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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Mayhem 2018
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The ebook edition of my science fiction novel Cluster, leading off a five novel series, will be downpriced to 99 cents in the USA on Mayhem 3, 2018. In this setting the centers of galactic empires are highly civilized, while the fringes are less so, there being a certain cultural drag because of the delays of space travel. So there can be super science, or medieval culture, or stone age, depending on how far out a world is. The protagonist is Flint of Outworld, who chips fine spear points for a living but is actually near genius intellect as well as having the most powerful aura known, which enables him to travel instantly to other bodies. When he gets hauled to the central world of Earth, mischief ensues; a smart barbarian can really mess up the plans of dull civilized folk. If you suppose that all I ever wrote is funny fantasy, try this for contrast.

I watched Miracle Mile. What would you do if you had only one hour to live? Harry meets a nice girl, Julie. They make a date for that night, but he oversleeps by three and a half hours. Hoping he can catch her anyway, he calls her number and leaves a message. Then he receives a misdialed call, and learns that Los Angeles will be destroyed by nuclear missiles in an hour. Others don't believe him, at first, but then they do, and start going crazy. Got to get out of town fast! So he looks for her, to spend his last moments with her. He hijacks a car and winds up setting fire to a gasoline station. But he does finally locate her—and she's zonked out on a tranquilizer. He rouses her and tries to catch a helicopter out, but everything goes wrong. Julie is understandably dubious. The whole city seems to be going crazy, and destruction and death are spreading. Who needs nukes, with devastation like this? They finally do catch the helicopter—and the missiles arrive. It was not a false alarm. But at least they die together, in love, which was the point. Not my favorite ending.

I watched 1984, because it was a bonus movie on he same disc as Miracle Mile. I read the book when it came out, circa 1950. I understand George Orwell wrote it in 1948, so he reversed the digits for the title, then impossibly far in the future. That date has passed, but the story remains prophetic, though perhaps no more so than his Animal Farm. Much of the ugly future it predicted is indeed coming to pass. Consider America today, where special interests rule an ignorant public, and truth has little if any meaning, being dismissed as “fake news.” The movie starts with a propaganda film whipping up that ignorant public to support the condition of perpetual war. But it's not just films; wall sized TV monitors watch individuals. Regimentation is complete. It is like one vast prison, and those who annoy the State are hanged or shot after being required to give public confessions for their crimes. The protagonist, Winston, meets an attractive young woman, Julia, who soon seduces him. They have an affair, renting a room for it. Full frontal female nudity, rear male nudity. Their liaison is illicit, of course. They read subversive literature. They fall in love. And they are caught, beaten up, separated. The landlord is a secret agent. Winston is tortured to “cure” him of his mental derangement in opposing the will of the State. Reality is whatever they say it is. But it continues, until rats are brought to eat his face, to make him lose his love for Julia. They probably torture her similarly. Then he meets Julia again, and each confesses how they betrayed the other. Their love has been tortured out of them. This is one grim story, true to the novel in that respect. This is how a totalitarian state enforces compliance to its will. I doubt I ever watch it again.

I watched The Hunger Games Catching Fire. I had though the prior one I got, Mockingjay Part 1 was the first in the series. Apparently not. This one follows that one, I think. Katniss Everdeen has to convince the world that she is madly in love with Peeta. So they agree to marry; how's that for a lasting romance? But the powers that be conclude that she needs to die. In the right way, showing she is one of the elite, rather than one of the people. The headlines will feature their love and marriage, but there will also be beatings, destruction, and killing. The people will get the message. This year he Hunger Games will feature all champions, 24 winners of prior games, called Tributes. No pushovers. They can't do it all themselves; they will need friends. So they set about quietly making friends of other Tributes. Other Tributes are not pleased about having to compete again; it wasn't supposed to be that way. And the Game begins with the competitors on pedestals in the river. They must start killing each other immediately, and do. Katniss' allies help her and form a small group against the others. They need potable water, and get some from a tree. Peeta gets smashed by an invisible force field and almost dies. The force field covers a fair area, barring them. They take turns keeping watch at night. A poison fog comes and they must flee. They manage to wash it off with marsh water. Then baboons attack. Three of them flee to a river. They find more allies. They figure out that the arena is laid out like a clock, with different hazards each hour. Birds attack. All the action is being watched close-up by the proprietors who want Katniss dead, and they sometimes interfere. The group hatches a plan to wire a tower to a pond so that when the regular lightning strikes, it will electrocute those in the water: their enemies. Then Katniss uses it to take out the force field dome instead, but gets jolted herself. She gets rescued, unconscious, by a hovercraft run by folk who need her to be the Mockingjay for the revolution. So I gather that the Mockingjay set follows the others. Overall this is a hard-hitting adventure, and Katniss is human rather than a superwoman, which is fine.

