|Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.|
I am 82 years old and not getting younger. Projects that I might have
tackled in my youth become more burdensome in my dotage. I still
write my stories and novels and these monthly columns, and my wife
and daughter maintain this HiPiers website. One of the things that
others have taken over for me is the Xanth Character database,
covering all the myriad folk who flicker in and out of Xanth as I and
my contributors keep coming up with more. It's been a long while
since it was mainly Bink and Chameleon, as some of you may have
noticed. Here is an announcement by Doug Harter:
I read Orphans of the Storm by Vance Bessey, a manuscript looking for a publisher. This is young-adult science fiction. The bare outline is simple, but the details are complicated. 17 year old Lucas Fish and 16 year old Katie Byrd are orphans living at the Blackthorne Children's Home with no memories of their original families. They discover that they have special powers. Lucas is quite heavy and strong, especially when he's near water. In fact his fish component makes him a phenomenal swimmer with gills. Katie is light and can fly; she can also carry heavy things into the air, somehow lightening them enough. She can also scream hard enough to shatter glass. They discover each other, and conclude they're related, maybe brother and sister. They work together; he can protect her, and she can carry him to different places. Meanwhile a tough gang of weird mutant teens, maybe human/animal crosses but far stranger, are messing up Crescent City, making it tough for the authorities. Lucas and Katie decide to help the chief of police, who privately deputizes them after seeing what they can do. Then it gets wild and woolly as mutant faces mutant. It turns out to be a plot by crazy Dr. Alan Thanatos, who made the mutants, to conquer or maybe destroy the city and the world. There are way too many variants to describe here, but one example is a boy who can fling sticky tape that entangles anyone it touches. I'm not sure I've ever seen more oddball mutants in one novel that there are here; there is great imagination. Overall this is a fun adventure novel that teens should like. What kind of crossbreed would you like to be, with what special powers?
I watched Set Fire to the Stars, about the poet Dylan Thomas. He was a great poet, but it turns out a pretty wild man in person. Such as getting stinking drunk in public, picking up women—that is, slinging them over his shoulder and running off with them—and similarly wild stunts. But he still can read his poetry with feeling. He's on a week long American tour, if they can just steer him to the readings without disaster. This is John's job: to nursemaid Dylan safely through. It's one nervous challenge. John is the New York academic who brings Dylan to America. He thought he could handle it. It's like steering a ship through a hurricane, admixed with queasy humanity. As a man Dylan can be a slob, but there is genius in the crevices. Dylan freaks out the literati of Harvard and Yale with filthy limericks. The fallout costs John his position. A letter from his wife brings Dylan a vision, evoking his internal demons. In the end the tour promises to be a disaster, but it seemed to be a success in its own fashion. A highly mixed bag that makes me wonder again about the link between genius and insanity; to what extent do they overlap?
I watched Kingsman, The Secret Service. A good parody can be a lot of fun, and this is good. It starts out with a bang, as a James Bond type man lays waste to the captors of a professor, then gets taken out by a shapely woman with metal springs for feet. Then the child Eggsy is given a medal that will be important. 17 years later Galahad, the man who gave it to him, returns to recruit him as a Kingsman. This is an ancient group of secret agents headed by Merlin, whose chief representative is Arthur. Another is Roxanne; this seems to borrow from more than the Arthurian legend. When bullies attack Eggsy, the recruiter lays them waste with stunning violence that doesn't mess up his expensive suit. Who will be the next Lancelot? The qualifying examination is deadly. Roxanne wins it because Eggsy can't bring himself to shoot his dog. I'm with him; a cause that requires the murder of an innocent animal is not one I'd endorse. So the gun had blanks; he didn't know that. I think a sharp operator would check his gun and know exactly what's in it. But Eggsy has his moment, as he uses a phenomenal umbrella to fight off bad guys, leading to one of the more remarkable climaxes I can remember in any movie. Speaking of climaxes, there's a bit at the end with a delightfully naughty captive princess. Fantastic, in the sense that nothing like any of this would ever happen in real life, but a huge amount of fun. Definitely my kind of junk.
