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Piers and daughter unload boxes July 2014
NoRemember 2014

I watched Murder 101, half of a double feature I got for four dollars. It features Pierce Brosnan, of recent Remington Steele and James Bond movies, one of the few movie actors whose name I recognize and not just because there's something I like about his first name. I figured he wouldn’t star in a bomb. I was right; it's a good story. He's an English professor who assigns hes students to write the perfect murder mystery. Then he gets framed for a murder himself. That's a bit too apt. And another. It winds up in a wild array of misdirections and revelations, as these things do. A fun movie. The other feature is The Gypsy Warriors, with an early Tom Selleck, where he has to see that deadly French toxins don't get into German hands as they invade France in 1940. Friendly Gypsies help, including a pretty girl. Selleck impersonates a German field marshal as they mine the laboratory and bury the toxins. It's not much of a movie, but it's fun too.

I read Fantasy For Good—A Charitable Anthology, edited by Jordan Ellinger and Richard Salter. How did I get an advance copy? Because I contributed a story to it, so got a proofreading copy. The authors are unpaid, and all proceeds go to the effort to combat colon cancer. There are 30 stories, and a Forward by Trent Zelazny, the son of the late Roger Zelazny who died of colon cancer, one of whose stories is here. The volume is peripherally personal for me, partly because I knew and liked Roger Zelazny personally; we broke into print at a similar time, admired each other's work, and our professional courses ran parallel, he sweeping awards, I becoming a bestseller. But mostly because my elder daughter Penelope died of cancer, though hers was melanoma rather than colon. As I put it five years ago, cancer is a cannonball, referring to the lines of a song “A cannonball don't pay no mind if you're gentle or you're kind, it don't think of the folks behind.” I am attuned to cancer, by no personal choice. The volume is divided into five parts: Sword & Sorcery, Fairy Tales, The Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, and Weird Fantasy. Describing every story here is beyond me, so I'll just mention one in each section, not necessarily the best, just ones I noticed. In Part 1 it is “In the Lost Lands” by George R R Martin, whose first lines are “You can buy anything you might desire to from Gray Alys. But it's better not to.” What follows is a story of shape changing with a savage outcome, demonstrating the truth of the statement. In Part 2 it's “Mountain Spirit,” my own contribution about a mountain that doesn't like to be climbed, and can make things like avalanches or lava flows to discourage climbers. Part 3, “Undying Love” by Jackie Kessler, wherein a demoness tries to help her friend who becomes a vampire, who wants to raise a child, and of course it ends badly; how can a vampire properly care for a baby by day? You have to feel the pain of these supernaturals as they struggle with their situations. Part 4, “Man of Water,” by Kyle Aisteach. A man is pursued by creatures assuming the semblance of people until he catches on and says the spell that dissolves them into water. But that's only part of it. Part 5, “Bones of a Righteous Man,” by Michael Ezell. A man who mistakenly kills a righteous man is condemned to carry his bones across the desert to where they belong, and it's one perilous and ugly journey. This for me is the strongest story in the volume, hardly the most fun, but compelling. Actually it is evident that the authors here did not slough off quality because it's unpaid; this is a good, strong, quite varied volume with a number of thoughtful entries. Some are more fragments than stories, perhaps chapters in a larger narrative elsewhere, but there's nothing cheap here. Some I would happily have read more of, but they ended too soon. Get it and read it; you won't be disappointed.

