I watched the DISCOVER video Mega Disasters: Volcanic Winter.
75,000 years ago Mt. Toba erupted on Sumatra, vastly more powerful
than any contemporary volcano, a super volcano, putting cubic miles
of magma into the sky and wiping out all life within 500 miles. But
that was only the beginning. It blew so much ash and sulfur dioxide
into the stratosphere 15 miles up that it brought climatic chaos,
including a volcanic winter that dropped the global temperature
twenty five degrees Fahrenheit, bringing a freezing death for a
decade, and a thousand year ice age that was already in the making.
Animal and plant life were devastated, including mankind. There may
have been a million people spread around Africa and Asia at the time;
they were almost wiped out, reduced to maybe 30,000 in Africa near
the equator, the one place where there was a bit of warmth. We alive
today date from that tiny fragment of 5,000 breeding-age females.
Other animals also crashed similarly. We date our modern genesis to
Toba. If such an eruption should happen again today, could we survive
it? There will indeed be similar eruptions, that we are unable to
prevent. Some are in America, such as Yellowstone, which is a
gigantic caldera. It erupts every 600,000 years or so, and is about
due again. It could cover the entire united States in four inches of
ash, burying everything, and the air would be too toxic to breathe,
the water too polluted to drink. We'd be doomed. It's not a question
of if, but when. We can only hope that it's not soon.
I read The Gray Stopgap by DL Tolleson, published by the
Lighthouse Press originally in 2001; this is the 4th
edition. Nevertheless, it could use a competent proofreader; there
are multiple minor errors. (The author advises me that they are
indeed going over it to deal with those errors.) It is, however, one
powerful novel, and there is a movie option on it. It could certainly
make a hard hitting movie. Karns Gray has been the subject of an
experiment that almost killed him but left him with some unusual
mental and physical powers, among them, maybe, immortality, if he
doesn't get killed. He falls in love with Gail, who suddenly tells
him she's pregnant and not by him, and ends their relationship, but
he can't stop loving her. Another woman comes to love him, but he is
locked into the memory of his first love. He also has a devious
connection to a dangerous artificial intelligence called FORBS, Then,
twenty years later, he encounters Gail again, and learns that she did
love him, and still does, and that she bore his daughter. So why did
she leave him? Ah, there's part of the story. So there's a kind of
romance mixed in with complicated technology and some brutal action.
Satellites and airplanes have been erratically losing contact in
certain regions, and they can't figure out why. Gray is investigating
why, and it leads him to some ugly encounters. This is borderline
science fiction, and not for every taste; for example some of the sex
is lethally intense and memories of past events can be ugly. But
overall it is compelling and sometimes mind stretching, and I
recommend it for readers who like unusual adventure and can handle
the tough sections. There will be a sequel in due course.
I watched Wild. I read the book and reviewed it here in 2013:
the story of Cheryl Strayed who set out to hike the thousand mile
long Pacific Crest Trail, ruined her feet, and changed her life. She
was woefully unprepared for the ordeal; just carrying her huge supply
backpack was a struggle. She knew she could quit anytime, but refused
despite fatigue, discomfort, and fear. She does take breaks to get
decent meals and maybe a shower, returning to the same spot on the
trail to resume progress. The movie intersperses her memories, as the
book did; the movie seems reasonably true to the book. She meets a
few other hikers, mostly at rest stops, decent men who well
understand the challenge of the trail. But she marches on alone,
through desert and then snow. And through her memories. How she
cheated on her husband, a decent man. How her mother died, too young,
at 45. Her prior sexual encounters; she was a woman who liked sex. Is
she lonely on the trail? No worse than in her life. Drugs. After her
divorce she took the same Strayed because she had strayed. On the
trail, thirst: a tank of water for travelers turned out to be empty.
Finds contaminated water, uses iodine pills to denature it.
