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

You may note that this HiPiers column is shorter than others have been. In fact it's a bit over 3,500 words, the length I normally aim for. That's because I am writing Xanth #42, Fire Sail, the one about a boat with a remarkable sail. In FeBueberry I wrote 51,000 words, or half the novel, but it squeezed both my reading and my viewing. So I am commenting this time on only two and a bit books, one of which I did not actually read, and no DVD videos. I'm a writer; it's what I do. The rest is dross.

I read Dragons, Droids & Doom, which is an anthology of the stories published by the new FANTASY SCROLL MAGAZINE, all 51 of them. It was financed by a Kickstarter campaign, and they certainly found some good material. When they solicited me two years ago I wrote “Descant” for them, a fantasy about unlikely romance and a special magic song; it may actually be the most upbeat story in an often solemn volume. So I received a copy as a contributor, and in due course I read it. The full volume is not far shy of 400 dense pages; there's a lot of fiction here. Really too much for me to cover properly in a paragraph, so I will merely remark passingly on a dozen or so. Short stories can be frustrating because just about the time you get into them, they're gone, like a seductive demoness, but some do have their impact. At the end there's a listing of all the authors with bits of background; I found myself checking it when I read each story, to get a some context. They tend toward horror rather than joy, but within that frame there's much variety. Possibly the wildest concept is “Universe in a Teacup” wherein the universe is ours and the cup is about to be filled with boiling tea. Uh-oh. Perhaps the choicest turns of phrase are in “The Peacemaker”: “Venus sits back on the couch and readjusts her cleavage.” “...the kind who finds it easy to control what few emotions he has.” “...he had left more than one scorch mark on a sensitive part of my anatomy.” Two of the ugliest—understand, it's not bad writing, just deliberately ugly narrative—are “The contents of the Box with the Ribbon” and believe me, you never want to open a box like this. And “Restart,” wherein a man can restart a personal sequence so as to play an incident over in a more positive way, but still gets stuck in awfulness. Though the gritty war story “The Reanimators” wherein they revive the dead as zombies to serve as cannon fodder is wincingly nasty too. The briefest shocker is “Seaside Sirens, 1848” wherein naughty boys try to sneak a peek at what may be mermaids swimming nude; they get more than a peek. Most sexually suggestive without actual sex is “Orc Legal” with a centaur wanting to give an innocent maiden a good hard ride, her bosom heaving and her delicate thighs straddling his flanks. Most insidiously scary is “Posthumous”; you really don't want a friend like this. Most fun with a concept is “Your Lair or Mine” a dating service questionnaire for a lady dragon. The most justified reversal is “The Unworthy” where godlike entities show their power. Most compelling narrative is “Shades of the Past” where a boy trying to help his abused mother finds himself becoming a monster. And last and least understood by me, “Smew of Skray” that I can't summarize because I just didn't get it. Overall I recommend this volume as a fair sampling of what's out there, and wish them well for their second year. http://fantasyscrollmag.com.

I paged through a big 350 page coffee-table book we now have on our coffee table, a real delight for a dirty old man. (Why normal sexual interest is “dirty” is I think a reflection on an uptight society rather than its targets.) Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 50 Years of Beautiful which I bought for $16.95 on a HAMILTON sale, marked down from $50. That's a third of a dollar a year; how could I resist? As I'm sure you know, to simplify drastically, the sports magazine pulled a stunt, doing a swimsuit issue featuring models rather than sports figures, and it was so popular it became a regular thing. Now they have assembled all the pictures of the first fifty years, and they are phenomenal. Models like Cheryl Tiegs, Heidi Klum, Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Kate Upton, Brooklyn Decker, Anne V, and so many others, all similarly pulchritudinous. (Which reminds me of the time in college when a girl with a nice posterior came to join a veteran at a dining room table. He said “Ah, sit your pulchritude down beside me.” She said “Sit my what?”) I note especially the 35 page section of painted bodies, where the fabulous suits are actually painted on so you are really looking at colored nude bodies. There's one of Rachel Hunter that is a one piece map of the Atlantic Ocean region of the world with her belly button in Canada and her crotch under Cape Horn in Patagonia. It's hard to tell which I like best; maybe between Daniella Sarahyba with what might be a ravening wolf head on her belly, as if about to chomp her left breast; below the painted red shirt are painted white panties naughtily exposed. And Ana Pala Araujo, in an OKTOBERFEST shirt, a wild-haired look, and yes, painted black panties with a bow tie. And Heidi Klum in a spiral tie-dye shirt. If I met them on the beach I might freak out, especially if I knew they were painted. I heartily recommend this book to all healthy men and maybe a few tolerant women too.

