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JeJune 2015

Having finally caught up with my writing for now, I dived into my backlogged videos. I am having increasing trouble making out the dialog in movies, so ones without subtitles are a problem, but I make do. I liked the first, and not just because of the bare breast that showed on occasion: Rambling Rose, wherein a southern family takes in a young woman to housekeep and take care of their three children. The girl, Rose, is a lovely nice person, and does her best; everybody likes her, especially the thirteen year old elder boy, and she likes everybody. But there is a hitch: she can't turn off her seductive sexuality. That makes mischief, and the father is set to fire her. She thinks she's pregnant, but it's actually an ovarian cyst. They are going to cut out her other ovary, which means she will lose her sex drive and figure, solving the problem of her sexuality—and it is the mother who stands up for her, in a fierce and heartwarming scene, demanding that they do the surgery to save her, but leave the other ovary. In due course she marries the policeman who arrested her, and has a happy marriage, until she dies 25 years later. It's a moving story with a different take on things than you normally see.

I watched The Celestine Prophecy, simply because I had heard of it and was curious. It's a thriller, as John, a young American man, searches in Peru for a mysterious ancient scroll that contains a prophecy that may change the world. The police are in pursuit before John has any idea what's going on. The government fears that the prophecy will make it superfluous. The secret seems to be to find it inside oneself. Evolution is taking humanity to heaven on earth, the awareness of love. Our final destiny. Some nice scenery. And of course there's a pretty girl. But overall I think about average for this sub genre.

I watched Lady Ninja Kaede, which turned out to be a Japanese erotic fantasy with English subtitles. If you like bare breasts and aggressively simulated sex, this is it. A man's wife is graphically raped while her sister Kaede is forced to watch. Kaede swears vengeance. She is helped by a ninja nun (evidently not non-sexual) whose techniques are what I call magic. The Sleeping Flower is a gesture that puts folk to sleep as if drugged. The Honeypot makes a woman's vaginal fluid taste like honey that drugs the man like a truth serum. She has to activate a magic dildo by putting it on a man who has a sort of vortex in his groin, and having sex with him wearing it, after which it leaves him and stays with her. There are battles and plot twists galore; it's one wild story. I note that in this culture men can wear skirts and long hair and still be manly. Overall, I enjoyed it.

I watched Slogan, in French with English subtitles. It is billed as a sexy satire, a cult favorite. It's about a married advertising film director who goes on a business trip to Venice and has an affair with a young British woman there. This is not my favorite genre; I think a married man should stay home with his wife. I also wonder what woman would marry a man who cheats on his wife; doesn't she knew she's the next victim in that situation? I also don't like the smoking. But these are my quarrels with the genre, unfair for a review. The movie itself has its fun moments, such as speed-boating along the canals, and the girl has nice legs. What more does a movie need? Ultimately the girl finds a boy her own age, and is ready to move on. Surely worth the dollar I paid for it.

I watched Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, based on a true story. A group of friends are tired of being poor, so they rob a bank to get money to set up the big one: kidnapping the heir to the Heineken beer empire. They do it in Amsterdam, grabbing the man, hiding him and his driver in a warehouse. Then comes the waiting for the response to their ransom note. That's harder on the kidnappers than on the heir, played by Anthony Hopkins. They finally get the ransom, $35 million. But then they need to hide, because the police are after them relentlessly. Sure enough, they are finally captured, and serve prison terms. The larger message? Crime doesn't pay.

I watched Angel, the story of an imaginative teen girl who longs to be a famous writer and, unlike the vast majority, succeeds. I know such things are possible, having been the route myself, but I hate the way that so many dreamers are denied. And of course real publishing is not like this fantasy. She buys the mansion of her dreams and marries the man of her dreams, hires his sister who is her most loyal supporter—but then things start going wrong. War comes, and he enlists against her preference, and loses his leg. He cheats on her, drinks, gambles and loses, and she has to write more to cover his debts. He finally commits suicide. Then she learns the truth about his mistress, and goes to see her, and sees his son by her. Then wonders whether her life was real. And dies. So was it real, or her dream? It seems that this is based on a real writer who was a best seller, but actually not a very good writer, whose memory faded out with her passing. She was mostly a creature of her own dreams, which related to reality imperfectly.

