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

Xanth #17 Harpy Thyme is on sale for $17.99 the entire month of OctOgre. This one features Gloha Goblin-Harpy, the prettiest and the only crossbreed between these two warring species. But whom will she marry, since there are no other winged goblins? The Good Magician assists her by having the rejuvenated former Evil Magician Trent, and Cynthia Winged Centaur help her search for a suitable husband. Unfortunately both ladies start to get interested in the handsome young-looking Trent. This is of course mischief.

I watched Aleta Vampire Mistress. The bodies are better than the acting, but there's intriguing material here. An armed robber holds up a group of folk at a party, until a hooded figure comes, immune to bullets, and kills him, sucking out his blood. Other vampire victims turn up. Ivar Helsing is one man interested in the case. FBI agent Dan Higgins is sent to investigate. He learns that an ancient Chinese princess, Aleta, became a vampire, and traveled the world feeding at will. She has sex with them, then feeds on them. She meets Joerg, and likes him, seduces him but spares him. Until he learns her nature. Then she curses him; all his descendants will die. Back to the present: now she is active in America. A lady psychic, Ariana, is able to fathom Aleta's long history for them. Nice bare breasted dancing sequence. Aleta especially likes virgins. She holds Ariana prisoner to be tortured. The Secretary of Defense, Arthur, visits her. He wants to recruit her for covert killing. She doesn't want money, but two or three virgins a day. Nice seductive song and dance sequence. But then they argue, and the vampires kill the men. But Ariana summons the power of her ancestors and defeats Aleta. This is a sort of weird movie, not your ordinary vampire flick I think, and of course I liked the dancing.

I watched Cyborg X. The X Corp makes extreme weapons. Then it gets taken over by a cyber virus. This is, of course, mischief. It is the apocalypse. 99 percent of people are wiped out. The survivors must avoid an army of deadly machines. A hooded figure watches as two resisters get killed. There are only a few remaining pockets of resistance, and they are under siege. The hooded figure is a young woman, part of one cell, Lopez, buxom but tough. They send a party to rescue Kilmore, the one who used to run the company. They have to fight off cyborgs. Kilmore explains how the virus took over. He suffers nightmares. But he becomes an active member of the unit. They go after the cyborgs, and take losses in bloody gunfights; those creatures are tough. They raid the old HQ, following an obscure signal. They find the home computer, but don't know the access codes. They are pursued by a cyborg with circular saw hands. Jack finds his sister, now a cyborg. She stabs him; Lopez hacks her apart, then hits the STOP switch, turning it all off. She is the only survivor of that fracas. But the girl she hid in an underground bunker also survives. The fight will continue.

I watched Leaving Last Vegas. Ben seems to be an alcoholic. He tries to pick up Sherry at the bar but she begs off. He gets fired. He goes to Las Vegas. He picks up Sera on the street, offering her $500 for an hour. He just wants her to stay with him. He says he wants to drink himself to death. When she returns to her pimp he beats her up for not bringing in enough money. She realizes that she really likes Ben. Her pimp dumps her. She goes to Ben and they have dinner together. She asks why he is trying to kill himself. He's not sure. She invites him to stay the night with her, then to stay permanently; she's tired of being alone. He agrees, but says she must never ask him to stop drinking. Also that he's in love with her. They go gambling and have fun, until he goes crazy, overturning the gaming table, no apparent reason. He buys her earrings. She knows he's a drunk and he knows she's a hooker. They understand each other. They have never had sex. She pours liquor over her bare breasts. Then he cheats on her, having sex with another woman. She kicks him out. A trick goes bad and she gets beaten up. Her life seems pointless without him. Then she finds him again. They finally have sex, though he is in a bad way from the alcohol. And he dies. The thing is, they accepted each other as they were, significantly imperfect as they were.

I watched Escape from New York. Anyone in post apocalyptic New York stays there. One-Eyed Snake, a former decorated hero, is a manacled prisoner. He will be given a full pardon for every crime he has committed if he can rescue the downed USA president within 24 hours. If he doesn't, he'll be dead. He flies quietly into New York. He finds the plane: no other survivors. He has a tracker to follow the president. But the monitor turns out to be on someone else; the president may be dead. Weird things going on; people are crazy. Somebody called the Duke may have him. He gets a car and runs a gantlet of rock-throwing and club-wielding men. He finds the president, but gets caught himself. They send a message out saying amnesty for all prisoners or the president is dead. They put Snake in a ring to fight their champion in public. While he fights, his uncertain allies Brain and Maggie, she of truly remarkable breasts, rescue the president. But their car is a trap and they barely escape it. Snake and Maggie survive. She tries to gun down the pursuit, but dies. So he gets the president out. Was it worth it? But the invaluable tape has been swapped out for junk music. That's Snake's revenge.

