I had to wrap up this HiPiers column and the electronic publishing survey a few days early last month, because our webmistress would be traveling at the turn of the month. So some things that should have been included there are instead included here. The publishing survey, also, missed a few entries that belonged in JeJune but will appear in Jewel-Lye. Sigh. So be it.
I read my collaborative 38,000 word short novel with J R Rain, LavaBull, to be published in AwGhost. This is where his merged bull-man interacts with my lava-girl to save the world from horrible destruction. But they don't want publicity, so the world doesn't know it. I don't claim that this is the world's greatest novel, but it is wild and fun, with more sex than our collaborations usually have. The thing is, the bull man likes violent sex, and no ordinary woman could survive that, but the lava girl is more than tough enough. She just has to cool her molten core down enough so as not to burn him in a tender part. Beware the man who tries to force her when she's not cool.
I read Ultimatum, by Randall Lee Clark. My sentiments are mixed. It needs serious copyediting, and some elements seem to emerge from left field. But it keeps moving along with many ideas, and is interesting throughout. In extreme summary: Alien artifacts sprout from the ground and lead to serious mischief. Then Aaron is sent to Argentina, and on to Antarctica to investigate a special project, which leads to the discovery of possibly alien tunnels beneath the ice. A Russian woman, Sonya, spies on him. But as they meet, they are arrested by the suspicious Argentine authorities. Thus put on the same side, they escape by using newly discovered personal abilities, and fly north to North Korea, where an army tries to capture them, then to Tibet, where they become part of a group of 14 special folk who will try to save the world from the minions of the nether world. What about those antarctic tunnels? Maybe another novel will explain. So this is science fantasy, wild and fun.
I watched Interstellar. This is an odd one. A farmer longs for space, and his daughter Murphy is extremely bright. Too bright for her teachers, who are busy rewriting history, saying man's excursions to the moon were hoaxes, etc. He goes in to see her teachers, gets annoyed by their attitude, and gets her expelled. Yes, education can be like that; I was once a teacher, and part of the reason I quit was that sort of thing. The education monolith is locked into its ways, right or wrong, and effective, relevant teaching is not really its agenda. Then father and daughter discover a secret space station, where some of the same school board members who brushed him off are secretly crafting a space mission. He winds up piloting a spaceship to Saturn, where a wormhole takes it to another galaxy. But it broke his daughter's heart to have him go. It turns out that the colonizable world out there is not; those data were faked. So it was all for nothing. They set out to return to Earth, but it's complicated, and decades have passed back home because of time dilation effects. He does manage to communicate with his daughter indirectly via Morse code in a sort of time slip, but it's much later when he actually arrives. Daughter is now an old woman, but she's glad to seem him back. And actually they do colonize a space station orbiting Saturn, so desolate Earth is not the end. This is one powerful, mind-stretching film, but I'm not sure it makes ultimate sense.
I watched Fury, a World War Two movie about the tank corps, and it is one taut hard hitting emotionally compelling story. It starts with a German soldier riding a horse through a burning junkyard of tanks, when a man jumps off a tank and kills the German. It seems that this tanks wasn't quite dead yet. They manage to fix it and resume action, until finally it is dead again at the end. But much happens in that brief time, and we learn a lot about tanks and the utter savagery of war. Along the way they go through a German town, and the tank sergeant and a young recruit check out a building and find a civilian woman and her pretty cousin. The recruit makes out with the cousin—obviously the women know they will be raped and dead if they say boo to the conquering troops—and they do seem to like each other. He would like to marry her if it becomes possible. Then a bomb or shell hits the building and the young woman is dead in the rubble. Did I mention the utter savagery of war? In the end only the recruit survives, hardly happy. Painful, but a good movie.
I watched Paddington, the story of a talking little bear from the jungle of Peru who goes to London to find a good home. Then things complicate. He tries to find the address of the human explorer who visited the bears long ago, but for some reason that record has been deleted from the Geographer's Guild archives. Meanwhile a museum taxidermist wants to stuff him. Nicole Kidman makes a fine evil antagonist. This is one wild comic frolic.
I read Wild Hunt by Monica Baker. This is a supernatural romance with a Norse mythology background. Miriam is a seemingly normal child whose mother died in childbirth, and who gets endlessly abused by brother and schoolmates. It turns out that she is favored by the god Loki, who had a relationship with her in a prior incarnation 3,000 years ago, and opposed by Loki's ex wife the giantess Angraboda (she's authentic mythological; I looked her up, thinking the name was made up to be symbolic, “angry body”, which she is, actually), and the latter is responsible for most of Miriam's problems, while Loki tries to protect her without revealing himself. Bit by bit she learns the situation, and gets to interact with Loki and his brother Odin in some steamy sex sequences, and even with the wolf-man Fenrir, whose enormous member gives her a thirty minute orgasm. Finally she is captured by jealous Angraboda, who means to sacrifice her and be rid of her. But at last Miriam's own divine ancestry manifests and she is able to defeat the giantess. This is an interesting if sometimes brutal, sometimes erotic story.
