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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Dismember 2019
HI-

Open Road is running sales on my ebooks books there. With luck this will be posted Dismember 1, and with further luck you may see it in time to catch these ones. Statesman and Roc and a Hard Place are $1.99 on the first. The Cluster series in $2.99 on the second, and Xone of Contention $1.99 on the second.


It is now two months since my wife died. I am tiding through well enough, sleeping better, catching up on things. Family visits have been an emotional help. I returned to writing Xanth #46 Six Crystal Princesses, after a month doing “My Rose With Thorns,” and it moved well. Fans tell me that my novels represent a diversion from the problems in their lives, a kind of safe harbor, helping them cope. Well, it turns out to work similarly with me, because I feel distinctly better when I'm in Xanth instead of my mundane grief. I am now at the final chapter, and will probably complete the novel by the turn of the year. So what will I do in the time originally slotted for #46, Jamboree, FeBlueberry, and Marsh 2020? I will probably start writing #47, Apoca Lips. Apoca is introduced in #46. She is queen of the Lips tribe, with outsize lips; when she kisses a man and applies her magic, it makes him her love slave. For some reason the neighbor men don't like that, preferring that all the submissiveness be on the female side, so there is war. They try to put hoods on the women so they can't kiss but are there for the rest of whatever. But there is one man from a distant land who likes Apoca as she is, and their relationship is the substance of this novel. It may become world-shattering before it finishes; I can't think why.


I watched Rupture. Renee is an ordinary housewife, a divorcee. There's a spider in the sink and she freaks out; her young son picks it up in his hands and takes it out. She is being watched. Someone puts a device on her tire that gives her a flat on the highway. A man volunteers to change the tire for her, but he is part of a group that suddenly tasers and kidnaps her. She is bound and gagged in a moving truck, and taken to a laboratory. She struggles, but she is securely chained. She hears others in the lab screaming. She learns that G10 12X is what they need people for, whatever it is. There are 20 people here. They seem to be being tortured. Renee is questioned about things like allergies and fears. gets injected with something, an orange fluid . They sniff her skin, literally. Then a tarantula comes, freaking her out. When alone, she manages to break free and crawls into a vent passage. She peers through other vents and sees other people being tortured, different ways. She gets loose in the lab and explores it. She climbs an air shaft to the roof, but can't break out there. She continues sneaking around the lab, avoiding the personnel. She is getting good at spying. Then she gets back on her bed, in her chains, before they catch her. Then she uses an injection intended for her, on one of her captors, and wheels the unconscious captor to a different section. She flees through a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers, but they recapture her. G10 12X turns out to be a genome they are trying to evoke is the captives. They put a helmet on her, filled with spiders that run over her face. Until her face distorts, cracking the helmet off. She has ruptured. They return her to her home, where she no longer fears spiders at all. She helps her son Evan escape them. So she is now one of them, but not on their side. Can she hide her true orientation from them?


I watched Kiss of the Damned. Djuna is a beautiful vampire. Handsome human screenwriter Paolo courts her, not knowing her nature. She begs him to go, and he does, mystified. He visits her at her home, and she rejects him after kissing him and biting him so that he bleeds. Finally she tells him that she's a vampire, feeding on blood, with no heartbeat. The problem is that her passion for him is rising. She has him chain her to the bed by wrists and ankles so that she can't hurt him, but he unlocks the chains. They make love without kissing. She has bitten him so he will become a vampire too. She tells him all about their small vampire community. Now he can move in with her. Then her vampire sister Mimi comes to stay for a week. This is mischief. Their mother Xenia knows and isn't concerned. Mimi goes out and seduces a man, bites him, and kills him. That by the vampire standard is moral; “turning” and living with a man is not. He meets the vampire community. They have a supply of synthetic blood. Mimi gems into sex with a man and woman together, until Djuna breaks it up. Then she goes and takes on another couple. It seems that taking their blood gives her extra strength. This is more mischief. She takes Paolo's agent, or causes Djuna to take him. More mischief. She comes after Paolo, seducing him. Yet more mischief. Then she brings a virgin, Anne, to Xenia's home. This is wickedly tempting for Xenia. Even more mischief. Why is she doing this? Of course Xenia feeds on the virgin and kills her; she can't help herself, as Mimi knew would be the case. Djuna and Paolo confess to each other, but the damage is already done. Then Mimi wrecks in a car, but survives. She drags herself home, needs the human maid's help, but the maid, knowing the score, refuses. Maybe now the mischief is over.


