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Piers the handyman 2007
Jewel-Lye 2013

I read All There Is—Love Stories From StoryCorps, by Dave Isay. These are brief love stories selected from the radio program. The deal is that you make an appointment to bring in anyone you want to honor by listening. You sit across from each other at a small table, with microphones, and for forty minutes you ask questions and listen. At the time of this book, nearly 75,000 people had recorded. A common theme is love, especially how they meet. They may marry and be together half a century, or one may die—two stories relate to deaths in 9-11—and the interview may be with a child of that union. Sometimes parents opposed the union, leading to decades apart before they reconnect. Some discover they're gay, and realign. Love can be any type. Some are like “I saw this stunningly lovely girl...” while others found their way after negative initial impressions. One young man was surprised when a woman approached him and said “I'm your future mother in law.” She was correct, though he hadn't even met the girl. So these are interesting, pleasant, not earthshaking, just ordinary folk finding each other. Okay, so how did I find my wife of 57 years? A group of us were in the college lounge and she started talking with me. We'd seen each other around—everybody knew everybody, in this small 50- to 75-student college—and worked on a dish-washing crew together, and she read science fiction. She was interested? So was I, and we talked for some time. Next morning at breakfast she had tilted up a chair beside her and I knew it was for me. We were on. Thus we never formally dated, we just associated, and it lasted. I like to say that I married the smartest woman I could catch, but really she caught me. Her intelligence was a real turn-on, though; I wanted smart children. Wouldn't make much of a story.

I read Dragon (A History of Purga Novel) by Rustin Petrae. Conspiracy is afoot, and Prince Rone finds himself pursued by the equivalent of a drone as he flies, and crashes. But an enemy chief's lovely daughter Keiara finds him and helps him so that he survives, albeit with a lost leg. Through her he learns that much of what he has been told about her people the Terraqouis is false; they don't eat people, in fact they are vegetarians. (There's something I like about this.) The two are falling in love, but he must return to save his kingdom from a vicious revolution, and there are complications and mischief galore. What intrigues me is the way Rone's technological folk have microscopic robots called nanos that are marvelously proficient at quickly making things, ranging from guns to shelters, while the Terra can shift to animal forms, such a flying birds. While I feel that a competent copy-editor could help the text, I appreciate the quality of imagination that is on display as these two cultures interact. I did not see the relevance of the title, as dragons were not in evidence, until the end, when it became astonishingly relevant. This is worth reading.

I read Chuggee and the Bleeding Gateways by Brent Michael Kelly, a sequel to The Scarecrows of Stagwater, which I reviewed here in 2011. I had trouble making up my mind about this one. Chuggee is a kind of spirit of drought; he's always thirsty, and when he lets himself go he can literally drink a whole river or lake, or suck the water out of an army. So he tries to be careful. But he is in among assorted people and creatures who have their own agendas, and many of them are deadly in their own fashions. This is a formula for sheer mayhem, and it happens. This is just about the most bloody, gutsy, gruesome, stomach-turning violence I have encountered, and the language fits the narrative, being as foul as I've seen in print. Understand, I'm not saying that the writing or the novel are bad; the language fits the content, and there can be real art in it. The author has a genuine talent for expressing awfulness in esthetically shaped sickening analogies. There can indeed be beauty in garbage. If you want something clean and pleasant, stay well clear of this novel. If you want to revel in gore and ugly language, read it and be sated. This is really an interim story, with several viewpoints marked in sections, as diverse folk gradually come together for a gory finale. There will obviously be more; for one thing, one young woman says she will be his next wife, though he hasn't asked her.

