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As I mentioned last time, I remained backlogged on reading and videos, so I took a few (more) days to catch up somewhat before starting to write Xanth #40. Those who don't go for reviews can simply skip paragraphs until reaching something else; there's bound to be something interesting somewhere. You just need faith.
I watched The Dark Knight Rises, a Batman movie. I've never been much of a Batman fan, though I did rather like the character Catwoman, whoever played the role. This one is two and three quarter hours, and though it has the flaws that tend to keep me away from movie theaters, like too-loud sound, too-dark lighting, and confusing scene switches, at least on video I didn't get hit with too high a price and out-of-control kids treating the theater as a playground, and was able to turn down the sound to a comfortable level, with English subtitles on to catch what mumbled dialogue I miss. That leaves the lighting and scenes: with all the high-tech filming equipment they have today, you'd think they'd be capable of having visible scenes and sensible episode connections. Evidently they're not interested in clarity or coherence, so they will continue to be mystified why fewer folk are going to movie theaters. At any rate, what's left here is one powerful movie with some nice characterization. Batman has retired in disillusion, even taking the blame for another man's crime, and organized crime is building under Gotham City (an evident parody of New York) like a burgeoning volcano. The evil genius who plans to nuclear-bomb the city to free the people wants to be sure Batman won't reappear, so sends Catwoman in civvies to obtain billionaire Bruce Wayne's fingerprints, which are then used to defraud him of his fortune and financially castrate him. In addition Batman suffers from an injury that prevents him from being a physical superhero anyway. But gradually he gets back into it, and mixes it up with supervillain Bain—and loses. He winds up in a hellhole prison. Gradually he recovers his health, and escapes, but by this time the evil is almost unstoppable. The good rich woman who helps him, and even spends a night in bed with him, turns out bad, while Catwoman reconsiders and helps him at the end, and he manages to take the Bomb out to sea for a relatively harmless detonation. At the end, thought to be dead, he is quietly dating her. Does any of this make sense, objectively? No, but I love the ending anyway. I'd date Catwoman too, in my dreams.
I read a novelette published as an illustrated booklet, “Chuggie and the Fish Freaks of Farheath,” by Brent Michael Kelley, whose prior Chuggie stories have been novels I have reviewed in this Column: Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater, and Chuggie and the Bleeding Gateways. Chuggie is the personification of drought, and he is always perilously thirsty, but to slake his thirst he must drink a lot of fluid, enough to drain a lake dry or suck all the liquid out of any people and animals in the area. So though Chuggie is a half drunk drifter, he's dangerous when riled. This time he is put in trial for a crime he didn't commit, with a stacked judge panel, and as he is about to be executed he is tempted to slake his thirst, which would wipe out the corrupt judges, but also all the other relatively innocent folk on the scene he doesn't want to hurt. And there it ends. So why do I take the trouble to review this little item? No special reason, though maybe I should mention an irrelevant detail purely in passing: it is dedicated to me.
I watched the fist disc of Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited. It said the main feature was 75 minutes so I figured I had time. I didn't; after a two hour disc I checked more closely and discovered that the included special features are another 609 minutes. That's over ten hours! That will have to wait until I have more spare time. But this one was interesting, with their discussion of the various Doctors, followed by a retrospective adventure involving the dread Daleks, which resemble metallic traveling termite mounds with lasers and mean to exterminate all other life forms, a pretty girl, and oddities like a stellar quiz show where the losers are instantly abolished. It's scatter-shot fun.
I read The Unseelie Court by Charlie Ward. This is Book One of Frotwoot's Faerie Tales. Young Frotwoot is flying along minding his own business when suddenly he falls into a cornfield. What happened to his wings? To his memory? Now he's stranded alone without magic in the mundane realm. He is lucky; he gets adopted by a newly forming couple who take good care of him. Ten years later the winged girl Maeve contacts him, and that's the beginning of his really mad adventure. She remembers him, though he doesn't remember her, and says they were once in love. He protests they were only five years old, but she pooh-poohs that; they were six years old. Every time he gets a notion of a handle on who he really is, something happens and he finds himself in an odd new situation involving fairies, elves, trolls, and a talking tree. He is supposed to be the squire to a knight, though he knows nothing about what he's supposed to do. A pretty girl troll comes to share his apartment when he loses touch with Maeve. He learns a few magic words to get him out of chronic mischief. It's all very confusing. Which it turns out is deliberate; someone is manipulating him to keep him from recovering his full memory and powers. Overall this is one wild magic romp.
