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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Jamboree 2017

For those who like my Xanth novels, an announcement: #39 Five Portraits, which is a sort of sequel to #38 Board Stiff in that it has many of the same characters, and one of the supporting characters in the first, Astrid Basilisk-Cockatrice (ABC), transformed to human form, becomes the main character in the second. She's a lovely and nice person whose glance kills any who meet it. Sort of like your ideal girlfriend, so for her a veil is not just clothing. She befriends the formerly hostile Demoness Fornax and the two set out to save five odd children (one's a little girl squid emulating a human; another can fade into mist; a third is gay) from destruction in a future Xanth by bringing them fifty years back to the present and finding adoptive families for them. It's one of my favorite Xanths. Five Portraits is to be featured in Open Road's Early Bird Books on Jamboree 25, 2017, down-priced to $1.99 that day. So if you missed it before, now's your chance to get it at a bargain rate.

I read Elvis Has Not Left the Building, by J R Rain, the second in the 99 cent package of four books. This assumes that Elvis did not die in 1977 at age 42, but faked his death and lived on anonymously as a private investigator. Folk who regard Elvis as ancient history may not realize that he was five months my junior, a contemporary; I was not much of a fan of his music, but feel a devious affinity as a performer, albeit in print. Thirty years later, in his low 70s, Elvis misses the limelight and his daughter, but hesitates to try to get back into things. Meanwhile he gets hired to track down a seeming murder, where a young lady movie star disappears and is presumed dead. Bit by bit he catches obscure clues, while also nudging toward returning to singing. It's a compelling mystery and human story; Elvis might indeed have felt that way, had he lived. Definitely not junk.

I watched Woman in Gold. The Nazis took a valuable painting of a family member, and now after the war Maria, the original owner, wants to get it back. The present proprietors claim it is theirs, that the Will approved this. But where is the Will? A new young lawyer, Randy, who has Austrian ancestry, gets into it, half a century later. They travel from California to Vienna and Austria to argue her case. The supposed Will is not valid. There are flashbacks to her youth and the Nazi era, with Jews being persecuted. It is uncomfortable to watch. The young couple flees, pursued by the Nazis. They barely escape. Meanwhile, back in the present, they pursue the case in the American court system. Randy is on his own now, and his wife is about to give birth, but she supports him as he and Maria make the case. Then Maria drops out, fearing it's hopeless, and Randy continues alone, pursuing his course, which is arbitration in Austria. He's young and inexperienced, but sharp and eloquent. He wins the case, and the paintings are returned. This was based on a true case, and a summary at the end tells of the conclusions of the participants. I find it chilling and gratifying. My own family departed Europe on the last passenger ship out as the Nazis conquered Europe; we were Quaker, not Jewish, and English rather than Austrian, so were not on a kill list, but it was nevertheless a close call.

I watched Minions, a cartoon feature in semi-animation. These are the cute little creatures who resemble cut off yellow fingers in blue jeans with arms, legs, and one or two goggle-framed eyes. They want to find meaning for their lives by serving the most despicable master. The Minions finally manage to connect with Scarlet Overkill, a shapely evil lady who sends them to steal the Crown of England so she can be Queen. Naturally it's a wild adventure. But things go wrong just as Scarlet is about to be crowned, and the Minions get chased by a horrendous collection of pursuers. Fun nonsense.

I watched 007 Spectre, a James Bond movie. All the actors playing Bond since Roger Moore seem somewhat like impostors to me, but Daniel Craig is a good one. I like the new Miss Moneypenny too, having met her in a prior movie when she accidentally shot him. This starts with a bang, of course, as he assassinates an assassin during a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City, takes the man's special ring, barely escapes with his life, gets canned for acting outside his orders, though he wasn't, then takes up with the victim's willing widow. Unbelievable. I love it. I like the scenic backgrounds too, with everyone wearing skeleton costumes and girls with skirts spreading into slowly moving islands, as part of the parade. Then on to infiltrate a global crime syndicate, using the ring as his admission token. But they catch on, and the chase is on. Again. He visits a man with information, who tells him of his daughter Madeleine, then kills himself. Bond goes to see the pretty Madeleine at a snowy mountain retreat—where bad men promptly kidnap her. Bond rescues her, but she's icy toward him. Yet she decides to go with him, as she wants to know what her father was into, and get things finally settled. Then they are on a train, when a tough bad guy attacks. They fight him off together. “What do we do now?” Madeleine asks. They look at each other, then make passionate love. She has evidently thawed somewhat. I mean, what else, at this stage? Bond always gets the girl in the end, pun intended. Later the chief bad guy, C, captures them and tortures Bond. But with the girl's help he gets loose and destroys the complex. But it's not over. They are caught again, and Bond has three minutes to find and rescue Madeleine before the building is destroyed. He manages, and wins the girl, and the bad guy is arrested. Formula, sure, but I think this is the best Bond movie yet.