I watched The Imitation Game. This is an emotional workout. It's about Alan Turing, yes, that Turing, of the Turing Test, and really the father of the modern computer. He was the main genius behind the cracking of the German Enigma code, having to battle the ignorant authorities to do it. And he was gay, when homosexuality was illegal in England. And finally committed suicide, at age 41. I call him a casualty of bigotry. There's a pretty girl, a member of his team building a machine to crack the code. When they threaten to send her back home, it not being a woman's place to accomplish great things, he proposes marriage to her so that she can remain with the team. They are associates and friends, but of course marriage isn't realistic. It's a great movie, showing the social horror that perhaps matched the physical horror of the Nazi effort. I was born British; this makes me ashamed of what my original country did.
I watched The Lost Empire. This is a quasi-Oriental fantasy wherein a contemporary young American scholar meets a lovely ancient goddess and gets drawn into wild adventure, as they search for a manuscript to save the world. The famous terracotta figures come to life. There are costumes galore. People float into the sky on little clouds. A monstrous flying dragon attacks. Little pen sized sticks expand into devastating spears to vanquish mobs of ruffians. He picks up three gods as companions: Monkey, Pig, Warrior. Confucius is a character. Silliness abounds. It's a tissue of nonsense, sheer farce, but colorful and fun, and it does have a satisfying story, including a nice romance.
I watched Antony And Cleopatra, the Shakespeare tragedy animated by Charlton Heston in 1972. The play's original narrative is employed; that makes the intricacies of the dialogue hard to follow. I'm really not much of a fan of Shakespeare or of tragedies. But it does have pretty girls and some nice sea and land battles. Essentially it is that Antony chooses lovely Cleopatra over Rome, and dies of it in the end, and Cleopatra commits suicide by taking the poisonous bite of an asp. There are interminably extended dying scenes. Sigh; it foolishly bothers me to see someone called Antony perish in this manner.
I watched The Paperboy. This is set in south Florida in the 1960s, and it's one eye-popping gritty sexy racist ugly narrative. Theoretically it's an investigation into what may be a miscarriage of justice, but it's complicated by the assorted desires and bigotries of the times. One example: at one point one of the men is swimming and gets stung by a jellyfish. His skin gets a rash and is blistering. It seems that the best emergency treatment is to urinate on it, so the woman he likes pisses on him, literally, and we see it happening. That prompt action saves his life. The movie winds up with much of the cast dead. It's not a slasher, just a grim story.
I watched Goto Island of Love. This is an odd one. It's in black and white, in French, with English subtitles. Goto's wife saves a prisoner's life, but the man is ambitious rather than grateful, and kills the dictator. He wants the dictator's pretty wife, but she flees him, falls, and dies. Except that at the end it seems she survives. A sordid story. I did like the scene of bare women bathing. It seems the director was considered a genius until he did The Beast, which so appalled the critics that they relegated him to obscurity. So was he a genius? For me, this film was dull.
I watched V For Vendetta, based on a graphic novel (that is, comics), and it turned out to be the most compelling movie I've seen so far this year. V is a man in a smiling Guy Fawkes mask who foments rebellion against the brutal police state that future England has become. Surprise: the mask is never removed. V is a rough character, a terrorist, killing freely when in combat. He falls in love with the female lead, but will not compromise on his mission of vengeance, though she gets tortured as a consequence. There are bigoted directions the world is going now that are exaggerated here; it is a savage social commentary. He does succeed in invoking the rebellion, but dies in the process of killing the evil overlords. Okay, so it's formula, fighting a corrupt regime. But formulae exist for a reason: they work. Think of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl—how many more centuries will that be running? As long as there are boys and girls. The question is, how well does it tell its story, and I have to say that in this case, damn well. This held my attention throughout, and I will surely watch it again.
I read Glantis Trefmore Awakening, by G C Schop, www.TheSchop.com, the first of the Chronicles of Brendonia series. Glantis is the orphaned son of unknown parentage with special superhuman powers he is gradually becoming aware of. The continent of Brendonia is in trouble, and Glantis, at age 15, has to mature in a hurry to defend his country. He joins the King's Army, being clumsy at first, but later picking up necessary skills. Then on into explorations and challenges as he and his associates struggle to save the kingdom from the loss of its vital water, that has been dammed up by the evil Druids. I won't say this is a great fantasy adventure, but it does have its moments, such as the way Glantis manages to save captive dwarves from drowning by making the water solidify under them so that they can literally walk on water. But Glantis' future has yet to be defined, and at the end he is heading east, off the map, seeking answers. br>
I watched St. John's Wort. This is an odd one. It says it is based on a top selling video game, and I can see how the setting lends itself to game explorations. But it's what it doesn't say that intrigues me: this is evidently a Chinese film with English dubbed in. Early credits are in Chinese symbols. The story is of Nami, who inherits the family mansion she left at age two. Pictures on the walls indicate that she had a twin sister Naomi—who then appears alive with homicidal intentions. Can they rewrite the script to save the girls as the house burns down? Mostly atmosphere, not much actual story.