I watched Sabotage. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Breacher, whose task force, a sort of swat type team secretly steals ten million dollars, and they stick to their day jobs so no one knows. Then they start dying, one by one. Have they been betrayed? This is one of those movies where sometimes it feels as if every third word is “fuck,” and the women are just as tough and profane as the men. But there's more of a story than just mayhem. Guatemalan killer agents are involved, and a drug cartel. It's brutal. It develops that two years ago Breacher's wife and son were kidnapped, and when he didn't capitulate to demands, they were tortured to death and pieces of them mailed to him along with videos showing the torture in progress. He's out to get revenge, and that colors everything and leads to the savage destruction of his team. He uses the stolen money to buy the information he needs, then completes his mission of vengeance in a gory finale. Not my favorite type.
I watched Amelia, the story of Amelia Earhart, the famous female flier. It seems it was promotional from the start. Putnam Books was involved, and she had to put on a dress for public appearances because a pretty girl was bigger news than a plain one, regardless what else. They needed to sell books, and to gain financing. It was primarily a business relationship, but in the movie George Putnam wants to marry her, though she protests she's not the marrying kind; she just wants to fly. But she finally gives in and marries him. I didn't believe that, so looked it up: she did marry him. She flies solo across the Atlantic Ocean. It's nervous flying through a storm. Also when she has an affair with another man, Gene Vidal, (maybe a brother of Gore?) but breaks it off. Then in 1937 she tries for the biggest feat yet: flying nonstop across the Pacific. This requires refueling in midair. But the plane's lading gear breaks, and she doesn't get off the ground. So she tries again after repairs are made. But her navigator has a drinking problem. That could be mischief on the flight. There are headwinds that cost them nine percent of their fuel; more mischief. The battery on the direction finder is dead; they can't track her plane. Radio reception is bad. And they vanished over the Pacific, and were never found. Small wonder! Which is the problem with life: happy ending not guaranteed. Maybe she died the way she wanted to, in an ambitious flight.
I read Unicorn Hunters by Keith Robinson. Unearthlytales.com. This is the beginning of a new series set in the Isle of Fog realm, now with the son of the prior main character. This is Travis, 12, coming of age to become a shapeshifter. He wants to be a dragon like his father, but dragons are no longer allowed, so he'll be a wyvern instead, like a small dragon. But when he gets the treatment, it turns out that his immune system is so strong that it won't last long, maybe only a few days. He meets Nitwit, an annoying waist-high imp whom he regards as a friend, though somehow she never quite helps him. Then he runs afoul of poachers, and this is a pointed play on poaching as done on our Earth, with unscrupulous men using technology like guns and jeeps to capture wild creatures for profit. He tries to save a unicorn but gets captured himself, imprisoned among twenty assorted fantasy creatures. Some are deadly dangerous, but still he wants to get them back into the wild where they belong. The main adventure is about that, as he struggles to free them but keeps getting countered by the savvy boss poacher. In the end he does succeed, thanks to his determination and nerve, and escapes himself winning the trust of the unicorn, but his shapeshifting ability expires. It also seems that Nitwit is imaginary, but she isn't; she merely was under a curse to not help him. I like her, and hope to see more of her in the following novels. I do recommend this one to readers who liked the Island of Fog series, and to new readers, who can start with this one with minimal confusion. It is taut hard-hitting adventure, with many interesting creatures.
I watched Sleeping Beauty. Yes, the famous fairy tale about the baby, Princess Dawn, who was cursed to sleep for a century after pricking her finger on a spindle at her sixteenth birthday, and the whole kingdom sleeps too. But more complicated. A century later the prince's whipping boy—who gets punished when the arrogant prince misbehaves—discovers a message about that sleeping kingdom. I think he is called Faro (I have trouble hearing all the dialogue, and this one lacks subtitles); he is the son of the former king. The prince decides to go there despite the danger, with his entourage and Faro, who gets no respect. A monster attacks them on the moat and the castle is inaccessible. They send Faro to climb a wall and secure a rope so they can get in via an upper story the next day. Then they rest for the night. Zombies and other monsters arise and attack. Whenever there is danger, Faro has to tackle it first. He acquits himself well, but still gets no respect. The prince is pretty much a turd. The wicked witch is actively defending the castle, showing her nice breasts as she plots mischief. She captures the prince and converts him to her cause; he will marry her instead of the sleeping princess. The evil witch has the power to rouse the dead, including the recently killed, so slain enemies keep coming back. Faro finally kisses the sleeping princess, and Dawn wakes, and so does the rest of her kingdom. Happy ending of a junky but fun movie.
