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

I read Be Careful What You Wish For, by Lynne North. This is a young folk's novel featuring the young leprechaun Finn, who wishes for some great adventure instead of the rather dull and error-prone life he leads. Then he gets it, but not the way he wants: he gets kidnapped by a mean carnival freak show human man and put on display in a cage next to a two headed dog. Now he wishes for his old dull life back. He befriends the dog, who can talk, only the carnival folk hear it as growling, and they manage to escape with the help of the kindly tattooed man and are on their way home—if only he knew where that is. Along the way they encounter other magic creatures, such as an old merrow, that is, mermaid, who has her own problems. Eventually of course they do make it to Finn's home and all is well, for now. This story lacks the violence and sex of an adult novel, so adults may find it slow, but a child should identify with the child-sized leprechaun and appreciate the kind-hearted incidental characters.

I read Dragon Blade by Jordan Zlotolow. This is high fantasy adventure with a basic Good vs. Evil theme and a lot of action. It is self published by Xlibris, a company I had a long history with as an investor before moving on. The good thing is that now, thanks in part to that, anyone can get published. The bad thing is that such publications don't get much distribution, promotion, or copy-editing. This one is rife with errors a copy-editor would have eliminated. But of course that gets expensive, and an early author can't afford it. So the thing to do is tune out the distractions and go with the story. It does have a story. Jim, a contemporary office worker, gets interested in attractive co-worker Summer. He is tall and handsome, she is lovely, and nature is taking its course when they are stalked by a deadly supernatural enemy. An old friend rescues them by taking them into the alternate realm. It turns out that Jim is actually Jalen, a hero who was taking a break by suppressing his memory and becoming ordinary on an alternate world. But now the forces of evil are attacking and he is needed back. Summer insists on helping, though she is hardly qualified. Unfortunately the lord of evil sends a dark ghostly minion to take over her nice body and make her his cohort. Determined to save her, Jalen slays a dragon and advances on the evil castle, battling much resistance, and it continues from there. Fantasy action adventure fans should like this one. I was intrigued by its incidental explanation for magic: it was part of the original Big Bang, but much of it got encapsulated elsewhere, so we don't see much of it today. Makes sense to me. Evil has not been completely defeated, but will not reappear in strength for another generation, so they are safe for now.

Once I began to catch up on two writing projects and piled up reading, I started catching up on backlogged videos. I watched Mr. Holmes, a movie about Sherlock Holmes in his old age, as he slowly loses his memory. This is very frustrating for him, and he is searching for a cure. He goes to Japan to check out a special kind of prickly elm, but that doesn't work either. His mind remains sharp, but the lack of memory cripples and haunts him. Watson wrote fiction about a largely imaginary Holmes, making him the hero when that wasn't necessarily the case, to his annoyance. This is a curiously intricate human story whose nuances may escape me, but it remains worthwhile; I relate to the horror of slowly losing ones powers as one ages. His housekeeper and her young son are a devious part of his life, as is a colony of bees; the boy becomes a kind of disciple.

I watched Cloud Atlas. This is an odd one. It seems to be six stories widely separated in place and time, ranging from the 19th century to the future, year 2144. It jumps from story to story, sometimes rapidly; you follow them in the manner of the newspaper comic strips, bit by bit, until they start intertwining. The future thread concerns what they call a fabricant, one of a series of identical young woman evidently used as servants, entertainment for men, and ultimately, as substance for new fabricants. One of them, rebels against abuse and is killed by her controlling metal collar, so her friend #451 knows the score: know your lowly place, or else. In fact the whole movie seems to be about oppression and rebellion, and it becomes horrific at times as the separate threads reach their often violent ends. I think I would have to watch it several times to pick up on most of its nuances. Regardless, it's one powerful story, or six stories, with the hint of love, hetero and gay, that transcends death and time. I see resemblances to Snow Piercer, the one about the train endlessly circling a frozen Earth, with the elite in the front cars and the underclass in the rear cars. Both movies seem to be protests against savage class repression, with a Korean background, and this one even has what could be a take on North Korea's comfort girls, essentially sex slaves. But there may be hope for the future. Sometimes confusing, but worth watching. What lingers in my mind is the future sequence, where the obedient fabricants are promised the reward of a kind of heaven, the eXaltation, after a year of loyal service, but in fact are slaughtered. This reminds me of a Bible class in high school, the story of the fisherman, wherein the good fish are saved and the bad fish are thrown away. Then the teacher asked “But what happens to the good fish?” They get eaten, while the bad fish are free to remain alive in the lake. Do you really want to be a good fish? A good fabricant? Is this a message for good Christians, good Muslims, who may suffer all manner of hardships and wrongs in life, but supposedly will be rewarded for their virtue in a mythical afterlife? I think that would be a problem for me if I were religious. I am reminded also of a saying to the effect that the ignorant are religious, the knowledgeable are not, and the rulers find religion useful.