Encounters men she helps get water, but is extremely wary of their
attitude toward her. Yet she finds friends among the hikers, and
music is ever with her, in her head. Her life has been like the
trail, often difficult, unpleasant, wrongheaded, yet ultimately
redeeming. She makes it to the Canadian border, and lo, her fouled up
life has changed. Do I recommend this movie? Yes, I believe it has
something to say to every person who risks the awkward trail we call
I watched The Charge of The Light Brigade. This relates,
coincidentally, to the Russian/Turkish war that stimulated jingoism
in England, as I mentioned in the last HiPiers column. Was England
going to let the Russian bear push Turkey around? This starts with
the social aspect, the impression the horsemen make on the ladies.
The elegant dancing. The fancy meals. The training of the horsemen.
The racism. The British officers look down on Indians—that is,
folk from India, who are darker than the Brits. But the main
character is from service in India and is said to be the finest
horseman in Europe. So they need him, but there is friction. British
arrogance is on full display. It is interspersed by nice cartoons of
the Russian Bear, Turkey as an innocent maiden, and the British Lion.
The Bear grabs the Maiden, the Lion punches the Bear in the snoot and
saves the maiden. Or so the popular jingoistic fancy has it. Then
back to the reality, which is much more brutal. Cholera infects the
troops, who start falling to the ground, struck down before ever
engaging the enemy. The men march, the horses prance. Then the
explosive shells start detonating, and they march on past the bodies.
War ain't beanbags. The Russians have taken over the British big
guns, and it is the job of the light brigade to recover those guns.
It is supposed to flank them, but the incompetent commander charges
them from the front, and of course the brigade gets mowed down. Then
the officers argue about who gave the order. Thus is one of the
finest brigades wiped out by officers' folly. This movie is effective
on more than one level, and a good one.
I watched Misconduct, wherein a young lawyer is almost seduced
by his ex girlfriend and learns of evidence incriminating a corrupt
pharmacy magnate she works for and is dating. This is mischief, but
he is determined to pursue the case. He is soon risking his wife,
career, and his own life, the likely price unless he quits. The
opposition isn't bluffing; people start dying. It gets ugly. But he
wins through to discover that things aren't as he thought they were.
Considered overall, for my taste the big names like Al Pacino and
Anthony Hopkins, and several pretty girls, don't make up for a
scatter-shot plot that hardly makes sense.
I watched The Age of Adaline, about a woman who suffers a near
death experience at age 29 and thereafter never ages. Her daughter
becomes an old woman, aging normally, but keeps her secret. Then she
falls in love. That's mischief, of course. Does she tell him, or
break it off? Then she meets his folks, and his father is one of her
former boyfriends, and remembers her. She tries to flee again,
suffers another near death experience, and resumes aging. And marries
the son, after telling him the truth. So it's a standard romance, in
a manner, with with that difference. I loved it.
I watched Half-Caste, one of my dollar movies. Four students are
fascinated with an African legend of a half-human, half-leopard
creature, like a werewolf; call it a were-leopard. Head of a leopard,
body of a man. Not to be believed, of course. Until it starts
manifesting. They handle it like a documentary, with hand held movie
cameras and action-activated cameras. A person becomes an animal,
charging around on four feet, attacking others. Two of the boys get
aggressive about the girl as they quarrel among themselves. Sometimes
it seems that every third word is “Fuck!” It finally
dissolves into mindless violence. It has Spanish subtitles; I regret
I never got to learn Spanish; it was the one foreign language I
wanted to, but I was required to take Latin and German instead.
I watched Hell's Gate, another dollar movie with Spanish
subtitles. A little girl wanders off the farm and meets another girl
her age, before her mother calls her back home. Then escaped
prisoners invade and kill her parents, before she manages to shoot
them. Or was it really she who did it, or the other girl? 18 years
later paranormal things start happening, such as a friend getting
mysteriously killed, and she sees that girl again, now a woman. But
she's off her meds. She sees the number 11:11 scratched in blood. She
evinces a paranormal mind state. Doors open mysteriously for her, and
close. Others suspect her of doing mischief. The phantom woman is the
one who did the killing. Sarah backs her off to save her boyfriend,
but then has to go with the phantom. Children again, they walk into
the field. Or is it a dream? If it is, the horror continues. Is she
sane? The easiest answer is No.
I watched The Demon Within, the third dollar movie. The
protagonist is named Sarah again. She's taking sculpture classes, and
finds herself living next to a deranged murderer who acts out Hamlet.
