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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
JeJune 2019

I finally saw a notice (the publisher didn’t bother to inform me) that Xanth #42 Fire Sail will be published in NoRemember, and can be pre-ordered now. This one is about a young man and a widowed grandmother who are jointly assigned to deliver a very special boat to its new owner. It has a sail made of fire, and it flies, and it is considerable larger inside than outside. In fact it’s like a yacht inside, a rowboat with a single sail outside. It is crewed by animals and children from prior novels. Naturally the delivery gets complicated, and the man’s quest for a girlfriend and the woman’s for an older boyfriend don’t help. One is a mermaid, a nice girl, but she lives in the sea while he lives on land; that won’t do for a long term relationship. Others are similarly problematical. There are also nasty folk who want to steal the boat. This leads off what is in effect a trilogy within Xanth, featuring the Fire Boat. The following novels are #43 Jest Right and #44 Skeleton Key, with #45 A Tryst of Fate waiting and #46 Six Crystal Princesses now being pondered. The publication pipeline may finally be getting unclogged.

As usual, if you don’t want the reviews, skip over the I Watched and I Read paragraphs to get to the hard stuff.

I watched The Mummy Resurrected, a horror flick. Archaeologists uncover a long lost pyramid in the Egyptian desert. Maggie’s long lost father rejoins her to visit that pyramid, in the Valley of the Sorcerer, but they are warned that anyone who goes there will never return. It’s an ancient curse. They hire a guide anyway and go. Six young pretty women, father, and the guides. They enter the pyramid, but their guides come under attack by soldiers. The seven of them have to hide sealed within it. Dad discovers a plaque, which he can translate. Then a monster appears, and kills one girl who is separated from the group. Then a mummy appears. Dad and one girl are one group, and the four other girls in the other. Dad speaks an incantation that wakes the mummy. One of the four vomits blood and dies. The mummy kills the girl with Dad. Three girls remain. They find a way out. The blonde stays outside while the other two return to seek Dad. One falls into a pit and can’t get out. Meanwhile Dad continues his invocations. The mummy sucks the life breath out of the girl outside. The girl in the pit gets buried in falling sand. Maggie, evidently possessed by the spirit of the ancient queen, kills the girl with her, and walks away. End of movie, too much unexplained. It all adds up to nonsense.

I watched Uncommon. It seems the family has lost a child. Grief stricken, they move to a new town, and their teen son Erin attends a new school, Rosewood High. Erin is religious, which leads to some friction with an atheistic teacher, Stevens. He is also obsessed with his dead brother. Budget cuts eliminate the school’s drama department, to the chagrin of many students. So they set up to form their own drama department. Erin works with the girl Haley, whose boyfriend resents him. But they have to find a faculty member to chaperon the group. They manage to recruit the janitor, Garcia. But he requires them to help him, too, in his social work. They can’t agree on a play to put on. Finally Erin assembles one from the stories in the Bible. They like it. Then the principal shuts it down on the ground that it is religion in the school. They appeal to the school board, and lose. Then Garcia contacts the head of a legal firm, a friend, which takes up their case. They make their arguments and the judge rules in their favor: separation of church and state does not mean that a religious play can be suppressed. They can put on the play. But there is little time. They scramble, and the local church helps with props. They put it on, with a lot of singing and dancing, a clear success. I, as an agnostic who never believed the mythologies of the Bible, nevertheless find this appealing. The students do what they have to do, and the principles of America are upheld, especially the First Amendment.

I read Starsight II by Minette Meador. I reviewed the first novel in 2007. I have to say that I did not remember it after a dozen years. I fear my memory is not what it used to be. There is a thorough synopsis in the sequel volume, for those who want it, but I decided to read the sequel straight, on the theory that sequels should be intelligible on their own. This worked okay; I was able to follow the story well enough. One main character is Trenara, a queen; another is her son Joshan, the new king. This is sword and sorcery fantasy, but with strange bypaths, unusual twists, and savage conflicts. Few things are exactly what they seem to be. Very generally, the world is being invaded, but the troops are only part of it; devious enchantments subvert key figures and threaten disaster. There are deep loves and hatreds, and the magic can be ugly. Leading characters are not spared; they suffer heartbreak along with passion. A blurb by Spider Robinson says “A Typhoid Mary of a book from a writer to watch...” This is a pretty good description. Be prepared to have your innards twisted as you read. There was a time when women wrote gentle fantasy; this is not at all that kind.

I watched Why Are We Fat? Obesity is rampant. There are now more fat people in the world than thin people. The health complications cost about fifteen billion dollars a year. It has happened within the past fifty years. Why? Diabetes is now common, and it can take ten to fifteen years off your life. But even if it didn’t, you are living unhealthy, which is hardly ideal. Our narrator John Himes in New Zealand gets diagnosed with diabetes, and resolves to learn about it and do something about it. Leptin is the I’ve-had-enough-to-eat hormone. It worked for maybe a million years; why isn’t it working now? Sugar. Sugar is in just about everything we eat. 74% of foods are spiced with sugar. Sugar is addictive; folk get a craving for it, wanting more and more. Is it a food? Not really. The body can metabolize only so much; the excess becomes fat. Fat is a necessary part of our diet, but too much fat is mischief. There’s a strong correlation between fat and heart disease. The famous food pyramid turns out to be wrong; it’s not healthy. Processed food makes up about 60% to 80% of what we buy in the supermarket, and it is unnatural. But it tastes good. Rats fed processed food soon get fat, get diabetic, and die. Visceral fat around the vitals organs of the body is especially dangerous. The narrator learns that over one third of his liver is fat. That shocks him. So he takes three months to try to get that down. He learns that diabetes can be deceptive; folk live with it without serious complications—until the damage nudges into real trouble and it’s too late. He has to get into exercise. Exercise is medicinal, improving the body’s self-help mechanisms. We have to use our muscles to be healthy; it’s our nature. Why do we eat wrong? The brain is hard-wired to get enough calories, but today with plenty of food available, it’s a problem. Junk food has addictive qualities. Dopamine rewards us for seeking calories. But if we abstain, that temptation will gradually fade. Eating right can improve mental health as well, and alleviate depression. Sleep is important too. And the microbiome in the gut. Stress also leads to a worse diet. Dietary fiber is healthy. Protein helps. A school that cut out the sugar and make a healthy diet shows significant improvement in the children. So how did he do after three months of fitness training? Much improved. Not there yet, but getting there. This is a good video, because it takes a man through the problem and the process of recovery in a manner we can understand. He went from the lower 15 percent of health up to the 40 percent. His liver fat dropped 8%, a very good result. The process is not finished, but he is on the way.