I watched Mockingjay Part 2. Peeta has been conditioned to hate Katniss. The treachery and violence of the war continue. President Snow, ruler of Panem, orchestrates the deadly campaign to kill Katniss and wipe out the revolution. He controls the universal video broadcasts that all citizens must watch. The group walks into a trap and barely escapes, albeit with losses. They sneak into the city via the sewer tunnels, and encounter the mutts, ferocious pseudo-humans bent on killing. Snow issues a call for all citizens, including children, to come to his residence for safety and sustenance. Naturally it is a lie. They are gunned down and bombed, the carnage blamed on the rebels. Then Katniss meets Snow, and he says the woman Coin is the real conniver, playing the rest of them for fools. Now she is assuming the Presidency. She proposes a symbolic final Hunger Game to conclude it. Given the chance to publicly kill Snow, instead Katniss looses her arrow through Coin. Now it is over. Peeta continues to recover. Katniss marries him and they have a child.

I watched Kingsman: The Golden Circle. This is evidently a sequel to one I reviewed a decade ago. It's a wild parody of hi-tech action-adventure movies, starting with a phenomenal fight in a speeding car. I love it already. The Golden Circle is a drug cartel run by Miss Poppy, a sweet looking, sweet talking murderess who has a prospective recruit popped headfirst into a mincer that turns him literally into hamburger. She has things like robot dogs to guard her. A formidable enemy. The Kingsman hierarchy is destroyed by homing missiles, leaving only Eggsy and Merlin to carry on. They are assisted by the Statesman whiskey company, a unit of Kingsman. Clara, a lovely Golden Circle agent, tries to seduce Eggsy, but he is cautious. Meanwhile he needs to restore the lost memory of his mentor Galahad. He finally succeeds and the team is gaining strength. But Galahad now has random memories of his lepidopterist phase, and sees butterflies. The Golden Circle lets loose a deadly plague that only it has the antidote to, so the welfare of the world is at stake. Eggsy's girlfriend is one victim, which makes it personal. Phenomenal fight against the robot dogs and the last enemy agent, get the release code, and save the world. And Eggsy marries his recovered girlfriend. This may be the end of the beginning.

I watched Dunkirk. Remember, at the outset of World War Two, the invading Germans drove the French and British forces to the sea, where they would be exterminated if they didn't manage to escape. 400,000 men trapped; it was a crisis. Soldiers line up on the beach for the ship to take them out, and the Germans bomb the beach. Where are the British planes, the RAF? There aren't enough ships to take them all off. Volunteers come in smaller boats to take as many as they can. Those on the ships aren't yet safe; they could be sunk. This is not a plotted story so much as a documentary sampling aspects of the evacuation. Oil spills into the water, and when a plane is shot down it sets fire ti it. Hell for the men in the water. We follow one boat as it rescues some from the water, a downed airman and others on the beach. We follow one British airman as he intercepts strafing German planes and shoots at least one down. Everyone is in it together, knowing that the worst may be yet to come.

I watched Limitless. Eddie is a burned out writer, about to commit suicide. His ex brother in law, Vern, gives him a pill his company is developing, AZT, and it abruptly magnifies his intellect. He resumes writing and it's great. But now he has to be Vern's errand boy, to get more pills. Then Vern is murdered. Eddie finds the pills. They make him a genius, organized and fearless. He completes his novel and the editor loves it. He plays the stock market and makes millions. He gets his girlfriend back. Then the drug's side effects manifest. 18 hours of his life are lost in confusion. Uh-oh. He checks Vern's list of clients, hoping some know about AZT, and learns that some are dead and others sick. Then, in trouble, he goes to girlfriend's office, tells her the whole story, and she fetches the pills for him. But the bad guy gets a pill, loves it, and wants them all. He chases her and will kill her. So she takes a pill, and soon knows how to handle him. She turns on him and knocks him out. But word is spreading, and Eddie is not safe anywhere. He is about to commit suicide, but fights on, and wins through in an ugly fight. Eddie goes on to become a senator, in complete control of his situation, manufacturing his own variant of the pill, which is safer. This scenario is really not to be believed, but it is fun to dream about.

I watched Cruel Intentions. Step-siblings Sebastian and Kathryn—their parents married—connive endlessly at seduction. They make a bet: if he can't seduce the new headmaster's virgin daughter Annette, Kathryn gets his neat car. If he succeeds, he wins full sex with Kathryn, the one person he can't otherwise have. She flirts and teases him unmercifully. It's a real challenge, because Annette has been warned against him and knows his nature. She knows what he's after: her virginity. But Sebastian and Kathryn are expert connivers, cleverly using friends, parents, any anyone else to achieve their ends. Until there is a complication: on the verge of seducing Annette, Sebastian backs off. He is falling in love with her. Kathryn is disgusted. She talks him into dumping Annette, breaking her heart. But it breaks his heart too. They reconcile too late; he is killed in a traffic accident. It's really Kathryn's fault. But Annette gets back at her by publishing his private journal that he lent her, that tells everything, totally shaming Kathryn.