I watched The Tesseract. This is set in Bangkok, with subtitles for the language there, otherwise it's in English. It concerns a group of people at a hotel who happen to interact. One is a young man who is a drug mule, carrying a suitcase out. Another is a young woman who is a female assassin. She gets shot, and dies in the room next to the man. That brings in the police, complicating the situation. A boy steals the stash, further complicating things. And gives it to a lady psychologist, who doesn't know what it is. It winds up as a bloodbath, as the criminal owners of the stash kill freely to get it back. Not my type of story.
I watched My Summer of Love, which I think is set in New Zealand; it didn't say. A rich girl and a poor girl meet in the countryside and discover common interests. One plays the base strings, the other is artistic. Both smoke and drink wine and swear when annoyed; both have griefs in their families. One rides a white horse, the other a motorbike. They sunbathe, hike, swim, dance together. Both are frustrated with the the men in their lives. Their association gradually turns to love; they kiss increasingly passionately. Mona's brother, who has got religion, tries to break them up. When Mona resists he gets violent. When it turns out that Tamsin was just playing a part, Mona loses it and walks away, we don't know where. She was betrayed in love, by another woman, and her life is probably ruined because of it. My sympathy is with her, but if I were there, what could I do?
I read Trespassing Through Time by Kenneth Kelly. This is a novella length book that starts innocent and progresses to violence and time travel, evidently the first of a series. Pete likes Jenny who works at the local restaurant, and she knows it but doesn't seem to reciprocate. Pete's friend Dave gets in touch after two months, wanting to go explore an old deserted house. Pete plays along, curious what Dave is really after, as he seems to have an unusual amount of money. The house does not look deserted; it has been restored and is well kept, though no one seems to be there at the moment. They enter, and see what must be a sequence from a half century in the past, when the proprietor murders his wife. They try to depart, but now the murderer is after them. They seem to be in that past time now, as if the house is a time portal. They need desperately to escape and return to their own time, but are surrounded by grim figures who are threatening to cook them. Presumably they will wiggle out of that in the next book, and maybe find the portal to the present. Maybe Jenny will figure in.
I watched Love Story. The blurb says it was nominated for 7 academy awards. I took that to mean that it's a quality story. Yes, it is. Oliver a law student from a filthy rich family meets Jennifer, a music major, poor. They fall in love and marry, alienating his family, and don't have a church wedding, disturbing hers. So they have to make it on their own and it's rough going financially. They fight it through—and then Jenny gets a terminal illness. And, inevitably, it ends with her death. I hate this outcome, but it's a great movie.
I watched Extreme Habitats, an exploration of diverse regions of the planet done as part of the Miracles of Nature series. Yemen, where the petrified Noah's Ark is on display, according to the legend, and the Garden of Eden once thrived. The North Pole, perhaps the most isolated spot on Earth, where you have to keep moving lest you freeze to death. The Gobi desert of Mongolia, that actually has lakes. Jordan, where the grand cliff-side architecture of Petra is on display. Switzerland, and its Swiss Cheese. France, where they make Champagne. Gibraltar, where there is no source of fresh water, but the plants desalinate the sea water. This is really a social travelogue with a provocative title.
I watched the Discover video Mega Disasters: Hypercane. A hurricane can get up to 250 mph winds. The meteor impact 65 million years ago may have made a hypercane, with 500 mph winds, reaching twice as high, 20 miles, messing up the stratosphere, disrupting the ozone layer. The resulting radiation could have wiped out life above ground in a week. 75% of life on Earth was eliminated. So how did any survive? Well, a burrow a foot deep would shield animals from that radiation, so some small burrowing mammals lucked out. Meanwhile the question: with global warming, will there come super hurricanes? Maybe a hypercane? We'd better worry. It's a fine, dramatic video. Okay, what they don't get into is what I see as the likely other part of the meteor impact: it cracked the surface of the earth, sending shock waves around to the opposite side, where it unleashed the Deccan Traps of India, with as I recall mile deep lava that poisoned the atmosphere and made Earth largely unlivable for some time. That was the Two of the one-two punch that took out the dinosaurs. In time science should realize this. Remember, you saw it here first.
