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

The Authors Guild has a statement they'd like everyone to see: the White House now bans reporters from several major news services from attending press briefings. AG calls this an assault on the free flow of information and says it can't be countenanced. President Donald Trump has declared war on the press, which is a violation of one of the fundamental principles of democracy, notably the spirit of the First Amendment of the Constitution. I agree, in significant part. I believe that presidential press conferences are public business and the public, that is in this case its representative the press, has a right to be there. If the authorities want to give private briefings, then they may exclude parties as they wish; the news will surely soon circulate. But it does suggest that this president has fundamentally un-American leanings. He simply wants to suppress any criticism of anything he does by any party, in the manner of a dictator. To insulate himself from any objective assessment. Only yes-men are welcome. This is mischief.

I read the first Astro City graphic novel, Life in the Big City. Remember, I reviewed the eleventh one, Private Lives, last column. Yet, oddly, this one does not feel like the first. It has a listing and description of the major characters in the middle, but the overlap between that and the characters actually featured is only about 50%. There seems to be a past history in unlisted volumes. Regardless, this one is fun. It features mainly Samaritan, who rather resembles Superman but hails not from a far planet but from the 35th century. We here are in the 21st century, so you can see he's about 1,400 years in our future. He's so busy saving lives, combating crime and generally doing good deeds, while holding down a mundane job as Clark Kent—oops, I mean Asa Martin--that he has practically no time to himself. But in his dreams he flies free. Later his friends set him up with a date with the wondrous woman Winged Victory, one of those not described in the characters list. They discover that they've both been so busy they've forgotten how to handle a date, so it's awkward. They talk, they argue, she throws a temper tantrum, but then at the end they kiss. They'll be seeing more of each other soon, I suspect.

I read The Journey, by J R Rain and Piers Anthony, which I think is our ninth collaboration and a good one. Young Floyd has to take The Journey required of all villagers before they are recognized as adults, though he is ill equipped and will probably get killed. But then the girl he loves from afar, Amelie, appears and rescues him from a press gang that means to abduct him as a galley slave in a ship. Only she's not really Amelie; she is Faux (pronounced Foe) Fee, a dusky elf, whom Amelie hired to safeguard him. That may cost Amelie her soul, as the Fee do not work cheap. Then Ravager, a hunting elf, comes after them wanting to ravage Faux. So it complicates quickly. They have wild adventures, such as getting caught by the Lilliputians, along with Jonathan Swift, providing Swift great literary inspiration, and wind up at Xanadu, where Floyd rescues the Damsel with a Dulcimer. Read it.

I read The Summoning, by Paul Meiniczek. This is the third in the Trencit Legacy series, and there will surely be more. I reviewed Ogre's Passing in 2008 and The Rooting of Evil in 2009. My aging memory retained only a vague notion of the others, but I was able to follow this one readily enough. These are powerful fantasy stories that have not only compelling action sequences, but careful explorations of devious human motives. You really can't trust anything, as the monsters are not ravening idiots and the leaders have their own layered agendas. The main characters, Sarion and his friend Forlern, are honest straightforward loyal minions of the empire, but those they deal with are complicated mixtures. Sarion is out in the jungle seeking information on a deadly enemy, while Forlern is in the city trying to locate and destroy a hidden predator. Both encounter folk who can't be classified as friend or enemy but who must be worked with. Sarion rescues the daughter of an enemy, and is subject to savage pursuit by truly formidable monsters. Forlern is broached by likely enemies who may be potential friends. Sarion has a rod whose power he may need to invoke in order to survive, but that magic may wipe out the one who invokes it. Decisions simply are not easy. I recommend this novel and this series as potent physical and mental narrative. It has a new publisher, and that may help it become better known. If you read only one adventure fantasy this year, this is the one.

I watched Star Trek Beyond, with the original cast played by different actors. That is, Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Sulu, sightly ladies, etc, on the Enterprise, looking approximately like the original actors. It will do; I like the flashes of skirted legs and peeks down blouses, unrealistic as such outfits are for space travel. On the way to help a culture in need, the ship is ambushed, damaged, and has to crash land on the nearest planet. They manage to eject and survive, but now they're stranded on an alien world. Alien worlds always have breathable air, however, and comfortable gravity, and green trees. Aliens also have sexy humanoid women; I think it's in the Galactic Book of Rules. So this is science fantasy: that is, supposedly science, but actually fantasy. Most viewers may not know the difference, or care. Regardless, it's a fun adventure. They get together, salvage old equipment, and set out to rescue captives. They reconstitute an old wreck and take off. They mess up the alien communications by broadcasting rock music. Then lead them into crashing in Yorktown Central Park, I think. They finally do save the base and eliminate the bad guy. Fun for what it is.