I watched Martian Child. David, a recent widower who writes science fiction, so he must be a good guy, is lonely; all he has is his dog called Somewhere. A social worker puts him on to Dennis, a special child who thinks he's from Mars, for adoption. It turns out to be a difficult route, even with the help of David's sister and maybe also a girlfriend, it can be chancy. Dennis can make Martian wishes that immediately come true. Separation anxiety when Dennis goes to a new school. That reminds me of how it was with my daughter Penny at Sunday school; I had to be in the room the first year, just sitting so she saw I was there. Being self employed helped; I could read a book or write a novel on a clipboard, in pencil. The other children thought I was a quiet assistant, and sometimes came to me for help. The second year I sat in the hall outside, and every fifteen minutes or so Penny would crack the door open to make sure. Yet she grew up to be a bold independent person. Children need the support they need. At any rate, there are some real problems with Dennis, and it messes up David's life and career. But as he says, children are like aliens, having to learn about our world. Denis decides to return to Mars, which is apt to mean his death, but David manages to talk him out of it, and all ends well, as far as we know. There are emotional truths here.

I read The Grail Quest, the third in the J R Rain quartet of samples. James is a writer of cheap science fiction novels who is suffering bad dreams wherein he finds himself by the cross of someone, seeing the nailed man dying; and then rocks fly, stoning the crucified man and James. He concludes that he must go to England, to the court of King Arthur, to locate the holy cup that is the Grail; only thus will his horror be put to rest. So he goes—and in a hotel dining room he sees a beautiful young woman writing in a journal. Is she another novelist? No, she is filling the pages with a single word: James. His name. This is Marion, summoning him here. Then bad knights attack. She soon leads him to meet King Arthur, who has just reappeared on Earth, and suddenly he is in a horrendous adventure, fighting to save his life. It quickly complicates, and this turns out to be the start of a larger adventure that I presume will be continued in more novels. James turns out to be the, well, reincarnation of one of the king's close friends, if he can just remember. Much action here, and much philosophy, the nub of which might be that God loves you, if you will only respond. Most folk don't.

I read Ghost College, the fourth in the quartet. This is a novella introducing Monty, a skeptic about the existence of ghosts, and Ellen, his wife who is a psychic ghost hunter, or as she prefers to put it, a paranormal investigator. Bound to be an interesting combination. They report to a college where ghosts are manifesting, and act to clean them out. In the process Monty becomes a believer; all it takes is to be worked over by a mean-spirited ghost who means to take over your body. The initial manifestation is a little girl, sobbing because she was killed and spiritually enslaved by her music teacher, who is now also a ghost. There are cute bits, such as the description of the manifestations: Screams. Wailing. Footsteps. Sobbing. Monty turns to his wife “Sounds like our first date.” She is not amused. They do manage to save the girl, I think by going back and nullifying her murder so that she returns to life.

I read The Librarian, a novelette wherein Jane, a librarian, learns that her husband Nick is missing from the nature hike he took that morning. Then he tuns up, but there's something odd. The authorities say he's radioactive and strange. It turns out that he's an alien, sent to pick up on the ways of this planet so it can be cataloged for their interstellar library. He didn't know it until the sudden callback came; they didn't want an alien bias in his observations. Now he just wants to say farewell to Jane before he is forever gone. He loves her and she loves him, but he has no choice. And that's essentially the story, until the surprise conclusion.

I watched Lady in the Water, which starts with a mystery: who is swimming in the pool at night, illicitly? The manager, Cleveland Heep, who stutters, wades into the pool to fetch out the pretty girl he catches there, named Story, and almost drowns; she rescues him, then sleeps. He carries her out—only to be spooked by a green wolf-like monster. Story is a narf, which is a sea nymph, who prefers nudity. Cleveland doesn't stutter in her presence; maybe the nudity has that effect. The monster is after her; he tries to protects her, with the help of the residents, but she gets dragged and scratched. It gets into the building while they are trying to form the group to save her. And by the force of their will, acting their roles, these ordinary people summon the creatures who drive the monster away. Story is saved. This is one weird, compelling fantasy.