I watched Eye of the Beast, wherein a giant octopus hunts men. They finally nail it through its giant eye with an electrified spear, and it sinks into oblivion. A straight unbelievable horror story with a bit of romance thrown in. No explanation how such a creature got in a lake or why it started going after men.
I read Winter Wind by J R Rain. There's a kind of background history: earlier this year while he was writing this I was writing Ghost Writer in the Sky, followed by Captive, and then we collaborated on LavaBull, which had been postponed for the other projects. So we were sort of in each other's faces. It may be another year before my Xanth novel is published, while Winter Wind is already in print; that's the difference between going through a publisher and self publishing. Regular publishing is almost by definition inefficient. So why don't I go entirely to self publishing? Because I'd rather leave the complications of publishing to others so I can do what I really like: writing. Now you know. Okay, Winter Wind is a good novel. You may expect flying vampires and wild magic from this author, but this is not that type. In fact any magic in it is largely a matter of suggestion and interpretation. The protagonist, Lee, is an ex cop who was badly injured in an explosion and rendered blind, deaf, and mute. He has a loyal guide dog, Betsie, communicates via sign language, and receives messages as letters sketched on his palm. It's slow, but it works. Otherwise he lives in darkness and silence. This is a tricky mode to write. I remember when I wrote Thousandstar, where there was no sight or hearing, and communication was by smell. I love that novel, but I never tried that again. Rain may feel the same about this one. Lee is asked to work on a new case: folk are disappearing without warning, about one a month. What is happening to them? He applies his analytical mind, and slowly makes progress on the mystery. A female sign language translator, Rachel, is very helpful, and Lee comes to like her a lot. And lo, she likes him back, despite the horror of his scarred eyeless form. How can that be? Is she playing him along? Actually it turns out to make sense, one of the nice things about this story, and the love interest is valid. At one point there is a cute dialog with a little girl, who actually makes an erasure motion on his hand to rub out a mistake. There is also a friendly man named Jack who seems to know a lot, but I don't see how he fits into the rest of the story. Regardless, this is one good novel I recommend to anyone. (The author later advised me that Jack is a personification of God, who visits some of his novels. Okay.)
I watched The Good Wife, a movie that predates the TV series. It is set in Australia 1939, featuring a bored young wife. Her husband is honest and steady, but she wants more. With husband's permission she spends a night with his younger brother—it seems this is okay in that culture--but that doesn't satisfy her either. Isn't there more to sex than this? She is fascinated by the manager of the tavern, but he rejects her. Other women say she's off-base, and they're right. She finally realizes that she is better off at home. Being a good wife to a good man.
I watched The Claim, the other half of the two movie DVD I got for three dollars. I had some trouble making out the dialogue, as it seems my hearing is slowly fading, This is a grim story of California Sierra Nevadas in 1867. Dillon struck it fabulously rich finding gold, and made a town, Kingdom Come. It has everything, including a hotel and a whorehouse. But it is in the path of the coming railroad, which means it must be destroyed or moved. Then come two women, mother and daughter with a secret from his past: the girl is his daughter. Mother has a terminal illness—my guess is TB—but he marries her. When she dies, he tells the daughter the truth. Then he burns down the town and dies himself. This is the kind of good story I hate.
I watched Gardens of Stone, a military movie, Vietnam War era. This reminded my of my own army service, 1957-59, after Korea and before Vietnam, peacetime Army more concerned with chickenshit than with accomplishment. I was there as a draftee; I had no sympathy for wars. I thought at the time God help us if this outfit ever needs to defend this country. It clearly hadn't changed much in the following decade. The stone gardens here are the vast military cemeteries. Sharp military funerals. Even a military wedding. Master sergeants wishing they were back in action, hating a war America was losing. Their perspective opposite to mine, yet oddly similar in their disgust with the system. If you're going to fight a war, at least do it right. In this story, a gung-ho kid gets married, promoted, and shipped out. And killed. So it goes.
