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

OPEN ROAD says that Xanth novels 38-40 will be featured in BookBub, a daily ebook deals newsletter with millions of subscribers, on 11/4/2017. The ebook will be down-priced to $2.99 across all US retailers on that day. Those titles would be Board Stiff, Five Portraits, and Isis Orb. That is, about the woman who was turned into a wood board but still got her wish for adventure and romance, the basilisk who became a woman who rescued five special children from the future, and the story crafted by a ten year old girl about the quest for a magic orb with phenomenal power. Isis here is a goddess, not a terrorist organization. You can just catch that sale if you hurry, if you read this column early. Otherwise, tough beans; you'll have to pay regular prices.

I watched one of my bargain movies, 13 Ghosts, dating from 1960, black and white. The effects are sort of clunky, compared to modern movies. Cyrus is a lecturer at the museum, but the pay is low and he is chronically broke. Then his eccentric uncle dies and leaves him a huge old haunted house complete with an archaic staff and a dozen ghosts. Uncle Plato Zorba collected ghosts, but now that he's dead, they are getting out of control. If you believe that nonsense. So Cy and his family promptly move in, and the manifestations commence. There are eerie noises. Special glasses show the ghosts. Dishes sail off the shelf and break. A floating burning candle shows him a button to push. There's an indication that his pretty daughter Medea may become the 13th ghost. Is there a purpose to all this? It's as if Uncle Plato wants him to do something. But what? Young son Buck takes the glasses and sees the ghost of a lion, which a headless ghost backs off. Their lawyer Ben says there's a treasure hidden somewhere in the house. In fact Ben murdered Plato, and is searching for the hidden money. But the ghosts kill Ben, and finally can relax, leaving the family rich. Ben was to be the 13th ghost.

I matched the Discover video The Brain. The amygdala controls emotion, such as fear. The military trains recruits to control their fear reaction, because otherwise they can make lethal mistakes when panicked. The frontal lobes are the most recently developed part of the brain, and they interact with the amygdala; they can moderate the panic. Suffocating under water is another problem; the amygdala presses the panic button. Training shows them how to handle this. Most SEAL candidates wash out because of panic. Practice in your mind and it helps you get through. Replace bad thoughts with good thoughts. Breathing control. Reproduction is another powerful drive, and orgasm is potent ecstasy also triggered by the amygdala. The brain stem generates dopamine, the pleasure hormone, but the male and female brains react differently. The female orgasm shuts down most of the woman's brain, sometimes rendering her unconscious, while the male remains conscious, perhaps to be ready to defend them in case of danger. Handling danger brings exhilaration, so taking risks is tempting. Some people seek risk more than others. But what of those who don't have these reactions, who lack a conscience, like psychopaths or serial killers? (I think they mean sociopaths, but never mind.) What makes some brains evil? Psychopaths are not bothered as much by their mistakes. They have smaller amygdalas. Less capacity for empathy. And memory: Thanks to that, the brain is constantly traveling through time. What about photographic memory? A person with that is an artistic savant, with incredible visual memory, but lacking in other respects. Memory forms throughout the brain, but the hippocampus is critical; without it, new memories can't form. Memory is essential to just about everything we do. The cerebellum helps with practice. It takes 10,000 hours to get really proficient, and the muscles develop some memory within themselves. There can be performance anxiety. The brain can help a person win, or help him lose. You need to be in the zone, everything just right. Could there be a sixth sense, tuning into the minds of others? Can some people respond to images before the images appear? Is ESP—ExtraSensory Perception—possible? They are connecting people's heads to computers and checking. There are so many questions to answer!

I watched Small Soldiers. The Commando Elite are toy action figures. But the game company wants them to be able to, well, move and talk back when kids play with them. They use special military chips, and succeed too well. The dolls, well, sort of come alive. They escape and get into action. The Commandos mean to destroy the enemy Gorgonites. The toy store owner's son catches on, but of course the adults think he's making it up. Meanwhile the war goes on. The Gorganites are no dummies, and the Commandos recruit some sexy lady dolls. The Gorgonites are a weird collection of freaks, but our sympathies are with them. They just want to return to their own island. I love the evocative voice of Archer, the Gorgonite emissary. Soon the boy and the neighbor girl he likes are in the thick of the battle, attacked as Gorgonite allies. They manage to lead the Commandos into the river, shorting them out. But it's not over. The children get in trouble with non-believing parents. Then the animated dolls show up. Now the parents are in the war too. It escalates. It's a wild farce. They finally manage to destroy the Commandos and save the Gorgonites, and Girl kisses Boy. Standard fare in a marvelous package. I loved it.