I watched The White Countess, a two and a quarter hour movie set in Shanghai in 1936, when I was two years old. Sofia is former Russian nobility, you know, before Communism changed all that, surviving as a nightclub hostess with her little girl. Todd Jackson is a blind American diplomat who sets up his dream nightclub and hires her. Meanwhile Japan is invading China, and in the end they have to flee the advancing troops. So it's a historical wartime romance, showing the pretenses, illusions, and stress of such a scene. I was not there, of course, but my family did escape Europe as the Nazis overran it, and but for sheer chance we could have wound up in a much uglier situation than we did, so I can relate. War is hell, as civilians who get displaced understand, even if the politicians who start these conflicts don't.
I watched Peer Gynt, a 1941 movie in black and white without sound, at least not in the later sense. It shows the scenes, followed by screens with the dialogue printed. It is remarkable for several things, apart from its antiquity. Of course I am intrigued by the name Peer, which I take to be a variant of Peter, another variant being Piers; what's not to like? It is Charlton Heston's first movie, made when he was 17, a strapping handsome country lout; he evidently made it on appearance rather than acting ability. It is set in Norway 1870. Peer has the wanderlust, wanting to range free, just to be himself, rather than be tied down with marriage, a job, and all that dullness. Girls are intrigued by him but can't quite land him. He goes into the forest where he intrigues the daughter of a nature spirit, who seems to age into a crone overnight when he doesn't stay with her. He intrigues three female mountain spirits who feed him tidbits that may be drugged, because he sleeps and has a wild adventure. At one point he is in Morocco watching Anitra dance; in those day they liked solider girls than they do today. Finally, making a mess of his irresponsible life he begs for one more chance, and this time he returns to his original girlfriend for marriage, job, etc. It's really not much, except for one thing: Composer Grieg's marvelous background music. For my taste there is hardly a more beautiful piece than “Song of the Morning.” This pre-sound movie is worth watching for that sound.
I watched A Good Year, a romantic comedy set in the vineyards of France. A high power exec in London inherits the vineyard and goes to check it out where, to simplify the story, he runs afoul of this & that and comes to love a pretty French girl. In the end he chooses her over Partnership, and will probably be better for it. The joy is in the details of characterization and self discovery, and I enjoyed it. At one point he says she is a vision, and she retorts that's because when he was down in the empty pool and she at the edge he saw up under her skirt. Works for me.
I watched The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a wild fantasy romp. Set more or less when the Turks are besieging Constantinople, the old Baron draws on a friend with magical powers to defeat the Turks and lift the siege. In the process he flies with friends including a little girl to the moon via a hot air balloon sewn from women's knickers and admires the moon god's lovely wife, Uma Thurman; gets swallowed by a giant fish; and literally blows away the Sultan's army with his exhalation. That suggests the wildness of it. Modern fantasy movies seem more credible, but this one is still fun.
So I watched a modern fantasy movie, Thor, The Dark World. This is dramatic, filled with pyrotechnic violence, and I'm not at all sure it makes much sense in detail or on the whole. Yet it has characterization, as Thor struggles with his relationship with his deceitful shape-changing brother Loki, as both seek vengeance for the murder of their mother, and an implacable enemy attacks. Meanwhile on Earth Thor's girlfriend Jane has become imbued with the potent aether that the enemy needs to prevail. It can't just be taken from her, as it has an explosive effect on any enemy who even touches her. Why folk with godly powers and spaceships still need to bash at each other with fists and a hammer—well, as I said, sense is not necessarily relevant here. But it's fun to watch.
