|Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.|
I read Earth Maid: The Thread is Found, by Taborri Walker. This is a massive fantasy adventure, the first of a series of nine. The days when women could not write gritty hard-hitting fiction are long gone; this one is brutally anatomical in places and does not shy away from either sex or guts. Readers who are offended by ugly detail are warned away; it's not fooling. Landa is a young woman who thinks she is faking psychic talent, but she's not; in fact she has real magical ability. She learns she is the Thread, a connection between the five Planes of existence, one of which is occupied by the world we know. An imprisoned Demon has plotted for centuries to escape and wreak havoc, and now is the time. It falls to Landa to stop him; she's the only one on this Plane who can. Normally it takes years or decades to learn to master psychic powers; she will have mere weeks. The alternative is to let the human realm become a fairly literal Hell as the Demon escapes and takes over; he is not a nice creature. So the folk of other Planes set out to train her, and that's not easy in significant part because of her attitude: she was badly molested as a child and is scatologically defensive, using words like clusterf--k. Her suppressed memories also mess her up as they surface. Part of one example: when she was eleven an older foster brother tied her up, stripped her naked, invited several friends in, and they used a speculum to pry her vagina open to max so they could fist her and put in a rock, between bouts of raping. They finished by urinating on her in her bed so she got the blame for pissing it, and got whipped for that. Why didn't she tell? The usual: because she wouldn't be believed, and the boys would beat her up worse in retaliation. This sort of thing does happen, physically and emotionally injurious; I have heard from girls for decades. As I put it, some of these little girls have big girl problems, I hope not as extreme as this fictive example. Why didn't I try to do something about it? In one case I put in a discreet query to the school authorities, and the first thing they did was tell the parents, who of course denied it, and she got in worse trouble, and I got in trouble with her for violating her confidence. It was a hard lesson for me; the system can be rigged. I never did that again. Such a mistake could he lethal when dealing with a suicidally depressive girl, or sometimes boy. The novel is similarly detailed in violence; guts really do get pulled out. Yet it is also a romance, as this violently reactive woman slowly comes to trust and love a good man. So if you want to read a story that does not expurgate the ugly parts or the sex, and does have considerable magic and a solid larger framework, I recommend this, with due caution. It's not garden variety fantasy.
I watched Doctor Who, the Complete Eighth Series. This is the twelfth actor to play the Doctor, who theoretically has been around for thousands of years in different forms, associating with different leading ladies, always with wild adventures admixed with humor. It starts well: a dinosaur appears in modern England. It coughs out the Tardis—the telephone booth like time traveling machine that is vastly larger inside than outside. This time the leading lady Clara is actress Jenna Coleman, carried over from the prior season, and she is one infernally cute girl, possibly the prettiest yet. In “Deep Breath” they go to a restaurant only to discover that it is an ancient spaceship staffed by robots, and that the two of them are the menu for living parts to convert robots to cyborgs. It gets hairy, but their friends come to the rescue and mayhem ensues. The lead droid's hollow head has gears that rotate when he thinks. The robots don't breathe, so can be fooled when the living folk hold their breaths. To a degree. In “Into the Dalek” the Doctor rescues a woman and returns her to her space battleship, but their mission is secret so they have to kill him—unless he cures a patient they have. This is a Dalek, sort of evil machine creature who his been damaged so that it is now dedicated to doing good. Obviously they must help it. So they are miniaturized so they can enter it for microsurgery. Naturally their clothing and weapons shrink with them and their motions are exactly as usual; don't expect the writers of these stories to understand basic physics. Dalek antibodies come for them; these are flying black spheres. They fix it, whereupon it reverts to true Dalek nature and starts exterminating everything around it. But they manage to reset it with restored memories so that it has a wider perspective and returns to the side of good. “Robot of Sherwood” has them visit Robin Hood, where Clara wears a bright red dress, becoming the lovely woman she is. The evil Sheriff of Nottingham and his crew turn out to be a robots. Robin, Doctor Who, and Clara get arrested; the two men manage to escape while the Sheriff is distracted by pretty Clara. It turns out to be a crashed alien spaceship using the legend to collect gold for repairs. Naturally mayhem ensues, and the good guys finally prevail. Robin and the Doctor both agree they are legends. “Listen” wherein