Jack Vance died at age 96. My awareness of him began with a story from The Dying Earth, and I spent years or decades running it down. For me his best was the Lionesse fantasy trilogy, which may be the finest extant. I regret that what I understand was his major novel, Big Planet, was severely cut by the publisher, to his dissatisfaction; maybe some day it will be republished restored. He was a fine writer, with marvelous facility of expression and unique notions, but I also fault him for a certain arrogance of perspective, as he seemed not to care how readers might feel. That may account for his failure to reach the commercial heights of writers like me. Regardless, he was one great writer, and we probably will not see his like again. Decades back I contacted him in behalf of an avid fan of his, who did a detailed essay on him, and I found amateur publication for it. Two incidental things about that: a critic faulted Vance for having a story that was suspiciously similar to anther that had been published. The fan agreed that they were suspiciously similar, but pointed out that the Vance story had been published two years before the other. Touche! The other was more personal: I was then on my way up as a writer, and I griped privately how early writers were underpaid while established ones were overpaid. The fan said that it was only fitting that we also-rans be underpaid so that real pros like Vance could be paid more. Then my career took off commercially, with Xanth, and I was the one making the larger amounts. The fan had nothing to say. For the record, I still wish there were a better way for newcomers to be competitive, and for established writers to have better literary control. I hate seeing greed govern art. Online self publishing may be such a way, and I support it.

Andy Offutt died, age 78. He was ten days younger than I. My awareness of him started faintly negatively, when he won a contest limited to college students that my college never was notified about. (The contest I entered didn't have a winner). But later we got in touch and were friendly. We exchanged manuscripts for critiquing, and collaborated on a published story. My wife and I visited at his home in Kentucky for a week in the 1960s. He got interested in the erotic market, so I went to a local store and bought some stuff and described what there was, helping him get started, and he became a successful erotic novelist. Later I got interested in that market myself, and asked his advice, and he was standoffish, implying that I was ignorant for asking. That was the problem with him; another writer described him as terminally shallow. Once he collaborated with another writer, but objected to a change the other had made, so bawled him out in pages of text, then cut the letter into pieces and pasted them on a blank sheet in scattered order and sent that to the collaborator; he sent me the straight diatribe, with the stricture than I not forward it to the object of it. Considering that the collaboration was on a story the other had started, and that the suggestion had been reasonable, I was bemused. Another time he showed me a historical fiction project he was starting. I loved it and saluted him for it. He put it away and as far as I know never returned to it. Andy went on to became the president of SFWA, and that may have been a good match considering the shallowness of that organization. So he was flawed, but basically he was a good guy and a good writer, and we were friends. And yes, his death makes me feel a chill wind down my spine, because we were so close in age.

I try not to unduly belabor my daughter's death nigh four years ago, as it is at best peripheral to my readers' interest, but I remain much aware of it, and things can come from left field to remind me. A neighbor's boy, Danny, had his second birthday two months before Penny's, and thereafter that I took her visiting on a daily basis, helping her socialize. Those were pleasant half hours, as the family was nice, and they liked Penny, who was one cute hyperactive little blonde. (My mother thought I was blond, though my hair is dark, and I thought she was maybe color blind. But once Penny and I compared our hair, and discovered that it was the same color at the same length; hers grew far longer and bleached into blond. That explained a lot, as did her diagnosed dyslexia; when I was young that did not exist, so I was a stupid boy who took three years to get through first grade because I couldn't learn to read. I supported her closely though 16 years of schooling, to insure that the educational system did not do to her what it had done to me, and there were some parent-teacher encounters that were like pitched battles, but they did learn not to screw her.) Then they moved, and the visits stopped. Much grief came to that family thereafter, as Danny's father died when he was 7 and his mother had trouble coping, getting financially ruined by a dishonest relative. Bad things do happen to good people, unfortunately. Fast forward forty plus years: I heard from Danny, who wanted to get in touch with Penny to apologize for something he had done, only to learn that she was dead. That broke him up. That sort of thing happens, I suspect, to all of us; when we act, we discover it's too late, and it's painful. There is one curious sequel: Danny's son, three-year-old Danny Junior, visits and plays with a neighbor's little girl named Penny. For now, until they move. I hope their lives play out better than their namesakes did.

Florida has been in a chronic drought the past few years. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it deluges, but between times it's too dry. In JeJune Tropical Storm Andrea did bring us some rain. May it continue. We live in an area that rain doesn't much like; storms drench everywhere else but dry up here, only to recharge when they are safely beyond us. It's frustrating, but that helps when hurricanes come, because they never have that force when they pass.

