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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
JeJune 2018

Early Bird Books (EBB) will feature Xanth novels #38 Board Stiff, #39 Five Portraits, and #40 Isis Orb on 6-26-2018, downpriced to $3.99. I am not clear whether that price is per book, or for all three together, which would be a real bargain. These novels introduce the woman who gets turned into a board (she misspelled “bored”), and the basilisk who rescues five children from doom in the future, and the appearance of the sexy Goddess Isis in Xanth, that story devised by a ten year old girl. #39 also introduces the children who will be important characters in several coming novels, such as Squid, who doesn't believe that she is the most important person in the universe. But she is. So if you have not read these novels before—shame on you!—now's your chance

  • I continue to watch the Star Trek episodes, in order, and these spot summaries account for most of this long column. Those not interested are free to skip those paragraphs. Those not interested in whatever else I have to say are free to quietly depart, so as not to disturb those snoozing in the background. That seems fair enough, don't you agree?

  • I watched Star Trek The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode #1, “Redemption Part II.” The Enterprise is involved in a Klingon conspiracy, because there is sneaky Romulan interference to break up the truce between the Klingons and the Federation, so that the Romulans can gain a significant advantage. Data is given command of one ship in the fleet, which annoys its first officer. The Romulans have what they claim is Tasha Yar's daughter aboard; how is this possible, as Tasha never had a child? But she says her mother was from the future, and became the consort of the Romulan leader. That could be, per a prior reality changing episode. The Romulans try to sneak through past Data's ship, but Data catches on and exposes them. This gives Gowron, the Klingon leader they support, the victory. Worf, restored to honor, returns to duty aboard the Enterprise. And Data, who disobeyed a direct order, is absolved, because his insight saved the Federation fleet. It's not smart to punish those who do that.

    STTNG S5 #2. “Darmok” They meet with the Tamara, but the dialogue is incomprehensible despite being in English. Then Picard and the Tamana leader are beamed to the surface of the local planet. They still don't understand each other. The Tamarians seem to speak entirely by analogies to stories that are familiar to them. A native creature attacks, fading in and out, killing the Tamarian, but Picard begins to understand. He speaks enough of the Taramian analogies to get them to back off. So the encounter is inconclusive, but not a loss.

    STTNG S5 #3. “Ensign Ro” They receive a distress call; there has been a Bajoran terrorist attack near the Cardassian border. Ensign Ro Laren is transferred to the Enterprise. They don't want her any more than she wants to be there, but they are stuck with each other. She is distinctly unfriendly. They beam to the planet to meet the rebel Orta, who says this band did not attack as accused. All is not as represented. It was in fact a Cardassian staging, blaming the Bajarans. Picard faces down the Admiral, who was taken in, and who is now likely to be removed. And he elects to keep Ensign Ro as an office aboard the enterprise. This is another sharp adventure, and there will be more of Ro.

    STTNG S5 #4. “
    Tho Silicon Avatar” they are on a pleasant planet when it is attacked by the Crystalline entity. They retreat to a cave system and survive, emerging to a devastated surface. They are the only ones known to survive such an attack. Dr. Marr investigates, being a specialist in this entity. She doesn't' like Data and doesn't want to work with him, but slowly learns respect. They try to establish communication with the Entity. They begin to succeed, but Dr. Marr interferes and the entity is destroyed. She got her revenge for the death of her son, but at what price?

    STTNG S5 #5. “
    Disaster” They have time off and are relaxing when the ship encounters space filaments; this is like crashing in space. The ship's communications and life support systems are down. Chief O'Brien and Troi survive, and Ensigh Ro, and Picard with three visiting children, and Geordi, Deanna Crusher, Data, Riker, and scattered others, but they are in isolated groups. Troi assumes command as the ranking officer on the bridge. Power is being lost, and if it drops too low the ship will explode. The separate groups work independently to salvage what they can of the situation. And O'Brien's wife Keiko goes into labor, with Worf attending her. Riker takes Data's severed head for instruction how to proceed. They succeed in stabilizing the ship. All ends reasonably well as the Enterpriseu heads to port for repairs.

    STTNG S5 #7. “
    The Game” They are surveying an uncharted Phoenix Region. Riker visits Risa and brings back an interesting game. Beverly Crusher does something that knocks Data out, and does something to his brain, leaving him unconscious. What is going on? She has been playing the game, as everyone on the ship has. Wesley meets and dates Robin and they are suspicious of that game. Wesley warns Picard, not knowing that Picard is also playing the game. Indeed, crew members are activating the game to new outfits. Only Data would be immune, which is why he was taken out. Then Robin gets taken by the game. Wesley flees, but everyone is after him. They catch him and put the game headpiece on him. Then Data appears and shines a special light on them. Wesley managed to restore him, then distracted the others while Data prepared a counteraction. That saves the ship, and maybe a lot more. This is my new favorite episode, as it foreshadows the addictive nature of Internet social sites, but there are many other great episodes.

    STTNG S5 #8. “
    Unification Part 1” Did Ambassador Spock, of the original series, defect to the Romulans? Maybe he went to see Pardek, a Romulan senator he knew. Picard calls in a favor from Gowron, and takes a cloaked Klingon ship to Romulus. Meanwhile Riker investigates mystery junk, checking with the Farengi. An anonymous ship attacks, and explodes when the Enterprise fires back. Picard and Data emulate Romulans and go to Romulus. They find Spock. Episode ends.

    STTNG S5 #7. “
    Unification Part II” Spock says he is here on a personal mission of potential reunification between the Vulcans and the Romulans. But the Romulans mean to use it to conquer the Vulcan planet. Except that Data gets into the Romulan computer and changes Spock's message to reveal the truth. So the plot fails. Spock will stay with the Romulan reunification group, taking the long view.

    I read Wild Sex, by Dr. Carin Bondar. This is subtitled “The science behind mating in the animal kingdom,” which gives a better idea of its thrust. It covers every aspect of mating from getting together to raising the children, and parts are eye opening. Human beings are of course animals, so much of it relates to us more intimately that we might like to admit. The material is dense and I will only sample aspects here. “Humans are under the incorrect impression that our natural scents are somehow dirty and unwelcome.” So we scrub them clean, sacrificing much natural attraction. Is sex fun? Not for many creatures; it is more like a state of warfare between rivals and between male and female. Rape is common, as in bestiality, that is, sex between species, often involuntary on the part of the female. Homosexuality is universal, as is masturbation. Trickery is common, as is bribery for sex. In some species sex is like combat with knives, as seedpods are jammed into the body of the victim, anywhere, even the head. Some females have penises, and the spotted hyena urinates, copulates, and gives birth though her penis-like canal. She can even get an erection. Cross dressing occurs, with some females emulating males so they won't be sexually harassed, and some males emulating females so they can sneak in for sex behind the dominant male's back. Mankind is practically unique in trying to prevent pregnancy. There I think the author misses a key point: in the human kind sex is duel purpose. For procreation, yes, but also for companionship. Human women, with their babies that take years to become independent, need the constant help of men, and they get it by sex and love. Thus a woman is one of the most constantly sexually available creatures known, capable of sex all the time, which is how she keeps the attention of a man all the time. But she doesn't want to be pregnant all the time, hence contraception. I'm surprised this aspect wasn't picked up, as it is vital to human society. Maybe the publisher censored it.