I bought a quintet of old Marlene Dietrich movies for $8. The first one dates from 1930, before I was born: Morocco. She's a cabaret singer there. She's renowned for her singing, but I came of age in another generation and it doesn't turn me on. The constant smoking turns me off. It's slow moving, black and white. French Foreign Legion troops are stationed there, and it seems pretty dull for them. Marlene is interested in a private, Legionnaire Brown, and in a wealthy gentleman. In the end she joins the camp followers, pursuing Brown's unit as it marches to the next battle. The trailer says it's one phenomenal movie. Maybe it was, then. The second movie is Blonde Venus, 1932. To get money to save her ailing husband's life she returns to a stage career. That leads to interest by another man, whom she comes to like better though she won't go with him. Husband, nevertheless outraged, is going to take their five year old son, so she flees with the child. But destitution forces her to give up the child, and she returns to the stage. Where the other man finds her and claims her, maybe. The third is The Devil is a Woman, 1935. Ceaselessly flirtatious at a carnival in Spain, playing a rich man along, teasing him unmercifully without ever delivering. Playing all men along, precipitating a duel. Facilitating the escape of a wanted man. She does came across as the devil, using her charms to make endless mischief. The Flame of New Orleans, 1941, with the familiar theme of the pretty girl attracting both a rich gentleman and a poor fisherman and the resulting mischief. Go for the money, or love? The story explains how a wedding dress came to be floating down the Mississippi River. And Golden Earrings, 1947, a World War Two movie. A British officer escapes German capture and is helped by Lydia, a traveling Gypsy woman. He dons golden earrings to emulate a Gypsy man. His mission is to get the secret of poison gas for the British, so that the Germans know that if they use it, it will be used also on them. The two fall in love, yet have to separate. But he returns to her after the war. I liked each movie better as they went. I don't see Dietrich as sexy, but she is pretty, and can act, and the movies are fun.

I watched Rush, Formula 1 racing, 1976. I'm not into that sort of thing, but this is one compelling movie, with a nice supporting theme of the women in the lives of the racers. Navigating a rough track at high speed in a thunderstorm makes me cringe, as it is supposed to. Along with the rousing action is the thoughtful mutual respect the racers have for each other.

Kirby McCauley died. The name may be unfamiliar to the majority of readers of this column, but he represents one of the more significant untold chapters of my life. To provide the context, let me go back to something I freely talk about today, but others don't: how in 1969 I protested when a publisher cheated me, got part of my money, and got blacklisted for six years for having the temerity to make my case and stand my ground. Officers of a genre organization supposedly representing writers badmouthed me despite being in a position to know that I had the right of the case and it seems they facilitated the blacklist; that's why I am alienated there. Not every publisher honored the blacklist, so I squeaked by, though my commercial and literary success was largely suppressed while others prospered, and even today a leading genre review magazine will not review my novels. Understand, a blacklist is not officially posted or publicized; it's word of mouth, and slander is difficult to nail or to squelch by legal action, especially when those who practice it are quite prepared to lie; who can say for sure why editors don't buy from a writer they liked before? It might be a change in taste, or pure coincidence. Blacklists are seldom justified, so they are quiet; those at fault will never bruit that about. It's a similar case with retaliation against whistle-blowers, assertive blacks, women, religious minorities, or gays who believe they are entitled to equal rights, and it accounts for my militant attitude in this respect today, now that I have the resources to strike back with force. Subtle corruption is widespread; it's an ugly world. Finally I got smart and got an agent: Lurton Blassingame, who by no coincidence also represented Robert Heinlein, the leading SF writer of the time. The blacklist dissipated, as far as other publishers went; guess which writer a publisher would never see, if it shit on one of Lurton's other clients? So my career was coming back to life. And you thought that literary merit governed publishing? Sure, and integrity governs in politics, and folk marry only for love.

Then something surprising happened, a truly remarkable coincidence I'm not sure has ever happened elsewhere. The proprietors of the blacklisting publisher, rumor had it, screwed one too many folk, and someone with resources sued. To get away from that losing case they left the publisher, which was in due course incorporated into the Random House complex. New administration and editors were hired, and one of them invited me back. I thought there was a mistake; didn't they know that they were still blacklisting me there? And here's the key: the new fantasy editor, a writer, had gotten a belated peek at the publisher's books of account, and learned that while they had reported sales of 69,000 on one of his novels, the actual sales had been 169,000. He understood my case perfectly, having been similarly screwed himself. I wrestled with the matter, the most difficult of my career, and finally decided to give the new order a try. And so I returned, and they not only paid my royalties fairly, they gave me the promotion I had been denied before and put me on the national bestseller lists. I was no longer shunned, at least not commercially; I was now a leading author. So it was also the best decision of my career. How many other writers go from the dregs to the top by such a route?

