main character is Astrid Basilisk-Cockatrice, who was a character in the prior novel, Board Stiff, due to be self published in all formats this Dismember. She is in the form of a beautiful young human woman, but remains a basilisk, with a Stare that kills (so she wears dark glasses to prevent accidents) and a bodily ambiance that can also be lethal. Talk about drop dead gorgeous! But she's a nice person, involved in helping five children rescued from the future when Xanth ends. When she hugs one of them she warns “hold your breath” so the child won't be harmed by her perfume. She also has a friendship with the Demoness Fornax, who in prior novels as been an adversarial figure, and indeed, friendship is really the main theme of this novel. But even as I write it, my mind keeps returning to Aliena, that should be self published soon, the one about the alien brain in a human body, a serious alien-contact story. That's the way of it when I fall in love with a project; I see it coming, I write it, and I see it behind me, like a mountain casting long shadows. One example: at one point the alien visits the pope (I wrote this before the recent change of popes) and sings him a song in Latin, “Ave Maria.” Her human host was an aspiring singer and has a bell-tike tone, and the alien is from a musical culture, so it is one of the most evocative renditions ever heard. I visualize orienting on a statue of the Virgin Mary as the lovely song sounds, almost making her come to life. Hail Mary! The pope is duly impressed, though he knows the nature of the singer, and probably there will be no formal opposition to the alien presence by the Catholic Church. Or the others she visits similarly. Just a passing scene, but it and others keep returning to me. Too often my special projects disappear into the background, unremarked, but they remain precious to me. I'm thinking of my World War Two novel Volk, told mainly from the viewpoint of a Nazi SS officer who falls in love with an American Quaker pacifist woman. Balook, wherein an ancient giant hornless rhino, baluchitherium, is de-extincted, resembling a horse standing twelve feet high at the shoulder. The brutal horror The Sopaths, wherein the world runs out of souls and babies start being born without them, thus having no capacity for conscience, compassion, or decency, and they are really messing up the world and must be eliminated. But could you kill your own little child, knowing that? So now Aliena joins that roster, and we'll see. I am known for my funny fantasy, and that is about all publishers have wanted from me, but I also do more serious and varied work, and now with self publishing I'm damn well making it available.


There's a new non-polluting power device being developed: the Solar Vortex. It's a turbine that funnels the hot air of the desert sand upward in a whirlwind, harvesting its energy in the process. A controlled little tornado. A small one delivers some power; they're working on a larger model. More power to them!


I read in NEW SCIENTIST that China is way ahead of the west, with a faster and more secure Internet. They have better connectivity and better identification of sources, so it seems don't suffer the viruses and slowdown we do. Good for them—but I don't like to think where this will put us competitively. As with old empires, we are not paying sufficient attention, thinking we'll always be on top, and by the time we realize that we're not, it may be too late. Meanwhile the Chinese are diddling in our supposedly secure electronic institutions. That may be just the beginning.


And in THE WEEK a brief item on the lifelong damage done by bullying. It seems that the victims can suffer lifetime health problems. Victims were four times as likely to suffer anxiety disorders as adults than kids who had never been bullied. Kids who did the bullying for four times as likely to have an anti-social personality disorder. The most troubled group was the kids who had been both victims and bullies. I say yet again: get the bullies out of school and into reform school, and the whole society will be helped. Schools can't be bothered to do that? Some principals may need to be fired; that should facilitate a change in attitude.


One more personal note: I take care of my teeth as I do the rest of my body and mind, brushing after every meal, not eating between meals, and of course my teeth get rinsed with the hourly water I drink to prevent me from ever having another kidney stone. But the decay continues unabated. Now I face several more thousand dollars in repairs and reconstruction. Naturally the dentist implies that it's because I'm not taking care of my teeth, blaming the victim. It's annoying. I remember when I suffered mysterious fatigue 50 years ago, and when the doctors couldn't find any cause they concluded that it was all in my head, and I got ridered—that is excluded—on my health insurance for all mental diseases. They couldn't diagnose it, so they thought I was crazy. It was another thirty years before the cause was discovered: low thyroid activity. One levothyroxin pill a day fixes that. As I like to put it, I wasn't crazy, the medical establishment was. I think it's a similar case with dentistry; if I have decay, they figure it must be my fault. Too bad there's not a pill to fix my heredity.

PIERS
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