I read Fractured: A Tale of Apparatum by Keith Robinson and Brian Clopper. I believe I put these two authors together a few years back, and have watched them since. Now they have done a powerful collaboration. The setting is fractured into a science and a fantasy realm, as I did in my Adept series, but this is not at all the same. Kyle is a normal teen in the science realm, due to have a small brain implant that will facilitate his ability to control hi-tech equipment. But something is wrong; it doesn't take. That means that instead he will be repurposed: his body used for parts for others. In effect, death. With the help of his brother he manages to escape the lab and flee to the wasteland outside, where hungry thugs roam amidst the ruins. Meanwhile Logan, a similar teen, will become tethered: to merge with one of the roaming spirits and acquire a special magical ability. But he gets in trouble with the authorities and has to flee to the outside where rogue spirits seek to take over living bodies and thus acquire substance. In the course of sustained adventure the two boys encounter each other without being able to see or hear each other; their realms are so different they can't perceive them. But with some help they cross over, each going to the other's realm, where it turns out they have phenomenal powers. In fact they were switched as young children so that the extent of their abilities would not be discovered by the corrupt and oppressive authorities who would quickly squelch them. Therein lies the story, and it's a good one; this is one strong novel, and I recommend it to any reader. It's the first of a series. I fault it only in the number of predators, which seems to exceed the number of prey, an impossible ratio. You can't have elephantine monsters without about ten times as much prey. However, the authors advise me that there are plenty of prey species; they are just in the background. Not much excitement watching prey graze.
I watched “Mysterious Life of Caves,” a Discover video. I expected odd animals and plants; that was not the case. At least not as we normally think of them. Instead it starts with a mystery: some western caves are filled with displays of white gypsum, a rarity in caves; how come? It's the residue from dissolved limestone, and it takes sulfuric acid to do that with any speed, and that's another rarity. What's going on? It turns out that largely invisible bacterial life is generating the acid, which in turn hollows out huge caves by dissolving away the limestone. So it’s primitive life that is responsible, and without it, those caves would be entirely different. This suggests that if life can exist without light, sometimes in higher than boiling water heat, here underground on Earth, maybe it can exist in similarly harsh conditions on other planets. In fact this could be the origin of life on earth, spreading out from the caves three and a half billion years ago. Wow!
And “The Four-Winged Dinosaur,” another Discover video. The question is whether birds evolved from dinosaurs or separately, and whether they flew by getting up takeoff speed running on the ground, or by gliding down from trees. That debate has not yet been settled, but the research is absolutely fascinating. When they found a four-winged dinosaur fossil it seemed to confirm the tree origin, as this creature couldn’t run along the ground, unless there were two branches of evolution. Feathers came before flight; in Jurassic Park they got one significant raptor detail wrong: they were feathered. Feathers for insulation. Then evolution discovered a new potential, flight. They used reconstruction and a wind tunnel to test positions for flight, and concluded that the front wings provided lift while the rear wings extended straight back for additional lift. Then when it came to the landing, the rear limbs moved forward, and the creature stalled and came into position to catch a lower tree branch. In the end they lost out to two-winged birds, but that was not necessarily because they were inferior fliers; we don't know about other factors like predators or disease or plain bad luck to be caught in the open when the meteor struck. How I would have loved to see it directly!
And “Evolve: Eyes” covers the evolution of vision, from the Cambrian Explosion about 550 million years ago to the present. It started with primitive eye patches in jellyfish, and spread from there until most life forms had it. Insect eyes are compound, with many mini-cameras providing richly detailed vision; vertebrate eyes are single units that can be spread to provide 360° vision to be alert for predators, to overlapping vision for three dimensional perception. Our own eyes developed color vision, especially for red, which helps us find fresh red leaves or fruit to eat. Among the dinosaurs allosaurus had wide-angle vision, which suggests it hid and pounced, while Tyrannosaurus Rex had binaural vision, which suggests it ran down its prey. In the days of the dinosaurs, mammals were mainly nocturnal feeders, with large night eyes; then the dinosaurs left and mammals emerged to daylight. The eye was perhaps the leading tool for life to survive and prosper.
