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Piers the handyman 2007
Marsh 2013
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I finished writing Aliena, 42,400 words, which makes it a short novel. It held me more or less mesmerized the whole month. Because it will be self published, it should be available electronically before long. I hope readers like it as I do. Aliena, remember, is an alien brain in a human body, but she's no horror, merely a woman with a difficult job to do, and in love. It's a science fiction romance.

Brain on Fire, partly as research for Aliena. It's about a young woman who devolved into a month of madness. Her body started attacking her brain as if it were a foreign object; it was immune rejection, technically anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. She started hallucinating, became paranoid, forgetful, with wide emotional swings. She believes that stories of demon possession may be undiagnosed cases of this, and I think she's right. Heavy medication and time tided her through, but it was an ugly, scary time. Her main medication was the same IVIg that now fends off my wife's chronic inflammatory demyelating polyneoropathy, CIDP for short; in her case it was the arms and legs that were attacked, rather than the brain, but it's a similar principle. When your immune system decides that part of your body is foreign, you're in serious trouble. It's like a country's own army turning against it and killing civilians. So this was an interesting book.

 

Carnival of Cryptids, a Kindle All-Star Anthology edited by Laurie Laliberte and Bernard Schaffer, published by Apiary Society Publications. The authors are unpaid; proceeds go to charity. There are some pretty good stories here, interspersed by fragments, the latter uncredited but I think by the editors. In “ABC” by Tony Healey a young woman is seriously mauled by dogs or something, and reporter Robert Dent investigates, but is met with general noncooperation and even muted hostility by the townsfolk he questions. What's going on here? Seems this is a tourist resort, and they don't want to scare off the tourists. It appears that a couple of tigers, or something like that, are roaming the night. He concludes he can't report it because nobody would believe it. Too bad for future victims. Then “The Squid,” where lunch is a live squid. Yuck! Then “Six Gun Diplomacy” by William Vitka, wherein sort of squid men attack a town, raping women in order to spread their own kind. “The Jungle,” wherein a woman eats a live squid, but it remains alive inside her, chewing her up, and has to be vomited out. “Where is Captain Rook?” by Jeff Provine, wherein a hunter goes after a legendary giant sloth, but the sloth kills the hunter instead. “The Lost,” with a child seeing the creature others are hunting, but doesn't tell. I appreciate that; legendary creatures are on the verge of extinction and need protection from poachers. “The Cage,” by Simon John Cox, which I think for me is the most evocative of the stories. A showman buys a yeti, which is a large manlike beast, keeps it caged and shows it off carnival style, making a lot of money. The yeti is smart, and learns to talk. It wants to go home, but the man is balky, and in a misunderstanding the yeti gets killed. This is disquieting; the yeti should never had been treated that way, and comes across as a better person than his captor. In “The Island” a child manages to avoid getting killed by vicious mermaids. “The Ogopogo Club,” by Susan Smith Josephy, wherein a woman is subject to two drunk men who treat her with total disrespect, and violence if she protests. She manages to push one off the boat to die, then swims for an island, uncertain whether she'll make it. Until she is found by eight swimming woman, who know her name and welcome her to the Ogopogo Club. I suspect this is allegorical, an escape for abused women. “The Loch” where they are looking for the Loch Ness Monster, and I think not finding it. “Oh My Darling of the Deep Blue Sea” by Doug Glassford. Colin goes to the sea, seeking something; he sings his song and dies, perhaps having found it. “The Real” where someone goes to see a show of what will occur when all the fantastic things of the world are eliminated by reality. “The Paring Knife” by Matt Posner. This is one wild cooking contest, with things like Mongolian Death Worms, wild dishes, and dangerous conditions. Cooking doesn't have to be dull! It put me in mind of Cookbook of the Dead by Felix Galvan that I read last year. “Night Train” featuring nice shows as you travel. So what do I think of this volume, overall? It's interesting, but more into horror than is my taste. I'd rather have the monsters discovered, and treated right, and explained better, but I realize that these are things that would ruin the horror of the unknown.

