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

I read Xanth #42 Fire Sail, by Piers Anthony, editing it after writing it in the prior two months. This is the one about the unusual boat that sails through the air with a sail made of fire. I have mentioned it before, so won't belabor it here. It's a good novel, up to the Xanthly standard, and I'm sure readers will like it when it wends its way into publication in a year or three. I am now making notes on the next, Jest Right, which will be a kind of sequel because the boat and a number of characters will overlap, as was the case with Board Stiff and Five Portraits. And to a lesser extent with the as yet unpublished Isis Orb and Ghost Writer in the Sky, where the Goddess Isis overlaps. Sometimes it works out that way. Isis Orb is scheduled for OctOgre 2016, a year late, but that's the screwed up world of publishing. It can take considerably longer to put a book into print than it does to write it.

The writing done, I started catching up on backlogged reading and viewing. I watched more Inspector Morse mystery episodes. Morse is an older man who likes real ale, classical music, crossword puzzles, and the ladies. I'm not much of a mystery fan, but this is set in my birthplace, Oxford, England, with the classic University environment, and that appeals. My parents both graduated from there, and I'm sure they would have loved this series. But I don't hear as well as I did in youth, and these don't have subtitles, so I miss a fair amount. Sigh. In Episode 19 Greeks Bearing Gifts a Greek chef turns up murdered, and the Greek community sort of sticks together against the outsiders, such as Morse. That complicates the investigation. There is passing reference to the ancient Greek triremes, boats with three decks of oars, an unexpected pleasure for me. Then a baby is stolen, and another body turns up: the victim's sister. It all comes together at the end, with a surprise murderer. Then #20 Promised Land finds them in Australia, checking on an old friend, but they aren't welcome. The man Morse wants is missing and the family says they don't know where he is. I think he's in the witness protection program, and the man he testified against is coming to kill him. And maybe Morse too, who blames himself for mistakes that may have killed an innocent man. And in a shootout, another innocent man dies. Things don't always work out well, which adds to the realism of this series. In #21 Dead on Time the ill husband of a woman Morse had once been engaged to turns up dead, an apparent suicide. But his doctor says the man was too incapacitated to hold a gun to his head and pull the trigger. His son in law owed him money and had opportunity. So son in law is charged. Only of course it's not that simple; son in law was framed, in part, by wife, who had motive for that. Yes, the woman Morse still desires. She had helped her husband die by his own request and feels the guilt. She commits suicide. Poor Morse; so near and yet so far. #22 Happy Families concerns the murder of the patriarch of an upper class family that is definitely not happy. There are several quarrelsome sons who are suspects, and in due course one of them gets murdered. And another. And they find a buried twenty year old body. So it complicates rather than simplifies. And gets worse. Morse's meddlesome superior hardly helps; he finally takes Morse off the case. Just before he solves it. Superiors are like that, similar to editors who mess in with what they don't understand, as any competent writer will confirm. #23 The Death of the Self starts with people ceremonially burning their pasts in the form of letters or books. Then their leader gets killed. He was known as a huge shyster. Plenty of motive there. But those associated tend to be evasive, and there are suspicious goings-on. Yet Morse finally fathoms it, and justice is done. #24 Absolute Conviction occurs at a low security prison. A dying married prisoner is murdered. Why? By whom? His pretty wife is having an affair with an acquaintance. Turns out one prisoner served 16 years for a crime he didn't commit, so then he did commit it, for revenge. #25 Cherubim and Seraphim has Morse separated from his assistant Sergeant Lewis because there has been a death in the family, suicide, so Morse is away on personal leave. Then he returns to find that each of them is checking out a teen suicide, no warning, no evident depression, no word to friends, no suicide note. It happens, but makes one wonder. A hallucinogenic drug is found. Uh-oh. One childlike girl is 15 and into sex and maybe more, her parents in denial. Yet, parents are like that; ask any teen. There's a wild dance where the drug makes the teens feel that they have experienced everything life has to offer. After that, what's the point in living? Hence some suicides, more from happiness than sadness. Morse just has to let it be. #26 Deadly Slumber discovers a man asphyxiated by carbon monoxide from his running car in his garage. But it wasn't suicide; he was bound and gagged. His son confesses, falsely; why? To protect his mother? But she didn't do it either. There turns out to be enough guilt to go around. #27 The Day of the Devil has a criminally insane patient escape from the mental hospital, whose staff he outsmarted, naturally. He serves the devil and is hostile to religious figures. He phones Morse and gives him an order to bring a lady doctor to a certain place. Morse refuses, and is told he has made a mistake. Yes he has. The criminal kidnaps another woman, ready to ransom her for the one he wants. But it turns out that the lady doctor has a relationship with him that goes beyond doctor/patient. Uh-oh. But she has her own devious agenda. You can never be quite sure what's what in these mysteries. That's surely part of the point.