And “Is There Life On Mars?” They've been doing their best to find it, and have verified that there was once liquid water, a prerequisite for life as we know it, but whether there is or ever was life they just don't know. It has been an expensive, tedious, and frustrating search, as missions crash or disappear, but there's hope for more information in the future.
And “Columbia: Space Shuttle Disaster.” This reviews the history of NASA and the shuttle missions, focusing on the loss of the one over Texas when a piece of insulating foam came loose and knocked a hole in the wing, dooming its re-entry. In passing it mentions the Challenger explosion of 1986; I remember that because I went out that day to see if I could see it from our Florida property, but all I saw was an odd cloud. When I returned to the house I discovered that that was it; it had exploded. This video angered me, because it shows clearly that NASA had an ambitious program early on, which president Nixon then torpedoed by cutting back so drastically that even already-paid for equipment was wasted and future safety was compromised. At that that point they knew there would be mischief, just not exactly when. And there was. Nixon was of course our criminal president, but in this case he was just following the Republican agenda of torpedoing anything a Democrat president had set up, never mind the harm done. Space exploration is expensive, but I'd far rather spend the money on that than on trumped up wars of choice. The space program continues, but it's only a shadow of what it should have been. For shame.
Inventions that Shook the World 1910s and 1920s.” There was a slew of them in the 1910s: the parachute, neon light, the assembly line, sonar, the tank, crossword puzzle, a fire safety hood, lipstick tube, the pop-up toaster, X-ray tube, the bra, the submachine gun called the Tommygun, and others. It continued in the 1920s: movie sound, chain saw, sliced bread, the polygraph lie detector, electric shaver, television, frozen food, the the decades-long effort Goddard put into developing the liquid-fueled rocket, which principle eventually enabled us to get into space, as he envisioned. The college I wont to was named after him, and he surely deserved it. We tend to think of world shaking events being nuclear bombs, but the toaster affected just about every family, and who doesn't appreciate the way the bra made women shapely without crushing them painfully in corsets? Inventors had to struggle to work these out, and some were ridiculed along the way, like Goddard, but we owe them.
I read Quincy's Curse by Keith Robinson. Quincy is a 14 year old boy who has the curse of coincidence: remarkable things happen in his vicinity, sometimes good, sometimes bad. He and his new twelve year old friend Megan get involved in a wild escapade that nearly wipes them out as they run afoul of a stolen treasure, the king's guards, a mysterious box, and the dread Red-Legged Scissor Man, whose arm terminates in horrendous scissor blades he uses to cut up people who get in his way. This is no children's story, but a convoluted fantasy adventure. One notable aspect is the constant shifting of viewpoints: each chapter is seen by a new person, and they start repeating viewpoints only late in the novel. I did that once in an Adept novel, and found it difficult to maintain. The key here is that the focus remains on Quincy and Megan as they struggle through their labyrinth, so the main narrative is not disjointed. This is an interesting and sometimes grisly narrative.