I watched Cruel Intentions 2. Sebastian is a mischievous lad, doing things like getting a school administrator's picture naked in the school yearbook. But his mother has mental problems, and he is sent to live with his exorbitantly rich father. His new stepsister is Kathryn, and she lets him know that the outset that she is not about to take any shit at all from him. There's the challenge. Meanwhile he is interested in the headmaster's daughter Danielle, a nice girl Kathryn is out to get. So it is war. Kathryn tries to seduce Sebastian, fails, so calls Danielle, who turns out to be another like Kathryn. They invite Sebastian to be a threesome with them. Believable? No, but endlessly sexy. Same characters as before, similar situation, but different story.

I watched Cruel Intentions 3. Patrick is a transfer student. He has a cough and seems awkward. Cassidy is a “black widow,” dangerous. She makes a bet with Christopher about seducing him within two days. She succeeds, then learns it was a different bet the boys made. Patrick was faking being a sick nerd. Then they get together with Jason to see who can seduce which other girl first. Patrick goes after Alison. Jason goes after Sheila. He seduces her while she is on the phone with her boyfriend Michael. Patrick blackmails Alison into letting him ravish her. It's one sexual episode after another. Finally Jason and Patrick do the final competition: for Cassie. And betraying each other. These folk are sick.

I watched the first episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation Season 4, “The Best of Both Worlds Part II.” In Part 1 the Borg abducted Captain Picard, and now seem to have taken over his mind. The Borg are headed for Earth, and the Federation forces are mobilizing to take them on. It is a crisis. Guinan (Whoopee) tells Riker that since the Borg know everything Picard knows, the only way to defeat them is to set Picard aside and proceed independently. The Enterprise splits into its two main sections while firing on the Borg cube and a shuttle takes Worf and Data into space; they then beam from the shuttle to the cube, and capture Picard, bringing him back to the Enterprise. But he remains the Borg's creature. They must separate him from the Borg, to ascertain what he knows about the Borg, without killing him. Data tries to get to the machine, via the Picard access, and in effect puts the Borg to sleep, and their cube explodes, ending the crisis. Picard is back, with the knowledge of the Borg. This is one hard hitting episode.

I read The Cannae Sutra, or the Scots “Joy of Sex,” humor. Maybe it tries too hard, as I found it only mildly funny. Theoretically the Scots don't readily admit to ever having sex, and the text and cute illustrations play on this. In the section on courting traditions, “To find out more about your future partner: slice the peel off an apple, all in one go. Wait till midnight, then whirl it round your head. As the clock strikes twelve, chuck the peel over your left shoulder. The shape it lands in will form the first letter of the name of the one you will marry. It will be someone whose name begins with S.” Much banter about the kilt men wear, and what's under it. Cartoon hows a mini submarine surveying Loch Ness. “I never thought this was a good idea!” Because the Loch Ness Monster is amorously clasping the submarine. And words of wisdom in the native dialect: “Thrappled crawf hath muckle snit.” Now you know.

SS TNG S4 #2 “Family” The Enterprise is undergoing extensive repairs following the Borg incident, and Captain Picard is in recovery. Worf's human family is visiting, to his discomfort. Picard visits his family on Earth, also to his discomfort. Wesley Crusher gets a recording his late father made for him. Picard fights with his brother, and makes up; it is cathartic. Wesley meets the holo of his father, not much older than Wesley is now, wishing him the best. As the title says, it is family time, not always comfortable, but ultimately rewarding.

SS TNG S4 #3 “Brothers” A boy is ill, and being taken to a medical facility. Data takes over the ship, and directs it to an unknown destination. Then beams himself to a planet, where he meets Dr. Soong, who constructed him. He made Data imperfect, so made Lore, another robot. He gives Data emotions—only it turns out to be Lore, emulating Data. Lore kills Soong. Data returns to the Enterprize. The sick boy reached the facility has is cured. But is Data the same as he was? We can't be sure.

SS TNG S4 #4 “Suddenly Human” They go to the aid of a Talarian training ship, rescuing five boys from dangerous radiation. One is Jono, who is human. The Talarian captain says Jono is his adopted son, and he will go to war rather that give him up. Mearwhile Picard is trying to teach the boy how to be human. It is a challenge. Jono tries to kill Picard, so that he will be killed for his crime. Picard realizes that the boy really does want to return to the Talarians, and returns him to his adoptive father, avoiding a battle in space. But Picard has now won the boy's respect.