I read The Tail of the Lizard Prince, by R Elowsky, the first of the Chronicles of Ryuem. This is action/adventure science fantasy. Prince Glintongue is sent on a secret mission to subvert the enemy. To conceal his motive, he is imprisoned, severely beaten, and his tail is amputated. The enemy rescues him from this abuse and helps him recover. One of his rescuers is the headstrong teen tailed girl Sweet, a deadly fighter, who does not trust him at all. He wins the confidence of her father and other key personnel, to Sweet's growing annoyance. Finally she attacks him. He parries her and they discover that they are really two of a kind; they will work together in the future. Enmity is becoming romance. The succeeding volumes should clarify this. There is a personal back story: the author is 19, with Asperger's and Disassociation Identity Disorder, who suffered severe trauma as a child. Writing seems to have become his salvation. I know how that is; Asperger's may run in my family, and writing is my own salvation. Three generations of the author's family are fans of mine, so my novels may have helped them tide through. Regardless, this is a solid story that most readers should enjoy.

I read The Worm Returns by J R Rain and Piers Anthony. This is a fun fantasy about Bad Buffalo, the worst outlaw the wild west ever knew, whose despicable career abruptly ends when he encounters Dia, a cute little magical sprite. She begs his help, promising in return to give him a nice poke in due course. That is, old western sex. You have heard of spacial wormholes? Well, the magic of the sprites is being sucked dry by invading worms from those wormholes. But if they can get rid of the worms, the magic will slowly return, enabling Dia to assume human size and substance so she can become pokable. She's a very pretty creature, especially when her strategically placed leaves go astray, and well knows how to captivate this brute horny man. So Bad Buffalo takes on the worms, going into the wormholes and to other planets. They encounter a telepathic bug swarm, a fire breathing dragon, a deadly cockatrice, and a were-mare: half human half horse, and readily changing between them. The touch is light and you should enjoy it. Tentatively scheduled for March 2016 publication.

I watched The Prestige. This is another strange one. Two rival stage magicians compete with each other, to the death, it seems. Finally one is condemned to death for the murder of the other. Yet there are tricks remaining. This is a confusing horror. The pledge, the turn, the prestige—the three parts of every truck. Such as showing a simple object, then making it disappear, then making it reappear. That gets tricky when the object is a living person. I am not at all sure that the movie makes sense in the end.

I watched Beowulf. This is based on perhaps the most famous and earliest English fantasy adventure, and sort of reorganizes the complicated tale. The monster Grendel is ravaging the castle, and Beowulf comes to slay it, but then Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son. In the movie she becomes first a lovely nude woman with a prehensile and whip-like braid that is maybe 15 feet long. She seduces Beowulf in order to beget another son; she's an impressive MILF. Later she becomes a dragon he has to slay. In the original tale there was a dragon, but that was separate. Regardless, it's a rare story with some thoughtfulness embedded.

