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Piers the handyman 2007
Apull 2014

I watched Age of Heroes, a savage World War Two story. A special British platoon is formed to take out a German hi-tech station in occupied Norway and get its secrets so that the British can devise a way to counter this dangerous device. This is 1940 before America entered the war. The viewpoint character is a man who was told to lead his comrades out of France as the Germans invaded, was intercepted by another allied unit and ordered to stay in France; he obeyed the original order and was thus labeled a deserter. Bad scene. To vindicate himself he joins this special mission, and it's rough going all the way, first the training, then the utterly ruthless German opposition. Only he and two others survive it, making their way to the Swedish border. It ends there, as these things typically do: when the violence is done, so is the film. So it's compelling throughout, but I'd say not especially meaningful. It's supposed to be a true story from the life of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. I'd give that about as much credence as I do the James Bond stories. I was in Europe at the time, but too young to know what was going on, and my later experience as a draftee in the peacetime US Army was not much help.

I read High On Blood at the End Of the World by Joel Kaplan. This one is wild, and probably unpublishable except by self publishing, as it violates normal taboos with joyful abandon: drugs galore, underage sex, rape, necrophilia, bestiality, body functions, sacrilegious theme, and others without convenient names. There's a strong and ugly supernatural element as a werewolf eats his parents and slaughters people, reveling in the gore, and innocents are sexually abused, tortured and killed. Hardly any major figure is without inherent brutality, so it is hard to identify positively. Even a nice little ghost girl fades out before the end. The language is appropriately vulgar throughout. Frank sees his friend get his head bitten off, literally, parties with friends, wakes alone in a graveyard, hitchhikes and gets picked up by two teen girls who encourage him to burn down a church. When he does, one girl gives him enthusiastic anal sex. It goes on from there, as the girls rob stores and blackmail, degrade, and kill a pretty girl they resent. There is some marvelous imagery: when Frank meets an unfamiliar girl “She stumbled into him and they kissed in a sloppy, awkward embrace. It was like they were bottles of blood being poured back and forth into each other...” “He looked around the room and felt heartburn coming on like the drunk mother of a friend.” This novel is definitely not for the prudish, but it does have an ongoing story and a resolution to its mysteries. Those who are into this scene—drugs, sex, violence, weirdness, death—or curious about it should enjoy it. Should it become popular it will surely be banned.

I read Algorithm by Arthur M Doweyko. This is a science fiction novel with a theme of DNA: where did the human form originate? Instead of evolution, it suggests that the human type was crafted by some alien Makers on a planet eight thousand light years distant. This is not pedantic; it's a thriller-type mystery, as a gold coin or talisman is discovered in a lump of coal, suggesting that it is over a hundred million years old. It has coded markers that actually describe human DNA, though there were no humans when it was made. How can this be explained? Dr. Adam Dove wants to know, but when he gets the artifact X-rayed things begin to happen, such as the laboratory getting blown up and a friend getting killed. Adam and his pretty associate Linda Garcia commence what turns out to be a dangerous investigation, as an unscrupulous enemy is determined to get that item. That's only the beginning, as they head into deep space in an effort to discover who made humans and why. There are a number of mysterious and often deadly associates, and the action continues to the end, with amazing revelations. Hardly anything is what it seems to be. Genre readers should enjoy it; I did.

Two years ago I had a fan letter from Terry Fator. I had never heard of him. As many of my readers know, I was born in another century, live in the back woods, and am largely out of touch with the present scene. He told me he was a successful entertainer who liked my books during hard times in his life and wanted to pay my way to see his show in Las Vegas. I politely declined; as many also know, I'm well into retirement age, verging on my dotage, and travel out of Citrus County only under duress. He was nice about it. Now he sent me his DVD video TERRY FATOR Live In Concert. I watched it, and most of what I can say is, wow! This guy is good! He does a puppet ventriloquy show, and some of the puppets sing. I was captivated when Winston the Turtle sang a song from Phantom of the Opera, and sang it well. Other puppets sing other songs, emulating known singers; I'm not sure I could tell the Dean Martin impersonation from the real thing, or the Elvis Presley. The interim dialogue is fun too. For example, he said that just about everyone has encountered a bad neighbor, and if you haven't, then you're that neighbor. On target, ouch. This is one I'd want to share with visitors (the video, not the neighbor), if I had visitors. I think I have become a fan of Terry Fator, and if he is a fan of mine, I am honored.

