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Piers Anthony, February 2018 Piers Anthony, February 2018.
Marsh 2018

Letters to Jenny will be featured in Early Bird Books on 3-9-2018, downpriced to $1.99 for the day. That is the first year of letters I sent to paralyzed Jenny, who was then twelve turning thirteen, and it includes our meeting at a fan convention in Virginia near her home. She was almost completely paralyzed (and remains so, almost thirty years later) but able to see and hear. This correspondence started when, at her mother's behest, I wrote a letter to Jenny, who was in a coma, and when it was read to her it brought her out of the coma, only to reveal that she was paralyzed. I felt responsible, uncertain whether I should have left well enough alone. Had I in effect sentenced her to lifetime imprisonment in her body? So I did what little I could to cheer her by sending positive weekly letters, which I continue today. Jenny can move some fingers of her right hand, so can operate a special computer, giving her access to the Internet, so her life is not entirely bleak, but I still curse the drunk driver who took her out and was mad when they brought him in to the trial, as he wanted to go fishing instead. I call him a burro sphincter.

Feblueberry was a difficult month. I spent most of it in intermittent pain. At the turn of the month I had no ambition for anything, and my wife suggested I check my temperature. 101°F. I had what turned out to be the flu. There are three types circulating here, and I had the B strain. No wonder that my functioning was impaired. I exercise daily, part of which is drawing my 55 pound draw weight bow 20 times, right handed one day, left handed the next day. As my gumption declined, I cut the draws to ten—and then managed to bash my left thigh with the end of the bow three times. That gave me a bruise that made moving that leg awkward and sometimes painful. Then later in the month on my exercise run I saw a big pine cone in the drive—we do live our our little tree farm—so I aimed to kick it off with my left foot. But instead my foot stubbed into the ground and I fell face first on the pavement. That scratched my face, hands, and a knee, gave me a black eye, and bruised my right rib cage. That last took out my exercises for a week, made lying down to sleep a torment, and put me in utter fear of coughing. The incidental scrapes also played their part; I couldn't seem to do anything without touching them and suffering punishing jolts of pain. In addition I had trouble chewing because I am getting a lower denture to match my upper one, and every step of that seemed to invoke more discomfort and pain. At the moment it is missing a tooth, which chipped out, so I am wearing a denture with a missing tooth. We are posting a picture of me taken just after my fall, with the blood still dripping. Yes I know: it may improve my appearance. But I trust it shows thy I don't like falls. Ten days later I still can't properly exercise, and dread having to rebuild the muscle I'm losing.

But it was worse for my wife. She got the flu from me and it put her in the hospital for nine days. Sometimes when I visited her there she never woke up; the medication had her knocked out. Her memory of the occasion is largely blank. One day she woke and phoned me: they had moved her from Inverness to Tampa and she had no idea why. Our daughter Cheryl headed out immediately and verified that my wife remained in Inverness, albeit disoriented. That was not the only example; we were seriously concerned for her welfare. When we finally got her home again she was tethered to an oxygen tube and required to use a walker to get around/ and a nebulizer for her lungs. That oxygen machine makes a sound like an ogre in the distance tromping through a marsh, suck-splash, suck-splash. The nebulizer makes it look as if she is smoking a hookah or breathing dragon vapor. Things like mailing letters and grocery shopping became complicated, because my wife couldn't leave the house and I did not want to leave her home alone. Fortunately our daughter Cheryl quit her job after twenty years with the newspaper and was available to take care of us. We certainly needed it. Now my wife seems to be on the mend, but not enjoying her reduced mobility. Age and illness are lady dogs.