I watched Mission Impossible. This starts fast. Ethan receives a disc defining his mission, should he elect to perform it. Then it clarifies that this is the Syndicate, the enemy, and he is doomed. His agency gets shut down, its responsibilities transferred to the CIA. He's on his own, with his disbanded team. The Syndicate is made of up of supposedly dead British agents who are out to destabilize the world with assassinations and other mischief. This needs to be stopped. There's an assassination attempt at a Vienna opera which Ethan foils with the help of a lovely British secret agent, Ilsa. But where does her loyalty really lie? Maybe with the Syndicate. She tells him they need to get an electronic file that is stored where it is impossible to reach it. So of course they'll try. There's a car vs motorcycle chase, helluva sequence. It winds up in a complicated tense showdown all of whose details I didn't follow, but it's riveting. Ethan finally saves the girl, whom he may see again some day. I think my senile mind is too slow to keep with with the pace of modern thriller adventures, but this one was fun in its fashion.

I watched The Revenant. This is a grim one. It starts with a Pawnee ambush of trappers, a savage battle beside a river, with arrows striking silently. 33 men are lost; the survivors make it to the boat and escape with some of their pelts. Then Glass, the main character, gets mauled by a bear. He finally kills it, but is in a bad way. One of the men figures he'd be better off dead, and tries to kill him. His son protests, and the man kills the son. The others, fearful of nearby enemy Indians, desert him, leaving him half buried in the dirt. He drags himself out, through the snow, gets to the river, makes a fire. Cauterizes his wounds, scavenges for food in the dirt. Hides from the Indians. Floats down the icy river, the rapids. Treks onward. Meets a Pawnee man who has fire and a dead buffalo for food. He lost his family too. They travel together. Glass gets ill, the Indian medicates him through it. Rescues Indian maiden Powaqa who had been abducted and was getting raped; frees her. Moves on, gets pursued; horse killed. Takes shelter naked inside the body, for warmth. Finally reaches his home base, tells them what happened. Goes after the man who killed his son. Finally catches him. Grisly battle. The Pawnee finish off the man. I think Powaqa is with them, so they let Glass alone. Glass sees his dead wife, and maybe is ready to die himself. End of movie. Powerful, memorable, not fun to watch. Aspects that remain in my mind are how honor and treachery are mixed. The Pawnee man treats Glass with compassion and honor; then at the end the Pawnee enemies pretend not to see him, because I think they would be obliged to kill him if they did. Only Powaqa turns her head to gaze at him in passing; she has clearly given word of the manner he helped her. So much conveyed in that silent look!

I watched Independence Day: Resurgence. Near future Earth, spaceships, moon base, bases on the moons of other planets, interpersonal tensions, alien contact. My kind of junk. Too many people too quickly for my taste, but I can always re-watch the video if I have to. An alien ship comes, they fire on it, it crashes on the moon. Maybe they should have been nicer, because then comes horrendous fire in the sky of Earth, wiping out seaboard cities. Earth fought off the aliens twenty years ago, but this time they're coming on worse. The mission is to fly into the Queen Bee's ship and nuke it. But force fields contain the explosion so that's not good. There's no chance, but humanity fights back anyway. It turns out that another alien culture who is fighting that conquering one came to help Earth—and Earth attacked it. I knew they should have been more careful about that alien ship! But they hatch a plan to mousetrap the bad guys. In the end there's a showdown with the Queen Bee, appearing as a kind of walking dinosaur skeleton with tentacles while her mind takes over nearby machines. But in the end they do manage to kill her, and Earth is saved. That's a relief.

