|Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.|
This month, Jamboree 2020, Open Road has Xanth #20 Yon Ill Wind on sale all month in the USA for $1.99. That's the one where the Demon Xanth loses a Demon wager and has to assume the form of a donkey-headed dragon and associate with a mortal woman, who must shed one tear of grief or love for him before he is freed. And he gets the wrong woman, Chlorine, whose talent is to poison water. She has long since cried herself out, is bitter, and has only one tear left, which she is not about to waste on such a monster. A Mundane family also gets lost in a storm and winds up in Xanth, joining them. So if you like really fouled up fantasy cheap, here's your chance. Face it: if you had good taste, you wouldn't be here.
I watched Firefox. Firefox is the code name for a radar-invisible thought controlled airplane that flies at six times the speed of sound, the most formidable war machine ever built. But it's Russian. Gant (Clint Eastwood) is sent on a secret mission to steal it. He has three months of training. He visits Moscow as a legitimate businessman. They are watching him, following him. He is supposed to meet three men and do exactly what they say. He meets them; they kill one of them and put Gant's papers on the body. Now he is officially dead and has assumed a new identity, escaping the surveillance. But the KGB picks up on him again, he kills one and escapes again. The two he met are helping him. They set him up with another new identity, but the Soviets are on their tail. He leaves the moving car at night; his companion will try to lead the pursuit astray. He succeeds in bashing the pursuing car into a flaming rollover. Gant connects with a man and woman team who brief him on the layout of the complex and the details of the route to the plane. There will be a fiery diversion. Finally he sees the plane itself, a futuristic machine. But now they know who he is, and that he is in the complex. The diversion starts, and fire rages. The ones who helped him die. He boards the plane and starts it up. He makes it outside and takes off. The Soviet authorities contact him and ask him to return. He declines, then reverses course. They think he is going south; he. He heads north. He puts the plane through its impressive paces. They figure out where he is going, as they ready the duplicate plane. They search for his refueling craft. He is running out of fuel and must refuel. The refueling submarine rises through the ice of the sea. Gant lands beside it, barely avoiding the bare water. They start refueling, but the Soviets are converging. Refueled, Gant takes off again. He thinks he's home free. Then the duplicate craft catches up with him. They duel in air with bullets and missiles. Gant manages to destroy the other craft. Now he can make it safely home. I think this movie could be shortened by half an hour in the first half, but then it gets into good, compelling action.
Daughter Cheryl rearranged the living room and got a new Blu-Ray/DVD player, so we tried out the setup watching Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The first Jumanji as I recall was a wild board game that led into things like stampeding elephants. This one is a video game. Four teens in detention discover an old video game console, turn it on, and soon get literally sucked into a jungle world, and into the bodies of their avatars. One pretty girl finds herself in the body of a nondescript man; the more ordinary girl becomes a martial arts woman. A nerd turns into a muscular man. All this requires some adjusting, especially since they are not conversant with the jungle, and there are marauding cyclists coming after them. One fun sequence is when the former pretty girl, now a portly bearded man with glasses, drills the other is how to be sexy. Then that girl goes to distract several men most effectively until she is close enough to lay them out with roundhouse kicks, while the others in the group accomplish what they need to to progress in the game. They have to win the game in order to get out of it. They finally succeed, and return to their original bodies, but their relationships to each other have changed. It's a worthwhile movie.
I lead A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, which was recommended by reader Chad Jones. The title relates to the supposed mercy of not losing love, death being preferable but severe. Death in love, not death of love. The author knew C S Lewis, and a number of Lewis letters are included in the text. Sheldon fell in love with Davy, nickname of his girlfriend and later wife, and neither could face the prospect of losing the other, so they made a pact to die together, “The Shining Barrier.” But then she did get ill and die and he had to suffer. C S Lewis was helpful throughout, and then Lewis fell in love and lost his wife, and wrote A Grief Observed, which I reviewed last month. So it is an interesting connection. I appreciate it all the more by being in my own grief when reading them. He suffers, then Davy returns to him for a brief visit. He knows she is dead, that this is a dream, but it is her, and he is glad of it. She says she can't stay long, and she departs. Then he suffers what he calls the second death: the end of his grief. He now accepts that she is gone; all that is left is emptiness. He would rather have kept the grief, because then he was closer to her. I relate to that too.