I read Dig Two Graves by Lance Millam. The title refers to a beautiful Confucius quotation: “Before embarking on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves—one for your enemy and one for yourself.” That is indeed the theme. It starts out when three young men in Seoul, Korea, drunk and looking for fun, happen upon an alley where homeless folk stay and start beating them up. Until they encounter The Bum, who promptly beats them up. Thereafter it follows The Bum, who gets into the illicit fight racket and works his way up by defeating all comers. Then he throws a match to get a big payoff so he can get smuggled to America. On the way he joins with another smugglee, this one from China. Then the two join a lady doctor down on her luck. There's no romance, no sex, just the three of them making common cause in a rough situation, but their dark backgrounds are well worked out. They come across as real people with real feelings. The text is not stylish; it just plows ahead with the narrative. But there's more here than that inauspicious beginning suggests; this is actually a hard hitting story that makes sense. I recommend it to readers who want to see what life at the bottom of the totem can be like. I admit to hoping that The Bum and the Lady Doctor do get it on in due course; they understand each other well.

I watched Doctor Who Last Christmas. This is one fabulous hour-long dream adventure. These alien dream crabs latch on to folk's faces and slowly eat their brains, anesthetizing them with sweet dreams so they won't protest. When they realize this, they force themselves to wake and get the noxious feeders off—only to realize that they were in a dream within a dream, and are still blissfully dying. They finally wake for real—about fifty years later, when Clara is an ancient old woman. Until Santa Clause gives them a wish, and they return to the present, their original ages. The actress, Jenna Coleman, remains devastatingly cute; I'd love to see her in my dreams.

I read The Baby That Ate Cincinnati by Matt Mason. This is a book of poetry orienting on the author's baby girl. He sent me a copy with an autograph that says in part “Your footprint is definitely found in all I do.” Now he's a published prizewinning poet. As it happens, I was once the father of a baby girl, so this theme resonates. The poems cover the anticipation, the wonder, the sleeplessness, the problems. With his newborn baby in his arms he has a new perspective on the world. “Understand,/ I do sneer at movies whose children over-/ emote to make me weep, I cuss in traffic, grumble in lines,/ turn my nose up at those who plan on voting for that moron/ in November; this/ is not how I envision myself,/ going all gumdrops and roses over cinderblocks and garden hoses/ but/ I look at this wife and daughter some moments/ and I see rainbows” everything being transformed. But also negatives, such as when he accidentally made a noise that woke the baby she had just gotten to sleep “...and the woman/ who swore before Jesus to love you forever looks at/ you with all the flames of Hell in her eyes...” Oh, I remember! Back to the baby: “It/ is absolutely amazing/ what she/ will put/ in her mouth.” Yes indeed. And when she is old enough to talk, warning her about men, likening a tornado to the way teenage boys approach love. Yes, sometimes it takes a man to truly fear for the little girl in his life. So this is an exercise in memory for me, and surely for any caring father.

I read He's A Stud, She's A Slut And 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, by Jessica Valenti. As the title signals, this is a diatribe making the case that it's a man's world, and it is unfair, and should be fought. She has a case. Each chapter states the case, often provocatively—she's happy to use the four letter words—and concludes with a paragraph titled “So...what to do?” with spot advice. For the title one, she recommends that women should stop calling other women sluts and speak out when they hear men do the same. #36 “He's a Porn Watcher, Shes the Show” pretty much says it all. #44 “He's Protected, She's Property” tells of outrageous legal cases, such as a nineteen year old co-ed getting drugged and sodomized, but the local hospital denied her treatment because she appeared intoxicated and the police assault unit dismissed her case outright because they saw no reason to believe a crime had been committed. Another case went to trial, where the judge banned the terms “rape” and “assault” as prejudicial. In a third case the woman was sedated for a medical procedure, and raped while she was under, and the authorities saw no reason even to inform her what had happened. What, because it might needlessly annoy her? So...what to do? The author doesn't know. Indeed, how do you handle such egregious misbehavior by the authorities who are supposed to see to justice? I almost wish they'd do it to a lady suicide bomber, who would then take them all out with a blast. This book is for women, but I recommend it for men too; some of us do believe in fair play.