Clara crawls under a bed to show a boy there's nothing there. Then something sits on the bed, covered by the bedspread. It seems there are things that specialize in hiding, maybe dangerous things. The Doctor is determined to see one. Oh-oh. It also complicating Clara's dating life. She's not the doctor's girlfriend, and has a boyfriend who is another teacher, who gets as frustrated with her as the Doctor does. It seems that men just don't understand spirited women. But Clara concludes that fear can make companions of us all. It's an interesting take on the subject. “Time Heist” has the Doctor answer the phone on the Tardis—and suddenly he and Clara and two others are on a planet that is a bank—the greatest bank in the galaxy, where owners of things like stellar systems park their money. The other two are a bank robber and a woman who can touch a person and emulate him/her perfectly. A recording is played of each of them saying that they have agreed to this memory wipe of their own free will. The bank checks suspects telepathically, and wipes them out, then notifies and destroys the next of kin. It ain't bean bags. The Doctor and Clara are involved, but their wiped thoughts hide them from the telepathic check. Dangerous work, however. “The Caretaker” finds the two of them chained on a desert planet but also at a school in east London where she teaches. The Doctor shows up as the caretaker. Something is going on. He has a watch that can make him invisible. A dangerous alien robot shows up, capable of destroying the planet. Which complicated her romantic life again. But they do manage to save the world. I'm not clear what it was with the desert planet; maybe that was just a humorous interlude. “Kill the Moon” the moon turns out to be a giant egg, and now in the year 2049 it is finally hatching. Its bacteria are like giant metal spiders. So do they kill it? Earth votes yes, but the Doctor vetoes that. The hatchling emerges and flies away as a dragon, but lays a new egg to replace the moon. But Clara is not pleased with the way the Doctor handled it, and tells him to go away and not come back. “Mummy on the Orient Express” This one is a train traveling through space and Clara is garbed like a 1920s flapper only with more breast showing. Whoever sees the dread mummy called the Foretold will die in 66 seconds. The space train is stocked with experts in many fields whose job is to figure out the Foretold before it kills them. The Doctor faces down the Foretold, and it disintegrates. Then the train disintegrates, but the Doctor and Clara survive. “Flatline” finds the Tardis about half sized, then about a foot high. Something is leaching away its exterior dimensions. The interior remains full size, but they can't get in or out of it. The Doctor is in, Clara is out. People are disappearing, being walled by floors and walls, reappearing as figures in a mural. Then zombie-like monsters chase them, and they barely escape getting run over by a subway train. Finally they trick the zombies into using their fire to blast the Tardis, recharging it so it can return to full size and operation. “In the Forests of the Night” Are they in the middle of London, or a forest? Both, it seems. A phenomenal forest grew up overnight, populated by wolves and a tiger. It's beautiful. A little girl, Maebh, is involved; she sees and hears things others don't, and may have made the forest to save the world from a horrendous solar flare. I also watched the supplementary feature about Companions, which they say are very important to complement the Doctor, and I agree. Clara is fully equivalent to the Doctor for viewer interest, and not just because of her appearance; her quirkiness matches his, making for nice dynamics and humor. Sometimes she even has to carry the story in lieu of the Doctor. “Dark Water”--Clara tells her boyfriend Danny she loves him—just before he is killed by a car. Clara tells the Doctor to change time to save Danny. He refuses. She insists. Finally they take the Tardis to Hell, literally, or the Nethersphere, to fetch Danny back. They connect via phone, and she wants him to say something that only he could say, to prove it really is him. All he can say is “I love you.” That's not sufficient, as anyone could say it, and she hangs up, ironically. Meanwhile an angry former companion is getting back at the Doctor by rousing the dead, who become marching robots. “Death in Heaven” picks up there, with the robots or cybermen facing off against conventional forces. A black cloud rains acid rain that starts dissolving things. The world will be dead within a day. Clara tries to bluff them out, but winds up in a cemetery, alive. She sees the cybermen rousing from the graves. The Doctor faces off against the former companion. And Danny, revived as a cyberman, saves the world. This is one wacky series, but quite a bit of fun, with a lot of action and emotion. Close analysis would fragment it into utter nonsense, but as an exercise in sheer imagination it may be unrivaled. I also watched some of the supplementary features, such as the tour of the Tardis and “The Ultimate Companion” about the girls who accompany the Doctor, ending (so far) with Clara, my favorite.