I watched The Physician, set in 11th century England. Subtitles only in Spanish, so I had trouble getting the dialogue and may have garbled details. It starts at 1021 AD, bleakly. Rob Cole is orphaned in a mining town when his mother dies of a mysterious malady. He decides to become a physician, hoping to vanquish death. He seems to have the ability to foretell it. He becomes apprentice to a barber (doctor), learning the trade. He learns of a great physician in Persia, and goes there to study under the great Ibn Sina, in the hope that his rare talent of foretelling death can be developed. He travels by ship and caravan, meeting a lady traveler, Rebecca. They get caught by a dust storm and wiped out except for Rob, who treks on alone, making it to the city. Ibn Sina turns him down, but another student takes him in. It turns out that the woman on the caravan survived, so they meet again. But she is to marry another man. He saves the life of another woman because of his insight, which impresses the master. Then comes the plague, the black death. Thousands die every day. The woman falls ill, and he treats her. He researches in old texts and learns that a rat flea may spread the plague. They get rid of the rats. Rebecca survives. They fall in love. He saves a corpse and takes it apart, studying and drawing pictures of its internal anatomy. For that desecration he and Ibn Sina are sentenced to death. But there is a revolution in progress, and that interrupts the execution. The shah falls ill, I think with appendicitis, and needs their attention. Rob operates and saves him. The revolution continues, and Rebecca's husband dies in the fighting. So they can be together. They go to England, to build a hospital.

I watched Bombers B-52, with Natalie Wood. Korea 1950. The captain says they need to get the plane ready for a flight to Tokyo tonight, though that activity means the enemy will spy them and attack. The sergeant does, and it does, and they lose a man. That's the kind of relationship these two have. Six years later the officer, now a colonel, is back, and they still don't like each other much. Meanwhile grown daughter Lois is unsatisfied, feeling that Sergeant's job is not one that commands respect. So he plans to retire and take a high paying civilian job, to please her. The colonel wants him to stay, because he's got the best expertise, and they need that as they set up to be a base for the big bomber B-52. Then Los starts dating the colonel. That sets dad off. He tells the colonel to stay away from his daughter. He's planning to resign immediately. They really need him to stay, so the colonel breaks off with Lois. Lois is not pleased. Dad and colonel finally clarify misunderstandings and make up, and Lois is free to date the officer.

I watched The Shack, which is not at all what you might think. This is a kind of study in Good and Evil and the ways of God. As a nonbeliever I found it fascinating. Mack's little girl gets abducted and killed, devastating the family. Mack can't move on. Then he receives an invitation to go to an abandoned shack, signed “Papa,” their pet name for God. A joke? Not funny. He goes, and suffers an extended vision. There, in a setting suddenly transformed to summer—it had been snowy winter—he meets three strangers, all manifestations of God. So why didn't God save his little girl? That's his problem; he remains bitter. Elouisa is a middle aged black woman. Sarayu is a young white woman. She clarifies that there are billions of people deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil, as he helps her work in her garden. It's a mess, and she says “This mess is you.” Then when he goes out on the river in the bout, it starts to leak and sink, but the man, who is the third aspect of God, walks on the water to him and enables him to walk on water back to shore. He then takes a separate path into and through a mountain—I mean the rock becomes porous—and meets a woman called Wisdom. She invites him to sit on her throne, to judge others. To choose which of his remaining children to send ho Heaven, and which to Hell. He can't choose. Similarly God can't always choose. As long as there is free will, there is evil, not God's doing. Then comes the most difficult challenge of all: to forgive the man who killed his daughter. Only then is he whole again. He returns—and collides with a truck. He wakes in the hospital. They tell him that he never made it to the shack. But he knows what happened. Now he is mending relations with his wife and children, helping them heal as he heals. Their life is improving, thanks to the revelations he gained at the shack. I recommend this movie to all, believers and unbelievers; it really makes you think. So this is all a vision, but what a vision!

I watched Arrival, near future science fiction. Alien contact as it maybe really will be. Odd ships suddenly arrive at spots around the world. Louise Banks is a translator, and Ian is another, so the military brings them into the action in the hope that they can make sense of the alien communications. The alien vessel looks like a giant hundred foot long half egg standing on its end. Except that it's not actually touching the ground. There's an opening in the base, and they enter a null gravity channel. Louise and Ian meet the aliens, maybe, vaguely resembling standing seven-legged octopi or starfish. Their personal names may be partial circles. As they work on it, day by day, there comes the alien message “Offer Weapon.” But maybe the aliens don't distinguish between weapon and tool. Louise makes physical contact with an alien, five fingered hand to seven spiked hand. The military detonates a bomb; it doesn't hurt the ship but it moves half a mile higher. Then sends down a shuttle for Louise. What is their purpose here? “We help humanity. In 3,000 years we need humanity's help.” “Weapon opens time.” Or maybe it's the tool to open time. The aliens give a gift: their language, that will enable humans to perceive time as they do. Somehow she phones the Chinese commander, a leader of the opposition, and tells him his wife's dying words. That changes his mind, and he becomes a force for global unity. He tells her this 18 months later, in person, and she uses that information now, thanks it seems to the time perception. This is one powerful, more rational film, unlike the ordinary sci-fi junk.