Then my agent Blassingame retired. His agency was taken over by two newcomers, one of whom was Kirby McCauley, who also had Stephen King as a client. I was assigned the other agent, who forwarded me a bad publishing contract that I bounced on the spot, and the agent with it. Meanwhile Heinlein did not want McCauley, I understand because his nose was out of joint about the much larger advances Stephen King got. So we switched agents, and the one I didn't want got Heinlein, while I went to McCauley; Stephen King's success didn't bother me. Hell, King's daughter was a fan of mine, preferring fantasy to horror. That may have seemed like a ludicrous exchange to outsiders, the top SF writer of the age for a refugee from blacklisting, but the fact was Heinlein was declining and I was rising, and the exchange was fair. Kirby went on to magnify my career; as I recall he made two different million dollar deals for me in the same year. The man was a genius as an agent, and I liked him personally. In that recognition I was typical of his clientele.

Then it started going wrong. We got stood up in an unfamiliar city when Kirby did not appear for a scheduled lunch meeting; there were frequent two hour phone calls about nothing in particular; contracts got mislaid. When a six figure agent's check to me bounced twice, a thing that should never happen—that's what special earmarked accounts are for--I broke with Kirby, regretfully, but did not take another agent. If this were a romance story, it might seem that I still carried the torch for the old girlfriend. But I could not tolerate financial misplays. He got things straightened out, and later I returned to him, I think the only one who did, and he made other good deals for me. But I remained wary, and finally I gave up on New York agents altogether and went west, where I have been over 20 years. Kirby still got ten percent of the considerable sales he had made for me during our heyday, but he was essentially out of my life. Stephen King was also gone from that agency. In fact Kirby lost most of his top clients, though I believe one, George R R Martin of A Game of Thrones fame stayed with him, and that genius paid off for Martin. Another who stayed was Roger Zelazny, a phenomenal award winner. But the others were gone in a mass. How is it that one of the top agencies in the world fell so low so fast? Well, there's an elephant in the room that others won't speak of: cocaine. Kirby was addicted, as so many celebrities are. I left not for moralistic grounds, but because the agent was no longer functioning properly. I lost a movie contract when he didn't get around to following up on that interest, that sort of thing, and I had to watch the money very carefully. I think he finally got off cocaine, but that was replaced by another drug and the situation remained. I could not afford to stay with him. I'm sure that was the case with the others, who surely liked him as I did. As my collaborator Roberto Fuentes told me, who also fell afoul of cocaine and spent prison time because of it, it becomes your master, and nothing else matters as much. It was too bad, because Kirby had done wonders for my career, as he had for others. His foreign agent took most of his clients and made a persuasive play for me, but a major reason I did not go there was that I did not like the way he was treating Kirby.

As it happened, my departure was delayed in significant part because I do not like tackling two major issues together; better to handle one, then handle the other. The other was my editor, ironically, the one who had lifted the blacklist and done so well for me. He was getting old, and practicing increasingly abusive editing, what I call meat ax, chopping out entire scenes or even chapters or author's notes, overruling my preferences, treating me with undeserved contempt. I was one of I understand four major fantasy authors who left because of such treatment; we had to, to save our text from serious damage or destruction. So I left my best agent and my best publisher, one two, with deep regrets in both cases, and my career has not been the same since. Think of it this way: there you are on the rack, while the torturer, with the best of intentions, cuts out your organs, one by one. You don't need two kidneys, so he takes one out to improve you. Your left hand is not as versatile as your right hand, so he cuts it off, leaving you only with the best of you. Would you stay? Some authors would, and it paid them monetarily to do so, but those who care about the quality of their material as I do would not. Kirby helped me find good deals at other publishers. He got me things like licensing, that enables me to recover my book rights after a given period, giving me ultimate control over my works that few authors have. I mean, the guy was good.

