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Mayhem 2015

I read Summer Winds, by Thomas Wallace. This is not a novel so much as a family history. Theoretically it is an invented family, but the detail is so authentic I wonder. It follows mostly Marty Strauss, a successful movie actor, branching out to include all of the members of his wider family. Such as his mother Edith, called Edy, when as a young woman she meets and dates a young man, marries him, and proceeds on until she finally dies of pancreatic cancer, decades later, leaving behind a loving and beloved family. There are successes and failures, joys and sorrows, camaraderie and serious family rifts along the way, but all finally ends well enough. You'd think this would be dull, it not being your family, but it is well enough realized to make them come to life, and is interesting throughout. Fiction does not have to have violence, sex, or wonder; it can be instead an immersion in ongoing life, as this is.

I read A Magical Journey by Amanda Robinson and Troy Lombardi. This is an illustrated fairy tale about a princess with a hat that can turn into a flying unicorn. Her father the King was caught by the Evil Government and she fears she will never see him again. Her brother rides off to rescue their father, and she fears that he too will be lost. But as it turns out, her brother succeeds in rescuing her father, and all ends happily. Small children should like this, as much for the pictures as the story itself. But here's the thing: the story was originally written by Amanda's father, Troy Lombardi, and sent to her week by week on legal sized yellow lined paper. Now Troy is dead, and Amanda has illustrated it herself and published it via CREATE SPACE. It's a nice way to honor her father's memory.

I finished writing my 32,000 word erotic love novella Captive, the one about the rich young man abducted for ransom who falls in love with his lovely captor and wins her, and I continued with the collaborative novel LavaBull with J R Rain, the one about a woman who is half hot lava and a man who is half raging bull. They make an interesting couple. That's intermittent writing, as I write a chapter then he writes a chapter. In the breaks I'm returning to reading books and watching videos.

I watched My Old Lady, about an American, Mathias, who inherits a nice Paris apartment that turns out to have two live-in tenants who by French law don't have to leave. They are a woman in her 90s and her daughter, Chloe. How can he sell the apartment with them there? He comes to know them better, and secrets come out: the old woman had had an affair with his father. This tore up his mother and her father, yet it continued. And the question: are Mathias and Chloe brother and sister? They are falling in love, so this is important. I don't think this is answered, but it seems they will be together.

I watched Gravity, about getting lost in space. This sort of thing makes me nervous, though I have never been in space. There's an accident, and all but two on the mission are lost. They float in orbit, the mission commander and a woman specialist. They are tethered together but in danger of drifting away from the station, so he cuts himself loose to save her, to her horror. By radio he tells her how to save herself; he is doomed. She survives, but there are complications, such as a fire in the station and flying debris. But then the commander reappears; he found some more battery power. Oops—it's a dream. But she continues the protocols, navigates a capsule, splashes down, and makes it to a beach. She has survived. This is one tense, compelling story, with I presume authentic space shuttle details. Male that I am, I also liked the sequences with her floating about in underwear.

I watched the Discover video Incredible Journeys of the World: From Venice to the Nile. One is the Orient Express, the height of luxury, rife with history and scandal. Another is Mt. Vesuvius, around which three million people live; but this is a journey into the past. In a prior time there was Pompeii, a Roman city now gradually being excavated and restored. It was a rich trade city. Romans were afraid of fire, so they preferred to eat out, avoiding ovens at home. Yet more than 2,000 were given to the fire raining from the sky. Neighboring Herculaneum, a seaside resort, left no bodies, until they checked the shore: they were caught under a wall of mud. I had read that the citizens saw the eruption coming and fled, and that the bodies were of squatters moving in. This suggests otherwise. The volcano still erupts, but people still settle there. I'd hesitate to live there. And the River Nile, that flowed through ancient Nubia. How did Nubia get along with Egypt? Egypt's granite was quarried in Nubia, and many other valuable trade items. At one time Nubian Pharaohs ruled Egypt. The winds there are said to be the Goddess Isis wailing over the death of her husband Osiris. Isis has now appeared in Xanth novels Isis Orb and Ghost Writer in the Sky, to be published in due course. She has gotten over Osiris and is looking for a new man.