Sarah gets interested in her art teacher, while the murderer prowls
around, setting little spy cameras. Is there an incubus in the area,
trying to enter Sarah's dreams to get her pregnant? Is Sarah psychic?
She talks to the local Tarot reader, who is very afraid for her—and
he kills the reader. The art teacher dies in a separate accident.
Then Sarah spies on him, and learns how he has been spying on
her. He comes after her. She flees. He tries to rape her, and
throws her into the sea. Then a statue of her appears in his
apartment, opens its eyes, and stabs him. And it turns out she has
survived, when all around her died, and is pregnant with the demon
seed. There will surely be future mischief.
I read A Moment of War by Laurie Lee (a man despite the name).
This is a memoir about his service during the Spanish Civil War. I
read it because I have an interest, having been there myself at a
young age. To rehearse a history that some of my readers already
know: My parents were doing relief work in Spain for the British
Quaker organization in 1936 when General Franco and his minions used
Spain's own army to invade and conquer it, 1936-39. Once the fighting
stopped, my sister and I rejoined the family there in Barcelona,
Spain. Then my father was arrested in 1940, apparently simply because
he was there, and “disappeared,” except that he managed
to smuggle out a message and my mother used that and the threat of
substantial withdrawal of international financial support to get him
out. Quaker pacifism be damned; you have to communicate with
dictators in a language they understand. It is one reason I grew up
to be neither pacifist nor Quaker, thought I respect the precepts to
a fair extent. But he was required to leave the country, as dictators
don't like to leave evidence of their mistakes. That's how we came to
America on the last ship out before World War Two engulfed Europe. I
had my 6th birthday on the ship, the Excalibur,
(signaling my future career in fantasy?) with a cake made of sawdust,
as pastry supplies were scant. Thus my interest; that war did
significantly affect my life. And yes, I don't like dictators, though
I'm glad to be in America instead of growing up in Spain, as might
otherwise have been the case. The war in Spain was really a rehearsal
for the later war in Europe, as the Axis powers tried out their new
hardware on Spanish targets, notably shown in Picasso's Guernica
painting. The allies mostly ignored this, until their turn came.
There's a lesson to ponder. Okay, Laurie Lee crossed the Pyrenees in
winter to sneak in and join the resistance. They treated him with
suspicion, but let him participate. His experience shows the
fouled-up-edness of the effort, with good guys getting killed by
friends as well as by enemies, and general ineffectiveness. For
example, one man was set up with a machine-gun, but when the enemy
came it turned out they had given him the wrong ammunition. So much
for him. Th author saw a lot of hungry waiting and little action.
Resistance fighters came from all over the world, which meant a
problem in communication. They trained using pretend rifles and a
covered pram as a mock enemy tank. As time passed half the unit he
was in disappeared, probably mostly from disgust and desertion.
Finally he was sent back to England via France, with foul-ups that
put him three weeks in prison; this must have been before the Germans
invaded France. The whole thing is just a fragment, but the bleakness
of his experience and indeed, the whole effort, comes across via his
beautifully evocative writing. This is definitely worth reading,
particularly by those idiots who now flock similarly to ISIS. War is
not glorious and not fun; it is ugly and scary, especially for the
ordinary citizens reluctantly caught in it.
I watched Duck Dynasty, Season One, borrowed from my daughter. I
had understood that there was bigotry, but I didn't see that here. It
starts with a general introduction to the characters and discussion
of the making of the video. They
are rednecks and proud of it. One nice thing is that at the beginning
of each program they spot identify the characters as they appear, so
you can keep track. I mean, all rednecks look pretty much alike to
me, though their wives, daughters, and sisters-in-law
are sightly. The central character is Willie; the others are his
relatives, associates, and whatnot. They
are trying to organize the business of making duck calls and decoys,
and things are fouling up. The men are long haired, full
bearded and look chronically unkempt,
but they mean to establish a multi-million dollar commercial
enterprise, there in the Louisiana swamp. The women seem often
auxiliary; what's important is how well they can cook.
Big family meals, blessed at the start. Sports are vital. Willie
tries to teach his wife to play football, without much success; it's
not a woman thing.