I watched The Note. A flight is coming in, but there’s a problem. It’s an emergency. The plane crashes. Meanwhile newspaper columnist Peyton MacGruder faces declining readership of her column and has to get it up, or lose it. She realizes that the folk on the plane must have known they were going to die. What were their thoughts? She visits the site and finds a note written by one of the doomed passengers. It is addressed to T, signed Dad. It is to a son or daughter. But who wrote it? She mentions it in her column, and gets immediate and widespread interest. So it’s a project: discover for whom the notes was intended. There are a number of parents who died in the crash. Her co-worker, Kingston Danville, who likes her more than passingly, encourages her to go for it, and her boss, and her boss’s boss, are swayed. Her first contact turns out not to be the one. Ditto for her second. But the contacts are nevertheless meaningful in their own ways, as we learn more about the people who lost a parent, and about Peyton herself. Each column covers one of the contacts. The interest becomes national. Peyton suffers a flashback to when she tried to commit suicide. The third one says the note was for him, though the initial doesn’t quite match. But is that the truth? Then a young woman approaches her. She lost her father in the accident, and though her name is Christine, her nickname was Tag. She’s the one. And she may be Peyton’s lost daughter, given up for adoption as a baby. The note has brought them back together. And King’s alienated son wants to rejoin him. A phenomenally potent impact.

The Note II is the sequel. One Eve Miller tells Peyton she’s in trouble. Peyton runs for exercise with daughter Christine, and remains close to boyfriend King, whose son David is quitting baseball despite it being his passion. King proposes to Peyton, but she demurs, uncertain how it will affect Christine. Peyton talks with David, and learns he quit baseball for art school. So they each have a problem relating to their child. Meanwhile Peyton interviews Eve, who didn’t take a chance on love, long ago, and regrets it now. So she didn’t marry Ben. Peyton researches and locates Ben, living only 200 miles away. He is interested, but says it remains Eve’s choice to make. Peyton talks her into talking with Ben. She does, and they make up. Moved by this, not wanting to sacrifice her own life by doubting love, Peyton agrees to marry King, to his surprise. And King talks with his son, accepting the decision to go into the art of photography, so that’s okay too.

The Note III. Violet is a single mother who simply can’t manage with her baby son Charlie. She loses her job, has to leave home, is broke, and desperate. Meanwhile Peyton is signing copies of her bestselling book, on the first anniversary of her marriage to King. Violet leaves Charlie on Peyton’s doorstop, and someone steals her car. She is truly bereft. Peyton doesn’t want to care for someone else’s child, but remembers how she had to give away her own baby, and sympathizes with the unknown mother. Violet meanwhile comes down with pneumonia and winds up in a woman’s shelter. Peyton gets a line on Violet, who flees the shelter before they can meet. Then she does meet Peyton. Violet is arrested for child abandonment, though she desperately wants to take him back. She needs to demonstrate that if she gets Charlie back, she won’t abandon him again. Peyton gets Violet to meet Charlie’s paternal grandfather, who had blamed Violet for his son’s death, and Grandfather has reconsidered and welcomes them into his life. So Peyton and King do not keep Charlie, though they would have liked to; they did the right thing in restoring him to his mother. This is a heartwarming movie trilogy.

I watched Heavy Petting. This is a collection of sexy scenes from the 1950s when kids hardly knew about sex, or so the adults thought. Celebrities tell of their coming of age experiences. To boys, girls were largely a mystery. To learn how to kiss, girls practiced on each other. Dating was complicated, largely a matter of getting up the nerve to ask. For a girl it helped to be cute. What about the one with no breasts yet? High school dances: how to say good night. Do you try to kiss? Whatever you do seems wrong. Meanwhile the elders preach that much of teen music and dance is sinful. The sexual impulse must be controlled, like a frisky horse. Parents didn’t understand their children. Boys wanted sex, but did not respect the girls who allowed it. The rule was that all boys were bad; some girls were good, some bad. And venereal disease, VD; the problem of tracking down its source. Protection? Use a rubber (condom). A mother told her daughter that she would prefer to see her get run over by a car, than to get pregnant. But when she did get pregnant, what then? Marriage? Now as it happened I did progress from teen to marriage in the 1950s but I wasn’t really part of this scene. I never dated in high school. In our small college we didn’t date, we just went together. Today is a whole different world, but I wonder whether things have really changed.