I watched The Village. I realized that I was familiar with the story; I must have read it years ago. This isolated archaic village has no contact with civilization, and exists with pre-industrial technology. There are believed to be fearsome monsters in the nearby Covington Woods, which the villagers avoid. They are trying to preserve innocence, though tragedies surround them. A leading character is Ivy, who is blind. Another is Lucius, who knows duty rather than fear. They are in love. His crazy friend Noah stabs him, apparently jealous. Ivy goes through the frightening forest to reach the other towns, to get medicines to heal Lucius. She now knows that the monsters are fake, men in scary suits, to prevent anyone from leaving. But the journey is nevertheless dangerous for one who is blind. She succeeds, emerging from the wilderness preserve, and we presume the medicines will save Lucius, and they will be happy together. This is a different type of story, and uncomfortably effective.

I watched North Country. This is a savage story of a woman with two children who takes a job at the mine to make ends meet and gets sexually harassed by the men. Think this is innocent fun? Hardly. This reminds me of a line in West Side Story: “He don't need a job, he needs a year in the pen.” That's what those men need. When one comes on to her against her will, his wife calls her a whore, being evidently in deep denial. When she takes her complaint to the management, they offer her a quick dismissal. She gets blamed all around—for being the victim. When she tries to fight it, even other other female employees blame her. A lawyer advises her essentially that the law will not be on her side either. Even the union is against her. Yes; I've been there, in another venue, fortunately not as rough as this one, advised that I could be sued and lose for telling the truth, and getting blacklisted for even trying, and a writer's organization that was supposed to stand up for writers and for justice badmouthing me instead. It's hard to make your case when you're up against others who will lie to make theirs, and third parties choose to believe them rather than suffer the inconvenience of the truth. The majority does not always stand for what is right. Justice was never served in my case, and I suspect it is not served in many others, but at least in the movie it finally is. That's one difference between reality and fiction, but it's truly gratifying to see it in the movie. Oh—I did get my own back, via a phenomenal coincidence that would not be believed were it fiction, so instead of getting washed out I made it to best-sellerdom. But very few writers get such breaks, and I think neither do whistle blowers elsewhere. It's a corrupt world. I still do my best to help other writers navigate the shark infested waters of the business, and every so often we succeed in pasting a wrongdoer back. That does not make me popular in this business.

Public service announcement: novels 1 through 7 of the Adept series, beginning with Split Infinity, are available in audio in the US and UK, and the first is also available in Australia. I hope to eventually get all of my novels available in paper, electronic, and audio, but it's a long slow process. The second GEODYSSEY novel is now available in audio at Audible.com. Remember, that series represents my most ambitious work, covering the history of mankind for the past eight or so million years in readable form. I'm not just a perpetrator of funny fantasy, regardless what critics claim.

I read Prison of Despair by Keith Robinson. This is Book 8 of the Island of Fog series, and it is as tense as any of them. The story will be continued in Book 9, Castle of Spells. Remember, the main characters here are children, now verging on teendom, who are shape changers, one becoming an ogre, another a naga, and the protagonist Hal a dragon, who is sweet on Abigail, a flying faerie. Queen Bee, the scrag leader they thought had died, survives and is just as mean and sharp as ever. She engineers a raid that takes 52 hostages, and means to use them to bargain for the secret of shape changing. You might think she would have no chance against a dragon and even a gorgon who can kill just by unveiling her face, but Queen Bee uses the leverage of her captives to nullify them all, and force them to submit to being imprisoned. There is a sort of plantlike creature growing around the prison that fosters a distorted time sense and despair. In the end they save most of the hostages, but the issue is far from settled. The characters are children, but the narrative is hard hitting and I'm not sure this is really a children's story.

I read Crucible by Bill Randall. This is an odd one, the first of a series of nine Footsteps of Pruitt. The setting is a future Earth where an unspecified doom threatens, perhaps overpopulation and exhaustion of resources, but most folk don't know it. In fact they are kept in deliberate ignorance; what is to be gained by making them panic? One man does know, and is laboring to find a new world to colonize, but beyond a certain range of light years, pilots go insane. So they need to develop more stable minds, but few things have any promise, and the efforts are leading mainly to more insanity. The novel is heavy on description, with occasional startling details. I presume the following novels will continue the desperate search for a haven world.