I read Sleep Writer by Keith Robinson, published last year by UNEARTHLY TALES. This is a juvenile with a twelve year old protagonist, but as with this author's other juveniles, don't let that discourage you as an adult reader. For my taste this is one of the best novels I've read regardless of genre; it haunted me for several days after I read it. I have remarked before, I believe, on how traditional publishers tend to be stupid, missing some really sharp new authors, and Keith Robinson is an outstanding example, as his Island of Fog series shows. In this one, Liam has a filthy rich friend his age he calls Ant, short for Anthony (no known relation to me), and they tend to get into incidental mischief the way boys do. A new family moves in next door, with a pretty 15 year old girl, Madison. Liam is disappointed; obviously she won't be any good as a pal. Little does he know! Then she comes over and asks where the nearest cemetery is. About that time Liam, Ant, and the reader, realize that this will get interesting, and not just because he soon develops a hopeless crush on Maddy. She is the sleep writer: in her sleep she writes cryptic little messages to herself calling out places and times. The next one is that night in the cemetery. Naturally Liam, Ant, and Maddy sneak out to make the rendezvous. And lo, an alien portal or wormhole opens, complete with weird alien creatures. The story goes on from there, getting pretty wild at times. They make other connections, and at one point Liam even jumps into a wormhole and briefly visits the alien realm, snatching an alien artifact. But wild as the story seems, it all makes sense in the end, and there are concluding revelations that made me pause in awe and wonder. This author has found a way to handle the equivalent of time travel without dissolving too badly into paradox. Paradox is inevitable with time travel, but it can it seems be managed it you're careful, though it's best not to examine it too closely. I'm glad there will be a sequel, Robot Blood, because I really like these characters and this setting. What can I say? Read this novel regardless of your age; I doubt you'll be disappointed, and your mind may be stretched a bit. Buy it for your twelve year old son; he should love it. Maybe your teen daughter will like it too. The final ten percent blew me away, transforming the picture. Maybe it just happened to relate to me in a way it won't to others, but read it and see.
I watched Birdy, a story of a Vietnam War veteran who thinks he is a bird. His long time friend who is physically, not mentally, injured, tries to get through to him, but it's not easy. It's a good question whether the physical or the emotional injuries are worst. They remember episodes in their past, such as when Birdy dons wings and tries to fly over a garbage dump, but crashes. He has a friend who is a canary, literally. He identifies with birds and really wants to be one. Can he be brought out of it, to save him from a lifetime of confinement? Yes, miraculously, not much thanks to the doctors and orderlies who are locked into their own well-meaning agendas.
I watched Avalon, a story of a family moving from eastern Europe to Baltimore in the early twentieth century. It shows some of the complications, such as trying to grasp the distinction in English between “can” and “may.” My interest in Baltimore is slight, so I paid scant attention, but can see that it is a quality movie that should resonate with the right audience. At one point children are playing with fire and a new store is burned down. No insurance. Ever thus, unfortunately. The boy confesses, but it turns out the fire actually started elsewhere. Small comfort.
I watched The Last Detail, a dramatic comedy about two sailors detailed (title pun there) to escort a third sailor to a military prison for an eight year sentence and dishonorable discharge. What was his crime? He tried to steal $40, and didn't succeed. The two feel that's unfair, so they try to show him a good time on the trip. They get off the train, get drunk, spend a night in a hotel, have minor adventures, and take him to a brothel so he can find out about sex. They finally do turn him in, but there's an implied question: are their lives really better than his? We are all prisoners of our situations.
I read Eye of the Manticore by Keith Robinson. This is a novella catching up on one of the Island of Fog characters, Thomas the Manticore, who disappeared early and has a hitherto hidden history. A manticore is not a nice creature; it has lion paws and a monstrous stinger tail, and can shoot anesthetic darts at foes, pacifying them long enough so that they can be properly stung to death. These ones like to kill and eat human beings. Thomas is at a disadvantage because he's not a real manticore, but a shape-shifter manticore, and retains some human foibles such as not much liking raw meat. So when he falls in with some real manticores and they want him to prove his mettle by publicly killing some people, he has to think fast. It turns out that manicores love stories, so he tells his long life history, stalling for time until events change the picture. Thus we, the readers, learn about him as the manticores do. It's a narrative device that works well enough. It better, because normally manticores learn the histories of people by eating their brains.
I watched Jupiter Ascending. This is my kind of junk. An ordinary pretty girl named Jupiter Jones had a job cleaning toilets, when a man from afar informs her that she is a princess. Every girl's dream. Naturally there are bad folk who prefer to see her dead. She gets swept up in wild super-tech adventures, such as flying into the eye of Jupiter, falling in love with the man who found her but being forced to marry the evil prince, but is rescued at the end. He gets his wings back, literally: big bird's wings so he can fly. She gets his magic shoes so she can fly too and be with him. All ends happily. You'd have to do formidable suspension of disbelief to buy any of this, but that's the nature of “Sci-Fi.” It is junk almost by definition. The serious speculative fiction is called “science fiction.” Now you know.
I watched The Brothers Grimm. The brothers make money telling fantastic tales and making impressive illusions like flying zombie-like witches. Then they travel into an enchanted forest, and fantasy gets real. There's a magic tower with no entrance. Walking trees. Mud coming to life. Magical little spiders. Aggressive ravens. A wolf who is a transformed man. An enchanted queen who transforms from an ancient corpse to a lovely young woman without changing her nasty nature. A bad noble. Twelve fair young women to be sacrificed.