So we got through the month, and I tried to maintain my regular schedule of watching an hour's worth of video and writing maybe a thousand words in my novel each day. That's Xanth #44, Skeleton Key. The month of Jamboree saw me write 52,600 words, half the novel, that way. But FeBlueberry was slower, as you might imagine, and I wrote only half that much, 26,250. However, I should be able to complete it in Marsh. Of course when I got ill and couldn't properly track the news, things went haywire in the world, with the DOW stock market plunging a thousand points on more than one day, and seventeen folk getting gunned down in a Florida high school. Was there anything positive for me? Well, during the Super Bowl I played with the Enigma puzzle, which is two linked metal loops, to unlink and link again, and solved it. Later I watched some of the Winter Olympics. My book reading slowed down. As for the videos, here are my ongoing reviews.

I viewed TNG ST (The Next Generation Star Trek) #9 “The Measure Of A Man” They mean to dismantle android Data to find out whether they can make more like him. Picard doesn't trust this and neither does Data. Meanwhile Picard connects again with a former antagonist, Philippa, and they find themselves also intrigued by each other. She conducts a hearing, where they prove Data is a machine—but also conscious, with feelings. So he wins his right to choose, and will not be dismantled. And Picard will take Philippa to dinner. This is another favorite of mine, as I am an advocate of consciousness in sufficiently advanced robots. My robots are people.

TNG ST #10 “The Dauphin” They pick up a pretty girl, Salia, and her governess, Anya, who are returning to Daled IV, where Salia is destined to rule, uniting warring factions. Wesley Crusher is fascinated by her and she by him. But Anya is actually a shape changer. So is Salia, it turns out. She's not really a human girl. So their love is not to be. She beams to the planet.

TNG ST #11 “Contagion” Their sister ship Yamato is in trouble. In fact it blows up. Then a Romulan vessel appears, the Taris. No known connection between the two. The Yamato had discovered ancient technology on planet Iconia that must not fall into Romulan hands. Now the enterprise is starting to experience system glitches similar to those the Yamato experienced before it was destroyed. Geordi realizes that an alien probe is responsible. Then the Romulan ship experiences similar problems. They help it nullify them. It is an unusual cooperation between enemies, for which the Romulans hardly seem grateful.

TNG ST #12 “The Royale.” They encounter debris in space: an ancient NASA flag. There's also an oddity on a planet. Riker, Data, and Worf beam down and discover an old fashioned revolving door that leads to a twentieth century hotel, the Royale, a casino, where they are expected. The people there act a lot like illusions. They are characters in an old novel. Data rolls the dice and breaks the bank, winning the hotel and spreading the money around, maybe buying the freedom of the characters. Then they return to the Enterprise.

I read The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I have a kind of mental rule that the readability of a book is inversely proportional to the number of promotional blurbs featured. This one has 34, some five pages of them. This suggests that it may be ultimately dull and pointless, a chore to read. And—the rule is working. I got it because I am a vegetarian and am interested in the subject. Sigh. A quick summary: Yeong-hye of South Korea is a dull married young woman who suffers a vision of a face and abruptly decides to stop eating meat. This alienates her from her husband and family and finally gets her shut into a mental institution. She loses weight and is near death by the time the novel ends, with only her sister having sympathy for her. That is essentially it. What is it about the face she sees that turns her off meat? That is never really clarified, just that she hopes that eschewing meat will make the face fade from her memory. It doesn't. I regret that her vegetarianism seems to be indicative not of a rational objection to killing innocent animals, as it is is with me, but of insanity. If you have a chance to read this one, skip it.

TNG ST #13 “Time Squared” They intercept a dead shuttle craft. They haul it aboard and it is marked Enterprise, and in it is an unconscious Captain Picard! Apparently a copy of him. The shuttle turns out to be from six hours in the future! Things are oddly reversed. About three hours from now the Enterprise will be destroyed, all except Picard. There is a force entity that wants Picard; he must leave the ship, to distract it long enough for the Enterprise to escape. But that was the wrong decision. So the present Picard shoots the future Picard—and the ship survives. It seems he was thrown back in time to enable them to make a different decision, and that was the correct one.