I read Renee: A Life of Tragic Comedy, by Renee Wheeler. This is a kind of autobiography, sent to me as an example of another person who says it as it is and loses friends thereby. She has provocative opinions galore, and I have to say that I agree with just about all of it. She says that one of the main ways she had dealt with the tragedy of living her life is to daydream and hope. Don't we all, really? If we all honestly faced the hell that is human life without our cherished fantasies and illusions, how could we stand to endure it? Such as the fantasy of the supernatural, including the concepts of God and the afterlife, and the illusion that we are in some way superior to others. The author spells out the details, ranging from her cats to her failed marriage, and it all rings dull and true to me. She concludes with a 158 item Questionnaire for someone requesting a date or romantic relationship. It is comprehensive, and I think if it does not suffer the 95% vs the 5% ratio—that is, the 95% who fail at least some of its precepts, and the 5% who lie about it—it might indeed fetch in a worthy companion. Of course my question is what would a truly worthy companion want with me? Sample questions: do you use illegal drugs? Are you homosexual? (In which case, why are you seeking a heterosexual date?) Are you interested in oral sex? Anal sex? Kinky sex? Do you lie to your significant other? Your family? Your friends? What is fun to you? How do you show affection? Hold hands? Hug and kiss? Would you agree to never own a microwave? (My answer: hell no!) Do you look at porn? (My take: what is wrong with adult porn?) Do you like sex? Do you pick your nose? Are you a party person, meaning getting drunk, using drugs, being with whores? How old are you? Do you like to dance? Do you gamble? Okay, let me show how difficult it can be to answer that last. I was raised as a Quaker, otherwise known as the Religious Society of Friends, and while I did not join them, being militantly agnostic, I do respect their principles, one of which is not to gamble. I don't buy lottery tickets, I don't wager on horses, I don't take chances of any kind if I can conveniently avoid them. Yet I have taken huge gambles in my life, such as deciding to be a writer, 99% of whom fail, and becoming an angel investor in Xlibris because I wanted self publishing to exist. Let me clarify: all investments are gambles to some extent. Venture capital investing is a big gamble, and angel investing of the kind I did is on the far side of that, a monstrous gamble. As it happened, I won as a writer and succeeded in helping self publishing to exist. But it's still gambling. So if being a gambler is a failure for this test, how do I score? How would any honest person score? This author is bound to be lonely. But it's an interesting read.

I watched House of the Spirits, centering on a woman who relates to the supernatural and her controlling husband whose rough uncompromising self centered ways ruin the lives around him. He is a stern, mean, violent, racist man who thinks nobody has any rights but him. When his farm hands think they should be fairly paid, he cracks down on them and drives off their leader. When his daughter loves a farm hand, he beats her, and her mother for not making her hew the line, though he himself raped a farm girl without compunction and has a mistress. One law for him, not for anyone else, never seeing the other person's side. Naturally he makes it as a conservative politician. Until finally they lose an election. It really doesn't seem to have much supernatural, despite the title. Then there comes a revolution and the rebels are in control, and they are vicious. His bastard son, by the woman he raped, now has power among them, and beats up and maybe rapes his half sister. Who is then visited by her dead mother, who tells her to fight for life. Meanwhile Papa finally does a right thing, and rescues his daughter's boyfriend. But there's not much of the family left. A grim, compelling story.

