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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Apull 2016

I read The Slant Six by Christopher F Cobb. This is a wild one! The title refers to the spaceship that Loman Phin pilots in the year 2252. It's somewhat of a rattletrap, but it's fast and it's his. Then something goes wrong when he's in a race. Uh-oh. Another racer pulls a dirty trick, effectively washing him out, but he manages to do dirt back and wash out the other guy. But now he needs money for repairs. Then he is approached for a special mission by a man who was impressed with the quality of his racing, dirt and all. The mission is to deliver a cargo to a distant site. A young woman, Portia, shows up and says she will guide him to the pickup site. But as things develop he catches on that she is the cargo. She is to be delivered for what amounts to dismemberment; her heart is valuable. It goes on from there, with weird adventures, some ugly details such as a ship full of gory corpses, some really nasty sex, and a slowly developing romance. But few things are quite what they seem. One small example: at one point Portia strips naked and has him touch her translucent breast that shows her beating heart. She's not your ordinary woman. Loman finally muddles through, struggles to save Portia from a fate that may truly be worse than death, and devises a grand but scary conclusion. If you want a story that really is different, this is your ticket. It certainly isn't dull.

I read A Cry for Love by Brian W Beck. This is a mainstream story of love in all its frustration and wonder, with a deadly undercurrent. I am not sure I have ever seen more beautifully written work. Married Sanna likes to walk alone at night, exercising her morbid imagination, and this night she meets a mysterious man, Tadhg, pronounced Tieg, and they associate with emotional ups and downs that gradually compromise into sex and maybe a kind of love. Then it complicates into a more deadly incident. But it's the thoughts along the way that make this special, as if you walk down an ordinary alley and discover yourself in the world's most evocative garden, replete with vipers. Definitely not for the superficial reader; this needs to be savored paragraph by paragraph.

Once I completed the first draft of Xanth 42 Fire Sail at 99,000 words I took a break for a few days before editing it, to let it digest. This meant the chance to catch up on some videos. Once I edit it next month, I'll catch up on some books. My novel is about a young man, Lydell, and a grandmother who must work together to deliver the flying boat with the sail made of fire to its new proprietors. It turns out to be a fair challenge, because they don't know who the proprietors are or where to find them, and others would like to take or steal that boat. Lydell would like to find a girlfriend he can keep, too, but prospects are elusive. Such as sweet Tess, who turns out to be a giant-tess; they really can't make it together. Or Rosie the Riveter, who is a lovely lady robot he rescues from the dream realm. She likes him, and can be quite soft when she wants to be. In Xanth the robots are powered by burning wood; Rosie is converting to coal to save the trees. Lydell is uncertain about making it with a girl with burning coal in her belly, but then he thinks about what a living girl has in her belly, and is satisfied with coal. But she must leave him with regret to be queen of the robots. Eventually he will find his true love. Maybe.

I watched The Book Thief, nominally narrated by Death. This is about a communist child, Liesel, adopted by a regular German couple after her parents are abolished, just before World War Two. It's an ugly picture of the Nazi regime. She's illiterate, but her new daddy is a nice man who teaches her, and she becomes a book addict. Then they hide a Jew, Max, the son of a friend they owed. This is real mischief, but she understands about keeping secrets. Liesel befriends him and steals books for him to read. But it gets too dangerous, and he must go, lest they all suffer. Mama is a forbidding woman with a sharp tongue, but gradually she thaws and becomes loving in private. The war turns negative for the Germans, making things worse. Papa is conscripted; they don't know if he'll come back. He does, but then their street is bombed. Liesel survives but not her family or her boyfriend Rudy. But Max does. This is a sensitive sometimes painful story.

I watched Gone Girl, one I had been curious about. In turned out to be a more complicated and ugly story than I expected. Nick comes home on his 5th anniversary to discover his wife Amy gone under suspicious circumstances. Soon the police are suspecting him, because there is cleaned up blood on the floor—her blood. He's in trouble. It seems their marriage had become a shell, and he's having an affair with a 20 year old coed. And his wife was six weeks pregnant. A partly burned diary of hers is found that further incriminates him. Then a switch to her: she faked her murder and designed it to incriminate him so he would get convicted and executed for it. Now she's relaxing at a resort. But then a con couple catch on that's she's fleeing something, so can't go to the police, and take her money. Meanwhile Nick gets a savvy lawyer who is figuring out what Amy did. Complications continue. She murders her innocent prior boyfriend and returns to Nick to play at marriage. It's a private horror, but he seems to have no choice. She is one conniving sociopath, but a seductive one, having no trouble persuading men and the public of her virtue. What a savage tale!