They carve a football field out of the wilderness and choose up teams
to play a family game. Togetherness, though
some family members are more responsible than others.
A beaver dam interrupts their water flow, so they blow it up,
my day, the beaver was a protected species, but they go to war
against the beavers with bullets and flame throwers. The
fact is, in their meandering way they are pretty efficient as they
move into modern times. They also take time off for golf, their
way: hitting the balls into the air and shooting them there like
skeets. Frog catching and yucky butchering.
A squirrel hunt. Mama insists on getting goats; that's mischief. I
was raised on a goat farm; I remember. I
also learned about ducks, and maybe about women: “Ducks
are like women: they don't like a lot of mud on their butts.”
Live and learn. Mama also decides to learn how to run a restaurant, but
changes her mind when she discovers how complicated it is.
They decide to build the world's biggest duck call, starting with a
suitable tree trunk. More trouble. But it works. Then they
decide to go into wine making, so they buy a vineyard—where all
the plants are dead. There is evidently some work to do. The four
girl children participate. They play around and get all muddy, so the
men hose them off in their clothing.
The girls aren't keen on gutting fish, either. So they buy some table
grapes—a grape's a grape, after all—and set about
squeezing out the juice. It's sort of messy. They don't have time for
nuances; they simply dump the juice in with a few bags of sugar:
their original recipe, like nothing known before. It looks great in
wine glasses, but tastes like crap. Oh, well. Then into honey; they set out to
vacuum up wild bees to get at their honey. They get stung. Also
sprayed by a skunk. Par for the course. We learn how to handle the
boyfriend of your fourteen year old daughter: you make her cry, I
make you cry. Then a fishing contest, to see who can make the most money
selling fish. Catching big catfish in nets. Setting up a stand by the
roadside. Only one problem: folk aren't stopping to buy the fish.
What to do? Find a different market. Sell direct to a restaurant? But
they need more than you have. So you make a deal with the competition
to merge the catches to make enough for the bigger deal.
The women get a sewing machine but don't know how to use it. Lo, Paw
knows how, and competently demonstrates;
he learned it in the army. An ornery alligator appears in the
equipment; how to get it out? Put meat on a string and haul it off to
the water. Then they go turkey hunting, because turkeys taste better than ducks. The males try to mate with the decoy, and get shot. Then the blindfolded judging: which turkey tastes better, the men's or the women's?
The women's. Ah, well. Willie gets tired of trying to keep the business
when the family keeps veering off every which way. So he stakes the
company's future on a race between two big snapping turtles. His
turtle wins. So what's next? Thus ends the first season. The bonus
disc has a half hour interview with the actors, who seem to enjoy
being in the show. It was more fun for me to watch than I expected,
not being a redneck.
What else in the month of AwGhost? I worked on a collaborative novel with
Ken Kelly, Magenta Salvation, writing almost 18,000 words as
part of my contribution. It's the third in a trilogy we don't yet
have a publisher for. The novels are good enough, but publishers can
be a nuisance. One got Xanthitis, wanting only Xanth from me; that's
fairly common. Another is good, but slow; my pieces can take years to
see publication. Another wanted us to sign away life-of-copyright,
meaning we don't get our literary rights back until 70 years after we
die. They pretend not to understand why that doesn't appeal to
authors. Others are unproven; I want to know that my work will be
fairly treated, effectively promoted, and honestly handled in the
accounts. It's dismaying how that turns off some publishers. I have
several novellas at small publishers I like, as my monthly
announcements show; I'm waiting to see what their sales are like. So
far I haven't found the Perfect Publisher. If I have to, I'll
organize my own Piers Publishing, doing it right. But I'm not eager,
knowing that countless others have had the same idea, and wound up
doing it wrong. My synapses are hard wired for writing, not
publishing, and I'm old; I'm trying to simplify my life, rather than
complicate it. Stay tuned; I'll probably decide one way or another by
the end of the year.
Did I mention age? I had my 82nd birthday AwGhost 6. We
celebrated with a slice of cheesecake, no candles. The day before, I
stubbed my bare right foot against the bathroom door frame, just
missing by a little in the dark. Hoo! It took hours for the pain to
subside, and days for the purple bruises to fade, and at the end of
the month I still get twinges when I walk wrong. So what's my advice
for octogenarians? DON'T STUB YOUR TOES. Then a week later I was
manhandling the wheelchair out of a tight fit in the car, and must
have pulled a muscle, because next morning my left shoulder was sore.