I read Curvology—The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape, by David Bainbridge, PhD. My interest in the subject is two fold: I'm a man and the shape of women interests me, and in my GEODYSSEY series I explored the significant developments of the human species, which includes the structure, function, and appearance of the body. So I read this with a cynical appreciation. The general thrust of it is that human women, alone among animals, have curvy bodies. Why? It's an interesting and informed discussion, but there are notable omissions. I learned things about fat: the average person, male and female, gains one gram of fat each day during middle age. Young woman store it in their buttocks and thighs, and when they bear babies and nurse that fat is pumped back into the blood and absorbed by the mammary glands in the breasts, and converted to milk for the baby. There is less fat left for later babies, and they tend to have lover IQs. Fat is also stored in the abdomen, and this is dangerous, in effect feeding toxins into the liver, slowly destroying it and setting the body up for worse mischief later, such as heart disease. However, men also appreciate intelligence in women, and some suggest that art, music and humor evolved so that they could demonstrate their intelligence. Teen men prefer women slightly older than themselves, until at roughly 23 they prefer the same age, and thereafter they want younger women. So it seems that 23 is the ideal. Clothing has three functions: concealment of private parts, which actually may enhance interest in those parts, as brightly colored bikinis demonstrate; protection against cold, heat, sunburn, abrasion, punctures, and biting insects; and to signal individuality, improve appearance, and advertise social status. But some is counterproductive, as high heels cause pain after an hour. Yes; I think of how the Chinese had foot binding; we have high heels, both effectively hobbling women. And Western women fall for this sexist punishment? As I have remarked before, if I were looking for a woman in my life, I would favor one with sensible shoes, as that would speak well for her health, intelligence, and common sense. Yes, my wife wears sensible shoes. However, some clothing helps, as a naked woman with any significant endowment can't run without pain unless she has a competent bra. The book is full of such intriguing notions. But about those omissions, first the obvious: when our species lifted from four legs to two, our noses left the ground, so smell was less useful that it had been. It was no longer as convenient to sniff her tail when she was in heat and be turned on by the pheromones, so another sense was adapted to compensate: sight. So she became curvaceous and men became sight oriented. You would have thought that a man trained in Zoology would have picked up on that. Another is the significance of the woman's breasts. The author discusses everything about them, including how they are unique among mammals for being permanently swollen instead of fading away when not suckling infants, concluding that it must be sexual selection: men like breasts, so women have them. Thus he misses what, from my perspective, is perhaps the single most remarkable aspect of the human condition, after the phenomenal size of our brain: why do men like breasts? In early times lactation was a sexual turnoff, because a woman was not breedable when she was nursing a baby, any more than when she was obviously pregnant. In some of our cousin species a male will seek to kill a female's nursing infant, so she will stop lactating and become breedable again for his pleasure. Why is it different with us? The answer, as I see it, is natural selection. When we rose to walk on two feet, the crawling infant could not keep up with mother, so she had to carry it. That was just part of her commitment of several years, and it meant a low rate of reproduction. So she needed two things: to be able to reproduce serially, that is, to bear and care for another baby before the first one was grown, so that she could have one every year or so instead of every five or ten years, thus maintaining the human population in a dangerous environment. And to be able to attract and keep a man close for the entire time, instead of having him inseminate her and take off for other pastures, leaving her to take care of herself and her child alone. How well do you forage or hunt with a squalling baby on your hip? How do you survive when others will take what little food or clothing you have? She needed help and protection, the kind a continually attentive man could provide. But how could she keep him close when she was demonstrably not fertile? Since all he was interested in, really, was sex: just long enough to get her pregnant with his offspring before he took off for other interests? Two ways: first, conceal her fertility, so that a man could not tell when she was fertile, and would have to stay close and keep trying to be sure it finally took. Second, to make sex not just for procreation, but as an end in itself regardless of procreation so that he would stick around even after he got her planted, thus ensuring the survival of the offspring. That is the aspect of sex that some refuse to recognize, notably the Catholic Church, but it is valid. Holding a man for years is as important as winning him for a night. She had to look pregnable (impregnable means the opposite, unconquerable) all the time, and be capable of having sex all the time, regardless of the presence of a baby, so that even the smart man who might try to avoid her during her fertile cycle, prefferring sex without commitment, would never slip the hook. Her appearance—her curves—couldn't change significantly when she had a baby. Since the baby had to be nursed, she couldn't be flat breasted, so it had to be the other way: full breasted even when there was no baby. So she became full breasted for the full time she needed the help of a man, from maturity to the end of her reproductive life. The man who remained turned off by that did not stay around and his unsupported children died, while the pervert who actually liked full breasts did stay around, and his children survived. It was natural selection with a vengeance, with only men who were attracted to the formerly sexually repulsive condition profiting. The breasts selected the man, rather than the man selecting the breasts. Today men are seriously attracted to women's full breasts and always eager to have sex with those women, and a man has to stay close to his woman lest other men come and seek sex with her and maybe get her pregnant with someone else's child. Thus monogamy and survival of the species, with a constant male fixation on breasts. That is the why of it this author misses. Surely I am not the only one to see and appreciate the obvious, and I do mean breasts.