I watched the Discover video Jurassic Fight Club: Raptor vs. T-Rex. Not fighting each other, but compared to eachother. The raptors weighed maybe a hundred pounds, had sharp but not great teeth, 40 mph speed, and single clawed feet that were their most effective weapon. They hunted in packs, going after duckbills ten times their size, the Edmontisaurs. Only sometimes to have T-Rex come to take over the meat. T-Rex could feel the vibrations of the battle in the pads of its feet, so could orient on the action. It drives off the raptors and feasts. They must be content with scraps. And Armageddon, covering a more general history of the dinosaurs and their extinction. Discovery of the hundred and eleven mile diameter crater left by the impact of a six mile wide meteor. Iridium was the key, distributed around the world in a thin layer, with shocked quartz, formerly found only at nuclear sites. It traveled at twice the speed of sound, and the blast vaporized millions of tons of rock. It made waves in the sea over three miles high. The heat melted much of the surface and generated acid that came down in a deadly rain. A triple whammy. No wonder the dinosaurs expired!
I am told that David Hartwell died. I first encountered him as a fanzine reviewer who took off on my juvenile novel Race Against Time, fundamentally misunderstanding its theme to imply it was racist, when it was the opposite. I learned later from another writer that he had a thing about race, I'm not sure what kind, so maybe he read into my novel something that wasn't there. I responded in a fanzine (amateur magazine, today largely replaced by websites such as this one of mine) saying that he should have seen real racism such I have seen in the south, such as hooded Ku Klux Klan openly present at public demonstrations; racism remains a not always subtle force in Southern politics. I am one whose best friend in my darkest hour of childhood was a black boy who pretty much rescued me, and I absolutely detest racism. Then Hartwell anbecame editor, and blacklisted me at three publishers. Two things about that: he had transferred an amateur quarrel, regardless of its merits, to the professional scene, an error other editors have been careful to avoid; and he made the tactical mistake of doing it to a future bestselling author. I didn't blacklist him; I submitted my material to its likely markets regardless of my opinion of their editors, and when I was told that my big novel Tarot (later published in three parts) was the kind of thing Hartwell had success with I sent it there, only to be told that I evidently wasn't getting the message. He even wrote off a novel that one publisher had acquired and paid for before he arrived on the scene; his interest in getting back at me for my temerity of talking back to his review transcended the welfare of his publisher. Free speech? Not for anyone who differed from him. When he got editorial control of the publisher where my collaborative Jason Striker series with Roberto Fuentes was being published he cut that off too, though the prior editor had said it was successful and they wanted more. That left us with half a novel that we were writing at the time. It was no longer a matter of rejecting my new material, but of savaging existing projects. Roberto, a former judo champion of Cuba with an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts, left New Jersey and moved to Florida, where he became a highly successful salesman, got hooked on cocaine, and spent years in prison, where I sent him copies of our books to show the other prisoners. I can't say that would not have happened had our series continued, but I do hold it against Hartwell for his ugly campaign that was heedless of the costs to others. He had a right to edit as he chose, but to the extent that he was governed by spite instead of literary judgment, he damaged the process and ultimately his own career. Were there others he blacklisted similarly? I don't know, but it seems likely. I remarked in fanzine print that it seemed that Hartwell would blacklist me as long as he had the power to do so. In my mind I saw an analogy to the Israel war of 1967, where all the surrounding Islamic nations massed to invade and obliterate Israel, the one democratic nation in their midst, just as publishers were blacklisting me for protesting getting cheated by one. Jordan had gotten along relatively well with Israel, and could have remained at peace; instead it elected to join the feeding frenzy and go to war. Then a funny thing happened: Israel