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Mayhem 2013
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I read Artifact by Shane Lindemoen, to be published by Boxfire Press at www.boxfirepress.com. Half a century ago, when I was just making my first story sales, one of the notions I had was of an artifact, an ancient machine that could be activated with odd results. I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I showed it to my collaborator H James Hotaling and he was intrigued and started working on it. But in the end it came to nothing, as ideas often do. Well, now Shane has done it, and I am free to speculate that the spirit of the notion searched until it found a worthy writer, and infused him. This novel has a 300 million year old artifact being found buried on the planet Mars, and of course scientists are eager to know more about it. It seems to be a kind of computer, and it may be in working condition. They study it in an electronic laboratory, and it begins to react. A certain key pulsing of light--and hell breaks loose. The protagonist, Lance Kattar, is thrown into a series of time jumps, finding himself suddenly a few days ahead and injured, then at another time and not injured. He has no memory of himself before the accident. Another jump and he gets taken away in a car for his safety, but then his guards become killers and the car lands in the sea. Then it gets worse, as zombies invade, eating brains, wanting to eat his brain so they can learn what is in it. Then strange vicious monsters. Then the sky cracks open and crashes down to earth, leaving blankness behind. His assistant, Alice, is similarly confused, and at one point decides to shoot Lance as an impostor. Everything seems to relate to the moment they invoked the artifact. Reality itself seems changed. Gradually Lance gets a handle on things, but his conclusions are disquieting and his own reality is in question. This is one strange, gripping science fiction thriller.


I read Caution: Witch in Progress, by Lynn North. Ghostly Publishing www.ghostlypublishing.co.uk, the author reachable on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GhostlyPublishing. This is a children's fantasy featuring a girl, Gertie, born into a witch family, who doesn't show signs of being witchy. That's awkward. When she tries at least to get a decent wart by rubbing a warty toad and saying a spell, poof! the toad loses all its warts. Finally they send her off to witch's school and surprise, she loves it. Most of the novel is about the classes she takes and what she is learning, such as how to Grimace, shoot fire from her fingers, levitate objects, and other routine spells that bore some of the class. Her best friend there loves to eat beyond all else, and Gertie's studying ways tend to alienate her from classmates. One show-off summons a demon he then doesn't know how to banish, which is trouble because only the summoner can properly banish it, and the demon has an ugly attitude. Some demons are like that. But in the end Gertie comes through with one of those surprises that makes perfect sense in retrospect. So while I fear this novel will be dull in places for those who don't like school and aren't serious about learning witchcraft, it's interesting and fun, and its age-level should like it.


I proofread Esrever Doom, by Piers Anthony (hey, that's me!), Xanth #37, due to be published this OctOgre. I'll have more to say closer to the time of publication, but can say now that it's up to the Xanth standard, being interesting, amusing, and active throughout. It involves a reversal, hence the reversed title, Mood Reverse, wherein folk see pretty people as ugly, and vice versa; pretty women are not pleased. Only a Mundane protagonist, visiting Xanth in a dream, is immune, working to get it fixed. Naturally there's a nefarious plot to stop him by fair means or foul, and a romance.


When I completed a draft of Xanth #39 Five Portraits I took a brief break to unwind by watching a DVD movie. We were in Kmart for clothing, and I saw a bunch of DVDs on sale for $2.99 each, and some had three, four, or five movies per disc. That's my kind of price, like around a dollar or less per movie. Sure they're probably junky, but I can enjoy junk on occasion. So the one I watched, out of four romantic comedies on that disc, was My Boss's Daughter. It was hilarious, as this poor young male employee has to house-sit his ferociously stern boss's house and everything goes wrong. At one point a shapely young woman wants him to check her breast because she fears she has a tumor in it; he can't tell what's what, so another woman has him put his other hand on her breast at the same time to compare, at which point the boss's lovely daughter, whom he wishes he could date, appears and naturally draws the wrong conclusion. Shallow naughty fun, worth the price.


Last Column I queried my readers on whether to have a major gay character in Xanth. A decade ago the vote was strongly against it; this time the balance has shifted, but not enough give me confidence that it's okay. There were some thoughtful pros and some savage cons; I do get the impression that the pros are more intellectual and the cons more gut. The vote was about two to one in favor: specifically, 10-5. I'm concerned that this may be typical of Column readers, whom I presume to be more dedicated fans of my work, but not necessarily of my larger readership that doesn't bother with the HiPiers site but does know what it likes when it sees it available. But assuming it is similar, my choice as a commercial writer is whether to lose one third of my readership, or two thirds. Obviously I prefer the smaller figure. However, in Five Portraits I do have a gay character, an eight year old child who nevertheless knows he's gay. He is fated to save Xanth in the future, depending on his acceptance by run of the mill characters. If the balance does not continue to swing toward acceptance, he will not appear as a future major character. With luck he'll get his chance. It would be a shame to let Xanth be lost because of prejudice.


