I don't pay much attention to the TV, but I do notice things in passing. In one instance there were two or three men, all wearing belt-length ties of different colors, and women with their low-cut shirts, and I thought about how when our species went two footed, lost its fur and started wearing clothes some sights were lost, such as the penises on men and breasts on women. How are you going to know male from female when clothing covers up the markers? Evolution really has no brain; it just does what works. So men kept the fur on their faces, differentiating them from children and women, and when they started shaving their face to become woman-faced, made an imitation phallus in the form of a tie as a signal of masculinity. Women were a bit more complicated. Originally their fleshy buttocks signaled where the breeding site was, and when they stood up and walked vertically, developed permanent breasts to imitate buttocks on the front, so a man would know her nature frontside or backside. Gender identity is important. But clothing messed up that signal, so they designed it to be tight behind and low in front, with cleavage imitating the vulva. So tie and cleavage suggests penis and cleft, and we're back in business. I suspect that most folk who honor these fashions don't really know their origin, just as they choose not to realize that pretty flowers are actually wide open sex organs. Now you know why girls put flowers in their hair. There are other signals; these are just the ones I noticed on TV.
I read Unearthed by Keith Robinson and Brian Clopper. This is the sequel to Fractured, and there will be a prequel, Colonized, next year. This one starts with a nice summary of the prior novel, so if you haven't read that, you can find your place readily enough. The setting is dual, with two realities overlapping without being quite aware of each other. One is high-tech, with folk receiving tech implants on their 14th birthdays that enable them to relate in particular ways to the assorted machines. In the other, the key is Tethering Day, where a person bonds with a spirit that can lend him significant special powers, such as breaking rock or flying. The first novel showed the way that two boys washed out on the tech implant and the tethering, and were gong to be eliminated, but fled and managed to survive, discovering much greater special powers. This present novel shows them proceeding from there, mostly in underground tunnels—hence the title—and, guided by mysterious others, tackling malign forces that keep the realms apart. They finally manage to succeed, ushering in what should be a better new era. The prequel will show how it started. There's no romance here, and females are peripheral; it's tech and monster adventure. The monsters turn out to be the prior inhabitants of the region before mankind came and messed them up; they look horrendous, but are decent folk at heart. Some of the human authorities, in contrast, are hopelessly corrupt. So this is a thoughtful science fantasy novel to confound initial impressions. BR> When I write a novel I get caught up in it, and other things tend to slide. It was this way with Xanth #41 GhostWriter in the Sky, 101,000 words. It was a struggle to get done, but a good one. I fought through every scene and made it to the end in a scant three months, and I am satisfied with the result. It is usual for Xanth in that it's like a fruitcake made of puns, with a ludicrous story line that ends happily. It's unusual for Xanth in that it has about six and a half romances, some central, some peripheral, and the main one does have sex. It also addresses lesbianism in a positive way. I suspect that will alienate some readers. Too bad for them. We'll see, in due course. At any rate, I watched no videos in Marsh until the novel was one. Then I had a fling of them, before getting into my next two projects: a fantasy collaboration with J R Rain featuring unusual characters originating in separate stories. And what I expect to be a novella titled Captive, an unusual and intensely erotic love story wherein a young man kidnapped for ransom falls in love with his older captor via the Stockholm Syndrome—and wins her. They do have obscure things in common. So in the end she becomes his captive in more than one sense. The deviant sex will make this controversial, but as with all of my writing there is more than erotica here, just as there is more than humor in Xanth. We'll see, again. But now for the videos.
I watched The Fault in our Stars, the story of teens who meet at a cancer group. He lost a foot to cancer, but seems stable now, while she has infected lungs that will inevitably take her out. They fall in love, understanding each other's complications. They go to see the author of a wonderful book on cancer—and he's a drunken jerk. Ouch! As an author who appeals to many teens that makes me wince. Unfortunately, there are authors like that; talent is no guarantee of personality. At least I'm not drunken. They get to visit the place where Anne Frank was: the girl of The Diary of Anne Frank. I remember back when it first came out as a newspaper serial, circa 1950. The first section was sent to my father by a friend. He wasn't interested but I was, and I loved it and was horrified by it, as so many others were. So that was a nice touch in the movie. Anyway, the ugly surprise is that the boy's cancer abruptly and explosively metastasizes, and takes him out before the girl, leaving her heartbroken. It had seemed to be setting up for the other way. So this movie is painful to watch, but moving and I think authentic.