I watched The Usual Suspects. This is on odd one. A shipment of gun parts was hijacked in New York. The police are arresting a number of men who may be connected. Why are they all in the same lineup, instead of one of them with four innocents per normal protocol? This has to be a setup, fishing for information. But they're too smart for that. 21 people died on a boat for an illicit shipment that wasn't there. What's going on? There's a special job that requires five specialized people. Are these the five? One of them, Verbel Kint, seems to be the protagonist. It seems the New York police ran an illicit taxi service for criminals. The heat's on, so they go to Los Angeles. They need a metal case and kill to get it. A flashback shows one Mr. Keyser Soze hiring the five of them to destroy a shipment of cocaine, for which they will be paid $91 million. So who is Soze? He was a man who got raided, his family held hostage. He killed his own family, then the raiders, then went after the raider's families, friends, and business associates. You don't mess with Soze. But now they are messing with him, and learn from his emissary that they and their families are hostage to their performance. Both sides are playing for keeps. So they raid the boat, and destroy it and its crew. But there was no cocaine on it. Just about everyone except Verbel dies, and Soze is gone.

A reader, Dave Baxley, recommended a TV series that very loosely reminded him of my Space Tyrant series, in that the setting is the future, where colonies and space stations have been established throughout the Solar System. So Daughter Cheryl, who is more competent online than I am, downloaded it for me. Remember, I come from another century, the stone age before the internet existed, and I'm still trying to catch up on these newfangled phenomena. In my day not even TV existed, just radio. When I tried to use her notebook reader to watch it, it told me to touch HOME to get into it, but the only thing that gave any response was a sort of circle at the side that told me I would have to get online to enable Siri. Cheryl had shown me, but as usual when I touched the same button she did, it didn't work for me. It turned out that you need to touch it lightly; I was pressing it firmly. So I had no date with Siri, and hope she's not mad at me. Then when I did try watching it I had to focus so hard on the dialogue that I lost any sense of the story line. I now have hearing aids, but I still need the subtitles; if you don't understand that, you're not an octogenarian with fadintg senrses. Just wait until you're my age, when the Interstellar Outernet your grandchildren love won't give you the time of day. (Because, it explains, you need to specify which zone of which planet. Just punch in the code for yours. You don't know the code? You're terminal. Kindly watch the following commercial for economic space burial.) So next day she set it up with subtitles and I tried again. This time I followed it, sort of.

Episode 1 “Dulcinea” In the 23cd century Mars is independent and militaristic, air and water are incredibly precious, and trouble is brewing. Heiress Julie Naro is trapped in a weightless cell, maybe being held for ransom. Elsewhere a man is being tortured by being hung up on a wall while Earth gravity, which he is not used to, slowly wipes him out. He can stop it only by giving the information his captors want. That seems to be it, for the introductory episode.

Episode 2, titled The Big Empty. Ade, the new navigator, talks with a crewman. Then a flashback to a prior trip that encounters a debris field. The captain wants to go after the ship that did this, but the crew balks. This is mutiny, but they don't care. Meanwhile the water ration is being held back. The man being gravity tortured in episode One is now in a sustaining tank, but still won't talk. Men working in vacuum run out of air, and are saved in a close call. I am not clear where this leads. Obviously things are going on, and something is threatening, but I couldn't tell what.

Episode 3, The Big Cant. That's short for the Canterbury ship. Man and pretty girl seem about to make love, but he must depart. There's distress call. The water delay continues. Julie remains captive. Unrest grows. An interrogator takes a pill so he can tell if a person is lying. Who destroyed the Canterbury? It must have been someone who wants to to promote a war between Earth and Mars. I am still not following it very well. My daughter says it has a broad compass, so that a number of different settings are playing; thus one does not pick up exactly where the prior one left off.

Episode 4. “CQB” A ship is coming. Is it for Naomi? They warn it, but it fires torpedoes. So it's a battle. Meanwhile a man is looking for Julie Naro. The unknown ship has remarkable weapons. It does not seem to be in the registry of ships. One man has seen a ship like it before: one blew up the Canterbury. The ship is getting holed; people are dying. Holden is supposed to be taken off the ship, but he goes off on his own. A dead man has a memory chip that they did out of his leg. They have to scuttle the ship. But it is not easy to do so. They reach an escape vessel and move out.