TNG ST #14 “The Icarus Factor” Picard has news for Riker: he can be captain of his own starship. He has twelve hours to decide. His father appears, as a civilian adviser, but they are not close; he also knows Katherine. Meanwhile Worf seems to have a problem. There are no Kingons to help him celebrate his Rite of Ascension to a more mature stage. They arrange for that ceremony. Riker and his father come to terms. Riker decides to stay with the Enterprise. This is a time of decision and transition for several members of the ship.

TNG ST #15 “Pen Pals” They enter a new system where five planets have unusual geological activity. Wesley Crusher is assigned to do a geological survey, which means assembling a team and learning the ropes of command. Meanwhile Data makes radio contact with a native, a girl, Sarjenka, and they correspond. But she is doomed to die unless they do something to stop the geological upheaval. They succeed. Data beams down, sees the doom approaching, and takes the girl with him to the ship, then returns her, her memory of him and the ship deleted. But he will remember her.

TNG ST #16 “Q Who?” Recent gradate Sonya reports on board the Enterprise and promptly collides with Picard, spilling her drink on him. He goes to his quarters to change, but finds himself int stead on another ship with nemesis Q, the man with magical powers. Guest star Whoopee Goldberg, as Guinan, helps hold him off. He want to join the crew, but they don't trust him. So he transports the ship seven light years in an instant, where they encounter a Borg ship like a huge cube resembling compacted trash. Whoopee says the Borg almost destroyed her people a century ago. Riker, Worf, and Data beam aboard the cube to investigate. There are living creatures there, melded into a communal mind. The cube attacks. Picard asks Q's help, and Q transports the ship to back where it started. But they knew that in the future they must face the Borg.

TNG ST #17 “Samaritan Snare” Picard is supposed to have a procedure done that he doesn't want, a cardiac replacement. Wesley is due for another promotional exam. So Picard decides to accompany Wesley, to have the surgery there, leaving Riker in charge. And a mayday call comes. A relatively primitive ship needs help. Geordi beams aboard and fixes their guidance system, but then their power goes out. He fixes that. They decide to keep him. That's the danger: they collect things they value. The Enterprise uses a ruse to get Geordi back safely. Meanwhile Picard's heart surgery goes wrong. They beam Katherine in to correct the procedure, which she does. So all ends well.

TNG ST #18 “Up the Long Ladder” They get a distress signal in ancient code from the Ficus Sector. A lost colony? Meanwhile Worf collapses. He has the Klingon version of the measles. The colony will be destroyed by a solar flare. They beam the primitive colonists aboard, complete with chickens, pigs, goats and so on. Riker gets interested in the leader's pretty, assertive daughter, who is looking to be married. Another colony suffered severe losses and made up for it by making clones. Now they want new tissue. Riker and Dr. Pulanski decline—so are knocked out and their tissues taken. They are not pleased, and destroy the stolen tissues. To solve the problem, they put the two sets of colonists together. They will make a new societ6y with fresh genetics.

TNG ST #19 “Manhunt” Deanna Troi's mother beams aboard, now a full ambassador. She is telepathic mischief. She has a thing for Picard and doesn't hesitate to exploit it. Picard invites Data to their private dinner, effectively breaking up the romantic aspect. Mother is entering a phase where her sexuality will quadruple, and Picard is her target. There's the manhunt. So he escapes into the simulator, visiting 1941 America. So she goes after Riker, Deanna's interest. He escapes also. But her telepathy does expose a plot to blow up the conference she is attending, so she saves a number of lives.

TNG ST #20 “Emissary” They receive an emergency call, no details given. They pick up K'Ehlehr, an attractive Klingon/human crossbreed. she and Worf have met before, and he wants nothing to do with her. They meet in the challenging exercise program, and she impresses him, and he would like to marry her, but she refuses. They must deals with a Klingon ship, the T'Ong, from the time when hey were at war with humans. They will attack without negotiation. But Warf manages to bluff them down, and then K'Ehlehr beams across to integrate them to today's galactic society. And she and Worf now have an interest in each other. They may meet again.