I read A Universe From Nothing: Why there is Something Rather than Nothing, by Lawrence M Krauss. Last year I read a book on the same topic, Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt, who concluded that it must have been a random quantum flux, the spontaneous appearance of matter and energy from nothing, normally quickly dissipated. Such things are constantly happening today, in miniature; our universe just seems to be on a larger scale, taking longer to quit. I can't say I understand it perfectly, so this is a rather general summation. The present book begins with that assumption and explores it in considerable detail. Along the way it answers the question of what happened to antimatter, if matter and antimatter formed in equal amounts? Why didn't they cancel each other out in a grand nullification? It's that there was a tiny trace of an imperfection, an irregularity, that caused there to be about one more part in, say, a billion or trillion trillion parts of matter than antimatter. Such things happen; it's hard to achieve perfection. So all the rest canceled out, and what was left was that one-infinitesimal trace, a bit of leftover dust, which accounts for all the substance in our universe. We're pretty insignificant, compared to how it started. Another clarification is about empty space; that turns out not to be nothing, but a region with enormous energy. In fact that energy is pushing the universe apart. Another is the title question: why couldn't there simply be nothing? That would seem to be a lot less complicated. But it may be that nothing itself is unstable, so there had to be a flux. I think of it, crudely, as a room-wide carpet that isn't quite sized right, so there's a stress. It will bow up in one spot, and if you press it down, it will bow in another spot. You can't really flatten it without redesigning the whole thing. So if reality is stressed, where it bows is that blip we call the universe. Another question is why things happened just exactly perfectly right to generate stars, planets, and finally life and intelligence. There are so many key factors with very close tolerances that it seems extremely unlikely that any of this should have happened at all. So how come? The answer is that reality may be a multiverse, an infinite number of blip universes, each slightly different from the others in substance and laws of nature, covering every conceivable and maybe inconceivable alternative. One of these just happened to have the right mix: ours. So it's not coincidence that we're here to comment; this was perhaps the only one where we could appear.
I watched Inventions That Shook the World, 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s Japan wanted the get into lucrative the American market, so used transistors to make a smaller radio, miniaturizing it. They named it Sony, and adaptation of “sonny” to make it seem American. A pocket sized radio you could carry around with you. And American industry wasn't interested, so they had to sell it in Japan first. Then, finally America go into it. This is a pattern that keeps repeating: obvious breakthroughs don't make it with the hidebound powers that be. Others were seat belts, the breathalyzer, the credit card, Teflon cookware, video tape, the black box recorder for airplanes, hula hoop, TV dinner, hovercraft. The laser. High efficiency solar cells. Aerosol spray. Sputnik. Once the Russians put something into orbit, then America focused on it. In the 1960s came weather satellites. An American named Harry Wexler was working on it, NASA not interested, when he got a letter from science fiction writer Arthur Clarke, and slowly science fiction became reality. Now at last they could accurately track developing hurricanes and save lives. The water bed, floating car, Lava Lamp. There was an idea for the industrial robot to facilitate assembly line manufacture, but American industry wasn't interested until Japan transformed its industry with it. The touch-tone phone, rocket belt, AstroTurf, video game console, GI Joe so boys could play with dolls. The supersonic Concorde. The Taser, Jacuzzi, Lunar Lander. You wonder how there could be anything left to invent, but I suspect there'll be videos for the 30s and 40s and 70s and 80s.
Odd notes: a study suggests that every hour you sit watching TV takes 22 minutes off your life. I'm skeptical. If it is the sitting that does it, what's the alternative? Standing, lying? Hanging suspended? What about sitting for an hour doing homework? Reading? Eating? Driving? At the computer? In school? At work in the office? Are our lives hopelessly shortened because we're not spending all our time out hunting buffalo? Do women live shorter lives than men because they are more sedentary, doing knitting, spinning, potato peeling, rocking babies to sleep? So I suspect this is nonsense. Another study suggests that antibiotics may be the cause of our epidemic of obesity, allergies, diabetes and such, because they wipe out good bacteria as well as bad ones, and of course the bad ones return faster, like weeds. I'm less skeptical; the point is made that they stuff cattle and chickens with antibiotics to make them grow fat faster. Stuff people, and the result could be similar. What to do, since doctors and dentists are locked into antibiotics and think you're ignorant if you try to avoid them? I supplement with probiotics to replace digestive bacteria that I'm losing, and of course I am disciplined (my wife says compulsive) about what I eat. You have to stay on your toes, perhaps literally, to live healthy in today's environment, and my vegetarianism is only a fraction of it. But I also saw an article on orthorexia, a condition wherein the concern is avoiding “bad” foods to the point where folk can ruin their health. Some moderation is wise, even in being a health nut. And if you think that old folk are immune to suicide, not so; they have the highest rate of any population. I can see it; when you're old and ill and you know there is no way out of this bind, that it will just get worse, and your illness threatens to impoverish your surviving family without significantly helping you, suicide makes sense. Religion and our culture say that suicide is sinful; that's nonsense. And more on guns: there is a proposal to add five words to the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms while serving in the militia shall not be infringed.” That makes sense to me. What the NRA seems to want is irresponsible gun ownership. You want a gun, serve your country. And general ignorance: the Associated Press did a survey on American beliefs. It's appalling. Over half doubt the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, and prefer to believe that a supreme being must have created it; 42% don't really believe in evolution; a third don't believe in global warming. Nothing like substituting convenient faith for facts.