I read god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. That's the way the title is, the first word not capitalized. I am agnostic, borderline atheistic, and I am interested in truth wherever it may be. This is a tirade against religion, often using prejudicial language. One quote will show what I mean: “In 1844, one of the greatest American religious 'revivals' occurred, led by a semiliterate lunatic named William Miller. Mr. Miller managed to crowd the mountaintops of America with credulous fools...” This is unfortunate, because the author makes a powerful case that pretty well damns religion in many aspects. It is clear that religion does not ennoble its believers; to the contrary, it causes them to do outrageous things, like burning unbelievers alive or otherwise torturing them to death. Children can be brutalized or rendered into sex objects. Religion supported slavery. “The most devout Christians made the most savage slaveholders.” He does not spare religion's leaders. “Gandhi...was quite prepared to make hypocritical use of violence when he thought it might suit him.” Chapter after chapter he builds an overwhelming case against religion. I fault him again because he does not discuss the good that religion does, only the evil. There is certainly much evil, but that is hardly the whole story. Too bad.


I watched Alone With Her, a story of stalking. It shorts with a man's images of girls on the beach, shots of partly exposed breasts and up between the legs as they lie on the sand. Then Doug orients on Amy. She's the one! He manages to plant a spy camera in her apartment. He talks with her at the coffee shop, she not knowing about the cameras. Doug is watching as she makes a date with a co-worker, Matt, and is jealous. He tries to make a date with her himself, but she declines because of the date she already has. He says okay, but is privately furious. He helps her prepare some pictures, but she finds something intangibly odd about him. Meanwhile she's really interested in Matt. She goes to bed, but develops an itchy rash. Then she accidentally knocks down the camera. Then she steps on broken glass and badly cuts her foot and hand. Her friend Jen gets suspicious of Doug. He kills Jen. Amy is broken up about it, not knowing Doug did it. She thinks he's her good friend. They make out, her initiative, but break it off. Then she realizes that he planted the cameras. They fight. He throttles her. That effectively ends the movie.


Interesting column by Cory Doctorow in LOCUS, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy news. The essence is that John W Campbell, the longtime editor of ASTOUNDING later ANALOG Science Fiction magazine, was a fascist. ASTOUNDING was one of the magazines I came up with, back in the 1950s, considered the best in the field, whose editor actually read his slush pile (that is, the accumulation of submissions by writers and amateurs) and gleaned the best of it, treating newcomers fairly. As I recall, five my own stories emerged from that pile to be published there. Campbell actually did his job, in contrast to some. I remember H L Gold, editor of GALAXY, telling me not to even try to compete with the big boys, though in the longer term I was more successful than maybe 95% of them. Obviously I respected Campbell more than Gold. Yet there was a problem. I remember discussing it with another writer, then more established than I was: should I be selling my stories to an editor who seemed to be a covert racist? He replied that what should concern me was not the man's personal philosophy, but his manner of doing his job as editor, which was exemplary. That struck me as good advice, and I followed it. After all, as a vegetarian I don't demand that editors be vegetarians; that's not relevant to storytelling. Neither is racism, usually. Still, it bothered me, and other writers, as this present article clarifies. Some feel that Campbell was responsible for setting a tone of science fiction “that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists.” Indeed, major portions of my own work do not fit the Campbell mode, because as a naturalized alien myself I support aliens in science fiction and fantasy. (I came to America as a six-year-old English child in 1940.) So the question remains: what do you do when the best editor in the field has a personal philosophy you can't abide? Doctorow remarks that the person who recently called attention to this, Jeaette Ng, “has been subjected to a triple-ration of abuse and vitriol, much of it with sexist and racist overtones.” They blame her for telling the truth about Campbell? I am ashamed for my genre.


The October/November 2019 leftist magazine THE PROGRESSIVE (yes, I am more leftist than rightist) has an article by Karen Dawn titled “Beyond the Slaughterhouse” about producing real meat without killing animals. It poses the question asked at a Good Food Conference last year “If the new meat being grown is called 'cell based' or 'cultured,' shouldn't traditional meat be labeled 'slaughtered?'” That is surely more polite than my term “dead cow.” Not only does traditional meat kill herds of animals, the industry is a major global polluter driving climate change. We have to stop it if we are to save the world from ugly destruction. This real meat is grown in the laboratory from animal cells, which can be taken from dead animals or still living ones without hurting them. I'm not sure how I feel about that personally, as the very notion of real meat turns me off, but philosophically it makes sense. Not only does it spare the animals, it is actually cleaner, because the pollutants ingested by animals are not in it. So it can be called Clean Meat, literally as well as ethically. It seems two me to be worth pursuing commercially. During the Thanksgiving holidays I tried a Burger King Impossible Burger; I can't verify the liketess, as I have not eaten real meat in 65 years, but this tasked okay to me.


