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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
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I watched Calendar Girl, the fourth Beach Bodies movie. Friends Roy, Ned, and Scott decide to go to Hollywood to find Marilyn Monroe, whose nude picture they saw on a poster. But the address they have is wrong. They keep searching. Meanwhile a loan shark is looking for Roy, who stole some money from him. They visit a nude beach, but have to flee when the loan shark's men follow. Really not much beach viewing here. Roy gets PROPERTY OF USA tattooed on his butt. Then somehow Roy gets a date with Marilyn. He sends Ned (I think it was) instead. And it's her, in all her splendor. She treats him like a friend. They walk in the surf. At the end she hugs and kisses him. He will never forget.

I watched The Wife. Joe Castleman makes out with his wife Jeanie, though they are of grandparently age. Then he gets a call that he has won the Nobel prize in literature. They go to Stockholm, Sweden, for the award. Their son David is a writer, and emotionally conflicted. We see flashbacks to when Joe and Joan met; she was not his first wife. She was an aspiring writer herself, but gave it up when she married Joe. Gradually it becomes apparent that the talent which won him the Nobel prize is actually hers, uncredited. He had the big ideas, but she had the talent. So he wrote the stories and she fixed the faults, like the wooden dialogue. That collaboration worked, and the stories and novels were published and recognized. But the stresses of the ceremony make them quarrel, and she decides to leave him. She's tired of being the real writer, with him getting all the credit. Then he has a heart attack, and dies. But Joan will protect his reputation. Okay, I'm a writer, and I owe a lot to my wife, but not my writing skill. My talent, whatever it may be, is my own. But I can relate, because I suspect there are marriages of this nature. Men are recognized more freely than are women, so it can be a convenient course. Sometimes it is the woman with the notoriety, and her husband who quietly makes it work. When a writer say he/she owes it all to the spouse, that may be literal. A quality movie.

I watched Spring Break, the fifth in the Beach Bodies sixpack. Adam and Nelson come to Fort Lauderdale for the rites of spring. A glitch puts them in the same room with two more experienced guys, who turn out to be real assets when things get rough. There' a belly-flop contest, drinking through a straw contest, best buns contest, wet T-shirt contest, and others. Plenty of booze and bare breasts. The older guys pick up intoxicated girls and bring them to the room. Nelson's stepfather is a politician running for office, and he doesn't want Nelson getting in trouble and ruining the campaign with a scandal. So Nelson is trying to avoid him. He joins a girl in her room, exits to get some Coca Cola, but then can't remember the room number and doesn't know her name and never makes it back. They manage to reconnect later in the night, avoiding his stepfather's hoods. For a while. Nelson gets locked in, and his friends try to spring him. There's a battle between the friends and the hoods. Nelson finally faces down his stepfather and backs him off, saving the hotel. So all ends well.

I watched Stan & Ollie. These are Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Ollie is fat, Stan ordinary. They do a song and dance act. They're getting older, but are rejoining now. But they are playing to sparsely filled theaters. They do make audiences laugh, and attendance improves. Then it turns out that the financing for the movie they were going to make fell through, so there will be no movie. There goes their hope of returning to the big time. They have a falling out, saying they're really not friends, just two actors put together for an act. Then Ollie collapses, a heart attack. He survives, but will retire. But just can't give it up yet, so their show will go on. They do it, but Ollie's health does not recover, and they don't perform again. It's sad, as endings are.

I watched Lovelines. Malibu High and Coldwater Canyon High are essentially at war. They play tricks on each other, such as invading a swimming class with nude girls and having girls in a pickup truck moon the other school. Piper is at Malibu, and her musclebound brother is determined to stop her from seeing Rick from Coldwater Canyon. They are both singers, and each admires the other's ability. There's a car chase, and weird bombing that soaks them in alcohol as the police are alerted. They meet and kiss in a sort of fouled up Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. They date. Meanwhile they are finalists in the Battle of the Bands. It concludes in mayhem. The bands decision is a tie. And of course Piper and Rick will be together.

I watched Sorry to Bother You. Cassius Green, “Cash,” gets a job as a telephone salesman. His only requirement is to stick to the script. Another caller is Detroit. It's tough, because the cold calls reach folk making love, dying of cancer, and being otherwise distracted or busy. If they make enough sales they get to be a Power Caller, the top tier of telemarketing, and make more money. Meanwhile his girlfriend works for a sign company, twirling the sign at traffic. They form a union and chant “Fuck you RegalView!” over and over. What do the bosses do? They promote Cash to Power Caller. This is weird. This gets him in trouble with the other callers, who feel he deserted them, and with his girlfriend, who leaves him. Part of the ceremony has a lovely, almost naked young woman reciting classics while the group throws eggs and blood bombs at her. Cash protests, but she tells him to stick to the script. This is still weird. They demand that he rap, so he chants “Niggershit! Niggershit!” And they chant it with him. Surreal. Men with horse-heads are in the lavatory. A vision? He is shown an explanatory movie that indicates that they make horse-headed humans for money. They''ll be better workers. Cash is offered a hundred million dollars to become a horsehead for five years, being their man among the creatures. He balks. His girlfriend returns to help him through this crisis. He tries to expose the nefarious plans of the WorryFree company. There's a riot as police try to break through the picket line, and horseheads fight back. They are Equisapiens. Cash gets locked up, but the horseheads break him out. He and girlfriend return to their garage apartment. And he starts changing into a horsehead. This is one of the wildest movies I've seen. It becomes pure fantasy, and yet there may be a message there, if only about the secret lives of those anonymous callers.