I watched Hot Bot, comedy and farce about a realistic female robot designed for sex. It starts with a bang, as a TV interviewer tries to observe the robot and she soon is well on the way to publicly seducing him, to his embarrassment. But she slides out of the car when being transported and is lost. Scruffy teens Huffy and Nard accidentally hit Bardot on the road and think she is an unconscious real woman. They take her home. Next morning she recovers consciousness and seems like a real live woman, until she turns off again and they realize she’s a robot. Meanwhile Senator Biter who owns her is desperate to recover her; she costs $300,000. They read the instruction manual and begin to learn how to program her. They hide her in a sister’s large almost life-sized doll house. The young sister comes to preach the Bible to her, not realizing she’s a robot. Now Bardot is into Jesus. The Senator’s men track Bardot down, and there is a car chase, but the boys escape with her. The Senator talks with one of the boys. The Senator is a character. Bring her back tomorrow, or else. It becomes a hostage situation, with Bardot the hostage. The Senator’s men charge in to take her, but she fights back, knocking them out, and walks away. A man, Rodney, picks her up and takes her dancing. Then, defending the teens, she knocks Rodney out and goes with them. But the Senator’s men recover her. Huffy has fallen in love with Bardot. The teens go to rescue Bardot. Her brain has been wiped, but she does spot mental research and then remembers them. They get thrown out, but then she rescues them. Huffy gets her a ticket to far away and bids sad farewell. She kisses him, tells him she loves him too, and departs. Then his sometime girlfriend takes over his life, so it’s a happy ending after all.

I watched Warriors of Terra. Ali’s father runs a bio-tech company that has been criticized for cruel animal testing. So she and four friends in an animal rights group called Warriors of Terra decide to infiltrate it to free the animals. They wear animal masks and have a video connection to their HQ. They find themselves in dark metallic tunnels and chambers, pipes and cables throughout. Then armed security personnel come to deal with the intrusion. They use tear gas and bullets. The kids need to get out of there, but there’s only one entry, so they wind up deeper inside. A guard comes across what appears to be an unconscious woman—who abruptly comes to life and chomps his throat. Then one of the Warrior boys encounters her, a naked woman with hideous strength and a taste for blood. He is soon dead. The others find his body. The guards shoot her, but she heals fast and isn’t stopped. The teens and security have to join forces to try to stop the creature. Ali, about to escape the building, turns back to help her father. Her friend Kate follows, and gets taken out by the creature. Ali fights it desperately, gets roughed up, but manages to get it trapped for the moment. Ali’s boyfriend seems to have changed sides, but then gets kissed by the creature. An office girl helps her get out before the lethal gas floods the building. End of movie. So this is a slasher horror flick, not my type.

I watched Alien Armageddon, the first of an AREA 51 triple feature. It says that aliens once ruled Earth, but eventually mankind rose up and drove them out. Now the aliens are returning, first as UFO sightings, then as spaceships bombing our cities. The setting is California as the authorities surrender and agree to make the Los Angeles area an alien base of operations. The region gets walled in with little if any communication with the world beyond. The aliens are like humans in spacesuits; cheaply made movies are like that. There are resistance fighters forming impromptu groups. Some scientists collaborate with the aliens. The food provided makes people vomit, literally. The aliens seem to be saving only people with Type AB negative blood, maybe for hosts for alien creatures. Jody, trying to escape, encounters a woman giving birth—to what look like huge meatballs. They get the news that the meat they are served is human flesh. The aliens put big slugs into the bodies of humans. They inject a virus into people, that will in time take over their bodies. One captive is a cowboy with a black hat. Two women manage to escape. The find a car and drive it away. They get attacked but the cowboy rescues them. But one of them is infected. Then so is the other. The slugs eat them. But it seems that via the slugs they have managed to spread a plague to the aliens, who start dying in droves. So in time humanity will arise again. This is essentially a horror flick.

I watched Alien Uprising. This evidently a British movie. It starts witch a teen dance with flashes of flesh, and the boys getting into a fight, and couples getting into sex, one boy getting sick, while mysterious lights in the night sky signal something odd. Next day some things seem to be falling from the sky. Some clocks stop. Five friends are alarmed. Electric power fails. They steal food from a dead supermarket. There seems to be a huge flying saucer hovering low overhead that no one notices. There’s an extended individual combat sequence that seems designed to take up movie space. Violence and female flashes make up much of this movie. Toward the end we see flying alien craft looking like large Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish, fighting other flying machines. The humans are too busy fighting each other to even try to stop the aliens, while an injured child watches. We never see any grown aliens, only their weird machines. Overall, a washout of a movie.

I watched Total Retribution, the third on the Area 51 disc. It starts with the discovery of a naked woman lying on the desert sand. Then a jump to 200 years later, that woman, Helen, wakes on a space station, still naked. She’s not voluptuous, being lean and small breasted. She can talk, but has no prior memories. There is a standoff with two of the station personnel, who back away from her. She finds clothing and dresses. She sees crew members killing each other. Some are undead, and there’s an alien rat-like robot on the prowl too. Helen frees an imprisoned woman who says they are not on the same side, but they work together to survive. Helen doesn’t react much to things, just observes them. Other personnel come on the scene. They conclude that Helen is an android. That means she’s on their side, because the enemy doesn’t have androids. There is a big gun in orbit that this party is here to destroy so the alien invaders don’t get it. Helen is physically competent to handle the rats or the undead, and primed with key technical knowledge. Artificial gravity is horrendous near the gun, so Helen goes alone to tackle it. Then she is back with the others; was the prior sequence out of place? They have to destroy the gun before it destroys Earth. It seems that when Helen activated the gun’s self destruct sequence, it was actually set to destroy Earth. So it needs to be destroyed again, as it were. Helen plunges to Earth, to land on the desert, and the opening sequence is reenacted, only now she is clothed. Movie ends. I am not clear whether this somehow saves Earth. Even with the hearing aid I could not make out all the dialogue, so I may have missed something important. Regardless, this is the best movie of this bad lot trio.

