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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
NoRemember 2015

I read What a Wonderful World, by Marcus Chown, subtitled One Man's Attempt To Explain The Big Stuff. He's a writer for my favorite magazine, NEW SCIENTIST, so he comes well recommended. He does tackle the big stuff, ranging from the life of the cell (small physically, but vital to our existence, so it's a big idea) to the nature of Time. He writes clearly and generally interestingly, and I enjoyed the book. If I fault it, it is because when he tackles subjects like Relativity or Quantum Theory he does not quite make them intelligible to the lay reader. But of course who does? There are nice thoughts throughout, such as this quite from Emerson Pugh: “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't.” Chown explains how the total number of a woman's eggs are present in her ovaries when she's in her mother's womb, so you actually begin your life inside your grandmother. He remarks on how for eons blue-green algae pumped their waste product oxygen into the air, poisoning the planet. Until animals tapped into its super-charged energy, leading eventually to we humans. So we are creatures of poison. As I recall, Edgar Allan Poe had a story about a girl who was made of poison; little did she know. Another startling thought: “The big bang predicts that we should not exist. But it seems that the universe, with the aid of dark matter, found a loophole, so we do exist. So there are thoughts aplenty here, and I recommend it for a basic review of the nature of everything. The volume, however, could have use a proofreader; there are typos and one notable error: the Coriolis force deflects the air to the right, or east, in the northern hemisphere, “and to the left, or west, in the southern hemisphere.” No; it deflects also to the east. Left is east when you're going south. But don't let that stop you from reading this excellent book.

I read Amazon Expedient, proofing my 50,000 word short novel collaboration with Ken Kelly. This is the sequel to Virtue Inverted, which I reviewed back in AwGhost 2015. Eventually the glacially slow publication process should make it available for our surely eager readers. The protagonist Benny goes on to marry Virtue the vampire lady, who is not only beautiful, but as nice a person anyone could encounter; the prejudice against vampires is badly mistaken in this case. Then comes more adventure, featuring an amazon woman Helena. Benny makes a deal with Helena to help Virtue, and she does, saving Virtue's life, and the two become friends. That's only one thread of a more intricate tapestry involving the threatened conquest of the planet by the brutal Kudgels. If you like heroic fantasy, this should be for you. If you don't like heroic fantasy you may still like the women here, who are not standard issue.

I watched Venus, wherein Peter O'Toole plays a nearly terminal old man who gets a crush on a lovely young woman. She is diffident about his interest, but intrigued, and when he dies she really is sorry. It was a bit painful for me to watch, being a fading old man, though I can certainly see what he saw in her. Like him, I'm old, not dead. At the end she has a job posing for an art class as Venus reclining, and she does have the figure.

I watched A Little Chaos, set in medieval France. The young widow Sabine, a landscape designer, is selected to design the gardens for the new palace in Versailles. She works with the married artist Andre, and they gradually fall in love. His wife had made it an open marriage, and took lovers, so now he is free to do the same. At one point Sabine meets a man who is admiring the work in progress, and takes him for another gardener. Actually he is the king, without his ceremonial wig. But he prefers the informality and helps her carry plants. It's a nice sequence, and a beautiful garden.

I read Chimney Swifts by Paul and Georgean Kyle. I have been going through my old folders of clippings, and in the one on Nature I discovered a review of this book in SCIENCE NEWS dating from April 2005. Now with Amazon it is easier to get a stray book, so we did. When we built our house on our tree farm, 1987-88, we didn't stint, paying for the best. But what we couldn't check on the spot turned out not to be the best. One example was the fireplace and chimney, with a fancy hot air re-circulation vent built in for efficiency: we moved in in spring, and when fall came and we tried to light a fire, we discovered that the flu didn't work properly. Rather than get into the hassle of getting it fixed, when we were busy—I was then a national best-seller and my time was precious--we simply never used the fireplace. Later chimney swifts moved in. We meant to block off the chimney in the winter, but kept forgetting, and than realized that it was better to let the birds be. As I now learn from the book, chimney swifts used to nest in old hollow trees, but mankind has decimated what were once great forests, and the birds' habitat is restricted. So they made do by moving into chimneys. Now chimneys are being capped or made otherwise unsuitable, and chimney cleaners are illegally destroying the nests even with live chicks in them, and the swifts' population is falling off drastically. So now we are glad to do our bit. They are inoffensive birds, who eat a third of their own weight in flying insects like mosquitoes, biting flies, and termites, daily. They are aerial acrobats who live mainly in the air and can't actually land and forage on flat surfaces; they need the vertical walls to nest on. In the winter they fly to South America. They are good neighbors and should be encouraged. So they are welcome here.