Episode 5. “Back to the Butcher” Four people, three men and a woman, one of them Holden, escaped the destruction of the Canterbury, but no one knows they are alive. Then they receive a message. Someone doesn't know who they are, but offers them sanctuary. Meanwhile the search for Julie Naro continues. She must be involved in something incredibly valuable. We learn that Julie was a Belter; the Belters want to know what happened to her. They get information bit by bit. I am not following the larger picture. I never had trouble following Star Trek episodes; they were simpler. They were also individual episodes, instead of parts of a larger narrative, so my problem maybe inherent in the format.

Episode 6 “Rock Bottom.” They negotiate with the Butcher; it's a bit like poker bluffing. They might help each other if they could trust each other. Meanwhile slackers are tossed out into space, along with enemies. Holden and Naomi get together, coming to know each other. Miller finds a data cube with revealing information, and gets in trouble. It seems the corruption is wider than he knew.

Episode 7 “Windmills.” Holden, Amos, Alex, and Naomi on the Rocinante come up against a Martian blockade. They discover Kenzo on the ship, another man hiding from the Martians. They don't trust him, though he says he can help them. He's a spy with key information. Meanwhile Avasarala, who lost her own son to this war, calls on Holden's family, seeking information, though they are not on the same side. Tavi wants to accompany Miller, but he says no. Kenzo's information: the words “Donkey Balls” the Martians receive as a code to desist. It works. The Rocinante is free, for now.

Episode 8 “Salvage.” The Rocinante finds a derelict in space, a stealth ship on an asteroid that looks like the ones that destroyed the Canterbury and Donnager. They board it, and confirm that it is the one that killed the Canterbury. But why was it scuttled? They turn on the ship reactor so they can have lights. It is the Anubis, after the god of the dead. Some strange equipment on it is “alive,” that is operative, and absorbing energy from the reactor. They shut down the reactor immediately, and decide to destroy the Anubis, which is too strong a weapon. On Earth, Avasarala learns that one of the top men has committed suicide. Holden and crew dock at a Eros station, and gunfire erupts. Holden and Miller meet. They find Julie dead.

Episode 9 “Critical Mass.” Flashback to Julie Naro to show how she got into this. She gets captured and imprisoned. She sends out a distress call, but receives no answer. Her skin is blistering. So it seems she died, and now the question is who did this to her, and why. They get a sample of her flesh. She had wanted to steal the new bio-weapon, but they used it on her. They find a whole roomful of dead. Now Holder and Miller may be contaminated.

Episode 10 “Leviathan Wakes” Holden and Miller are caught on Eros. They learn that the plague is being deliberately spread. Avasarala in concerned about Earth. Sigh; overall I could not follow enough of this series to pick up on more than a fraction of what was going on. From what my daughter tells me, it is an adventure I should enjoy, if I could only follow it.

I read Talk on the Wild Side, by Lone Greene. This is a book about language and linguistics, and its thesis is that purists who protest the degradation of language, such as using Who for Whom, are wrong. That language is constantly changing, and today's supposed errors are tomorrow's correct text in a new dialect. “But the schoolchild learns, through this kind of teaching, that grammar is a set of rules for torturing your natural sentences into an unnatural form that will satisfy a teacher.” It reminds me of Churchill's remark, when chided for ending a sentence with a preposition: “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” And it is indeed nonsense; there is no rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition; it's something the purists made up. Such ignorance can cause serious mischief. I left my best publisher because the editor insisted on applying rules to my text that were wrong, making me look ignorant in print. One example: I had “He, like she.” He changed it to “He, like her” and refused to yield, so it appeared that way in print. His logic was that the preposition “like” takes the objective case. Now I was an English teacher before I made good as a writer, and I did know what I was writing. “Like” has a number of uses, one of which is as a preposition, yes, but I was using it as a conjunction, much as I would “He and she” or “He or she.” Saying “He, like her” makes no more sense than saying “Her was the belle of the ball.” I got fed up with being overruled by an editor who did not know the language as well as I did and who refused to learn the nuances. Yes, in that case I was the purist. The fact is, as this book makes clear, schools are teaching Formal, when real folk are speaking Natural. One is not right and the other wrong; both are dialects for different purposes. Street vernacular is effective on the street. It is the schools that refuse to learn the nuances. “Language is not so much logical as it is useful. It is not composed; it is improvised. It is not well behaved; it is resourceful.” Another issue is terminology, learning the technical names for natural linguistic expressions. As I put it, to the extreme annoyance of some teachers, a runner does not need to know the names of the muscles and ligaments of his body in order to run a race. Neither does a man need to know that he is using pronoun, verb and pronoun, subjective and objective case, when he says “I love you,” to his girlfriend. They understand each other perfectly already, as their children can attest. “Children learn a blizzard of grammatical terminology in primary schools... But there is no clear evidence that this actually makes better writers.” Amen.