Now let's get serious. In the past I have had feedback from readers that has on occasion been quite useful. (Folk ask me where I get my ideas, and I answer “From my readers.”) I am hoping for that this time, in a kind of desperation Hail-Mary reach. In FeBlueberry I came off a six month soft diet stint, ready for permanent dentures that should last me without complications for the rest of my life. Considering that I am now 81½ years old, that's really not much of a stretch. But there's a complication. I learned that the new upper denture alone would cost me the price of a new car. Theoretically it's not just a denture, it's a prosthetic device, but still, it's serving the function of one. For the past thirty-odd years my financial decisions have not been whether I can pay for something, but whether it is right to pay for it, a significant distinction for me, and that is my problem now. Do I really want to put that much money into my mouth at this late date in life? Having already gotten the foundations set—I now have sixteen tooth implants—I seem to be committed to unkind alternatives. That is, too much additional expense, or no more chewing. I should not have walked into such a trap; it just never occurred to me that it would be that expensive. As I told my little girls when they were grade school age, I would not pay two cents for a one cent gumball, even when I have more than two cents. I stopped buying Viagra when the price rose to over $30 per pill. (No I did not give up sex; I merely found a much cheaper alternative.) I'm on dial-up because I won't pay $150 a month for a feature I rarely use. I wear jeans and shop for bargains, especially in books and videos. We have one car, a Prius; the other half of our two car garage is accumulating junk. (Though we are cautiously considering the Elio, a small car now being developed that will cost under $7,000 and get up to 84 mpg. More on that anon.) I will spend a lot on a good cause, such as saving or at least materially improving humanity or the world, but am cautious about spending it on something purely personal. This denture simply seems like too much to spend on one small part of myself.

So here is my appeal to my readers: do any of you know a viable route out of this pit? One that doesn't require titanium in a denture, yet works as well? Or some outside the box alternative I haven't thought of? I am having to return to the soft diet, as the temporary denture I'm using is wearing out and chewing is becoming painful. I'd rather not finish my life this way, but this is beyond a two cent gumball. I am hoping there is some alternative I don't yet know about, a fair compromise, and that somebody out there knows of it. Often enough my readers demonstrate how much smarter or more knowledgeable they are than I am; I hope they can prove it again, and free me from this slough of despond.

Speaking of readers: sometimes things in my fantasy fiction become real in Mundania. One is the “Thee Thee Thee” convention, said as a declaration of complete love. I was told of a couple who married using that instead of “I do.” Now I have heard of one who did use it as part of the ceremony, some time ago; he is now dead and she is passing along the ring to a family member with the words engraved on it. She asked me which book it came from, and I said Out of Phaze, where the robot Mach calls it out to save his beloved Fleta from death, the sheer power of that declaration nullifying the magic that had doomed her. But then I thought, how did Mach know to do that? Did the convention appear earlier? My senescent brain does not provide the answer, and I'm too busy to reread my own earlier novels; time is a greater constraint for me than money. If there is a reader out there whose memory is better than mine (that is to say, most of them), please let me know, so I can let my reader with the ring know: what was the first instance of the “Thee Thee Thee” convention?

Last column I remarked on Nemesis, the as yet undiscovered farthest out planet in our system. My wife wasn't sure that was accurate, so did spot research—she has wi-fi, being my wifi wife, and can check things online more readily than I can. It turns out that Nemesis is a failed star, a red or brown dwarf about one and a half light years out, orbiting once every 30 million years or so. I had it being colonized in the Space Tyrant series. So it's not a planet, it's a companion star. Ah, well.