Last month I regretfully retired my recumbent bicycle, as mentioned last column, and went entirely to my scooter. Then it had a flat; I patched it, but it went flat again, and again. So I replaced the tube, and that held—but when I put the wheel back on, it no longer spun without chafing. I struggled, but it simply refused to set right. It was maddening. Maybe the effort of getting it off and on repeatedly bent something so that it no longer fit. So I renovated my wife's two bicycles, which she used to use for exercise, but now her fear of falling prevents her from riding them. I understand; when she fell in the bathroom, four years ago, she was in the hospital, then in a convalescence facility for weeks. She hated it, and I hated being alone. A bike fall would likely be worse. WE DON'T WANT A FALL. So now I'm using the bicycles, and if you snicker at the idea of a man riding a girl's bike, well tough beans; they are good machines, deserving of respect, and they do the job. I'm still tinkering with the scooter; one morning the wheel spun cleanly, so I set off—and then it started chafing and I had to walk it back. After which the wheel spun freely again. Did I mention maddening? It's called the perversity of the inanimate. So the bikes continue.
My teeth also continue. I take care of my mouth, but I am blessed with teeth that defy preventive measures and rot regardless. It runs in my family. I'm having five more implants in my lower jaw—pause for the usual tittering of my imaginary full-busted femmes—and three are now complete. But the other two, well, like a wheel that refuses to fit right, they are being difficult. The dentist set them in, and they healed, and were ready for their crowns. But they were too close together, so that there was not sufficient bone forming between them. So the dentist took one out, and filled in with a bone graft, and now I'm waiting another two months for that to solidify. Then he'll put in a smaller implant. By the end of the year I should have my two front teeth, as in “All I want for Christmas...” Its a nuisance, as those implants cost about $3,000 each, and maybe another $2,000 each for the eventual crowns. I had to do a private personal cost/benefit analysis: I'm coming up on 80, and how long a use am I likely to get from those teeth? I figure a decade or more, but not a lot more, so it may be costing me $500 per year per tooth. Where do I draw the line?
Other notes: Bollywood, the burgeoning movie industry of India, had their big award ceremony in Tampa. I didn't pick up on it much, any more than I do for Hollywood awards; they're not my scene. But they had a brief item on TV showing some of their dancers, and I must say that those well formed women with what looked like sprayed-on green blouses, certainly made my eyeballs pop. Item in the newspaper addressed the question of whether there is a speed record for solving the Rubik's Cube. Back decades ago when it was new I got one, mixed it up with a few random moves—and was never able to restore it. Now they say that while there are 43 quintillion combinations, it can always be solved in 20 or fewer twists. The record is under 6 seconds. Now it seems there is a more challenging one, five squares by five. Thanks, no; I already feel idiotic enough.
Letter in the newspaper by Kimberly Trombley quotes Jon Gruber, a health care expert from MIT who consulted on Romneycare and Obamacare about the Republican attitude: “They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is almost awesome in its evilness.” I had thought Republicans were interested only in money for themselves and didn't really care who else got hurt; it seems I underestimated them. They do care, to make sure the poor do hurt. Meanwhile studies show that there are an increasing number of the poor to be punished; all but the top one percent are losing ground, and even within the one percent it's not even; the top one-thousandth own one fifth of the wealth of the nation and are gaining fastest. What I fear is a remake of the French Revolution, when the poor finally rebel, swamp the elite, and start chopping off heads. It seems that the richest simply won't stop until that happens. Maybe related: the number of folk in prison per 100,000 ranges from 47 in Iceland to 266 in Chile. Except in the United States, where it is 710, having almost quadrupled since the 1960s. If you're poor, or black, or smoke marijuana, or unlucky, you're in trouble. But is the nation any safer on the street? I doubt it. I guess safety isn't the point; punishment is, at any cost.