I read 13.8 by John Gribbin, subtitled “The quest to find the true age of the universe and the theory of everything.” This was published in 2015 and even in the last four years there have been significant advances in that quest, so it’s not quite current, but there’s a lot of good information here. Originally they had trouble figuring out the age of planets and stars and did not even know about galaxies and galactic clusters. But bit by bit as equipment improved and astronomers observed and theorized they pieced it out, coming to the conclusion that things have existed for just under fourteen billion years. This book clarifies the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. Very briefly, galaxies are rotating at a rate that should hurl their stars into space, because there does not seem to be enough matter in them to generate enough gravity (okay, curvature of space) to hold them together. Since they are not flying apart, the conjecture is that most of the matter in the universe is there but detectable only via its gravity. I am a skeptic here; I suspect that they simply don’t fully understand the nature of gravity as it operates on the galactic scale, and that there is no physical dark matter. There are other theories, which this book does not mention; obviously something is operating here. It summarizes the problems of theories, such as Hoyle’s Steady State Universe versus the Big Bang. I had been a believer in Steady State in the 1950s, but as the evidence accumulated I had to change sides. One question I had hoped to have answered here was about the cosmic microwave background radiation that is so important to the calculation of the history of the universe. That’s left over from the Big Bang itself; what I don’t see is why that radiation hasn’t long since disappeared into the farthest fringes of the universe or beyond. Why is it still hanging around here? Obviously I am missing something. Sigh.

I watched Goodbye World, an end of the world story. A cyber attack shuts down the internet and cripples civilization. James and his old college friends retreat to a home in the forest. They’re not taking it really seriously. But it is serious, and they feel the increasing pressure of it. There are arguments. They do group entertainments. And quarrel. A marriage is breaking up. The ties of the group are fraying. The neighbors need what they have, like medicine. The neighbors raid the supplies. It turns out that one of them was playing a kind of game, devising a goodbye message to go to every computer in the world, with a virus embedded. He backed off, but someone else got hold of it. There is violence with the neighbors. Interpersonal emotions, positive and negative, become strong. The phones come back. Civilization is recovering. And so are they, at the end. This as way short of a true end of the world story, but has its points.

I watched BloodRayne. In 1943 Germany during World War Two, the Holocaust, when Jews are being systematically exterminated, a new resistant movement arises, intercepting the death trains, freeing the captives. They are joined by a woman showing truly impressive breasts: Rayne, the daughter of a live woman and a vampire who raped her. So she is half vampire, but on the human side. The Nazis discover how to revive dead soldiers by making them an undead army. This becomes her greatest challenge: to stop these vampires before they reach Berlin to give Hitler immortality. Rayne carries two swords, which she uses effectively when necessary. But she has nightmares. The Nazi leader is Ekart Brand, himself a day-walking vampire who recruits key personnel by biting and converting them. Rayne falls for the resistance leader, and makes love to him. The movie is a hybrid WWII/vampire/Amazon woman story with bare breasts and splashing blood galore, but it does have a story line.

I watched After the Dark, the third post apocalypse movie. It starts with an interesting class in Indonesia, exploring ethical decisions. Save one person, or save several? Then nuclear bombs detonate nearby and they have to take shelter underground. Twenty students. But the shelter can support only ten. How do they decide who is to be saved? They draw lots for designated positions; which are needed for survival of the group? They vote on each person. Then the teacher shoots the losers, rather than let them die in the agony of radiation poisoning. And the chosen survivors shut the teacher out. Now they have a year before they must exit—if they can figure out the exit code. Otherwise they will die in the bunker, as supplies run out. They all die, in the thought experiment. Then they play it again, with additional information about their designated skills. Some take a truck and drive off, but the shock wave blows it over. The others go to the bunker. Six males, four females. What about repopulating the world? Two girls are in their periods, leaving two fertile at the moment. Two boys are gay. One fertile girl chooses a boy to mate with. But the tension makes them infertile. Since the highest priority is reproduction, to continue the species, this is another failure. One of them opens the bunker door and the fire comes in, killing them. Another failure. They do a third round. This time they focus on the arts, which were previously considered non-survival. Class finishes and the students depart, except for one girl who stays to be with the teacher. Does he take her, or leave her and perhaps shoot himself alone? I regret that even with a hearing aid I missed too much of the dialogue to pick up on key nuances. Even so, a fascinating study.

I watched Puppet Master, This is not the movie based on the Heinlein novel, but a story of real, live (as it were) puppets. It is set in 1939. Two FBI types march to the old puppeteer’s house to investigate rumors that he has discovered the secret of life. He shoots himself as they break in; so much for that. Meanwhile others are checking out aspects of the estate. Some are psychic and can pick up on events of the past if they are in the right places. A dead man in a suit keeps appearing elsewhere. A puppet climbs out of a dead man’s casket. It seems that the Egyptians developed a way to give life to inanimate objects; that may be in play here. The puppets are about eighteen inches tall, and secretive. And murderous. Miss Leech spits out killer leeches that suck her victims dry. Pinhead has vice-like hands to strangle people. Blade has a hook for one hand and a knife for the other. They start killing people. Weird things happen, some of which turn out to be bad dreams. The dead man seems alive, and murderous. He renews his life by killing others, becoming immortal in that manner. Then the puppets attack him. He has no fear of them, but they persist and finally manage to bring him down. Tunneler bores a hole in him with his drill-head. Miss Leech has at him. So he is stopped, but they aren’t. There will be more to this ugly story.