My anthology of the early stories that most turned me on, One and Wonder, edited by Evan Filipek, is being published by Eraserhead Press under its imprint FANTASTIC PLANET BOOKS. This is a special project for me, done at my own expense ($20,000), with stories like “The Equalizer” by Jack Williamson, wherein a space flight returns to discover Earth completely changed, “The Girl Had Guts” by Theodore Sturgeon, wherein that is both figurative and literal, “Vengeance for Nikolai by Walter M Miller, wherein a lovely young Russian woman seeks revenge for the loss of her newborn baby in a war with America in a truly remarkable manner, and “Breaking Point” by James Gunn, wherein a spaceship lands on an alien world and receives the most remarkable and telling welcome imaginable, right there inside the ship. Other authors are Isaac Asimov, William Tenn, Rog Phillips, Peter Phillips, and Gary Jennings. My view of the science fiction genre was shaped by these stories, and they surely made me what I am, as a professional writer, to a fair extent. They all date from 50 to 65 years ago, so chances are you haven't seen many of them. My commentary is throughout the volume; it's really as much about me as about the stories. Yes, I made my fortune in fantasy, rather than science fiction; that was pretty much an accident of situation, as I was not much of a fantasy fan in the early days. Let me mention one story that isn't there, because we could not locate it: it appeared I think in THRILLING WONDER STORIES or one of its sister magazines circa 1954 and was only a page long. I remember neither the author nor the title. It was about a nuclear test, and folk were watching the expanding mushroom cloud, which seemed to pause for a fraction of a second. In that cloud was a civilization trying desperately to save its realm from destruction, but the forces of dissolution were too great and it perished. All in that fraction of a second. That perspective got to me. If anyone recognizes that story, let me know. Anyway, I believe this is a good volume and I trust that readers will enjoy it.

 

A reader made an appealing suggestion: many of my titles appear for sale on Amazon, but the older ones are not necessarily well reviewed. Now I know that such reviews are notoriously corrupt, a significant percentage being by the authors of the books, anonymously, and others torpedoed by readers who have grudges. I have indulged in none of this, but now will to this extent: anyone who wants to review my books can do so, and maybe such reviews will help sell copies. I encourage you to express yourselves.

 

Odd notes: Some calendars are more intriguing than others. Such as Ladies of Manure 2013, which features scantily clad women wearing poop or posing over toilets. It is put out by the Fertile Earth Foundation, www.fertileearth.org, to promote composting. We compost our kitchen garbage, and some seeds do sprout, but so far no bare women. Ah, well. A reader sent me a picture of a poster saying “I've got nothing against God. It's his Fan Club I can't stand.” They found two more small moons of Dwarf Planet Pluto and are focusing on naming them, considering Nix the night goddess, and Hydra of the many heads. Related News flash: Dwarf Planet Eris, out beyond Pluto, whose associated Demoness married Jumper Spider in Xanth, has a moon named Dysnomia. She's not in my dictionaries, so I Googled her, and learned that she is the Spirit of Lawlessness, associated with Adikia (Injustice) Ate (Ruin) and Hybris (Violence). Her opposite number is Eunomia (Civil Order). Dysnomia is the daughter of Eris, with no father listed, so she's keeping up with the times. I shall have to make note of that in a future Xanth novel.

 

Last month I struggled for two hours remaking my Survey of Electronic Publishers file, because when I translated it from .doc, which makes it a 1.5 M size file to .docx, about a 300K file, it deleted much of my file. So we turned off the automatic website recognition feature and thought that fixed it. No such luck; it deleted most of my recent update. Apparently docx and changes mode interact in devious ways. So I returned to LibreOffice's .odt, hoping that for online updates I can convert it without having the program throw most of it away. I picture the programmers sniggering up a fit, watching the mischief their destructive programming does. Well, a reader sent me information on a new word processor, yWriter, at www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html, that breaks a novel into chapters and scenes. I don't know; I generally prefer to organize my own scenes and chapters. Does anyone out there have experience with this?

 

The HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN comments on drones, raising some questions. They've been taking out top Al-qaida leaders overseas, but what about when they come to America? They come in any mode, down I think to bee size, and can infiltrate just about anywhere. Do you want a drone buzzing about your house taking pictures of your private activities? Maybe stinging you with a lethal explosive dart if its distant pilot thinks you look suspicious? This begins to become nervous. My observation suggests that things capable of abuse, such as guns or sex, generally do get abused, and drones are capable of a lot. Orwell's 1984 could be closer than we like. Well, resistance is forming, composed of the far right and the far left, neither of which is too keen on violation of privacy. We'll see.