I watched Black K Klansman. Ron Stallworth is the first black cop in Colorado Springs, and he has to endure the racism of other cops. He is sent on a mission to infiltrate the black resistance, wired. Stokely Carmichael, as Kwame Ture, addresses a black group. He is a potent speaker and charges them up. Ron joins the KKK by telephone, but then they want to meet him personally, so a white man has to learn to talk like him. The white man meets their representative, and learns that they never say Klan, they're the Organization. They say they don't do violence any more. That's hard to believe. The white “Ron” is Jewish, and the Klan hates Jews too, so it's chancy. Ron meets a black woman, Patrice and likes her, but she's suspicious of his undercover work. Then racist David Duke visits, and Ron is assigned to guard him. This is tricky. The white “Ron” is also there. The Klan, discovered, goes to Plan B, with a wife planting a bomb. It gets hairy, but they survive. And have to destroy all evidence of their investigation. But David Duke realizes he's been had. And the Klan burns a cross outside Ron's house. There is rioting. And an identified connection to the present Trump administration. Hmm.

I watched On the Basis of Sex. It starts at Harvard Law School, 1956. Ruth “Kiki” Bader Ginsburg is studying to be a lawyer, as is her husband Martin. They have a baby, Jane. Martin collapses in class, and it's serious. Testicular cancer, survival rate 5%. She attends Martin's classes for him, in addition to her own, making notes, so he can keep up. He survives, but could relapse. He takes care of the children at home. She graduates at the top of her class. In 1959 she is trying to get a job, but there is evident prejudice against women. She finally gets a job with a firm that couldn't find a man, so took a woman. Then to 1970, when it seems the law allows discrimination on the basis of sex, that is, discrimination against women. Until a man sues for sex discrimination: he can't get a tax deduction for the nurse he had to hire to take care of his ailing mother, because he's an unmarried man. They take the case, as it could change everything. The ACLU enters the picture. They develop their case. They argue it before the Tenth Court of Appeals, and Ruth persuades the judges to change the law. This set a precedent that started a chain reaction of reform. And, in due course, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a member of the Supreme Court herself. This is one fine movie, based on reality. Also a disconcerting reminder how prejudice pervades just about every aspect of our society, and how difficult it can be to root it out.

I watched Night School. Teddy Walker is a fast talking maverick who simply can't study. 17 years later he is dating Lisa. He proposes to her and she accepts. Then a fluke accident burns down the shop. So he needs to get his GED, and that means night school. Carrie teaches the class. The students are an odd collection. The whole class sneaks out, trying to steal the test answers, and gets fouled up. It turns out Teddy has several learning disabilities, like dyslexia. That enables Carrie to teach him. The process is dramatized like an anything-goes physical combat. The whole class is emboldened by their achievement of their GEDs. But Lisa thinks he's been lying to her about his evening classes, and dumps him. So he plans to skip the GED test, seeing no point any more. Carrie comes after him and makes him go to take it. But he fails. So he studies further and retakes the test. And finally passes. And gives a speech at graduation, saying anything is possible. And Lisa returns to him. As one who dates from before dyslexia was a diagnosis, so I was considered willful or stupid, and took three years to make it through first grade, I relate. I fought, successfully, to see that my dyslexic daughter did not get screwed the same way by the system. But there were some battles. There are stupid people, and some of them are running the system.

I watched Widows. Jamal Manning is running for office in Chicago. It's a rough race, and people are being killed. Jamal kills his share. So there are widows. A widow, Veronica Rollings, learns she owes a debt of two million dollars that they claim her husband stole. She finds a notebook with suggestive private material; maybe they'll accept that in lieu of the money. Several other widows are in similar circumstances. These are brutal gangsters. Women have to sell themselves and their services, not necessarily sexual, to survive. Three widows get together to try to obtain a five million dollar cache they can use to pay off the two million dollar debt and keep some for themselves, but their project is beset with problems. They need a driver, and recruit another woman for that. They make their raid, cloaked with distorted voices. They get into the vault and pile packs of money into their bags. They have to kill to get away. One gets shot. The bad guy loses the election. The women survive, but what kind of a life is it? Not the kind of story I enjoy. As with stupid people, there are criminals, and some are powerful politicians.