I watched Terminator Genisys, a sequel to the series. Schwarzenegger goes back to the 1980s to save the young woman, Sarah Conner, who will be the mother of the man who saves Earth, John Conner—if she survives. And a liquid metal assassin is sent to see that she doesn't survive. Mayhem ensues. Replete with chase scenes, explosions, and occasional glimpses of Sarah's nice body. It is hard to be sure of anyone's identity or exactly what's going on; it's the pornography of continual violence. I'm not sure it all makes sense, even on its own terms, but hey, it's a Terminator movie.

I watched Mr. Brooks, a dull sounding title for a story that is hardly that. Mr. Brooks is Man of the Year, with a lovely wife and aspiring daughter, but also a secret serial killer specializing in lovemaking couples whose bodies he artistically disposes, leaving no traces of himself. Except that someone managed to snap pictures of him in the act. His daughter Jane is pregnant by a married man and wants to drop out of college. And his friend Marshall who advises him as he kills is an illusion. Got your attention yet? A tough lady cop worth $60 million, in the throes of a messy divorce, whose ex wants $5 million, who is being stalked by a nasty and deadly former prisoner she put away, is on Mr. Brooks' trail. And Daughter may also be a compulsive killer, having inherited his nature. Got your attention now? The man who took the pictures is trying to blackmail Brooks to allow him to accompany accompany him on a killing. So they do a killing together. And Lady Cop's ex and his lawyer are murdered in a similar way. Then it gets ugly. This is a hard-hitting story. I don't think it makes entire sense, but it is compelling.

I watched the Discover video Cannibal Dinosaur, showing how it was 70 million years ago on the island of Madagascar. The apex predator had rough knobs or horns on its head used to ram prey and opponents, and huge teeth to chomp them. The male might come to mate with the female, having only sex on his mind, but she can not be sure he does not want to eat her babies, so she's ready to fight. And in fact he will try to eat them, to make her become matable. She is slightly smaller, but will fight more viciously to defend her young. This shows the male eating the baby, then getting killed and eaten by the female. It's violent and impressive, yes, like a Terminator movie. The dinosaur age was not for sissies.

I watched the Discover video Raptor's Last Stand, another fascinating dinosaur history episode. This concerns dinosaurs that roughly resembled rhinos—pachyrhinosaurs--versus dinosaurs resembling, well, tyrannosaurs; they were precursors. There were herds of the grazers, and packs of predators, and it became a deadly kind of game. The strategy of the predators was to force the prey into a river, where, crowded too close together to swim, they drown, and thus can be eaten without further resistance. But climate change brought all this to an end, and of course in only five million more years comes the meteor strike that wiped them all out.

Last HiPiers column I asked readers for help in two matters. One was the first reference to the Adept series Thee Thee Thee convention. That turned out to be in Blue Adept, where it was explained to Stile, and when he starts to repeat it as a question Neysa Unicorn nearly bucks him off to prevent him from committing a faux pas (pronounced fo PA) because it has the force of an oath, and oaths are magically potent things. Thanks, readers.

The other was my dentistry. Faced with the cost of an upper denture the price of a new car, I balked. Readers suggested traveling to Mexico where I could get it for a relative pittance, or even to Europe. But I am old, my wife is infirm, and I don't care either to travel alone or to leave her home alone, so that's out. One suggested a 3D printed denture. A number told me simply to suck it up and pay the price for the sake of my chewing comfort. A couple of folk who knew the specific price called it insane. My spot research suggested I should be able to get it for maybe half the price. And finally I talked to my dentist and chose a regular denture that will wear out sooner but costs about half the price. Maybe I'll be sorry if I outlive it, but I'd be really annoyed if I paid for a lifetime denture and then lived only five more years. So I am on my way, and we'll see. Thanks again, readers.

I am pleased to announce that the next Xanth novel, #40 Isis Orb, will be available this fall in hardcover as well as trade paper and of course electronic. Also, I believe, audio. Sorry, mass market paperback is out; that aspect of publishing is on the way out for all books. The same should also be true for #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky and #42 Fire Sail, in due course. #43 is in its nascent state, tentatively titled Jest Right, about a young woman no one takes seriously, so she becomes a comedienne. “When I told my boyfriend I loved him and wanted to marry him, he laughed his head off. Here it is.” And she produces a model of a laughing head.

