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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Jewel-Lye 2016

I watched Creature Comforts, a three hour dialogue of ordinary folk put into the mouths of cartoon animals in I think clay-mation. That makes it much more entertaining. The comments are routine on many subjects: illness, breast augmentation, the arts, if you had wings, flying—the speakers are talking about being on airplanes, but what's shown are birds and bugs that really do fly, which adds humor. Men talk about the odors of I think wines, but the animals are sniffing under the tail of a dog, which rather shifts the meaning. Painting, with an ape doing it by spewing the paint form its mouth. Fish discussing Picasso. Dance. Pet peeves. Pets people like, only it's alligators talking about them as food. The pictures are beautiful, clear and brightly colored. They are sets that don't change; only the characters move, and only their faces and hands, usually. But that's enough; they are nice colorful pictures. The voices are totally realistic, and the pictures make them humorously interesting. But after a while it stopped holding my attention, becoming perhaps too much of a good thing.

I watched Otis, another borrowed DVD. Otis has a thing for his sister in law, Kim, so he abducts pretty girls and makes them play the role of Kim, whom he wants to date and rape. Five girls have died so far when it goes wrong. But the sixth girl has a wild brother and a feisty mother, and the police are watching. The family doesn't like the obnoxious police investigator, so when the girl escapes on her own, they decide to take their own revenge. And unwittingly attack and torture Otis's innocent brother, in a brutal comedy of errors, before discovering their mistake. This is like I Spit on Your Grave, which I reviewed last month, and must be in the same genre, where the victim turns predator and the revenge is worse than the offense. Not really my kind of thing.

I read How To Get Happily Published, by Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Evans. This is a book a co-worker gave my daughter, and she passed it along to me. It was published in 1978, so is about 38 years out of date, and that's a huge difference considering the effect the internet and electronic publishing has had on the subject. Nevertheless it has its points. There is basic advice on writing-- “The fact is that writing well is a path, not a destination, a process more than a goal...”--but it's more concerned with the process of publishing, as the title indicates. It covers the bases well, for its time. It also covers self publishing options, though again that has changed phenomenally since. It is realistic and honest: “Mostly, it's a matter of luck.” It does not go into the problem of dishonest publishers; maybe these good ladies did not run afoul of them as I did. So if you want to get a general feel for the trade as it was, this will do.

I read Service Goat by Piers Anthony, at the editing stage. There was a delay in another project, so I dusted off a three year old story idea, and it worked its way into a 30,000 word novella. A family is driving home when a storm comes up, and a tornado hurls the car into a tree. The parents are killed, and a branch rips through the car, punching out the seven year old girl's eyes. So Caladia is horribly blinded and orphaned in an instant. Something similar happened decades ago in Florida. But in this story there is a parallel event: an alien craft is coming down to land a goat-like alien, using the storm to hide the UFO visit, but the storm is too violent and wrecks the craft. The goat survives, but without her equipment will be unable to perform her mission of gathering information on this world. She needs to ally with a sapient native who will cooperate. Then she picks up the mental anguish of the girl, and goes to her. Nanny Goat's touch dampens the child's awful pain and enables her to see through Nanny's eyes, using her contact telepathy. Thus comes to be the pact between two creatures in desperate need. Each is able to function fully while in contact with the other. It goes on from there as diverse people are brought in, who help keep the secret. For example, Caladia undergoes surgery to remove her ruined eyeballs—without anesthetic; her physical contact with Nanny enables it. A doctor, recognizing the extraordinary situation, takes them both home and informally adopts them. Thus they prosper, and Caladia with her Service Goat enhancing her mind returns to school and becomes a star student. The other children like Nanny and help keep the secret that Caladia can read without eyes. But of course the news can't be entirely suppressed, so mischief is brewing, and there's only so much the alien telepathy can do. This is a fun story.

I read Metatron: Black Shadow's Revenge, by Laurence St. John. This is the third in the series, the others being The Angel Has Risen and The Mystical Blade of Credence, reviewed here in 2012 and 2014. 15 year old Tyler has been largely confined to a six acre reservation for eight months to complete his superhero training. Now at last he gets out, because he is needed. The evil Keltie, an attractive woman in her thirties who once came onto him seductively but only to mess him up, now means to wipe him out. She can't actually kill him because of his super powers, such as being able to teleport himself anywhere, but she can do all manner of mischief that he will get blamed for. She teams up with the Black Shadow, a demonic figure with his own agenda. She takes his nice girlfriend Kendall hostage, threatening to kill her if he uses his super powers against the Black Shadow. That's a picklement. There is constant action as Tyler struggles to stop their mischief. One surprise is the identity of his adviser Dogmai, who mentions that some things need to be read backward. Is this classic high brow fantasy? No, not at all, but it is easy reading that teens should like.