I watched Cloverfield. I don't know the relevance of the title. It's one of those hand-held camera things I dislike, but it is realistic. A group of young folk are having a party in New York City near Central Park when aliens attack. Buildings fall, dinosaur-like monsters roam the streets. 20 legged spider things range the tunnels. Beth is trapped in her apartment. Rob, her long time friend and now lover, is determined to rescue her. He and his friend Hud with the camera, and another friend Marlena go to Beth, barely escaping the constant horrors, and do reach her, but Marlena dies horribly. They are caught in Central Park as the government is about to level all of Manhattan to get rid of the monsters. Then at the very end a flash of them okay; they must have been rescued after all. So as a story it's ragged but compelling, and true love finally wins out. I find it somewhat slow at the beginning, and it skips the key rescue at the end, but otherwise, good enough.

I read Alouette's Dream by Jonathan Andrew Fine, who has sent many “fine” notions” for Xanth over the years. This is a sequel to Alouette's Song, which I read and reviewed here about a year ago. Like the original, this can be termed Jewish science fiction, heavy on the religious philosophy, but with a good deal of action too. The digested essence is that while the Holocaust that extirpated six million Jews in the 20th century was a horror, they need to send a person back from the future to make sure it happens, because the larger story sees a hundred and fifty million Jews in colonized space who will not exist if history is changed, as well as the universe made extinct. A difficult decision, carefully explored. Again, this is for readers of any faith who want to think rather than just be entertained. It begins with a list of the characters and concludes with a genealogy and glossary to clarify the details. I discussed the theme with the author, trying to get it straight. He is not easy with the safeguarded holocaust either, but says in the novel it is tied in with the history of the entire continuum in which the human race dwells. One theory is that the holocaust was bitter medicine given by God to shock the conscience of the human species away from racism and other bigotry and thereby force its full maturity. In this story, the year 2020 is the tipping point of humanity reaching the required level of compassion and maturity to deserve star flight, overviewed here but detailed in the original story. I am agnostic, and have my doubts about the validity of religion, as I do about humanity improving its attitudes, but this is worth pondering.

I read Castle of Spells by Keith Robinson. This is #9 in the Island of Fog series, wrapping it up, though there well be other stories set in this framework. It is really a sequel within the series to #8 Prison of Despair, as it carries on the story of the Queen Bee and her invasion of skags that threaten to overthrow the existing and beneficial order of friendly shape changers. The Queen Bee is a small and attractive in-her-way woman, but a cunning and relentless adversary, and the mischief she sows is dreadful. They finally stop her, and she dies, but it's one close and ugly call. This novel, like the others, is phrased as a children's story, with most main characters age twelve, but it is hard hitting and I think best for bold and reasonably tough minded children, and on up to adult. The Queen Bee manages to get the secret of shape shifting, and soon there are horrendous enemy shape shifters to battle. Such as a sylph who steals the souls of those she touches, leaving her victims like walking dead. How do you fight that? I recommend this whole series to those who are looking for original thinking in good fantasy adventure for young folk.

I watched The Divine Weapon, a Chinese film with English subtitles. The Ming Dyrasty in medieval China has eyes on a neighboring kingdom, and will take it unless it can make the Divine Weapon, which is a battery of 100 self propelled explosive arrows that can devastate an army. The designer's pretty daughter supervises the construction, but the manual has been lost so they can't get it right. The arrows go everywhere except the target. One volley loops about and decimates the ones who fired it. They must recover the manual. They do, perfecting the weapon. At the end there's one hell of a battle of 100 men against 3,000, with phenomenal tactics. Then the Divine Weapon starts firing. That evens the odds. It's a bit like modern infantry up against machine guns and rockets; in fact that's what it presaged, in 1430. The Europeans took due note. There's even a romance. This is one great adventure movie.