Daughter Cheryl got loose on Black Friday and bought things on sale-we are suckers for sales--including a giant 55 inch diagonal TV, twice the size of anything we have had before. It has all sorts of features that I, a relic from a prior century, am not familiar with. But some I like, such as the subtitles on regular TV broadcasts. I have hearing aids now, but dialogue can still come across mushy, so subtitles really help. We watched one of her DVDs, Alita, Battle Angel, which turned out to be a near future fantasy about a man who discovers the remnant of an cyborg, that is, a human brain and android body, only the head, chest, and one arm remaining, thrown away in the junk pile. He happens to be an android repairman, so he builds her into a new body, and she's one cute seventeen year old girl with a mostly mechanical body. Contemporary animation makes it look real. She turns out to be a sophisticated warrior, the most advanced of her kind. She takes on monstrous android men who treat her with contempt, and reduces them to, well, rubbish. This is one case when a delicate-looking girl can indeed battle big men effectively, because her heart has enough power to run a city for months, and her speed and training are formidable, and she has motive and guts, so to speak. So it is mostly a slam bang action show, but fun. And no, they didn't have her flashing luscious flesh. I enjoyed it anyway.
The second movie we watched on the big new TV screen was Pokemon: Detective Pikachu. As I have mentioned, I come from the 20th century and am not really at home in the new 21st century. Pokemon is one of the things I don't properly comprehend. As I understand it, the Pokemon characters are animate cartoons that mix with real people, and there are supposed to be teams of one of each, so that they can accomplish greater things, whatever they may be. The Pokemon Pikachu gets together with our human protagonist, a regular man, and they try to solve the mystery of the man's father's death. It looked like an accident as his car drove off the road into a canyon, but they are suspicious. One character who seems like an enemy is MewTwo, who reminds me of Catwoman in another series: feline, female, and intriguing. She is bare and breasted, but not provocatively so. But she is not a cat; she's more like a dinosaur in cat form, with a substantial serpent's tail. It turns out that she is actually on their side. When bad guys blasted father's car off the road, she saved him by merging him with his Pokemon companion, who was better able to survive the crash. At the end she undoes the merger and father is back alive. There's a whole lot else I hardly grasped, but it is nevertheless a fun movie. If they have another with MewTwo in it, I'll probably watch it.
The third one we watched was Captain Marvel, this one female. It's a bit jumpy for my taste; modern film makers seem to have forgotten the craft of intelligible storytelling. It is mostly about her loss of memory so she doesn't understand the extent of her powers, and about the several malign enemies she encounters, who are trying to learn more about her. Finally she manages to fight her way out of the traps she falls into and recover parts of her memory. Then she discovers that the good aliens she was helping are actually bad ones, and the enemy aliens are good ones who have been maligned. This is mischief. At the end she swears that she will be going after the real bad guys soon. So we shall surely see a sequel, in due course. She has a phenomenal female shape when in costume, but up close she's more like an ordinary girl; no sexy exposure. No romance to speak of, either; this is action and mystery.
I read Simone and the Serpent's Sword by Davina Purnell. This is a standard fantasy, with the protagonist starting confused but finishing by winning all the marbles, at it were. With one difference: Simone is a teen who recently birthed a son, Joel, whom she nicknames Sweet Pea. This complicates her role as a sword wielder. She was in foster care, until a set of foster parents adopted her. Who in their right mind, adopts a pregnant teen? she wonders. But as it turns out, later, they had reason; they knew something she did not. She settles down to sleep with her baby—and wakes in a racing carriage drawn by four horses who are headed right for a cliff. She tries to stop them but they pay her no attention. Then a big man with golden hair rides up and grabs the traces of the lead team, and pulls them in a wide turn away from the cliff and guides them to a stop. He is Twain, and he becomes her companion as the story proceeds. So it starts with action, and continues with revelations. Simone is actually a Lady with unusual powers, which she needs to master in order to accomplish her mission here, saving the good kingdom. But she also has to take care of Sweet Pea and complete her mundane classes, so it's a fair load. The writing is not completely professional and there are perhaps electronic reader generated typos, but overall it is interesting and consistent, a worthwhile story.
I watched Love, Death, and Robots,an adult animated science fiction anthology consisting of 18 assorted episodes.
“Sonnie's Edge” A fighting woman is offered a substantial bribe to throw a match. She refuses. She was tortured before, her face marked. and now is getting back at the men who did this to her. Two monsters fight in the ring; the smaller, femalish one, finally wins the gory struggle. Then a beautiful young woman visits her seductively, and abruptly attacks her, smashing her: the briber's revenge for her denial. But then she reanimates as the monster and kills tho woman and the briber; she wasn't in that body. It was a counter-trap.
“Three Robots.” Three robots visit a post-apocalyptic city. One resembles a powerful man, another is an orange dwarf, the third is a female shaped like a pyramid. They discuss how humans eliminated themselves by poisoning air, water, and land. They encounter cats, who now dominate this world.
“The Witness” a young woman sees a murder committed. She tries to summon help, but it's complicated. She strips nude, escaping, then dresses, to a degree. She does escape, I think.
“Suits” Henry “Hank” Graves goes out to check a breach in security while Beth remains inside to keep track of things. He operates a giant walking robot, but things are attacking. They are thousands of DeBees. Then dinosaur-like machines attack. They save the farm, but lose a neighbor.