in a blitz defeated all the Islamic nations, and Jordan lost the West Bank. Well, Hartwell was Jordan in my mind, and when the blacklisters were out of business and I became a bestseller he lost his position because, in the published report, despite a highly successful literary career as editor he had been unable to develop commercial bestsellers like Piers Anthony. What delicious irony! Later he tried to make up with me, but I cut him off cold; I had gotten the message. Only when he lost power did he want to forgive and forget. His career was in ruins, and I think he brought it on himself, just as Jordan did. He remains in good favor with the critics and commentators of the field, just as I remain in bad favor with them, but this was our personal reality that you are unlikely to read about elsewhere. You can see why I don't hold critics and such in high regard; they can have ethical tunnel vision. And yes, the Islamic nations are still determined to obliterate Israel, and still unlikely to succeed.
Having said all that, I am moved to consider a curious aspect. Dialogues in fanzines of yore could get quite heated, with established writers cussing out other established writers, but they did not let it interfere with business. Ted White accused me of covering myself in shit with my story “In the Barn,” and at one point I wrote that erroneous statements issued from him like bad smells. But when I saw the blacklist coming I asked his private advice, as he had angered many folk and knew what the heat was like, and he answered courteously with a reassuring answer, the essence of which was that they couldn't make the blacklist tight, so I could survive it. He was right on target; I found a publisher that didn't honor it, and survived. When he became editor of FANTASTIC STORIES magazine he wrote me personally and asked to see my novel Hasan, and I showed it to him, and he published it. Neither of us let fanzine quarrels mess up business. So why did David Hartwell do exactly that, when he surely knew better? There had to be a reason that overrode his common sense. I think it ties in with racism, a phenomenon that defies common sense. Race Against Time is about a project where the human species has interbred and merged into a single raceless population. A special project has generated six throwback people, all teens: two white, two black, two yellow. Their outstanding cultures have been recreated, and they will become examples of the now extinct races of man, set in their special times and places and cultures, like a special zoo showing what used to be. But then they manage to meet, and the white boy gets a thing for the black girl. But if they marry, they'll ruin the project, as their children will be crossbreeds, not authentic races, disappearing into the existing amalgam. In the end they decide they shouldn't do that, and do match up with their own, albeit with heartache. Race in this case must be preserved, like purebred specimens of anything; you don't want your classic puppies to become mongrelized, though mongrels can be fine pets in their own right. It was their decision of conscience. But Hartwell's review suggested it was racist because black and white didn't marry despite their affinity for each other. By that reasoning, all of us who did not marry outside our race could be tainted as racists. He had it backwards, as he should have seen. Why? Pondering this, I remembered other examples of over-reaction. One of my collaborators told of trying to use safety regulations to shut down a local nuclear plant. I said that was abusive; safety regulations should be used to make things safe, not to destroy them. She was unable to refute that, but she never forgave me, and our relationship bordered on hostile thereafter. I realized that she had to be that way, because the alternative was to admit a fundamental error, and she was unable to do that. There was another case, where a woman told of her alien abduction. I pointed out that what she described could be an imperfectly suppressed memory of childhood sexual molestation. I never heard from her again. I have seen the phenomenon elsewhere. Yes, in critics too. It makes me wonder. I had gotten along will with Terry Carr, editor at Ace Books, and he had published material of mine. But when he saw Macroscope, a major novel featuring a black protagonist, he rejected it violently for many other reasons, race not mentioned. No one else saw that novel that way, and another editor at Ace more or less apologized to me for that ugly reaction, implying