I watched the Discover Vesuvius, the volcano on western Italy tear Naples, of
Pompeii fame. The next eruption could kill more people that any prior volcano in history. In the past, almost four thousand years ago, it buried the Naples area under four feet of ash and pumice, which is gassy magma that will float on water. Today it could kill three million people. Pyroclastic flow hot enough to melt gold zoomed outward at over 400 miles per hour. Temperatures reached 900 degrees, incinerating local life. Liquid lava at 2,000F flowed out. Earthquakes preceded the eruptions, by months or years. There have been two massive tremors in the vicinity, maybe signaling another eruption. And it is not the only volcano near population centers. This is scary.

And Saturn: Lord of the Rings. Saturn, 750 times the size of Earth, would float on water. The rings are composed of millions of icy fragments, tens of thousands of miles wide, but only 65 feet thick. Paper thin, in comparison. At least seven rings, each with its own personality. They are much younger than the planet. The other giant planets also have rings, but they are feeble compared to Saturn's. The moos Enceladus, much smaller than Earth's, is ejecting water hundreds of miles up; that might be a source of matter for a ring. It also might enable life. We put a station in orbit around Saturn, and it is providing much new information, but there is much yet to discover. The fascination remains.

SS TNG S4 #5 “Remember Me” They pick up Dr. Dalen Quaice to give him a lift home. Next day he is gone, and there is no record of him aboard the ship. In fact there is no record of him anywhere. Beverly had interned with him. Now four members of her staff are not only gone, there is no record or memory of them in others. There were a thousand people on board; now the entire ship's complement is 230. What has happened? There is another odd warp that only she is aware of—and only 114 aboard. Now Worf is gone without record too. And her son Wesley. Now there is no crew at all, just Picard and Beverly. Then just her. But to the others, she is the missing one. She has created her own reality, and can return to theirs only if she chooses to. The Traveler, the weird alien who understands this sort of thing comes to help Wesley recover her. The two of them concentrate on alternate realities, and Beverly concentrates too. The Traveler fades in and out as he focuses; then so does Wesley. Beverly finally leaps into the vortex and returns to them, for a happy reunion. This was one nervous episode!

SS TNG S4 #6 “Legacy” They answer a distress call, but barely arrive in time. The planet, Turkana IV, is where the late Tasha Yar came from. Ishara Yar, Tsaha's sister, is there. They don't trust this, as Tasha never mentioned a sister. But there are two Enterprise crew members captive of the Alliance they need to rescue if they can. So Ishara goes with Riker and Geordi, and she goes again with a subsequent away party of Riker. Worf, and Data. They rescue the crewmen, but Ishara deceived them in that she was trying to help the Coalition win a battle with the Enterprise's help. They return her ho her folk, regretting that they were so readily deceived.

SS TNG S4 #7 “Reunion” A Klingon warship uncloaks, and the lady ambassador K'Ehleyr beams aboard the Enterprise with a child, who turns out to be Worf's son he didn't know about. The Klingon commander K'mpec meets with Picard, asking him to mediate between two rivals for new leadership, and to find out who poisoned K'mpec. During the proceedings a bomb explodes; evidence suggests a Romulan connection, with a Klingon conspirator. One candidate kills K'Ehleyr; Worf kills the candidate, who was instrumental in framing Worf for dishonor. But the matter is not yet finished.

SS TNG S4 #8 “Future Imperfect” They are surveying space near the Romulan border, and seem to be getting probed from an uninhabited planet. Riker, Worf, and Geordi beam down, but are overcome by gas. Riker recovers, but maybe to another reality, where he is Captain. He wakes 16 years later, having been in a coma. He has been captain nine years. Picard is now Admiral. Riker is now a father. His wife Min, for Minuet, died two years ago. But it's all a charade, he realizes, and he calls their bluff. The Romulans set it up to get information from him. There is a boy who played his son. The two of them break out, but this too rings false. The boy is using generated images to make his own realities, but wanted someone real, so brought in Riker when he came in range. He's actually a lonely alien. They are beamed aboard the present day Enterprise.

SS TNG S4 #9 “Final Mission” Wesley Crusher has been admitted to the Academy for training, so this may be his final mission with the Enterprise. Picard and Wesley join Captain Dirgo of a mining shuttle, which abruptly loses control and has to make an emergency landing on a barely habitable moon, without water. They trek across a desert to a mountain where there is a cave. Naturally, this being science fantasy, the gravity and air on the small lifeless moon are the same as on Earth. They discover a fountain, but it is protected by an electronic shield. Picard gets injured and Dirgo gets killed; Wesley is on his own. He manages to nullify the shield and fetch water for Picard. They finally get rescued.