I watched Catch Me If You Can, about a teenager who is very good at impersonations. He pretends to be an airline co-pilot, fooling the airlines. A doctor, fooling the hospital. A lawyer. He forges multiple checks. They finally catch him—and make a deal, putting him to work for the FBI to catch other forgers, where he has been very good.
I watched Identity, a thriller where things go wrong in a storm and several people get caught in a motel in awkward straits. Newlyweds, cop and prisoner, an actress, a woman injured in a car accident, a call girl, and so on. Then they start getting gruesomely killed. It turns out that each of them is turning 30 May 10. Their surnames turn out to be states like Nevada. This seems beyond coincidence. And a psychiatrist says that all these people are facets of one man with multiple personality disorder. One of those facets is the killer. They are forced to confront each other at the motel. The survivor is Paris, the call girl, who just wants to retire to her orange grove. Who then gets killed. So it seems that it is the murderer who survives, unfortunately. And who may now be escaping captivity. Ugly implications.
I watched Cyborg 3. I gather this is the third in the Cyborg Trilogy. Cyborgs and humans don't get along well; humans mine cyborgs for parts such as eyeballs in the bleak future world. There seems to be no agriculture, no animal stock, no hunting or foraging for food. The local whorehouse is stocked with shapely female cyborgs, one of whom turns out to be pregnant. That has not happened before, and she doesn't like it. They take the baby out, and it's a mechanical mass with wires, but it has a heartbeat. Now she finds her mothering instinct, and struggles to save her baby machine. The antagonist is a dreadful mean human man who captures the female and means to have his way with her, which is sadistically mercenary rather than sexual. She escapes him, but his minions pursue. Tanks and motorcyclists swarm to attack the cyborg camp, and are met with gunfire and acrobatic combat. The lady cyborg kills the bad guy and looks forward to a new golden age with cyborgs as creators, since they can now reproduce on their own. More violence than sense, but fun in a Mad Max sort of way.
I am getting on in years, as some may have noticed. I am still writing and selling, still sexually active, still exercising, still fulminating my opinionations in these HiPiers columns. But things are slowing. In JeJune I scooted out for the morning newspapers and discovered that two dead pine trees had fallen across the drive. We live on our small tree farm, growing slash pines. The drought of 1998 killed about ten percent of them, and some are still standing deadwood. Okay, I knew I should scoot back half a mile and bring out a long crowbar to wedge them off the drive. But first I tried moving them by hand. It felt like about 200 pounds; I heaved up a couple inches, over a couple inches, drop. Repeat. I could do it, barely. I got the main tree clear, then went to its other end and pulled tangling vines free—and the freed tree rolled back into the drive. Sigh. I did some more heaving. Cleared it again, and went on. Later I did bring out the crowbar and wedged it farther off the drive. But as the day progressed, I felt stiffness along the backs of my legs; it seemed I had overdone it and strained my hamstrings, the right side worse than the left side. That really slowed my exercise runs, as I limped along. Then my left foot snagged and I fell, scraping my left knee and re-straining tendons. That transferred my limp to the left side. Sigh. Now I am walking that section of the drive, because in the past two years I fave fallen three times in one area. I think age is making my left foot drag slightly, and the tilt of the drive there messes me up. As I ruefully put it, age is a lady dog.
Then there was the bicycle. I use an adult scooter on mornings I'm not running, but sometimes I have to go out again to fetch in the day's mail and close our farm gate, so I use my wife's bicycles. Got a flat tire. I dismounted it and found a hole in the tube. Rather than wrestle with patching, which tends not to work well for me, I bought a new self-sealing tube and put it in. But when I inflated it to the requisite 40 pounds, it burst, literally, spraying sealant around. I tried again, with a new tube, this time stopping at 35 pounds. And the tube squeezed out from the tire rim like bubblegum and popped again. Now at least I know what was happening. That didn't happen way back in my day. Did I mention how repairs don't work well for me in my dotage? So I am pondering what to try next. Meanwhile I am using my wife's older bike, which uses backpedal braking rather than hand brakes, and find myself squeezing the handlebars when I want to stop. As I child I used that kind of bike, but that was some time ago. I wonder if solid rubber tires still exist, to go with my solid rubber reflexes? PS—Jewel-Lye Oneth, the day I edited this column, my wife had an appointment, and on the return we stopped at Walmart and found a solid tube, the kind that simply can't go flat. So I put it in, and it's a bit loose but seems to work. But when I tried to put the front caliper brakes back in place, they wouldn't go, so I have more to figure out. At my age, every little thing becomes complicated. But it's progress. At least I can still use the rear brake.