The HiPiers site suffered a virus infection. We cleaned it out but it returned. We cleaned it out again, but Google kept sending out notices that we had malware, dissuading a number of viewers. Since we don't go out visiting other sites I'm not sure how it found us, and I wonder why it had to reach our site before the malware warners got into the act. Don't they stop a virus near its source? It reminds me of the time jokers lifted a mini car onto a sidewalk, and then the police came and ticketed it for bad parking. How about going after the bad guys instead of the victims?


Dick Geis died. I doubt that many readers of this column have even heard of him, so I'll tell you about him. He was was erotic fiction—okay, porn--writer with something like a hundred novels published, who did fanzines, that is, printed amateur magazines before the electronic era, where fans and pros could interact. One was called PSYCHO, and a later one was SF REVIEW, to which I contributed a feisty column. In those days of yore there were two kinds of fans: convention goers, and fanzine contributors. The two could overlap, but they were pretty much separate realms. There could be fanzine quarrels. As a serious reader and writer I did not suffer fools gladly, so I had a number of blowouts. Like the time I talked back to an ignorant review, and the reviewer then became an editor and blacklisted me, then later wanted my help. It was sort of like the dinosaur age, where you had to watch your step lest you get eaten. Today the Internet interactions can be similar, and popular blogs may be like fanzines. So Geis was at the center of things in the science fiction universe, and I think loved it. But he overstepped himself at one point with me, deliberately publishing my home address when he knew that was a no-no, and I cut him off. Later he wanted my participation in another fanzine. Tough shit; he died without ever getting anything more from me. He's not the only one who learned the hard way, like the reviewer. But for some time he had about the best fanzine extant, and his death marks another notch in the passing of an era.


Income Tax season came, with my wife struggling with complicated accounts; the tax forms and related work sheets totaled something like 30 pages. Tax simplification is chronically promised but never delivered. We got hit as usual by the AMT, that is Alternative Minimum Tax, which reminded me yet again: how come huge corporations like GE don't pay it while we lesser folk do?


I had my geek come to upgrade LibreOffice form 3.6 to 4.0, hoping to eliminate its sometimes erratic behavior, such as scrambling my files or refusing to load at all. It did no good; apparently it's not LibreOffice doing it, but the operating system. I like LibreOffice very well, but at times it can be like a girlfriend who deals out silent treatments for no discernible reason and refuses to clarify. That does become wearing.


I saw a reference to a barista, in the “Shoe” comic. Curious, I looked up the word—and it wasn't in any of my dictionaries, even the Oxford English Dictionary. It seems it has come into general use in the last fifteen years, meaning a kind of lawyer. Then in Candorvelle the lisping boy asked “Daddy, whath tewowithm?” He couldn't understand the word, until he realized “...d'ow!” Well it may have been evident to him, but I still don't get it. Well, as I edit this Column, I have a guess: Terrorism?


In my Marsh 2013 Column I mentioned the relation between lead and bad behavior. Henning Leidecker sent a nice discussion about the secret history of lead. Lead in gasoline gave it extra kick so you could drive farther cheaper, but that polluted the air. When this became apparent, naturally the lead vendors wanted to keep making money, so they hired advertising agents to spread the message “This is good for you and the economy.” Once they figured out how to lie effectively, others went on to use the same methods to advertise cigarettes. And political parties. There was a wiki article that demonstrated strikingly elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of Washington DC, and so informed the EPA, who then cut off the author's grant funding. He wrote articles in the WASHINGTON POST, which then stopped publishing them. You think the news media can't be bought? Then he got a half million dollar MacArthur Fellowship and was able to continue his work. But his findings somehow got waylaid, while ordinary citizens suffered brain damage. But this may help explain why stupidity seems to dominate congress: they drink the poisoned water. A later item says that more than half a million children are thought to have lead poisoning, more than twice as many as thought, because they lowered the threshold. I suspect that eventually there will be a similar expose about fluoridation, which few dare to question now without being called nuts. Big money calls the shots in America.


One scary continuing story is the incidence of pedophilia. That is, adults going after children for sex. One FBI study indicated that a half million pedophiles are online every day. Police stings keep catching them, and they are not just criminals with records; professional people, teachers, priests look for sex with ten year old girls. What I wonder is whether this is a part of the broad sexual spectrum, including gays, necrophiles, sado/maso, coprophilia, and so on. That is, is it normal to have deviant sexual tastes? We condemn everything except straight heterosexual interaction, and even there there can be limits. Ask a religious person what he thinks of bondage, spanking, or of hetero anal sex as a contraceptive measure. The deviances are so persistent that I suspect that they are in fact normal in the eyes of God. I speak as one who is not comfortable with many of them. If so, they will never be eliminated by laws or moral strictures, only masked. Gays are coming to be accepted, and that's good, but that may be only a part of what's out there. Do we really comprehend our own nature?