    I watched Valerian. This is set in the 28th century, and is multi-species. It is subtitled “And the City of 1,000 Planets.” This is wild visually stunning nonsense from the outset, with weird landscapes, aliens, and pretty girls. Obviously my kind of junk. It starts with a bald-headed scantily clad shapely young woman in an alien setting as it gets attacked from space. Then goes to agents Valerian and Laureline who are recalled from vacation for a special mission to Alpha, city of a thousand planets. Something is growing in it like a tumor; prior missions have been wiped out. A security meeting is raided by web-throwing creatures. Now the special powers of Valerian and Laureline are shown as they act to salvage the situation. But they get trapped. Valerian finds an ally, a phenomenal female shape changer who helps him escape. They rescue Laureline, but the ally dies. And they learn that a human general is responsible for the destruction of a civilized alien planet and he is responsible for the problem in the city. They finally manage to set things right, and Boy finally gets Girl. This is a completely unbelievable story, scientifically, but a lot of fun.

    I watched Eye in the Sky. This is not related to the Philip K Dick novel of the same title, alas. Katharine Powell commands an international mission to capture terrorists in Kenya. They watch a key house by satellite and drones, one of which resembles a hummingbird. Another resembles a flying beetle. It discovers a deadly suicide mission being set up. That changes the picture; they need to destroy it before the terrorists kill hundreds in a crowded shopping mall. But there are legal and political issues. They need to strike now, but have to go up the chain of command to get approval. They get it, but as they ready the strike the pilot sees a nine year old girl come on to the site to sell bread, and balks. So they send in a local agent to buy the bread so the girl can go. He does, but soldiers chase him and the girl does not go. Do they sacrifice the girl to save maybe 80 other innocent people? That is the crux. The local agent gives a local boy money to buy the bread just before the strike. Did the girl get away in time? Yes, barely, though injured. They take her to a hospital where she is treated but dies. This was not the movie I anticipated, but is probably better, with its insights about drone bombing and the necessary trade-offs. What would you decide, given such a choice? And I think now I better understand how so many terrorist leaders have been killed by drones. It's not random.

    I watched Thor Ragnarok. Thor, the God of Thunder, is imprisoned on the far side of the galaxy. He burst out of his chains, grabs his Hammer, and smashes the swarming demons. Then he and his adopted brother Loki go to rescue their father Odin, but he prefers to remain in retirement. They will have to deal with Hela, his elder sister, who seeks to destroy Asgard. When Thor throws his mighty hammer at her, she catches it and crushes it to rubble. When he gets captured by a hungry throng, he is rescued by a woman who takes him to the Grandmaster, where he must fight the great green Hulk, though they were friends. They fight, then Hulk reverts to the human Bruce Banner and they work together, along with the girl, who is a surviving Valkyrie. They get a spaceship and maneuver their way to the Devil's Anus to escape. There follows chronic mayhem and they finally prevail. Thor assumes the throne. Fun nonsense

    I watched Life, where scientist aboard the International Space Station prepare to receive a sample from Mars, but they strike debris and have to scramble to get it. It turns out to be a large living cell. They revive it: alien life, albeit microscopic. They name it Calvin. It thrives, growing to several inches across, until an accident makes it go inert. They try a light shock—and it grabs the man's hand and knocks him out. Now it's loose in the station, as a kind of five petaled moving plant. They try to burn it up, but it survives and kills the man with the torch by diving into his mouth and mangling his guts. A larger starfish or octopus thing emerges from him. The leader, Kat, suits up and goes outside to reestablish communications with Earth—and Calvin gets on her suit and manages to kill her. Now it is caught outside, and surely can't survive long. But it gets back into the station, kills another man, and is larger than ever. They vent the oxygen so Calvin will suffocate, but it's not enough and they head for deep space to prevent Calvin from getting to Earth. But they don't make it. Finally Miranda North and David Jordan are left, trying to lure Calvin into a lifeboat where they can send him into deep space. Only Miranda makes it back to the Earth surface—but a copy of Calvin is with her. Earth is doomed. This is realistic horror.

    I read Bring on the Magic by Brian Clopper. Randall has connected with a magic book of spells that flies about, talks to him, and opens its pages to the spells he needs to collect and confine the wild magic that is appearing randomly on Earth. He is recognized as a Mage, one who can perform significant magic himself. But after a while he begins to wonder; it seems a bit too pat the way the book came into his life. Then his sister sets him up with a date with Lucy, a nice girl. But he wonders: again: could she be a witch? Witches can be very appealing, when they try, but he doesn't want to be bewitched. Well, she is a witch, and more than that, she persuades him that he is on the wrong side, and that the magic spell book actually contains a demon who is using Randall for its own purposes. Whom is he to believe? Then it complicates; before it is done, there is a wild rampage of magic and danger. This is a fun read.

    I watched Full Metal Jacket, a Viet Nam war movie. It opens in Paris Island, South Carolina, as a foul mouthed sergeant bawls out recruits, freely insulting them. The evident intention is to degrade them. There follows basic training. This is worse than it was when I went through it in the Army in Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in 1957, but of course this is a movie about the marines, and the essence is true. I was lucky to serve in peace time between Korea and Viet Nam. Basic training is hell, deliberately. One third of my unit washed out and had to recycle, mainly because of illness. As an out of shape vegetarian I had a rough time, but I made it through, thanks to getting leave time that enabled me to go home and recover form the flue-like bug going around. We learn that the movie title refers to the ammunition. One persecuted recruit goes crazy and shoots and kills the sadistic sergeant, then himself. That's the danger when you push folk too hard. Then they are shipped to the hell of Viet Nam. The enemy attacks during the Tet ceasefire. Two are correspondent and photographer for the Stars & Stripes; they come under fire. They bargain with prostitutes. They encounter booby traps and take losses. And a sniper starts taking them out one by one. They finally get the sniper, who turns out to be a woman. They march on through the burning ruins, singing songs for unity. This is one hard hitting story.

    I watched Hanger 10. This is one of those hand-held camera films, reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, (if I remember chge title correctly) which I didn't like. Young folk Sally, Jake and Gus are using metal detectors to prospect for buried Saxon gold in England when they happen to film a UFO, then come across mysteriously dead cattle. They proceed at night, because they're not supposed to be here. A high fence has been cut through. There are sounds in the darkness, and mysterious light. Their car disappears. They continue next day, lost. There are more sounds. A light in the sky. One of them points a metal detector at the sky, and it beeps. A helicopter passes, and crashes. At night again, a light. Demonic shrieking. Many lights, sounds. Jake and Sally make it out, but where is Gus? They find a deserted top secret US Air Force installation. They think Gus is in Hanger 10, and go there. There are people on beds, maybe dead. Sounds, lights. Gus is there, dead. Sally runs out, and sees things floating in the sky. She falls. Jake comes out and is taken by something. End of movie. This is not my type of thing; I regard it as a poor substitute for real storytelling.