A while back I reviewed the anthology Fantasy For Good, and remarked that I thought the best story in it was “Bones of a Righteous Man” by Michael Ezell. This time I read the first two chapters of his Young Adult novel They Burn Us, featuring a seventeen year old witch with good potential who is cautious about advertising her nature because, well, witches get burned. It's an interesting story, nicely characterized, and of course she soon gets into trouble not really of her making. Because she's a teen girl, the threat to her may not be limited to burning. This novel is a candidate for the Kindle Scout program, and readers who are familiar with that, as I am not, may want to check it and encourage Amazon to do the sensible thing and publish it. That is, nominate it, if you like it; if you catch it in the first week of the month you should be on time. It's an interesting program, where readers get to choose what is published; that must give the Old Order of Parnassus nightmares. Who ever heard of actually catering to the readers? They're supposed to be grateful for whatever gruel is served.

I don't generally comment much on politics, but this current presidential campaign strikes me as remarkable. There has been unusually strong third party activity, that is, folk appearing from left field and making serious runs not condoned by the established big parties. Bernie Sanders is a populist from Vermont, the state I came from, and I like many of his ideas. But I doubt he'll make it to the Democratic Party nomination; already the tide is turning against him and in favor of Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side it's more interesting, as Donald Trump stepped in with an early splash—and never faded. Jeb Bush, the locked-in candidate, never got off the ground. So how come Trump is close to nabbing the nomination? A newspaper item makes fascinating reading. Those who support Trump are older and less educated than the general population. Singles are twice as likely to film themselves having sex, and ten times as likely to expect sex on the first date, and more likely to have five or more sexual ex-partners, and more likely to talk about it. They are more likely to be unemployed. Clinton supporters are six times as likely to be gay. A letter in the paper says Trump spews divisiveness, prejudice, anger, and hatred. Certainly his espousal of torture alienates me. So what do I see happening? I think it will be a Trump-Clinton contest, and Trump will wash out when the voters have to decide if they really want to support bigotry so openly. The Republican Party elders fear the same. But we'll see. Now that Justice Antonin Scalia died, the political battle will include the Supreme Court, and Republicans hawe stated that they will confirm no Obama nominations, though he is constitutionally obliged to make a nomination and they to consider it. I think we'll have an eight member court for the next year, which actually means that the majority of decisions will be liberal, because the lower court decisions will stand, and they are about three to one liberal. They talk about what a legal genius Scalia was, but I saw many of his decisions as dangerously biased. Such as not allowing Florida to recount its ballots in the year 2,000 so as to be sure that the Republicans took the election the Democrats would have won with a fair count. He did not want fairness, he wanted his side to win. The Republicans want to have more partisan justices like him on a supposedly nonpartisan court? I am and have always been a registered independent, willing to vote for the best candidate regardless of party, but the Republicans have gone off the deep end and I can't support them now.

Other notes: letter in NEW SCIENTIST says that in the 1960s the US had a 500% increase in consumption of sugary drinks and a 150% increase in sugar added to processed foods. There followed the obesity epidemic. Statistics in other countries show a similar progression. It turns out that sex protects aging brains. Say, that's good to know! A survey of women over 60 indicates that contrary to popular belief, more than half of them remain satisfied with sex and are happier for it. Gravity waves have finally been detected. This promises to be a whole new avenue to explore and better understand the universe. More information is indicating how bad meat eating is for the planet. Substitutes are increasingly available, but the meat folk say they really like to eat meat, and that trumps (pun there, maybe) logic or global welfare. Of course the time will come when they have no choice, as resources are exhausted by this horrendously wasteful practice. Meanwhile there is mold: article in NEW SCIENTIST says they are discovering aspects of mushrooms that can protect us from viruses, save the bees, and maybe help abate global warming. I like mushrooms; my grandfather made his fortune by growing and selling mushrooms; he was known in the 1920s as the Mushroom King. There's a whole lot more they can do besides being food, some of which I explored in my novel Omnivore. The article says that scientific prejudice against fungi is a form of biological racism; I like that phrasing. And a comment I value by the great federal judge Learned Hand, back during World War Two, that the spirit of liberty is “That spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” We are currently beset by ignorant certainty.