that had he seen the novel then he would have accepted it. I don't really think the color of the protagonist was the problem, but now I do wonder whether it could have contributed. There is also a black protagonist in Tarot, and Hartwell's instant and irritated rejection of it, and his implacable hostility to me based on a racial question, makes me wonder. I had evidently touched a nerve. Maybe he just couldn't stand to have anyone talk back to him for any reason, especially if he was wrong. I'll probably never know. I try to understand things, especially human motivations, being passionately motivated on many fronts myself. When it comes to grudges I know of none who hold them more firmly than I do, and that's a danger, as these cases show. A person needs to navigate his own hangups as well as those of others. I try to be sure that mine are valid, such as being against liars, cheaters, blacklisters, and other malingerers, rather than against anyone for speaking truth as he sees it. I also don't discriminate against anyone for eating meat, though it personally appalls me, except that no, I wouldn't marry a woman who did it. Others have have the right to exist in their own fashions, apart from me, and their purely personal ways are not my business. That attitude does seem make me unpopular in certain quarters. But as the humorous saying goes, I am firm, you are stubborn, he's pig-headed. (I also like the female one: I am beautiful, you are pretty, she's all right if you like that type.) So is there a moral here? I can't be sure.
I have been almost six months on a soft diet, because four days after my 81st birthday I had all my remaining natural teeth pulled and replaced by implants. That is, they put in inorganic roots that will never decay, so my days of tooth mischief should finally be over. I will not actually get new teeth; it will be a denture. Huh? you ask; which is it? It's that the implants will have what I think are called placers, knobs at the gum line, where the denture will snap securely on, and those will take the brunt of the shock of chewing, just as regular teeth do. So I will in effect take my teeth out at night, making them easy to clean; no brushing, flossing or whatever in my mouth. Actually I'm not a fan of flossing, which annoys my dentist; I ascertained over the decades that it is not as effective as believed, and can indeed cause mischief, as with a woman who got a blood disease from it. That's a whole 'nother discussion for another time. My interest has always been what works, regardless of the mythologies of professionals, and nothing worked on my natural teeth. So they're gone, and I have been using a denture only as a facade, to make the appearance of teeth when I smile, which I take out when I eat my mush and gruel. But now my implants have been revealed, that is uncovered for action—I hope that's the last time I get the awful Novocaine needle in the roof of my mouth—and I can start chewing with the temporary denture while waiting for the permanent one. It's not really comfortable yet, but the permanent one will be. The light at the end of the tunnel is brightening. I expect these dentures and implants to last the rest of my life. At my age that's not unrealistic.
Item in the newspaper titled “Perils of Overconfidence” discusses among other things General MacArthur, who was told not to cross the 38th parallel in pursuit of the enemy, but did so anyway. That brought China into the fray, and that pushed the Americans back. I understand that MacArthur wanted to nuke the Chinese troops; the man had no sensible limits, and got canned. So the Chinese more or less won that one, but suffered such high loss of men that it pretty much lost its taste for fighting Americans in the field.
The Florida House of Representatives is considering a bill to replace the mockingbird with the Florida scrub jay as the official state bird. Now the feathers are flying. What about the sand hill crane, a columnist asks; now there's a magnificent bird. I agree; sand hill cranes fly daily over our tree farm and nest adjacent to it. Over the past year we watched a pair raise a chick, who grew up and evidently found a mate and is gone, the original pair remaining. You can tell when a sand hill crane is near, because it sounds off while flying with a call that sounds like winding a corroded grandfather clock. They are car savvy and neither spook nor get in the way when you drive by; they just stay nearby, keeping an eye on you as they forage for bugs. They are good neighbors.