I read Tattoo by Jenna Cosgrove. She's a fan of mine, and credits me with inspiring her to create worlds of her own, this novel being an example. The lead character gets a fancy tattoo on four occasions, and these identify the four parts of the book: the Rose, the Angel, the Tiger, and the Goddess. It starts fast and races along, as pretty 17 year old Mercy and her 12 year old sister Scarlet struggle to survive the depredations of their unscrupulous alcoholic stepfather after their mother commits suicide. Mercy fights him off in the cellar and locks him in as the lamp starts a fire, getting herself branded as a murderess as she flees. She longs to find their father and make a family with him, but that turns out to be a treacherous course. She encounters one conflicted dangerous controlling man after another, only finding true love after seemingly losing everything. For a while she joins a traveling carnival, where she has to pay her way by stripping naked for the men to stare at, but she does find some supportive friends. The back cover says that this book has been described as “too raunchy for teens,” which means it has some realistic detail that teens can surely handle, but their parents and teachers can't. I fault it for a bit too much coincidence, such as having a carnival that tours the country happening to be in her town when she needs it, but it is a rousing story that is unlikely to leave the average reader bored.

I read Elf Mastery by Bryant Reil. This features the teen elf girl Kyla, talkative, impetuous, nervy, who comes to college and meets all manner of other creatures as students, teachers, and other personnel of the institution of Equinox. Such as the demoness Lili who turns fiery when annoyed, as she often is. The nymph Eunoe, pronounced YOON-way, who is a good deal more than she seems. The dryad Aspen, who can do remarkable things with wood. And her roommate Aura, an air spirit who looks ghostly and controls the wind. When there's a dance they have no dates, so Kyla challenges some boys to physical combat: if she wins, they are dates. She promptly loses, as she knows nothing about it, but Aspen bails her out. This is the general way of it: Kyla dives in first, and finds out what she's into later, to the frustration of her more sensible companions. They soon encounter a plot to blot out all the light so the lord of darkness can rule. It's a serious threat; first the stars wink out one by one, then the sun goes dark. Somehow Kyla blunders her way into saving the world. This is one wild adventure with unusual twists, such as a fight between a powerful dwarf and Lug, an earth elemental formed of rocks. When the dwarf goes after Kyla, meaning to kill her, Lug goes after the dwarf. But the dwarf has magic, so that his touch makes Lug collapse into a pile of rubble. But the moment he lets go, the rubble re-forms into Lug, so that the dwarf can't chase Kyla. Lug's job is to make the world revolve by pushing it from the center; when the pushing stops, so does the world, and there are no days or nights. It's a fun story with its own peculiar logic, and I suspect there is more coming, because Kyla has yet to have a romance despite being pretty enough.