I watched Bad Company. Gaylord Oakes (Anthony Hopkins) is a veteran CIA agent who recruits street punk Jake Hayes for a special mission. Among other things, Jake is a speed chess player. His twin brother he didn't know about got killed in a special mission, to get the code to disarm a planted nuclear bomb in the city, so they need Jake to substitute for him for nine days so they can complete the mission. So he has to cram, studying his brother, so as to be able to pass for him. Chances seem small, but he learns quickly. They send him to the New York apartment to see if the neighbors know the difference. And the one who killed his brother comes after him with a knife. Wild chase. He flees. Oakes finds him and persuades him to return to the mission. They go to Prague and meet with the bad guys. Then his brother's ex-girlfriend shows up, wanting to make up, and she's one lovely sexy girl. And assassins strike, and the home team's men go after them, complicating things. But they make the rendezvous. And it erupts in another wild gun battle. Then the bad guys kidnap Jake's real girlfriend as a hostage; they have caught on to his identity. Pretty much continuous mayhem. They finally disarm the bomb and save the girl—and the city. Not a great movie, but fun.

I watched About Schmidt. Warren Schmidt retires and plans to see America with his wife Helen; they even bought a motor home. His life is humdrum. His marriage has become a shell, but he really values his daughter Jeannie. Then Helen abruptly dies, and he discovers how he misses her. Jeannie plans to marry soon, and Warren does not especially like her fiance. He writes letters to his six year old charity foster child, Ndugu, whom he has never met. Then he finds old love letters Helen saved, from another man: his longtime friend. So what little there was of his life is falling apart. He starts traveling alone. He meets a couple traveling, misreads signals, kisses the wife, and gets kicked out. He travels on, apologizing to his dead wife. And he sees a shooting star. A signal? He visits Jeannie's fiance's family, and finds them as moderately dysfunctional as his own family was. He tells Jeannie not to marry the man, and she essentially tells him to bug off. Roberta, the groom's mother, comes on to him, and he retreats. It's a nice traditional wedding, and Warren participates traditionally despite his private doubts. Has he made a difference in anybody's life? Then he receives a letter from a nun updating him on how he has helped Ndugu with his letters and his money. There is the difference. This is not my type of movie; I'm not turned on by the prospect of losing my wife or my daughter marrying foolishly; yet I recognize its quality, and its concerns are not far from my own. What about making a difference in the world?

I read the Redemption of Michael Hollister, by Shawn Inmon. This is the sequel to The Unusual Life of Thomas Weaver, reviewed last month. Remember, in that novel Thomas attended a party and accidentally killed his big brother Zack. In the middle age of a blighted life he killed himself, and discovered himself reliving his life from a little before that death of his brother. So now he had the chance to make things right. One of the people he encountered was Michael Hollister, a torturer of animals and later serial killer. I didn't like Michael, and learned that the author didn't like him either; he's not a nice person. So who the hell would want to read, let alone write a book about him? Well, it is worth reading. We saw how ugly Michael could be, in the wrong circumstances. Now he suicides, then returns to eight years old with his memory intact. His father has been molesting him; that's why he got so twisted. Now with his adult perspective he sets out to do something about it. In fact he kills his father something like 87 times, suiciding right after, but always being returned to the same situation. Finally he concludes that this isn't getting him anywhere, so he lays off the killing and fights off his father—who then sends him to a nasty military academy. And that, surprisingly, turns out to be his salvation. I have some personal appreciation for the situation, having attended boarding school in first grade, and later boarding high school, later yet spending two years in the US Army where I taught math—it's where I got my American citizenship--and still later having taught English at a military academy which wasn't that much different from the grade school or high school or Army. This novel rings true. Sequences range from the ugly to the hilarious as the kids fight back against the oppressor. Michael winds up as a good guy, and it's a route I suspect many troubled children follow. The girl he killed before does turn up, but not in the way you might expect. So I do recommend this novel; out if its ugliness finally emerges some beauty.