SS TNG S4 #10 “The Loss” Deanna Troi suffers an attack of something and collapses. Something starts pulling the ship, and it can't break free. Deanna can no longer sense others with her empathy. She is devastated. Deanna has to function blind as it were. She realizes that the two dimensional creatures that are hauling them along may be acting involuntarily, like a moth toward the flame. They act on that assumption, and escape. And Deanna gets her empathy back.

I read The Girl from Venice, by Martin Cruz Smith. This is historical fiction set in northern Italy 1945 as World War Two is ending. The Nazis and Fascists are still in control, but it is clear for not much longer. They are still killing people, however, especially Jews, so it is best to stay well clear of them. Cenzo is a fisherman heading to port with his catch when he spies the body of a girl floating face up in the water of the lagoon. This is mischief he doesn't need, but he hauls her aboard, covers her with sailcloth, and rows on. Only to be intercepted by a German gunboat. They board him, trash his catch, but don't find the girl. They move on, and he finds the girl eating his food. It goes on from there. She's Giulia, a twenty year old Jewish escapee the Nazis are after. In the end she decides to stay with him, having ascertained that he is a good man, even though she is educated and he is just a fisherman. Much detail about the fish, food, politics, and other things of the area, but hardly the kind of thriller mooted on the jacket. It's a nice kind of travelogue for the area and time, interesting but not, for my taste, really compelling.

SS TNG S4 #11 “Data's Way” Data is” reporting on one day in his “life.” His friend Transporter Chief O'Brien is getting married, but the bride decides to break it off. Data tries to understand. He decides to learn to dance; Beverly Crusher teaches him. An ambassador is lost in a transporter accident, complicating negotiations with the Romulan empire. Or is she dead? They conclude the accident was faked. Indeed it was; she was a Romulan spy. Meanwhile the bride changes her mind and the wedding proceeds. Data dances at the wedding. He continues trying to learn to be human.

SS TNG S4 #12 “The Wounded” Trouble on the Cardassian border. It seems a Federation ship, the Phoenix, destroyed an unarmed science station, and is not not responding to Federation communications. Is its commander out for revenge against the Cardassian massacre of his family? Picard talks with him, and concludes that this is the case. But he also concludes that the man was right; the Cardassians are arming for war. He advises the Cardassian ambassador that he will be watching. This gives them fair warning that their plot is known, so they can back off. The peace will be kept.

I watched Return to Sender. Miranda, training to be a nurse, goes on a blind date. He shows up early and violently rapes her, and flees, leaving her bruised and in a kind of trance. He was not the real date. She carries on with her life, but is distracted and short tempered. Her job applications keep getting returned to sender. She visits the rapist, William, in prison. She gets to know him. Other prisoners are bullying him. He gets paroled, and she continues seeing him. He wants to make up for what he did. He fixes things around her house. Then she doses him with antifreeze and ties him down, and I think castrates him and lets him bleed to death. So she's as bad as he is. I Spit on Your Grave did it better.

SS TNG S4 #13 “Devil's Due” The Enterprise receives a transmission from a science station, where folk think the end of things is coming tomorrow and are going crazy. Ardra is returning after a thousand years of peace and prosperity, and will enslave the population. Picard, Data, Deanna, and Worf beam to the planet and meet Ardra, who demonstrates magical powers. Picard believes she is a con artist. The planet did have a thousand excellent years, but is she just taking advantage? So they go to arbitration, and Data is the arbitrator. The stakes are recovery of the world and the ship, but if they lose, Ardra gets it all plus Picard. But the Enterprise is able to take over Ardra's orbiting ship and Picard can now perform her illusions himself, winning the case.

SS TNG S4 #14 “Clues” They are investigating an anomaly when a wormhole opens up and sucks in the Enterprise. This is of course mischief. They are unconscious for 30 seconds, according to Data, but crew members have aged a day. Deanna Troi gets dizzy, goes to her apartment, and screams: the mirror showed her features with someone else inside. Worf had a wrist broken and reset without his knowledge. There is definitely a missing day. An alien takes over Deanna's mind and she talks to them. They return and learn that the Paxans, an advanced sapient species, require secrecy. They wipe the crew's short term memories, and swear Data to eternal secrecy, so that the Paxans will let them go.

SS TNG S4 #15 “First Contact” Alien medics, the Malcorians are trying to stabilize a wounded, unconscious human man, uncertain what to make of him. He looks like Riker. Then Picard and Deanna Troi beam to the scientist lady Mirasta Yale. The Malcorians believe that they are the center of the universe, and they are on the verge of warp travel. That's why the Enterprise is making first contact. The Malcorians, like most Star Trek aliens, are merely human beings with odd facial characteristics, even speaking the same language. The Enterprise will depart, on request, having rescued Riker, taking only Mirasta along.