I watched The Wolfman, a werewolf thriller. The fiancee of his brother asks Laurence to help her find the missing brother, but he turns up dead and the werewolf bites Lawrence. Which means that he becomes a werewolf too, manifesting each night of the full moon. I don't believe it, of course; real werewolves are not dependent on night or moon. But it's a bloody good story, and I mean that in the sense of copious gore. The package has two versions, the unrated one and the expurgated one; I watched the former, of course. This is not my favorite genre, but it is well done.

I watched Creation, about Charles Darwin's life, leading to his writing On the origin of Species. The focus is on his life as he seeks to understand nature. One might think this would be a dull narrative, but instead it is compelling and feeling. He is not a well man, and his beloved young daughter is ailing. He has tremors and seems to be subject to visions. In fact it seems his daughter dies, but visits him in his visions. He is not easy with religious explanations, which puts him at odds with those around him, though we of today can see his view readily enough. He was a rational man in an irrational time. Don't I know the feeling! He had enemies, but also understanding friends. He prays to God to save his daughter, promising to believe in Him if He does. But God does not save her. So he takes his refuge in science, while his wife takes hers in God, and that stresses their marriage. But they do love each other, and in the end she supports him in publishing his non-religious thesis. It sold out on its day of publication, and transformed biological science. At the end, in a nice touch, we see him walking to his home, with his late daughter walking beside him. I have no belief in any afterlife, but I like that fantasy.

I watched Policewoman, the pilot episode of a series, plus the first formal episode. I bought the first season back in 2000 then didn't get around to watching it. I tried to make a slack schedule the latter part of this year so I could catch up on what I want to, and this is part of it. Angie Dickinson plays sergeant Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson, two and a half years in the Los Angeles police and bored, so she volunteers for undercover work. That's different, all right she had to get prowling men to make her an offer for prostitution, then get into card gambling where the cards are marked. In episode #1 they take on a bank robbing gang with five members: three men, two shapely young women, white and black. They're tough; they know what they're doing, and they do shoot when balked. So Pepper and the police stake out a likely bank, and when the robbers strike Pepper kills one of the women before she can kill others, and is sick at heart because of it. It's sharp action and Pepper is sexy and human; this is fun entertainment, if not really deep. So how come it took me fifteen years to get around to watching it? But the series dates from 1973-74, so is over 40 years old, before the cell phone revolution, and parts now look clunky as they have to go to a big old land-line when they want to communicate, except when they're wired. Episode #2 concerns fake modeling agencies that lure runaway teen girls and trap them in prostitution or porn acting. Pepper infiltrates, and they nab the bad guys after a scare. No, there was no actual sight of a girl in action; the sex is safely off-screen. Episode #3 relates to a series of rape/murders of the attractive wives of patients at a particular hospital. The murderer makes them strip and dance first. Pepper sets up as a target, but lures in the wrong man. Then the right man waylays her in the elevator and takes her to the roof in a good scary standoff before they rescue her. Episode #4 concerns international drug smuggling; the carriers are blackmailed into doing it and killed if they mess up. Dangerous work. Episode #5 deals with rape, mentioning that nine of ten female rape victims don't report it, because they're afraid the police will be as bad as the rapist, with some justice. So they have a spot course on interrogation of victims, with Pepper playing the victim, showing the wrong and the right way to do it. Then they investigate two cases. One is a rape/murder victim found in a field. One is a housewife. That one turns out to be a fake, to disrupt a wedding. The other was a floozy who was happy to have sex, but one man found he couldn't do it, and she laughed at him, and he killed her in a rage. Episode #6 is trying to break up a drug ring, with the help of a new man who really doesn't want to be a cop. They finally bust the gang and free the man. Episode #7 puts Pepper undercover in a women's prison to gain information. The title is “Fish,” the word for a new prisoner. Those prisoners can really be bitchy to each other, and they don't hesitate to fight. But Pepper's as tough as they are, especially when one recognizes her as a cop, and finally nabs her man. I note that just about all the prisoners, and the guards too, seem to be fairly young and shapely, and their prison outfits manage to show a fair amount of leg. Not that I object, but I suspect a real women's prison would be otherwise. Episode 8 relates to 26 murders at a retirement home, done to get their money. Pepper signs on as a nurse, and unravels the difficult case, which involves lesbian love, if I understand it correctly, handled obliquely and sympathetically as it seems that even forty years ago this verged on taboo.