    STTNG S5 #9. “A Matter of Time” They go to try to counter the dust cloud where a meteor impact occurred. They pass an anomaly, a temporal distortion, and a professor from 300 years in the future beams aboard. They want to know why he is here studying them, on this particular day, but he says he can't tell them things that might change their future. So he is Along, observing, as they arrive at the planet, now in a nuclear winter. But things start to go wrong. Picard's decision can save or wipe out twenty million people. He asks the professor for advice, but he refuses because it could change the future, so Picard gambles, and wins, saving the planet. Then it turns out the professor is an impostor, from the past, stealing things from his future. They catch on and arrest him.

    STTNG S5 #10. “New Ground” A duel focus episode. They will participate in the first test of a new invention. Worf's adoptive human mother visits and brings along his Klingon son Alexander, who enrolls in the ship's school. The boy steals and lies about it. He promises Worf not to do it again. Deanna explains that the child feels abandoned, so is acting out. Meanwhile the experiment is going wrong; the ship is in trouble. Alexander is caught in a section that will be contaminated as they deal with the problem. Worf and Riker manage to rescue him. Alexander will stay on the Enterprise, no longer feeling abandoned.

    STTNG S5 #11. “Hero Worship” They encounter a ship dead in space, near the Black Cluster, with one survivor, a young boy, Timothy. They learn that aliens attacked and invaded the ship. That may have been the Breen, an alien culture. The boy is difficult for regular folk to work with, still being in shock from the loss of his family. So Data works with him, as he relates best to the android. Timothy decides to be an android. Meanwhile the Enterprise explores the Black Cluster, one of the oldest structures in the galaxy. Its wave fronts interfere with their sensors. Their own shields are destroying it—which is what happened to the other ship. Timothy thought it was his fault. Data catches on, and that saves the ship.

    STTNG S5 #12. “Violations” They are with the Ullians, telepathic folk who retrieve long forgotten memories. They are forming a library of archived memories. Deanna Troi suffers a traumatic memory that puts her in a coma. Then it happens to Riker. There's a syndrome connected to memory, in the thalamus, that they share. Then Beverly Crusher. Then Troi recovers. A Ullian interviews her, evoking her memories. And she remembers being attacked by a Ullian. Jev; Jev was the common denominator of prior comas on other worlds. They will deal with him.

    STTNG S5 #13. “The Masterpiece Society” The Enterprise goes to investigate a system where a neutron star has fragmented. There are humans there, but they don't want interaction. But the neutron fragment will wreak havoc on the planet. So Ricker and an Away Team of Deanna Troi and Geordi beam down to discuss it. Their scientist Hannah Bates beams aboard to try to coordinate the diversion of the deadly fragment. They have what they believe is the perfect society without illness or malady, completely integrated with nature. Deanna converses with their leader Aaron Conor, and it becomes romantic. They succeed in diverting the stellar core fragment just enough. But now twenty three colonists want to leave. That will disrupt their society. The Enterprise may have done as much damage as the core fragment would have, albeit of a different nature. This is another thoughtful episode.

    STTNG S5 #14. “Conundrum” They investigate signals that may indicate intelligent life. They intercept an alien ship, and it sends a signal at them that wipes out the memories of themselves and each other, without deleting their skills. They get busy getting to know each other and figuring out their roles and the ship's mission. Riker and Ro get together romantically, not knowing whether in real life they are married or hate each other. The ship enters the Lysian system, that they may be at war with. An officer urges them to attack, but Picard balks, and the officer turns out to be an impostor. They are not at war with the Lythians. Deanna explains to Ro that in such a situation a person does what she really wants to do; in her case, to make out with Riker. In the circumstance, this was legitimate. He was hardly unwilling.

    STTNG S5 #15. “Power Play” They pick up a weak distress call from an uninhabited moon. It is from the Essex, a ship that disappeared 200 years ago. Riker, Data, and Deanna take a shuttle down, and crash. Chief O'Brien beams down to help them, but all four are knocked out by an electrical burst. They wake back aboard the Enterprise. Then the prior Away party, except for Riker, attack the ship personnel and seize control of the Ten Forward bar. Their personalities are completely changed, including Data. Picacd joins them as a hostage so the injured can be freed. The captain of the Essex has taken over Deanna's body. They demand that their physical remains be pickup up and shipped off for proper burial. But are they really the spirits of the Essex crew? They are not acting like it. They are alien spirits. Picard maneuvers them into an untenable situation and makes a deal to return them to the moon when they release their human hosts. All ends well.

    STTNG S5 #16. “Ethics” Worf is seriously injured, several of his vertebrae crushed. It could be permanent. Worf wants Riker to help him commit suicide. There is a risky treatment that might save him, a one third chance against death. Worf decides to take it. They do the surgery to replace his spinal column with an artificial one. It fails. His son Alexander comes. Then he recovers; there was a backup in his system. So he survives after all. But Beverly is not pleased with the ethics of such a gamble.

    STTNG S5 #17. “The Outcast” The Enterprise is contacted by the J'naii, an androgynous species, to help rescue a lost shuttlecraft. But they can't find it, so they launch a probe—which vanishes. Riker and Soren agree to co-pilot a rescue shuttle. They discuss the distinction between genderless and sexual creatures. Soren confesses that she sees herself as female, but does not let it be known among her people lest she be ridiculed and treated to eradicate her aberration. It seems parallel to the way homosexuality was regarded in our own species. Soren is attracted to Riker. When alone they kiss and perhaps go farther. The others find out and she is arrested and tried. She pleads her case beautifully, but they insist she is sick and needs to be cured. The parallel to our own recent attitudes continues. Riker and Worf go to rescue her, but she demurs. He loves her but must leave her. As was the case with so many gay folk encountering the prejudice on Earth. It is painful.

    STTNG S5 #18. “Cause and Effect” The Enterprise in trouble, and explodes as they try to abandon ship. But the main adventure gives no indication of this. Then the destruction occurs. And a replay of the prior sequence, almost the same. They enter the Typhon Expanse in space. Beverly remembers increasingly as things repeat. Deja vu? They explode again, and go back to the prior sequence. But more people are remembering. They are slowly zeroing in on the trace phenomena occurring. They realize they are caught in a time loop and decide to try to send a signal to the next loop that might warn them in time to change it. This time they succeed. They contact the other ship and learn it dates from a prior time. It has been caught in the loop much longer. But now all is well.