I get behind on my magazines, so only recently got to the February/March 2012 (that's a year ago) issue of FREE INQUIRY. It's a good magazine, espousing secular humanist principles. One article therein is titled “Snip the Snip.” This refers to the common practice of circumcising boys at birth, a religious rite applied to a huge number who are not of that faith. The human male foreskin was surly put there by nature for a reason, and arbitrarily cutting it off seems nonsensical to me. I was never cut, and when my wife was pregnant I told the doctor that if the child were male, leave him alone. The doctor said he needed to talk to me, presumably to reform the error of my way. The process is so entrenched that those supporting it may think that those who object are deluded. Well, this article puts that into perspective. Suppose the doctor recommends that you have your son's pinkie finger removed at birth. Why? Well, for religious reason, or from tradition, or hygiene, so that the boy won't collect unsanitary dirt under his fingernail. It will prevent any cancer in that absent finger. Maybe women's breasts should be similarly cut off before they develop, to avoid breast cancer. Hell, you could avoid brain cancer by cutting off your head in childhood. Does that make sense to you? If not, does circumcision make sense to you? Its logic is similar. So what about the statistics that show that in Africa circumcised men are less likely to get AIDS? Well, if you can clean your pinkie finger under the nail, you can clean your penis under the foreskin, and you can avoid having sex with those infected with AIDS. This seems better to me than cutting off sensitive skin. But if there is a case to be made for the cut, at least let the boy grow to adulthood so he can decide for himself, rather than imposing it on him involuntarily. That seems the fairest way, and I suspect that those who disagree really aren't interested in fairness, but in enforcing their dubious preferences on others.


Monica Parish sent another humorous collection, this time of pictures of public signs. Such as WE'LL ALWAYS BE BEST FRIENDS BECAUSE YOU KNOW TOO MUCH. Or DAMN RIGHT I'M GOOD IN BED. I CAN STAY THERE ALL DAY. Or SWIMMING NOTICE: MINNESOTA STATE LAW STRICTLY PROHIBITS UNDERWATER SMOKING. Or PLEASE BE PATIENT. EVEN A TOILET CAN HANDLE ONLY ONE ASS HOLE AT A TIME. Or WARNING: DRINKING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES BEFORE PREGNANCY CAN CAUSE PREGNANCY. Or: THIS IS A PRIVATE SIGN. PLEASE DO NOT READ.


On average, 85 Americans are fatally shot each day, 53 of them being suicides. Which is one thing that keeps me on the fence about gun control: I believe that a person should have the right to end his life when and as he chooses. The busybodies will interfere if they can, but a gun is final. But about guns and safety: the technology exists to use radio frequencies to prevent a gun from being fired by anyone but its owner. Would you believe, the NRA opposes this? And this: for every deceased person who is buried, four are now cremated. That's certainly for me; when I go I don't want to be buried. In fact I don't want a funeral. I don't want the vultures of the funeral industry picking at my substance. I hope to be simply remembered by those who enjoyed my novels, or who appreciated the assistance I have tried to provide for other writers. That is, my good works rather than my corpse.


Newspaper item exposing fallacies of public belief. Well, they aren't all fallacies. 28% believe that a secretive power elite is conspiring to eventually rule the world. Well, duh! There are conspiracies all over, especially in nut houses. They simply haven't gotten far. 29% believe that aliens exist. They surely do, considering the number of habitable planets in the universe. They just haven't made it to Earth, yet. 15% think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry invent new diseases to make money. What about the ads recommending that you take an expensive medicine daily so as to be ready the moment the moment is right, to counter possible impotence? 11% believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen. Well, when President Bush was told it was coming, he dismissed the informant as trying to cover his ass. Had he acted, it might have been prevented. Then when it did come, he used it as a pretext to invade Iraq. The myth debunkers don't know this history?


The Boston Marathon was bombed. An incidental aspect is the type of bomb: a pressure cooker filled with explosives and nails, set off by cell phone. I remember the pressure cooker from my childhood, a marvelous device for cooking, because it could reduce hours to minutes by doing it under controlled pressure. I never thought of it as a potential bomb, but I guess it makes sense, being available, cheap, and deadly. We worry about terrorists going nuclear, but they can do it way lower tech than that. My collaborator Roberto Fuentes, who had been an anti-Castro terrorist in Cuba, wanted to warn the world about the coming wave of terrorism, but publishers weren't interested. Ever thus.


I don't read much satire, but happened to pick up on one by Andy Borowitz in the newspaper on April 21. Senators heard that 90% of American people wanted them to vote a certain way. They congratulated themselves on not caving in to that special interest group. After all, if they caved, people would think they were nothing more than elected representatives. Just because people voted them into office and pay their salaries, benefits, and pensions doesn't mean they are somehow obliged to listen to the people. Okay, this is satire, but I think just barely. Florida is notorious for ignoring the will of its voters.