I read Senior Moments—Ageing Disgracefully, by Tim Whyatt. This is a small collection of cartoons about older folk, some of them risque. One example I like: an old woman with her walker is approaching a tree where a bird perches on a branch above the sidewalk. The bird is thinking “Come on, come on, I can't hold it in much longer.” Another: a naked man is facing two women in the living room. They have a box of quoits, you know, doughnut shaped rings. One tells the other: “As soon as the Viagra kicks in, it's game on.” And one more: A monk is facing a store display of quiche, and messages a nun, I think getting the spelling slightly wrong “Fancy a quickie?” So it's naughty fun.

I read Little Girl Lost, Thirteen Tales of Youth Disrupted, an anthology edited by Ronald Linson and Deidre J Owen, who also illustrated the stories. They tend toward horror, but not all of them, and not all the girls are really little, some being teens, but overall they are in social or supernatural trouble. In due course there will be a sequel volume, Little Boy Lost. The volume, and the publisher, came into existence when the editors each had a story, and decided to publish them their own way. “Wailing Jill” by Hailey Piper tells of a girl who thought she was safe because she had nothing of value, but her eyes were taken, and now she haunts the neighborhood looking for replacement eyes. Only a foolish child would go out at night, so of course one does. “The Child Thief” by J B Rockwell has a Pooka, a ghost horse, who is looking for a child to ride him. But it has to be the right one. In “Walk the Walk” by Piers Anthony—yes, that's me—a lonely little girl befriends a little walking skeleton, a risky thing to do. “The Smuggler's Door” by Drew Piston has a young woman assigned to guard a castle door, letting no one in or out. Not easy to do, as those outside seem to assume deceptive forms of friends or siblings. Would you deny your wounded brother? You had better. “Forgive and that Other Word That Means Forget” by Caitlin Marceau has a novel notion: a notebook that wipes out the memory of any word written in it. Usually synonyms take its place so the language remains viable. Tay has the book, and writes the name of the boyfriend she has broken up with. That is serious mischief, because even he no longer knows his name. She shouldn't have done that. “They Belong to Her” by Deidre J Owen, editor and illustrator. Two families decided to revive an old dance hall and resume its operations. But there is something strange here, reminding me of The Phantom of the Opera. They find old ballot shoes stained with blood, and something not quite visible touches the dancers. Real mischief is brewing. “Barrens and Brine” by Rhiannon Lotze has a girl captive aboard a sort of pirate ship that sails across desert sands instead of water. She longs for the ocean, but they won't let her go. When she tries to escape, to go to the water, it gets ugly. “The Girl Who Couldn't Shed Tears” by Bradley R Mitzelfelt. This land is desperate for water, and folk are dying of thirst. Cecily has dying children to care for, so she sneaks out after curfew to search for water, even if she must steal it. “The True Nature of Swimming Holes,” by Ronald Linson, the other editor. This story got to me for an irrelevant reason: the girl is named Penny. My daughter who died a decade ago was Penny. We had lost three stillborn in the first decade of our marriage, and feared we could never have children of our own; Penny changed our lives almost as much as our marriage did. Penny is gone, but the memories remain. But back to the story: a swimming hole appears in the forest where there had been nothing before, and two boys and the girl share it that summer. But the pool has a secret. In “A Setting for Julia” by Roxanne Dent a girl ditches her twelve year old sister in the city so she can visit with a friend, and the sister disappears. Uh-oh. “Based on a True Story” by Nicola Kapron shows the other side of a newsworthy incident. The ways the movie version differs from the reality. I suspect this is uncomfortably true to the reality of that. “Remembering, Almost” by Ashleigh Hatter has a girl who suffers inexplicable changes in reality that other folk don't notice. What is happening here? Is she crazy? Not exactly. “Sarah Small” by Rachel Nussbaum has a girl's beloved brother taken by the monster under the bed. Naturally the parents don't believe any such thing, so it is up to her to rescue him, if she can. So when the monster's pit opens up again, she enters it, putting herself at similar risk. It's a scary adventure. This is a varied and interesting collection of stories that I can recommend to readers with a taste for the supernatural; there are no bad ones. The one that I remember best is the one about the pool, but that's for a coincidental reason. They deal with children, but they are evocative for any age.