And my wife and I had our 59th wedding anniversary. We wanted to celebrate in our usual manner by having some cheesecake, but we forgot to buy it. Two days later we bought it, then forgot to eat it. Did I mention the effect age has on absent mindedness? Finally we did remember to eat it, so our anniversary has been consummated, as it were.
I notice things out in the forest. Last year there was a flowering stinging nettle that I admired along the drive. Then it got eaten off. This year it grew again, and lo, it had a companion a yard away. Sting had found a girlfriend, Nettle. Then there appeared a third, a little one: their child Nettie. Then they all got eaten off, down to the ground. I thought stinging nettles were supposed be proof against that sort of mischief. Then Sting regrew from the root, followed by Nettle, and finally little Nettie, barely an inch high. So this time I transplanted Nettie to a pot by the house, to save her from further rapine; I feared she would not survive another brutal chomping. I'm not sure our deer would do such a dastardly deed, but we do have passing pigs, and they are no respecters of delicacy. We do what we must do. Nettie has grown in the pot from one inch to almost two inches, and I hope in due course will flower.
Thus my life as an octogenarian. You can see how phenomenally exciting it is, if you look hard enough and enhance your imaginition.
I note some things in passing, such as recent Supreme Court decisions. They rejected the challenge to Obamacare based on the technical wording of a clause and are allowing it to continue with the subsidies that make it feasible for poor folk to get coverage, to the outrage of Republicans. But you know, had Obamacare been torpedoed by a typo, throwing millions of poor folk into the pit, there would surely have been a massive reaction against Republicans in 2016, washing them out of their majorities and ushering in decades of solid Democratic governing. Look at how their excesses under Herbert Hoover and Bush W demolished the economy and cleared the way for FDR and later Obama, who then had to claw us out of the pits they had made while they mindlessly resisted every effort. Supreme Court conservatives are not that stupid; they know there are practical if not ideological limits to their screw-the-poor agenda. The Court also approved same sex marriages, to the chagrin of the religious right. Let's face it: the gay time has come. Get over it.
Column by Paul Krugman titled “Ideology and Integrity” remarks on some home truths. He says you shouldn't care whether a given candidate is someone you'd like to have a beer with, or his private sex life. What you should care about is his intellectual integrity. That's what's in short supply, especially among Republican candidates. For example, none have admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow Obamacare have actually happened. It's not a matter of being wrong on an issue, he says, but of being unable ever to admit error. “Moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.” Yes indeed; but try telling that to a Republican. He'll tune you out before you open your mouth.
Related column by Paula Dockery remarks on how the Republican Florida House is voting to deny up to 840,000 Floridians health care coverage, instead of accepting $50 billion in federal funds for Florida. Are they ashamed? “Nope. They're proud of their actions. They think they are principled. They think they are right. They think they are winning the political argument.” A newspaper letter by Brian Valsavage remarks that if Jesus were a Floridian, he would be denied that coverage. “This same group claims there is an assault on Christian values in America. They should know. By their anti-Christian behavior, they are at the forefront of that assault.” This sort of thing gives all politicians a bad name. A column by Christopher Ingraham describes a survey that shows that figures like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump have net favorability ratings below zero, listed here in declining order. So who is positive? The Terminator, Darth Vader, and the shark from Jaws. Too bad that's not a joke.
Other notes: Is religion fading in the US? It seems to be, though Christianity remains a majority. Is Fox News damaging the GOP? It seems to be pushing the party so far to the right that it can't win national elections. Singer Roger Waters, once of Pink Floyd, says that today the music industry is run by a gang of rogues and thieves who have interjected themselves between creative folk and their potential audience. I doubt that case is limited to music; I have long been dismayed by the similar situation in writing and publishing. Then there's ISIS: after taking a village, they strip the women and girls, evaluate them for breast size and attractiveness, and sell them in a slave market for sex. Can the women protest? One who refused an extreme sex act was burned alive. I want to make clear that the political state ISIS is no relation to the Goddess Isis I have written about; she was here four thousand years before they appeared, and I doubt she likes their abuse of her name. The Fermi paradox: with the hundreds of billions of planets in the universe, how come we have seen no evidence of other life? One likely answer: in their quest for energy and resources they so pollute their planets that catastrophic climate change destroys them. Does this seem unlikely? Take a good look at what humankind is doing to Earth right now, and despair. Those high-strung race horses: who helps settle them down? In many cases, other animals, such as ponies, goats, or pigs, who are stall companions. “Getting one's goat” comes from horse racing; steal the companion goat and the horse gets all out of sorts and doesn't race well. World War Two: it seems that both sides killed prisoners indiscriminately. It's one of the things historians don't like to talk about. I showed it in my World War Two novel Volk, which seems to have been consigned to oblivion. And a group of western tourists who stripped naked at the peak of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia have been accused by the government of causing a subsequent earthquake by their act of disrespect, and face disciplinary action. And here I thought it was only in my fiction that volcanoes had tempers. In NEW SCIENTIST I learn of one of the most extraordinary things in the living world: a single-cell plankton creature with a monstrous eyeball it may use to hunt its prey. It may orient on polarized light that other cells give off, invisible to us and most other creatures, so it can see them. But here's the thing: this single cell has no brain. How does it process what it sees? Because you know that huge eye isn't just for show.