    I read Mjolnir, by Brian James. Mjolnir is the powerful magic hammer of the Norse god Thor, a devastating weapon. But Thor threw it away when his beloved wife died. That was not smart. In this framework the Norse panoply of gods have settled in contemporary America and more or less blended with the population. Thor, god of thunder, is a devastating pro football player, making opposing quarterbacks quake; Freya, goddess of love, makes a rich living as a high class prostitute; even the gods lust for her. But she is very much her own woman; if a lout tries to molest her on the street, she may tear his heart out, literally. There is mischief afoot as the gods vie for renewed power, and layer on layer of betrayal as Odin, Thor's father, plots to take Thor out of the picture and take Mjolnir for himself. Seeming friends turn out to be fake friends, except for Freya, who does her best to rescue Thor. No one can be trusted. But it turns out that Freya is a target herself, as she learns to her savage cost. The gods can be hurt and killed, and the violence can be sickening. This novel could use an educated editor, but the brutal action is compelling.

    STTNG S5 #1
    9. “The First Duty” Picard will give the Academy commencement address at Earth. The lady admiral calls him: there has been an accident. Wesley Crusher was injured in a formation flight exercise near Saturn that killed another cadet. But there is something they're not telling. Why did one cadet break formation, causing the collision? They were attempting a special, flashy, but risky maneuver, that resulted in the accident. Picard tells Wesley that if he doesn't tell the truth, Picard will. Wesley tells. Wesley receives a formal reprimand and will not advance with his class. Right; you don't fool around when lives are at stake.

    STTNG S5 #20. “Cost of Living” Worf and his son Alexander are having problems. Deanna's provocative mother Lwaxana visits, and says she is getting married. She gets together with Alexander and takes him to a Holodeck program, where they wind up in a mud bath watching a nude sexy dancer. Meanwhile the food generator is malfunctioning, producing some weird variants. Something has changed the directives to jelly. It is the waste product of an odd form of life, a metal parasite. The mischief spreads and the ship is in danger of shutting down. They manage temporary repairs that save the ship. Then the wedding: Lwaxana shows up naked. That does it; the wedding is off. She has evidently caught on that this is not a good union. They all wind up in the mud bath. A naughty, fun episode.

    STTNG S5 #21 “The Perfect Mate” They rescue two Ferengi from an exploding ship, but there's a suspicion that all is not as it appears. They are up to mischief. Meanwhile the Enterprise will host a negotiation to end a long war between the Krios and the Valtese. The Ferengi mess up a glowing cocoon and Kamala emerges, the metamorph, a beautiful female empath who will be the perfect partner for the right male. She emits hormones and comes on to Riker. Picard interviews her and she comes on to him. So he assigns Data as her chaperon, because every man is attracted to her and vice versa. Then the Ferengi try to bargain with the ambassador to abscond with Kamala. He rejects them, and they knock him down so that he loses consciousness. Picard must take on his role in the ceremony. Chancellor Alrick will be Kamala's mate, but she would prefer to be with Picard, a far more complete man. That is not to be, and she does go to the Ambassador, to her and Picard's mutual regret.

    STTNG S5 #22. “Imaginary Friend” A child, Clara, has an imaginary friend, Isabella. Meanwhile they investigate a nebula that formed around a neutron star. A pink light floats about, investigating things, and then becomes Isabella in the flesh. She starts directing Clara in an exploration of the ship—and there are odd manifestations. Isabella doesn't like the restrictions of adults. Manifestations continue. They think that strands of plasma from the nebula are responsible. Isabella starts acting mean. She says others like her will come and kill everyone. Isabella beams Deanna, knocking her out. The energy strands outside the ship are dense. Then Isabella manifests to all of them. Picard explains that their rules are to protect children, not torment them. understanding that, Isabella departs, and the mischief stops.

    I read I Can See in the Dark, by Karin Fossum, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson. This is a murder mystery of a sort, wherein Riktor gets mad at a man for stealing from him and beats him to death with a hammer. He buries the body and no one knows. But then he is arrested for a murder he didn't commit, ironically, a woman in the retirement home he works at. He is tried and finally gets off, but then someone discovers the body of the man he killed, and he is doomed. The cover material calls it gripping, but it's not; it's just an interesting exploration of the thoughts and impressions of a man who is largely anonymous and actually not very nice, because he quietly tortured several of the patients who couldn't tell.

    STTNG S5 #23. “I, Borg” They are charting six planetary systems for possible colonization, receive a faint distress call, and find a frozen Borg body beside a crashed shuttle. They save the Borg, identified as Third of Five. Geordi gets to knew him, calling him Hugh. Picard plans to modify the Borg's program to instill a kind of virus that will destroy this species. Is this ethical? Others doubt it. Hugh is becoming a person. They give him a choice: return to the crash site to rejoin the Borg, or receive asylum on the Enterprise. Possibly his awareness of his individuality will infect the hive society. Geordi accompanies Hugh and sees two other Borg pick him up. Will it work?

    STTNG S5 #24. “The New Phase” A Romulan ship is in trouble. Riker, Worf, Ro and Geordi beam aboard to help. A coil needs repair, so Geordi and Ro attempt to take it to the Enterprise for repair—but something goes wrong and they are lost. The bad core explodes, but they manage to escape in a pod with some Romulans. Meanwhile Ensign Ro wakes aboard the Enterprise, but she's a ghost without substance. So is Geordi; they are solid only to each other. There is also a Romulan chief in phased out form, who threatens Ro. But Geordi manages to throw him out of the ship. There is a memorial planned, for they are believed to be dead. They are there, trying to make detectable traces so that decontamination will make them phase back in. It works.

    STTNG S5 #25. “The Inner Light” They find an odd object in space, maybe a probe. It sends a beam that seems to strike Picard, who wakes in a what a woman says is his home. She calls him Kamin, saying he has had a high fever for three days. She is Eline, his wife. This is the Planet Kataan. He takes a walk; it is unfamiliar terrain. Eline wears a little model of the probe, saying he gave it to her. He has been here for five years, as Kamin. He is learning to play a special flute. Meanwhile Picard is unconscious in the ship, affected by the beam; only hours seem to have passed. But on Kataan years are passing, and they have two children. On the ship they interrupt the beam, and that puts Picard into convulsions, and on Kataan he collapses. His daughter Meribor is now a young woman. On the ship they track the probe's trail back to Kataan—which was destroyed a thousand years ago. Now Kamin's is old and his son is a young man who will make music his career. Kataan has caught on that the planet is doomed. Eline dies of old age. They send a probe into the future to find someone who can teach them how to make it. He's the one. They will live in his memory. The probe shuts down, and Picard wakes 25 minutes after he fell. And inside the probe they find the flute he learned to play on Kataan. Now he can play it. He remembers. We will see that flute again.

