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Piers the handyman 2007
Dismember 2013

NoRemember was a busy month, because I wrote Aliena Too (working title was Star-Man), the sequel to Aliena, and when I'm writing a novel I hate to be distracted by other distractions. But I did squeeze in some DVD viewing. I watched Malena, in Italian with English subtitles. This is the story of a beautiful young woman in Italy during World War Two, when Mussolini allied with Nazi Germany and paid the horrendous price. Malena's husband gets conscripted, then there is news of his death. Then her father is killed in a bombing raid and she is alone, the subject of vicious gossip, with the men lusting for her and the women hating her for that. She has no source of income and is going hungry; men will gladly provide for her, but they want sex in return. One even rapes her. Her crime, really, is being beautiful. She finally joins a brothel in order to survive. Then when the war ends, the angry women drag her out of her house, beat her, rip apart her clothing, and cut off her lustrous hair, utterly humiliating her. She takes the train to her (I presume) home town. Then her husband returns; he lost his right arm but did not die. He finds her and brings her back—and the women accept her, as she is now legitimate. The narrator is a twelve or thirteen year old boy who is obsessed with her since first seeing her, and constantly spies on her. Thus he alone knows that she was not trying to seduce husbands; she was really a victim getting falsely blamed. When she became a prostitute, having really no choice, the boy paid to have her once, and he always loved her. It's an ugly story, surely true in essence. It certainly gives a notion of what it was like then in Italy. I relate in part because at that time I was in Spain, with my family; we made it to America in 1940 as I turned six and Europe went up in flames behind us. But for flukish circumstances, we'd have stayed in Spain, which I think was similar to Italy in essence. Thus I came yea close to never being American or having my later writing career.

I read Complete Guide to Brain Health—How to Stay Sharp, Improve Memory, and Boost Creativity, by Michael S. Sweeney. This is a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC book I bought for $39.95, almost $50 with tax and postage. I had hoped it would get into the actual layout and operation of the brain in clear language, maybe with colored pictures and diagrams, something I'm interested in. Well, it does, in a manner, but it is not the book I wanted, and I might have been satisfied with a ten dollar paperback instead of a nearly three pound hardcover. It is exactly what it says: a lavishly illustrated guide to having a healthy brain. This is a general health book with the focus on the brain. Eat right, exercise, don't smoke, and so on. I already do these things, and have for decades. What is good for the body is generally good for the brain. It does have insights that appeal, such as that people who read a lot of fiction develop better social skills than those who read nonfiction, and that eating plenty of fruits, grains and vegetables (that is to say, vegetarian) enhances a person's ability to pay attention and think quickly. Those who learn to play a musical instrument in childhood do better on word memory later in life. Robust physical exercise by those over 65 reduces the risk of falls, increases mobility and maybe fights dementia, but only one in eight does it, and one in 16 over age 75. So I'm one in 16. My thrice-weekly tour of the supermarket confirms that very few folk my age are exercising; as a general rule, the older the fatter, sometimes to grotesque extremes. It remarks on computers, but says they're not so good at creative thinking. That's reassuring; computer generated novels will not soon replace me.

I watched The Names Of Love, a French movie with English subtitles. Since these days I turn on the subtitles anyway, that's fine, though in places the dialogue is so swift that I have trouble keeping up with the printing. I bought it because the lead female character reminded me of one in one of my stories, and there are similarities in their appearance and candid use of sex to achieve liberal objectives, though the stories are quite different. The movie woman has sex with older conservative men in order to convert them to liberalism; she murmurs something just before they climax like “Not all Jews are rich” or “Arabs are people too” in the hope that this is when they are most susceptible to positive change. One day, distracted, she forgets to put on her dress, and discovers that she is naked when well along on a crowded city street. No one complains; she's a very pretty girl. There are bypaths, like a reference to why the Dvorak keyboard that I use came to exist. At any rate she gets interested in a middle of the road man, which is a problem since she has sex only with conservatives. Naturally they work it out in time. It's a fun movie with some serious references.

I read Aliena Too, my sequel to Aliena. It's a short novel, 45,000 words, narrated by Aliena herself, describing the introduction of the first male starfish to human form. They make a deal with a young married couple whose man is about to lose his brain through rejection: they can save his life by exchanging his brain with that of a starfish. The couple can't turn this down, but the wife then has to maintain the marriage despite knowing that it's not her husband any more, only his body. Yet the starfish, whom she names Gloaming, has significant assets, is a musical genius, and loves her; her whim is his law. Since he is one of the two most important folk on Earth, this is conducive. So she begins to melt, but then has a problem: her husband, in starfish form, is getting interested in Aliena, who has a lingering hankering for a human man. And they discover Earth is being watched by a galactic culture: is it friendly, or otherwise? By the time I completed it I realized that I had written myself into the need for another sequel. Sigh.