Now Kirby McCauley is gone, and I mourn him as I am sure many others do. Now perhaps you know how complicated things were behind the scenes, and how my career went from the depths to the heights and then sank into the middle range. Kirby was a vital part of that seismic shifting. In the last column I likened aspects of my career to navigating my canoe through a hurricane at sea. This was the essence of it. Rest in peace, Kirby. I wish the elephant had stayed the hell away from your room.

I watched A Knight's Tale, which I believe is adapted from a 14th century Chaucer story. Indeed, they made Chaucer himself a character therein. It's a rousing drama of jousting, wherein a commoner assumes the role of a noble knight and makes good in tournaments. It has everything, including a treacherous opponent and the love of a noble lady. I had seen a version before, but this one's better. After the credits there was a brief naughty scene of the main actors farting, maybe titillation for loyal readers of credits.

I watched Looper, wherein Bruce Willis of 2044 is illegally sent 30 years back to be assassinated by his younger self, but survives, and mayhem ensues. He's a looper, and his loop is being closed. It's complicated, with a child with wild levitation power and problems of changing the future, for good or for ill. It's hard to be sure which side to root for.

I read Pickles and Ponies—A Fairy Tale, by Laura May. This is like a fantasy cousin to Xanth, with puns and literalisms, but not the same. Everyone there is a prince or princess of something, however obscure, and fairy tale conventions govern, but they are interpreted in different ways. Essentially it's the story of Melodia, who is supposed to be rescued from an island by the prince who would instantly love and marry her, but somehow things go wrong and she winds up waiting seven years and losing her certainty about that kind of romance. A curse messes up the prince who is supposed to rescue her so that he can't hear his heart, and that complicates romance. Instead it is the horse who hears the prince's heart. It's complicated but charming in places.

I read Turncoats Book Two: Overwhelmed, by Brian Clopper. This is the middle segment of a three part story, the first part being Overrun, and the third part Overthrown. A dead girl, Trina, is roused from her grave to come help teen Nathan save the world from a zombie invasion. Yes, she's a zombie herself, but not the same kind; she doesn't eat people or anything else, she retains her mind, she looks almost alive, and she means well. In the first part the bad zombies appear and overrun the world, including the pair's families. In this second part, Nathan and Trina struggle to escape the zombies and get where they need to to somehow stop the invasion, but it's no easy thing. Zombies are everywhere, and it seems that there are great background forces of Light and Dark that govern the zombies and sometimes send visions to the protagonists, but it is uncertain what the best course of action is. Living people can't be fully trusted either; they have their own survival in mind. By the end of this segment the zombies are sprouting wings and attacking from the air, so the threat is worse than ever. I'm not a zombie fan, but this is one compelling narrative. I rather like that dead girl, too.

I watched My House in Umbria, about a lady author named Emily, now verging into alcoholism, who is on a train when a bomb detonates and several passengers are killed, the others injured, including her. A child, Aimee, is orphaned. Emily invites them to her house to recuperate, and they form a kind of family centered around the girl, who first does not speak, then does not remember. Her uncle comes to take her in, but it's clear that this will not be a comfortable family. In the end Aimee is left in Umbria, and the folk of the house are happy to have her. This may not seem like much, but it's a moving character study with some lovely background scenery. The girl brightens the scene, and the impromptu family benefits too. I compare it to Looper, theoretically more my kind of movie with its science fiction and violence, and find I like Umbria better.