I watched When the Sky Falls. Meteorologist Jamie takes time off for a vacation with his family, though he is concerned that there could be a catastrophic weather event. His ex-wife Charlotte is upset because his girlfriend Megan is coming along. They take two cars. He travels with daughter Kilee and son; Charlotte travels with her mother Millie. Lightning strikes alarmingly near them. Some kind of storm is moving in, a bad one. Jamie and Kilee hike on a forest path. Charlotte and Millie are still on the way. They catch up to Megan and acquaint her with the storm danger; the lightning is going to be dangerous in this area because of increased ozone concentration. Jamie is tinged by lightning and falls; he now can barely walk. Charlotte and Megan drive together to warn them, an awkward combination. Son and his girlfriend Bailey also drive out. More lightning strikes near them. Now there is strange ball lightning that rolls around, destroying what it collides with. It is getting worse; they have to get out of there. Charlotte and Megan work together to help. Jamie rigs a device to attract the lightning, to make it safe elsewhere. It works; there is a phenomenal display as the ball lightning detonates there as they escape. Charlotte and Megan hug; they are now friends. I had trouble understanding the dialogue even with the hearing aid, but this is one dramatic show.

I watched Age of Dinosaurs. They wheel a patient into tho laboratory: a small unconscious dinosaur. Things go wrong and the creature wakes and attacks. A former firefighter Jake and his shapely teen daughter attend the opening show the bio-tech company puts on. They can now regenerate living flesh from single molecules of past creatures. But then the creatures get loose and terrorize the audience. Hell breaks loose. Jake and daughter Kate are trapped inside the building as the dinosaurs come after them. One thing that bothers me is that they are showing carnivores with horns. That's a mismatch. They break out of the building, seemingly immune to bullets, and get into the streets of Los Angeles. Flying pteranodon carry away people, another highly unlikely phenomenon. So this is fantasy, but exciting. They fight helicopters on an even basis. Jake and Kate finally manage a hairsbreadth escape and it is over. The science is nonsensical, but it's a compelling movie.

I read 30-Second Brain, edited by Anil Seth. This is subtitled “The 50 most mind-blowing ideas in neuroscience, each explained in half a minute.” It also has seven profiles of the most noted figures in the field, and seven glossaries of terms. I learned that the brain contains at least 90 billion neurons, and from a glossary that a neuron is a cellular building block of the brain. No single neuron has any idea who you are. “But somehow, by chattering among themselves across networks of billions of interconnections, neurons conjure up your self awareness.” But glial cells outnumber the neurons 50 to 1. They are the maintenance crew, yet they are not in a glossary, so they remain largely anonymous. I find that mind-blowing in a manner I suspect the book's authors did not intend. I learned that the brain uses 70 percent of our 22,000 genes. But genes are not in a glossary either. Fortunately there is a description here: “A gene is a set of instructions in DNA for making a protein.” But DNA is not in a glossary. Maybe an updated edition will have it. I believe it is the code that governs the rest of the machine, resembling a spiral double ladder. If you think of genes as the letters, DNA is the words and sentences. I learned that the cerebellum looks like a fist-sized cauliflower, accounts for ten percent of the brain's volume, but has half of the neurons found in the entire central nervous system. It must be important. It is involved in motor control, memory, mood, language, and attention. As I see it, if the main brain is the man of the house, the cerebellum is the staff that sees that his directives are carried out, whatever it takes. Myelination is discussed, a subject I am interested in because my wife suffers demyelination and requires regular treatment for it, to preserve her mobility and life. My analogy there is that myelin is like the insulation around electrical wires; without it the wires short out and the machine sputters out. But myelin is more than that; it actually speeds up the current along those wires, I think multiplying it several fold. A section discusses the evolution of the brain. Why did it expand so greatly in humans, recently? One theory is bipedalism. That is, getting up to stand on two feet instead of four. That's another pet concept of mine. I agree: going two footed transformed our species in multiply significant ways, from forcing brain expansion to putting permanent pronounced breasts on women. Other mammals have developed breasts only for nursing, not for display. Don't get me started. So this book is a marvelous stimulus for ideas, but fals somewhat short as an initial primer for knowledge about the brain.

