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

This is a shorter column than usual, because I was busy writing a novella. I will surely be back to my normal verbosity next month.

I read Special Deliverance by Clifford D Simak, the author of City that I reviewed before. This one was published in 1982. Edward Lansing, a professor, has a humdrum life. Then he discovers a special slot machine that puts him into a forest. He follows a path to an inn, where two men, a robot, and a woman are awaiting him. Then one more arrives: Mary Owen. As far as I can tell, there is no physical description of her, but in due course Edward falls in love with her. This is typical of old style science fiction, the kind I don't write. They form a party of six that travels on, trying to discover why they have all been conjured here from different worlds. They come to a huge cube fifty feet on a side with no apparent access, and an ancient defunct but dangerous city, and a monstrous deadly wall, and a tall spire. One by one they are lost, until only Edward and Mary remain, and they get separated and have an awful time finding each other again. It seems that there is no return to their home worlds; they encounter others who have given up the chase. This novel is slow moving yet I found it compelling. It turns out that this is a kind of test to qualify superior people to make a new, better, Earth society. I would not call it a great novel, and there are both stylistic and scanning errors that a proofreader would have caught, but it is worth reading.

I read As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M Doweyko. I reviewed the author's novel Algorithm here in 2014. The present one has constant action and many characters; I read it in ten page fragments and can't be sure I followed everything. The gist is that there are warring “angels” who may have planted mankind here on Earth not long ago, leaving an archaeological trail so they would think they evolved on Earth. The main character is Apple, short for a more complicated name, human. He has one prosthetic leg, from his service in the Vietnam war. Now he gets along as well as he can. He is accosted by two toughs in the street when he tries to help a stranger, fights back, but gets knocked out. He wakes in the hospital, a hero who saved an old man; someone took out the two toughs. It turns out that the lovely angel Angela interceded on his behalf; she likes him. Thus he gets involved in the war of angels, who are tough folk with special powers, not at all delicate. He hardly knows what's going on but is eager to be with Angela, though the chances are that she will lose and humanity will be destroyed. There are folk from Tibet, including a snow man, also trying to save mankind. The war teeters back and forth until finally Angela wins after seeming to lose, and all is well, for now. Apple is happy to be with her at last. So it's a kind of violent romance.

I wrote Hair Suite, 36,000 words, the sequel to Hair Power, published by DREAMING BIG PUBLICATIONS and now available. In the original novella Quiti, a young woman dying of brain cancer, does a favor for an alien hairball, and is repaid with a new head of hair to replace what her treatment took. As it grows it gives her marvelous powers, such as genius intelligence, telepathy, and the ability to fly. It also becomes her clothing, as it is like a cloak that can appear as any outfit she chooses. In the end she and her friends become envoys for the aliens, setting up an embassy, the Hair Suite. The sequel picks up as another alien sphere using human hosts contacts her. The aliens are the Chips, friendly rivals to the Hairs, who enter human ears like hearing aids but deliver far more than sound. They, too, cure otherwise fatal maladies, such as AIDS, and have some powers the Hairs lack, such a clairvoyance. But the rivalry is cut short when they learn that Earth is threatened by the Pod, a space vessel containing predatory plants that will make Earth their garden, consuming all other life. So the Hairs and Chips join forces, because neither is going to get much benefit if the Pod reaches Earth. The Chips can reach other galactic cultures via mini wormholes, and they discover the WormWeb, sort of like an animate internet on a galactic scale. They get into a wild fantasy parody, where Quiti is a princess taking on a sorceress, showing her how to impress a man romantically rather than turning him into a toad—until the sorceress starts impressing Quiti's husband Roque. Hmm. If you like wild romps, keep this one in mind, when.

Our home life for the month was less fun. My front scooter tire blew out, so I patched it, only to have the rear tire go flat. So I patched that, twice, and discovered that a nut that holds the rear wheel on was missing. So I bought a new nut, and thought I had the scooter operative again. No such luck; the new nuts didn't fit. So this time we'll take who whole wheel in, so they can find a nut that does fit. Flat tires and lost nuts are a pain. Meanwhile we accidentally ran over one of our gopher tortoises, killing it. That little grave hardly had time to settle before we ran over another. I am a vegetarian because I don't like hurting animals; we regard our little tree farm as a kind of sanctuary. It's ironic that I wind up killing some. Had we known, thirty seconds before it happened, or even fifteen...sigh.

Last column I mentioned starting to read a big book titled Age of Atheists, and it has fabulous insights, but then life and work caught up with me and I had to set it aside at page 50. Maybe some day I'll return to it, as it is surely worthwhile. About atheism: I never had an imaginary friend, but just realized that today most American adults do. They call him Jesus.