I read Alouette's Song by Andrew Jonathan Fine. You might call this Jewish science fiction, as two of the main characters are Jewish and there is a lot of detail about that culture. The story line is complicated, but simplified it is that several very talented, really genius young folk get involved in space travel, get hijacked by a ruthless professor, escape him but then are lost in space tens of light years distant from Earth. They stop at a planet to mine for fuel, get captured by human-like aliens, and get involved in an alien war before they manage to achieve peace and a change of regimes, and make it home to Earth, where things still are not simple. Neither the science nor the philosophy is stinted, and the interpersonal relations can get devious and intense, so though there is plenty of action, this is a thoughtful novel better suited to those with minds.

I read As I Fade, by Leilani Bennett. This is the first of four in the One Breath At A Time series, I think actually the first 200 pages of an 800 word novel. Brielle Eden moves to Paris, but then finds herself injured and in a mental hospital, with her recent memories missing, where her ordinary references to things like cell phones convince the doctor she is not quite sane. The paranoia of a woman alone without guideposts is almost palpable. She is, it seems, fifty years in the past, on the verge of meeting the great love of her life. Meanwhile her closest friend is desperately trying to locate her, because she disappeared with no word. And that—is where it ends. The sequel is As I Breathe, and should clarify some of that. This is really a woman's story, heavy on feelings and mystery, light on physical action. I as a man, found myself less engaged.

I read Turncoats Book One: Override by Brian Clopper. I have watched the author progress over the years from the children's book Graham the Gargoyle in 2001 to increasingly more mature material. This one is a zombie novel, and it follows the formula of a world overrun by zombies who want mainly to eat and convert normal folk to their kind, with the normals having to brutally “kill” an endless stream of largely mindless zombies. The tension never lets up; nothing is easy, and good guys get killed along the way. But it has a different element: one of the leading characters is a dead girl, technically a zombie, but not bloodthirsty like the others; she is fully conscious and means well. As I read I mentally compared her to the zombie in my Esrever Doom, who is restored to life but wants only to return to her natural zombie state, until she falls in love. This is not the same, and there's no romantic element. Nathan is male, maybe seventeen, and Trina is of similar age, a friend of his sister's, who died in an accident two weeks ago. She came back to half-life, dug her way out of her grave, and came to Nathan because she had a vision that only the two of them could save the world from absolute horror. Indeed, soon that horror materializes: hundred foot tall black towers pop up everywhere, and when people are attracted to them and touch them they become zombies and start biting other people, rapidly spreading the havoc. Then the towers dissipate, their mischief done. Order quickly collapses, and only a few folk are able to avoid the zombies by barricading themselves in their houses. The police and military units, intent on zombie-destroying mayhem, are not reliable allies; they're as likely to kill friends as foes. Nathan manages to rescue his mother from downtown, and she and his sister gradually come to terms with Trina, recognizing that she is dead but not an enemy. In the end it becomes clear that Nathan and Trina have a mission that they must do alone, to stop the zombies. That will be for the sequel volumes. This is a gripping story with some nice human values along the way. I do care about the dead girl, and am intrigued by the mystery of her.