Things tend to back up when I'm writing a novel, as it preempts my focus. Once the novel was done, I caught up again on reading and videos. I watched Snow White and the Huntsman, one we had not seen in the theater; I have mentioned that Wife & Daughter decide such things, so I catch up later via DVD. This is a new take on the lady and the dwarfs, a grim hard-hitting fantasy. The evil sorceress queen kills the king, takes over the kingdom, imprisons Snow White, and runs the kingdom into the ground. Snow White escapes, but is helped by the huntsman as the queen's troops pursue them. The dwarfs are just one of a number of adventures along the way. She bites the Apple and goes into a coma. The huntsman, belatedly realizing that he cares for her, kisses her and departs. Then she wakes, and it seems doesn't know who has kissed her awake. She wins back the throne, but the romantic aspect is inconclusive. I presume there'll be a sequel in due course to cover that.

I watched House of the Sleeping Beauties. This is blurbed as a steamy art house hit. It's a 2008 German film with English subtitles. I found it fascinating. The house is like a whorehouse, only different: it's for older men, who get to spend the night with lovely young women who wouldn't give them the time of day ordinarily. But they are asleep and will not wake. The man can look at his companion, kiss her, stroke her, do anything except sex, but she is not aware of him. One night he has two together, both asleep. His curiosity grows, but the rule of the house is that he must not inquire. It seems the madam drugs the girls, with their consent; all they have to do is sleep. Then one dies; apparently the drug was too strong. This has to be covered up, lest it damage the reputation of the house. Then the man starts breaking the rules of the house, having sex with one girl, following another as she goes about by day. That's mischief.

I watched Torremolinos, a Spanish film with English subtitles. A door to door encyclopedia salesman faces constant rejection. Without sales he has no income, and is about to be kicked out of his apartment along with his wife. Then the publisher makes them an offer they can't economically refuse: make a sex movie, part of a new series, for an advance of 50,000 pesetas. I don't know what that translated to in dollars in 1973, but it's clearly enough to abate their financial problem. All they have to do is set up the camera and have sex. This is somewhat awkward and fumbling at first, but they catch on, and the wife does have a nice figure. In fact not only is it a success, but she becomes a porn star. He gets into directing, then writes a script for a movie she stars in. Great, except that then the boss wants her to have filmed real sex with another man. This is a fun movie, realistically done.

I read In the Days of Humans: Third Exodus by Terry R Hill. This is an old fashioned science fiction novel, long on discussion more than action, though there is action. The first exodus from Africa was Homo Erectus two million years ago; the second was modern humans 70,000 years ago; the third is mankind's serious venture into space to colonize Mars as Earth's society is collapsing, in significant part from warfare and corruption. Vicious international scheming has resulted in the destruction of civilization everywhere except Africa, so that once again the future of the human species lies there. They manage to mount a space operation despite hostile cross-currents and get into space. The leader in Africa is out for himself and his cronies, so it is up to the space command to finesse this and do something worthwhile. On Mars and beyond they discover evidences of ancient sapient aliens, and come to know a kind of alien entity who provides a lot of high tech information, greatly facilitating their settlement and survival on Mars. They do their best to make a better society, one that won't destroy itself, and seem to be succeeding, albeit it with difficulty. This novel is better for readers who like to ponder science and philosophy; pure action readers should look elsewhere.

November 22 was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president Kennedy. (I'm not using my ogre month NoRemember here because this is a deadly serious memory.) He was the first president I voted for after getting naturalized American and I believed in him. Naturally the Republicans did their best to screw him up, stopping his legislative initiatives, and he did turn out to be less than ideal in his sexual affairs, which seems to be par for the course, but it was a time of promise. He visited Tampa Bay and we welcomed him. Then he visited Dallas, and they greeted him with a barrage of condemnation that I suspect made the assassin think he'd be welcomed as a hero there, and he shot Kennedy. I have disliked Dallas ever since, just as conservatives have liked it, for the same reason. It is part of my emotional history. For three days the media were saturated with the assassination and the funeral; I hated it, but watched it all, unable to help myself. Part of my dislike of our gun culture stems from that: let any nut who wants a gun have it, and he'll use it in nutty ways. Maybe if some nuts shot up the headquarters of the NRA they'd get the message. We need responsible gun ownership; the continuing slaughter of innocents makes that clear. Meanwhile there are conspiracy theories about the assassination; my judgment is that it was indeed the lone assassin, but that there was a climate of conspiracy in Dallas, an attitude of “somebody should shoot that liberal.” Enough to encourage the nut.