I watched Puppet Master II. The nasty puppets want to get the special fluid that keeps them alive, so they exhume their creator. It turns out that it is to be found only in human brains. Fortunately a new team of paranormal researchers comes to the hotel by the sea, complete with two attractive young women, so they have prey. The investigators set up recording equipment, and spy Tunneler, but not before he kills one of their men by tunneling into his head. One down. Miss Leech takes out an older hotel resident. Blade attacks another. But an older woman fights back, putting Leech into the wood-burning stove. Then a new puppet appears, Torch, who throws flames. The puppet master, cloaked and bandaged so that no flesh shows, sees to restoring the battered puppets. A little boy beats up Torch, and gets burned. Two investigators make love, then get taken out by Blade. Or is it just a nightmare? The puppet master captures a woman and makes her watch as he cuts his own throat and lets the blood flow into a dead man, who then revives. But the puppets attack him before he can make the woman drink the potion. So she survives. But the puppets remain for future mischief. I didn’t watch the third movie.

I watched Calendar Girls. I saw it before, fifteen years ago, but it is worth re-watching. The ladies in England want to raise money for a nice sofa, but their normal annual calendar raises only a small fraction of what they need. Until one of them gets a provocative notion. These older women will pose for the months, nude, shielded by incidental objects so that it’s not complete. It’s a social challenge in several ways. The photographer is a man. So he sets up the camera, leaves the room, and one of them will click the shutter. But that doesn’t work, and they have to bring him back in for his professional expertise. They get the pictures, mainly upper torso. They get the calendar. Speaking as a man who likes the look and feel of young women, I have to say they are pretty effective pictures, age not withstanding. But they need financing. The Women’s Institute under whose auspices this is being done withdraws its support, and they may have to wing it on their own. But they finagle a way. The calendar is a success. A huge success. A shop reordered 50. What happened to the prior 50? They were put out on sale at 9, and at 9:10 they had sold out. But some husbands and children are outraged. Hollywood is interested. The publicity could sell more calendars, so they go. They receive celebrity treatment. But Anne, the one of them who is the widow of the man who died, hates all this, as if she is profiting from his death. But the success of the calendar means that they can buy the nice sofa, plus phenomenally more for charity. As I recall, we bought that calendar too; it was a nice notion.

I watched Stranger Things, a Nexflix TV series on discs. Chapter One: A boy, Will, bikes into government restricted territory at night, the Hawkins Laboratory, gets knocked off his bike, runs home fearing pursuit but finds only his dog there. Next day Will is missing. His mother Joyce is desperate. Meanwhile a hungry eleven year old girl with close-cropped hair and special powers encounters the cook Benny Hammond. Sheriff Hopper finds Will’s abandoned bicycle. A social services lady comes to Benny’s door, about the girl—and shoots him. It seems to be some sort of hit squad that evidently doesn’t fool around. The girl flees, and shows up before three friends looking for Will. End of first episode.

Chapter 2. A boy asks the girl’s name and she shows him a tattoo on her arm, 011. Her name is Eleven. She can talk, but doesn’t say much. She doesn’t want the boys’ mom to be told about her, or to get help. Men in hazard suits check around for radiation. Eleven remembers being forcibly separated from her parents and thrown in a cell. She begins to demonstrate some of her telekinetic power. This may be why the bad guys are after her: for her special power. Will’s older brother Jonathan also searches. Joyce gets a phone call that seems to be from Will, but it is indistinct and an electric shock cuts it off. Teens are having a party that seems to be leading to sex. Jonathan is taking pictures from the darkness. End of episode.

Chapter 3. “Holly Jolly” Nancy Wheeler, Micheal’s big sister, is having sex with Steve while a monster is after her friend Barbara. Nancy goes home and doesn’t tell her mom what happened. Jonathan tries to reassure Joyce that Will is just lost, but she is freaking out, thinking Will is somewhere around. Eleven, alone for the day while the boys are in school, explores the house. And remembers being tested for telekinetic power. Joyce is putting up Christmas decorations. Sheriff Hopper checks with the personnel of the government facility, and is satisfied that they are lying. Nancy wonders where Barbara is. Jonathan develops his pictures. Hopper researches the government facility. The little girl Holly encounters the same sort of odd manifestations that Joyce did. Bullies rip up Jonathan’s pictures and destroy his camera. And we see how Eleven fights back at the laboratory, using her power to smash doors into her tormentors. Nancy looks for Barbara, and gets scared off by a manifestation. And Joyce finds a way to communicate with Will: she holds a handful of Christmas lights, unconnected, that flash. Blink once for yes, twice for no. that works, but she doesn’t know the right questions to learn enough. Hopper zeroes in on Hawkins Lab. That must be where Eleven escaped from. Joyce marks the alphabet on the wall, with lights, so Will can spell out answers letter by letter, light by light. And he spells out RUN. Indeed, the monster is coming. Through the wall. Meanwhile they find a body, and think it is Will. The horror is growing. Hopper thinks Joyce is losing her mind.

Chapter 4. “The Body” Joyce fetches the ax, determined to fight the monster. Eleven convinces Will’s friend Michael Wheeler that Will is alone and trying to get in touch. Michael calls Lucas, their black friend, on the walkie-talkie. The boys put Eleven in a dress with a blond wig, making her into a pretty girl. When the bullies cruelly mock Will, Michael tackles one, and Eleven makes the bully freeze, then pee his pants in public. Joyce continues to zero in on Will, while so do the boys and Eleven. Nancy and Jonathan talk, and he is coming to believe as they see detail on one of the pictures. Hopper goes to the body, cuts it open, and finds cotton stuffing. It a fake. Now he is cutting through the wire fence, about to investigate the Laboratory grounds directly. End of episode.