I watched Last Chance Harvey. Harvey's job is in doubt, and he has to fly to England to see his daughter get married. Everything is awkward. He has to return early, but misses his flight, loses his job, and his daughter chooses to have her stepfather give her away instead of him. He encounters a British woman who is similarly out of sorts. They get along. She insists that he attend his daughter's reception; he agrees if she comes with him. He buys her a suitable dress for the occasion. And it works out so well for him that she sees herself as superfluous and quietly departs. But he intercepts her before she gets out of the building and brings her back to dance with him. They are clearly orbiting each other, unable to break free. They make a date for noon tomorrow. Then he suffers a heart arrhythmia and winds up in the hospital, missing their date. She thinks he's stood her up and wants nothing more to do with him. But the attraction remains, and they get together and walk together on out of the movie. Standard story, but effectively done, and I enjoyed it.

I watched Maggie, billed as a post-apocalyptic thriller. It's not. It's a character study starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in a different role. There's a virus that slowly turns victims into zombies. His daughter Maggie got bit and will progress to that stage in weeks. It's called turning. When she turns she'll start biting people, spreading it. She will have to go into quarantine to die in due course, in bad pain. Unless he chooses to end it quickly. Ugly choices that every family with a victim faces. It's really another take on rabies. Even she wants him to finish it, but he can't think of killing his beloved child. Finally it seems she will end it herself.

I watched X-MEN Days of Future Past. It starts with largely incoherent action. Then the main theme emerges. Raven, the sexy blue babe in the skint tight costume, can assume any form; she time travels back to 1773 and kills a key man, but it doesn't turn out well, so now they have to go back again and stop her. They need to recruit their younger selves to help, and Logan is the one able to make the trip, but of course those prior selves are skeptical of his claims about the future. But soon they are employing their mutant bags of tricks in the cause. Even so, it's no sure thing, as they seem to be working at cross purposes. But they finally do get their acts together, spare the world, and come out as the mutants they are. In so doing they also save their future from the horrors unleashed before this second change. I couldn't follow every detail, but it's an interesting movie regardless.

My wife and I had our 60th wedding anniversary on JeJune 23. Now that we've made it, we keep seeing others who are longer, such as a couple at our college, Goddard College, with their 63rd, and former President Jimmy Carter, 70th. He was a better president than generally credited, though I left him when he approved the Tellico Dam project, despite threatening the rare snail darter fish; I felt that no true environmentalist would have done that, so he lost my vote, and re-election. Anyway, our anniversary was not ideal. I started the day with Chore Hour, taking out LED lights in the downstairs study because they were erratic and made crackling sounds that made my wife nervous; we don't want the risk of fire. But then the empty light sockets still made nervous sounds, so I hadn't accomplished anything. Then I set out to defrost our standing freezer, but soon discovered that it was more of a job than I could do in the time I had; we'll need to set aside a day. Another job not accomplished. Then off to the dentist to get my new upper denture, after ten and a half months on a virtual soft diet. He had it, and it works and is comfortable, and I can chew again without pain. These sort of clip on to the tooth implants, so are not loose. But these new ones clip on too well; I couldn't pry them off, and when the dentist did they snapped off so suddenly that they came down and split my lower lip, making it bleed. So now I can chew, but have a sore lip, and getting that denture out for cleaning is a challenge. Then back home our water pump quit. No storm, no lightning, it just stopped working. That complicated my glass of water an hour regime I've been on since my kidney stone in 1982, the worst siege of pain I've suffered. A neighbor woman said she'd had one, and would rather have a baby. Anyone who has had a kidney stone remembers it and doesn't want another. It also complicated brushing teeth, washing dishes, and showering after my exercise run. Toilets we could handle by dipping buckets of water from the pool, but it does show how the failure of one device can mess up other things. We live in an interconnected world. On that day, also, came Brexit, when Britain voted to leave the European Union. That's an act of folly almost worthy of current American politics, as I suspect they will discover. I was born in England, and was a British subject for the first 24 years of my life, so I care. So we had a nice occasion, with our daughter the newspaperwoman visiting, but on the whole it wasn't our best anniversary.