I watched the Discover DVD video “What Are Dreams?” Dreams have fascinated me all my life, as I suspect is the case with most folk. Decades ago I worked out their primary rationale, and year by year science grows closer to confirming it. It is this: dreams are for feeling. All day we take in experience in a jumbled manner, but to effectively use it we need to compile it, that is integrate it with the rest of our world view. You see, facts and events by themselves are just things without meaning, and their meaning differs for every person. What counts most for us is how we feel about things; we are feeling creatures. Imagine turning on the TV, and a football game is playing, but you don't know which team is which so don't know whom to root for or how you feel about it. It's frustrating; there may be statistics galore, but your emotion is in abeyance. Once you find out which is the home team, you know which one you care about , and you can enjoy the game, win or lose. Feeling is what makes the difference. Likewise with the events of the day. Your sleeping mind brings up each one and considers it from different angles, and you decide how you feel about it. Only then can it be properly filed and cross referenced. You have to be conscious to do this, to actually focus on the event, because unconsciousness doesn't really feel. Okay, the Discover video gets yea close, pointing out how we consider the events of the day in our dreams so as to integrate them, but misses that essential element. When science finally does realize, remember you read it here first, unless you read it first in 1994 in my GEODYSSEY novel Shame of Man. At any rate, dreams are vital, as is sleep itself; this is by no means wasted time. If we lose our dreams, we lose ourselves, literally.

I watched Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. I think this is considered a cult classic, dating from 50 years ago when paranoia about nuclear destruction was rampant. It's sort of hammy by today's standard, and it is evident that a toy plane is used to demonstrate much of the flying. The story is that a crazed general sent a wing, that is several planes, to H-bomb Russia. They were hard to stop, and Russia was annoyed. In the end one got through and loosed a bomb. So Russia retaliated, and at the end we see lovely nuclear explosions. The world as we know it is ending. Though the parody is superficial, the underlying message remains relevant: if we allow self-serving politicians and the obtuse military to run the world, something like this is likely to happen. And of course politicians and the military are running the world...

I had planned to start writing Xanth #40, Isis Orb, in Marsh. The situation, general storyline, and a number of main characters were suggested by a ten year old girl. But I was backlogged six books to read, and a bunch of videos to watch, and received requests for three stories for magazines or anthologies. It's been nigh 40 years since I lived on the meager income from story to story, but I still regard myself as a natural story writer, and I like to support new ventures that represent markets for other writers. So I delved into my voluminous Ideas file and came up with three ideas, and wrote them, and they were accepted. They are “Descant” for FANTASY SCROLL MAGAZINE, wherein a princess is sent by her father to negotiate a stubborn border despite with a new young king. She is tall and plain, unlike sprightly princesses, knows nothing about the issue, and brings only a gift: a book of songs. She does sing well, but her voice is not the fashionable soprano, but way too low: contralto. She fears she is a drug on the marriage market and this is her father's way of getting rid of her. Indeed, the king refers to the game wherein a boy takes a girl into a closet for one minute, where he must kiss her or hit her. She expects to be hit. But as he talks with her, the king says he thinks she was sent to be kissed. “But I don't look or sound like a princess!” she protests. “No, you look and sound like a queen,” he replies. The story really is about the remarkable magic song that makes this happen. The second story is “Lava,” for CURIOSITY QUILLS ANTHOLOGY, about a volcano that once was worshiped, but is no longer, now that it is quiescent. So it forms a woman out of lava and she contacts a visiting tourist to see about getting some new worshipers. Crafted in the image of the man's ideal woman, she won't let him kiss her because she is as yet too hot; her lips would burn him. But as she slowly cools, that will change; in fact as she cools further, he may even get access to her core, as it were. It goes on from there. The third story is “VirtuGirl,” for COLLIDOR magazine, wherein a young man is required to get a chip implant for a virtual companion, a 25 year old man to guide him to become more socially apt. But there's an error, and he gets a 25 year old woman instead. He can see her, hear her, and sometimes feel her, but no one else can. She tackles the project, and he progresses rapidly, but there's a hitch: he falls in love with her. Uh-oh. What do you do when the girl you love is a figment of your guided imagination?

I also received a request for a reprint story for an anthology of World Fantasy Convention guests of honor, which I was in 1987, so I sent them “The Courting,” a zombie vignette that appeared in BITS OF THE DEAD in 2008. And I received a copy of NOW WRITE! an anthology of writing advice for the SF/Fantasy/Horror genre, with my article “Wood Knot Dew,” about finding ways to make your central charters individual. My readers may remember the forest dialect of my Xanth character Wenda Woodwife here; you can recognize her instantly by the way she speaks. The volume seems to be an excellent compendium of relevant advice, and I hope to read the whole of it when (if ever) my reading time opens out. As yet it's not even on my backlog. And of course I worked on my collaboration with J R Rain, Jack and the Giants, which goes where the original beanstalk climber never did. But in Apull I really do hope to get back to Xanth.