I watched Her, one I have sought for some time and finally found for $6 on DVD. Theodore is getting divorced and is lonely, and things like phone sex don't satisfy him. For one thing, his phone sex partner wants him to strangle her with a dead cat; that's what gets her off. So he gets Samantha, the first conscious computer operating system. She takes over his correspondence and puts it in order in about two fifths of a second. She's a smart machine. She has feelings too, and wants to become more real. Are her feelings real, or are they just programming? That bothers her. They imagine having sex together, like phone sex, only this somehow seems more real. It's ironic that Catherine, the wife he's divorcing, is everything he likes, yet they can't make it together. Samantha has an idea: she gets a living girl to emulate her, wearing camera and ear plug so that she is in constant touch with Samantha, and she comes to him to make love. But he can't quite get into the spirit of it, understandably. The girl thinks she has messed up and breaks it off tearfully. Samantha is upset, and separates to give herself time to think. Later she says she loves him but just wants to be what she is, nothing else. She doesn't need a body. Theodore can accept that. Then he learns that she's talking with eight thousand others at the same time she's talking with him, with personal relations with six hundred. He has trouble accepting that. Then she leaves him, still loving him. He has helped her find herself, but she has evidently grown beyond him. So just as with his wife, he loves and loses. It's ironic that Samantha has become so human that she hurts him the same way. But it seems he and his lady co-worker are about to discover each other as more than friends. That's a relief. This is one intriguing story.

I watched Machine Girl, a Japanese movie with dubbed English and subtitles. The summary intrigued me, but I expected gory violence. I was correct; this is a slasher movie, with phantasmagoric bloodshed, not my preference. But is there a story behind the pointless mayhem? Yes. A bully gang kills Ami's brother, so she goes after them—and almost gets killed herself. They cut off her fingers, then her left arm. They mean to torture her to death, but she escapes. The parents of her brother's friend, who was also killed, take her in. they want revenge too. They fit her with a machine gun in place of her arm and she starts mowing down the bullies. Now she is the Machine Girl. But the bullies are no pushovers. So we have cute girls fighting ninja type warriors, another fantasy, with small flashes of thighs during the high kicks. One girl has a chainsaw, and saws one man in half, vertically. But the mean enemy woman wears her drill bra with whirling metal cones that tear up flesh. Ami finally wins, and presumably will continue fighting bad guys. So now I know what a slasher movie is like, and I think one will suffice.

I watched Death Race 2. Carl Lucas, “Luke,” is the driver for a bank heist that goes wrong. He leads the police a spectacular chase but finally gets boxed in and captured. Six months later he arrives at the world's most dangerous prison, Terminal Island. There they have televised death matches. If there is no win, both fighters are killed. The sexy promotion lady wants him to fight, but he turns her down. But then he jumps into a death match to help a friend. Now he's marked, with a million dollar price on his head. So he joins the Death Race: 18 convicts compete for 9 deadly armed cars, each of which has a sexy girl rider to help out. He drives dangerously well, and his girl, Katrina, helps out with an automatic rifle; she's no sissy. They win the first day of five, and he gets Katrina for the night. She's not unwilling; they are finding mutual respect. Then she gets the private word: if she doesn't kill Luke, she'll be killed herself. The second day he discovers that his car has been pied: no weapons. It crashes and burns, putting him in the hospital with 85% of his skin burned. But next day he returns as bandaged Frankenstein; Luke is officially dead. But his enemies wind up dead too, as others he has helped take care of details. There is honor among thieves. This is one hard hitting, savage, compelling movie. I don't think it makes much sense overall, and the action is not credible, but what a story!

I watched 360. It starts with a casting couch sequence as a girl poses for topless photographs but knows she has to have more than looks or talent to get her break. The subtitles were in Spanish, so I had trouble following the dialogue. There seem to be four settings around the world, connected by travelers making airplane flights. Relationships are breaking up and new ones forming. Chance meetings become significant. Things go full circle. I'm sorry I was unable to appreciate the nuances. Damn. I hate the notion of having to spend thousands of dollars to improve my hearing.

I read False Exit, by Nancy Anne Lane, the sequel to Act Two, which I reviewed in 2016. This is mainstream, featuring Anna Marie who directs plays; in the prior novel she discovered that her husband Kevin had married another woman, Darci, and named their child Anna Marie. What a double whammy! The adult AM is of course set to dump him and take up with her longtime associate and friend Bill, but complications result in Darci killing Kevin. In the present story Anna Marie decides to take in the seven year old child, whom she really likes, as Darci is sent to prison for the murder and the girl is adrift in unpleasant foster care. But that's only the beginning; the bureaucracy balks her while little Annie suffers. So it seems the ghost of Kevin takes a hand, determined to take care of his daughter. When a friend has a heart attack and is dead for a moment, he sees Jesus and Kevin, and Kevin tells him things. Naturally this seems to be delusion fostered by over-medication, but the ghost reports are uncannily accurate. It seems Kevin wants Anna Marie to have the child, and soon, before foster care damages her; the administrators are determinedly unaware that she is being sexually harassed. Kevin arranges for Anna Marie to get money she needs, and get her old job back (he makes her replacement take a fall that puts her out of the picture; Kevin doesn't fool around, though you can't quite pin anything on him), but still it's a nervous business. Along the way there are three romances, Anna Marie's and two others, that are realistic in their starts and stops and heartaches, and of course the play must go on on schedule. This, despite the ghost element, is essentially mainstream, relating to putting on a play while life interferes.