I watched The Illusionist, in one sense a familiar story of boy meets girl, loses girl, recovers girl, but with a different twist: he's a peasant, she's a lovely contessa, so naturally they aren't allowed to be together. They sneak out together, until caught, and he is effectively banished. He grows up to be a stage magician, a good one, with really impressive manifestations, and returns to pick up where they left off. But the crown prince wants to marry her, and the law is of course behind him. When the girl refuses to marry the prince he chases her with his sword, but we don't see what happens, except that the doctor says she bled to death from the wound. Not quite; her death turns out to be faked, and the prince gets the blame for that and other conspiracies, and so boy and girl do wind up together, anonymously. It's well done, a nice enough tale.
I watched Aviator, which is about the billionaire and later recluse Howard Hughes, who inherited an airplane parts company and used it to propel himself into aviation, business, and Hollywood. He even had a public affair with actress Katharine Hepburn. But along with his hard fought successes came a gradually intensifying mental illness, with things like compulsively washing his hands to eliminate germs. I remember how at the end of his life he was totally shrouded from the public, with monstrously long fingernails. It was odd to see him in his vigorous youth, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose proficiency as an actor I am coming to appreciate. This is technically social history, but it plays like an adventure, and is well worth seeing.
I watched Insomnia, a murder mystery set in Alaska. I'm not much for names, but Al Pacino and Robin Williams are two I recognize, as they were leads in two of my favorite movies: Scent of a Woman, and What Dreams May Come. The title is from the endless day at this season in Alaska, when the visiting detective can't sleep. There's a chase in the fog, and he accidentally shoots his partner—and the murderer saw it happen. So this is not routine. Then the killer contacts him openly: you keep my secret, I'll keep yours. And the question: was that accidental killing really an accident? There are some beautiful background scenes of Alaska. The conclusion is violent, leaving the question of where the true guilt lies. An ugly story. The detective's dying advice to the assistant is “Don't lose your way.” That is, don't lose your moral compass. Don't start cheating to get convictions; it can lead to heartbreaking mischief.
Terry Pratchett died at age 66. He was a highly successful fantasy writer in England, not as much in America. His main series was Discworld, with the setting being a disc balanced on the backs of four elephants. His publisher, in an effort to promote him here, asked me to read and blurb some of his work, and I obliged, giving him a good one on Mort, which features an apprentice to Death as the main character. It's a good, funny novel. Later he was asked about my novel On a Pale Horse, which features Death as the main character, published four years before Mort, and he said it just didn't work. He wasn't exactly trashing the one that had been there before him, and been a best seller in America, but it did seem he was trying to promote his own by smirching the competition, and it was bad form. So I did not have much use for him as a person. But when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's he responded in excellent form, standing up for the right of critically ill patients to choose assisted suicide. So I applaud him for that, and am sorry he was taken out too soon.
Which brings up the subject of mortality. I am 80, and can't be sure how much time remains to me. As I have remarked before, the average American man my age is dead. I am naturalized American, so maybe that explains why I have not yet sought the bucket labeled KICK ME. Odd why no one seems to want to oblige it. I was recently asked how I might want my epitaph headlined. I wound up discussing that in my Author's Note for Ghost Writer in the Sky, so let me copy and paste that aspect here:
What else? I was asked recently what heading I would like on my memorial. You know, after the bucket. I don't plan on a physical one; I'll be cremated, and my only legacy will be my books, that I hope will last for all time. But I remembered being asked a similar question over a decade ago, in 2002, for my epitaph, for a book titled Remember Me When I am Gone, edited by Larry King. I don't know whether it was ever published, but I reread my entry, and believe it still fits me:
Piers Anthony, maverick, liberal, agnostic, independent, vegetarian, health nut. No belief in the supernatural, yet made his living from fantasy. Wrote readable books, made readers smile, learn, and think; helped some to learn to read, write, publish, and live. Longed to understand man and the universe, and to leave the world marginally better than he found it. Tried to do the decent thing.