In Jamboree I gave up archery, because the equipment was simply getting too battered after nigh 18 years. I substituted doing outdoor chores in that allotted time, an hour twice a week, and that has worked remarkably well. In two months I have cleared back the whole three quarter mile drive and started in on the encroaching soil forming by the house. But there are passing regrets. I am sorry for the trees I must prune; they are just trying to take advantage of an aisle of light for their leaves. There are sparkle-berry bushes now flowering; I really hate beheading a flowering tree. There are hickories, oaks, persimmons, saw palmettos, and a single cabbage palmetto that fortunately sits back far enough so that I didn't have to trim it much. That's a palm whose trunk looks like a wickerwork basket, and it's the state tree of Florida. There are hollies galore. I wish they all could grow unfettered, but if they did, we wouldn't have a driveway. Blueberry bushes grow low at the sides; I let them be. There's a wild blackberry that grows near the house; I note that its flowers are pure white. And the little begonias (I think) that got eaten off have come back with new leaves, but I'll keep the one in the house, just in case. I'm a vegetarian because I didn't like hurting animals; I don't much like hurting plants either. Just existing causes mischief to other forms of life, giving me chronic guilt.

Now I have given up the recumbent bicycle. Its front tire popped, and I knew that blowout would require replacement of tube and casing both, but the bike is battered from close to eighteen years of use and I think has earned its retirement. It's a good machine, and yes, I mourn the passing of machines, too. As I age my balance becomes less certain, so now I'm sticking to the adult push-foot scooter, which serves nicely. But the bike is another signal of advancing age that grieves me. It isn't as if I want much, just to live forever in perfect health and vigor.

One of the “little” newsletters I subscribe to is the Hightower Lowdown, which can be depended on to put a non-complacent slant on current events. This time it tackles the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who downloaded and publicized thousands of secret American documents showing how a rogue outfit has been spying on everyone, from common folk to foreign leaders. The National Security Agency (NSA) is a $52 billion a year super-secret spook organization headquartered at an eight square mile campus at Fort Meade, Maryland, ten times the size of the Pentagon. Theoretically the Constitution via the Bill of Rights protects the privacy of law abiding citizens. Forget that; if you venture on the Internet, you're on their radar, and their huge computers have you pegged. Well, Snowden worked there, and when he found a problem he went to his superior about it. Instead of fixing it, they put a negative note in his personal file that effectively killed any chance he had for advancement. “Trying to work through the system [will] only lead to punishment,” he says. I have considerable sympathy; I know how that works. When I stood my legitimate ground in college I got suspended for a week. When I did it in the U S Army I got booted as a Survey and Math instructor and put to pulling weeds, and of course forfeited any chance of promotion. When as a pro writer I demanded a correct accounting from a publisher I got blacklisted for six years while a writer's organization took the side of the cheating publisher. I was right in every case, but did not get justice, and it was sheer blind chance that enabled me to survive and prosper as a writer, albeit it not at the level I should have had, had I catered to the corrupt system. The world is not run by fair minded folk; it is run by good old boy networks who squelch or punish anyone who objects. I was not a whistle blower as such, but am a fellow traveler. Am I bitter? You bet! I long for a higher standard, particularly in my adopted country, America. But I'm also realistic, having had much of my idealism burned away by experience. Snowden's case is worse. He exposed the cheaters at the top, so now must flee the retaliation of the errant authorities. I voted twice for President Obama, but this is a stain on his record: he joined the oppressor in this respect, instead of being a good guy. For shame. A newspaper column by Nat Hentoff, an authority on the Bill of Rights, remarks how in 1975 Frank Church, a Democratic senator from Idaho and chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, better known as the Church Committee, said that the National Security Agency had the capability to secretly monitor everything, so that there would be no place to hide. He did his best to halt this type of government subversion. But now the Church Committee is gone and the rats are playing. In fact the Church Committee concluded that each of the six presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon abused their secret powers. So what's happening now is nothing new, but seems worse because modern computers have far more potency to extend the abuse. The article concludes “If, by the 2016 elections, the CIA, NSA, et al are still mysteriously ensconced, don't bother to celebrate Independence Day.” Right; personal privacy and independence are largely an illusion; Orwell's 1984 is here.