Personal in another way: I got queries from readers, about why some of my novels were not on Amazon, and learned that Amazon is acting as an “after the fact” editor. If a reader reports a typo or maybe a bad word in a novel, Amazon will automatically take the book offline. It is supposed to tell the publisher, but it seems that more often than not they don't bother, at least with small publishers. So I lose sales without knowing it, until a reader complains. So if you can't find one of my books at Amazon, check with me, and I'll check with the publisher, and we'll get it put back on. Amazon has transformed the publishing scene, notably with Kindle, and I give them credit for that. But they can be arrogantly careless, and that too should be noted.

I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian: I don't eat the flesh of any living creature, or use leather, but do use animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs. This stems from my deep thinking about death when my closest cousin died of bone cancer when he was 15 and I was 16. I concluded that I did not want to contribute to death in any way I didn't have to, and when I was 18 I gradually turned vegetarian, and have remained so for over 60 years. The one condition I required of my wife was that she be vegetarian, and if I ever should have to marry again, if death should us part, that condition would remain. I admire the vegans, who eschew animal products, but it's a step too far for me. I mean, is manure used for fertilizing crops an animal product? What about riding horses; aren't they providing a service? One that really gets me is gelatin: it is used for most vitamin capsules and is hard to avoid. Or the rennet used to make cheese. I remain somewhat conflicted. I also admire outfits like PETA that fight for animal rights, but am not activist in the way they are. I am interested in animal welfare, as I am in human welfare, and remain alert for ways I can conveniently improve the situation. Recently a fan brought up the subject of soy products, which are the basis for a number of imitation meats and of course soy milk. But is soy safe? One Dr. Mercola mentions thousands of studies that have linked soy consumption with thyroid dysfunction, infertility, immune system malfunctioning, digestive distress, cognitive decline (more bluntly put: losing your mind), malnutrition, heart disease, and cancers. That got my attention, and not just because I take pills for thyroid dysfunction, and my wife is medicated for an immune malfunction that almost took her out nine years ago, and my daughter died of cancer. Soy is one of the highest food sources of phytoestrogens, that is plant-produced estrogens, which may have a feminizing effect on males. I admire women, and love their look and feel, but don't want to be feminized myself. The recommendation is to use healthy alternatives to soy milk, such a coconut milk, almond milk, or rice milk. Okay, I checked with a vegetarian reader who recommends soy products, and he checked with Andrew Weil, MD, of the Vitamin Advisor Team (they don's spell it “adviser”). They say that when you consider that millions of men in China, Japan, and other Asian countries have hod soy foods in their daily diets from earliest childhood, there is no apparent feminizing effect or reduction in fertility. In fact including soy foods in your diet seems to have a net healthy effect. You do have to watch it if taking thyroid replacement medication; better to not eat soy within three hours of such medication. I'd say the jury is still out, but that probably soy as safe. Still, if I were to turn Vegan, I'd try some of those alternate milks, just in case.

Liberal columnist Mark Bittman suggests how to feed the world, mentioning that fifty years ago President Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet the situation remains dire. A billion people remain hungry. The world produces enough food to go around; the problem is that it doesn't get to those hungry folk. A third of the food goes to feeding animals raised for human consumption, some goes to make biofuel, and as much as a third is wasted. It seems that there are two major food systems: industrial that uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world's food, and peasant (small landholders) that uses 30% of the resources to provide 70% of the food. If you define “productivity” not as pounds per acre but as the number of people fed per acre, the United States ranks behind China and India and the world average. This suggests that we would do better moving back to more traditional farming, instead of catering to the big-money interests. Actually my own interest is in developing third kingdom resources: fungus, algae and such, which I think could produce a lot more food using far less land area. But the larger message is that we could feed the world, if we wanted to.