Last month the computer ate my novel; if I had not carefully backed it up I would have been in real trouble. So this month I had my geek in to refurbish it. He upgraded the software, and of course then I had to reset my assorted defaults, a nuisance. As usual, I gained some things and lost some things. I no longer have the thesaurus, and it won't make macros. For some reason the programmers don't let you just make a macro in the macro section; you have to turn on the ability to make a macro elsewhere, and either they moved that turn-on to where I can't find it or they eliminated it. Why do they hate macros, that can be one of a computer's most useful features? In the primitive old days you could touch a macro turn-on button, record your macro, touch the button again and there it was. If you wanted to keep it you could name it and assign the name to a given key. But of course in the old days you could assign different functions to the main keyboard Enter key, and to the number-pad Enter key; I once had my Save All function on the number-pad key. Now you can't. It's as if the machine is a horse the programmers want to hobble. LibreOffice used to have a handy Find bar on the side of the window; now that's gone and I have to turn on the Find anew every time I want to search again. There used to be the option Focus Follows Mouse, so that whatever file your mouse cursor rested on was the active file. It wasn't perfect but it worked maybe 90% of the time. Now there's no option; it says that I probably don't want it anyway, so I have click on a given file to activate it. I wish to hell that programmers would stop telling me what I don't want, and just let me have what I want; I thought that was the idea of an open source computer program. Now I even get messages telling me I am forbidden to access certain functions. My reflexes mean I put the cursor on one file and start typing, only to discover I'm typing in a different file because I forget to click to say “may I?” I always liked the way I could lay out the several working files I use when writing a novel, leave them in place when I shut down, and have them load there when I cranked up next morning. Now I can't; I am given up to twelve (I counted) error messages before it ignores my layout. It has not fixed an existing error, the capitalization function, where theoretically you can click a word once to capitalize it, and twice to make it all caps, and three times to return it to uncapped. Instead it does it correctly on the first time, then jumps to all caps the next time you try to use it. I take that as evidence that the programmers don't actually use these features themselves, so don't realize how they misfunction, ruining their usefulness. On the other hand the computer clock now runs on time, and my system hasn't crashed—yet. I like LibreOffice, but if I were to discover another word processor that better served my needs, showing that its designers actually used it themselves, I'd give it a serious try.

I work diligently to maintain my health, and indeed I don't look or act my age, 80. But I lacked the foresight in my youth to choose dentally upscale parents, so my teeth decay regardless of the considerable care I take of them. I have had nine tooth implants, but the remaining natural teeth are going, decaying in the roots where brushing can't reach. So I am about to have my last natural teeth removed, and replaced by dentures. But not ordinary ones. My upper jaw will have four implants without their crowns; instead they will be nubs to support the denture. I should be able to chew effectively AND HAVE NO MORE DECAY. We'll see.

We live on our small tree farm, and I expect to be dead before I have to suffer the emotional pain of cutting down those innocent trees. The forest surrounds us, and we have deer, gopher tortoises, and all manner of natural creatures and plants. But one nuisance is the invasive air potato plant, which has pretty heart shaped leaves and what look like small potatoes suspended in air, but grows so voluminously that it can stifle other vegetation. I have tried to eliminate our patch of it, which is currently about a hundred and twenty feet across; two years ago I collected over 600 potatoes and sent them off in the trash, but next year they came up as thickly as ever, hundreds, thousands of them sprouting inches apart, covering the forest floor. I pull them up, more appear. So I settle for cutting off the ones that try to take over trees. I could probably control them if I dedicated my life to it, but I do have other things to do, like this HiPiers Column. What to do? Well, there is a pretty red bug called the air potato beetle that feeds on guess what? They are introducing it in Citrus County, and any year now I hope we can get a few to gorge on our plantation.

Remember the dinosaur Brontosaurus, the thunder lizard? It turned out that a prominent paleontologist had put the wrong head on the body, and there was no such creature, so the body was relegated to the apatosaurus family. Darn. One of my favorite of my own novels is Balook, about the reanimation via genetics of the largest land mammal that ever existed, Buluchitherium, who looked like a huge horse and stood 18 feet tall at the shoulder. At some point I had hoped to write a sequel, Bronto. Well, Brontaurus may be coming back, this time with his correct head. Maybe my novel will yet come to be.

Article in the May-June 2015 issue of THE HUMANIST magazine titled “Twelve Steps to Nowhere?” remarks on something I have heard about elsewhere: the famous Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program is fraught with religious references and has a success rate between 5 and 8 percent. That implies a failure rate of 92 to 95 percent. Religion is no panacea; you can do about as well elsewhere, or simply by chance.

I surely had more to say here, but the press of other business was relentless and I never got time to sound off fully at leisure. I am, I think, catching up, and next month I expect to watch a slew and a half of DVD movies and read more books. I may also lose all my remaining natural teeth, as mentioned above. That discomfort may assist my watching of those videos.

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