 

Newspaper article by Justin Cronin titled “Confessions of a liberal gun owner.” He believe in regulating guns, but appreciates their use for self protection. He loathes the NRA, but has a 16 year old daughter who is aware that one in five women are victims of sexual assault, so learned how to handle a Glock 9. And you know, a competently handled gun should indeed be an equalizer when you are a woman alone. What about when a hurricane blows out the lights and the looters and rapists come out, as they always seem to do? Is there a better answer than to be armed and competent? Another newspaper article by Connie Schultz tells of women wary of guns but discovering they may need them to defend themselves against batterers and rapists. Sure the gun nuts exist, and the NRA seems dedicated to profiteering from gun sales regardless of the resulting carnage—in fact gun sales rise after such an incident--but there does seem to be an underlying rationale. I don't have a clear answer. Suicides lead the nation's cases of gun deaths, which some take as an argument against guns. But I believe a person should have the right to end his/her life in the manner preferred, and with all the restrictions on this, a gun is a convenient answer. “Suicidal attempts with guns are fatal in 85 percent of cases, while those with pills are fatal in just 2 percent of cases.” Guns work. Nicholas Kristof has an apt commentary, clarifying that guns don't make us safer. One study showed that a gun was 12 times as likely to result in the death of a household member than of an intruder. Another study showed that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner's household. Most guns are used safely, yet they are more likely to cause tragedies that to avert them. Soon gun deaths are likely to exceed traffic deaths for the first time in modern US history. But I am nervous about the catch: if everyone else has a gun and you don't, are you more likely to survive? It might be better if no one had a gun, but that is not the case and unlikely to be the case in America. We are already in this arena. Article by Sean Faircloth “Why more guns won't make us safer” points out two more things: how frequently guns are used against women, which counters the argument that women use them for self defense, and the data confirming the success of gun control in other countries. There are other ways to kill people, but guns are 12 times as likely to cause death. Overall, guns don't protect women. Gun control elsewhere is working; in Australia mass shootings stopped completely after they cracked down on guns. Overall, banning guns, especially handguns, works. Let's face it, deer hunters seldom use their rifles to terrorize women.

 

Yet another article on bullying in schools, this one by Alexis Lounsbury. She got followed, teased, hit, kicked, and is still not sure what made her a target. Once when the school bus pulled away a group of boys chased her down and jumped her. She filed a report at the school, but they said since it happened off school premises and the bus driver hadn't seen anything, they could do nothing. She stopped it only by dropping out of that school. Folk who think bullying is only a little teasing are blinding themselves to the far more physical reality of it. There have been recent news incidents about broadcast bully attacks, such as a girl getting beat up on a school bus, because she tried to stand up for a friend. Of suicides by victims who can't get redress from the system. I maintain that bullying could be stopped, if schools really wanted to stop it. How? By removing the bullies and sending them to reform school. Online, by tracking the sources and shutting them down, with penalties. Why don't the schools care? They could do their jobs better with the bullies gone. Is the educational establishment savvy enough to realize that? It seems not.

 

I am not familiar with the actor William H Macy, but THE WEEK has a brief piece on his attitudes that resonates with me. He doesn't understand why sex is considered more offensive than violence. Movies filled with gunshots, gore, and murder may be classified PG, while those with sex or nudity are R rated. “We're so accepting of violence—ugly, ugly, ugly violence—and we let our children watch it, and yet we're allergic to sex. I don't know much but I know this: Violence is bad and sex is good. Even the bad sex I've had was pretty good. Violence is always bad.” He says the consequences are everywhere, such as priests molesting children. Boys are said to think about sex every four seconds, thinking about it more than food. So why is violence celebrated while sex is shameful? Why indeed! I don't pay much attention to TV but my wife has it on, and I get peripheral glimpses of routine programming, with things like women being hung up and tortured, folk getting their eyeballs plucked out, folk buried alive in shallow graves, but sex banished to offstage. My children are long since grown, but I would have much preferred to see them watch pornography than gory violence. They'd have been bored by porn.