Clippings: according to SCIENCE NEWS, evidence has turned up that the ancestors of mankind mastered fire as early as a million years ago. That makes sense to me, because we have clearly evolved with fire for some time. Our jaw retreated and our gut diminished because we discovered how to make food more digestible, and of course a flaming torch could back off any animal. We owe our ascendance in significant part to fire. More people are getting older; NEW SCIENTIST says that more than half the babies born in wealthier countries since the year 2000 may reach the age of 100, becoming centenarians. Maybe, but I'm betting against it, because obesity, drugs, and careless living will curb lives before they get close. If they should succeed, the food will run out. We already have too many people on the planet, and this will hasten the exhaustion of the necessary life supports. Classic Peanuts coming strip has Snoopy Dog taking eleven panels to type “It was a dark and stormy night.” Good writing is hard work, he thinks. Well, Duh! Teenage pregnancies are at a record low, because of contraception, but the question is what else does the Pill do to those young bodies? No study has been made, and it should be. What is the age of Creativity? Writers and composers do their best work in their 40s, and composers close to it. Where does that leave me, in my 80s? Sigh. In Florida the Second Amendment trumps the First Amendment. Column by John Romano points out that even discussing gun violence can get you into legal trouble. “Are Floridians so in love with the Second Amendment that we're willing to abuse the First Amendment?” I think it is evident to anyone who is not a gun nut that this is crazy. Without freedom of speech this wouldn't be America. The gun nuts do need to be curbed, as it seems they don't believe in free speech any more than a dictator does. Maybe they truly believe that freedom comes out of the mouth of a gun, and they want to shoot anyone who argues.

Column by David Brooks says that Western society is built on the assumption that people are fundamentally selfish, but in real life the push of selfishness is matched by the pull of empathy and altruism. I certainly hope so! I have believed for some time that empathy is fundamental to the human condition, distinguishing us from animals. In the early days it helped us with hunting; we could feel how the prey was likely to react, and counter it. Now it helps us understand the views of other people, and support them. In my profession of writing I see publishers as essentially soulless corporations out for money rather than art, whatever they may claim, and I have done my best to support other writers achieve their dreams, knowing the lure of a dream. I am empathic (no that's not misspelled) without being foolish, I trust.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST about Dark Matter and Dark Energy, by Anil Ananthaswarmy. Scientists have been searching diligently for both, and found not a shred of either. I suspect that is because they don't exist. Ah, but how then to explain the way galaxies hang together instead of flying apart, and why the universe is mysteriously expanding when it should be slowing or contracting? Well, they may be illusions created by the machinery of our cosmological model. It relates to the way matter curves the universe. It gets a bit technical, so let me give you my simplified analogy. When you look at a map of the world, Greenland may look bigger than Australia, when you know it's not. So why don't they show it accurately? Because they can't. The world is a sphere, and a sphere does not map perfectly on a flat surface; the edges get distorted. If you made Greenland the center of your flat map, then Australia would look huge. When you look at a globe you can see the contours of land and sea more accurately. Well, if you could look at the universe from outside—yes, this is impossible, but please suspend your disbelief a moment--then you might see it as it is, as a sort of multidimensional globe. A globular tesseract, maybe. But we have to look at it from inside, posted on a flat parchment as it were, and so it is distorted. The seeming expansion is illusory, as is the seeming extra matter. That's why we can't find them: they don't exist. In time scientists may correct their perspective and cease searching for ghosts and dragons.

Item in our most local newspaper, CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE, listing old rules for teachers. For example in 1915 #1. “You will not marry during the term of your contract.” #2. “Female teachers are not to keep company with men.” And so on. Teachers had to be home at night, not loiter in ice cream stores, not travel beyond city limits without the permission of the chairman of the board. Women could not smoke, dress in bright colors, or dye their hair. And #11. “Your dress must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.” Not a word about competence in the subject matter. Are these the good old days that conservatives long for, when men were men and women knew their place? Sigh. Things certainly have changed in the past hundred and fifty years. I prefer the present day, despite its manifest faults.

I was talking with a lawyer in connection with a writer who has been seriously abused in a legal issue, and I mentioned that I am jingoistic about this sort of thing, that is loudly aggressive. Later, pondering, I realized that in this respect I'm like Donald Trump. I am not supporting him politically, but I may understand him in this limited manner. The sense of the word derives from circa 1878 when there was a question whether Britain should support Turkey in opposing a Russian advance. “We don't want to fight, but by jingo, if we do,/ We've got the ships, we've got the men,/ We've got the money too.” It became a popular song of the time. I think this could be a motto of the Trump campaign, maybe if someone calls it to his attention. I have a mental picture of a pacifist with a machine gun. Nobody in range will call him a hypocrite, by jingo.

Newspaper review of the book Spain in Our Hearts: Americans and the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. This is of interest to me because I was there, albeit only five years old. My father was doing Quaker relief work in Spain, feeding the hungry children left by the fighting; when the war ended with General Franco's victory over the democratically elected government, my sister and I joined our parents there, until we were kicked out by the dictator and came to America in 1940. I suspect the hungry children suffered thereafter. The thing about that war is that the Nazis and Fascists used it as a proving ground for their weapons. Then, having worked out the kinks, they dived into World War Two. Both sides in Spain committed atrocities like mass murder and rape as weapons of war; I see that one of the punishable offenses in their view was vegetarianism. Ouch! It was an ugly scene, and a warner to whono would be warned, evidently not the allies, who had to learn the hard way.

My 31,100 word novella Pira will be published in AwGhost by eXcessica. It's a science fiction love story. This is the one about the girl who can kill at up to a hundred feet with the power of her laser-focusing hands. She's 15 but looks more like 11, and must have an adult guardian as she goes about her business, which is tackling dangerous hostage takers and other criminals. She has a permanent crush on Orion, her guardian, a black belt in judo, and is desperate to win him, but he is not about to touch a child. They get into the thoughtful poems of William Butler Yeats as their relationship develops, and do a remarkable dance together. This is perhaps my favorite of my recent novellas, though I do like them all in different ways.

More anon when.

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