SS TNG S4 #16 “Galaxy's Child” Leah Brahms, a senior engineer, will visit the Enterprise to meet Geordi and talk with him about his work. Geordi knows her via a former holographic interaction. But when she arrives she says he has fouled up her engine design. He says that things don't always work in the field the same way as in the laboratory. Meanwhile they discover an orbiting life form; it attacks them, they beam it, and it dies. This time the alien life form truly is alien. Then another life form appears within it. It was about to give birth! So they help that process. Then the new entity thinks the Enterprise is its mother. They guide it to where it's mother was going and let it go in the company of its own kind.

SS TNG S4 #17 “Night Terrors” They may have found a missing science ship, the Brittain. Its entire crew of 34 has been shot down by phaser, all except one man, a Betazoid. The victims killed each other. Why? Meanwhile dissent starts festering aboard the Enterprise. Whatever operated there is operating here. Riker discovers a nest of vipers in his bed—which then aren't there. Beverly sees dead bodies in the morgue sitting up. Worf tries to commit suicide. They are all suffering from dream deprivation. Humans need to dream to survive, or they start losing memories and hallucinating. Only Deanna dreams, and they are all nightmares. Then she figures it out: aliens are trying to communicate telepathically, but the telepathy has this side effect of suppressing REM dreams. Data takes over as acting captain, being the only fully rational person aboard, while Deanna enters REM sleep and sends a message to the aliens that enables them to break out of the trap.

SS TNG S4 #18 “Identity Crisis” Five years ago an Away Team was lost asd their shuttle craft stolen. Only Geordi and Susanna Leitjen remain. Riker leads an Away team to land on the local planet. Susanna starts suffering extreme sensitivity to light; her skin breaks out in purple veins. Geordi investigates while he can. Beverly locates a parasite in Susanna's body causing the mischief. Geordi, infected, manages to beam off the ship. Susanna, recovering, says it's not a parasite but the alien's method of reproduction, transforming the host. Susanna locates him on the planet and brings him back, and they are able to cure him too.

SS TNG S4 #19 “The Nth Degree” They check a telescope array at the edge of Federation space, which stopped functioning properly two months ago. Geordi and shy Reg Barkley check an alien probe, and it flashes, taking down the shuttle's computer and knocking Reg out. Thereafter Reg is surprisingly knowledgeable and confident. He has the insight that enables them to destroy the alien probe before it damages the ship. But he goes too far, taking over the ship and sending it into a space vortex. Cytherians are an alien culture exploring the galaxy by using others, such as Reg, no harm intended.

SS TNG S4 #20 “QPID” They will host an archaeology conference. Picard is preparing his speech. Vash appears, the woman he met in “Captain's Holiday” in Season Three. She is attractive trouble. And Q appears, the super-powered mischief maker, saying he wants to do something nice for Picard. Uh-oh. Picard and the other officers are suddenly transported to 12th century English fantasy, Robin Hood. Vash is Maid Marion, about to be executed if not rescued. She promptly messes up the story line by agreeing to marry the Sheriff of Nottingham. In the end Vash and Q get together, two birds of a feather.

SS TNG S4 #21 “The Drumhead” In an exchange program they host a Klingon researcher, J'Dan. But he is suspected of leaking secrets to the Romulans. He denies it, but they send him off. The lady Admiral Satie is brought out of retirement to supervise the investigation. It turns out that there may be another saboteur aboard. They suspect crewman Simon Tarses, whose grandfather was Romulan. But Picard believes they are hounding an innocent man, as there is no evidence that connects Simon; the explosion was coincidental. The Drumhead trial may be immoral and unethical, driven by prejudice. Picard provokes an outburst by Satie that reveals her as a bigot. This is perhaps my favorite episode of this series, because of its establishment of the principles of basic human decency. The Salem Witch Trials and the Nazis' pursuit of Jews and Gypsies are far from the only historical examples of institutional bigotry in action, and we must be constantly on guard against it.

SS TNG S4 #22 “Half a Life” Deanna's mother Lwaxana in aboard, making her usual mischief. They are trying to help folk restore their dying sun to full power. The first test fails. Lwaxana latches on to the scientist Timicin, whose research is fundamental to the project. But he is going home to die. He is expected to commit suicide at age 60. They investigate and discover a variance that may make the key difference. But he needs more time to finish his work, which he can't if he suicides. His daughter Dara beams aboard to try to persuade him. She loves him but wants him to die, because it is their way. So he returns, and Lwaxana joins him.

SS TNG S4 #23 “The Host” Bevely has a new boyfriend, Ambassador Odan. But there is something wrong with him physically. Something in his belly. Meanwhile there is a crisis as the moons Alpha and Beta prepare for war. Odan is a Trill, which turn out to be symbiotic; the “parasite” is his essence. The host dies, but they transfer the symbiote to Riker, who becomes in effect Odan, who still loves Beverly. He negotiates effectively with the two factions. But Riker's body is rejecting the symbiote; there has to be a new host in another day. And the new Trill host is a woman. Who still loves Beverly, but a romance is no longer feasible. This is an emotionally challenging situation.