I watched Instant Family. Ellie would like to have children; Pete wouldn't. She is pondering adoption. He's alarmed. They visit an adoption agency and learn about other prospective adoptive families of all types: couples, two gay men, a single woman. They qualify for foster parents. They meet Elizabeth—Lizzie—and her two siblings, Lita and Juan, and take them in as fosters. Their first big Christmas dinner, little Lita wants potato chips instead, and gets violent when denied. It winds up in chaos with food all over the floor. When they ground Lizzie she defies them. Juan drops a nail gun on his foot and gets nailed through the foot. But slowly they learn to relate. Then Lizzie, who is a pretty girl at age 15, makes nude self pictures of herself to send to her boyfriend. Things complicate and Pete and Ellie get arrested. The hearing awards the children back to their birth mother, who has reformed, but it is apparent that they are uncertain they want to go. Then their mother relapses. The younger ones are relieved, but Lizzie has a problem; she finally accepts reality. Four months later the adoption become official. Yet again I relate, because after three miscarriages we feared we could never have children of our own, and what adoption agency would consider a self employed vegetarian SF/fantasy writer as a father? Then with medical help we did get two of our own, avoiding that hassle. But I remember.

I watched Spiderman Into the Spiderverse. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spiderman. Miles is an ordinary teen; then we see the spider bite him on the hand. His body starts changing. He meets Wanda. His hand sticks to her hair, and pulls some out. Now his feet stick to walls; he runs along them. He can turn invisible, sometimes. He has become another spiderman. He is chased by a giant green monster, then rescued by the original spiderman. Five new dimensions open. Spiderman is injured, so he gives Miles a device to destroy the Collider and save the universe. But the big bad guy, Kingpin, is trying to kill him. He escapes, but there is a news report that the original spiderman has died. He interacts with other spidermen from other universes. And a spiderwoman. And Peter Porker, a little pig spiderman. They all try to help Miles. But he has to find himself, make a leap of faith. They get control of the collider, and one by one the spiderfolk depart, returning to their own dimensions. Then Miles finally fights and defeats Kingpin. All is reasonably well. A fast paced movie, many special effects, easy to do in animation, but fun overall.

I watched Vice, about former vice president Dick Cheney. This is a cynical expose. He gets booted from Yale for drinking. His girlfriend Lynne gets fed up. He promises never to disappoint her again. He gets a job as a political adviser for a large financial firm, finally making good money. Lynne's mother drowns, though she never went near the water. No serious investigation. Dick evidently knows who did it, and warns the man away from his wife and daughters, then sets out on private revenge. President Nixon resigns and Cheney sees that as an opportunity to increase the power of the executive: the president will have absolute power. But then the Republicans lose the presidency. All is off until the election of Reagan four years later. Meanwhile Cheney has a couple of heart attacks, and his wife Lynne campaigns in his stead. She is effective. Then his daughter Mary comes out as lesbian. That's politically awkward for an arch conservative. His heart improves. He runs for vice president with George W Bush, redefining the office. The Supreme Court on a party line vote stopped the legal recount of the votes in Florida, which would have given it to Gore, and gave it to Bush. They were in. Cheney got to work on the big issues like climate change and the estate tax, and quietly made progress. Then came 9/11. They invade Afghanistan. They expand warrantless investigation. They redefine torture to allow water-boarding. They arrange to promote Iraq as an enemy, to focus public outrage about 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, so this had to be carefully crafted. They craft it, and invade Iraq. Favored company Halliburton makes huge profits on no-bid war contracts. And no weapons of mass destruction turn up in Iraq. It was all a scripted fantasy. And from that war emerged ISIS. In due course Barack Obama is elected president. Cheney's heart acts up again. Chaney gets a heart transplant. Gay daughter Mary runs for the senate. He survives. Mary later runs for the house of Representatives, and wins. Suicides of American troops in Iraq and other mischief continues today, but Halliburton stock rose 500%. Conservatives object to the movie because it has a liberal slant. But what about the facts?

I watched Eighth Grade. Kayla Day is an 8th grade girl, recognized as being the most quiet in the class. They receive their boxes of mementos from 6th grade. She's plain, with not much going for her. Her father tries to be supportive, but she wants none of it. There does not seem to be a mother in the picture. She's not happy. She sees the other children having fun, and the girls with their nice bodies. She makes herself join them in the swimming pool. It's a friend's birthday party. She meets the boy Aiden. She makes a series of encouraging videos. Aiden asks her whether she can do a blow job. So she researches oral sex. She practices on a banana. They spend a day with a high school student, to get a notion how it will be. Kayla pairs with Olivia, who seems really nice. But her life continues awkward. This is bleak, and painful because of its realism. What do you do when your face has blemishes, your body is lumpy, you're not genius smart, your friends are few, and not rich? That is the fate of too many, male and female. But Kayla's father says he is proud of her. She has a sort of date meal with Aiden, potato sticks. That works well. So maybe her life is turning positive. I relate to this, because I was nothing in school, but wound up perhaps the most successful member of my high school class, with a long marriage and a career I love. Things can change.