That, too, persisted for weeks, and still twinges when I exercise.
Why the wheelchair? Because my wife tires if she has to walk too far
or stand too long, and the wheelchair eases that. We do what we can
to cope with the inconveniences of advancing age. As I like to put
it, age is a lady dog.
Remember that sabal palmetto (cabbage palm) I cut down behind the house?
Belatedly recognizing it as the state tree of Florida, I let it be
thereafter, and am watching it grow back. This is interesting.
Regular trees grow from the top, but palms evidently grow from the
bottom. First a beheaded stalk grew up about a foot. Then came
another with the tips of the frond missing, the stubbed fingers
forming a fan about eight inches deep. That's where it was in the
ground when I cut things off at ground level. Then came a spike,
which grew about three feet tall and slowly opened into a magnificent
40 segment frond, still growing. Now another spike is rising. The
tree is in business, and I will not molest it again.
About six months ago I bought a batch of books, one of which was the huge
Sports Illustrated SWIMSUIT—50 Years of Beautiful, which
we put on the coffee table, and I look at it daily. I love the body
painting, where the fancy suits are painted on; the models are
actually nude. I like the way they show all the relevant covers for
that half century, followed by a listing with little pictures of all
the models in alphabetical order by first name. I note that only U,
W, and X are missing; you'd think they could have rousted up models
named Ursula, Wanda, or Xanthe. But I spied a mystery: who modeled
the fabulous cover, showing the buxom torso in front on the front
cover, and from the back on the back cover? She wears a bikini
consisting of pictures from the volume. Neat. There is no credit.
Bugged, I pondered pictures, and finally identified her: Tyra Banks,
the first model of color to make the series. Her small pictures are
on the suit in front and back. So I solved the mystery. But why no credit?
What else was there? Oh, yes, the Olympics. I watched them in fragments,
as I was busy writing, reading, or doing household chores, so missed
most of it; my wife watched more. I was struck by the synchronized
swimming, which was absolutely beautiful. I love art in sports, being
an artist myself. Yes, you critics: writing is an art, though I had
once aspired to be a painter. I also liked the Beach Volleyball,
seeing those slender girls bouncing around. But I wondered about the
scoring: does a game go 15, 21, or 25 points? Do you have to win the
serve before a point counts? There did not seem to be consistency.
Also, sometimes one team would win a decisive point, only to have it
credited to the other side, no one protesting. Volleyball seems to
have changed since my day. In high school, for a routine assignment,
I wrote a paper titled The Volleyballiad, a parody of
The Iliad that wowed the class. It featured players like
Achoos, flat of foot, which the teacher corrected to Achilles fleet
of foot; it seemed my humor did not make the grade. Then there were
the relay races, in one of which the American team took third place,
only to be subsequently disqualified on a technicality. I will be
watching less of that in future.
Songs and poems constantly flicker through the hollows of my cranium, and
sometimes they are elusive. Decades ago I hear Eddie Fisher sing a
song one of whose refrains was “I'm glad I kissed those other
lips, before I kissed your own; if I had not kissed those other lips,
I never would have known.” Trying to run it down, I got a book
listing all the popular songs of the century. Everything was there
but that one. I bought a series that recorded them; ditto. I verified
its existence via the Internet. But when I finally got the words,
they weren't there. The latter part of the refrain was “For I
was young, so very young, I never would have known.” But I had
heard the song on the radio, and later saw Fisher sing it on TV; I
was struck by “If I had not kissed those other lips.” Am
I in an alternate reality, where if the song is credited at all, it
is worded wrong? Well now it is happening again, in a different
venue, poetry. I have heard snatches of Edna St. Vincent Millay's
poem “Trains,” with the lines “...bells clang, and
the whistle blowing; there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter
where it's going.” Folk of the contemporary realm don't
understand the fascination of trains of my day, where they
represented the lure of travel to faraway places or the return to
civilization from the distant wastelands. But that poem simply isn't
in my comprehensive literary references. I did find one I wasn't
looking for at that moment: “My candle burns at both ends; it
will not last the night. But oh my foes and ah my friends, it gives a
wondrous light.” Maybe if I had been looking for that one, I
would have found the train. Well, this month my wife went online and
found the poem. It is titled “Travel” and the lines are
fouled up. “...and better friends I'll not be knowing; Yet
there isn't a train I wouldn't take, No matter where it's going.”