I read Vampire Love Story by H T Night, brother of J R Rain, which I picked up on a free special. Josiah is a mixed martial arts fighter whose best friend and roommate Tommy is in the same business. Josiah is out for a morning run when he hears a woman's screaming, and winds up rescuing a Lena, pretty girl, after beating up five frat boys who meant to deflower her. Then Lena's friends show up and do some beating up of their own. Realizing that Josiah was a friend to Lena and not a rapist, they take him to their party. One who pays special attention him is lovely red haired Yari. As time passes, he learns that these folk are mostly vampires who can change to birds (maybe bats acre old fashioned), and Yari is the hawk that has been accompanying him when he goes out on runs. At one point she takes him to bed with three of her friends and the four of them keep him in ecstasy for two solid hours. But he also sort of likes Lena, whom he saved. Then his next fight is scheduled—and it's against his friend Tommy. Neither of them want that, but they don 't have a choice. Things continue to complicate. This is one fast moving story, with action and romantic interest, that held my attention throughout.

I read Self Image by Piers Anthony. I had written originally a 6,000 word story on invitation for an anthology, but it bounced because it addressed juvenile sexual interest too candidly. So I expanded it into a 32,500 word novella that thoroughly explores telepathy. In the typical telepathy story it is easy to read minds, as if people are speaking to one another. Real telepathy would not be that way, because minds are complicated with many layers and bypaths, and a foreigner would be lost in the manner of a person landing in a foreign city with no map. What would it be like for a child growing up telepathic? She'd pick up on all the neighborhood feelings, particularly sexual, and tune in on illicit affairs. I also make a distinction between passive and active telepathy. Passive is simply reading what's on other minds. Active is projecting images and words to those minds, which I call projective telepathy. It starts with a lonely eight year old boy looking for an imaginary friend. What he finds is a girl his age, not what he wanted. She's not pleased either. But they make do and become friends. They can't touch; his hand passes right through her body. But she's not a ghost. She's the projection of a shut-in girl, her astral self image; this is how she gets some social interaction. Then when they grow up to the age to enter high school, she talks her folks into letting her go there, and the two finally meet physically. In due course he learns how she became telepathic, and he becomes telepathic too. Then he encounters a telepathic dog who needs his help. There are other telepaths who are up to no good, and they systematically eliminate any telepaths who don't join their ill cause. This of course is mischief. It goes on from there. So if you like a fairly realistic exploration of telepathy, in contrast to the junk telepathy you find elsewhere, here it is.

I watched Prometheus, a 2012 science fiction movie. My kind of junk from the outset. Prometheus was the Titan who may have created man, mythologically, and got severely punished for his gifts to mankind. In an ancient cave they find pictures that suggest that mankind was created by a distant alien species. So in 2094 they send a spaceship, the Prometheus, there to discover the truth, whatever it may be. They find a barren planet with a single pyramid-like building. Inside it there is breathable air, so they take off their spacesuit helmets. As I said junk, but fun. It quickly dissolves into horror, such as the attractive young lady doctor getting mysteriously impregnated by a tentacular monster. She gets it pretty much ripped out of her and struggles to see that the ship does not return to Earth, lest it destroy mankind there to make way for a new order. The lady doctor, the last human survivor, will now go to the alien's place of origin, to find out what's what. End of movie. So there is much sound and fury here, but so far it signifies nothing. I have seen similar sequences before, but I'm not sure where. Taken as a whole, this is fascinating but unsatisfying.

I read Werewolf Whisperer by H T Night, sequel to Vampire Love Story. This picks up where the first one leaves off, with Josiah struggling to save and help his best friend Tommy, who gets killed by vampires after their match. Tommy turns out to be a werewolf, and has special powers, such as returning to life after death, but he needs help. Josiah provides it, endeavoring to tame Tommy's wolf stage so that he can control it and not be a savage beast that has to be chained for three days during the full moon. Meanwhile Josiah is falling in love with Lena, the girl he saved, while Yari is taking an interest in Tommy. A vampire/werewolf couple? That's highly irregular. Other vampires are still trying to take them out, setting traps for them, so there's desperate action. Josiah continues to discover and develop his new powers, such as flying not only in his eagle form, but in his man form. He continues to have visions that steer his course in mysterious ways. He is clearly destined for great things, if he survives.