I read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R A Dick, the pen name of the Irish writer Josephine Aimee Campbell Leslie, published in 1945, republished in 2014. It was the basis for a 1947 movie and a TV sitcom in 1968. So what was there about this story that made it so popular? Well, it's a ghost story, but not like the usual ones. Lucy Muir is a petite young widow with two children and not much money, so she looks for a house in the country she can afford. There is a really cheap one, because it is haunted; no one stays there more than a night. Well, she likes the house, so she is determined to make a go of it. The ghost is a rough tough old sea captain who doesn't like company. Their early dialogues are a contrast, the course old salt and the sweet young lady. But mutual respect develops as they come to know each other, these two very different types, quite apart from differing ages or one being alive and the other dead. In fact he helps her by telling her where gold is buried under the house, so she can buy it and be secure, and he dictates his life story, parts of which make her cringe, which becomes a bestseller. That brings in a lot more money. She lives there, it must be half a century or more, and when she dies the Captain is glad to welcome her, for he loves her and I think she loves him. So this is different in that it's not a horror story but a gentle romance. The action is restrained; there are no murders or violence, just personalities and well turned descriptions. It probably wouldn't get published today. Who wants to read about a nice ghost? Yes, I know my readers are used to nice ghosts, zombies, dragons, even a nice basilisk. But my readers aren't typical. So I recommend this to readers who are satisfied with quiet character instead of ugly violence.

I read Roc by Rustin Petrae. This is the sequel to Dragon, which I reviewed here in 2012. The third novel will be Basilisk. It's really a single story told in segments. The background is a planetary war fomented by the evil Blak, causing two otherwise compatible kingdoms to try savagely to destroy each other. One has nanos, marvelous microscopic robots that can rapidly combine to form just about any tool or machine they are programmed to, sort of like 3D printers on steroids. The other can shape change, and has close connection to nature, so that plants, animals, birds and insects can do battle with devastating effect. At the center is a love story, the two being from enemy kingdoms. They become key players, and it turns out that they are more than just people, they are historically prophesied saviors, the Dragon and the Roc, if they can get their acts together before they get obliterated. If you like inventive violence, there's a lot of it here, with imaginative use of unusual weapons. However, the book needs a copy-editor to clean up mistakes.