Note that I don't claim always to have succeeded in doing the right thing, just that I tried. We are all fallible. I'm still trying.
Okay, back to the live Column, circa 2015. “Tried to do the decent thing” will do for my memorial. Meanwhile I hope that does not become applicable for at least another decade. I see I forgot to include Workaholic in my self description. Ah, well.
On to the clippings. We belong to AARP, the giant old folks' club. Mich of the time it seems to be a promotional station, but sometimes there are items of interest. Such as one of using paid home health aides. That's close to what we'll need soon enough, and the right aide could be invaluable. But what about when they go wrong? As with the old couple whose aide absconded with nearly $600,000 of their assets? Research suggests that one in ten Americans over age 60 experience some form of elder abuse. As with abused women or beginning writers, they may not report it for fear of retaliation. 83% of girls in the United States age 12-16 say they have experienced some form of harassment in public schools, and it's not better elsewhere in the world. Older folk may wind up in a nursing home, especially if others don't believe what they suffer and think they're nutty. I believe it. Remember, I'm the one who asked my doctor about my mysterious fatigue, and got ridered on my insurance for all mental disease when the doctor didn't diagnose my thyroid insufficiency. I'd have been better off to keep my mouth shut, and I was then in my 20s. How much worse for a person in his 70s? Home care agencies can go wrong too; I hired one for my aging father, and there came a time when I had to get into it with figurative fists flying to protect him financially, and never was completely successful. It was complicated, as dealing with human beings can be. In that case the agency was legitimate, but a hired aide wasn't. But my father liked her, and firing her outright would have hurt him. What about the time when I will be losing my grip and becoming vulnerable to physical, financial, or emotional abuse? It's not fun to think about, but if I don't, I could wind up caught in it. So I am pondering precautions now, while I'm competent, to protect me when I am no longer competent. Everyone should do the same. One nervous question is how can I be sure of knowing when I am incompetent? I've seen others in deep denial about their own incompetence. It's not a route I want to go. It reminds me of a question in Van Vogt's Players of Null-A: How do you know you're sane? And the answer is, you don't know you're sane.
Article in NEW SCIENTIST on myelin. That interests me because it is the lack of it that almost took my wife out, a decade ago, and for which she remains under treatment. Myelin is the fatty sheath around nerves, like insulation around electric wires. When it gets too thin, the nerves start shorting out. With my wife, that meant she could no longer use her arms or legs. But myelin is everywhere in the body, especially in the brain, and it does much more than insulate; it actually accelerates the signals. To vastly oversimplify it, the brain without myelin, if it functioned at all, would be pretty dull. With myelin it is magnitudinally enhanced. Picture a snail: “This is your brain.” Now picture Albert Einstein. “This is your brain on myelin.” It's the same brain with the same synapses, but now they work phenomenally faster and better. So how do you hang on to your myelin, so you won't need expensive treatments? Be active, keep learning new things. Use it, don't lose it.
Incidental items: We received a card in the snail mail: use this to get up to 75% off your prescriptions! Where was the catch? It may be an information gathering device. You don't get that much off, if anything, but when you use it you do get entered into the database so you can be targeted more accurately for sales pitches. Caution. One from US NEWS & WORLD REPORT for May 18, 1998 (remember, I've been sorting through old folders) says that a search engine may not be the best tool to put in the hands of a child. Type in “Spanking” and there'll be things that don't relate to corporal punishment. Recent Cryptoquote had a quote that fascinates me for some reason. “She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor, 'Winter is dead.'” A A Milne, he of Winnie the Pooh fame. Our children are long gone and we don't have his Now We are Six or When We Were Very Young anymore so I can't look it up. Was there something she couldn't do until winter was over? Stephen King's Carrie got 30 rejection letters before it made it to print and launched his fame. I heard once that he was going to burn it, but his wife wouldn't let him. Need I say it yet again? Publishers are stupid, and wives are precious. Today with self publishing we can bypass the publishers, fortunately. Review of the book The Millionaire Next Door says that most of the rich get there via modesty, thrift, and prudence, and have an allergy to luxury cars. Modesty made them rich? Gun ownership is actually declining in the USA. A study in 1998 indicates that cyberspace is a sad and lonely world. Maybe it's a good thing that I'm not in it, thanks to living in the backwoods where my access is limited to dial-up. The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto toured Florida before moving on. He brought 13 pigs for the conquistadors to feed on. Some pigs ran away, understandably, and today their descendents are endemic in Florida and beyond. Don't we know it! They made our forest floor, here on the tree farm, look as if it had been disc harrowed, before we let hunters go after them. So yes, Tampa Bay was the starting point for the American bacon industry. “Bizarro” cartoon: one young woman tells another that she dated a much older man; the sex was fine but the texting was awkward. Sigh; it is true: I don't really know how to text.