Reubin Askew died, 1928-2014. He was Florida's best governor, 1971-79, standing for justice and decency throughout. He won passage of the Sunshine Amendments that required elected officials to disclose their personal finances; he reformed the corrupt courts; he appointed a fair share of blacks to high positions; he taxed corporate profits; and tried to stop casino gambling. After his time the usual variety of politicians got back in and methodically eroded the reforms, and Florida is now pretty much back to its normal inferiority. But Askew's memory remains a shining light.

Incidental notes: Duke Energy stiffed Citrus County on taxes. Of course that went to court, but now, alas, the county is unable to maintain the expenses of the case and is folding. That's the way the world works, of course, but it's sad to see the big cheaters prevailing yet again. NEW SCIENTIST has an article on how to fix a broken heart, concluding that exercise and time are the answer. Pills can have effect, but we are governed too much by pills already and they can have side effects. Will people fall in love with robots in the future? Yes, and of course this happens often enough in my fiction. An Amazon article reprinted in THE WEEK comments on the real Paleo diet: for two and a half million years before agriculture we fed to a fair extent on bugs, which are relatively high protein. We may do so again, as food supplies become squeezed. Also “vertical farming” as many layers of indoor farming rise into the sky, protected from bugs, droughts, bad weather. Makes sense to me. And here's a shocker: a study suggests that eating too much protein can lead to more deaths from cancer. Ouch! Article in the AAPP Magazine by Oliver Sacks titled “The Joy of Turning 80.” That interests me, as I'll be doing that soon enough myself. He finds himself slowing down, physically and mentally, but hopes for a few more years. Another article describes how folk surveyed tended to consider “old” to be a few years older than they were, regardless how old they were. My question is, what's wrong with age, especially considering the alternative? I resolved long ago never to pretend I was younger than I was. Ironically, I don't look my age, so folk think I'm younger. A rude driver tailgated a woman, passed her, gave her the finger, and jammed in front of her. Then he lost control and crashed. She caught it all on cell phone video, which she turned over to the police. Such is life on the road in Tampa, Florida. I remember decades ago when I came up on a truck near the base of a hill and, not wanting to be caught behind as the truck slowed to snail's pace, pulled to the left to pass. At that point with more visibility I saw two things: I was at the speed limit, and the light a block ahead was unmakable. So I held my speed, much to the wrath of a tailgating driver behind me. Sorry, I was damned if I'd break the law for him. The truck, evidently thinking I was playing a game, then sped up so the tailgater could pass me on the right, and he yelled at me as he went by. Then we were all caught by the light, of course. I followed that tailgater for several miles as he switched constantly between lanes, pushing cars, and slowly gaining a couple of blocks. It would have been nice to have had a camera then. Some drivers simply need to be taken off the road. And a new report suggests that the Black Death was not spread by rat fleas, but was airborne: coughs, sneezes, etc. That's how it managed to spread so rapidly, killing off such a significant percentage of folk, way back when. There was a quote in the newspaper to the effect that you can't plant thorns and expect to grow roses. Oh? In my day, roses had thorns. And there's a case that violent volcanism 550 years ago may have fueled an explosion of life. There's nothing like shaking things up to encourage innovation.

S Wayne Hendry sent me a couple collections of cartoons. One was “Aunty Acid,” an older woman with caustic comments about life. “I think I'm emotionally constipated: I haven't give a crap all week.” “Did you know chocolate makes your clothes shrink?” “Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth.” And some more general ones: A man said he didn't want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. “If that ever happens, just pull the plug.” His kids got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out his wine. An old woman was sipping on a glass of wine and said “I love you so much, I don't know how I could ever live without you.” Her husband said “Is that you, or the wine talking?” She replied “It's me...talking to the wine.” “With age comes skills; it's called MultiTasking. I can laugh, cough, sneeze, and pee all at the same time.” Ain't age grand!