One project in saving the world before we utterly ruin it is to stop eating dead cows. Vegetarianism is much kinder to the environment. So they are making vegan fake meats. Unfortunately the taste isn't quite right yet. A panel called the taste noxious, as if the meat were spoiled. Ah, well. I myself have no hankering for the taste of meat; I'm all for new flavors unlike any tasted before. Bug-Eyed-Monster steak, anyone? Except that my sympathy would be with the BEMs.
They may be in the process of discovering a new planet in the solar system, maybe ten time the mass of Earth and way far out beyond Pluto. They are calling it Planet Nine or Planet X. Interesting; back in my day it was called Nemesis, a brown dwarf; I even named a Xanth character after it. Well, I'm all for the discovery, when it comes.
One big problem in politics is money: politicians do what their big contributors tell them, instead of what the folk who elect them tell them. I understand that members of Congress spend more time raising money than they do conducting public business. This is a disgrace. David Jolly of Florida has proposed the Stop Act, which would make it illegal for members of the US House or Senate to personally solicit campaign donations. I'm all for it, though I suspect money would still infiltrate through cracks in the framework. Naturally the chances of the bill passing are nil; politicians are hopelessly addicted to money, and the special interests mean to keep it that way, a virtual plutocracy.
Column by Nicholas Kristof says that the Republicans running for president are on the wrong side of history in the matter of guns. (I would argue that they're wrong in most other matters, too.) Even Republican voters overwhelmingly favor sensible steps like universal background checks, but the candidates seem to owe their allegiance to the National Rifle Association, which wants ever-more guns in circulation with ever-fewer restrictions, and never mind the resulting carnage. The states with the most restrictive gun laws have the lowest gun death rates, and the ones with the most permissive gun regulations have the highest, about five times as high and the restrictive ones. Columnist Ann Brown, former chairman of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, points out that we regulate the lead in household paint, so why not regulate the lead in another product: bullets? That is, ammunition? The nuts could buy all the guns they wanted, but would have to be careful about shooting them carelessly. There's no Second Amendment issue here. I find this notion intriguing. I also favor applying the Second Amendment: anyone who wants a gun must join a sanctioned militia and report regularly for training. What, you haven't heard of that part of the Amendment? Read it and see.
Scientists are saying that the world is entering a new epoch, the Anthropocene, or human one. We are having an equivalent impact on the globe. I agree; in fact we are destroying it. Regardless, I find the name intriguing, at least the first four letters. Can't think why. Anthony-pocene?
I had thought to start writing my next Xanth novel, Fire Sail, about a remarkable boat with a very special sail, at the turn of the year, but books and DVDs were so backed up that I postponed it a month. As most of this column shows, I did watch half a passel of films and read several books. I also got some dentistry endured. But more movies and books remain. Regardless, I will start writing the novel in FeBlueberry; I have thousands of words of notes. I had worked out the beginning and ending; all I needed was about 90,000 words in the center. In Jamboree I worked out the subjects for that center. For those curious, the main characters will be new, a young man and a grandmother charged with delivering the craft to its new proprietor, but important additional characters will be three of the children Astrid Basilisk rescued in Five Portraits, the obnoxious bird of Pet Peeve, the mechanical dogfish of not yet published Ghost Writer in the Sky, and last but not necessarily least, Jenny Elf, now queen of the werewolves, who needs to find a suitable princess for her grown son. Then things go wrong. Harpy reading, when.
And the book I am currently reading is Dragons, Droids & Doom, containing the fist year of the stories in FANTASY SCROLL MAGAZINE. It's a big book so it will take me time, but I hope to review it next column. I got a copy because I have a story in it, “Descant.” I like to know the company I keep. My next HiPiers column should be shorter than this one, because I'll be writing instead of watching and reading. And I'll be chewing up a storm, I hope.
The protracted contract dispute has finally been worked out, and Open Road will publish Xanth #40 Isis Orb in the fall, and others in due course. I have been writing all along, and now with the logjam cleared they should be appearing fairly rapidly.
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