I watched Won't You Be My Neighbor, about Mr. Rogers. He was an ordained minister who liked children. Sounds dull? Not to me. When my little girl Penny came into this world, in 1967, changing our lives, she liked the children's program Sesame Street, yes, but it was the following program Mr. Rogers who really won her heart. The man had heart. One of the films they used broke and they were suddenly stuck with on ongoing show and no content. So he grabbed a puppet and made a squeaky voice and addressed the children—and that was the beginning of the puppetry. A neighborhood was the place where, if you felt scared or worried, it would reassure you. His neighborhood was where any child was accepted and reassured. TV executives didn't think anything much of him, but when they had a Mr. Rogers Day where he would appear personally, the line was blocks long. He believed that every child was unique, and needed to be told that. The children loved him, as mine did. Love your neighbor and love yourself. Then Nixon became president and wanted to cut the funding. Rogers had to go before Congress to argue to protect the funding. He was persuasive, and the funding was not cut. The sock puppet Daniel, a sort of little striped tiger, seemed to speak for the anxieties Fred Rogers himself had as a child, and that many children have. He integrated his program in a time when racism was more open than it is today. Each day he would swim one mile in leisurely fashion, then weighed himself: 143 pounds. After more than 500 shows he let it rest. He tried doing a show for adults, but didn't connect the way he did with children. He tackled more adult themes, like death. He felt the greatest evil was those who tried to make others feel like less than they really were. He respected childhood. He said it's not all clowns and balloons. He believed that love can abound and can be shared. But critics said he was an evil man, because he told every person they were special. So much for the critics! He had stomach problems. He talked about dying well, with intact hopes. He said that everybody longed to be lovable, to be loved. Critics were intolerant of his tolerance, that he accepted gays for example. Are there other people out there who are like him? There must be. He is gone now, but his message remains.

I am getting old. I had my 85th birthday in AwGhost. Every so often I get an uncomfortable indication of my senescence. For example, I forget things. Such as the fact that I watched a particular video a year ago, and reviewed it here. Only when I was well into it did I realize that I had seen it before. So here it is, reviewed again, and those whose memories are sharper than mine can skip to the next paragraph. I watched Lady Bird. The year is 2002, Sacramento. Christine prefers to call herself Lady Bird. She wants to go on to college. She wants to be in a play. She'd like to have a boyfriend. She likes Danny, who is in the play with her. They kiss. She visits his family for Thanksgiving. She learns that Danny is gay. That's a shock. Then by Christmas she meets Kyle, but he's paranoid about some things. She considers sex, but isn't ready for it yet. She talks back in school and gets suspended. She blows up at her family. She has sex with Kyle, then learns he wasn't a virgin. That's another shock; she had thought it was mutual sacrifice of virginity. She gets an acceptance from an eastern university, at least it's a waiting list. She leaves Kyle and goes to the prom with her friend Julie. Her mother learns about her application to the eastern university and is alienated. She turns 18. She does finally get accepted to the college. She goes, and meets David, a promising prospect for a relationship. Her father sends her the letters her mother wrote to her but didn't send: love unvoiced. She calls home, reconnecting. Lady Bird's new life is upon her.

I watched Ejecta, which intrigued me because for $3.95 I got both the DVD and Blu-Ray discs. It begins with an interview with a man who says he tried everything against the invading aliens but nothing worked. That we try to imagine what to do when the end of the world comes, but by then there is no tomorrow. He is William Cassidy, captured or rescued by human troops. Tarzan/Jane technique; the man threatens to beat him up, then comes a nice woman who is more friendly. He says he was taken by aliens 39 years ago. They came to his door. What did they look like? He doesn't say. So they bash him, and the woman starts over. He says he has woken up in many places over the years. They put a kind of helmet device on his head that is supposed to extract his thoughts. Instead the girl applying it gets scorched. Then one Joe Sullivan, film maker, astronomer, drives to Cassidy's house, having received an email from him. Cassidy is famous, so this is quite a chance. The woman is still questioning Bill, and when he doesn't answer directly, she socks him. Bill is walking through darkness, seeing mists and smoke and maybe lava. Much casting about in darkness. The woman puts pain gloves on his hands, torturing him, but he doesn't crack. Bill and Joe experience more effects in the night. Noises. Flashes. The woman shoots Bill in the forehead, but he doesn't die, and half dead men grab at her. One puts a glowing ball to her head. Now she is possessed. She shoots herself through the head, but it doesn't end. She screams. A mass coronal ejection is when the sun sends radiation into space. Is this what it is all about? This is a low budget horror flick without much substance. Too bad.

I watched Thumbelina, an animated musical fairy tale. She is so called because she is the size of a normal person's thumb, springing full grown, clothed, and talking, from a freshly-grown flower in a pot that a good witch gave the lonely farm woman. Her golden hair falls almost to her knees. The farm animals loves her, as does her adoptive mother. Then she meets the fairy prince Cornelius, who is her size. They ride on his Bumble Bee. But that night she gets abducted by a toad and locked in a walnut shell. The dog tells the prince what happened. Meanwhile the toad family wants Thumbelina to join their song and dance act, popular with the forest animals, and marry Mrs. Toad's son. She is stranded on a floating lily pad, which then goes into the rapids. But she is rescued by the fish. She winds up with the jitterbugs, which are friendly insects. But the toad prince is determined to find Thumbelina and marry her himself. A beetle man puts her in the beetle dance. But they regard her as ugly. Jacquimo Swallow decides to help her. He searched for the Vale of the Fairies so he can tell he prince. But then the first frost of winter comes. That's bad for Thumbelina. A fox tells her that the prince was found dead in the snow. It's a lie meant to trap her. I'm not sure why creatures like the fox and mole are her size; foxes are way larger in real life. No, I'm confusing field-mice for foxes. Thumbelina decides reluctantly to marry the mole. Toad finds her, but she refuses him too. Everybody want to marry her! Then Prince Cornelius turns up and fights for her. She agrees to marry him—and she sprouts wings, becoming a fairy. And they live happily ever after. A fun fantasy.