Review of a biography of the writer John Updike. I'm not sure I've read anything by him, though he was of my generation. What I notice is that his life and success seem to refute the notion that enduring writers derive from troubled childhoods. He had a happy childhood and a satisfying career. However, he was criticized for having more style than substance; one critic called him a minor novelist with a major style. So maybe it's substance that the bad childhood brings: actually having something to say. Or maybe there is no universal rule for becoming a writer, but being fouled up helps.
I watched The Guardian, a story of the Coast Guard. This service is generally belittled by the other services, but when there is mischief on the seas, that's when it is needed. The cover blurb says “A Powerful, Pulse-Pounding Story of Courage And Friendship,” and that is exactly what it is. It's formula, but well done; I was pretty much riveted throughout. Many rescues take place in storms, with monstrous waves, with helicopters flying low to pull up survivors in baskets on lines; the rescuers have to be tough and bold. There's a bit of romance on the side, and this too is well enough done. It's a good movie.
Doug Harter asked me to discuss what a collaboration involves. I've done more than 30 collaborative books, and several stories in the course of my career, so I must know something about it. Each one is different. With some I take the other writer's manuscript and modify it as necessary to make it publishable. Dream a Little Dream, with Julie Brady, is an example of that. Others we alternate writing chapters; The Caterpillar's Question with Philip Jose Farmer, is an example. In one case I took the incomplete manuscript of a teenager who had been killed by a drunk driver and completed it; that was Through the Ice with Robert Kornwise. I finally quit collaborating because publishers were so resistive to it; one even lost (shredded?) signed contracts. I went after them with a high-priced lawyer and they reissued the contracts. (Have I mentioned that it's not smart to fuck with Piers Anthony?) Now I'm collaborating with J R Rain, in part because he self publishes them so no idiot editor can use prejudice rather than the merit of the piece to balk them, and in part because he, as a Kindle bestseller, has no need of my reputation to bolster his own, so is independent. So in writing the book, whatever works. As for the money, I share the net proceeds evenly in all cases, 50-50. The only exceptions were Through the Ice, where I had no living partner; I tithed what I got for a fund sent up in his name. And If I Pay Thee Not In Gold with Mercedes Lackey, where the publisher screwed me out of most of my share. That resulted in a hostile audit the publisher had to pay for, but it remained a poor deal for me monetarily, and of course I canceled the potential series. So if you are considering collaboration, be aware that each partner may do as much work as he would for an individual novel, but get only half the credit and half the money. Yet if collaborating results in a superior book, why not? Sometimes authors' skills complement each other, one being strong in one area, the other in another, so a book become possible when it otherwise would not be. As a very general rule, when you collaborate, remember you won't have it all your own way. What one author writes defines that part of the book, and the other must accommodate. It's like marriage, with compromise essential, but the rewards can be significant.
I just about caught up with my reading backlog, though more books are heading my way, and despite all the video viewing, wound up 12 videos behind. It feels like running backward. So brace yourself for another half slew of video reviews next column. You don't have to get mired in these over-length columns, you know; you can learn to skim. Which reminds me of a cartoon I saw long ago: a TV ad where the promoter said & Kids, if your mom refuses to buy super sugar bombs cereal, let me introduce you to the hunger strike...”
And as mentioned in the opening paragraph, I finally did start Xanth #40, Isis Orb. This is the one suggested by a ten year old girl, whose characters I am now bringing to life. I am now about 17,500 words into it, and believe it is matching the Xanth standard. You know: magic, adventure, naughty fun, egregious puns, with apoplectic critics to come.

PIERS
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