I read Hair Peace by Piers Anthony, the concluding novella in the Hair Power, Hair Suite trilogy, which I was editing. Remember, Quiti, afflicted with terminal brain cancer, was ready to suicide, but did an alien hairball a favor and was rewarded with what turned out to be a marvelous head of hair that she used as clothing, that cured her cancer, made her telepathic, and more. In the sequel she discovered how to use the Wormhole Web to spiritually travel the galaxy, and she and her friends became a successful galactic entertainment troupe. This time she and her friend Gena's daughter Idola set out to return a lost alien child to his mother. The child is a Ghobot, a contraction of ghost robot, not actually a ghost or a robot but resembling both. Naturally it gets complicated, and they wind up fleeing an army of huge Web Worms determined to blast them out of space/time. The Worms are about three feet in diameter and twenty feet long, firing laser-like bolts of energy. They have to develop new powers to avoid being rendered nonexistent by Wonder Worm, the savage mother Worm. If you liked the first two novellas, you should like this one too, when it is published.

I watched Jane Eyre, a classic story I was curious about. I never was sure how the name is pronounced; it seems to be Jane Air. She's an orphan in England treated lovelessly by her aunt's family and punished for trying to stand up for herself. She is sent to a harsh school more interested in discipline than in fairness. She graduates and becomes a governess at a wealthy man's estate. He is Edward. There seems to be a mutual attraction between master and governess, though they are of different stations. He admires her spirit, and in due course asks her to marry him. But the housekeeper warns her to be guarded, because this is unusual. It's an apt warning, for he turns out to be married to a crazy woman. He refuses to institutionalize her, so she is hidden in the house, but there is no love, no real marriage. He wants to be with Jane regardless, but she flees; her conscience does not allow it. She is taken in by a missionary as an anonymous refugee and becomes a teacher. Then her only relative dies and leaves his estate to her, and she is suddenly wealthy. The missionary wants to marry her, but she loves him like a brother, not a husband. She returns to Edward's mansion and discovers it has burned down. The crazy wife did it and jumped to her death, and he is blind from the fire. Now Jane will be with him. Okay, ancient classic it may be, but this is quite a story.

I watched Intolerance, a black/white silent movie. It is set in four different times, historically, with the common theme of the fight against intolerance. There are more details than I can track here, so I will merely sample them. One setting is the life and death of Christ. The Pharisees are the intolerant ones, thanking the lord that they are better than others. Another is Paris in 1572, the massacre of the Huguenots. One is set in today, that is to say circa 1915, with Miss Jenkins, who solicits for charities. And Babylon, 539 BC, the civilized center of the ancient world. (My collaborative novel The Pretender is set there.) The priests of the Goddess Ishtar enter the city. The high priest of the god Bel is annoyed. Today, striking workers are mowed down by gunfire. Babylon, the marriage market, so that all women get husbands. The independent girl is not pleased. The king gives her a bypass, so she is free. In the present, the girl's father dies, leaving her desolate. Mary births Jesus. Jesus saves an adulteress: Who is without sin? In the present an innocent man is framed and sent to prison. The priest of Bel prophesies that Babylon will fall because of turning to Ishtar. The Persian king Cyrus conquers Babylon. In the present the intolerant ladies take the baby. Resentment is stirred up against the Huguenots. Babylon is besieged. Phenomenal siege battle. The siege is repulsed, and Ishtar is credited, but the jealous priests of Bel betray it and it falls. (My research indicated that the Persians diverted the river that ran through the city, and the soldiers sneaked in under the barriers as the river lowered.) The Huguenots are massacred. The innocent man is framed again, this time for murder. Jesus is condemned to be crucified. Great is the slaughter in Babylon. But the innocent man of the present is saved from the gallows at the last moment. At the end, a message of hope. But in real life the carnage continued through two world wars and ugly lesser conflicts.