I live in Citrus County, Florida. The physical climate is nice, but I never liked the political climate. Recently it made the national news, because when a local library wanted a digital subscription to the NEW YORK TIMES, for its 70,000 local library cardholders, the commissioners balked. “Why the heck would we spend money on something like that?” “Do we really need to subscribe to The New York Times?” “Fake news. I agree with President Trump. I don't want The New York Times in this county. I don't agree with it. I don't like 'em, it's fake news and I'm voting no.” Understand, this “fake news” newspaper over the years has won more than a hundred Pulitzer Prizes, and is globally renowned for its accuracy. But these Trump Republicans don't want the local folk to have it. Protesters are asking snidely how these commissioners feel about censorship and partisanship. How, indeed! Tourists are announcing that they will cross Citrus County off their travel plans. Actually the libraries do have print copies of the newspaper, but home-bound cardholders can't read those. Of course a commissioner has someone to blame for the bad publicity: the local newspaper, THE CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE, for blabbing. An anonymous “Sound Off” comment said “The Chronicle should run a correction. Last weekend they said we should set our clocks back one hour. In fact, we should set our clocks back 100 years; back to a time of bigotry, ignorance and political prejudice.” Another comment: “If ignorance is bliss, the Citrus County Commission meeting room must be a place of sheer ecstasy.” And “What ever happened to evolution? Darwin had it all wrong. Man is still an ape.” This fracas is still playing out, but maybe some good will come of it, like maybe a new, more liberal, open minded, slate of commissioners who won't seek to deny folk their preferences in objective news. I hope so. Who knows, Citrus County might even venture into the 21st century. Newspaper article asks whether we remember when the Republican Party was for fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, and conservative democratic principles? It concludes that that party no longer exists, and the GOP may be going the way of the Whigs, I wonder.


We have been massively cleaning up the house, and odd things turn up. One was a 20-year-old collection of notes and clippings for my weekly Jenny letter of the time. Remember, Jenny is the paralyzed girl I have been writing to since 1989. This was a story in the newspaper. Five surgeons discuss who made the best patients to operate on. The first one said Accountants, because everything inside is numbered. The second said Electricians, because everything inside is color-coded. The third said Librarians, everything inside is in alphabetical order. The fourth said Construction Workers, because they understand when you have a few parts left over at the end, and when the job takes longer than you said it would. The fifth one said Politicians, because there's no guts, no heart, no spine, and the head and butt are interchangeable. This seems as true today as it was twenty years ago, especially here in Citrus County.


NEW SCIENTIST article by Graham Lawton says we have a way to predict and change the world. Should we use it? This is Multi-agent artificial intelligence, MAAI, a technology that allows predictions to be made with extraordinary accuracy by testing them in highly detailed simulations that amount to entire artificial societies. In this political season such a thing is of interest. It seems it was used in 2014 when an Ebola epidemic broke out in West Africa. The model predicted that if left unchecked it would infect 1.4 million people. So they adopted quarantine measures and safe burial practices, and infections were only 28,000. Maybe that was coincidence, but it is persuasive. Now the game has changed, driven by a dramatic improvement in computing power, data, scientific understanding of human nature, and of course artificial intelligence. Now we really can model humans, and major cities, and ultimately the world. So can the effects of significant population shifts be figured out? Such as 20,000 Syrian refugees settling in Norway? What about climate change? That's at a tipping point that can destroy society as we know it, and we are in desperate need of a feasible solution. But at article published in Forbes.com says that climate change isn't all that bad. Well, we'll see, in due course, won't we. What about the proliferation of dangerous hate on the internet? But there are serious cautions. They modeled a society with a majority religious group in conflict with a minority one—and there was a spiral into deadly violence. How could they restore peace? The simulation suggested genocide. So now in politics, using MAAI, about the only ethical requirement that could be placed on models is transparency. The article asks “Does that make you feel secure?” Considering the definition of a politician in the prior paragraph, and by observation of the current political scene, I have to say it scares me. But as the article also says, the genie will soon be out of the bottle. This is coming, regardless.


On Thanksgiving Day my daughter, and a guest, and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, about Mister Rogers. It is a completely different take on the subject than the other movie I reviewed recently. My conclusion—remember I am not a believer, so you may dismiss this if you wish—is that if Jesus should come again, he would resemble Mister Rogers.