I wrote a 45,000 word short novel WereWoman in JeJune, featuring Phil, a novice private eye who is not a werewolf but a werewoman, able to change genders. That can help when interviewing some suspects. He is part of the Supernatural persuasion that exists among us but stays hidden, because mundanes have been known to burn witches, impale vampires, hack apart zombies, and condemn succubi who are just doing their job of accommodating horny sleepers. Mundane bigotry is a continuing problem. Someone is killing Supernaturals, and a sexy witch hires Phil to crack the case. Naturally they don't want the mundane police involved. It gets personal when Phil's best friend, a were-bear, is killed. This novel is an experiment for me; my collaborator J R Rain, of Vampire-For-Hire fame, suggested I try the genre. It's halfway lighthearted, and sexy in places, especially when dealing with a succuba. Great literature? No. Entertainment? Yes. It should be self published soon.

My wife and I had our 57th wedding anniversary in good order, and celebrated by buying a cheesecake. That's what passes for excitement at our age. We are doing well enough, considering. We have known each other longer than we knew three of our four parents; that lends a mildly startling perspective. What's the secret of a long marriage? Find the right partner, postpone dying, and have good luck. We have continual communication, so any problems are dealt with promptly. Which is the secret of any marriage: the ideal partners can split when problems come, while those who learn how to handle problems survive.

I play games on the computer as a spot diversion from my workaholic nature. When it comes to half an hour or more on a given day, I stop. I've played a lot of FreeCell, surely the best card game extant, always winning because the program clues me when I make a bad move, but it can still be a fair challenge to find the right move. I used to like the tile game Shisen-Sho, but then a new computer didn't have it. Recently I checked and found that my current system does have it, so I'm playing it again. That's where you search for matching tiles, eliminating them by pairs. Theoretically every game is winnable, but this doesn't have the error-warning feature, so I lose more than I win. Regardless, it's a good game.

Assorted notes: twenty years ago, within about 50 miles of here, a cute twelve year old girl, Jennifer Odom, was abducted, probably raped, and murdered. The crime has not been solved. It was thought there was a current lead as they searched in a local lake for clues, but it came to nothing. I hate the thought that a girl on her way home can suffer such a fate, and that her murderer can get away with it. There's a report that in the military there are more sexual assaults on men than on women. This accords with the statistic that more men are raped (by men) than women, because of prison rapes. Men are even more reluctant to report such things than women are. I do think the military needs to clean up its act and stop covering up for the criminals in its midst. But I know that fairness and justice are not the most important things to the military mind. I served two years in the US Army, and suffered when I stood on my rights. When I declined to sign up for the saving bond program, because I needed the money for my wife and I to live on, in retaliation I was removed as Survey and Math instructor, made to pull weeds, and denied promotion and leaves. Was this legitimate? No. But it was and is evidently still the Army way. Which is not to say the Army is a total loss; the HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN says that Ft. Bliss, Texas, is converting to total renewable energy, using Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Waste Conversion, promoting fuel efficient vehicles, and building bicycle lanes. Who would have thought that the US Army would show the way to a better future? The local newspaper, the TAMPA BAY TIMES, ran a three-part series on America's worst charities: those that collect money and sped it mainly on themselves rather than their stated missions. It's too bad that you can't even try to contribute to charity without risking getting ripped off. Article in NEW SCIENTIST on exercise: it is vital to our health, yet so many folk don't bother, and fade. We evolved to be the best long-distance runners on the planet. In fact we can run in the heat at a speed and duration that will kill most other animals, because our legs are springy, our balance is superior, and our cooling mechanism is the most efficient in the animal kingdom. We are also the best throwers on the planet; chimps can throw, but not nearly as well as we can. This obviously is for effective hunting and defense; a well thrown spear can stop an attacking lion. It seems a shame to throw that away, which is one reason I do consistently exercise. But I have never experienced the fabled Runner's High. There is now a computer algorithm that will change words, punctuation, and spacing throughout a novel as a person purchases it, so as to watermark that copy of the ebook. That makes it traceable to that person, should it wind up being pirated. As the victim of millions of words of pirating, I hope this works out. Newspaper article on what to do if you win a multimillion dollar lottery. It seems that more than 70% of winners run through the money within five years, regardless of the size of their winnings. You're probably better off to take it in annual payments, because then when you squander it, there'll be more next year. And what about the guaranteed lottery winners that are big-time CEOs? They now make 354 times the pay of the average US workers, the largest pay gap in the world. Their companies don't do better than others, they just channel more money to the greedheads, which may be a reason foreign companies are displacing ours. It is obvious that the big hogs have their snouts in the trough. How about a law limiting it to, say, ten times the average? If a CEO can't live on that, let him find some other line of endeavor, like maybe working in a chain gang. In Dear Abby, a discussion of elder abuse. I don't like any kind of abuse, child, sexual, economic, racial, whatever. But I am increasingly conscious of elder abuse, because I know that in the normal course my wife or I will die, leaving the other with failing mental resources, a target for this. How can we protect ourselves? The column says that “Elder abuse can be physical, emotional, financial and sexual.” There can also be neglect. 90% happens at the hands of a family member or caregiver. It says you can learn the signs of its occurrence at www.ncea.aoa.gov. I may do that. And a comment on the Pain Ray in a letter in NEW SCIENTIST by Jamie Russell: how long will it be before the pain rays will be used as torture? They leave no physical evidence. So arrests will lead to confessions, regardless of the merits of the case. That makes me nervous. Newspaper letter comment in Zero Population Growth by Larry Brown: when there were just Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply” was vital to the survival of the species, and thereafter cultures needed to have numerous young men to defend against aggressive neighboring tribes. But in today's world it is irresponsible in light of the population crisis. Right. As a character asks about religious strictures to produce ever more babies in my The Sopaths, where overpopulation is causing horrendous mischief, “Which side are they on?” Not the side of common sense.