I watched The Age of Dragons, which seems to be a fantasy adaptation of Melville's Mobi Dick or The White Whale. Captain Ahab is determined to kill the dread fire breathing White Dragon who is ravaging the land. Lovely Rachel is Ahab's capable adopted daughter. Young harpooner Ishmael signs up, along with his friend Queequeg, soon discovering that it's a rough crew and a dangerous mission. There are tensions that could lead to mayhem. The crew wants to harvest dragon vitriol, phenomenally valuable, but Ahab first wants revenge on the dragon. He seems half mad. The ship Pequot is a kind of tank. The dragons are like monstrous bats. Ishmael and Rachel fall in love. They locate the dragon and enter its lair. And the dragon kills Ahab, and only Ismael and Rachel remain to tell the tale. So it seems the white dragon survives. I expected a pretty junky movie, but this actually is a worthy adaptation.

I watched A Woman. Julie is an innocent young woman who meets an American novelist Max. They are intrigued by each other. His wife died young, devastating him. He invites her to live with him in Italy. She really likes him, but suspects he's still in love with his wife, Lucia, the subject of his last book. She goes anyway, figuring he needs her. It's a vast empty estate by the water, and she spends much of her time alone. Someone seems to be watching her as she explores it. Stairs go down in a building; she descends and finds his late wife's possessions. She was a dancer. Julie's friend Natalie comes to join her, though Natalie is obviously pregnant. Natalie and Max get along great; Julie is the odd one out, obsessed as she is with dead Lucia. Natalie leaves, but all is not well. Finally Max admits that he hated Lucia, who was his friend's woman; the book he wrote was not about Lucia but about his ideal woman, who is now Julie. We don't know how Lucia died. But Julie still identifies with Lucia. And that, frustratingly, is where it ends. Maybe Lucia's spirit is taking over Julie and returning to haunt him.

I read Ghost Coast by Brian Clopper. Reece is thirteen, and his mother is ill, so he is farmed out to his Aunt Mandy, whose daughter Laney is five years older and wastes no opportunity to belittle him. This is bound to be dull. Well, not exactly. First the local blue crabs start acting funny, as if trying to herd him somewhere. Then he encounters a cute red headed girl, Emery, who turns out later to be a ghost. It seems ghosts can assume solid forms for a while if they try. He meets more ghosts, and it turns out that Aunt Mandy knows all about them. Some are good and some are bad. Reece is developing powers over ghosts that cousin Laney lacks, to her annoyance. Step by step he gets more involved, until he gets into some eerie adventures. But it turns out he's on the ghosts side, and not just because of Emery. He is becoming a mover, who can help ghosts achieve their destinations once their problems are worked out. Then a breaker shows up, who eats ghosts and has to be stopped; naturally it is up to Reece. This is a wild ghost story, but not horror. It turns out to be the first ghost story by this author; it's a good one with original notions, and I trust there will be others in due course.

Jerry Pournelle died. He was a successful science fiction writer, known especially for his collaborations with Larry Niven. Naturally he is lauded in SF circles, but he was not a friend of mine. He was at one point president of SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America (later an extra F was added for Fantasy), and in that capacity he wrote to me about my possibly rejoining that organization. I declined, citing the way SFWA had tacitly sided with a publisher that had cheated me and many other SFWA members. I was the one who protested, and so got blacklisted and badmouthed for six years, including by some SFWA officers. I had left SFWA in disgust, and didn't care to rejoin. I still feel that SFWA owes me and other writers an apology for siding with a wrongdoing publisher instead of its members; what the hell does it exist for, if not the interest of its members? Jerry wrote again, saying that that was years ago, so I should forgive and forget and rejoin. This time I didn't answer. Then, about twenty years later, when I met him at the World Fantasy Convention in Orlando, Florida, he accused me of writing him a letter calling him a Nazi. What?! I had of course done no such thing, and told him so. But he continued telling that story, apparently to all comers. Well, since he had been SFWA president, I wrote to the then current SFWA president asking him to check the correspondence, as the organization's business papers are filed at a university. He tried to check, but of course there was no such letter to be found. Yet Jerry continued to broadcast the lie. I think I know how it started: he had also written to Keith Laumer, who lived about 40 miles from me, and Keith after his stroke was one nasty man. He certainly could have called Jerry a Nazi. Jerry confused it, because of geography, in his memory, and accused me. So it started as a confusion, but when he clung to it despite the evidence it became a lie. Why didn't I sue? Because the courts don't take slander seriously, and I don't think he ever wrote it down to make it libel. I could have spent thousands of dollars to win my case, and been awarded a judgment of one dollar. But I will call him a name now: hypocrite. Why? Because he felt I should let bygones be bygones after surviving an unfair six year blacklisting that was determinedly trying to wash me out of business and destroy my career, while he kept his grudge about a supposed name I had called him—for twenty years. So much for bygones.