I read Princess Miri: An Erotic Coming of Age Monster Romance Novel by Cerys de Lys. This is exactly what the title says. The author is a fan of mine who started with the second Xanth novel and later graduated to my HiPiers column and the Electronic Publishing Survey, and now she has half a slew of self published Kindle books and stories and is doing well. Exactly the kind of success a fan of mine deserves, no? This one is a collection of related stories made into a novel, so there is some repetition. It concerns a lovely but bitchy princess who is given a ten foot tall ugly troll with a penis in proportion. It's not long before she is wedging that monster member into her snug vagina, in urgent detail. Later her friend sneaks in a similar plumbing, and later yet her enemy gets it on or rather in with the huge member of a centaur. If you like really tight sexual squeezes with copious (pints) ejaculations, this is the book for you. The novel is no deeper than the girls' anatomy, but is fun throughout. Fantasy has come a long way from the sexless efforts of my day, baby.

Newspaper column by Gina Barreca remarks on the humanities in education. Conservatives like to make schooling more efficient by pruning back the non-essentials like literature, language, philosophy, history and the arts, but the author points out that this is training workers rather than educating citizens. What use are the arts? A friend answered that: nobody ever charmed a girl by reciting an equation. For many, life reveals itself more intimately in literature than in ledgers. It's better to teach the next generation something other than greed, territoriality, anger, outrage, bitterness and a limited vision of the world and the mind. As a practitioner of the arts I naturally agree. “Ask Marilyn” surely agrees too; she says a life without art is like a life without love. Speaking of love: there's a Bizarro cartoon of a man saying “I believe that marriage is a union between one man and a series of ever-younger women.” I doubt that man is a patron of the arts.

There are a couple of recent Florida cases that make me wonder. One was when two girls remorselessly stalked and bullied a twelve year old acquaintance online, suggesting that she should kill herself, until she did commit suicide. They were charged—and then the charges were dropped. Apparently it's all right to bully someone to death in this state. A columnist suggests a way to handle this sort of thing: make the bullies' parents criminally liable if the behavior continues. Another way I think would be to put the bullies in a reform school without any internet connection. The other is a Florida State football star who is charged with raping a girl. She reported it within two hours and they got DNA showing that he had sex with her—and the police delayed ten months before charging him. This mixes my emotions. I have been a fan of Florida State for decades, and this year they have an excellent chance to take it all. But I don't approve of letting athletes rape drunk girls at parties. So do we do justice by the girl at the expense of the national championship, or do we screw the girl again? I wish the choice were not so stark. Maybe related: my wife and I were making out but paused to watch the last second of the Alabama vs Auburn football game on TV—and saw the play of the year, as Auburn ran a missed field goal back a hundred yards for the winning score. That was a second well spent; it pays to know when to pause.

The last DVD movie I watched in NoRemember was Don't Let Me Die on a Sunday, wherein a girl overdoses on Ecstasy and is pronounced dead, only to wake later when a morgue worker makes out with the supposed corpse. He's into sadomasochism and such, and they have a fair tour of parties and orgies. Not really my thing.

Other notes: it turns out that there is a major use for sleep that they hadn't known about: flushing the dregs out of the brain. This is done by the lymph system in the rest of the body, but not the brain. But go to sleep and the spigots open and gunk is washed out. While we are awake and active is not the time to be hosing out the crap, but during sleep down time the night crew gets busy. This would be in addition to the sifting and classifying and storing of the day's memories, and to the dreams which, according to my theory, represent the necessary consciousness to figure out exactly how we feel about some memories so we can file them properly. The body generally does know what it's doing. Toyota is going to mass produce a fuel-cell powered car by 2015. We drive a Prius and are well satisfied ; I'll really be interested in that new car.

Xanth fans take note: Doug Harter had been working diligently on the Xanth Character database, which had gotten sadly out of date. Now it is up to date through the present or near future , I believe, on this site. He coordinated with my daughter to get it posted. Xanth #37 Esrever Doom is now in hardcover print, with paperback to follow next year. That's Mood Reverse backwards, and a reader points out that if you continue reversing it you get Reverse Mood, then by inverting the M, Reverse Wood, which features in the novel. Xanth #38 Board Stiff will be published electronically Dismember 17, with a trade paperback edition in stores. The hardcover can be ordered the same date, via <elizabeth@premieredigitalpublishing.com>, and mass market paper can be released later next year if there is sufficient interest from fans. I apologize to readers I misled; as with Obamacare, things did not work out according to my understanding. In fact I fear the doom of my print publication, but we'll see. With luck the electronic version will do well. I have no intention of going gently into that good night.

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