I read Sinister Roots by Keith Robinson. Unearthlytales.com. This is the second in the current series, sequel to Unicorn Hunters, featuring twelve year old Travis again. This time he is sent with a friend to deliver a box to the Grim Reaper, which turns out to be a finger the death figure lost. But the main story is about those roots. It turns out that a giant brain below is sending up shoots that resemble trees, which spread sort of scorpion-like creatures to take over creatures above and make them cooperate in a general expansion. The way the big bugs take over people reminds me of The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. They ride a person's back and control him. But Travis, who this time can shape change into a deadly chimera with the head of a lion, tail of a snake, and head of a fire-spitting goat on his back, manages to change forms and escape. He realizes that they are about to take over the planet, and has a scary adventure trying to stop them. This is another compelling story that adults should enjoy as well as teens. I have said it before: this is an author who deserves a much larger readership.
I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had heard about it for years, and finally the price came down to my level, in this case about four dollars for a two and a half hour movie. The setting is Sweden of about a decade ago. Mikael is a prominent journalist who has just been convicted of libel, with a fine that wiped out his estate. There's a question whether the verdict was justified, but he's disgraced regardless. A wealthy man hires him to investigate a 40 year old murder, in the guise of writing a biography of the family: A young woman, Harriet, disappeared and is presumed dead, killed by a member of the family, which has ugly connections, such as Nazism in the past. Meanwhile Lisbeth, a tattooed lesbian or AC/DC biker and hacker, was hired to investigate Mikael, helping build the case against him. Her personal life is awful; she's a former juvenile delinquent whose guardian forces her to have ugly sex to get the money she is entitled to, that she needs for food and her computer. Really ugly; at one point he chains her naked to the bed, prone, hands and feet bound apart, so he can anally rape her while she struggles and screams in outrage. Well, he fucked with the wrong person. Anticipating mischief, she had made a video recording of the occasion that will be uploaded and publicized if he crosses her again. She returns to tie him up and torture him and burn I AM A RAPIST PIG on his chest and belly. Hereafter he will not interfere with her finances or her life at all, or else. The sequence is strongly reminiscent of the movie I reviewed a few months ago, I Spit on Your Grave, where the woman turns out to be more vicious than the man. Mikael learns about Lisbeth and makes a deal with her to help him run down a serial killer of women, beginning maybe with that 40 year old murder. They are making progress when his cat turns up brutally dead: a warning. He continues investigating, and gets shot at: another warning. Lisbeth stitches up his grazed forehead, then has sex with him. Why? She likes working with him, and knows how to please a man when she wants to. They do make a good team. Then the murderer traps Mikael and is about to kill him when Lisbeth rescues him and chases the killer into a fiery crash. But he didn't kill Harriet. In fact she escaped and survived and is there as an alias. Then finally they manage to clear Mikael of the false libel charge. And turn the tables on the bad billionaire. This is one powerful movie, with hard-hitting scenes that may turn off some viewers.
I watched The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, a sort of sequel to ...Dragon Tattoo. It takes place five years later, and it is in Swedish with English subtitles. I think the actors are different. Lisbeth is in the hospital after trying to kill her criminal father with an ax and getting shot in the head. He's in the hospital too, but an associate pulls a gun and kills him, then goes after Lisbeth but can't reach her. Some mysterious organization wants them both permanently silenced. Maybe its because of what she will reveal in her autobiography, which will detail her sexual abuse from age twelve on. Mikael is hired to work on the story, and of course he knows Lisbeth from before and is on her side. A psychiatrist has diagnosed her criminally insane; her lawyer wants to get an independent evaluation, but she refuses to talk to more psychiatrists. I know how that is, having as a fouled up child refused to see more child psychiatrists, who I was satisfied had little real understanding of children. They were going by the book, and I was beyond the book, even then. So she goes from the hospital to prison. Meanwhile the people trying to defend her are getting threatened. But with the help of Mikael the defense gathers and presents shocking evidence that not only vindicates her, but gets a number of officials arrested. One bad guy remains free. He comes after her, but she manages to escape and leave him in a trap that gets him killed. She says thank you to Mikael, though he surely deserves more.