I read Lonely At The Top by Thomas Joiner. The thesis is that men do have it easier than women in myriad ways, and tend to get spoiled, so that as life advances they find themselves isolated and finally commit suicide at four times the rate of women. The key is social connections: men run out of friends, while women maintain networks. For health and longevity a person needs to eat correctly, exercise, avoid smoking, drugs and other deleterious pursuits, and have friends, the last being at least as important as the others. The author makes a persuasive case. Why the lack of friends? Partly it's that men tend to be competitive and freeze out others in their race to the top of the heap. Partly it's that in school, college, the military, and in business to an extent they have friends more or less handed to them by the framework, partners in their endeavors, but as they climb the ladder of success these tend to fall away and they don't replace them with new ones. I think of it as like a hemp rope: it is made of many individual strands woven together, and as one ends another takes its place, so the rope remains strong. If one strand left the others behind, and other strands did the same, the rope would thin and finally break. So replacement is the key. This book makes me think, because I do eat right, exercise seriously, maintain my college weight, and stay the hell away from drugs and such. But how many close friends to I have? I'm not close to neighbors, and remain in touch with only one school friend from over 60 years ago, who lives in Canada. When it comes to weekly exchanges of visits with friends I have none; it's just my wife and daughter. My friends, really, are my readers, few of whom I ever meet physically. Does that suffice? I am not at all sure it does. Bleep.

Meanwhile my dull home life continues apace. Now that we have figured out how to identify them, we are discovering young sabal palmettos—remember, that's the state tree of Florida—all around our house and along our drive, and hardly anywhere else. How did they get seeded in? Maybe from the droppings of pigs or squirrels. Anyway, we're glad to have them; in a few years they will transform the appearance of our drive. There is a wasp nest in our back yard rain gauge; I worry that when the monsoon season starts in JeJune a heavy rain will flood it out. I'm not being facetious; we get along okay with wasps. One year cute mini-wasps nested on our front porch, only to get gobbled down by something in the fall. I hope it wasn't the birds; wrens nest all around our house, and there are chimney swifts in the chimney. There are also the pretty little green tree frogs around out house; one lives behind our recording thermometer. A week or so back one spent the night in our front rain gauge; it must have told its friends, because this week there were three there. I have to empty it carefully so they don't feel unwelcome. Regular frogs have long since taken over our unused swimming pool. We moved to the forest for its healthy environment, and try to accommodate the creatures here. Gopher tortoises have burrows right up by the house. We like the deer too; unfortunately they like our Turk's Cap flowers and keep eating off the leaves. I spread old pool enclosure netting around those plants to try to discourage the deer without hurting them; I understand they don't like to step on netting. Hawks and owls nest some years in our yard. And of course there is the big fat raccoon who digs out my carefully buried kitchen garbage. I buried the last batch under layers of fence wire held down by heavy glass bricks; we'll see how that holds. Our little patch of stinging nettles—remember Sting, Nettle, and Nettie?--keeps getting eaten down, we suspect by the tortoises, so I made little wire fences around them, and now one is flowering nicely. All part of the challenge of getting along with the natives. And no, I'm not certain that plants and animals count as friends.

A bit of wisdom I overheard on the radio: sex is between the legs; gender is between the ears. The problem comes when the two do not align.

Clippings: Just 62 rich people have the wealth of the poorer three and a half billion people. But blaming the rich for the hunger of the poor isn't valid; it's not income inequality that hurts but straight poverty. I'm not sure I agree; reduce the inequality, and the poor will gain greatly. For one thing, those in the top 1 percent in income live 15 years longer than those in the poorest 1 percent. Only 2.7% of the folk of the world live right. That is, not smoking, being physically active, and keeping weight down. Others could, if they wanted to; I do. Racism remains much with us; rich black kids go to prison more than poor white kids. We are all made of star dust; the heavier elements that make up our bodies are generated in stars that then go bust and spew their guts into space, where eventually they form into us. There are more possible layouts in the game of Go than there are atoms in the universe; it is said to be the most complex game ever developed by man. It consists of two players alternately putting down black and white pebbles on a board, and a computer program recently beat the human champion. The Holy Bible is one of the ten most challenged books in US libraries. Liberals are blamed for contributing to climate change by opposing nuclear power. Um, as a liberal who does not oppose nuclear power per se, and who lives near a nuclear plant that was shut down because it was so badly mismanaged, I have to say that if the money and effort devoted to nuclear had gone instead to the development of solar power, we would surely be better off.

Between writing my own projects, this month I read eight books, gaining on the backlog. Next month I hope to watch some more videos. Then return to writing, which is my business, after all. I like to think that things are heating up, and not just because we managed to hit 90°F in Apull. We'll see. My best to all of you with the stamina to make it to the end of this column; you must be my kind of folk.

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