I am old, 82, and my body is slowly fading, much as I hate that. I exercise seriously, and that surely helps keep me going at an age with others are checking out, but I am increasingly careful about it. On alternate days I use my adult scooter to do the mile and a half round trip to pick up newspapers in the morning, and if I need to go out later in the day to pick up mail, I borrow my wife's bicycle. But one of the fading things is my sense of balance, which means I could take a bike spill. I DON'T WANT A SPILL; it could put me in the hospital. I did mention being old? So my wife bought me an adult trike for Xmas, as it can't fall over. Therein turned out to be an adventure. I got on it and promptly screeched to a halt lest I fall over. What? I tried again, and did the same. So I paused to figure it out. I'm a slow learner, but I generally get there. Our drive tilts this way and that; I don't notice it on the scooter or bike, but the three wheeler tilts with it. You may have already suspected that, being smarter than I. When it tilts my reflexes, which turn out to be faster than my normal mind, take hold and correct the seeming fall, which steers me off the drive into the forest. That's why I hit the hand brakes. Okay, having figured that out, I should be able to proceed without further difficulty. Except that those reflexes haven't gotten the message. So the first time out I walked the trike down our little hill, maybe a six foot elevation top to bottom, then got back on and veered and halted my erratic way out to the mailbox. That 1.6 miles took me 40 minutes to traverse. That's let's see, about 2.8 miles per hour average speed. I could walk it faster. My second excursion took about half an hour; I was improving. Ditto for the third. That's all I've done so far, but in due course I expect to make it, oh, twenty minutes or so. I straight-arm the handlebar repeating aloud “It can't fall! It can't fall” as it tilts me seemingly over at a 45 degree angle, probably more like 3 degrees in reality, and I almost feel the hind wheels lifting off the ground. I had a wild dream where our drive was on a 45 degree sideways slope, scary to navigate; I could probably guess the root of it, if I tried. I will gain confidence in time, surely I will, if I don't crash first. Being old is a lady dog. That too, you probably already suspected.

I don't pay much attention to TV, as the endless commercials waste my attention and the programs aren't much. We don't get cable or satellite, being in the primitive backwoods. My wife knows the local channels, though, and sometimes she puts on one that has reruns of some of the great old shows, like All in the Family and Mash. Recently, Night Court. I remember when there was Cheers, followed by Night Court, and if ever there was a match for the first it was the second. It was a great two half hours. Then the idiot executives got hold of it and moved programs around, breaking up the set and hiding them so that we lost track entirely and didn't watch any more. I suspect TV would be better off without execs. Recently they played the movie Mary Poppins, about all of which I'd seen before was a sequence wherein she flew the children to a neighboring factory roof where they watched a phenomenal display of puffing smokestacks. But this time it wasn't there; they went to the roof and nothing much happened. It's bad enough forgetting things, but I hate remembering things that seem no longer to exist. Sigh.

2016 was a busy year. We had the Xanth TV option, which alas pooped out in the end, and with it my chances to become a bestseller again. Sigh. But I kept writing throughout, with one novel, three novellas, and two collaborations. The total wordage came to just over a quarter million words. The books were Xanth #42 Fire Sail, wherein a young man and a grandma must deliver a boat with a fiery sail to its new proprietor; Service Goat, like a service dog, only with minor changes, such as the goat being an alien telepath; Hair Suite, sequel to Hair Power, with Hair Peace to be written next year. Self Image, described above. Magenta Salvation, collaborative with Ken Kelly. And The Journey, a collaboration with J R Rain of the vampire housewife series, in progress. All great reads, when you get to them. See that you do.

We drive a Prius V, the station wagon in the line of hybrid cars. When we first got it it got about 43 miles to the gallon with ordinary driving around town. But that was five years ago, so I decided to verify the mileage now. I checked for the year 2016, adding up all the miles driven and gallons of gasoline bought, and calculated it, and it came to 42.8. Close enough. One annoyance is that today they dilute the gas with 10% non-fossil fuel, and cars get about 10% less mileage. So where, exactly, is the saving?

The Sunday supplement PARADE had a reprise of an early Ask Marilyn riddle that made headlines: in a quiz show type setting you have the choice of three doors. Behind one is a car, while the other two have goats. Assuming you want the car—I was raised on a goat farm and might choose a goat, but never mind—you choose a door. But before you open it the host opens another door, showing a goat, then asks you if you want to switch choices. Would you be more likely to get the car if you switch? The answer is yes, but pedigreed logicians screamed about Marilyn's ignorance and the deterioration of thinking in America. But it turned out that Marilyn was right, because you are shifting from a one in three chance to a one in two chance. It was the logicians who didn't know their minds from holes in the ground. That does make you wonder about the current state of education and logic. I am tempted to draw a parallel to literary critics, who sometimes seem not to know or care what makes a book readable.