I read Lesbian Princesses & Friends by C D Overstreet. This is a book-length collection of lesbian jokes, mostly dirty. A lesbian, for those who haven't picked up on it, is a woman who is romantically and sexually oriented on other women; a female homosexual. I suspect that many straights would object to this book, preferring to think that lesbianism does not exist, but I think many lesbians would also object. Why? Because the underlying assumption here is that lesbians are single mindedly obsessed with sex. My understanding is that sex is no more of concern to lesbians than it is to straight women, which is to say not much; it is the social and emotional aspects that interest them. I read statistics, decades ago, to the effect that coupled gay men have sex every day or more often, while lesbians have it maybe once a month. This book may be the male view of it, obsessed with sex the way men are. (Yes, I'm a man, and yes, I am obsessed with sex.) Parts of it degenerate into sloppy dirty jokes, and some jokes I have heard hetero are here presented lesbian. But there are clever ones. Such as these: (first word of each new one in Bold) Man: I must have you for my wife! Eva: Oh really? When may I meet her? (told by Eva Le Gallienne). Princess: When you were in bed with Prince Charming did you ever fake an orgasm? Snow White: Oh...my...god! Yes! Yes! Oh god YES! Harpy: Breast or Thigh? Frog Princess: Want to find out if I really taste like chicken? Medusa: Hey, lady! Stop staring at my breasts! My eyes are up here! King: Were you faking last night? Queen: No, I really was asleep. Cleopatra: Hey, girls, what do you think of my asp? Circe: Men are pigs. (Circe was the sorceress in The Odyssey who changed the sailors into pigs, then made out with Odysseus for twenty years.) And a reference by the goddesses to Venus envy.

I am a vegetarian because I don't like to hurt animals. I am also sensitive to plants, regarding them as people too. I really hate to clip back foliage along our three quarter mile forest drive, not because it's a chore, but because I I have to behead living things that are only seeking light and space to do their things. Some I save, as with the stinging nettle patch I have mentioned before. But house plants have their histories too. Here is one: Back in 1988 we inherited a Christmas Cactus plant from my wife's father. These look like strings of leaves connected end to end, but around Christmas they produce one of the most intricate red flowers in nature. We had in mind putting it out back in a hanging pot, but the string broke, so it sat on the floor while I pondered another place for it. Then, months later, when I was ready to move it, the roots had anchored the collapsing pot to the floor. Okay, if it wanted to stay there that much, I let it. It flourished despite having no soil, apparently gathering what it needed from the dust of the air. Each Christmas season, sure enough, it produced more flowers, until it was over 100 at a time. Then a forest animal came by night and grazed it down to nubs. I put plastic frameworks over it, trying to protect it, but it was hard to do. One year it had no flowers. The next it had maybe two. This year it had a dozen, but they were a month early for Christmas. I tried to conceal my disappointment, but it must have picked up on it, because then it started another dozen or more and they were in full bloom at Christmas. Second try does it. Meanwhile I had picked up a fragment left by the predator and planted it in a covered pot. This is a plant that will regenerate from any piece of it. It grew well, and ran out of room, so I removed the cover—and in just one night it was all eaten down to fragments. Sigh. So I picked up two fragments, and this time planted them in kitchen window planters. They grew well, but we didn't expect them to flower, because the interior light messes up their cycles. But lo! This year we have each of the two indoor plants producing a lovely flower. It seems they were able to tune out the kitchen light and orient on the window light. Glory be!

I don't go into personal things here so much, that is, family matters not directly related to my writing career, partly because family members prefer some privacy and partly because most readers would be bored. But I will mention one gift my wife gave me this year: a pen. It's called the Napkin Forever Pen and it's expensive—I couldn't ask the price because it's a gift—but it is supposed to write forever and never need ink. That's because it uses no ink; it's solid metal. The point marks the paper and that's it. I have to bear down hard, and it's faint, but if it really lasts, it will be great. You see, I do a lot of hand writing. For my stories and novels I type on a Dvorak keyboard variant, and snail mail letters I also type, but most of my mail today is email. My wife downloads it, prints it out, and I pen answers, which she then transcribes back to the computer and sends. I used to use pencils, but the leads kept breaking and running out, so I switched to pens, and a pen lasts about a month, even supposedly long-lasting ones. I get about ten answer-needing emails a day, and my answers range from one sentence notes to over a page, so it adds up. So if this ends my pencil/pen problems, good enough. And no, the email answer you receive isn't faint; my wife's transcription takes care of that. Folk wonder whether the answers they get are personal or faked by my staff. They are personal because I have no staff, just wife and daughter. My daughter posts these HiPiers columns and the publishing survey updates. So every step of my fan contacts are touched by closely related human hands. I suppose that if a sexy young female fan wrote me a seductive letter offering to replace my wife, then the answer might turn out to be too faint to read. Fortunately I have received no such solicitations, as far as I know...