I read Ascension Denied, by E A Wilson, www.eaawilson.com, just published by Dog Ear Publishing, www.dogearpublishing.net. I came by the book in an unusual manner. The author interviewed me last month for a program about computer gaming, something I know very little about, and I learned that she had written a novel. So I expressed interest, and she sent me a copy. The story is of Alice, who dies at the outset in a fire, age 25, and finds herself in a version of purgatory, where souls are duly processed to be forwarded upward or downward. Wouldn't want to make a mistake, you know. In this realm folk must eat, sleep, and earn their way much as they did in the mortal realm, and many get drunk too, including even some angels. But there's a hitch in the paperwork, and more and more souls are piling in, while not any seem to be piling out. Alice gets a job in the Office of Transition, OofT, and realizes that there's something amiss. In fact the mayor is stealing some of the divine credits required, so that folk lack enough to move on. Alice tries to blow the whistle, and of course gets in trouble herself, in the time honored manner of whistle blowers. It goes on from there. The story moves slowly, much in the manner of the bureaucracy it describes, but does get there in the end. There is some nice description along the way. “Alice Shepherd had been a beautiful flower on a pear tree in the garden that covers the Earth...And in the end she had, in fact, become much greater indeed, mostly round the hips. Rather than a flower on a pear tree, she'd become a pear. She'd been plucked, consumed, and then slowly turned into a lame turd passing through the intestines of society.” Further along we get the conservative philosophy of Mammon, the personification of riches as an evil spirit governing the nether realm: “Gentlemen, let me tell you about freedom. What is right in our world isn't decided arbitrarily by artificial means, courts, social consensus...The market rules here. If someone wants something you have, you can sell it to them. What is right in our society is purely determined by what is right for any given person at any given time, to the extent that their wealth allows. That's true freedom.” Mammon is surely a Republican, as I see it. So read this novel for its lovely phrasing along the way, rather than for excitement.

Robert E Margroff died. We called him Rem, for his initials. He was I think my second longest non-family correspondent, and my collaborator on seven novels and a couple of stories. We met by correspondence in 1962 when I joined the National Fantasy Fan organization and a member, Alma Hill, put several aspiring writers together in what we called the Pro2 group. We exchanged manuscripts and critiqued them and went on from there. Sometimes it felt like scorpions in a bottle, but I believe we all profited significantly. The composition of the group shifted over time; along the way were Frances Hall, my collaborator on Pretender and “The Message,” H James Hotaling, my collaborator on “Sheol,” and Andrew Offutt, another collaborator. At one point we queried all the literary agents of the time about representing any of us, and got no acceptances if we got answers at all. That make me cynical about agents; they are not really looking for promising new writers, whatever they may say. Rem was about six years my senior, and a liberal like me. He introduced me to LIBERAL OPINION WEEK, a collection of all the liberal columns that you seldom see in local newspapers, to which I still subscribe, and to Bronson, the mail order vitamin company. Decades later he lost their address, and I provided it, together with a better one, Swanson. We met at at least two fan conventions over the years. He stood about five foot three inches tall and was rotund, so he was not impressive physically, but he had one sharp mind. Our acquaintance suffered when I managed to sell novels and he didn't and he evidently resented it. Such resentment is natural and I admit to feeling it myself when later writers passed me by, like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. (One critic concluded that the only reason I had success was that my pen name was near the beginning of the alphabet; if that's true, King and Koontz, stuck in the middle, are doomed. They must be worried.) But Rem later concluded that I really did know what I was doing, and invited me to collaborate on a novel he had been unable to sell. Thus started the Dragon's Gold series of five novels that TOR published. He wrote the novels, and I rewrote them to the extent necessary to get them published. He had the ideas and the stories, but lacked style, and of course editors typically are more interested in style than in substance. In later life Rem's physical condition suffered, and he got Alzheimer's. Age is a lady dog. I mailed him his share of continuing collaborative royalties, but his responses became fewer. He was on his way down and out, and not happy about it. He had my sympathy, but this was not anything I could fix by turning a neat phrase. I understand that as his situation declined others cut him off, apart from one highly supportive neighbor, he remembered me with increasing appreciation. I treated him with integrity, respect, and sympathy, something I think every writer, indeed every person deserves. This year he finally agreed to go to an assisted living facility, which he liked. But his falls became more frequent, and the hospital concluded that they could do no more for him. His living will specified no heroic measures, so they let him be, apart from medication to make him halfway comfortable, as he closed out his life. This is the way it should be for all of us. And so I say fare well, Rem, and may you be at last at rest. Your passing was inevitable, but still it hurts.