In Apull my collaboration with J R Rain, The Worm Returns, will be published. That's about Bad Buffalo, the worst rootin' tootin' wild west cowboy outlaw ever. Then he encounters a cute sprite named Dia, the size of a squirrel, who needs his help to plug the wormholes that are opening on Earth and letting out worms that suck out all the magic. It has happened before, which is why there's so little magic left in Earth, and this time it will even destroy the sprites. To enlist his help she promises to be his girlfriend, once she recovers enough magic to become his size. She's very pretty, and explicit on his level; she expands to his size, nude, her limited substance becoming mere mist, and spreads her legs wide. He gets the message, and the adventure is on, replete with a dragon, a basilisk, and a were mare; that is, she changes between woman and horse and is not sure whether she prefers to make it with Bad Buffalo or his horse. This is naughty fun throughout. Look for it Apull 5, 2016.

Politics: I have been a registered independent throughout, since I got my citizenship in the US Army in 1958 and registered to vote in 1960. Yes, I'm an immigrant, and no, I don't want to be hauled to the border and dumped. I felt that neither the Republicans nor the Southern Democrats had anything for me. Then the Southern Democrats converted in a mass to Republican, following the covert racism of Nixon's “southern strategy,” and I remained a liberal independent. I am watching the current presidential campaign with the kind of interest a spectator has at a Roman circus featuring lions and Christians, for all that that's a myth fostered by later Christians. My concern is the French Revolution. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said it best in “France: An Ode”: “The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,/Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game/They burst their manacles and wear the name/of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!” That is, France slaughtered its monarchy and got Napoleon; the peasants got nothing, as usual. Folk today are marveling at Donald Trump's ascendance that owes nothing to the establishment. So what does power him? As with the French peasants who were ground down until they revolted and made rivers of blood, Americans have gotten more than tired of electing promising politicians who then serve the moneyed elites instead of their constituencies. In Trump they have found a man who gives the finger to the elites. There will surely be blood. So the powers that be in the Republican establishment are trying to eliminate him, maybe by the device of a brokered convention. I doubt they will succeed, but the effort may destroy their party. They let the genie out of the bottle, and no longer have control. I am not a Trump supporter, but I rather think the elites deserve his contempt for them. So is he Napoleon? I fear “America: An Ode.”

Interesting point the Ask Marilyn column makes: the longer you live, the longer you will live. No that's not nonsense. I think that when I was born, my life expectancy would have been about 65 to 70 years. Now I am past 80, and my expectancy is for another ten years. Where did those extra years come from? From the cold equations of life and death: many die in childhood, so the surviving folk don't have to average that in anymore. Along the way disease, accidents, war, and whatnot take out the unlucky. By age 90 about half those my present age will be dead; if I remain alive, then there is new calculation for the survivors, like maybe another five years for half to die. It's actually a natural process. All you have to do to live longer is to stay alive. Now you know.

Perhaps related is a newspaper graph on how couples meet. In 1940 half met through family and neighbors. Now half meet through friends and online. About ten percent meet via college; that's been fairly steady. I met my wife in college in 1954. I doubt we would have met otherwise, because I lived in Vermont and she lived in Florida. It scares me in retrospect to think how close we came to not meeting. Column by Mandy Len Catron clarifies five myths about love. We learn that women are not more romantic than men, monogamy is not a social construction, intense romantic love can last for decades, opposites don't usually attract, and there is not one single right person for you. Instead, just about anyone can make it with anyone if they have deep empathy and put real work into it. This reminds me of an earlier study that compared marriage partners an an early stage, like maybe one year, and again at a later stage, maybe a decade. Some who argued at one year outlasted some who found things perfect then. Why? Because they learned how to negotiate their differences, and that ability served them well when unexpected problems came. My wife and I have not lived almost six decades of uninterrupted bliss; we had serious problems along the way, such as losing four of our five offspring, but handled them. Go and do thou likewise.