Self-explanatory letter I wrote:

I do hear on occasion from fans who want to convert me to their religion. Look at it this way: how would you like to be earnestly beseeched by well-meaning folk to give up your illusion and embrace the reality of their contrary beliefs? It seems best to let each person go to Hell in his own fashion, perhaps literally.

But about Jesus: I am an oddity in that I do believe in Jesus, but not in God. I studied Jesus for my novel Tarot, where he is a character. I believe that he believed in God, but was mistaken. I believe that he had many excellent reforms in mind, and was crucified when he became too annoying. Today few Christians actually follow his principles, such as sharing their wealth with the poor, forgiving their enemies, and eschewing war. Do you?

Newspaper item says that a study indicates that many more may need statins: about half of all folk over 40 and nearly all men over 60. Remember, I commented before: this is a likely ticket to type two diabetes. Beware; the medical establishment seems more the friend of the special interests than general health. An example: letter in the newspaper from a visiting Canadian nurse with 50 years experience, 17 in emergency rooms, so she does know something about emergency care. She was in a car accident in Florida, taken to the hospital, spent five hours waiting on blood tests, ECG and a CAT scan, and was released without ever seeing a doctor. For this inferior service her insurance was charged $44,900. This robbery is legal? Now in the April 2014 issue of ALTERNATIVES Dr. Williams discusses soy. There have been conflicting reports about soy, and I have been somewhat on the fence, wanting to know the elusive truth. This may be it. Soy has ballooned in recent years, with the vegetarian Tofurkey we use having soy as a key ingredient, and soy milk with sales of a billion dollars a year. It's in just about everything now, including the balanced nutritional drink I use as alternate meals. So what about the way soy has been used in Asia so long, where they certainly aren't infertile? Turns out they use mostly fermented soy, which is far less dangerous, and not a lot of that. In America we use mostly un-fermented, so it's potent, especially with respect to its estrogen-effect that could feminize folk. It's in infant formulas, giving babies six to eleven times the equivalent amount of estrogen that has been shown to have hormonal effects in adults. DON'T FEED SOY TO YOUR BABY. For adults, use it in moderation. For folk using lecithin, most of which is made from soy, but its benefits far outweigh potential harm. But there's an alternative: lecithin made from sunflower seeds, which I use. Folk using levothyroxin, as I do—it's my one medication—should also be careful, as soy can mess up the thyroid. So it's a mixed bag, healthy in moderation, but don't overdo it. There is increasing incidence of hypothyroidism, and it could be that the increasing use of soy is responsible. Maybe also the obesity epidemic. We need to know more about this.

But a positive note, of sorts: newspaper item on a modern-day Noah. In 1958-64 they dammed the Zambezi River in Africa to form the then-largest man made lake in the world, relocating the people but heedless of the animal life there. Rupert Fothergill undertook the rescue of every kind of living creature there, from black rhinos to hyenas. They managed to save some 6,000 wild animals, but it was a considerable challenge. There's a book Animal Dunkirk: The Story of Lake Kariba and 'Operation Noah,' Greatest Animal Rescue Since the Ark. And it seems it was.

As mentioned above, I started the month backlogged six books to read and a pile of videos. I read 5 novels and watched 4 videos, as reviewed here, and now am backlogged only five books and eight videos. They seem to regenerate almost as fast as I consume them. So there'll be more reviews next month. But, bleep it, I will start writing Xanth.

And to conclude on a positive note: I remarked on the Terry Fator show, above. One thing that continues to haunt my mind is the song he sang, “Are there Horses in Heaven?” It was such a nice, emotional piece that it received a standing ovation, and I, watching alone, also stood and applauded. I am of course agnostic, with no belief in Heaven or Hell, and not much given to pointless gestures. But if Heaven exists, it had better have horses.

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