    STTNG S5 #26. “Time's Arrow Part 1” It is discovered that extraterrestrials visited Earth five centuries ago. In an isolated cave is an android head: Data's. At some point in the future he will be transported to the past, where he will die. That doesn't bother him, but does bother the others. Data phases out, to the past realm, becoming invisible, but his voice remains as he reports. He finds himself in 1850 America. He joins a poker game, and of course wins cash. Outside the hotel a drunk encounters an elegant couple—and the woman rays him to death. So there does appear to be alien interference from the future. Mark Twain, as Samuel Clemens, is a character. Meanwhile an Away party from the Enterprise prepares to travel back to that situation. Picard accompanies them, as Guinan has advised him that this is necessary. Episode ends.

    I read Why We Need Love, edited by Simon Van Booy. This is an anthology of pieces, stories, poems, essays, paintings, some of which hardly seem relevant to the title. It starts with an excerpt from Silas Marner by George Eliot, who was a woman. Silas is a good man who gets unjustly accused of robbery and loses his girlfriend because of it. Then he rescues a little girl whose mother got frozen to death, and therein will be his salvation, in his relationship with that child. But how does that clarify why we need love? There's O Henry “The Gift of the Magi,” a famous story wherein she sells her lovely hair to buy him a chain for his precious watch, while he sells his watch to buy combs for her hair. Painful irony, but again, what is the relevance? “Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament” by Willa Cather. Paul is a bad boy, misbehaving in school so that the teachers don't know what to do with him. Then as a teenager he steals money and goes on a trip to New York, indulging in playing the role of a rich man. Then, having had his fun, he jumps in front of a train. Okay, a shock ending, but how does this show why we need love? Chaucer's “The Miller's Tale,” a famous naughty one, wherein a suitor is tricked into kissing her ass, literally, and gets revenge with a hot poker. But again, the need for love? James Joyce has a story, “A Painful Case,” that I indeed found painful to read because of its cruelty. James Duffy meets Emily Sinico and they converse, and other days meet and talk further quite compatibly. Their talks become fairly intimate. Finally she, excited, takes his hand passionately and presses it to her cheek. Whereupon he sharply breaks off their association, and four years later sees a news item where she has evidently committed suicide. My take on this: she was falling in love with him, and he roughly rejected her, wanting only an intellectual discourse, leaving little further point in her life or in his. The cad! This story does relate; they both needed love, but he destroyed it. However, some of the essays do address it. Eric Fromm clarifies that love is actually an act of will, otherwise men and women would simply copulate whenever they met, without any enduring commitment. Judi Krishnamurti, “On Love and Loneliness.” Too often our minds are fixed on what we think love should be, rather than on the experience itself. “Your mind creates a pattern and gets caught. Your desire crystallizes your mind.” This can apply to God, or a certain political system, or love. “I am caught in the labyrinth of my own desires.” I find this phenomenally meaningful. And a quote from Kahlil Gibran: “Love one another, but make not a bond of love./ Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” So while I found much of this book irrelevant to the topic, in the end I am glad to have read it.

    STTNG S6 #1 “Time's Arrow Part II” This leads” off the sixth and final season of “The Next Generation.” Riker and Beverly Crusher, in 19th century Earth, discover that the spate of deaths from cholera are actually from depleted electrical energy. Meanwhile Mark Twain is suspicious of them and determined to uncover their plot. Their “plot” of course is to stop the aliens from the future from ruining Earth. The alien couple appears; Data blocks them, but their weapon discharges and Data's head is severed. They return to the 24th century, but Mark Twain is along. Deanna Troi shows him to his quarters on the Enterprise. He is glad to encounter the future along with the pretty girl Deantna is. They have brought Data's head back and are trying to repair it. They succeed, and Data stops them from attacking the aliens until a key phaser setting is right. They return Mark Twain to his time, and rescue Picard. Guinan returns the hard way, by waiting 500 years, keeping her mouth shut.

    STTNG S6 #2. “Realm of Fear” They check out a science ship that has not been heard from recently. Reg Barclay is supposed to join the Away Team, but he is afraid of being deconstructed and reconstructed by beaming, Beverly talks to him, suggesting a trick to gain confidence, and he beams across. But he sees a creature during transport, that touches him. How can that be? He does spot research and concludes that he is suffering from transporter psychosis. He is obviously agitated, and Deanna relieves him of duty. He transports again, and sees the fish-like creature again. He notifies the senior staff. They check it out, and discover an alien life form. He grabs it, and rescues a science ship crewman. They do the same for others, and four in all are rescued. There was something.

    STTNG S6 #3. “Man of the People” A merchant ship is being attacked. They beam two passengers aboard, Ambassador Alkar and his shrewish mother. Mother soon dies; she was 93. Deanna Troi does the memorial service with Alkar, and something happens to her. She comes on to Alkar, but he politely demurs, angering her. It is as if another spirit animates her. She comes on to Riker, and scratches his neck. She seems increasingly like the late shrewish mother. An autopsy shows that the old woman was actually age 30, not Alkar's mother. Alkar, a partial empath, is using Deanna for his own purposes, which he feels are noble. His victims soon die; the Enterprise folk must break his link with Deanna. They succeed, and the aging and negativity he had been transferring to her return to him, and he abruptly ages and dies.

    STTNG S6 #4. “Relics” They get a signals from a ship lost 75 years ago. They encounter a Dyson Sphere, a sphere surrounding a star, capturing all its energy. There's a wrecked ship on it; they beam into it and reanimate a man held in a kind of stasis for 75 years. He is Scotty, chief engineer of the original Enterprise. He wants to help Geordi, but he is 75 years out of date and just gets in the way despite his considerable experience. They discover the old Enterprise, that Scotty is familiar with, and fly it out of the Sphere, but have to destroy it to escape. They give Scotty a shuttle he can use for his own purposes, and he's happy.

    I watched Jack the Giant Slayer, a retelling of the famous fairy tale. Jack reluctantly sells his horse for a little bag of beans. Isabelle, the future queen of Cloister, is restless. She meets Jack just as a bean sprouts and rapidly grows a giant beanstalk. She is carried into the sky along with his house. Jack joins the king's men next day climbing the sequoia sized stalk to rescue her, in the storm. He and the men emerge into the land of the giants. The fifty foot tall monsters make short work of the men they catch. Jack and Isabelle and the remaining men explore. Meanwhile the king orders the stalk to be cut down, to save the kingdom. The stalk crashes to the ground, doing much damage. But one giant, Big Fallon, has two heads, and he finds the remaining beans. He plants them, and now they have multiple new avenues to the ground. They land, and chase the king's party to the castle. The giants besiege it. It is well defended, but this is a siege like no other. The giants throw burning trees into the castle. It is a phenomenal battle. Big Fallon is about to eat Jack, when Jack throws the last bean down his throat, and a bean stalk grows in him, destroying him. Jack recovers the giants' crown, dons it, and the giants bow down to him. This is one wild fantasy, worthy of the original fairy tale.