A fan pointed out an error in my last column: I wrote “I had to hue to the cookie-cutter agenda” and that was a mental typo; it should have been “hew to...” I do know the difference but sometimes my hands don't. Hue is a color or shade of color.

And on the ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services: I have been doing it for over 15 years now, as a service to my readers, half of who seem to be aspiring writers, and to the general public. I do it partly because I can, being saliva-drippingly ready to take it to any errant publisher who tries to threaten me for telling the truth; most new writers lack that ability, as I did when I started and got blacklisted for protesting being cheated by a publisher. That has changed. New writers do need help, and writing organizations may or may not help. The Internet is a great assist for writers today, and there are other sites with information, and that's great. But I am on dial up, being too cheap to pay $150 a month or whatever for broadband, and they don't offer cheap broadband in our backwoods area. So when it takes maybe five or ten minutes per site just to look them up to verify that they remain there, and I have a good many sites—the letter A alone has 50—it is no longer feasible to verify them all on a regular basis. I'm old—81—and my wife of 59½ years is infirm, and we are looking to simply rather than complicate our existence, going gently into that good night. Also, I really do like to write, and to watch some movie videos, and to read some good books; most of everything else is chores I have to do to stay functioning, such as eating, sleeping, pooping, grocery shopping, making meals, keeping up with household chores, and answering mail. My modem was out for a few months, thanks to a lightning strike; I now have it back, but find I am disinclined to try to catch up on the backlogged Survey entries. So I will post updates as they are called to my attention, such as about the long slow agonizing fall of the colossus Ellora's Cave, (I call it Ellora's Cave-in) and mostly let the rest be. I hope the Survey continues to be of use to writers, and I will try to simplify it in future months without eliminating defunct entries, as they are a kind of historical record.

I am listed for Twitter and Facebook sites. I don't run them, and seldom if ever go there. I checked, now that I have my modem back, and found that I need to be a Facebook member with a password to get on their sites, and I am not a member and don't have a password, so that's that. Anyone who wants to get halfway close to the real me can find me here at HiPiers.

I clip out newspaper and magazine items in the course of a month that I might want to comment on. This time there are a number on guns (I am wary; there are now more guns than people in America), politics (Trump's appeal seems to be to the worst Republican instincts), immigration (I'm an immigrant), abortion (I feel that those who oppose abortion and also oppose contraception are flirting with hypocrisy, and that includes the Catholic Church, ISIS (I prefer the Goddess Isis; she had the name first and is much sexier), education (a teacher says those prescribing fixes haven't been in the trenches dealing with deliberately disruptive students; he's right), and similar things I think I don't need to comment on again at this time. I see that a mother got in trouble for breastfeeding her baby in public; she's standing her ground, making a clean breast of it, and more power to her. As I see it, breasts are dual purpose: as sexual inducements and as milkers. I approve of both. I learned that President Woodrow Wilson, whom I always thought of as a great man, was a solid racist. Scratch him off my list. That cheese is as addictive as drugs. Now they tell me? I thought I had escaped all addictions. That the brain is gender neutral, neither male nor female. Still, there do seem to be differences in the way he and she think and act. That Florida's population now tops 20 million. Article in THE WEEK says that English is one weird language. It sure is. That there are many forms of Santa Claus, not all of them Christian, not all of them good.

In 2016 I hope to write Xanth #42 Fire Sail, about a remarkable boat with an even more remarkable sail, and assorted shorter pieces. I also hope to blow up the log jam that has halted publication of my pieces, so we may see a fair amount from me this year. I hope to catch up on reading that remains backlogged, and on videos, ditto. I also hope they exercise that movie/TV option and do a great job; but I have had many prior options and none have worked out, even when they got exercised, so we'll see. If all goes well I may yet have another fling at fame before I go to kick that nefarious bucket saying KICK MEE. Otherwise, well, I do appreciate the success I have had and the fans I have accumulated. I have met some great folk in the past half century, and hope to meet more in the next.

We had company visiting in the holiday season, so we scheduled good weather. You know, lows near 70, highs in the 80s, and sunny. I hope we didn't overdo it; records fell across the state. It is supposed to be winter. Ah, well. So here's hoping for a great Year 2016 for me and all my fans. Non fans will have to take their chances.

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