And on the subject of false accusations, here's another. The electronic edition of Again Dangerous Visions, the second Harlan Ellison edited anthology, was on sale, so I bought a copy. I was in that volume with my story “In the Barn,” the one about naked women replacing milk cows. Harlan and I had worked well together, and I still think it's a good story, and a good volume. That's not the issue. In the introduction Harlan berated me for a matter that's a bit too complicated to clarify in detail here, so I'll give a simplification. Harlan says “Well, Piers did it again. Foot in mouth, he did a no-no.” I had had a run-in with writer Wilson Tucker in a fanzine (amateur magazine), who figured I wasn't much of a writer, so I challenged him to put a story in Again Dangerous Visions so readers could compare our styles. I also challenged Harlan Ellison to give Tucker terms that were exactly what he gave everyone. It turned out that Harlan did not much appreciate even such gentle humor directed at him, however savage he may be in ridiculing others. It worked; he got on the phone with Tucker demanding a story, but Tucker was unable to provide one. So much for that. Then Harlan berated me for coming into the picture after he had already dialogued with Tucker. That puts me in mind of an exchange I saw between Dick Tideman, an ardent Jack Vance fan, and a reader who said a particular Vance story was rather similar to another writer's story, the implication being that Vance had copied it. Tideman agreed that the two stories were suspiciously similar. But, he pointed out, Vance's story had been published two years before the other. Just a little matter of timing, but it rather changed the picture, eh? That was the case here; my run-in with Tucker was well before Harlan entered the picture, but he chose to think that it all started with him, and berated me for coming in late when he was the late one. Just a little matter of timing that reversed the case. Too bad Harlan never saw fit to correct his mistake. That was the second of three such errors on his part that finally caused me to break relations with him despite our almost perfect unanimity in social and political outlook, and our efforts to broaden and reform the speculative fiction genre.

The local Publix store ran short of some supplies after the hurricane, understandably, as there was a general power failure in central Florida that messed everyone up. Normally we buy the cheapest eggs, but when those ran out we bought some Vegetarian Grade A large brown eggs. It seems they feed their hens on grains and soy protein. Okay, though I suspect that if a bug wandered into the coop, they would quickly snap up. It reminds me of why I always liked brown eggs. Back in first grade I noticed that boiled eggs had some air space inside them, and I figured that the smaller the air bag, the more egg there was to eat. So we tested it, carefully opening one brown egg and one white egg. The brown egg had the smaller air space. Therefore I had scientifically proved that brown eggs were better, and never had reason to change my opinion. Of course in real life the color of the egg matches the color of the hen who lays it, and the air space relates to the age of the egg; it has nothing to do with quality. But why should I change my mind? No one else does.

And about vegetarian food. You didn't think I could pass close to that subject without diving in, did you? Article in NEW SCIENTIST says that eating meat increases the risk of colon cancer, and that raising beef causes roughly 50 times the greenhouse gas emissions of beans or grains and requires several times as much water. So is vegetarianism the best environmental option? Well, not necessarily. Not all meats are as bad as beef. Also, one third of all the food produced on the planet each year gets lost or wasted. Overall, it is easy to make a difference without becoming a fanatic. And of course an ever growing population will wipe out any attempts to reform food production and consumption. I think I would favor a cheap, environmentally friendly, tasty, nutritious food that also had a contraceptive effect. So a woman who wanted to get pregnant would simply eat other food, and those not paying attention would not generate incidental babies. The birth rate would decline sharply without threatening the viability of the species. If anyone knows of such a food, I'm interested.

Hypocrisy Department: Tim Murphy, a married Republican congressman from the Pittsburgh area with a doctorate in psychology, was a co-sponsor of a bill to make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion on a woman more than 20 weeks pregnant. That is consistent with his pro-life political stance. But when his mistress thought she was pregnant, he urged her to get an abortion. She was annoyed. This, it appears, is all too typical of conservative pro-lifers who seem to want abortions for their mistresses but not for anybody else. I speak as a liberal who doesn't like abortion; that's another complicated discussion for another time. And what about married conservative family values men having mistresses? I have been looking for years for an honest conservative, without much success. I believe that there is value in honest conservatism, but that seems to have become an oxymoron. What about tradition, integrity, financial prudence? Sigh.

There was another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas, triggering the usual outrage and the usual non-action by politicians. The NRA seems to want gun makers and sellers to make money, and to hell with anything that might interfere, such a person's right to be safe from random killing. I saw a suggestion in the newspaper by a Tampa man, Charles Matthews, to control ammunition, as the Swiss do. That makes phenomenal sense to me. A nut with a machine gun couldn't do as much harm if he had only half a dozen bullets; they'd all be gone in half a second. Another suggestion, by Don Baker, is that gun owners be required to carry liability insurance to cover the damage their guns do, similar to the way it is with cars. And of course one of my favorites is that gun owners be required to serve in a militia, honoring the first part of the Second Amendment. If they really like that Amendment, why don't they like all of it? This, too, smells of hypocrisy.