 

Article by Emily Esfahani Smith titled “What is a good life?” makes the point that it is better to quest for meaning than for happiness. Sure, in America the pursuit of happiness is paramount, but happiness really can't be pursued; a person needs a reason to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior, being a taker rather than a giver. The pursuit of meaning relates more to sacrifice and giving. The article refers to Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who wrote one of the ten most influential books in the United States, Man's Search for Meaning. He had savage life experience, being interned by the Nazis and losing his family to them. He concluded that being human was more associated with meaning than happiness. I agree. I remarked in an Author's Note long ago that our lives have meaning only if we live for meaning. I believe it. Much of what I'm doing now relates, as I try to make my mark by helping other writers. I deplore the utter selfishness that the Republican party seems to endorse as a creed. Our human species should be better than that.

 

Article in THE WEEK: why did violent crime rates soar in the 1960s and decline spectacularly in the 1990s? It may be exposure to lead, which was used in gasoline to pep up cars. Millions of children breathed the fumes as car ownership soared. Then when they got the load out, crime decreased. This cuts across both liberal and conservative mantras. Crime may not be the result of poverty and may not be abated by locking millions of people up. Just get the pollution out.

 

NEW SCIENTIST had an article titled “War of Words” where Mark Pagel discusses languages. Why are there so many? Well, they seem to follow Rapoport's rule, which says that species diversity is greatest at the equator and declines toward the poles. Humanity it essentially one species, but diverges linguistically in a similar manner. As the globe unifies, thanks to things like the Internet, that diversity may diminish. The question is, if we wind up with a single global language, which one would it be? Today about 1.2 billion people speak Mandarin (Chinese), 400 million speak English, 400 million Spanish, and others close behind. But a huge number speak English as a second language, so maybe the smart money should be on it. Of course with global warming the tendency toward diversity may accelerate. Stay tuned.

 

Another interesting concept is presented by Thomas Friedman: the virtual middle class. Countries like China and India may have suppressive or dysfunctional governments, but the massive diffusion of cheap computing power via cell phones and tablets is dramatically lowering the cost of connectivity and education, so that many more folk now have access to the kind of technologies and learning that was previously associated with the middle class. These folk are starting to exercise their power, no longer stifled by ignorance. This, too, bears watching.

 

And a newspaper article by Elyn B Saks titled “Successful and Schizophrenic” wherein as a young woman she was diagnosed schizo and told she would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner, or get married. She was doomed to live out her life watching TV in a day room with other mental cases, able to work at menial jobs only when her symptoms were quiet. She had been hospitalized more than once. Well, she didn't like that, and she made a decision. She would write the narrative of her life. She went on from there. Today she is a chaired professor at the university of Southern California Gould School of Law, has an adjunct appointment in the department of psychiatry at the medical school of the University of California, San Diego, and is on the faculty of the New Center for Psychoanalysis. The MacArthur Foundation gave her a genius grant. So she really is successful, and schizophrenic. She has learned to anticipate and avoid situations likely to set her off. Others have learned to have a healthy diet, exercise, avoid alcohol, and get enough sleep. When there's a hallucination they ask “What's the evidence for that?” So it seems you can be schizo but rational, treating hallucinations as the fantasies they are. And, she says, the seeds of creative thinking may sometimes be found in mental illness. That reassures me.

 

Health note from ALTERNATIVES, drdavidwilliams.com, the best of the health newsletters I found after trying half a slew. Around the world there are an increasing number of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. In plain talk, bacteria that regular drugs like penicillin can't treat, because they have evolved resistance. Which means that when you pick up one of these in a hospital, you're screwed. Well, new research indicates that niacinamide, which is a form of Vitamin B3, can fight them. It may increase the body's immune capacity by a thousand fold. It also may be able to cure Alzheimer's. So if you run afoul of one of these, go for niacinamide; it just might save your life or sanity. A daily dose of 6 grams should do it. That's a lot, but if it works, it's worth it.

 

THE NEWSPAPER daily Crypto-quotes can have some good thoughts. Here's one: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” John Wooden. I am trying to be duly humble, grateful, and careful. But I'm tempted to add “Critics are sewer-given. Hold your nose.”

PIERS
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