Chapter 5. “The Flea and the Acrobat” Jim Hopper sneaks into the complex. Two men stop him, but he knocks one out and moves on. He searches for Will. Joyce’s ex believes she is making it up, unable to face their son’s loss. Hopper finally gets captured, after seeing highly suspicious things. They hold a funeral for Will, though neither Joyce nor Jonathan believe Will is dead. Hopper wakes back home, checks his house and finds a bug, a mike spying on the occupants. The boys talk with Mr. Clarke about alternate realms. Then they use compasses to orient on the gate between realms. Jonathan tries shooting at cans, but misses. Nancy tries it and hits the can; she can shoot better than he can. The three boys and Eleven follow the compasses toward the portal. Hopper visits Joyce with a sign: DON’T SAY ANYTHING. He check her house for bugs, then tells her she was right from the start. The boys reach the place, and there is nothing. Lucas thinks Eleven is the monster, and he and Michael fight, until Eleven hurls Lucas away. Nancy and Jonathan argue, but continue exploring, and find a dying deer—that then gets suddenly hauled away. Then Nancy gets taken. End of chapter.

Chapter 6. “The Monster” Jonathan searches the dark woods for Nancy, and she searches desperately for him. She sees the monster. He finds her caught in a tree, and pulls her out. The tree then reforms to a normal tree. They hide in a house, and share a bed, chastely. Hopper and Joyce continue their search. Eleven remembers time with her father, who says they will make history today. She goes into the tank, where she is to psychically find something. Back in today, Eleven goes to a store, where she takes waffles to eat. Hopper and Joyce talk with a woman who lost her child, Jane, twelve years ago. She speaks of telepathy, telekinesis, and such. Steve and Jonathan fight and Jonathan gets arrested. Lucas zeroes in on the portal, in the laboratory complex. The bullies catch two of the boys and make Michael leap into the quarry. But Eleven telekinetically flies him safely back out, and drives the bullies away. But she says she is the monster. Michael says she isn’t, because she saved him.

Chapter 7. The Bathtub” Lucas on the walkie-talkie contacts them: bad men are coming after Eleven. Get out of there. They try to free, are intercepted, but get away on the bikes, pursued by the vans. Until Eleven telekinetically hurls one truck upside down in front of the others. Steve was jealous and vindictive, but as he ponders things he regrets it and in effect changes sides. Hopper manages to contact the boys and Eleven, but they are suspicious. The bad guys are closing in, but Hopper manages to rescue them. At least the good guys are coming together. Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on deprivation tanks, because maybe Eleven can locate Will by using one again. They try it, and she finds Barbara, but she is like a zombie. Then she finds Will, in an alternate kind of place, and tells him his mother is coming for him. Hopper and Joyce break into the lab compound, but get caught.

Chapter 8. “The Upside Down” They are interrogating Joyce and Hopper separately, trying to use them to track Will. Jonathan and Nancy set a trap in a house. Joyce and Hopper don protective suits and enter the toxic realm. Jonathan and Nancy cut their hands to make blood to attract the monster. Steve comes to apologize for his prior behavior. They tell him to get out of there, but the monster comes first. Steve helps fight the monster. They spring the trap, catching the monster with a bear trap and flames. The boys and Eleven are hiding out at the school, but the bad guys find them. Eleven stops them with her mind; they bleed from the eyes and fall. But Eleven falls too, unconscious. Her father comes as the boys are captured during her unconsciousness, but then the monster comes. The boys and Eleven escape in the ensuing mayhem. Hopper and Joyce find Will. Hopper pulls the snake-like predator out of his mouth. Eleven blasts the monster apart, and disappears. They revive Will, but Eleven is gone. Too bad, because Michael really liked her. One month later the four boys are playing a fantasy game. Nancy gives Jonathan a new camera that Steve got for him. Hopper goes to the forest and leaves some waffles. Michael coughs up a section of snake. That suggests it is not yet over. I think this is the first Netflix production I’ve seen, and it’s impressive. Netflix had an interest in Xanth at one time, but nothing came of it. Too bad; they could have done the job.

I watched The Artist, a story of the end of the silent movie era. Set in 1927, George Valentin is a silent movie star, but the advent of sound will likely end his career. In a crowd he collides with a young actress, and that makes the headlines WHO’S THAT GIRL? She is Peppy Miller. George’s wife sees the headline and is not pleased. There is an extended silent sequence as they film a movie, complete with background music, and printed dialogue signs. His smart little dog is also a character. Time passes and we see Peppy rise from the bottom of the marquee up toward the top, until by 1929 she has her own starring roles. As sound comes we start to hear glasses clicking and the dog barking and girls laughing in real life. George has trouble adjusting. His studio plans to stop waking silent movies, in favor of ones with sound. Peppy Miller is in the talkies. George believes that talkies are not to be taken seriously. Then comes the stock market crash of 1929. The studio needs a really successful movie, to survive. George is given notice to clear out. Peppy is now a big star. George has to pawn things for money, then fire his driver and auction off his things. Peppy hires the driver. 1932 he watches a Peppy Miller movie, and his own old movies. Then he tears up his old reels, and burns them. Then changes his mind too late. The dog runs for help, and brings back a policeman. Peppy sees the headline and hurries to the hospital. She brings him and the dog to her house. She intercedes to get him into a movie with her. He discovers that she bought his auctioned things. He returns to his messed up house. She goes there. He considers suicide. The dog tries to talk him out of it but he is determined. She gets there. She talks him into something they can do together: fancy dancing. It works; he is back in the movies.