I watched Atomic Blonde. Lorraine is Britain's best assassin, with a cold war mission in Berlin, circa 1989. An agent has been killed and the killer has a key list of names. She must get that list and trust no one. She is picked up by two contacts in Berlin, whom she promptly beats up, then wrecks the car: they were not the right men. Percival, her real contact, catches up with her. He's pretty tough on his own. A young woman, Delphine, contacts her; is she to be trusted? Lorraine uses her own contacts, fighting men all along the way. She makes love with Delphine. Who warns her about Percival. And Percival warns her about Delphine. He has the list, but didn't tell her. There is also Spyglass, who memorized the list. An assassin waits to take him out, but the crowd raises umbrellas so he can't be seen. Then Percival shoots him, but not fatally. She fights off assassins, trying to save Spyglass; the last one almost gets her. Then it's a car chase, and they wind up sinking underwater. He drowns. And it seems her bosses knew the Communists had her made from the outset, but sent her in anyway. Percival kills Delphine. Lorraine kills Percival, who is also Comrade Satchel, a notorious double agent. Or was he? She winds up killing her bosses, whose ultimate loyalty was questionable. I'm not sure this makes sense, and I certainly question the notion of a beautiful woman taking out bunches of hardened male assassins, but it is full of surprises.

I watched Despicable Me 3. another wild cartoon feature with Gru and the cute little one and two eyed minions. Gru learns he has a twin brother Dru, who is ambitious to be just as bad as Gru is. But there are other forces at work, so it won't be easy. Dru shows Gru their late father's den, with a fabulous weaponized flying car. The minions get into show business. A bad guy gets a giant robot and fires wads of self-blowing bubblegum, terrorizing Hollywood. Until Gru and Dru fly the car in and attack. And of course the minions get into the fray. It's a wild melee.

I watched The BFG - Big Friendly Giant. Sophie, maybe eight years old, is snatched by a 24 foot tall giant, BFG, for fear she will tell she saw him. He is one of the few giants who don't eat people. His job is to catch dreams. Other giants are twice his size; they call him Runt. They get to know each other and become friends. They catch a dream that is flying around like a firefly, and put it in a jar. Some dreams are good, some are bad. BFG shows her the way of dreams, how human folk experience them. He returns her to the orphanage, because he feels she is not safe with him; she had dropped her blanket it Giant Land, so now the bad giants know about her. But she is unsatisfied, and jumps off a high floor, and he appears and catches her. So she is with him, but the big bad giants are after her. She has BFG make a dream for the Queen of England to warn her about the bad giants. Then he formally meets the Queen at has an elegant dinner with her. It's some event. They all drink some of his green drink whose bubbles sink instead of rise, that causes not burps but, well, violent farts. They all suffer the consequence, including the palace dogs. The poised Queen takes it it stride after nearly blowing away the table. BFG guides the British Air Force to Giant Land, where Sophie breaks the bottle of bad dreams so they all get them. and the British helicopters attack. They net the giants and haul them off to a distant island where they won't be able to eat any more children. Then Sophie wakes; was it all a dream? She remains in mental touch with BFG.

I watched The Golden Compass. Lyra is an independent girl who gets into things she shouldn't. In this realm people have daemon companions which are magical animals who can talk. She is given a golden compass, which will always show the truth, but she must not tell others she has it. Lyra's daemon is Pan, who usually looks like a raccoon. She is helped by the Gyptians, who are at war with the Gobblers. It seems that Lyra will be a key to that struggle. She encounters lorek (lower case), an armored polar bear who was once a prince. She enlists him for her mission. Now they have a powerful alliance. She persuades the bear king to fight lorek in single combat, and after almost losing lorek wins and becomes king of the bears. There is mayhem as the factions fight, and many people die. But they learn that there will be a bigger war in the future, to determine whether there will be a thought controlling dictatorship or free will. This story is interesting, but seems to be a composite of old ideas, more concerned with mysteries and battles than with true personal discovery or character. The blurb material loves it, of course, but I think this is more apparent than significant.