I watched The Disappointments Room. Dana, David, and 5 year old son Lucas move from the city to a rural southern mansion in need of restoration. So far so good. Lucas finds a cat, Rascal, in his room. The surrounding land is overgrown, and there's something nasty out there. Dana is an architect. She has scary dreams. She is outside at night when a light comes on briefly upstairs, where no one is. She investigates. There are bats there. Behind a big dresser there's a hidden door, locked. She finds a box of keys, but none of them fit this door. Then she finds a separately hidden key that works. She goes in; the door slams behind her. Tormented by visions, she sleeps on the floor. The door opens and she escapes. David and Lucas hadn't missed her. Her bad dreams continue. A girl died here July 5 of some prior year, but there's a girl in this house, or a ghost. A woman in town tells Dana of the Disappointments Room some houses had, where unwanted children were confined until they died, their very existence hidden. That must be the case here. Dana has seen that child. She has a vision of Lucas being torn apart by a black dog. What she finds is the cat Rascal torn to bits. Is she losing her mind? David is worried. A young local man does work for them. She rips out the paintings of the house's former owner and burns them. The young man locates and digs up an old coffin. He get bashed and hung from a tree. Dana sees a vision of the father killing the girl by taking a hammer to her skull. They leave that spooky house. That father is still there. End of movie. The one nice thing about it is the concept of the Disappointments Room.

I read I, Libertine, by Theodore Sturgeon, originally published under a pseudonym, Frederick R. Ewing. Sturgeon was arguably the finest stylist the science fiction genre has had, beloved of critics and of readers, an unusual combination. He died in 1985 at age 67 and remains revered. Yet he was not the most read author; critically disdained writers like me were far more successful commercially, let alone ones like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Why? I have been interested in Sturgeon for some time. In 1982 I went with my then twelve-year-old daughter Cheryl to the Science Fiction Research Association, SFRA, meeting in Kansas, where I met Sturgeon. In fact I sat beside him on stage, part of a panel. His eyes were locked throughout on Cheryl in the audience, making her uncomfortable. Sturgeon has been called the apostle of love, his stories tackling deeply human themes, and Cheryl was then at the very dawn of womanhood, a fantasy maiden, exactly the type he noticed. But that is peripheral. What did I have that Sturgeon didn't? Two things, primarily. The first was discipline; I could sit down and write at any time, feeling like it or not. He couldn't; it was an awful effort for him to write. What an irony: one of the finest writers extant, with editors eager for his work, who didn't much like to write. So his output was relatively small. The other thing was that I truly like to write, as he did not; I am most nearly alive when I am writing. I think that is true for many, perhaps most writers in any genre. Certainly it's not really for money; authorship is a low paying profession, at the edge of poverty, except for a few flukes. So we write a lot, while Sturgeon wrote little. You can't sell if you can't write.

So what of this novel? I regard it as an object lesson in the conflict between what critics like and what readers like. The style is phenomenal, as Sturgeon explores British society of two centuries ago; the author obviously has the nuances of dialect and manner down pat. The problem is that I, as a garden variety reader, am not much interested in those nuances; I want the story to get on with the action, change, revelation and wonder. This book takes forever to do so. Lance Courtenay is a young man of superior breeding who has yet to achieve his proper place in society. The notorious Lady Chudleigh visits the neighborhood with her lovely assistant Miss Axelrood. Axelrood charms Lance, then appears in his apartment and asks him to assist Chudleigh. He does, though it complicates his life. Progress through the novel is slow to the point of tedium, but eventually surprises come. It is really more style than substance. There's not much there there. So it has wide praise and few readers. Too bad.

I watched The Device. Abby and Rebecca, sisters, visit their family's cabin in the woods. They dump the ashes of their late mother in the lake there. They remember what happened twelve years ago, as they reunite after a decade apart. It seems that Rebecca was kidnapped, turned up pregnant, and has traumatic memories of the occasion. Now Abby finds a seemingly harmless black ball, near the wreckage of maybe an airplane, and her hand gets cut. She doesn't want that ball to be near her. They leave the cabin and go to their house in town. Abby's fiance Kelvin is intrigued by the ball. When he rolls it on a table, it curves around and rolls back to him, even when the table is tilted. Abby starts having nightmares. The ball starts to glow in the night. Kelvin gets blood on his fingers from touching the ball. Is it a “black box” from the wreckage? Abby is discovered to be pregnant. A three fingered alien man appears and touches Abby. The ball is under her bed. Rebecca remembers seeing UFO aliens, who took her boyfriend Chuck away and she never saw him again. Abby is visited by the alien, who pokes a finger painfully, bloodily into her belly. She takes the ball and throws it in the lake. Kelvin learns he is sterile, so her baby is not his. Abby talks with the doctor who aborted Rebecca's baby. He says it was alien. Now Abby is similarly pregnant. Kelvin attacks Rebecca. And the ball is back with Abby. She takes it to Kelvin, then throws it into a pit. He chases it, and it kills him. Abby cuts the alien device out of her hand so it can't track her any more. The alien comes for her anyway, knowing where she is. It takes the baby out of her. She sees it and screams. End of movie. So this is part psychological thriller, part alien contact. It could have been more, in more competent hands.