I watched the DISCOVER video How the Earth Was Made: Grand Canyon. It seems that almost two billion years ago the first rock of this area was formed. It spend time under the sea and time out of the sea, forming distinct layers of sandstone, shale, and other rock. Then five and a half million years ago tectonic forces pushed it up a mile, still level, in contrast to other places where the rocks buckled to form mountains. The Colorado river cut its channel, carving through the layers. There were rockfalls and even some volcanic activity blocking the channel, but the river just kept carving. So geologically it's recent, but impressive.

I had a request for a story, so I wrote “Hello Hotel” for UFO BOOKS. The letters stand for Unidentified Funny Objects, so it's not a completely serious volume. I wrote “Do Not Remove This Tag” for them before, about a demon in a mattress. “Hello” concerns an atheist who is recruited by Hell, which is a challenge because he doesn't believe in Heaven or Hell. Has Satan lost his evil mind? Well...

I watched a trio of war movies on one disc I bought for six dollars. The first was Play Dirty, a World War Two movie set in North Africa. A squadron of ex-criminals is assigned to take out an oil depot behind enemy lines. A British officer is put in charge of this largely lawless outfit, knowing they're as likely to kill him as obey him. Along the way they capture a young German nurse, debating whether to kill or rape her, but instead have her tend to a wounded member. It's brutally effective, and a downer: all the main characters wind up dead, including the blameless nurse. It's as if the director couldn't figure out how to wind it up, so simply killed off all the characters. I'd have found a more satisfying denouement. Then I watched the second one, The Dogs of War, about a secret mission by a supposed bird watcher to an African country. They beat him up and deport him. So when he recovers he gathers his men and weapons and returns, mercilessly wiping them out. And departs, leaving the wreckage. The third was The Purple Plain, with Gregory Peck, made in 1954. World War Two, Burma. He's a pilot who crashes in the wilderness with two others; one is injured, the other shoots himself. He carries the injured man, and finally manages to find water, sawing them. He returns to the nice Burmese girl he met. Best of the three movies.

I watched Snowpiercer. This was said by THE WEEK to be the best movie of the year, but did not come to this area and was not even mentioned here. Do the local newspapers have a hostile agenda? It does smell of blacklisting, where a major entry is ignored so viewers won't catch on to what they're missing and make a fuss. Whose interest is being served? Maybe I'm just oversensitive here, but I'd like the locals to explain themselves. Fortunately my video-freak daughter got me a DVD copy. This is quite original dystopian science fiction, imaginative and grim, and yes, I suspect one of the outstanding movies of this type. Global warming threatened the world, so they made something to counter it—which then overdid it and froze the world, killing everything. All except the folk on a sort of Noah's Ark train a thousand cars long—that must be at least 20 miles--that travels endlessly around the world, never stopping. We start with the folk in the tail section, a place of grime and hopelessness that gets raided periodically for talent or as it turns out, flesh. They are determined to revolt and take over the train. They fight their way forward, car by car, facing brutal resistance. This is an amazing train, with remarkably different cars; each is like a new world. Some are plant hothouses, some are swimming pools, some are children's schools. But it is run with barbaric efficiency, such as periodically culling the population to keep the train ecology in balance. And of course when the protagonist finally wins his way to the engine, there's a mind blowing surprise. The implications are worrisome, as dystopian fiction tends to be, forcing the viewer to think. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the near future. And if you feel moved to send a nasty query to your local newspaper that ignored this movie...

The month of OctOgre I set aside as the time to catch up on about 60 back magazines that accumulated this year. When I get on a writing project I move on it, but other things tend to slide. This is surely typical of workaholics. I keep up with THE WEEK, which replaced US NEWS & WORLD REPORT when its physical edition expired, but opinion can wait. So I went through half a slew of LIBERAL OPINION WEEKs, NEW SCIENTISTs, SCIENCE NEWSs, HUMANISTs, FREE INQUIRYs, and whatever else. My primary interest is in science—what, you thought it should be in fantasy?--and liberal or humanistic thinking, as these titles indicate. For example, there's an intriguing series in FREE INQUIRY, “Why I am not a ____” with the blanks filled in by assorted religions and beliefs. Most seem to be folk who were devout before realizing that they were worshiping a non-responsive illusion, but they tackle agnosticism too. “An agnostic is a gutless atheist.” Ouch! I'm agnostic, but I think not gutless. But that's a debate for another column.