A recent issue of my favorite health newsletter, Alternatives, by Dr. David Williams, discusses a little known cancer fighter: fermented wheat germ. The war on cancer has bee a failure; the overall death rate for cancer has fallen only five percent since 1950, while that for heart disease has fallen 64%, and for flu and pneumonia 58 percent. Further, the decline in cancer death is mostly because of the decline in smoking. Remember, my daughter, a nonsmoker, died of cancer; I know how intractable it is. We could do a lot by prevention, such as losing weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol, balancing hormones, drinking clean water (and I add to that: avoiding fluoridated water), eating healthier foods, avoiding exposure to toxins, and maintaining proper bacterial flora in the gut. But about fermented wheat germ: it's a source of quinones, natural compounds that help fight cancer. To digest a long somewhat technical discussion into its simpler essence: quinones stop the growth of almost every type of cancer not by destroying or starving it, but by encouraging the cancerous cells to return to their original state as functioning cells in the body. So it's a pacifist treatment, persuading cancer to play nice. There's something I like about that. I will track future developments with interest.

Article in the March/April THE HUMANIST magazine titled “When the Human in Humanism Isn't Enough” by Ed Cibney reminds us that human activity is currently causing the sixth great extinction in Earth's history and endangering out own future. This is in part the result of persistent and planet wide animal abuse, including animals in factory farming, killing other animals for food, using them in experiments, taking their skins for clothing, using them for entertainments (bullfighting, cockfighting, dog racing anyone?), and destroying animal habitats to fulfill insatiable human desires. “Looked at objectively, it's as if having the power to abuse animals has been generally interpreted as giving us the right to do so.” In the process we are losing the certainty that there will be a future. The author recommends that the standard statement of the humanist philosophy be modified to reflect an awareness of this. I'm a humanist, and I certainly agree. I have felt that anyone who is a pacifist without also being a vegetarian has not thought his philosophy through far enough; this is a similar caution for humanists.

And Pitts asks why guns are not allowed at the coming Republican National Convention. If it really is true that guns should be allowed in schools, bars, and churches, and that the safest society is an armed society, and the best defense against abuse is an armed prospective victim, why not have them at the most devoted guns enthusiast site? Who would dare to make mischief there? The party has declined to answer. This smells of hypocrisy. Can it be that they want everyone put at risk except themselves? I will be interested to see if an answer ever comes.

I read Offshoots: We Kill Humans, Book 1 of 4, by Brian Clopper. This is an alien invasion novel. The aliens don't risk their own hides; they send in clouds of vapor that corrupt some people to make them become agents of the enemy, whose sole purpose is to kill other people. Their bodies become brutally effective in this, with retractable spikes, or monstrous strength, the ability to fly, or other deadly qualities. Soon most people are dead, but a stubborn core fights on. A few become Offshoots, who are partially changed physically but remain mentally human. Heath and Maggie are two offshoots, struggling to save themselves and others, not really trusted by regular humans because they look like corrupted killers. They make contact with humans and work to help them—only to be caught at the end by the aliens, who want to know why they didn't change completely. How are they going to get out of this? It's a tense, sometimes violent story, with more to come. Brianclopper.com.

There was a palmetto growing too close to the house; my wife was concerned that it would mess up our foundation, water pipes, or whatever. So, reluctantly, I chopped it out; I don't like killing plants that are just trying to make their living. I couldn't dig out the roots, so sawed it down to ground level, feeling guilty. But in a couple weeks it was starting to grow back. I really don't like killing plants that fight that hard to live. I have an onion growing in a pot because I didn't want to slaughter it once it sprouted. So I let the palsmetto be for now. Meanwhile we got interested in our palmettos. They grow like weeds all over our tree farm, their trunks often growing along the ground, sometimes growing upright, sometimes unable to make up their minds. Those are the saw palmettos. Another kind is the sabal palmetto, otherwise known as the cabbage palm, that I think of wickerwork basket trees because their stems crisscross their trunks like wickerwork. They grow into handsome trees. In fact, this is the state tree of Florida. We had one that I knew of on our 90 acres. More recently I realized that one was growing near our gate; I saw the wickerwork pattern. So then we had two. Then my wife spied one farther along our drive. Three. We got serious about the search, and I found another beside the gate, and verified two more along the drive, thanks to an identifying mark my wife figured out, in the way the frond fans attach to their stems. Then one within sight of the house. Total of seven. The thing is, it's hard to tell when they're too small to have a trunk. But now that we've figured out an identifier that works regardless of size, we're finding more. This morning, Column Editing day, I got a dangerous notion: I checked the severed fronds of the one that had been beside the house. Yes, it's a sabal. That does it; I'm going to leave it alone and let it grow back. It has earned its place; with luck it will appreciate my gesture enough to leave our foundation alone. If it forgives me for chopping it down. I'm uneasy about that. Would you forgive someone for that?

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