I read Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, by Lawrence Block, that I picked up on electronic sale for two bucks. I'm a sucker for bargains. I have thought for some time that if I wanted a book on writing that I could really recommend to my readers, about half of whom seem to be aspiring writers themselves, I would have to write it myself, because too many seem to follow the standard line instead of telling it as it really is. You know, keep writing, keep improving, keep trying the market, and eventually you'll succeed. That's true, sometimes, but it's only part of the story. The pretty part. Remember, I'm the one who got blacklisted and badmouthed, even by a writer's organization whose members were being similarly cheated, for six years for demanding that my publisher give me an accurate statement of accounts. It seems that I committed a no-no for even expecting honest treatment, and really put my foot in it by making a public case of it. I was told of an agent who heard of my case and shook his head at my naivety. A lawyer told me, as a friend, that I could get sued, and lose, for telling the truth, since I would be up against a higher power lawyer than I could afford. I got bawled out by other writers, and even today, 45 years later, I remain in bad repute in certain supposedly author-friendly circles, with never a word against the errant publisher. Yes, I remain angry about it, and tough minded about the profession of writing, thanks to harsh experience. No, I won't get sued for telling the truth today, because I am primed for mischief and now I can afford the highest power lawyer, and publishers know it; the blood on the ground would not be mine. I have on occasion proved it. But there's an unlikely sequel: I then returned to that publisher when the wrongdoers were finally ousted and a new administration took over. It turned out that the new editor had been similarly cheated so knew the truth, and I became a best seller there. You won't find that kind of history in the typical book on writing. You don't find it in this book either, but I have to say that Writing the Novel comes close to being ideal as a realistic discussion of the creative process for writers. The author is four years my junior, but started selling before I did, and made his fame in the mystery genre. He's not into writing science fiction, just as I am not into mystery. He suffered through the struggle to get published, just to survive on low rates and often anonymous books in categories such as erotic fiction, then made it to high success, as I did. Too bad he has so little to say about the dark side; maybe he's simply smarter than I am, knowing what fights can't be won and whose soiled butt has to be kissed. Merit is by no means the only or necessarily the best route to publication. Yet if getting started as a writer, navigating the course past the shoals of rejection and depression, avoiding the dread Writer's Block and actually producing a readable novel is what interests you, read this. I read the book cynically, watching for the conventional fluff, and didn't find it; on point after point he is right on the mark. He has been there, done it, and tells it as it is. He even queried a number of established writers about their ways of doing it, gaining further insight. Right from the table of contents you can see how relevant this is, as each listed chapter has both a title and a summary of its content. Such as chapter 9: “Getting Started.” Beginnings, how to open the book up, when to begin at the beginning and when not to. That gives you a fair notion, if you want to read about a particular aspect. Often, he says, you should begin at at the second chapter, when your protagonist is deep in the action, then fill in the background later. He is candid about his own experiences, positive and negative, admitting to maybe a dozen novels he never finished. That's interesting; I have none unfinished, and over 170 published, and still counting. If I'm not going to finish it, I don't start it. What's my secret? Experience, perspective, discipline, imagination, and the fact that I really do like to write and really do know how to do it. I feel most alive when I'm writing; it's like an addiction. I have done a number of collaborations where I take over the other author's failed novel and convert that sow's ear to a silk purse; none of my collaborations are stinkers. Understand, an unfinished novel is not necessarily a bad novel, just one that ran off the tracks and didn't get set back on them. Other collaborations have been alternate chapters; there's no one right way. I have to schedule time off from writing, for things like reading and watching videos, not to mention ordinary mundane life. Then as time passes the hunger to write accumulates until I can't stand it any more and I plunge into a new story or novel. I'll stop writing only when I die, or shortly thereafter if I'm in a really compelling sequence. But I'm not normal, even for a fantasy writer, and I can't tell others how to do it, except maybe this: it helps to have an unhappy childhood. Other writers have called this the gift that keeps giving. Maybe Block was not sufficiently unhappy, though he does discuss Post Novel Depression. Would you believe, I had not realized that others besides me suffered from that? And he has the same treatment I discovered: start the next novel. Maybe it's his name: a writer named Block? That's begging for trouble. No wonder he mostly wrote pseudonymously. No matter; his experiences writing surely mirror those of the majority of writers, including experienced ones, who will profit from this book. So what else does this book lack? There's one huge caveat: currency. It was published in 1979 and republished by Open Road in 2010 essentially unchanged. Thus it misses the revolution in writing and publishing fostered by the computer age and the Internet. It's a dramatically different writing and publishing world today. He talks about typing on bond paper; today's writer may never touch paper. He talks about traditional publishing, when the likely best market for new writers is electronic. He doesn't really get into self publishing, which is a far cry from vanity publishing. Sure, I'm not objective here, having been a significant investor in Xlibris because I wanted to make true self publishing feasible, as today it is. What else? He doesn't touch collaboration, or pirating, or censorship, all of which can impact other careers as they have mine. And what about luck? Those who make it to bestsellerdom may like to think it is sheer talent that brought them deservedly there, that they are God's Gift to Literature, but chances are it was the blind luck of having the right manuscript before the right editor at the right time. Does that apply to me? You bet! No one knew, back in the 1970s, that the sickly sub-genre of Fantasy was about to rocket blast to the stratosphere. I was a science fiction writer; I wrote a fantasy novel because the editor I wanted to work with needed fantasy, and it turned out to be an escalator to the stars. I never saw it coming, but I damn well stayed with it once I realized. That singleton Xanth novel became a series of over 40. But again, I can't tell the novice writer how to catch the next escalator, unless he has a magic charm to guide him to be supremely lucky. Don't let these caveats turn you off the book; it's damn well worth your while regardless, and who knows, maybe the author will write a sequel to do the same for today's market. He surely has relevant experience. And I'll tell you another way this book helped me: he has a reference to Deadly Honeymoon, a novel he wrote about a couple who got caught on their wedding night, the groom beaten up, the bride raped. Rather than report it, they went after vengeance on their own. And I thought suppose that were reversed,with the groom getting raped? Or both of them? Embarrassment and shame prevents them from reporting it. That flowered into an ugly erotic detective story notion, “So Help Me,” I may never write, not because I couldn't, but because it's out of my genre and I am unsure of its market, as its essence is serial gay rape, male and female. Ah, well. In sum: Writing the Novel is surely worth your while, even if you're not a novice writer and date from the post typewriter age.