SS TNG S4 #24 “The Mind's Eye” Geordi spies a Romulan war bird. They abduct him and prepare him to be their agent of mischief as the Enterprise handles Klingon negotiations. Some Klingons think the Federation has been secretly aiding rebels. They have captured some of the weapons as evidence. They were changed by a non-Federation technique. Data catches on and prevents Geordi from assassinating a key figure. Now they are able to ferret out the plot.

SS TNG S4 #25 “In Theory” The Enterprise is exploring a dark matter nebula. Data is friends with co-worker Jenna, who has trouble with regular relationships; she feels he has given her more attention than her dates do. She kisses him, which perplexes him. They date, and it is a constant learning challenge for him. Meanwhile there is some trouble getting out of the nebula, but they succeed. And Jenna breaks up with Data, as she needs some human emotion he can't provide.

SS TNG S4 #26 “Redemption Part 1” Picard must arbitrate again as Klingon factions oppose each other. Klingon politics are complicated and deadly. Worf and his brother Kurn want vindication for his family name. One faction has secret Romulan support. Worf and his brother plan to support Gowron in return for clearing their family name. Two Duran sisters plot for power. Gowron is installed, but the Duran family plots insurrection. Worf must support Gowron, and resigns his commission as a Enterprise officer. He departs, and the Enterprise leaves. But human involvement may yet manifest. We'll see, in Season 5.

I read The Greatest Books You'll Never Read, by Bernard Richards. I had thought it might deal with suppression or censorship, but these mostly turn out to be unfinished or lost manuscripts. It does serve as a kind of review of the lives and works of many well known authors, from Chaucer to Stephen King, with interesting tidbits along the way. What strikes me is the number who suffered depression. You don't have to be seriously depressive to be an effective writer, but it does seem to help. A number of unfinished books are because the authors suicided or died early. For example, Sylvia Plath, who turns out to have been born only a year before I was, but she killed herself at age 30. I was outraged by what happened to Dalton Trumbo. He was a highly successful scriptwriter in Hollywood in the 1940s. Then he wrote in a magazine article that if he were a Russian (which he wasn't) he would fear the Americans even more than the Americans feared the Soviet Union. That was an opinion, which should have been constitutionally protected; it was also, in my opinion, quite true, as America was a stronger power than the USSR. But this was the time of the McCarthy witch hunts, and he got called up before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which denounced him and put him in prison for eleven months(!) for that opinion. Thereafter he was blacklisted for several years. Where the hell was the Constitution, or justice, let alone fair play? I have remarked before that the Un-American Activities Committee was itself one of the most un-American things we have seen, and I feel that the US Army's finest hour was when it finally took down Joe McCarthy. I am a naturalized citizen; I believe in Constitutional values. It seems that many born Americans don't. And Kurt Vonnegut's intriguingly titled unfinished book, If God Were Alive Today. But it misses the mark on Coleridge's Kubla Khan, which never was a lost manuscript; the author devised a story to explain why it was incomplete. I go into this more thoroughly in my collaboration with J R Rain, The Journey. So while I found the volume tedious to go through, it does have its moments. It reminds me of real lost manuscripts it doesn't cover, such as Charles R Delaney's opus, lost by a publisher, and his backup copy was lost by the storage facility. It might yet turn up. What a discovery that would be!

I read a number of magazines, my main interest being science, but sometimes other things catch my attention. Such as an Op-Ed opinion piece in the April/May issue of the humanist magazine FREE INQUIRY, by T Joshi, titled “The Party of Traitors.” It begins “The question of the day is: How have we reached the stage where an entire political party in this country has in effect descended into treason?” He is referring to the current incarnation of the GOP. He says the party has gone out of its way to subvert American law and American ideals in ways that could lead us down the road to autocracy. That is, a form of government where one person governs with the authority of an absolute monarch; a dictatorship. He goes on to give examples in the words of their politicians and the legislation they pursue despite the opposition of a majority of their constituents. It seems that they literally don't care what the people want, only what their big donors want. It is not news to me; I have noted that Republicans seem to want to make a feudal state, with a few wealthy landowners and the rest being peasants serving them. So what can be done to prevent this? Get out and vote, while you still can. Another publication, THE HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN, details how back in the 1930s a group of multimillionaires plotted to oust Franklin Delano Roosevelt, because he was simply trying to do too much good for the common man with things like the New Deal, and taxes on the wealthy to fund a recovery from recession. They selected a figurehead to lead the new state. But he turned out to value the existing order, and the plot founded aborning, and they did their best to bury the news, as they still had the agenda. Now the billionaire Koch brothers want to try it again, only they have been smarter, and have made real progress behind the scenes. In some quarters supposed news items are actually propaganda pieces written by the special interests. That may account for the orientation of the Republican party; it is quietly governed by the billionaires.