    STTNG S6 #5. “Schisms” They must chart a dense star cluster. Data reads his poetry; the others are bored. Riker sleeps regularly, yet remains sleepy and has trouble waking up. Geordi's visor starts cutting out. Worf gets nervous. Data suffers time blankouts. There's something about Cargo Bay Four. There is radiation there. Two crew members are missing. Then one returns, but weirdly ill. Riker believes that something has been taking him every night, and now his arm has been severed and reattached. The put a tracker on him and give him medication to keep him conscious. He finds himself in a strange laboratory, along with the missing female crew member. Riker rescues her. But who is doing it? That mystery remains.

    STTNG S6 #6. “True Q” They take aboard a young intern, Amanda Rogers, selected from hundreds of applicants. She seems to have brought that can appear and disappear at will. Then she telekinetically diverts a container that is falling on Riker. Then she contains a reactor core explosion. Then Q turns up, and says the girl is another Q. Q made the problems to test her. Now Picard must introduce Q to Amanda. Q is too aggressive, and she hurls him into the wall. She's his type. She talks with him, asking what a Q is, and he says a Q is omnipotent. He shows her. Picard investigates and learns that Amanda's parents had denied the Q and were summarily executed by a seeming tornado. Q must decide whether Amanda is a full Q, and kill her if she isn't. They need to tell Amanda. Amanda wants to be human, but concludes she is a Q and must join them.

    STTNG S6 #7. “Rascals” A shuttle is returning to the Enterprise when there is an emergency call. They beam the group back, and they arrive as children. Picard, Ro, Guinan, and Obrien's wife Keiko—their minds are intact, but physically they are twelve years old. Then two Klingon ships decloak and attack the Enterprise. Ferengi board it, claiming it as salvage. It is their ploy, using old Klingon ships to steal the Enterprise. The four “children” get busy to rescue the ship, with Ryker's cooperation; they use the ship's computer to empower themselves. They manage to change the children back to their adult stages. An unusual adventure.

    STTNG S6 #8. “A Fistful of Datas” The ship has free time. Worf and Alexander indulge in a
    Holodeck wild west adventure. Deanna is also there as a gun moll. I think she is cuter in roles like this than in her normal outfit. Data gets wired to control she ship if there is need. A duplicate Data is also a desperado in the wild west scenario. A glitch means they have to play it through to the programmed end. But it's a nice experience for Alexander and, surprisingly, Worf.

    I read
    do fish feel pain? by Victoria Braithwaite. The lower caps are the way it is titled. This is a simple question with a complicated answer, because first you have to consider the nervous system of fish, and whether they have sentience. That is, the ability to feel and experience emotion, or more simply, consciousness. (Not to be confused with sapience, which is man-like intelligence) You can't ask a fish and get a clear answer, so you have to do it the hard way, by studying the actual nerves and the reaction of fish to various stimuli. When the study was first proposed, half the responses were why bother, because it's obvious that fish are too dull to feel pain. The other half say why study it, because it's obvious that fish do feel pain. Both sides, of course, going largely on prejudice. Well, the conclusion is yes, fish are sentient and do feel pain, and they react to it much as we do, avoiding it when they can. For example, they tried numbering trout, then played catch and release, and found that they couldn't hook the same fish twice on a line because they avoided it after being caught once. So the question is, how would you like to be netted and left to flop until you drowned, or caught with a hook though your mouth and hung up to be admired? Commercial fishermen and anglers don't like to address those questions. But progress is being made, and reforms are slowly coming.

    STTNG S6 #9. “The Quality of Life” A mining operation called a particle fountain is behind schedule, and Geordi will try to help. A special unit, the exocomp, a cute little machine that lady doctor Farallon has modified marvelously solves a serious problem. Then the exocomp starts malfunctioning. Data analyzes this problem and concludes that the exocomps are alive. This raises a vital question. Data tests it, and it seems to fail confirmation of life, but then it turns out that it outwitted it. That's life! They conclude that it must be treated as a new form of machine life.

    STTNG S6 #10. “Chain of Command Part 1” Trouble is brewing along the Cardassian border. The lady Admiral beams aboard, here to relieve Picard of command of the Enterprise. Picard, Worf, and Beverly Crusher (now required to be a seductive brunette) are assigned to a separate mission. Captain Edward Jellico assumes command and immediately requires awkward changes in procedures. The Cardassions may be preparing to use a metagenic weapon, a supremely toxic agent to destroy all DNA on a planet, rapidly wiping out all life on it so that it can be readily conquered. Picard's mission is to sneak into Cardassian space, to verify the plot, and stop it. They make their way through lava tubes. Picard is captured, and it turns out that he is the one they want; they set up to lure him here. Now he will cooperate or die.

    STTNG S6 #11. “ Chain of Command Part I1” They question Picard, drugging him, then hanging him from the ceiling by his arms. Then he is asked how many lights he sees, there being four, but severe pain is inflicted when he says that. This is reminiscent of a sequence in the movie 1984 where a similar technique was used, conditioning the victim to believe what he is told to believe regardless of the truth. But he fights back despite the pain. Meanwhile Captain Jellico believes the Cardassians are hiding in a nearby nebula, and plans to ambush them as they emerge. Jellico and Riker sneak in and plant bombs on those ships, and force the Cardassians to yield and to return Picard. So they win, but it was a close and ugly call.

    STTNG S6 #12 “Ship In a Bottle” Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' arch nemesis, has achieved a kind of life in the holodeck and is making mischief. Meanwhile they are about to witness the collision of two planets, a rare event. Moriarty achieves reality outside the holodeck, or seems to. He gains control of the ship, at any rate. He wants them to bring to life the woman of his dreams, the Countess Bartholemew. The planetary collision will destroy the ship if they don't get clear soon, but Moriarty doesn't care unless he achieves reality. Maybe they can reconstruct the two of them via the transporter beam. They do, and Moriarty returns control of the ship to Picard. Moriarty and his lady depart in a shuttle to explore the universe. But it is actually a reality within the holodeck, real to them. But could the larger reality be someone else's simulation, Picard wonders? It is an interesting question, for them and for us all.

    STTNG S6 #13 “Aquiel” They are to deliver supplies to a station near the Klingon border. An Away team of Riker, Beverly Crusher, Worf and Geordi checks, finding only a white dog; Maura, the station personnel appears to have departed in a shuttle or been melted down. Geordi manages to play some recordings of Aquiel, a pretty girl who was sending messages to her mother. She expresses having a bad dream, and tells how Rocha, the officer assigned to the station, is arrogant and threatening. The one who seems to have been melted down by a phaser. Did the Klingons kill her too? Then the local Klingon commander comes, with Aquiel, whom the Klingons rescued from the shuttlecraft. But she doesn't remember what happened. But there is a report that she was assigned to the station because she was difficult. Could she be a murderess? Geordi likes her; what is the truth? Beverly discovers that there is an organism that takes over the bodies of others, becoming them for a few days. Did it take oven Aquiel? No, it took over the dog! Aquiel is innocent. A riveting mystery.