Coincidentally (I think) I received an email whose subject line said “The Synopsis Treasurey in a fantastic collection of writing books on sale.” This book is included in this year's NaNoWriMo (that's the National Novel Writing Month, done this month each year) StoryBundle. That's thirteen writing guides, such as Writing the Blockbuster Novel and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck. You can also get the twelve books from last year's bundle, for a great price. The ad doesn't say what price, but if you're a struggling writer—is there another kind?--this is surely worth checking out. http://storybundle.com/nano

I watched Far North, set in the Russian arctic tundra near the sea. I hate the cold; that's why I live in Florida. I hate the stark slaughter of animals; that's why I'm a vegetarian. So this is really not my kind of movie. So why did I watch it? Because if I watch and read only what I know I like, I will limit my horizons, and I prefer to broaden them. This one's an emotional challenge. Two women are living alone in the wilderness, Saiva and Anja, and rescue a man, Loki. A flashback shows Saiva returning home to find that soldiers have killed her family and friends. One rapes her. They are lost and make her lead them to safety, threatening to skin a baby alive if she balks, but she manages to dump them in a crevasse. Loki has his own run-in, and kills two soldiers. Loki and Anja fall in love and decide to leave together, to go where they can make a family. Saiva chokes trusting Anja to death with her own braided hair, then cuts off her face and put it on herself as a mask. Thinking she is Anja, Loki makes love to her, then discovers the truth and flees screaming. If she wanted to win him, it didn't work. And it ends. Okay, it's easy to be horrified and condemn Saiva, but when I thought about it I realized that it wasn't that simple. She was the one who rescued Loki and nursed him back to life. She liked him, and he liked her; they were developing a relationship. Seeing that, Anja, younger and prettier, moved in and took him instead. He seemed to feel awkward about that, but could not resist Anja's appeal. Anja should not have selfishly taken him just because she could. Saiva overreacted, but she did have a case. Had they all been smarter they might have considered becoming a threesome and cohabiting in peace; Loki surely would have been satisfied to make out with both of them. But each woman was too narrowly focused, and therein was disaster. So I wound up more saddened than horrified.

I have had two stories published by THE HORROR ZINE: “Lost Things” wherein some lost creatures, such as an invisible tiger, are found, and “Cuisine to Die For,” wherein the food is delicious but really does kill you. Horror is not my genre, and I find it difficult to write in it. Well, they asked me for another story, so I checked my Ideas File, found a lost if not dead idea, and that day wrote the 1,350 word little horror “Aorta's Art,” which may be published in their December 2015 issue. Aorta is a lovely young woman, a real heartthrob, who works at The Weapon Shop. She would like to marry the proprietor, Isher, (yes, it's a sly reference to The Weapon Shops of Isher by A E van Vogt) a tough retired Marine weapons specialist who does like her, but he is wary of her art. Does this make sense? Read it and find out, in due course.