A newspaper article may have bearing: it establishes that from President Nixon on, the Democrats have diminished the national deficit while the Republicans have increased it. I think they could go back farther than that. So the Democrats are the real fiscal conservatives, while the Republicans are financially irresponsible. Or as I put it, the GOP is governed mainly by greed. I am and have always been a registered independent, watching from the sidelines.

Odds and ends: There is evidence that our solar system got sideswiped by an alien star about 70,000 years ago, jerking asteroids and planets about. That may account for some of the odd orbits we are seeing now, so there is no missing ninth planet. The richest one percent of American women by income live more than a decade longer than the poorest one percent. For men, the difference is almost fifteen years.

Personal: remember, back in FeBlueberry I fell on my face during an exercise run, and bashed my rib-cage. My doctor had an X-ray picture taken, to make sure there wasn't worse damage. It showed the ribs were healing nicely, but incidentally also showed a one centimeter spot on my right lung. So he ordered a cat-scan, and that confirmed the spot, which I think is called an “incidentaloma,” discovered by accident when looking for something else. Now I have seen a lung doctor, who verified that the spot wasn't there seven years ago. We'll get another picture in three months, to see if there is any change, and that could lead to a biopsy. We don't want to fool around with cancer; it killed my daughter Penny in 2009. With luck, the spot is nothing serious. But wouldn't it be ironic if I had to fall on my face to discover a tumor that might otherwise kill me? I have read that there are three kinds of cancer: the bird, that metastasizes so rapidly you're doomed before you know it's there; the rabbit, that can be stopped if caught early, and the turtle, that plods along never going anywhere, needing no treatment. So I'm hoping for a turtle.

Item on how Clearwater city council member Bob Cundiff diverges from his four colleagues, as well as the scientific community, on one of Tampa Bay's most sensitive subjects: Fluoridation. He feels the science behind fluoridation is unsettled. The article says that medical professionals overwhelmingly agree that community fluoridation is safe and effective for the prevention of tooth decay, and that it is one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20the century. Wow! I take this as another example how the one person can be right, and the throng wrong. Fluoridation is really one of the ten great deceptions of the 20th century, and smart folk avoid it because not only does it not help teeth, children growing up in fluoridated communities mature physically several months early, and suffer IQ loss of up to ten percent. So the girls turn buxom as children, and are relatively stupid. Don't the boys love that! I have researched this and been over it before, but will gladly rise to the challenge again if my accuracy is questioned. So challenge me, if you really think you know better. Go ahead. You have an education coming, if your mind remains sharp enough after fluoridation to assimilate the truth.

According to one of the “little magazines,” THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR, for April 1, 2018, some Democratic Party leaders are signing a pledge to try to remake the country. It calls for rebuilding America by renewing infrastructure, you know, crumbling roads and bridges, investing in “green” jobs”, empowering workers to reduce inequality, working for justice for all, guaranteeing women's economic equality, enhancing public education by, among other things, canceling all student debt, bringing Medicare for all, making corporations pay their fair share, breaking up the big banks, and rescuing democracy from the special interests. One survey shows that at present eighty percent of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck; this might address that. I would love to see it happen, but fear that it is simply too beneficial to get past the entrenched forces of autocracy.

Newspaper review of the book Assume the Worst, by Carl Hiaasen. That is evidently some book. It is subtitled “The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear.” Graduation speakers are supposed to offer encouragement and inspiration. Well, this book says, that's not what you need. You need a warning. For example, a typical platitude is to live each day as if it is your last. If you do that, you won't accomplish a damn thing. Try to find goodness in everyone? A waste of time; if it requires the psychological equivalent of a metal detector to locate somebody's true self, they're not worth that trouble. Don't be quick to judge other people? If you don't learn how to judge them, and fast, you'll quickly get screwed. I'm not sure I agree with all of this, but it is certainly worth pondering.

Why is the universe the way it is, with its weird assortment of matter and forces? Some call it the uglyverse, because it doesn't just fit into a simple, comprehensible, esthetic scheme. What about the concept of myriad multiverses, with different rules? Where are they now? A letter in NEW SCIENTIST by Ken Goddard suggests an answer: in the beginning all the alternate universes came into existence together, with all the alternatives. The ones that weren't viable collapsed almost instantly, leaving only one: ours. Or maybe, I am thinking, parts of several universes got tangled together, like mismatched socks, and formed a messy knot that didn't clear, like a clogged drain, and that is what we are stuck with. Welcome to the messyverse.


PIERS
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