I read Curbside Assistance and the Benefit of Mistakes, by Jacob William Watters, who is a doctor, so you can see the relevance of the title. This is self published at Xlibris. This reminder for those who don't know: I was an early investor in Xlibris, back in 1997, because I wanted true self publishing to exist. I made my fortune by the traditional publishing system, but I hated the way it stifled new talent. The art of writing was under the yoke of financial expedience; a writer who was not lucky enough to catch the profit-minded eye of a publisher was out of luck. That was 99% of them, including, I suspected, the most talented ones. Now Xlibris is long since a part of a larger self publishing complex, and I have no association with it aside from my novels republished there, and doubt that it maintains the standards it had in my day. But it and its siblings do remain there for new writers, along with electronic publishing. Now we are getting to see what we couldn't in the old days, the thoughts of the 99%, and this is an example. It is a book of poetry. I don't regard myself as a judge of poetry, but I do pick up impressions. One is the cover, which shows a young woman who might have something on her mind, but well never know what, because the poem “Having Never Said” reveals that she died at age 20. What might her friends have said to her, had they but known there would be no later chance? I didn't know her, but it bothers me regardless. Another poem is “The Penis is My Sickness.” That is the view of a feminist, condemning all men, because one woman was sexually abused. And “Dark of Me” with its thoughts, such as “Beauty is so often mistaken for goodness.” It certainly is. The poem makes the point that we tend to judge by the external form, when it's the guts inside that actually make the person. So while I wouldn't call these poems great works of literature, they do have thoughts that are worth pondering.

I read The Billionaire's Secretary, by L J Love. This is mainstream romance, first of a trilogy. Aurora is a high class secretary for billionaire John Guyton, interacting with his three sons. She is first attracted to Zach, the handsome playboy, but he treats her like a one night stand. Then she gets interested in more responsible Will, and that becomes a solid connection. The third brother, Robin, objects, figuring she's just out to get whatever she can from a rich man, but it soon builds into true love. Meanwhile someone is trying to frame Zach and blackmail leading officers of the company in an effort to bring it down. Aurora does some clever detective work and foils the plot. So it's financial mischief and hot romance, an enjoyable read.

I read Stormy Weather by Steve Rollins. Storm Donovan is a lawyer who tackles interesting cases; he's rich and doesn't need the money. He also meets interesting women. But someone seems to be stalking him, leaving gruesomely mutilated corpses of those he associates with. He receives a threatening letter penned in blood. So he goes to his cop friend for help. The prime suspect turns up dead. When he's on a date with an intriguing lady it seems that someone is laying siege to his house. This is scary, apart from messing up his date. Some of his clients are doozies too, such as the girl who publicly offers the judge some fast nookie. It's a wild ride—the story, I mean; the judge was not amused—marred only by too long a setup for the next novel in the series instead of a dramatic climax. It is nevertheless a fun and at times eye-opening read.

Small problem: a wasp has set up shop in our front rain gauge. That's the more accurate one. No problem, you say? Then you don't know me. While I will happily squelch a publisher who shits on a writer, I won't hurt a wasp unless I have to. We live in the forest and try to get along with the creatures of the forest; after all, they were here first. The outer walls of our house are bedecked with the mud daub nests of native creatures. So here is this wasp building her nest at the one inch mark of the gauge. When it rains more than that she'll be drowned out. Come JeJune it will be our monsoon season with many inches of rain. That wasp will lose her home and any young ones incubating. But I lack the means to convey that reality to her. So far I have been emptying out the gauge when it rains less than an inch at a time and the wasp hasn't protested. I hate to see her go to so much effort only to be washed out. All I can do is watch, fearing the inevitable, much as I do the current political scene.