Tanith Lee died of breast cancer, age 67. She was one of the outstanding female genre writers. Decades ago I said she reminded me of one of the pretty Dr. Who actresses; Tanith didn't see the resemblance, but appreciated the notion. As I recall, my daughter Penny, also a victim of cancer, wrote her a fan letter way back when and got a nice response, except that Penny had signed her name sloppily so the answer was to “Renny.” I learn from the newspaper obit that Tanith couldn't read until she was 8, but started writing when she was 9, going on to write more than 90 genre novels. That reminds me of me, finally learning to read at the same age, then going on to be a writer. I suspect that folk with things like dyslexia and insensitive teachers get jolted out of their tracks almost before they get into their tracks, and become original thinkers and writers. I'm sorry to see Tanith go; I see her as a fellow traveler. Another obit is on Vincent Musetto, a newspaperman who wrote a famous headline: “Headless Body in Topless Bar.” Reminds me of a Florida headline some years back, when Governor Burns was traveling and nothing was being accomplished: “The Legislature Fiddles while Burns Roams.”
FREE MIND is a publication of the American Humanist Association. I am a humanist, and a message from the executive director Roy Speckhardt in the Summer 2015 issue resonates with me. He remarks on the general fascination with the apocalypse. Of course many of us believe that the world is headed for disaster because of the determined follies of mankind, but religious groups have their own special supernatural take on it, and the public echoes these sentiments at reduced fervor. 22% of Americans believe that the world will end during their lifetime, including 54% of Protestants and 77% of Evangelicals. Many Christians believe in the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ. The Rapture is an imagined future time when true believers will be instantaneously transported to heaven, before the Messiah begins his struggle against the anti-Christ. Those of us not raptured away will be condemned to remain on Earth during that battle, surely not a safe war zone. So they don't worry much about environmental destruction; why make sacrifices to save a world that is already doomed? Humanists don't feel that way; we know that the fate of the world is in our hands. He concludes “...we must learn to set aside religious superstition when it prevents us from solving life or death problems. The end of the world will only happen if we let it.” Amen.
Pluto: count me among the ones who mourn the loss of Pluto as a planet, and hope for its recovery of status. Not only does it have five moons—Charon, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos, and Styx—they are engaged in a chaotic moon dance. Charon is large compared to Pluto, so the two share a common center of gravity, making it tricky for the others to orbit them smoothly. If you were camping on, say, Nix, you'd have trouble tracking the others as they get yanked about. Fortunately soon NASA's New Horizons craft will skim close, snapping tourist pictures, and we'll get a better notion of the layout. Communication will be slow, as it takes 9 hours for a signal to travel from Earth to Pluto and back, but the news is bound to be fascinating. So when will we get a similar tour of Eris, which seems larger than Pluto?
Health: too much sun on your skin can cause cancer and be bad for you; that's why I wear a hat to keep it off my ears, which did get a not-too-dangerous form of cancer 23 years ago, basal cell carcinoma. It was my daughter Penny who got the dangerous melanoma. But it turns out that too little sun will kill you faster than too much sun. For one thing you need the vitamin D it makes in the skin. Yes, I take a D supplement. But that's not enough; the sun on the skin makes other things, like nitric oxide, that dilates blood vessels and controls blood pressure. Yes, the penis stiffeners are related. Sex in the sunlight, anyone? There may be other things. So it seems that you are best advised to go out in the sun, in moderation, and check regularly for any problem on your skin. I think of it as like fire: it is dangerous as hell, capable of burning whole forests and cities, but we may owe it our rise to civilization. So we use it, but we watch it. Do the same with the sun.
I get questions about movie deals and when my next Xanth novels will be published. All I can say at the moment is that I have written Xanth #40 Isis Orb and #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky, and am making notes for #42 Fire Sail, but that they have not yet been placed with a publisher or scheduled for publication. I have signed a movie/TV option for Xanth, but that merely reserves those rights for the movie company; nothing is decided yet. I think something will come of this in due course, and when I have solid news, I will surely bruit it about. As I have remarked, I do hope to see Xanth on the big or small screen before I croak the bucket.
This is one long column, over 8,350 words, because of the reviews. It's your fault; all responses to my query about running on too long favored the long ones. Shorter next time, I hope.
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