“Sucker of Souls” Archaeologists explore a tomb, and are attacked by the demons within. They get trapped inside, the exit guarded by Dracula the Impaler. They encounter dozens” of cats.
“When the Yogurt Took Over.” A special new yogurt culture becomes sentient. The yogurt takes over. Then the yogurt takes off for the stars, leaving mankind behind.
“Beyond the Aquila Rift” Greta says there's been a navigation error, and now they are light years off course. The man and Greta make love. They are 150,000 light years from home, and it is several hundred years later. In it really Greta? Suzy doubts it. Greta is a multi-legged insect. But she does like him and the others.
“Good Hunting” Magical creatures are losing their magic and getting weaker. Yan is stuck in her human form, and then in I think a cyborg form. Now she just wants to hunt the evil men who did this to her. Assisted by a deadly cat.
“The Dump” the old man Dvorchack is supposed to clear out of the dump, as it has been sold. So he tells a story. A monster eats his friend. Then back in the present the monster eats the inspector. The dump will survive.
“Shape Shifters” Decker's desert squad is attacked. Some soldiers are shape shifters, werewolves, who are unpopular with the regulars. There is a night fight between two werewolves, theirs and ours. Ours kills theirs, and carries the body into the desert.
“Helping Hand” Anthem is a spacewoman, working on a station in orbit. A malfunction dooms her to die in space. She disconnects pieces of her suit and herself to throw of impel her to safety, sacrificing her left arm. Ouch!
“Fish Night” Two men get stranded in the desert when their car stalls. This region was once a sea. They sleep in the car, and wake under the sea. Fish and swimming reptiles surround them. The younger man strips and swims to the surface. And gets eaten.
“Lucky 13” Name of the ship that lost two crews, so a woman gets to pilot it next. They go on a mission, get attacked, and fly in caves underground to escape. She flies 19 more mission, and suffers no casualties. Thus it becomes Lucky 13. They get caught on the ground, but do save the men. She gets a new ship, but she wishes it could still be Lucky 13.
“Zima Blue” Zima is a muralist, painting ever greater things. Claire finally gets to interview him. Zima had become a cyborg. He had started as a woman. Claire must tell that story.
“Blindspot” Their mwission is to steal a microchip. Kali, the rookie, gets the toughest jobs. But they succeed, though the others are saved only by their back-up brains.
“Ice Age” They discover a frozen lost civilization in their refrigerator. As they watch it progresses rapidly to more recent cultures, right up to nuclear war. Then it makes it to the future. Then it is gone. And back to the dinosaurs, with cave men, yet.
“Alternate Histories” Multiversity explores six alternate scenarios for Adolf Hitler's death, changing history. They get pretty wild, concluding with the squids taking over.
“The Secret War.” A Russian winter setting, World War Two. They encounter some kind of monster. Then more monsters come. They send one on a pony to break out and tell the authorities to bomb this place to rubble. They will die to save the world. It's an ugly struggle. The monsters win, but the bombing comes.
I did manage to finish writing the 102,000 words novel Xanth #46 Six Crystal Princesses, wherein four children go to rescue six princesses locked in crystals, and that turns out to be quite an adventure. Toward the end it introduces Apoca of the Lips tribe, who has a potent kiss and will be featured in her own novel, Xanth #47 Apoca Lips. That may be world shattering; can't think why. And on to my review of Crystal:
I read Six Crystal Princesses, by Piers Anthony. This is Xanth #46, written early because I needed a distraction from my wife's decline and death. It did help. The story concerns the twin children of Princess Ida, Ion and Hilda, age eleven, who decide to rescue six crystallized princesses from a dragon. Ida had been crystallized but accidentally released, and gone on to marry Prince Hilarion of the Kingdom of Adamant, next door to Xanth. But what about the other princesses? How could mere children tackle such a project with any chance of success? Well, Ion is a Magician and Hilda is a Sorceress, and their magic is potent. Still, they were supposed to fail to make it to the Good Magician, a gentle way of preventing them from getting into real trouble. But the protagonist is Vinia, a girl with short range telekinetic power, who helps Ion to walk, and she manages to pass the challenges and win their way through to the Good Magician's castle. After that they have a fabulous adventure, not only rescuing the princesses, but helping to establish the feminist Queendom of Thanx, which is Xanth spelled sort of backwards. If you are now or have ever been a child, you should like this one.