    STTNG S6 #14 “Face of the Enemy” Deanna Troi wakes to discover she is a Romulan woman, now an enemy officer, Major Rakal. He is the only one who knows her real identity, and tells she she must keep the secret or die. She's an empath; she knows this is true. Knowing nothing else, she fares down the female commander of the ship. The secret cargo is a high ranking Romulan officer and two top aides, in stasis, who are defecting. Ambassador Spock is involved, trying to gain more power for those who support his liberalization. After a tense standoff, they transfer the officers to the Enterprise and Deanna us beamed back as the Romulan ship warps away. The secret mission is a success, thanks to Deanna's nerve.

    STTNG S6 #15 “Tapestry” Picard was rayed on a mission and is in cardiac arrest. Q tells him “Welcome to the Afterlife.” There follows retrospective scenes from Picard's life, especially what leads up to a fight where he gets stabbed through the heart and gets an artificial heart as a replacement. So he tries to change history, at least to the extent of avoiding the fight, and succeeds, but while that saves his heart, it puts him on a mediocre track. He never takes a chance, never gets noticed, and never commands a ship. So he returns to the original past, loses his heart, but becomes the leader he is. He wakes from the present injury smiling.

    STTNG S6 #16 “Birthright, Part 1” Odd visitors appear, such as a doctor from Deep Space Nine and an alien who tells Worf that his father is still alive. Data when unconscious sees his father. Worf demands that he take them to the Romulan prison camp where his father is supposed to be. Data follows up and sees a blackbird. Then his father appears, as a young man. What is going on? But it is a trap.

    STTNG S6 #17 “Birthright, Part I1” The captive Klingons do not want to be rescued, because capture means dishonor. They live in peace here; their Romulan jailer, Tokath, even married a Klingon. Ba'el, whom Worf likes, is their daughter. Worf tries to escape, but is recaptured. He tries to teach them Klingon ways. He teaches Toq to hunt. Tokath says he must execute Worf, but the others stand with Worf, including Ba'el, and he relents, letting the young ones go. They are allowed to go to the Enterprise. It is not clear whether this means Worf now has a nice girlfriend.

    STTNG S6 #18 “Starship Mine” They must evacuate the Enterprise during a sweep to cleanse the ship of excess barions. But something is amiss; the sweep crew is not right. Picard is caught aboard as the sweep is supposed to begin. Then the supposed sweep crew turns out to be something else. They hold the Enterprise officers hostage. They are terrorists stealing trilithium, a toxic waste product of the engines, that they can sell for terroristic purposes. Picard manages to stop it, and abort the sweep before it kills him, in a nervously close call.

    I read The Edge of Physics by Anil Ananthaswamy. It was published in 2010, and it is amazing how much has been discovered since then, such as the Higgs Particle and the reverberations of space/time itself when black holes collide, but I was familiar with the author's name because of his articles in NEW SCIENTIST magazine. He is a marvelously informed and lucid writer, making horrendously complicated subjects intelligible. He is also, it turns out, a vegetarian, so he must be a good man. Here he goes into the background tools of discovery, clarifying along the way the importance of what is sought. Such as the neutrino observatory at Lake Baikal, just north of Mongolia, Asia. Continental drift split open the earth about 250 million years ago, and this filled in with water, forming the deepest and most massive body of fresh water in the world, 20% of the world's unfrozen fresh water, marvelously pure. In winter it freezes over, and they drive trucks across it. This can be tricky, even hazardous, as there are ridges and crevices; they use planks to get across the larger cracks. The famous Trans-Siberian Railway passed that way in the old days, the tracks coming up to one shore and resuming at the far shore, and they would ferry the train across on icebreakers. Once in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War, the ice held firm, and reinforcements were urgently needed, so the Russians laid the tracks directly on the ice. Before they ran the full train across, however, they tested it with only an engine, just to be sure. It didn't make it, and today it lies somewhere on the bottom of the lake. That's the kind of history this lake has. Well, they put a kind of telescope there, about a mile deep, and it aims down, not up. Huh? Well, they are looking for neutrinos: a neutrino telescope. Why? Neutrinos are elusive particles traveling straight across the universe in a way that no other particles do. So, in effect, if you want to know what is happening in the center of the galaxy, ask a neutrino, if you can catch it. It's a unique window into an otherwise invisible universe. They may even offer insights into dark matter. How do you catch one? You watch for the cone of light that occurs when one collides with the nucleus of an atom and makes a cone of debris. But it has to be the right neutrino; they are being generated by the millions from other processes, but most are not as powerful. So the planet itself is used to filter out the lesser ones, leaving only the strongest. That's why the telescope aims down. A complicating factor is that neutrinos are form changers, shifting between electron, tau, and muon. I think of a muon as the sound made by a cow, but it's actually pronounced mew-on, so maybe it should be a cat. Ah, well. Anyway, this is just one of the avenues clarified by this book. Observatories in deep mines, in orbit, even at the South Pole are searching for other hints of the ultimate nature of the universe. They are learning a lot, yet new mysteries abound. I get the impression that phenomenal discoveries are incipient; I can hardy wait for the reports.

    THE WEEK has a summary of the teachers' revolt. This year there have been teacher strikes is six states, for better pay and increased funding for classrooms. I was a teacher before I retired to writing full time in 1966, and while I don't regret that change, I do remember. I suffered nightmares for months, dreaming that I was back in the classroom, unprepared for the assignment
    s I had to present, facing whole classes of bad boys whose only purpose was to prevent anything from being learned, and knowing that if I reported the troublemakers the school administration would side with the boys and blame me for not keeping proper discipline. Now, it wasn't that bad in real life, but it was suggestive. Over 50 years later I still remember how I reported two boys and was told, in essence, to get used to it. Months later those boys went on a rampage at night and spray painted school property. Then they were expelled. They had progressed, naturally enough, from sassing the teacher to sassing the administration, not realizing that they had crossed the line into territory where enforcement governed. They were surely more careful thereafter. I clearly did not have what it takes. Fortunately I had an avenue of escape to a far better life. Regardless, my sympathies are with the teachers who have had to carry on in a kind of war situation, lacking avenues of escape. It looks as if little has changed. It seems that today 59% of teachers work a second job to make ends meet, and more than 8 in 10 have bought school supplies with their own money to be able to do their jobs. Why is this so? Because in the striking states it has gotten so bad because Republican governments have dramatically cut education budgets over the past decade. Voters overwhelmingly support the teachers, but it seems they are not heeded until schools actually shut down. Now some teachers are running for offices so that they can affect the political process. I wish them well.