Mundania Press has come out with new editions of a number of my titles. I presume that some readers of this HiPiers blog-type column are actually interested in my own published fiction, rather than just watching with morbid curiosity to see what kind of nonsense I come up with next, so every so often I grudgingly provide some information. There's my dirty pair Pornucopia and The Magic Fart, which no respectable reader should even consider, but should you still be in doubt, it's about a man whose penis is only 3.97 inches long when fully erect, but produces anti-VD smegma. Sexy lady doctors drug him and steal it for research, providing him with an attachment and a remarkable array of artificial members instead, and it goes on from there in ever-more-degraded detail. Now there is also The Pornucopia Compendium, which includes both novels. That's a whole lot of smut for $24.95. There is also the 8th novel in the Incarnations of Immortality series, Under A Velvet Cloak, in hardcover and trade paperback, featuring Nox, the Incarnation of Night, who knows all secrets and keeps most of them. There is my Of Man and Manta trilogy, Omnivore, Orn, and OX, relating respectively to the fungus realm, the dinosaurs, and machine intelligence. And the five novel Dragon's Gold series in trade paperback, Dragon's Gold, Serpent's Silver, Chimaera's Copper, Orc's Opal, and Mouvar's Magic. My collaborator, Robert E Margroff, died earlier this year, but his work remains as a memento. It starts with dragons whose scales are solid gold, so hunting them is tempting but dangerous.

I had reference to the word “apoptosis” in my notes; that's the programmed suicide of cells that stops some illnesses from progressing. That's useful on occasion; you couldn't rob a bank if the teller killed himself rather than cooperate. I wanted to look it up to verify that I had it right—and lo, it's not in any of my big dictionaries, including the encyclopedia sized Oxford English Dictionary. Apparently it's too recent.

I continue to encounter interesting items in my sorting of back clippings. This time it's an article published in the April 1988 THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY titled “Did the Universe Just Happen?” That's one of my chronic interests. I want to know before I croak why something exists instead of nothing, how life came to be, and the nature of consciousness. They are making progress on all three, without definitive answers quite yet. The key statement of this old article, as I see it, is that the seeming indeterminacy in the subatomic world—that is, that we can't even know where part of an atom is until we destroy it—reflects not the truth but our own ignorance of it. That works for me. I reviewed a book not long ago that said the reason you can't discover exactly where electron particles are is that they aren't particles, they are waves. When you halt a wave in place, of course it collapses, because a wave is motion. Only the ignorant would think they understand waves by collapsing them. So okay, does that mean the universe is not so much a thing but a process? A wave? I think we're getting warm. We still don't know how it started or how it will end, but for the moment we are riding that wave.

The October/November issue of FREE INQUIRY, the secular humanism magazine, is a special Blasphemy issue. I am a humanist, and to me blasphemy is a dirty word; it means that some religion is trying to tell me what to think and say. Humanists defend the right to blaspheme—that is, to speak the truth as you see it without getting your head chopped off by some nut who doesn't like your attitude. I defend the right of others to believe as they choose, even if it relates to a long-bearded white man sitting on a cloud and welcoming only those who resemble him and call him God. Just please don't try to punish me for my common sense. This issue points out that if one is compelled to mouth only officially sanctioned words, he's pretty much a puppet made of flesh. Also that Jesus was no man of peace. What man of peace would charge into a legitimate place of business—that is, a temple—and overturn the tables and scatter the money? You may debate the legitimacy of his case, but peaceful he was not. I recommend this magazine to free thinkers of any stripe.

I note that Archie Shepp has received the nation's highest jazz honor. He is a 2016 Jazz Master, chosen by the Jazz Foundation of America. The awards will be presented April 4 at the Kennedy Center in Washington. I'm not into jazz music, but I knew Archie Shepp in college; in fact we worked on the lunch dish crew together. I'm glad he achieved recognition.