NEW SCIENTIST again: the Neandertals were in Europe before our ancestors (apart from trace interbreeding) but we drove them out. How? Article by Pat Shipman suggests that it's because we had domesticated dogs, and that gave us a significant edge in hunting. Could be. My own theory is that mankind, because of his arts, could form larger groups, and those larger forces drove out others. How did the arts enable this? Story tellers spun fabulous stories for children, keeping them safe and happy while their parents hunted and foraged. Musicians and singers encouraged dancing, so larger groups could meld. Group games were played, building camaraderie and sportsmanship. Thus the true distinguishing quality of mankind is appreciation of the arts, and it facilitated his dominance. But dogs could certainly have helped.
Article in NEW SCIENTIST by Sumit Paul-Choudhury reviewing a play has disturbing implications. The “Nether” is a virtual clubhouse catering to pedophiles. It is described as a fully immersive relative of the internet. It lets them indulge in fantasies of molestation and murder, without meeting an actual child, so no law is broken and there are no consequences. Is freedom of speech absolute? Should anyone be prosecuted for the contents of his imagination? Can phantom actions be forbidden? A detective wants to know if there was a real 11 year old girl model for Iris in that framework, and if so, is that a crime when the real girl is not there? Suppose childlike robots are used instead: is sex with them okay? Even as a thought experiment, this is difficult. Another article addresses humanoid robots. Is it okay to do things with them that should not be done with living folk? It seems that some of these robots give hints of personal awareness. Are they essentially “living” beings with consciousness and feelings? In short, are they people? This interests me, because I have had many humanoid robots in my fiction, and to me they are indeed people, conscious and caring, and should have people rights. Are science and technology getting close?
I got my teeth caught up with nine implants and I'm chewing well enough now. But my remaining natural teeth are still deteriorating. They say that if you want to live long, choose long-lived parents. Similar is true for good teeth. I chose badly. I had what is called a Cone Beam CT Scan, where you stand there and the device slowly orbits your head taking 3D pictures of your teeth. I think the CT stands for Computer Tomography, something like that. It's as if they can see everything you've got in three dimensions, thinly sliced. And what I've got is more mischief. My teeth are decaying below, where tooth brushing can't reach them, and will give me the same sort of trouble my prior teeth did. I could have eight or more implants, at about 5k per tooth. For some reason that bothers me. I'd rather put that kind of money into saving the world, colonizing an alien planet, or solving the population problem, rather than my smart mouth. So now I'm considering getting the teeth taken out and replaced by maybe four implants that will support an upper denture plate. We'll see.
I get queries about writing and publishing, and answer as well as I can. About a decade ago I heard from an aspiring writer of children's stories, and also from an aspiring artist. So I suggested that they consult with each other, in case their talents could be used together. Now I have received the booklet Beautiful Things, the first of a series of stories about The Ganillage From Milledge-Vil-Illage, by Albert G Heefner, lavishly illustrated by Tahnee Gehm. It is dedicated to me. It is copyrighted 2008, and I see no price on it, but it's a pleasant story that children should enjoy. The narrative is in paragraphed rhyme, I think suitable for reading to children as they admire the pictures. The Ganillage is a sort of bear in jeans who sees an ad for balloon rides, so he takes his friend old Mortis Turtle and his son Box. The three go up in a hot air balloon and see the sights. They conclude that this day was one of those beautiful things. That's it; it's a 16 page story. If you have young children you might check the publisher at www.exithibernationmedia.com, and the illustrator at www.tahnee.org.
This time I seem to have achieved a moderate length HiPiers Column, thanks largely to being busy completing my novel. It may not last.
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