Incidentals: they have discovered at 8th continent, Zealandia, under the ocean except for its highest sections, such as what is now New Zealand; 94% of it is below. The Mark Trail comic says that they heard a startling sound from the Mariana Trench, possibly a new kind of whale. Maybe, unless it is an alien creature slowly rising from the deepest depths to consume the world. Florida Republican Speaker of the House says that most mass shootings occur in gun-free zones. The news checker Politifact checked, and found that he is drawing from cherry-picked statistics; the case is murky, and they rate it Half True. In an advice column a woman who sleeps alone not by choice has some sex toys to entertain her. She is worried that if she dies and her loved ones discover the toys, what will they think of her? The columnist says she'll die with a smile on her face. I find this answer unhelpful. I appreciate her potential embarrassment, death notwithstanding; I'd feel much the same in that situation. Or she could suffer a seizure and wind up in the hospital alive, only to die of embarrassment. Unfortunately I haven't come up with a helpful answer for her. News item about an estranged husband who stalked a woman for years, sometimes attacking her, and she petitioned the court for protection but was ignored. Now he has killed her. It seems that's what it takes to get legal attention: you start by dying. Why does that rankle me? Gun injuries and deaths among Florida children have spiked; one child is shot every 17 hours. This too annoys me; children do get into things, it's their nature, but if folk used Smart Guns their children would not die of their curiosity. Researchers at Harvard have created what could become the most valuable material on the planet: solid metallic hydrogen. It requires one hell of a squeeze to press that buoyant gas into a solid, but they did it. If they find a way to make a lot of it, cheap, it could be used to create room temperature superconductors, which in turn could lead to magnetically levitated high speed trains, faster computers, and ultra efficient cars. I am definitely interested; put me on the waiting list. Item quoted in THE WEEK about colleges suppressing free speech, typically when liberals protest the prospect of visiting conservative speakers. In one case masked rioters smashed windows, beat people, and started fires. I am liberal, but these hoodlums do not speak for me; they should be arrested and punished the same as any other law breakers. So what would I do about a conservative speaker whose views I found intolerable? I'd attend the event, and when the time came for questions from the floor I'd politely ask some pointed ones. I have done it before; once I got applauded for it. If you don't like an event, don't attend it; don't try to deny others their right to attend. I would hope that conservatives would agree with me in this. It's a matter of free speech, a fundamental American value. (This is a public information bulletin, for those who evidently don't know.) And an item in NEW SCIENTIST on torture, which the new administration proposes to use again, unfortunately. It says the purpose of modern interrogation is to get the truth, and torture is the worst possible method for this, because the victim says whatever is needed to make the torture stop, rather than the truth. Yes, I remember how the prior Bush administration used torture, and got the answer they wanted, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and invaded Iraq because of it—only to find that it wasn't true. A significant portion of the mischief in the region today, such as ISIS, is because of that lie obtained by torture. Now we're going to go that route again? This is madness! So what is the alternative? To talk, listen well, cross check, and make sense of diverse bits of information. It's an art, for those with the skill and patience to practice it. The truth is there to be fathomed, carefully. Apart from that, of course, is the fact that torture is morally repugnant. You don't agree?

The Post Orifice delivered to us the torn cover of the Holiday Special NEW SCIENTIST, no magazine attached. So we called, and in due course received a replacement issue. It's 100 pages and has interesting material. One item consists of intellectual puzzles, the answers promised in due course. Now we have received the issue with those answers. The first one is VII = I, a seven matchstick layout. Move one match to make the equation correct. Okay, I moved the second I to cross the equals mark: VI͵¹ (does not equal) I. My wife had a different answer, which also seemed valid to me; unfortunately now she can't remember it. The official answer, it turns out, is to move the fourth from the left and add it to the V to make it the square root of I equals I. Okay, that works too. I never was very good at matching official answers, but I generally have good answers of my own, as this example shows.

And an article in NEW SCIENTIST titled “Why am I here?” says that as far as the universe is concerned we are nothing but fleeting and randomly assembled collections of energy and matter. But just because life is ultimately meaningless needn't stop us from searching for meaning while we are alive. Or as I put it in an author's note decades ago, life has meaning only if we live for meaning. This article is a study of purpose. People with a greater sense of purpose live longer, sleep better, and have better sex. Those seem like pretty good recommendations to me. One study indicates that people with a stronger sense of purpose tend to have more money. That, too. Is this the same as religion? They conclude no; religiosity doesn't lend the same benefits. Those who have a purpose beyond self gratification seem to do better. I, as an agnostic person who is trying to do what he can to make the world a slightly better place, have no problem with these conclusions. The article concludes “It's never too late to start seeking the meaning of life.” Amen.

So what did I do in the month of FeBlueberry, apart from struggling with things like my adult trike? I wrote a short story that I was unsatisfied with because I couldn't remember a song it associates with, and 29,000 words of Xanth #43 Jest Right, or a generous quarter of the whole. This is the one about the lady nobody takes seriously. That's a problem when Xanth is about to be taken over by Ragna Roc, when the big bird escapes confinement and starts nullifying all who oppose him. Our protagonist Jess is the only one who knows the danger, if she can just get others to take her seriously. Ragna Roc, remember, was in Xanth #32 Two to the Fifth and almost took over Xanth then; he's not pleased about having his conquest delayed over a decade. So you'd better hope that I figure out how to stop him the second time, lest this novel be rendered into illusion before it takes effect.

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