Article in DISCOVER magazine on mushrooms. I have had an interest in the subject since my grandfather made his fortune in the mushroom business, back in the 1920s. One of my early novels, Omnivore, features active intelligent fungi. When you see a mushroom, that's only the fruiting part of it; most of it is underground. There is conjecture that fungus can have a brain of a sort, not like ours, but perhaps sufficient for a kind of intelligence. It is possible that the problem of cleaning up our polluted planet could be solved by fungal networks to treat waste-water, control insects, abate diseases, even reduce radioactive contamination. Mushrooms could be grown to feed the hungry. There's simply a huge amount the third kingdom can potentially do.

Newspaper column by David Brooks “Making a living isn't making a life” makes some interesting points. There are those who start out seeking to make money so they can use it to do good works; that philosophy was presented to me by my Quaker Great Aunt when I was in my teens. I didn't buy it then and don't buy it now. As Brooks says, every hour you spend with others, you become more like them. Gradually you become a different person, perhaps more interested in the money than the good works. As my collaborator Roberto Fuentes put it with respect to his experience as a Cuban terrorist, the means can become the ends. He blew up buildings to oppose the Castro regime, but it got so that the real point was the explosions, which could deliver an almost erotic charge. Brooks says he would worry about turning yourself into a means rather than an end, and become a fiscal policy. “But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself.” “Taking a job just to make money...is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars.” And of course we see some of those in good charities making very rich salaries. He concludes that if you really want to help children in Africa or Bangladesh, it's probably better to go there rather than to Wall Street. Another newspaper article is titled “For loss of freedoms, blame the Patriot Act.” That just about covers it. I think there is hardly anything more unpatriotic than the Patriot Act, which is the source of the authority that permits our government to spy on us all. It should be abolished. As a letter in TAMPA BAY TIMES by Paul Starr says “If I have nothing to hide, then what do I fear?...those who believe the ends justify the means.”

Newspaper article on 3-D printing says that now they can print just about anything from jewelry to guns cheaply and conveniently. We're on the verge of a new industrial revolution. Entire manufacturing industries will disappear. No need to import from China when you can print it at home. This should be interesting indeed.

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