I watched The Deadlands. The villain Wirepa foments mischief and treacherously slaughters the men of the Maori tribe, in Indenusia. Only the chieftain's teenage son Hongi escapes. He must avenge this murder, but he is only one against many. His only hope is to pass through the forbidden deadlands and forge an alliance with the mysterious warrior there. He goes and meets the warrior's wives, then talks with the warrior, who is uncertain whether to kill and eat him, or to help him. A wife says he should help the boy. So he does, training him in combat. They tackle Wirepa's band, killing them in fair combat one by one, but Wirepa escapes. The Warrior is struck down, but survives. Hongi takes care of him. The Warrior eats a drug and talks to his ancestors. Hongi talks with the woman Mehe of another tribe. Behe and the Warrior talk, then fight, and he kills her, because she would have told the others that he was just a man, and her tribe would have come to take his tribe's lands. He says that he killed his ancestors while they slept. He says he is not the hero, but the monster. Then they go after Wirepa and his four remaining warriors, who hole up in an old fort. Hongi and the Warrior set fire to it, so the men have to come out. Wirepa defeats the Warrior, but then Hongi defeats Wirepa, but spares him rather than give him an honorable death. Shamed, Wirepa walks away. It is the Warrior who has the honorable death. This movie is mainly combat, but there is Maori culture there.

I watched the comedy Deep in the Valley. Lester and Carl are hungry for girl-type action. They enter a video booth, and it takes them to Deep Valley, where scantily clad police girls arrest them. This world is like an adult film, with shapely girls in exposive clothing or outright bare breasted. So they encounter parody comedy characters as they try to escape back to their own world, some friendly, some unfriendly. A mean woman tortures Lester by apparently giving him an enema of air, maybe promoting gas pains. Plot is not the point; sexy exposure is. They have one rule: you can't fall in love. But Carl does, and gets banished back to home. And his new girlfriend follows him.

I had planned to start writing Xanth #46, Six Crystal Princesses, after the turn of the year, but had a bit of time left over so tried starting it in AwGhost, just to see if there was something there. I'm a writaholic, and I just have to be writing something, and other projects had wrapped up. And it moved, coming together nicely. So now I have written 26,000 words, three and a half chapters, a quarter of the novel. Prince Ion and Princess Hilda, eleven years old, the twin children of Queen Ida, King Ivy's sister, both have Magician or Sorceress magic talents, being descendants of Bink. He is immune to all elixirs. That might not seem like much, but his immunity enables him to collect all manner of them, from healing elixir to youthening elixir to accommodation elixir, that last being what divergent creatures like big ogres and tiny imps use to relate intimately. The elixirs don't affect Ion, but have potent effects on others, as we see in the course of the novel. Hilda sews magic into cloth. For example she sews a flying carpet that will take them anywhere. Anyway, they decide to rescue the six princesses trapped in crystals by a dragon, and therein is the novel. It turns out that they aren't ordinary princesses; they're feminists of six different species: human, elf, goblin, centaur, bee, and demon. They need to find suitable princes for them, as they can't just be set loose unattended. In medieval Xanth princes don't much favor feminists. So there's a challenge, complicated by the fact that the rescuers are children, forbidden by the dread Adult Conspiracy from knowing exactly how princes relate to princesses at night. It gets wild in places. You of course will be there, when.