I watched The Quick and the Dead. This features Sharon Stone as Lady. A prospector for gold shoots a rider coming toward him, but when he goes to investigate the body it’s a woman who chains him to his wagon and steals his horse. Well, he did try to kill her. She rides into town, taking no backtalk from men. A gun fight is announced, the winner wins $123,000. One man, Cort, in chains, is sad to be very fast, but he has renounced violence. They try to string him up and hang him, to make him agree to joining the gun fight, but the woman shoots the rope, saving him. There are gunfighters galore here, all after the money. There is a serious of individual gunfights, day by day, timed by the town clock at noon. A man challenges Lady, and she shoots him. There are dialogues between gunfighters, each of which believes he’s the fastest. Herod, the town boss man is fast and deadly, and knows it and tells it. Cort is forced to participate. Lady wants to kill Herod, who killed her father, but his match is with his son the Kid. She is assigned to fight Cort. They don’t want to fight each other, being maybe the only good guys here, but seem to be locked in. Herod kills the Kid. Lady and Cort face off. Neither wants to fire, but Herod’s men will kill both if they don’t. Cort kills Lady, whom he calls Ellen. Then Cort faces Herod. If Cort wins, Herod’s men will gun him down. But three explosions take out the buildings where the men are stationed. And Lady appears. Maybe her death was faked in a deal witch Cort. She remembers how Herod got her to kill her father by giving her as a child a gun and telling her he will let her father go if she can sever the rope with a bullet. But she misses low, killing her father. Now she kills Herod, as Cort takes out Herod’s men. And leaves Cort to run the town, as she rides away. The law has returned, This is no ordinary western. Credible? No way. Sexy as claimed? No. But still one hell of a story.

In Apull I reread the first Xanth novel, A Spell for Chameleon, and found it worthy. Now I am wondering: from time to time it and Xanth has been accused of sexism. Paramount even rejected it for a movie, after seemingly committing to that movie, because the new boss called it sexist. So the charge has consequences. I did not see sexism when I wrote it or when I reread it over forty years later. Xanth does parody sexism, as it does other things including the attitudes of men toward women, freaking out at the sight of panties. For example princess, later queen Irene had no truck with sexism and good legs. Maybe some readers just don’t recognize parody when they encounter it. So now I would like to pin down this charge. Is there anybody out there who read that novel and found it sexist? Please email me and tell me why. At one point I believe someone said that Chameleon herself was sexist because she varied with the cycles of the moon. But if that is true, all natural women are sexist, no? So please let me know, and I will discuss it in a future column. Daughter Cheryl did spot research and printed out a column titled “Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Childrens (sic; no apostrophe) Books For Sexism and Racism.” It says to check the illustrations for stereotypes, look for stereotypes such as all minority faces being tinted, and traditional roles for males and females. Check the story line for racist and sexist attitudes. Are the roles of women based on their own initiatives and intelligence, or on their good looks. And so on. Do you find stereotypical women in Xanth? They are not warrior maidens, but neither are they garden variety housewives. Also a discussion of a 2013 SFWA article on sexism, where things like “lady author” are considered sexist. I dunno; I like to know the gender of the author of a book I read or a fan letter I receive; males and females do generally have differing perspectives, and that is as it should be. It does make a difference to my mental picture if I receive a letter that says “I absolutely adore your books! I want to visit and make love to you!” whether it is a 25 year old woman or a 75 year old man.

A few years back I tried hearing aids for a couple of weeks, but couldn’t stand them and didn’t buy. More recently when I was making supper I set the timer, and discovered that I could hear it with my right ear but not my left ear. In past times my hearing has been better in my left ear, in part because my time in the US army had me firing a rifle right handed, and the bangs damaged my right side hearing. But now the left was worse? This was alarming. So I got tested, and sure enough, my hearing has been declining in both ears, worse in the left. Further, it is fading in the upper sonic ranges, where the consonants sound, so a sentence like “Have a nice day” might sound like “aa a eye aay.” No wonder I couldn’t understand the TV! I could hear sounds, but they weren’t very intelligible. So this time I did commit to hearing aids, one for each ear, and it helps somewhat, but I am far happier with subtitles on the movies. Hearing aids, like false teeth, are not as good as a person’s original equipment.

I continue to explore veganism, trying out different kinds of high protein non-dairy milk. So far the one I like best is put out by Grocers. But there remain others to try, such as Bolthouse. Some brands advertise “cruelty-free” foods or leather, and I relate to that. As I have said, I am a vegetarian not for my health but because I don’t want to kill or mistreat animals. One day at my doctor’s office I saw a magazine, and I asked if I could take it home with me. It’s a catalogue put out by the Humane Farming Association, at www.hfa.org. They are dedicated to stopping the inhumane treatment of animals, and I applaud their effort. Meanwhile the vegans seem to be talking my language. And of course folk can improve their health by growing some of their food themselves. One useful tool is composting. We all have wastes, but if some of those wastes are composted, that’s a nice way to recycle what would otherwise just contribute to clogging sewers. One reference is https://www.austinrealestate.com/homeowners-guide-to-composting.php. Meanwhile, just as factory farms are cruelty-intensive in their treatment of animals, the higher powers are also abusing the farmers. According to the May 2019 issue of the Hightower LOWDOWN, corporation monopolization, financial manipulation, and rigged agricultural policies are driving farmers into the dirt. The 2018 median farm income for the US farm households was minus $1,553. That is, after subtracting the costs of producing their crops from the amount they get paid for them, the average farmer is in the hole by that amount. Seventy percent of farm family income comes from their “secondary” jobs. Otherwise they’d be buried. One spot example: in 2018 dairy farmers got $1.35 for a gallon of milk it cost them $1.90 to produce. Overall, less than 15 cents of your food dollar now goes to farmers. While the billionaires just keep getting richer. What will change this? My readings suggest that only another French Revolution, where the entire royal class was killed, will do it in America. That is what I fear. You think the common man will prosper if the billionaires get slaughtered? More likely we’ll see another Napoleon, or another Communist takeover. Everyone will suffer grievously.