Next month maybe I'll gain on the backed up videos, if I can just hold off the fiction writing urge long enough. As I have mentioned before, I'm not like other writers; I truly like to write, and have to force myself to take time off for other things so as to have a halfway balanced life. But there's a story or novella notion in mp cranium that may not suffer itself to be denied: “Brick,” a Juvenile, starting with a boy who discovers a seemingly ordinary brick with three holes through the center. When he turns it over, there are four holes through the center, that don't intersect the three. Intrigued, he investigates, determined to understand the full nature of what is indeed an alien artifact. By the time this finishes, he'll be in a modern Garden of Eden, helping to save the world from plant and animal extinction wrought by heedless adults. By using an odd brick. Now really, if you had a notion like this, would you postpone writing it to catch up on junky backlogged videos? You would? But you're not me, are you?

Well, on with the clippings, and the thoughts suggested by them. Column by Frank Bruni titled “Between Godliness and Godlessness” comments on atheist Sam Harris' new book Waking Up, wherein he described walking in Jesus' footsteps an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. A feeling of peace came over him and the sense of being a separate self vanished. Had he at last found God? No, he's exploring the question of which comes first, the faith or the feeling of transcendence? Is the former merely an attempt to explain the latter? “Mightn't religion be piggybacking on the preexisting condition of spirituality...a narrative constructed to explain states of consciousness that have nothing to do with any covenant or creed?” A religious person might take the experience as confirmation of his faith, but to an agnostic like me it's merely an enlightened state of mind, not requiring any supernatural explanation. Which reminds me of a good answer one of my religious readers gave to my objection to having a supernatural god: to her, God was natural.

“GOP Planning for Power” by Steve Mufson spells out what the Republicans plan to do if they regain control of the US Senate, as many folk think is likely. First, dismantle Obamacare, plank by plank. Next, eliminate Obama's climate change policies. Allow more oil and gas exploration on federal lands. Approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Stop the environmental Protection Agency's limits on carbon emissions from power plants, so there can be more pollution. Discredit the Obama record. As I see it, if Satan were real, he would work through the ignorance and greed of politicians to render the mortal realm into Hell. He is making significant progress, but there's more to accomplish. Watch the next election to see how it goes.

Froma Harrop suggests that legalizing marijuana isn't enough; legalize all drugs. After all, the war against drugs is being lost anyway, working no better than the prohibition of alcohol of the 1920s. Make drugs legal, regulate them, tax them; there's a lot of money to be made that way. Nicholas Kristof says that ISIS, the Islamic State that likes to behead Americans, understands the power of education as we in the West don't. That's why they stop the education of women. That's why the Taliban shot Malala, and why Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and plans to turn them into slaves. They know that illiteracy, ignorance, and repression of women foster a culture where extremism can flourish. Books are cheaper than bombs; we should be facilitating literacy rather than just bombing them. A “This Modern World” cartoon in 1997 remarked on Mother Teresa, who rigidly upheld her church's opposition to both contraception and abortion, despite daily exposure to the miseries of overpopulation. She befriended dictators who gave her more than a million dollars in cash. She never used sterilized needles or painkillers for the dying. That makes her worthy of sainthood? Letter in the Tampa Bay Times by Yvonne M Osmond 10-15-2014 remarks further on conservative Christians who claim to follow Jesus, but Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, birth control, or abortion. Jesus said we should forgive and love our enemies, give to the poor, feed the hungry, and heal the sick. “Not one word about denying people food (food stamps) or medicine (Affordable Care Act).” And there's a brief cartoon history of religion: a cave man is praying to his sacred stone. “Are you kidding?!” his friend says. “It's just a stupid rock.” “BLASPHEMER!” the worshiper cries, bashing the other over the head with the rock, then explaining “He deserved that, oh Holy one. He was an infidel!” That does seem to be the essence.