The Internet was too much for the curse, but still the curse messed
up title and line. It's hard to win against the supernatural. Then
there was the VCR movie I ordered a decade or so back, and they sent
me the wrong one. Mine started with Seven or Seventh; so did theirs,
but it wasn't the one I had ordered. Rather than argue the case, I
decided to reorder the correct one—and never found it available
again. It still bugs me today, and I have gone over catalog after
catalog looking for it, and finding every other movie starting with
Seven but not that. I even forgot the exact title, which complicated
things. But I had marked it on the cover of incorrect one; all I
needed to do was check that, get the correct title, and resume my
search. I can no longer play VCR tapes, so I want it on DVD. I
checked the boxes where I stored all those hundreds of old tapes—and
it wasn't there. The one I wanted to check was missing. I must have
set it aside, and now in my senescence can't remember where. Did I
mention how age is a lady dog? Then one day I got a genius (for me)
notion: I have an old 800 page video catalog that might list it. And
lo, I had even circled it and folded down the corner of the page,
back when I did know the title. It is The Seventh Seal, a 1957
movie featuring Ingmar Bergman, wherein Death makes a deal with a
disillusioned knight: play a game of chess with live people as the
chess pieces. What the stakes are I don't know; I'll have to watch
the movie. When I find it. If it hasn't changed or vanished the way
my other interests do. I think I have mentioned before that I have no
belief in the supernatural; therefore it does its best to mess me up,
with insidious success.
Soul of the Cell, my 38,000 word novella, is being published in
SapTimber by eXcessica. In this one a young man, an artist with a
fresh liberal arts degree, answers an ad that promises a year's pay
for one month's evaluation for alien contact, with laboratory sex
included. “Critical importance to global welfare. High
creativity essential,” it concludes. That really intrigues him;
it hits on several of his buttons. On the way he meets a young woman
who is also answering the ad, though they are polar opposites in many
respects. It goes on from there, as they study the cell and form
mandatory couples. Why is high creativity needed to study a dull
cell? Where are the aliens? This is one of my wilder efforts, sexy
yet deadly serious in the message with an underlying concept I doubt
has been done before. It really will stretch your mind, if it is not
My dentist has been wroth with me because I don't floss my teeth, having
ascertained to my satisfaction it wasn't worth the effort. Well, now
the news is out: there is no proof that flossing works. Studies
simply don't validate its efficacy. Right; as with fluoridation, what
the dental profession knows is wrong. Naturally dentists aren't eager
to change; they are subject to their illusions, just as the rest of
us are in other matters.
Each week THE WEEK magazine runs several Wit & Wisdom quotes that I
generally find interesting. For example in the August 19-26 issue
they had this one by Tony Bennett: “When the uncreative tell
the creative what to do, it stops being art.” Amen! Yet that is
exactly what we have in traditional publishing. The writers are
generally creative, but the publishers are generally interested
mainly in money, and they determine what gets published. That's one
reason I support electronic publishing: it's not in it for the money
so much as the art. At least, it started that way.
And the weather. As I write this Tropical Depression #9 has finally
shifted into Tropical Storm Hermine and is heading for our area. (Web underling's note: Hermine grew to hurricane strength after Mr. A sent this to be posted online.)
Every storm takes aim at me, but their eyes aren't good so they
generally miss. This one tried harder than most, dawdling, trying to
get her act together, but will pass us to the north. We did get just
over ten inches of rain for AwGhost, a good total, but no drenchpour.
I have a pile of clippings, but this column is long enough already and
I don't know whether my layman's opinionations on science, economics,
politics and such are worth any more to the welfare of the world than
flossing is to teeth; there is no validation of efficacy. So I'll let
it rest for now.