Twice a week I have Chore Hour, when I spend an hour tackling chores I’ll never get around to otherwise. Recently it has been clearing off a counter in my study so that I can use it for my atlases. Dictionaries and atlases are big in my life; I like to know what’s what and where’s where. It may have been some time since I used that counter; I found papers dating to 2002. Also objects, like a key chain saying WORKAHOLIC. I am a workaholic. I saw a recent note about romance writer Danielle Steele being a workaholic, writing 20 hours a day, not for money or fame but because she just has to write. I know how it is, but I don’t write that much, because I deliberately structure my time to include Family and Relaxation. And Chores. And Sleep. Otherwise they might get squeezed out. So I figure to outlive other workaholics, being a tad more sensible and maybe be slightly happier. Workaholism can kill you if you let it, so I use my discipline not to force myself to write, but to force myself not to write too much. As with vegetarianism, I try to be smart about it. Also I found a mini set of books titled The Do It Yourself Genius Kit, subtitled Almost the Entire World Knowledge in One Box. Each of the four mini books is two and a half by three inches across. Maybe 75 or 80 pages, illustrated. Checking the first one randomly I learn that the Sargasso Sea has no shore; it is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. That the Jeep got its name from its original initials, GP, standing for General Purpose vehicle. And that there is a village in France named Y. Hmm; maybe I should read those books. I also found a 2002 “Pickles” comic strip, remarking that life is like a roll of toilet paper: the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. Ouch.

So what am I writing now? I am doing stories to fill Relationshsips 8, part of a series of collections of stories I write without regard to what editors might choose, so I bypass them. The stories can be conventional, or not. This month I wrote “Picture,” about a woman who asks a neighbor boy to help her son on the school bus, because he is getting bullied. The neighbor boy puts a pain hold on the bully and remonstrates politely with him, and before he is done that bully will never bother that boy again. The mother wishes she could do an equivalent favor for the neighbor boy, but he asks for nothing. She nevertheless finds a way. Then I wrote the provocative novelette “Power of Pizzazz,” a kind of romance relating to the reason for low crime in a particular town. I think it is reasonably safe to say that you haven’t read a story like this, and may not care to do so again, but you will not forget it. And “A Date With Death,” wherein a dying woman sees Death coming—and instead of giving up her soul she seduces him and becomes his girlfriend. And “Kiss of Death,” about Death’s daughter who can stun a person with her kiss. I will continue with stories this summer. I’m always writing; it is indeed my nature.

The issue of abortion is much in the news currently, partly because of that new Alabama law outlawing it even in the case of incest or rape. I don’t like abortion, because technically the three babies we lost stillborn, before surgery enabled us to keep two, was abortion. I don’t like seeing a living baby killed simply because it has not yet had time to be birthed naturally. But I see hypocrisy here, because most of the anti-abortionists seem also to oppose sensible birth control like contraception. The Catholic Church supports the rhythm method, simply abstaining from sex during a woman’s fertile days, but the bitter joke is “What do you call a woman who uses the rhythm method? A mother.” The anti-abortionists also don’t seem to care about the baby once it is born. They defund things like food stamps that help the poor mothers, oppose universal health care that would surely save babies’ lives, and seem indifferent to school funding for the children. It is as if the baby must be born, but thereafter can drop dead for all they care. Their object seems really to be to punish the mother for ever having sex, even if she gets raped. So I don’t like abortion, but I don’t like the antiabortionists either. A pox on both their houses.

Interesting note in the May 2019 issue of ALTERNATIVES: it seems that the purr of a cat has healing powers. It’s vibration at the right frequencies, 25 Hz and 50 Hz, to promote healing of bone fractures, and bone growth, and ease pain, swelling, and the discomfort of wounds. That helps make cats generally healthier than dogs. Cancer of the bone may be suppressed. I regard ALTERNATIVES as the best of the health newsletters I have encountered, but there is one error in this issue: Doctor David Williams says that you need to floss your teeth twice daily to remove plaque, for your health. A recent study shows that flossing is not effective as a health measure, but of course it will take decades for health professionals to admit that, just as they also resist the ugly truth about fluoridation, and the truth about Vitamin C suppressing the common cold. As Dr. Williams points out, 75% of those on expert health panels have direct financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. You think that doesn’t color their conclusions? No, I am not a health expert, just a person who takes his health seriously and calls a spade a spade. There was a time when the medical establishment endorsed bloodletting as a health measure, and some of today’s pronouncements are similarly suspect. A person needs to keep common sense in mind if he truly values his health.

Shorter items. I received a note from Bernard Drax about his documentary on virtual worlds and their power to overcome isolation for mobility-impaired folk, who can be intellectually engaged regardless of their physical location. If I were paralyzed I suspect I would truly value such a connection. The link is http://draxtor.com/ourdigitalselves. Florida’s new governor is Ron DeSantis, who campaigned as an environmentalist. But he’s a Republican, and they are not known for environmentalism. Sure enough, when it came to a choice between a big new toll road and the environment, he supported the road. Herman Wouk, author of major works like The Winds of War and The Caine Mutiny, died at age 103. I always thought of him as the answer to a quiz show question: “What did Herman do after he fell asleep? Herman Wouk.” But I do remember being wowed by War and Remembrance. An article in THE HUMANIST for May/June 2019 says that a survey shows that 85% or more of evangelical Protestants believe that Heaven is real, that Hell exists, that miracles happen, and angels and demons are active. And they believe that in due course Jesus will return, and the end of days will come, so they’re not concerned about climate change or the destruction of the environment; these things must happen to bring about the end they are anticipating, and we may be close to it now. And many believe that knowledge, reason, and learning are detrimental to belief in Christianity. They are right about that; education does destroy ignorant beliefs.

One more note: I paced my short story “Walk the Walk,” about a lonely little girl who befriends a little walking skeleton boy, she not being prejudiced against the supernatural, with the anthology Little Girl Lost, to be published by Mannison Press. Now they have a crowdfunding campaign for the volume. If you wish to participate, the link is http://igg.me/at/LittleGirlLostBook.

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