I continued writing Xanth #46, Six Crystal Princesses, doing another 30,000 words, through Chapter 8. Ion and Hilda, the twin children of Ivy's sister Princess, now Queen Ida, are off on a mission to rescue six crystallized princesses. A complication is that Ion can't walk alone; he suffered an injury of his legs earlier that cripples him. He could not use healing elixir because he is immune to all elixirs, ironically. But then he met Vinia, in #44 Skeleton Key, (not yet published) whose talent is telekinesis but who suffered awful allergies and could not go outside. But in his presence she was fine, because his ambiance abolished all allergenic substances, they being varieties of elixirs. She used her talent to make his legs walk, and the two walked together in lock step. It was a match of convenience, but they were soon emotionally as well as physically inseparable; when they grow up they will surely marry. So why am I going off on this diversion? Because when I started writing the novel I realized that Vinia would make a better protagonist, being essentially an observer of the Magician and Sorceress in action. Spot lesson for aspiring writers: sometimes an observer makes a better protagonist than a main character. So it is Vinia who runs the gantlet of challenges to see the Good Magician—and he's not even there at the time. Instead the Designated Wife of the Month Dara Demoness handles it, giving Vinia a magic ring with which she can orient on any person she needs to. She orients on Dara's friend Demesne (pronounced di-MEEN) Demoness, who is one of the crystallized princesses. This is possible in part because one of the other princesses is telepathic, and can communicate with the others despite being physically frozen. And would you believe, the prince they find for Demesne is the notorious Demon Grossclout, the terror of the School of Magic. Demesne had a crush on him when she was in his class, and she was one of his best students, so he is intrigued, being about ready to retire. There are worse fates than joining a lovely and smart former student with a crush on you who is about to become Queen of a new feminist Queendom. He winds up helping Vinia, and he is one fearsome helper. For example, he is the Magician of Intimidation, and when they need rain, he glares at a cloud, and the cloud is so terrified it wets its pants and looses a deluge Thereafter things begin to become interesting. So you can see that this novel is jam-packed with fun features that will hopelessly roil the guts of my critics who claim that I never did have any imagination or narrative talent and have less now. Keep it in mind when you run out of reading matter, yea many years from now when it gets published.

Of possible general interest: you know how online scams try to trick you into giving them your money? Well, I received a series of emails from one Ms Joy Oti, Director of Operations, Lloyd Bank PLC. as one of their valued customers. No, I have had no prior contact that I know of. She informed me that they were depositing seven and a half million dollars to my account. No information where it might have come from; you would think that such a sum would have a solid origin. But first they needed my full name and address, my phone number, and a scan copy of my ID. When I did not respond they asked me to please let them know if I was not interested, and if I did not deposit $295 transport fare for them to deliver it to my address, they would hand it over to someone else. When I still did not respond they urged me to get in touch, because they were informed that I was dead and many people have been to their bank claiming to be my next of kin. Every few days they emailed me again, frustrated by my lack of response. Two weeks after the initial contact they informed me that a group bearing my name was applying intense pressure for them to transfer the funds on my behalf. The thing about a scam is that if you respond at all, they know that you exist and can zero in on you more accurately. If you give them your ID they can really go to town on you. These folk evidently don't realize that Piers Anthony is a fictional identity with no legitimate relatives. But if you receive a similar communication, beware; there is unlikely to be any big money in it for you.

I have a number of concerns. One of them is how to save the world from the depredations of mankind. We are generating the fifth or sixth great extinction, by our diet, pollution, and just plain numbers, and if we don't stop, the world as we know it will end, probably within the next century, maybe sooner. I fear we are not going to stop. I am hardly the only one to be concerned, but so far the others have not succeeded in halting the process. I keep hoping that I can find some avenue that no one else has thought of that will make all the difference. Or find that something that someone else is trying to do that has phenomenal promise, that maybe I can help promote. Failing that, we are probably doomed. Daughter Cheryl downloaded some material for me, and I am considering it. One thing is food; our consumption of meat is causing horrendous damage to the natural scene. But the vegans are working on that, and figure that in the next twenty years the meat industry may crash, replaced by plant based alternatives. I hope they're right. Another thing is energy; our use of coal and oil is a source of both heat and chemical pollution. So let's consider that. Solar and wind energy are essentially clean and endlessly renewable, but the sun doesn't shine everywhere at all times, and the wind does not always blow. We need reliability, and while solar/wind should certainly contribute, there also needs to be a source that is guaranteed steady. The arrival of revolutionary forms of solar power may change the picture; one prediction is that solar will overtake fossil fuels as the world's preferred source of electricity. More power to it! Hydro is promising, but damming rivers can mess up the natural environment. There is hydro-wave, tapping the power of the waves of the sea. But inland is away from the sea, meaning there will have to be more power-lines. Terrorists can go after power lines, too. This should be followed up, but I think it remains unproved as far as reliable power goes. So there are prospects, yet at the moment none seem perfect. We need another. What could that be? Well, one option is nuclear. Once a nuclear power plant gets established, run a long time. But there are caveats. One is disposal of the radioactive wastes. You can't just send them to the city dump; they have to be secluded safely away from anywhere we live or go. Another is mishandling; human error can have a horrendous cost. I live within fifty miles of a former nuclear plant that was rendered defunct by a stupid decision. Accidents have happened globally, as Chernobyl showed in 1986. Another is terrorism; some terrorists have the know-how to fashion crude bombs from nuclear plant materials. So the nuclear option is feasible but dangerous. What remains? There is an answer that advocates for solar/wind and nuclear seem not to consider: geothermal. This draws on the heat of the world itself, below us. It is essentially inexhaustible and could sustain all our power needs indefinitely, or at least as long as the world lasts. It is reliable; as with nuclear, once set up, it can continue virtually forever. It is relatively inexpensive; savings can be as much as 80% over fossil fuels. Some variations do pollute some, with a smell like rotten eggs. But what is called binary is a closed system, letting out no stench. It is clean, releasing essentially no emissions of any kind. It is local, available anywhere in the world including your back yard. Some sources are easy to reach, like Yellowstone, but if you drill deep enough from your back yard, you will get it. I believe that this is the way to go. But how to stop another problem, our overpopulation—I'm still pondering that.