Briefer notes, gleaned from my recent reading; Half of your career success may be due to luck, especially with films, songs, books, and scientific research papers. Yes; this confirms what I had figured for my own career and that of others I have seen. So some supposed geniuses are mainly lucky. Climate change: there is a backlash against protesters, but the new wave of protests is creating a political climate for much-needed action. Domestic violence: it continues, with most being men against women, but some the other way around, or in same-sex couples. How can it be stopped? Criminalizing it isn't slowing the rate. Early intervention to change sexist attitudes may help, and public educational campaigns. It exists world wide, and locally; my wife volunteered at a local abused women's shelter for nine years, and my daughter still does. Evolution: early mammals may have had cold blood. So what caused them to turn warm? Mammals appeared in the middle Jurassic, about 170 million years ago, but their temperature is uncertain. War: today America has 35,000 tanks, but not crews for them, yet they keep building tanks. Why? Because constructing them is good for the economy. But I understand from prior reading that money invested directly in, for example, helping the poor, is more effective economically than the same amount invested in war. Meanwhile here in Florida, about 700 poor people die each year for lack of medical care. Quarks: they are the most fundamental form of matter, but do they really exist? There are six types, but some are disappearing. Are they changing into some other kind? Another item on loneliness says the effect of chronic loneliness on morbidity is the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and may be worse than obesity or diabetes. I, as one who recently lost his wife, am conscious of that, and working to restore companionship. Quote in the Citrus County Chronicle by Harry Leon Wilson: “Hell is given up so reluctantly by those who don't expect to go there.” Yes; and if Hell does exist, some of those sanctimonious folk may be in for an ugly surprise. Letter in the Tampa Bay Times by David Nathanson points out that times have changed from the founding of America, and now votes don't take months to be counted, but are tabulated immediately. So the original reason for the Electoral College no longer exists. But with gerrymandering the counting process has been corrupted, so that the popular winner does not necessarily win the election. We are seeing the result of that. A baby on the vegan diet died from malnourishment, and the parents are charged with manslaughter. Now I have been seriously considering the vegan diet, and I don't believe it has to be nutritionally inadequate. As a vegetarian I knew I had be smart about what I ate, and a vegan has to be smarter, but no child need die on that diet. Newspaper article by Emily Sheng tells of her startling health crisis from an autoimmune disease, lupus. She says that thirty years ago the chances of developing an autoimmune disease wore one in four hundred, but it is one it twelve today. That's interesting. My wife suffered from an autoimmune disease, and it severely limited her options. The article says that air pollution is a culprit. That's one more reason to curb the pollution we are causing; we are dying from it. Letter by Michael Pravica says we need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, stop the decimation of our forests, and plant more trees. Amen! Item in New Scientist says that a few days in the hospital changes your gut bacteria. That can be mischief. More and more children are experiencing eco-anxiety. Some think that's an illness, but it is actually an outbreak of sanity. Expose republished in THE WEEK originally from Haaretz Magazine is an expose of China's “re-education” camps. My conclusion: stay away from those camps, especially if you are a young woman. They may not be as bad as what the Nazis were doing in World War Two, but there are similarities. They are punishment for nonconformity to the communist line; original thinkers need not apply. Item on whistle-blowers, those who report fraud, waste, crimes, or threats to public safety. The wrongdoers hate being tattled on, and punish the whistleblowers accordingly. That's why they need anonymity. I regard my six year tenure as a blacklisted writer as similar; I demanded that the cheating publisher honor its contract, and they tried to wash me out of business. It is why I honor anonymity in my survey of electronic publishers, who will do the same to any whistleblowers they catch. Now there is a book, The Triumph Of Injustice: How The Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Lotsa luck there, folks. I am far from the billionaire class, but I have investments in things like tax-free bonds. I am tempted by the so called flat tax, where everyone pays the same rate, with no exceptions. But the very rich simply move their assets out of the country. Actually the effective tax rate paid now is close to flat, because of the way the rich avoid it while the poor can't. And information about the Kurds, whose territory was split between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran and have no country of their own. President Trump was the latest of a number to betray them. They have not been fairly treated. Newspaper article reports of the powers that be say that it is too expensive to consider climate change, but that the truth is that it is too expensive not to deal with it. I fear we are doomed, though I don't think I will live to see it. The young who are protesting our inaction are correct. And the pro life/ pro choice debate continues. My take is that an individual life does begin at conception, and that baby deserves its chance. But most pro-lifers seem not really to care about that; once the baby is birthed they proffer no support. I feel that there should be universal sex education and contraception so that no unwanted babies are conceived, and I regard many of those who are pro-life but anti contraception as hypocrites. If a born baby is not wanted, then there should be facilities to take care of it and raise it as a ward of the government. So no one has to die, but population may to some degree be controlled. And an item on killer asteroids. NASA is watching, but can't identify all of them, and one could slip through and smash us. If one more than half a mile wide hits, that would be real mischief, if there are survivors. An interesting illness is Mal de debarquerment syndrome, in which folk suffer not from sea sickness but from land sickness, unable to adapt to land that is not swaying under them. And there is a growing problem with homemade “ghost guns” that escape regulations and wind up in the hands of killers. Well, I have a solution: register the ammunition.


On that cheery note, I wind up the month of NoRemember. As I wrote at the outset of this column, I am tiding through, and it should be evident that my opinionations are as varied and ornery as ever.



PIERS
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