I have a certain interest in cancer, in significant part because my elder daughter Penny died of melanoma a decade ago, one of the private tragedies of my life. I'd like to see cancer banished from the face of the world, but there are many types and they are still taking folk out in droves. Well, the August 2019 issue of ALTERNATIVES, the best health newsletter I know of, features a possible cure for cancer. Proprietor Dr. David Williams is justifiably cynical about prospects. “We no longer talk about cures. The focus has shifted to developing drugs and programs that manage and control disease. There's no money in curing and eliminating diseases. But there's a neverending profit stream associated with managing them.” See what I mean? He's right on target, of course, but I suspect is about to become very unpopular with the disease-managing industry. “It's hard to believe that the primary goal of these cancer facilities is to find a cure and put themselves out of business. If a universal cure to cancer is discovered, rest assured the industry will make it difficult to obtain, and it will cost a fortune.” “Cancer has become a $500 billion-a-year business.” He documents cases where treatments jump from pennies per pill to hundreds of dollars per pill. The vendors are not interested in your health, so much as the money they can squeeze from you. I have remarked before how I went generic on my thyroid medication, reducing my cost from about thirty dollars to five dollars per prescription, only then to have generic jump to fifty dollars. It's worse with other generic drugs; people are suffering. I feel that gouging the public on necessary medication should be a criminal offense. I think it would be, if the politicians were not in the pay of the big industries. But I don't run the world. Anyway, cancer is a live wire. Is there actually a cure? There may be. There is a dog de-wormer called Panacur C, whose active ingredient is fenbendazole, or FenBen for short. They have used this family of drugs to treat gastrointestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms and pinworms safely for six decades. It's for animals, but seems to be safe for humans too. But it has a side effect: it may cure cancer. Maybe all forms. It seems veterinarians have known about it for decades, including this aspect. But there's no money in promoting it as a cure for cancer; who would pay for a big controlled study to prove a treatment that is already in the common domain? Not the companies who would have their business wiped out by such proof. So it has lain fallow. Which is part of what gets my dander up: did they let my daughter die because there was no profit in curing her of cancer? Um, not necessarily, as there was no sign of metastasis in her case until suddenly it was everywhere in her body, but it's a suspicion. What is the evidence that FenBen works? Well, in 2016 Joe Tippens was diagnosed with incurable, advanced small cell lung cancer and given less than a one percent chance of survival even with aggressive treatment. His weight dropped to half. So he tried the dewornmer, without telling his doctors. In three months he was clear of cancer, and remains cancer free today. He is not the only example. About 400 people are taking FenBen, with 70% success. The failures may be because they started it too late; there are limits. So the main doubt seebn to be not in whether it works, but in whether it would approach 100% success in a controlled study. Okay, I shared this information with my son-in-law, John Nanci, yes, Penny's widowered husband, who is a chemist, and who has a similar interest to mine in this respect. I lost a daughter; he lost his wife. That still hurts a decade later. He pointed out that the sample is awfully small. More study is needed before we can say this is not a fluke. Also that Dr. Williams seems prone to positive interpretation, not stressing negative indications the way he does positive ones. But the limited evidence so far is persuasive, even with those cautions, and this might or might not have saved Penny. So if you have cancer and face likely death soon because your money for sky-high treatments that only slow, not stop, the malady is exhausted, what do you have to lose? You can buy Panacur C directly from Amazon or other online pet supply companies, or through your local pharmacy if it is cooperative. Say it is for your pet, if you have to. But first check my source, because I am no doctor, ALTERNATIVES Volume 22, No. 8, August 2019. The email address is feedback@drdavidwilliams.com. My hope is that it is true, and that there will be a growing base of patients who try it, with or without their doctors' approval. Because too many doctors accept what the commercial pharmaceutical industry tells them, and that may be suspect. In fact, it would be nice to blow lid off the suppression of the news of a possible general cancer cure and get the truth at last, whatever it may be. It's too late for my daughter, but if other lives can be saved, that will make it worthwhile.

Briefer notes on assorted lesser matters: It seems that Trump's polls are dismal. But polls are not necessarily reality. Now counterfeit books are appearing in Amazon's virtual bookstore, and to hell with their copyrights. Also top publishers are suing Audible for taking proprietary audiobooks, converting them to unauthorized text, and distributing that as “new” books to their customers. Audible is owned by Amazon. The worst predator on mankind is the mosquito, transmitting diseases that may have killed almost half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived. There's a movie, sympathetic to Trump voters, The Hunt, that has been shelved. It is a satire where folk deemed racists are kidnapped and become the prey in a savage hunt, so the sympathy is with them. Maybe some day that censorship will ease and we'll get to see it. I oppose censorship regardless of its orientation. 73% of all extremist related deaths in the US over the past decade have been linked to right wing terrorists. Immigrants are being told to go back where they came from. I'm an immigrant from England, but my life is American. I plan to stay here. We're all immigrants if you go back far enough. Can video games contribute to mental health? They hope to improve the storytelling aspect to make it work. Yes, I believe in storytelling. They may be thinking of adding more biofuel to gasoline, or rather petrol, in England. My impression is when they diluted gasoline by 10% biofuel in America, our mileage per gallen declined by ten percent. That makes that benefit illusory. They are getting closer to mind control for gadgets. That could really help folk like Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent. Meanwhile Artificial intelligence, AI, is learning how to imagine itself in another party's place. That's theory of mind, and is progress. In my novels robots are fully conscious and feeling, but real life robots (as it were) still have a long way to go. The August/September 2019 issue of FREE INQUIRY, the secular humanist magazine, has an eight page ad insert introduced by the editor that is a takeoff on Christianity. “For a humane and genuine morality, Christian theology and Christian free will must be killed dead,” it says, and makes its case. It's a strong case; it impresses me. One of the books on my reading list addresses this subject, so I will have more to say on it in another month or so. Climate change is degrading our cropland, which in turn leads to further change. A high school teacher says that the advent of the smarphone is messing up his classes. Students bring the phones to class and watch them instead of paying attention to the class material. I was an English teacher before I made good as a writer, and holding students' attention was a challenge then, because most seemed not to want to learn anything; it must be worse today. I wonder how these kids expect to make a living, when they get out of school? Research is finding some genetic links to same-sex behavior, but they can't seem to narrow it down to specific genes. Conservatives say that the gays choose that behavior, as if that is a condemnation. Why shouldn't they choose it, just as conservatives tend to choose to be tight-assed about sex in general? Letter in NEW SCIENTIST says that this ransomware epidemic could readily be stopped, if companies simply backed up their records on a secure computer. Um, yes, but what about the delayed action traps, that manifest hours or days later? They would take out the backups too. Still, company security does seem lax. Article in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that we don't really see reality, we see our mock-ups of it that it may be a collective delusion. Yes, this is like the problem of consciousness: it may be an illusion, just as the seeming reality of a movie or TV show is illusory; what we actually see are pictures or parts of pictures replacing each other so rapidly that it seems like reality. So while I don't doubt my own consciousness, I concede that it may be to an extent illusory. An article on drawing water from even the driest air; new devices are being developed to do it, and it could solve the fresh water problem. They are discovering more dinosaurs. The problem is that not all happen to get fossilized; it's a matter largely of chance, so we miss some. We think of dinosaurs as a failed life experiment, because they are gone now, but they lasted maybe a hundred times as long as we have. It was only ill chance that took them out, making space for us. Bananas may be doomed; a fungus is taking them out and so far there seems to be no way to stop it. Ouch; we like bananas and eat them daily. Where is biological science when we need it? And from an article human exceptionalism by Adam Neiblum in the August/September 2019 issue of FREE INQUIRY: “Yet we are still prone to the dualistic thought-hangover of seeing poop, pee, and boogers as animal while failing to recognize that equally so are Bach and Beethoven; the Sistine Chapel; our landing on the moon; our ability to negotiate an intersection with four-way stop signs, or the collected works of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris.”