On perhaps a more positive note: I signed a contract for a movie/TV option on Xanth. The movie industry is not quite like the publishing industry. The option is the right to make a movie or TV series, with a year or eighteen months to consider the matter. In that time no one else can buy the property; it is reserved. If they decide to do it, then they exercise the option. All the terms of the larger deal are spelled out in the option, so it can be a massive document, like 30 pages long, with language only a lawyer or an aging writer like me can comprehend. They may pay a token amount for the option, and the big money comes when they exercise it. So there is no guarantee at this stage that they will make a TV series, but at least they are seriously considering it. Typically Hollywood totally messes up the original novel, which is why sensitive authors are advised to take the money and run. That is, don't even try to make them stay reasonably close to the original; you'll just annoy them. As with putting lipstick on a pig: it doesn't accomplish anything, and it annoys the pig. So why do writers let this happen? Because Hollywood comes bearing barrels of money, and may also put a writer on the bestselling map. So yes, what appears on the big or small screen may bear little resemblance to my original, but I could surely retire in comfort on what it pays, if I wanted to retire, and my novels are long in print so readers can still appreciate them in their original forms regardless. I'd love to have them back on the bestseller lists for a last fling before I croak the bucket. And there's always the chance that Hollywood will stay reasonably close to Xanth's basic nature, frivolous, um I mean lighthearted as it is. Stay tuned.

For years I didn't bother to read the comic strip “Dilbert,” as it related to business interests that weren't mine. But finally I decided to give it a chance, as I don't like to be considered close-minded, especially when I am the one doing the considering. And it has its appeal. The strip for Mayhem 24, 2015, has Dilbert describing his philosophy. “I think that life is a brief, meaningless event in a random universe that doesn't care.” Wow! That's the way I see it. As I have commented before, life has meaning only if we live for meaning. Few of us do.

There was a local case with implications. A couple was having sex on a public beach. The authorities were of course outraged, and those folk may serve jail time and be branded as sex offenders. Well, now. I have questioned the conservative religious attitude that sex is offensive if not outright sinful. To me, sex is a natural expression of love, prurient interest, and often procreation, none of which are evil. It is a significant force within marriage, as few men would marry if not for the promise of regular sex. So how can it be obscene to do it in public? It puts me in mind of my rhetorical question to censorious folk: Do you believe that the human body as God made it is obscene? If so, aren't you questioning God? If not, why not let folk show it when they choose to? 'But what about the children?' these folk always demand. Yes, what about them; don't they deserve to learn about sex and its cautions along with the three R's and traffic safety? So that it is not a secret thing that they in their innocence will be vulnerable to its abuse? I'm not saying that children should have sex, just that ignorance here is not bliss. I would say that if you see a couple having sex on the beach, and you don't like it, then don't watch it. There may be others who do like it.

Another newspaper article is titled “Sex through the ages.” It seems that the “Greatest Generation” born between 1901 and 1924 slept with an average of three partners doing adulthood. Baby boomers average around 11 partners, and Generation X 10. Wow; I have had only one. I am part of the Silent Generation, born 1925-45; maybe that explains it. We don't have much to talk about.