Not that I push my vegetarianism more than every HiPiers Column or so, but a new item says that a study indicates that eating meat can cause cancer. Naturally I intend to outlive those who claim that vegetarianism is unhealthy, apart from the fact that I'm not doing it for my health, but from conscience. I hate to contemplate the needless slaughter of innocent creatures, especially when tasty nutritious meat substitutes are increasingly available.

I read Fish Wielder, by Jim Hardison. This is one wild romp! It's a deliberate parody of heroic fantasy that reminds me obscurely of the wrestler Gorgeous George. He was one who found a way to make his fame, distinguishing himself from all the other pro wrestlers in a genre noted for its flair and fakery, by getting a permanent done on his long blond hair. Fans noticed that. I remember a review that remarked that underneath all the wild showmanship was actually a pretty good wrestler. Okay, underneath layer on layer of highly unlikely characterization and adventure is actually a pretty good story, told by a writer who has a pretty fair knowledge of his craft. I suspect some smarter reader than I could do a doctoral dissertation just fathoming the Fantasy genre's famous legends that are parodied here. The first sentence may suffice to show the flavor of this effort: “Thoral Mighty Fist, perhaps the toughest and most mysterious and manly fighter in all the mystical world of Grome, sat in the Inn of the Gruesomely Gashed Gnome in a dark corner, crying softly into his tankard of warm ale.” In the course of the narrative we learn that Thoral was originally from contemporary Earth, somehow transported into the fantasy realm, along with Nancy, a neighbor girl he liked, when both were age 13. They grew up, he becoming a super mighty barbarian warrior, she a super lovely woman, married, had a son—and then evil struck, killing Nancy and the child and cutting the grief stricken Thoral loose. On his subsequent adventures—he was constantly defeating attacking ruffians despite impossible odds—he rescued a talking fish who became his more sensible traveling companion. Thus “fist wielder” became “fish wielder,” to his annoyance. Years later lo, Nancy returns, alive after all, and not pleased about his new girlfriend, an expressive elf princess. Things complicate, and Thoral and the princess go in search of the fabulous Pudding of Power that will bequeath great powers to the one who eats it, who will then conquer the world, perchance for evil. Just when you think that the final twisted thread has been unraveled, a whole nother level of ludicrous coincidence is unveiled. Does all end well? Not exactly; it would take a (fantasy traditional) massive trilogy to work it all out, as it remarks near the end. I'm not sure I've seen such preposterously determined critic-baiting parody since Xanth or Asprin's Myth-begotten series. I recommend it to anyone on that basis.

When I quit archery almost two years ago I allocated the time—one hour, twice a week—to assorted chores. That turned out to be a good decision. A chore, by my definition, is a dull but necessary job I know I won't get around to unless I force myself. I have used the time to clip back encroaching vegetation along our three quarter mile drive, unpleasant because my sympathy extends to plants who are just trying to get some light and I don't like mutilating them, but if we are to have a drivable drive it has to be kept clear. I have also cleared the grounds surrounding the house similarly. And cleaned up accumulating cardboard boxes. And of course I have sorted through back files of clippings. This morning, the first day of Standard Time, I tackled changing the largely defunct fluorescent tubes in my study with new expensive LED tubes that are supposed to be brighter, last long, and use little power. This meant getting the stepladder and struggling with the translucent plastic cover, a job that makes me nervous. I'm an octogenarian, and even a small fall could put me out of physical commission for some time, which would compromise our situation because my wife simply can't do many physical things; she really does need me, as I need her. So I took my precarious place, my working time limited because soon the blood runs out of my raised arms and they lose power. The cover simply would not come loose; I had to break off a corner, as we have had to do before, to get it down. We suspect they design these things that way, to force you to hire expensive help instead of doing it yourself. Then I replaced the tubes, flicked the switch—and paused almost in disbelief. IT WORKED. It came on bright and steady. So, bemused, I put the chipped plastic cover back on, put away the stepladder, and came to report the adventure for my yawning audience here. It seems to be time to move on. This month I caught up on some reading; next month I'll catch up on more videos, and do some more writing, probably The Soul of the Cell, maybe a novella wherein it's a living cell the like of which you have not seen before. More anon, maybe, when.

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