Question in the newspaper about why a group of crows is called a “murder.” The answer is that it is properly called a flock; murder is a spurious alternate, as are an ostentation of peacocks, a smack of jellyfish, a parliament of owls, and a skulk of foxes.


Article by Jennifer Senior reprinted in THE WEEK about high school. It seems that these four adolescent years to a considerable extent define us for life. For example, a boy's height at age 16 correlates with his earning potential in life. Now that's interesting, because I was slow to grow; my height at 16 I think was around 5' 4” on the way to 5' 10½” by age 20. But I foiled the system by in effect winning a lottery when I became a bestselling writer. It seems the songs we listened to in high school define our taste for the rest of our lives. I ignored the popular songs of the time, yet these are the ones I prefer today, so obviously I was imprinted in that respect. It seems that we are forming our identities then, around puberty. Aha! I didn't hit puberty until 18, in college; that may explain why college was where my adult life formed. I became a vegetarian, oriented on writing, and met the girl I married. Over half a century later, in fact pushing 60 years, these still largely define my life. High school was just a period I endured and was satisfied to leave behind, just as I left two years of the US Army behind, and three years of office work in civilian industry. Only when I became a successful writer did my real life coalesce, thanks in significant part to the support of my wife. So maybe I was typical, only slow. The article says that most American high schools are almost sadistically unhealthy places to send adolescents, because that's when they need adult guidance most, rather than the shallow values of their peers. So they focus on looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports, rather than the subtleties of personality. So the strategies they use to cope with false values nevertheless define them for life. Ouch!


We are served by a small electric company, thanks to the coincidence of living in a particular section of the backwoods, SECO. Their April 2013 newsletter says they are doing very well, and indeed, we have no complaints. Their CEO Jim Duncan tackles what he says are five significant myths regarding the future of energy in the united States. Uh-oh, another myth debunker. Here's where we seriously part company. The myths are that we are facing an energy crisis, must make radical changes to save the environment, alter our behavior as an example for the world, that renewable sources of power can replace traditional sources, and that the environmental movement movement has the answers to our energy future. Well, I'm a subscriber to those supposed myths, and I could fill up a lot of space refuting his points. But let's mention just one: about the supposed inability of renewables to replace current sources. He says wind and solar make up only 4% of our current energy mix, so couldn't make much of a dent in our needs. Here's the fallacy: assuming that what we have today represents the potential for the future. If we made a real effort to develop these, including formidable storage to alleviate erratic production (the sun doesn't shine at night, wind comes and goes) they could indeed become significant. It just won't happen as long as attitudes like his are in charge. The old order seldom yields voluntarily to the new.


Article by Douglas Heaven in NEW SCIENTIST titled “Lost in the Clouds” says that in the digital age your possessions and memories are not truly yours any more; they belong to the cloud. There's a lawsuit by a man whose business was wiped out when all his stored films were deleted without warning. The claim is that he forfeited his rights to his property the moment he uploaded it, ironically, for safekeeping. You think you're safe? 54% of people claim to never use the cloud, yet 95% of them actually do; they just don't know it. It is widely thought that by 2020 the cloud will run all digital life; already one third of US internet users visit a site every day that relies on an Amazon server, or part of the cloud. Makes me glad that I operate for the most part outside the cloud. I don't want the cloud claiming it owns my novels simply because I use email to forward them to my agent.


Advice column by Carolyn Hax in response to a mother worried about her son's lying. She says that kids lie, people lie, everybody lies. It's pretty much a social requirement, and children pick up on it early; it's a survival skill. She says “Your son is trying forbidden things not because he's a bad kid...but because he's a kid, period.” He wants to make his own rules instead of always accepting someone else's rules. I never thought of it that way. I remember being disgusted as a child when I discovered that adults think it is okay to lie to a child “This won't hurt...” Now I realize that they lie to everyone. And really, how do you honestly answer your girlfriend's query “Does this dress make me look fat?” when an honest answer will alienate her? Actually I do have an honest answer: “No.” The problem is, that answer is incomplete. A full answer would be “No, it's not the dress that makes you look fat. You'd look fat in anything.” Complete it at your own risk.


Now I'm going to edit Five Pictures, then mindlessly gorge on about 30 DVD movies I have accumulated while writing, before starting my next non-Xanth novel, Were Woman; I don't let much interfere with my writing. If that sounds like a threat, of course it is: I'll comment on them here next month. Things like Modesty Blaise, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Madame Bovary, and ones on order (the price came down) like The Hobbit, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Django Unchained, plus the others I picked up dirt cheap at Kmart, and several DISCOVER natural history videos. I have reasonably eclectic tastes, liking both quality and junk. But you already knew that.

PIERS
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