I watched The Girl Who Played With Fire, which it seems is the second in this series, not the third as I had supposed. So I watched them out of order, but it doesn't much matter. Swedish, with English subtitles. Hard-hitting movie regardless. There's a big sex trafficking ring, and Mikael's magazine plans to run a story that will blow it wide open. But on the eve of publication the two chief investigators are brutally murdered, and Lisbeth's fingerprints are on the murder weapon. Mikael does not believe she did it, but the hunt for her is on. She sees the posters and starts her own investigation. She ties up a man who might know something and makes him talk; she can be viciously persuasive. But so can the bad guys, and they're after her. Which makes for an interesting contest. The worst man is Zala, who turns out to be Lisbeth's father. Whom she had tried to kill, when a teen, for cause. Now she confronts him and her equally tough half brother, who shoots her and buries her. But she isn't quite dead. She digs out and comes after them, though in a sad way herself. Until Mikael comes to rescue her. This movie ends there; we already know what follows. These movies are not for the faint hearted.
I read Magenta Salvation, by Piers Anthony and Ken Kelly, the third volume in a collaborative trilogy that has not yet found a publisher, though I am zeroing in on one. The prior two are Virtue Inverted and Amazon Expedient, following the adventures of Benny Clout as he grows and learns. In the first book he marries a vampire, Virtue, who is actually the loveliest and nicest girl any man could hope to find. In the second his friend Dale marries Helena Amazon, whom he met at a martial arts tournament. In the third Benny tragically loses Virtue and marries Magenta, a former prostitute who is phenomenally more than that. Of course there are other details along the way, such as saving their world from destruction by savage enemies. It's a complicated and hard hitting story that Kelly worked out and I enhanced, and I believe readers will like it when they get a chance to read it. Why weren't the prior volumes published before? Because I have certain foibles, such as refusing to give a publisher life-of-copyright rights; that means we can't recover our literary rights until seventy years after we die. Also, wanting a publisher that actually cares about authors and books. What, don't all publishers care, as they claim? Not exactly, as I have discovered through long and sometimes bitter experience, such as getting blacklisted for protesting getting cheated. So I'm choosy.
I watched Lara Croft Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life. I figured it to be a wild action adventure with glimpses of Angelina Jolie's nice body. Right on. I love her long hair. Lara needs to obtain Pandora's Box, somewhere in China, and she needs the help of Terry Sheridan, a treacherous mercenary and her ex lover who betrayed her before. So she springs him from prison and gives him another chance. They travel by motorcycle, perilously racing each other, then allow themselves to be taken prisoner by a dangerous Chinese gang, so they can learn where the next clue is, the Orb. The action is impossible, of course. The Orb indicates that the Box is in Africa, near Kilimanjaro. Nice shots of the animals and plants of the area. It is said that anybody who goes to the Cradle of Life will die. But the bad guys arrive and take them there. And the monsters of the forest attack. The Box is floating in a pool of acid. It contains germs that will destroy the world. Lara kills Terry to stop him from taking it, and puts it back in the acid. She has saved the world. It's a fun movie.
I watched Lord Jim, because I was curious. I tried to read the book decades ago, as it was considered a classic, but found it too dull to finish after getting maybe 150 pages into it. Classics can be like that; beware of what critics like. So what was the story? The movie clarifies it. Jim is an officer aboard a ship that goes down in a storm. He survives, mostly by chance, and is considered a coward who deserted his ship rather than go down with it. It was hardly that simple, but he is stuck with his shame. Thereafter he seeks anonymity, not taking credit for good things he does. Captured in India, he is tortured to make him tell where barrels of gunpowder are, but does not yield. He is put with a pretty woman for an hour to reconsider, but instead of persuading him she helps him escape. He organizes a defense for the local village, against great odds. There is one rousing battle, which they manage to win thanks to Jim's strategy. He gets the girl. But he has not told them of his background as a coward. Then he must negotiate with the leader of the criminal band to stop further bloodshed. It will work only if there is mutual trust, and his life will be forfeit if any good guy dies. But the bad guys betray the deal and kill one. They kill the bad guys, but Jim feels his own life is now forfeit. As it is. This was a difficult movie for me to watch, but not because of boredom. Jim's life was sacrificed because the bad guys cheated? Maybe I should have tried harder on the book.