    Perhaps related: the Spring 2018 issue of CENSORSHIP NEWS has a report by a fifteen year old girl. “First I fell in love with a book...Then my school district banned it.” The book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which tells of a sixteen year old who witnesses the murder of her best friend by a white police officer. So the reader started a petition and managed to get the book restored. More power to her! It seems that half of all banned books are LGBTQ themed. That says something about the censors, doesn't it? Bigotry in the name of protecting our children

    NEW SCIENTIST has an item on how creative people have more mental health issues than others. As a militantly creative person, I am interested. A study of the population of Sweden indicates that those who study an artistic subject are 90% more likely to be hospitalized for schizophrenia, 62% more likely for bipolar disorder (in my day it was manic-depressive), and 39% for depression. “It may be that the same genetic variants that unleash creativity can also trigger mental health conditions...Creativity often involves linking ideas or concepts in ways that other people wouldn't think of...But that's similar to how delusions work...” Yes. Back in the 1960s when I went to my doctor because I was depressed and suffered chronic fatigue, I got ridered (excluded) on my health insurance for “all mental disease.” The medical profession thought I was imagining it. Decades later I finally got the diagnosis: low thyroid, and levothyroxin pills make me normal, physically and in mood. So I wasn't crazy, the medical profession was. But still, the line between genius and madness runs closer to my turf than I am comfortable with. I try to stay safely within the boundary of sanity while still reaching across for inspiration. It can be chancy, and not every writer succeeds. One thinks of Philip K Dick and maybe Theodore Sturgeon, both with far more imagination and writing ability than success.

    Some readers may get tired of my constant support for vegetarianism. Well, Tough Turds; you are free to go read something else while I pontificate with my well-known politeness on the subject. NEW SCIENTIST has a feature on the high price of meat and what is being done about it. That price is destruction of the natural world. About 70% of all farmland relates to livestock, driving wildlife toward extinction, while precious fresh water and energy are wastefully expended. Much of the mischief of the world could be abated if folk simply stopped eating meat. Charred cow carcass consumers know this yet continue with their snouts wedged in the bloodstained trough, shamelessly caring less about the salvation of the natural world than about their jaded taste buds. There are alternatives, but they don't taste quite the same. Well, there is progress. Now there is the Impossible Burger, plant based imitations designed to look, smell, feel and taste just like meats. So you will not be able to tell the difference. So if you happen to be a carnivore with a conscience, oxymoronic as that sounds, you will be able to get off meat habit cold turkey, as it were, without sacrificing your beloved gutless gut. The Vegetarian Butcher in The Hague is already serving it, and it is being exported around the world. As the price comes down, you too can join the enlightened throng. Fairy makes your filthy mouth water, doesn't it?

    Perhaps related: they are now growing human brain tissue in the lab. No, not to eat, but maybe to develop another kind of intelligence. When they finally achieve a sentient (conscious), sapient (smart) lab brain...

    The May / June issue of THE HUMANIST magazine—I don't comment much on humanism, because there's almost nothing there I disagree with—has a commentary by Rob Boston titled “Are We Headed for One Christian Nation under Trump?” It seems that conservative Christians who voted for Trump did so largely because of their quest to see the United States become a so-called Christian nation. They seem to be skeptics about the First Amendment separation of Church and State. But, the article says, it is a fool's errand. For one thing, Christians don't agree on what a Christian nation would look like. Christians run a spectrum from liberal to conservative and all steps between. The Religious Right incorporates the Republican Party platform as a tenet of faith, while other denominations are liberal, pro LGBTQ, and support abortion. Even the ultraconservatives can't agree on exactly who should be stoned for having premarital sex or taking God's name in vain. For another thing, long term trends are not going the theocrats' way. In 1950 more than 90% of the US population identified as Christian. Now that figure is around 70% and dropping. There are 56 million unaffiliated, the “nones.” I am and have always been a none, since before it was fashionable. Most folk don't identify as atheist, agnostic, or humanist, but neither do they embrace a Christian label. The trend is for more of these uncommitted voters in the future. Also, most Americans don't really want to live in the religious right's version. In the late 19th and early 20th century conservative Christian groups were at the zenith of their power. What did they do with it? They did not advocate for the poor and needy as Jesus did. The Jesus I know would abhor the bigotry practiced in his name. Rather, they censored books, magazines, stage plays, and later films. They curbed access to birth control. They made consensual same-sex relationships illegal. They forbade retail activity on Sunday. They made it illegal to teach evolution. They were blatantly antisemitic and racist. How many people really want that sort of thing today? A Christian America is a chimera that can never exist. So says this article, and I agree, as I think the majority of Americans do when they think about it.

    Odd notes: A new review of past studies has found that in most cases exercise is strongly linked to happiness. Even ten minutes a day makes folk happier than those who don't exercise. The top 1% of American adults earn 20% of the national income, and this inequality is worsening. But it seems that hardly anyone cares. That's weird; why don't they? If you have one point two million dollars you are within the top ten percent of Americans; ten million dollars and you are in the top one percent. Are ebooks thriving or dying? The answer is uncertain, but self published ebooks seem to be helping writers make a living. Marilyn vos Savant says that negative lightning accounts for 95% of all strikes. Positive strikes, though far fewer, are far stronger and cause most of the damage. So if you have a choice...The health newsletter ALTERNATIVES, which is the best of the ones I have tried over the years, says that sugar is a phenomenal unrecognized culprit in health destruction. As the saying goes, “We're treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed BS.” And perhaps the worst is sugary sodas, which have probably done more damage to society's health than any other single factor. This is true the world over, as the drinks spread. In 1975 global obesity was 20%; now it's 40%, with all the health complications entailed, such as diabetes. Physical activity does not prevent this; nor do diet sodas, because alternatives to sugar have their own hazards. “When it come to destroying health, sodas are basically liquid cigarettes.” So stay off them. I do.

    STTNG S6 #19 “Lessons” Neela Darren is the head of the Stellar Cartography survey, quite competent. She is also an expert musician. She and Picard hit it off, musically, as he plays the flute and she plays the piano. They make lovely duets. That proceeds to romance. For the first time since he learned the flute in Episode #25 “The Inner Light,” when he lived a whole life in 25 minutes, marrying and having a family. He misses it. But then in the course of her mission, Neela is caught in danger. She survives, in a close call. If she stays on the Enterprise she may be put in danger again, because of her job. So they agree with regret to separate. I loved this episode, because of the music and the romance.

    STTNG S6 #20 “The Chase” Picard's old archaeology Professor Galen visits the Enterprise, bringing him an immensely valuable artifact. He wants Picard to join him in the pursuit of his final mission, but Picard declines despite serious temptation. Then Galen's shuttle is attacked and he is killed. What was so important as to make him a target? Picard means to find out. They find a genetic algorithm four billion years old. What information is it hiding? Why is someone trying to destroy it? Cardassian and Klingon ships converge, all after the secret, which may be a weapon or a phenomenal power source, or something equivalently important. Then the Romulans appear. Then a four billion year old holo image appears, explaining how they seeded the galaxy, hoping that the ensuring species would join in harmony. Alas, that dream is not yet. At least this explains how it is that the folk widely different galactic civilizations are all humanoid, able to breathe the same air, and can interbreed: they were all seeded from the same vial, a while back.

    I am enjoying these episodes, and expect to complete The Next Generation early next month and proceed to Deep Space Nine. Can it possibly be as interesting? I will find out. Yes, this probably means more novelette length columns. Can you stand it? Do you have a choice?

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