Columnists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn say that one way to beat poverty is to intervene early to see that children are healthy, and have good programs to educate them. That way they don't grow up to be failures or criminals and can better make their way in life. Too bad it won't happen in America. NEW SCIENTIST article by Ryan Schacht, Kristin Rauch, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder says that popular wisdom indicates that an excess of men over women leads to instability and violence, but this is not necessarily the case. When there are not enough women to go around, women become more valuable and men must cater to their preferences or lose them. So a man is more likely to behave, and stick to a single partner if he is lucky enough to get one.

1998 Ann Landers column (remember, I've been sorting old clippings) reprints a fabulous humorous essay titled “A Dog Named Sex.” He named his dog Sex, and suffered mischief because of it. To renew the dog's license he told the clerk he would like a license for Sex. When there was confusion he said “You don't understand. I've had Sex since I was 9 years old.” That impressed the clerk. When he got married he took the dog on their honeymoon, telling the motel clerk he wanted a special room for Sex. The clerk said he didn't need a special room for that. At the end the dog ran away, and he spent hours looking around town for him. A cop came up and asked “What are you doing in this alley at 4 o'clock in the morning?” He told the cop he was looking for Sex. “My case comes up Friday.”

A 1999 column by William Raspberry discusses student ethics on cheating. 80% of top students admitted to doing it. Pause here for my interjection: so maybe that's why they were the top students? The teachers didn't know who really knew what? I was, I think in long retrospect, one of the smarter students in my high school, but I didn't cheat, and graduated in the third quarter of my class, then went on to become perhaps the most successful in life, in a profession where literary cheating is difficult to get away with, so the field was level, as it were. One of my friends there told me he cheated; it was easier than studying. He was at one point #1 in his class. I got a better education than my grades indicated; it was a good school. This is a considerable oversimplification; there were other aspects that still annoy me, over 60 years later. I don't feel I owe that school much. Okay, back to the column I was remarking on. So the columnist asked the students to imagine that they had come up with a foolproof way to counterfeit money. Would they be tempted to run off, say, $100,000 in undetectable counterfeit, pay off their college loans, help their families, get the car fixed, then destroy the plates? Who would be hurt? And none would do it. They said. But observing contemporary politics and business, I conjecture that the few who would cheat are in office now, or running corporations.

Um, look, I've been trying to cut down the length of these monthly columns, and not succeeding very well; this one's twice the length I prefer, and it's shorter than recent ones. I have too many opinionations on too many things. So what I'm doing now is stopping here, the pile of clippings unfinished. Readers of this column can let me know whether they'd rather have me resume. It isn't as through we don't have other things to do.

One more video, last thing of the month: Discover, How the Earth was Made: Sahara. The earth wobbles in 20,000 year cycles that cause the monsoons to shift north and south. 7,000 years ago people lived there, but in just 200 years it returned to desert, and the Egyptian civilization formed around the lone water source: the Nile. We are guided by the attractive lady geologist Jen Smith, who explains how the region was once a sea with whales, later a number of giant lakes, and now is the world's biggest desert. Aquatic fossils abound. Around 15,000 years hence the monsoons will return, making the region another lush tropical swamp. This one, at least, is not the fault of mankind. They have discovered huge amounts of fresh water under the Sahara, but if we pump and use it to green the sands it will soon enough be gone. We need a better way, before we crash.

And news from DEL REY BOOKS, now part of RANDOM HOUSE: they have gone pack to print for another 3,000 copies of Xanth #1, A Spell for Chameleon. This is the 64th mass market printing. That's pretty good, especially considering that the ebook version now far outsells the print edition. Meanwhile there's another prospect for a movie. Who knows, I might yet get successful again as a selling writer. I'd like to see it before I kick that bucket.

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