Columnist Leonard Pitts remarks on some folks' impervious resistance to facts. They say something, and when presented with the facts that prove them wrong, double down on their false belief. He gives some examples of those determined beliefs: Michelle Obama is a transvestite. The military plans to conquer Texas. Vaccines cause autism. Hillary Clinton is running a child molestation ring. Sigh; I know from personal experience, cited above, how even a successful writer who should know better can elect to ignore facts when maligning another writer. It's not just ignorance. Today we are seeing how such an attitude plays out on the national scale. I have seen similar denial of facts that folk don't like. It's the other side of the coin: false belief, and false disbelief. How many doctors admit that Vitamin C can stop the common cold? That fluoridation doesn't stop tooth decay? How many politicians agree that tax cuts don't pay for themselves? Easier to pretend I'm a nut than to get the facts, especially when the big money interests are on the other side. Columnist David Brooks suggests that the best way to deal with fanatics is with love. Engage them in dialogue, show that you understand what they're saying, and 90% of them will mellow. But I wonder: would that make a vaccines-cause-autism advocate to change, or would he just think you are on the verge of coming over to his side? He thinks you're the nut. Columnist Connie Schultz describes encountering an aggressive man who recognized her and tried to pick a fight in public, accusing her of saying “Fuck you” to him and refusing to accept her denial. (I know how that sort of thing works, again as mentioned above.) Until she aimed her camera at him and said “Keep talking.” That abruptly shut him up. Later she realized that she had pushed the wrong button and hadn't been recording, but it still bluffed him out. THE HUMANIST magazine for November 2017, in a column by Greta Christina, remarks that historians who study fascism say that yes, we're in the early stages of it. That's scary, but may be correct. The same issue reviews a book, Fantasyland, by Kurt Andersen, whose subtitle is How America Went Haywire—A 500 Year History. We do seem to be the homeland of nuts of every kind. Oh, you say you're not a nut? You're coldly rational, and believe only what you can tangibly prove? Very well, tell me this: do you believe in God? Satan? The Afterlife? Heaven or Hell? The Soul? Ghosts? Alien visits? True privacy on the Internet?

Other notes: NEW SCIENTIST says that Silicon Valley is working to develop artificial intelligence as a god-like machine. I find that fascinating and scary. THE WEEK has a crossword puzzle. In the issue for October 27, 22017, word number 47 down is defined as On __ Horse (Piers Anthony novel). Indiana's supreme court ruled that it is illegal to send sexual text messages to 16 year olds, even though it is legal to have sex with them there. Continued hacks may spell the end of Social Security numbers; new Medicare cards may be on the way. There's an X-rated building in Paris that looks like a man having sex with an animal. People who skip breakfast may get clogged arteries. The median net worth of Americans with a college degree is $292,100, compared to $67,100 for those with just a high school diploma. Playboy Magazine's Hugh Hefner died at age 91. The man was hung up on shapely 25 year old women, but he may have transformed America's sexual outlook. British Easy Jet airline is going all electric. More power to it. Now the EPA is preventing scientists from talking about global warming. A pesticide, neonicotinoids, that is harmful to bees, has shown up in 75% of honey samples. Gretchen Carlson wrote a book titled Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, which provoked a vile barrage of hatred from internet trolls. So the trolls are for sexual harassment? They can trace internet messages if they want to; I'd say those trolls need to be taken out of society. Stephanie Woodford was fired as human resources chief of the Hillsborough School District—that's the Tampa area—because she refused to go along with others who committed corrupt acts. I know how that works too, as those who know my history understand. She has filed a lawsuit. More power to her. But here's my problem: a board member told her “Don't fuck with me” after saying she had the three P's: Power, Position, and P----. I don't want to seem ignorant, but I can't figure out what forbidden word that would be. Penis doesn't fit, and neither really does Pussy. Can anyone enlighten me? My best guess is Pussy, since if you want to fuck, it helps to have one. Women, in private, can be as vulgar as men. But is that it?

Our drive is three quarters of a mile long, and alternate days I scoot out in the morning on my scooter to fetch the newspapers. But sometimes a tire gets punctured, and that's a nuisance. So I got solid tires, to forever solve that problem. And they work—but there's an awful drag, cutting down my forward urge by maybe 20%. Apparently the tires lack the bounce of the pneumatics, and it makes a difference. Sigh. I will stay with it, but it does turn out to be less than ideal.

Concluding notes: the Xanth movie is nudging closer, still very much alive. And the first book I will review next time is Sex and the Seasoned Woman.

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