Daughter Cheryl went online and downloaded some spot research (TED talks) on subjects that interest me, such as Consciousness, that I discussed last column and mentioned above. (I don't go online any more; my system takes something like five minutes per keystroke online, and I lack the patience.) Untitled talk by Michael S A Graziano in February this year inquires What is Consciousness? He says that there is an important distinction between the brain's processing of information, and our experience of that processing. That experience is our consciousness, as with my analogy of the motion picture. The reality of what we experience may be largely illusionary. Okay, but that does not address two of my criteria for effective consciousness: feedback and feeling. We need to be feeling ourselves feeling ourselves, or we're not in the picture. We need to care about the ongoing experience, or it is pointless.

Anil Seth in April 2017 had a wonderful discussion of consciousness. He said we are all hallucinating all the time, and that when we agree about our hallucinations we call it reality. Again I think of the motion pictures, where you aren't really seeing what you're seeing, and must reluctantly agree. It is important; as he says, “Without it there's no world, no self, there's nothing at all.” He also suggests that if we can experience joy and suffering, what about other animals? Do they also have a sense of self? On that I completely agree. They do, and I deplore their mistreatment by mankind. Will there come a point where computers also develop a sense of self? I think so; the robots in my fiction, do, as I remark earlier in this column. He says “Consciousness and intelligence are very different things. You don't have to be smart to suffer, but you probably do have to be alive.” This guy is sharp! He says that in the past we thought the mystery of life was inscrutable, but now we are learning its chemistry. “So as with life, so with consciousness. Once we start explaining ts properties in terms of things happening inside brains and bodies, the apparently insoluble mystery of what consciousness is should start to fade away.” He says there are the sights, sounds, smells and so on, like a 3D, fully immersive inner movie. Then there's the conscious self, the experience of being you or me. “Imagine being a brain. You're locked inside a bony skill, trying to figure what's out there in the world. There's no lights inside the skull. There's no sound either. All you're got to go on is streams of electrical impulses which are only indirectly related to things in the world. Whatever they may be. So perception – figuring out what's there – has to be a process of informed guesswork in which the brain combines these sensory signals with its prior expectations or beliefs about the way the world is to form its best guess of what caused those signals. The brain doesn't hear sound or see light. What we perceive is its best guess of what's out there in the world.” This is a beautiful analogy. I think of a prisoner in solitary confinement, in darkness and silence, desperate for news from outside. So he picks up the trace vibrations in the wall with his fingertips and interprets them, gradually getting a picture that may be as much his imagination as reality. “We don't just passively perceive the world, we actively generate it. The world we experience comes as much, if not more, from the inside out as from the outside in.” It is controlled hallucination, all that we have to go on. And our experience of self is another hallucination, shaped over million of years of evolution to keep us alive in a dangerous realm “We predict ourselves into existence.” Can this be done with machines? “Just making computers smarter is not going to make them sentient.” He concludes “With a greater sense of understanding comes a greater sense of wonder, and a greater realization that we are part of and not apart from the rest of nature. And … when the end of consciousness comes, there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all.” I think this guy is a genius.

As AwGhost ended, Hurricane Dorian was orienting on Florida. Every hurricane tries to reach me, but their eyes are poor and they have trouble finding me. But Dorian took perfect aim; our little tree farm was dead center of the cone of probability. But as the storm approached it realized that it would have to traverse the whole of Florida to get here, which would drop it from super hurricane status to mere tropical storm status, a heavy penalty. But if it stayed over warm water, veering north, it might manage to reach the top, category 5. So it is pausing to think about it, and probably it will stick to the warm water. Wouldn't you? In our 31 years here on the tree farm, we have never seen hurricane force winds, though several named storms passed right over us. They don't think very well, but they are learning. We'll see how smart Dorian is.

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