Interesting column by Leonard Pitts in the newspaper, who was asked “Are you anti-abortion?” He was surprised, as he is pro choice. But when he really thought about it, about stopping a beating heart, he concluded that yes, he was anti-abortion. He feels that the choice is not either or; there is a difficult middle ground. That echoes my view. My wife lost three babies stillborn because her uterus had a septum that walled off part of it, so that there was not sufficient room left for the babies to reach full term. Those were technically abortions. I don't like abortion; it has extremely unpleasant connotations for me. Remember, I'm a vegetarian because I don't like killing animals; I don't like killing babies either. Yes I am liberal; that doesn't mean I follow that aspect of what some others consider liberalism, any more than a true conservative endorses the political lies and bigotry expressed by pseudo conservatives now running for office. But I do accept the right of others to make their own choices, though I might abhor those choices. It is akin to defending the right of free speech, though I dislike some of the speech that leads to.

    Here's a fun note: a Kentucky state representative, Mary Lou Marzian, feels that a new law requiring women to have a medical consultation 24 hours before having an abortion smacks of sexism. So she proposes a bill that makes the point. It requires men seeking to buy erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra to navigate a series of obstacles first. Each man would be required to have two doctor visits, a signed and dated letter from his spouse providing consent, and a sworn statement delivered with his hand on a Bible that he will use the drugs only to have sex with his spouse. Single men would not be eligible for the drugs. Seems fair enough to me.

Sometimes it seems I am bound to lose readers. I have lost a number over the years because Xanth has not included gay characters. When I first surveyed my readers here, the consensus was overwhelming against having gays. This was not because of disliking gays, but because they felt this frivolous fantasy series was not the proper forum for such a discussion. (I like to think that my readers are an inherently decent sort.) A more recent survey showed the balance tipping. So in Xanth #39 Five Portraits there is an eight year old boy who knows he will be gay when he grows up. Now I have a reaction to that: loss of a reader, who refuses to read any more of that novel or the following ones in the series. Okay, but that boy is a character in #42 Fire Sail, still gay at age 11, and there are lesbian princesses in #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky. I'm sorry to lose you, protesting readers, though I cringe at the notion that you refuse even to look at the stories; it strains my definition of “decent.”. I'm sorry to lose any readers, even ones with closed minds, but they will not govern my decisions is such respects. I find it interesting that such readers seek to dictate what kinds of characters are in my novels, thus to restrict what other readers may read, rather than being tolerant of them or broadening their horizons. It seems that they are trying to punish me for those notions they don't like, as if that will make the issue fade out. I am adamantly heterosexual myself, but that doesn't mean I hate gays; we merely have differences in personal preferences. I don't seek to change them, and trust that they won't seek to change me.

There has been an increasing demand for audio editions of my books, and I am trying to get all of my books into print, electronic, and audio editions. For reasons that escape me, (I'm trying to avoid using the word “idiocy”) audio publishers have not been much interested in Xanth. So we're working on it, finding audio readers, bypassing the regular system, making slow progress. However, the most recent two, #38 Board Stiff and #39 Five Portraits, are now available on Audible, and future ones will be also, such as #40 Isis Orb and #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky. Earlier ones too, as we make arrangements. Harpy listening, fans!

Click link to Five Portraits on Audible. http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Five-Portraits-Audiobook/B00S6YMAIW/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srImg?qid=1455737480&sr=1-1

Click link to Board Stiff on Audible. http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Board-Stiff-Audiobook/B00S6YLXPS/ref=a_pd_Sci-Fi_c4_1_1_i_pd_sims_1?ie=UTF8&pf_rd_r=189FKC4AR4AZMZEZQG12&pf_rd_m=A2ZO8JX97D5MN9&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=detail-page&pf_rd_p=2054174702&pf_rd_s=center-4

I am backlogged on videos and books to read, and will continue pressed for spare time while I work on the novel. But eventually I will get the novel done, and then my time should ease up a bit, and the reviews will be back. Have patience, or at least mask your impatience.

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