I was doing some cleaning up of counters. As noted before, every decade or three I do that. This time I encountered a manuscript dating from circa 2005 with no name on it. I surely received it and commented on it to the author, back then, but now in my senescence I can't remember the event. It is titled “Faster Than Now,” and seems to be a description of, or summary of, a movie, scene by scene. It features a rather special car involved in a special race and a save-the-world plot. It would likely make one wild, compelling movie. Does anybody recognize it from this title or description? If it became a movie, I'd like to see the movie.

Shorter notes: Another 2005 paper that turned up is titled “Dolphin Stress Test.” You look at the picture of two dolphins leaping through the air. If you see anything other than a dolphin, you may be under stress. Okay, I looked at it. The left figure is a dolphin. The right one is a cow. Obviously I'm under serious stress. In the Sep/Oct 2019 issue of THE HUMANIST is an article titled “Life and Why it must Continue.” It concludes “We can see that the point of life is simply, life. More life, better life. No higher purpose is needed because we already have, deep in our genes and under our noses, a purpose that is incalculably high.” So when someone asks what is the purpose of life, that may be the answer. A book review in the same magazine of The Founding Myth by Andrew Seidel remarks on bits of religion grafted onto an originally more pristine secular foundation, such as “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” and God Bless America.” Yes, I remember in the 1950s when they added “under God” to the pledge of Allegiance, a religious reference that does not belong there. I leave it out when I recite the Pledge. America was supposed to be a secular nation, not a Christian nation, regardless what the religionists pretend. And THE PROGRESSIVE for August/September 2019 has an article titled “The Triumph of Their Will,” I think a play on the Nazi propaganda movie Triumph of the Will, which points out that white nationalists are building political power from within the Republican Party. Yes, I have read elsewhere that they are in the process of taking over that party; there seems to be an affinity of interests there. Maybe it was headed there anyway, but it's scary. Newspaper item says that the percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents is now the highest it has been in more than a century, 44.7 million people. I don't find that figure scary. I am one of them. I was born in England, and am a naturalized American citizen. I believe in American values in a way that too many native-born citizens seem not to, such as keeping the government of this country free of religion while respecting the right of any religion to practice here without harrasment. Uncomfortable news item: people whose blood pressure rises significantly between their 30s and 50s are much more likely to suffer brain shrinkage in older age. My blood pressure has remained low, fortunately. NEW SCIENTIST question: suppose there was no Big Bang creating the universe? There is some evidence that it is cyclical, expanding and contracting. It also may be two billion years younger that we figured. A study links all soda, sugar or alternate, to a greater risk of early death. It contributes to obesity, and 40% of adults are obese, but this is more than that. Small, obvious robots brighten the lives of the very lonely folk, being treated like pets or people. Of course in my fiction robots are people, but it will be a while before technology catches up with that. In an advice column, a woman visited relatives, then privately texted them with information about things like a slow bathtub drain she thought they might want to know about. They reacted with fury and banned her from any further visits. The columnist sided with the relatives. What? If you can't privately tell someone something like that, I see the problem as with the relatives, and the columnist, not the visitor, who was trying to be helpful. Is it no longer permissible to send helpful notes? I remember when at a trade show I encountered a man with his fly open, I drew him aside and quietly advised him so he could cover up. If he had been like those relatives, would he have slugged me?