I watched the Discover video Clash: Encounters of Bears and Wolves. In Yellowstone Park wild nature rules. The grizzly bear was the top predator, until the return of the wolves. For the prey the constant question is fight or flee? The little ones are constantly at risk. Their mothers defend them, but it gets tricky against several wolves at once. When bison fight during mating season, and one loses and dies, the bears move in to feed, and two bears may fight. The one who turns and walks away is, oddly, the winner, because he is showing that he can turn his back on the other without fear. They establish a pecking order so they don't have to fight again. There are many scavengers. The grizzly is not limited to fresh meat; he forages for many plants and buried seeds. He also steals carcasses from the wolves. But even he is subject to biting flies, which he escapes by getting into water. In winter he normally hibernates. But now they have spied a bear active in winter; is the availability of wolf-hunted carcasses enabling him to go about in winter too? The landscape is beautiful. I love seeing this, but I wouldn't want to be part of it.

Outrage dept: this happened in Florida fifty years ago. Sherry Johnson was eight years old when a church leader more than twice her age raped her repeatedly. She tried to tell her parents and other adults, but no one believed her. When she was ten the school she was attending was suspicious, so called in a doctor and nurse and examined her, discovering that she was seven months pregnant. End of story, now that there was proof? Hardly. The school promptly expelled her. Her mother told the church congregation that Sherry was lying about being raped, and blamed her for bringing shame on the family. Her mother then forced her to marry the rapist. By the time she was sixteen she had born six babies. Only now that she is 58 is she being believed. Too bad it's too late to do something about that rapist, that mother, that school, and that church, all of whom seemed to blame the child for being violated, instead of dealing with the issue of child rape. It is supposed to be that a pregnant ten year old has been raped by definition; it's called statutory rape, and I am surprised that the authorities don't seem to know of it. This business of blaming the victim enrages me. Was that the only such case? Hardly, again. In the last 65 years more than 16,000 children were married in Florida. If it was early true love, fine; it happens. But if it was coercive so that men can get more young sex, that's not fine. It is way past time to do something about it.

Article by Leonard Pitts commenting on the fact that now 42 percent of Republicans say that they regard accurate news stories that cast a negative light on something they favor as “fake news.” Get it? They know it is accurate, but let their prejudice override it. The truth matters less to them than protecting their political turf. As the columnist remarks “...42 percent of Republicans are out of their damn minds.” So are 17 percent of Democrats. I have always been a registered independent, no party affiliation, and expect to remain so, in significant part because I value being rational. Item by John Romano says that the gun lobby has the GOP blind to reason. That figures; if you're going to ignore reality in favor of prejudice, you want to be ready to plug anybody who comes at you with the facts. Meanwhile a number of corporate partners are dropping the NRA. It seems that the recent shootings are stirring up too much common sense about guns, even if Republicans call that fake news. Will we finally get some sensible legislation about guns, such as barring the ones that can kill dozens of children in seconds? Don't count on it. Editorial in THE WEEK remarks on the core belief of the gun lobby: the Second Amendment is meant to protect citizens' ability to overthrow the government if it becomes tyrannical. Get that? They want to be able to stage a revolution; the deaths of children are merely collateral damage. Fake news. Tyrannical government by whose definition? Criticizing the NRA? Legislation to project children? Presumably if they did revolt, the NRA would govern the nation, and I suspect revolution against that order would then become illegal. Full page ad in THE TAMPA BAY TIMES and I suspect elsewhere is titled Are your Guns More Important to you than your Children? The answer, plainly, for such folk is Yes. But the Florida high school with 17 dead is organizing to see if they can change this in favor of the children. Maybe this will be the citizen initiative that succeeds. I hope so. There was a time when conservatism meant things like integrity, financial responsibility, and traditional family values. Now it seems to mean greed, hypocrisy, bigotry, and to hell with the children.