Much political commentary in the news as the election approaches. I have been politically independent since I first registered to vote in 1959 after getting my US citizenship, but am of a liberal bent, and the Donkeys have generally been closer to my preferences than the Elephants. That's true this time, too. It annoys me that all the Elephants have done is vote about sixty times to repeal Obamacare without actually offering anything viable in its place; it just seems that they resent the good it does for the folk at the bottom of the heap. That they won't even consider the current well qualified nominee for the Supreme Court. In other employments, if a person refuses to do his job, he gets fired. So much of the current scene strikes me as trumpery, and I'm tempted to call the ladies who perversely support anti-female policies strumpets. Their noisy animals would be trumpets, and on Halloween they would put out lighted hollow trumpkins. With luck it will all get sorted out early in NoRemember.
I have subscribed to the genre news magazine LOCUS www.locusmag.com since its inception over 40 years ago, though it seems to have a policy of blanking out any news there might be about me. However, the October issue has a column by writer Kameron Hurley that impresses me, as it is one of the most cogent statements of the craft that I've seen. She starts out “Most writers quit,” and goes on to say that many writers get angry when she says things like that. Yes, sometimes it's easier to get mad than to face the truth. She continues “The realization that writing is an art but publishing is a business can be demoralizing.” Amen. Or as I put it, the average traditional publisher doesn't give half a used fart for the welfare of the average writer. They're in business to make money, while most writers write to express their artistic dream: that's the eternal conflict. Fortunately the newer smaller electronic publishers can care about art, literature, and human beings, more than about money, which is one reason I try to encourage them. And she says “Once you begin publishing, you realize that the writing itself is the easiest part of the business, and you long for the days when all you did was write, when you had a passion and a purpose.” I don't, because I retain that passion and purpose and am well enough off financially so that I can indulge them without starving. But I'm not an average writer; I'm that one in maybe ten thousand (one percent of one percent) who got lucky enough to make a really good living at it. The average successful writer constantly flirts with poverty, and if a publisher says in effect “We'll pay you good money to eat this shit,” well, he eats that shit or he's done for. No wonder so many quit; they feel cleaner digging out sewers. She continues “As human beings, we need to believe that our lives have meaning.” Yes indeed; I do. Go read the whole of it, especially if you are an aspiring writer. You may not like it, but it's the truth.
The November 4, 2016 issue of THE WEEK has a one page article titled the Hacking Epidemic.” It scares the crap out of me. Yes, we all know that hackers are constantly trying to make mischief, but it's just an inconvenience, nothing really serious, and outfits like WikiLeaks post some amusing embarrassments. Oh, yeah? This spells out the danger: Russian and Chinese hackers are trying to mess up the American election; should they succeed, they would in effect dictate who will be our next president. Why bother to have an election then? Just let these Communist countries install our officials directly. If that appeals to you, okay, but the prospect appalls me. Short of that, what damage can hackers do? If they achieve their desire, and they are scarily close to it now, they can destroy the computers that run our infrastructure, shutting down our electricity, water supply, cellphone towers, trains, airport lights and more, so that we could not travel or do our jobs or survive long in our houses, and we'd have trouble just buying groceries. We are increasingly connecting household electronics to the internet, which makes them vulnerable. If the hackers get better at it, they could make our civilization crash, putting us back into a dark age. You think it could never happen? Dream on.
I am a vegetarian, and have been since 1953. I heard from a recent vegan. No, that's not a person from Venus. It's a form of vegetarianism, one step farther: no animal products are used. That is, no eggs, milk, cheese, or furs. I eat eggs and milk because they are nutritious and it doesn't hurt the animals to give them, assuming they aren't kept in factory farms. I don't use leather, because it hurts to take the skin off a creature. The fact is, the world would be better off if it went vegetarian or vegan, because the amounts of water, grains, and space used to raise animals for slaughter is destroying the viability of our natural planet, not to mention the moral brutality of murdering innocent creatures for their flesh. But meat is good food; the development and prosperity of mankind stems from his conversion to an omnivorous diet, so he could find food year round and conquer the world. So just giving up meat is not enough; you need to eat consciously for your health, getting the nourishment that meat provides, from other sources. Today that is feasible. We buy vegan products at the grocery store, such as frozen Amy's; they're tasty and healthy. For those who love the taste and texture of meat and can't endure without it, there are imitation meats that come pretty close to the real thing, so that excuse is no longer valid. To check this out, my correspondent provided eight links relating to debunking myths, saving money, raising vegan kids, gardening, composting and improving, diets for seniors, and a diet for addiction recovery.
Sesame Street Autism Resources for Parents
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