I read Little Darling's Pinups for Pitbulls, by Deidre Frantklin. This is an unusual book, featuring, yes, pictures of pretty girls with their dogs, which are pit bulls and crossbreeds, the point being that these dogs are in need of love and homes. The author as a teen volunteered at a local animal shelter, and walked a pit bull dog a woman left, a nice dog. But the shelter had a “kill pitbulls” policy and made no exceptions. So I think that dog was lost, unfairly, but the experience got the girl interested in the plight of these animals. She adopted Carla Lou from Texas, sight unseen, but when the dog arrived it was love at first sight. The author became a model, specializing in burlesque, Little Darling being her stage name. She has an abundance of tattoos on her arms and legs, of things like a dog's face. She started the organization Pinups for Pitbulls, dedicated to saving maligned dogs. It turns out that no breed of dog is inherently vicious; in fact the Pit Bull Terrier is naturally loving. It is bad owners who make them vicious, treating them savagely, training them for dog fighting, or simply neglecting them to the point of starvation. Pit bulls have been used as hearing dogs, as service dogs, and as therapy dogs, yet they are also the most abused and neglected of breeds. The organization campaigns to eliminate BSL, that is Breed-Specific Legislation, which is based on ignorant condemnation. When some towns eliminated pit bulls, the rate of dog bites did not decline. Yes, some pit bulls do bite, but statistically they are no worse than other breeds. Overall this is a nice picture book with a worthwhile message. I had shared the belief that this breed is dangerous; now I know better.

My wife of 63 years, Carol Ann Marble Jacob, CAM for short, has been fading at age 82. As I write this, she is in the hospital, and not certain to come out alive. She has been treated the past fifteen years for CIDP, that is, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelating Polyneuropathy. This is a rare condition, distantly related to multiple sclerosis, where the body's own immune system goes wrong and attacks the myelin sheathing around nerves, leading to loss of the use of the limbs, and worse. See my comment in my review of 30-Second Brain, above. Her wiring was shorting out, starting at the arms and legs. We got a wheelchair, but she could not propel it herself because her arms were unresponsive as well as her legs. We knew that when it progressed to organs like the heart in would be the end. I had to heave her off the wheelchair and onto the toilet, and back again; she had no personal privacy. It was a great day when we got the diagnosis and treatment, IVIg, IntraVenous Infusion Gammaglobulin, which saved her life. I remember the day when she was able to lift her feet an inch off the bed. That was circa 2004, and treatments every five or six weeks have sustained her so that she could walk and do things for herself. She handled our finances, downloaded emails, and transcribed my penned answers to arriving email letters, as well as posting these HiPiers columns. So she was an active part of my life and career, though I took over the making of meals, housework, washing dishes, and physical chores. So it has been until recently, when our daughter Cheryl started taking over some of the chores such as grocery shopping and laundry, as these became too difficult for Cam. Yes, I could do them also, and have before, but I need time for my writing, as that is what pays our way. She became increasingly tired, unable to sleep comfortably at night, falling asleep sitting up when reading or eating, her appetite for food diminishingly small, and when she did eat it turned to painful gas, a pain in the posterior, no joke. I hated to see her miserable with that, but I could not fix it. Finally Sunday, September 30, Cam realized that she needed to go to the hospital, and Cheryl and I took her in. They found that her complex of symptoms such as COPD, that's Chronic Obstructive Pulminary Disease, heart fibrillation, edema, a bad aortic aneurysm, and of course the original CIDP had reached the point where only heroic measures could save her, and these she did not want, understandably. She faded in and out, disliking the special mask over her face that was part of the treatment; she knew she could die without it, but wanted to rest in relative comfort. I of course defended her right to live and die as she preferred, though I dread being a widower. So she is off the mask, and I fear declining, and I suffer for her, and the house is lonely as hell, with reminders of her absence everywhere. How I wish she could be home and well again! But what will be, will be.

My wife's situation cut short this column, because of the time consumed at the hospital and my grief for her situation. Fortunately I had written most of it before the crisis struck, and Cheryl is doing yeoman service keeping Cam company, ferrying me to the hospital, and negotiating with doctors, nurses, and hospice representatives to ensure that Cam's preferences are honored. None of this is fun, but we are managing.

And then a miracle: Cam got to come home after all. It was suddenly put together after I wrote the discussion above. Cheryl worked with Hospice, and they arranged to have an oxygen concentrator twice the power of the one we had, because Cam needs that now, and a nurse to break us in to the new regimen. This does not mean that Cam is recovering, just that now she can expire at home, with we who love her, instead of in the hospital, a situation she much prefers. We have to make adjustments, but it seems so much better for all of us this way. There will surely be more anon.

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