News item: several middle aged women were turned away from the movie premiere of the Cannes Film Festival because their heels weren't high enough. Historically in China they bound girls' feet to make them smaller in the adult women, though it halfway crippled them. It smelled to me like one more way to reduce women to serfs. The western world would not practice such an atrocity. Really? Look at women's high heels, that account for ten times the foot ailments that men have. That's our version of foot binding. Were I in the market for a woman, I would look at her feet and be more favorably impressed by those with sensible shoes. Now they are punishing women for wearing comfortable footwear? The article was by a woman who was visiting the White House, and her high heels put her in so much pain that her left foot buckled and she started to fall. Fortunately President Obama caught her. Well, maybe the next president will support more practical women's shoes. I think the feminists could take up this issue, and campaign to see that never again does a woman have to cripple herself to be admitted to a movie. For schist sake, it's dark in a movie theater; who is looking at shoes? Maybe run ads showing how natural feet can be attractive, as I think they are, especially when lifted high under skirts.

The May 1, 2015 issue of THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR has a discussion of the First amendment and religious bigotry. “We are entitled to our beliefs no matter how wild or unsubstantiated, but not to impose them as obstacles or dangers to the constitutional rights of others.” You would think that no American would disagree. But the religious right sees it differently. There's an ugly history behind the religious freedom laws that reveals the real agenda. The 14th amendment relates to civil rights. “The very notion of equal protection for back Americans was so offensive that it inspired an immediate backlash.” Historically, whenever those in power felt threatened they responded by stirring up sexual fears, such as brutish blacks lusting after innocent white girls. Having a black president really set them off; I understand that racist mail increased phenomenally the moment Obama took office. Fortunately the bigots are slowly losing that battle. Now the emphasis is on homosexuality. “Fear of gay rights is a most effective strategy for extremists determined to take over America's state houses.” There were religious arguments for segregation, for the subjugation of women, and race-based slavery. “Freedom of religion, a bedrock of American democracy, cannot mean a license to condemn others.” Amen. More on bigotry: A newspaper article by Jonathan Capehart remarks on the welcome President Obama got when he joined Twitter: it took just ten minutes to start baptizing him in Twitter's racist sewer. He was called a nigger and told to get cancer. It seems that anonymity lets the foul birds fly out to drop their turds. Freedom for the speech we hate. I do defend that freedom, and I do hate its abuse. I hope that it's the bigot who gets cancer. However, Americans are rapidly becoming less religious. In 2007 16% had no religion; now it's 23%. When I registered to vote in 1959 I got the impression they had never had a “none” before and didn't know what to make of it; I'm glad to see others catching up with me. I suspect that religious bigotry is part of what is turning Americans off religion.

Next battle: fair treatment for animals. I am a lifelong vegetarian because I don't like killing animals, though I do smash mosquitoes and biting flies and put out rat bait for the vermin that trash the wiring of our car. It's a personal thing; if they left my blood and car alone, I'd leave them alone. A column by the notorious conservative Charles Krauthammer remarks on our abominable treatment of animals. He says we may wonder how we supported slavery in the past or believed in African inferiority. So how can we now raise, herd, and slaughter animals to eat? He applauds the progress we are making, with the circus phasing out elephants and Sea World apologizing for making exhibits of orcas. How do we treat the innocent in our care? None are more innocent that these. “Which brings us to meat eating. Its extinction will, I believe, ultimately come.” He believes that science will find dietary substitutes considerably less costly. “As a moderate carnivore myself, I confess to living in Jeffersonian hypocrisy. It's a bit late for me to live on berries and veggies.” He's not joining PETA but he cringes at some medical experiments on animals and hates caging beautiful creatures for display. I commend his moral progress, and hope the day of cost effective and nutritive meat substitutes comes soon. Next time I see a Krauthammer column I may even read it.

In Mayhem I wrote a short story, “In the Shadow of the Song,” about a father/daughter singing event that turns almost magical. And completed the collaborative LavaBull with J R Rain, wherein his bull man gets together with my lava girl to try to save humanity from nuclear extinction. Nothing really fancy, as you can see, but I trust a good adventure. Hereafter I should be catching up on reading and watching half a slew of videos.

This column and the survey update are being run a few days early because our Webmistress is visiting family in Oregon. Such as my granddaughter. We should be back on our normal schedule next month.

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