Shorter takes: item in NEW SCIENTIST on what love at first sight really is. Folk think it is like a lightning strike, and in my Xanth novels it is similar, but that is fantasy. You can't really love someone until you really know that person, and sight alone is not sufficient. First sight of a woman by a man is probably lust; attachment comes later, if other aspects fall into place. SCIENCE NEWS: IUDs, intrauterine devices, like a little wire loop in the uterus, are more reliable than contraceptive pills. US life expectancy is still declining, now being 78.6 years, or 81.1 for women, 76.3 for men. I am 83.5. More than eight of every ten dollars of wealth created globally last year went to the richest one percent THE WEEK reviews a book titled How Democracies Die, by Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, which says that if the year ahead doesn't go quite right, the American system of government could collapse. All we need is an autocrat in power, one who disdains norms, questions the legitimacy of political foes, tolerates violence, and shows a willingness to curtail the free press. Does that smell like anyone we know? Article in NEW SCIENTIST says there are disturbing hints that Western civilization is starting to crumble. Things like the richest one percent owning half the world's wealth, the population increasing at at unsustainable level, our dependence on fossil fuels, and the history of past cultures that crashed. It's not as if things are different now; a medical whistlblower Maucrice Pappworth refused to go along when doctors bored holes in the skulls of 18 people in the hospital for unrelated conditions, inserted tubes, and injected acid into their bodies to see what happened. When 13 babies had catheters inserted into their hearts without sedation, then were deprived of oxygen to see how their bodies would respond. The babies were reported to be crying strenuously. Fancy that! When doctors injected people with malaria parasites, polio virus, and live cancer cells. Or withheld insulin from diabetics so they could analyze the effects on their livers. Or prevented African Americans from getting penicillin treatment for syphilis, to further a study. The medical establishment didn't like his reporting such things, so he was in effect blacklisted for half a century. So much for the Hippocratic oath to first do no harm. I wish this sort of thing were atypical, limited to spot rogues in one profession, but I know from my own experience in the field of writing that it isn't. What bothers me is why the majority in any medium all too often prefers to punish those who try to stand up for what is right, instead of the wrongdoers. Its seems it is simply easier and safer to condemn the victim. Of course sometimes the victim survives and gains power, and may have a score to settle. That can get interesting.

The February 2018 issue of ALTERNATIVES, the health newsletter by Dr. David Williams, has an article about Alzheimer's. “Alzheimer's is the most expensive medical condition in the US. It threatens to bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid and drain the life savings of millions of people.” Because it is primarily an illness of old age, and millions of baby boomers are racing toward it. “It is projected to be the biggest epidemic in medical history.” The average life expectancy after diagnosis is six to eight years, though it can be a short as three or long as twenty. There is no known effective treatment that can slow its progression. Alzheimer's is one of the things I fear; if I were diagnosed with it, and knew I would slowly become a vegetable, I don't know what I'd do, other than see about killing myself before that happened. However, Dr. Williams has suggestions that might slow its progress. It seems that a shortage of blood flow to the brain accelerates it. Exercise helps the blood to flow, and good nutrition, especially the B vitamins. Eating too much sugar may worsen it. So if you want to postpone this dread disease, live a healthy life style; it could make a difference. Not much else will.

It has been a long wait, but we finally have a decision on the big Xanth movie: No. There have been movie flirtations before, and at one point Warner was set to do it, but on the day of decision they fired hundreds of their employees and dumped the project. I think they had internal problems, and Xanth was collateral damage, nothing personal. This time it is Paramount, and the indication is they had a change in leadership and the new powers that be think Xanth is sexist, so it's out. Again. We'll follow up with other interests, which do exist, and hope that something comes of it. If you are disappointed, well, so am I. But that's life.

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