Newspaper item on What Matters Most, listing the top ten most impactful historic events. They give lists for the Silent Generation 1928-45, which is mine; you must have noticed how silent I am. Baby Boomers 1946-64. Generation X 1965-80. Millennials 1981-98. Presumably the Greatest Generatuion 1901-27 has largely passed from the scene, and Generation Z, 1998-2014 is too young to have an opinion. 9/11 topped all four lists, while the Silent Generation listed World War II second and the assassination of John Kennedy third. WWII dropped off the list with the Baby Boomers, and the JFK assassination disappeared with Generation X. Wow! I'm with my generation on this one. WWII was the greatest war ever, and it has been forgotten? The JFK assassination was the greatest shocker ever, and it's gone? Replaced by the Obama election. Now I voted for Obama twice, and believe his presidency has been one of the cleanest and best ever, despite an asinine Congress, but to list that instead of WWII? It seems the world is not run by the Illuminati but by the Ignoranti. We are about to find out what happens when ignorance officially runs our government. I predict that the Obama administration will in due course be viewed as a golden age, followed by the brass age. A series of articles in NEW SCIENTIST for 12-10-2016 starts with one titled “You Are an Asshole.” It says racists and xenophobes are on the march. They sure are.

Surely related: newspaper item refuting the prior one showing that dental flossing doesn't work, as I remarked in a prior column. Its essence is that we already know it works, so should ignore the double blind studies that say it doesn't. This is faith-based science. The double blind study is the gold standard of testing, where neither the doctor nor the patient knows who is getting the new drug or procedure, so that subjectivity can't mess it up. Throw that out at your peril, if you value your heath.

Item in THE WEEK says that an international study found that highly intelligent people tend to be happier when they spend more time alone, working on their goals and interests, rather than socializing with other people. As one who spends most of his time working alone, physically, I can see it. If the average folk deny climate change, don't believe in evolution, dislike blacks, Jews, gays, and anyone else who is different, say God should damn skeptics to hell, and think that science is irrelevant, why would I want to socialize with them? I'd feel unclean.

SCIENCE NEWS reports on the failed searches for Dark Matter and Dark energy. The prime candidate for the former is the WIMP—Weakly Interacting Massive Particles—that have gravity but just don't show up on our instruments. So why can't they be found? As I have remarked before, it's probably because they don't exist. So how then to explain why galaxies don't fly apart from their rotation? I think it's because we don't properly understand gravity, the fundamental force that doesn't integrate well with the other three or four. We assume that the way it acts on our picayune local scale is the way it operates on the galactic scale. Obviously not. So how long will they continue searching for phantoms? We'll just have to see. There is an alternate theory, which I think is called MOND, that covers this well.

I am a Humanist, and I read their several publications, though my primary interest are is news and science. One problem is I can't find anything to disagree with there. Being agreeable is dull. An article in a recent issue of FREE INQUIRY is titled “Jesus Probably Did Not Exist.” Now I am agnostic at the verge of atheist, having no belief in the supernatural, and I regard God as supernatural, but I have more or less believed in Jesus. That is, as a man, perhaps deluded, who truly cared about people and the state of the world, and wanted to improve things. So do I have a disagreement here? No, it makes a persuasive case that Jesus must have started as a mythical figure who was converted by later scribes to an earthly one. His first job was simply as a mouthpiece to deliver key messages to the common folk, such as to try to do right and believe in God. But this was more persuasive if he appeared physically to speak the messages. So, years later, they converted him. There is no objective evidence, such as by a Roman or other non-Christian, that such a living man ever existed. Saying “The Bible tells me so” is faith, not objectivity. So it seems I must let Jesus go. Sigh; I sort of liked him. If anyone can show me proof that he really did exist, okay, I'll listen. That's the same basis as I will listen to someone who can show me a real live (as it were) ghost, or alien flying saucer, or precognition. So far, no one has. I make my living writing fantasy; I don't believe it in mundane life. I remain an utter skeptic.

Let me conclude on a fun note from the Jamboree 1th newspaper: a column by Gina Barreca, an English professor at the U of Connecticut, who urges folk to write things down lest they forget. I agree, and do. What intrigues me about her is that she authored a book titled If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? What a great title! And to answer the question, yes of course they will. I would. Why do women wear loose blouses and lean in, if not to advertise their wares? Just as they wear short skirts and cross their legs when sitting, especially on a stage. They'd be disappointed if we ignored their lovely flashes, which are offered in lieu of their lethal direct gaze, in case they are basilisks. Duh.

Until next time--

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