I watched The Theory of Everything, the story of Stephen Hawking, the noted astrophysicist. He meets and dates a girl, Jane, at Cambridge. Then at age 21 he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, which will interrupt the signals to the muscles of the body and probably kill him in two years. It doesn't affect the brain, but will cut it off from the world. I suspect it's part of the family of ailments that includes the one my wife has; fortunately hers has a treatment. Jane stays with him, determined to fight through it. A friend, Jonathan, who lost his wife to leukemia, helps them. Stephen outlasts the two years. In fact he sires several children. Jonathan and Jane develop feelings for each other, unsurprising considering how closely they have been working together to sustain Stephen. Jane gets him a therapist, Elaine, who is good at her job. They show how he came to the synthesized voice we have heard on TV, using a control he can finger to select the words to be printed or spoken or both. He used it to write a book, A History Of Time. I've read it. He comes to prefer Elaine. He tells Jane. It's a bittersweet moment, but it leaves her free to be with Jonathan. By the time of the movie he is 72 years old, with no plans to retire. It's a depressing yet uplifting history, and answers questions I have had.

In JeJune came the massacre in Orlando Florida of 49 attendees at a gay bar, the worst mass gun killing in American history. In hours came a harangue by a Christian pastor bemoaning that more weren't killed. I am agnostic, and I don't believe in God, but I do know Jesus in my fashion, and I'm pretty damn sure he would never have countenanced this slaughter, certainly not in his name. Folk have the right to be hetero, gay, or none of the above; that does not give bigots the right to gun them down. But America's gun culture makes such exploits relatively easy for the nuts. By “nuts” I don't mean legitimate law abiding gun owners who hunt and target practice and take proper care of their weapons; I mean the bigots who want to shoot anybody they don't like, or maybe anyone in range. Every year more than 30,000 people die from firearms. Overall, more Americans have died from civilian guns than in all our many wars combined, and it seems that carnage will continue indefinitely. Is there a solution? Yes: keep the guns from the nuts. But it seems that Congress is in the pay of the National Rifle Association, whose interest is not in safety so much as selling more guns. If I governed the world, I'd take the Second Amendment seriously, and require training and service in a well regulated militia for any gun owner. I would register that gun to that person, and track the ammunition, so that if anyone gets shot, recovery of the bullet will promptly identify the gun owner, who had better have legitimate reason for his action. In other words, responsible gun ownership. A law abiding citizen should have no fear of that. I like the idea of a gun that will fire only when its registered owner uses it, so it can't be stolen and abused. Yet the NRA opposes even that, maybe because it would drastically reduce sales to the nuts. A woman, Shannon Watts, started a Facebook page aimed at uniting American mothers in a fight against gun violence. She promptly received threats of sexual violence and death. Her email was hacked and pictures of her distributed; her children's social media accounts were hacked and the names of their schools shared online. The underlying message: stop talking about guns if you want you and yours to stay healthy. This is unfortunately typical. The gun nuts don't want anyone even advocating gun control, but they are the very ones who should be controlled. Today it was the murder of homosexuals, abetted by religious preaching that makes sexual difference a sin, but tomorrow it can be anybody. The nuts we shall always have with us; we should at least make it harder for them to argue their cases with guns. And I think something should be done about those who like to threaten violence to anyone whose opinion differs from theirs. Expressing an opinion is one thing; inciting mayhem is another. This is where the First amendment trumps the Second. What kind of a country do we have, really?

Cassius Clay died. You knew him as Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion. Therein lies a story. He won the championship with what smelled like a fixed fight. But then he went out to defend it against all comers, and soon it was clear that he was indeed the greatest. Then he converted, becoming Muslim, and when they tried to draft him into the Army he balked. In those days young men were subject to the draft; I served two years in the US Army because of it, figuring that the army would do less damage to my conscience than prison would. But Muhammad Ali said no, as a matter of conscience, and paid the penalty. They stripped him of his title and pursued him legally, until years later, the cream of his career wiped out, the supreme Court decided that yes, fair was fair, and he could indeed act in accordance with his religious faith. Why did it take years for the obvious to be recognized? He returned to boxing, but those repeated blows to his head took their toll and he suffered from Parkinson's. So he started out as a loud-mouthed ruffian and became a credit to his profession and his conscience. I applaud him for that.

Coming up in Jewel-Lye: my novella Neris at eXcessica. This is Siren spelled backwards, as a woman hears a song that summons her to a tryst with the god of the sea and she births Neris, who has the power to captivate women by his song. Its a naughty story that gets interesting when he tackles a real siren, Siphon, who will be featured in the sequel, Siphon's Soul, in due course. Also t e novella Hair Power, from DREAMING BIG Publications, about a girl with terminal brain cancer who helps an alien hairball and is rewarded with special hair that not only cures her cancer, but makes her something of a super woman physically and mentally, with telepathy and the ability to fly, whose six foot long hair becomes her clothing. I am now working on the sequel, Hair Suite.

Mystery: THE WEEK reprinted an article from THE NEW REPUBLIC about a sound with no obvious source that some folk around the world hear. It's a thick, low hum, and yes, one of the regions it has been heard is near Orlando, Florida. It's called the Hum, and it generally manifests during the night. It's been around for forty years. Two percent of people can hear it. No, I can't hear it; my hearing is slowly fading with age, alas. I remember reading years ago about something like this in a particular locale, so they brought in equipment to zero in on it—and it stopped, not to return until the equipment was gone. Now one man has an experiment in mind that should help locate the Hum, but for some reason he is not doing it. Well, he says that no one's paying for the experiment. So the mystery remains. I wonder. Is someone paying—to keep others silent about it?

Politics: the Democrat presidential nomination is settling on Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump has won the Republication nomination, but it remains uncertain whether he will get it despite the evident will of the grass roots voters. We may yet see political legerdemain to deny him. Columnist David Brooks says that Trump may be a narcissist who simply can't bring himself to share the spotlight; he must always be the center of adoration, and has a bad attitude when it is not delivered. Narcissists lack empathy; they can't put themselves in another's shoes or feel another's pain. As the nominee he promises to be a disaster. But what alternative do the Republicans have at this point? Removing him would be another disaster.

I subscribe to FREE INQUIRY, the magazine for secular humanists. I am a humanist, though I don't proselytize and I'm not active; it's just that I've been looking for decades for some issue where I differ from the humanists, and haven't yet found it. The June/July 2016 issue is on DEATH, another interest of mine. Without death we would not have life; our ancestors would have lived forever and we would never have managed to get our snouts into the trough. There are powerful thoughts here, that I can't do justice to in passing, so I'll just mention them for those who might want to get the magazine and study them for themselves. It points out that our cells are programmed to die after about 50 iterations; I believe the term is apoptosis; that prevents errors from accumulating until they overwhelm the process. That is, us. So we'll never truly defeat death, because that, paradoxically, would lead to our destruction. It asks the question: would you as an atheist pray with a dying believer, to give him/her comfort? I am agnostic rather than atheist, but it's a good question. I think I would conclude that prayer is a believer's way of asking for comfort and camaraderie; and understanding that, I could translate to the common language and do it despite my total unbelief in his imaginary god. It remarks on ISIS, Moses, and sex slavery, pointing out that it's hard to condemn ISIS for raping ten year old girls when Moses approved it in the Old Testament. I, as an unbeliever, am free to reject the whole of that; I don't believe in raping girls of any age, or boys either. Folk don't care to know that more men get raped than women, thanks to our prison system; when they say “Your ass is mine,” they mean it. It remarks on the belief that there are no atheists in foxholes, which is false, as the article is by an atheist who has been in that situation. He is now, ironically, an atheist minister in a Unitarian Universalist church. Oh yes it's possible; I, as an agnostic just this side of atheism, am married to a UU minister's daughter, and twice I have given the sermon in a UU church. I suspect I could give a sermon in a Baptist church and they might at least recognize the power of my own belief, which is not hostile to theirs, just separate from it. At any rate, I recommend this issue of FREE INQUIRY to any interested readers, and yes, I recommend humanism to those with open minds.

Newspaper article by Jeff Guo makes the case that civilization may have been held back by the potato. What? But there is a rationale. It's that with tubers you sort of need to eat at them at the time, lest they spoil, but grains will keep much longer, so can be stolen and marketed elsewhere. So if you grow grains, you need a way to protect your harvest against thieves. You need, ultimately, a government. So potato eaters can get along pretty much on their own, while grain eaters need to be more militant, and this leads, like it or not, to civilization.

I have a pile of clippings, but enough is enough and I have to stifle further commentary lest it interfere with my real job, which is writing fiction. I am currently reading a big book titled Age of Atheists, and it has thoughts that are making me take notice, such as the correlation of poverty and religion; the less you have, the more you seek a god to save you. More anon, when.

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