I read the twelve page discussion “Common Herb Cures Many Cancers” by CD Moulton. Back in SapTimber I discussed a breakthrough described in the August 2019 issue of the ALTERNATIVES newsletter that suggested a possible cure for many types of cancer, FenBen, used as a de-wormer for dogs. If you get cancer you should check that out for yourself, rather than have your life savings depleted by conventional treatments that in the end may not save your life. Now we have another possible cure for a number of types of cancer, derived from a weed plant, a herb, Ambrosia peruviania. It also may stop malaria and other maladies. When the author talked with one doctor, refuting the doctor's objections, the doctor called him a quack and stormed off rather than really consider it. Par for that course. There are a number of other herbs that may have curative effect. So if traditional medicine can't do anything for you, at a price you can afford, check this out for yourself, just in case. I speak as one who has suffered from the ignorance of conventional medicine, finding my own way to effective treatments for things like the common cold—Vitamin C—and hypothyroidism—levothyroxin. My doctor seems amazed by how healthy I am for my age, a vegetarian yet, but that's not entirely coincidence. Still, check anything out for yourself, because most of what seems like quack medicine is exactly that.
We watched Sherlock, another take on the famous series. This time both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are young men, unable to afford individual lodgings in London, and Sherlock needs an assistant, so they share an apartment. They both actually like the tension of going after dangerous criminals. Watson is tough and resourceful, and Sherlock is a genius. When called a psychopath he corrects it, saying he is a high-functioning sociopath. Yes, I researched sociopathy for my novel The Sopaths, and Sherlock is correct. They investigate a series of suicides that of course are masked murders committed by a serial killer posing as a cab driver, put up to it by the nefarious Moriarty. A worthwhile story, though I think my favorite remains the one where the Doctor is a woman.
I read Dreaming the Marsh, by Elizabeth McCulloch, a Florida author. The Interstate Highway passes by a large lake and a lovely marsh, but a planned development threatens to destroy this natural beauty. Then mysterious words appear on the side of a shiny new building: “Deep down and under/ Up to the sky/ Shining and plunder/ The well runs dry” They can't be erased, and they don't show in photographs, but are plain to people who go to see them. What do they mean? Then comes the monstrous sink hole, slowly swallowing all the land of the planned development. That is the background. The story concerns a number of local folk with their interesting histories. Such as Jade and Jasmine, two pretty sisters, one of whom is hetero, the other lesbian, both highly sexual. But the conclusion, in my mind, lacks resolution; the sink hole is there, the people are moving out, and that's it. The mysterious words, which change slightly, begin to have some meaning, describing the sink hole, but their origin is never explained. The marsh seems to be present only to be drained, the well running dry, so those who want to read about marsh life are apt to be disappointed.
As those interested know, I am in grief for my wife of 63 years, who died three months ago. I have been coping, thanks largely to my daughter and visitors. We have a house guest for the holidays and have been out and around, doing things like visiting Busch Gardens in Tampa, which has become a full-fledged amusement park, and the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Citrus County, where Lucifer the Hippopotamus governs. I admit to being a bit nervous when taking the Skyride at the Gardens, as we dangled precariously over the walks and buildings, but it was fun. But the fickle finger of fate will not leave me alone. My computer is glitching, putting wrong dates on things, so that each day I have to correct it “by hand” but it still manages to put wrong dates on stray files, some of which then get lost in the listings because the machine doesn't know that they are recent, not two decades old. So now I am behind on my reading and jammed on this column and will have to cut it short. Next month I'll get the computer fixed, I hope.
Several columns back I queried readers whether Xanth is sexist, as that was the given reason it was rejected as a planned movie. I think there were ten or twelve votes in all, male and female, none of which said it was sexist. One had a sour comment about the mental state of whoever thought it was sexist. Ugliness, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I suspect that some critics are too dull to catch on to the parody that abounds in Xanth, taking it literally.
I read the “Ask Marilyn” column when I see it; it runs in the Sunday supplement PARADE and that isn't always included in our local package. We subscribe to two newspapers, so can usually find it in one or the other, but sometimes it skips both. Regardless, one I did see was for Dismember 15 addressing the question “Why is high-fructose corn syrup linked to obesity?” Marilyn answered that it's no worse than sugar, having no more calories. Sigh; she's done it again. As I understand it, the thing about it is that it does not turn off the hunger signal when you have eaten enough. Other foods do. So you keep on eating it without the normal limit, packing in the calories. That's what incites obesity. You have to look a bit beyond what the commercial food industry tells you; its interest is in making you eat more, and buy more. It sure doesn't care much about your health.
Kameron Hurley has another good column in LOCUS magazine, titled “The Power of Giving a Damn.” She says she developed a chronic illness when she was 26 that forced her to re-evaluate how she treated herself and the people in her life, and what she allowed herself to care about. She discovered that she was not self sufficient. “What we need in order to be alive in this moment are the people around us.” So she became more interested in the world around her and in humanity generally. Superstitions and creepy fairy tails “were preparing us for strife, for death, for suffering.” She focused more passionately on her writing, “Allowing myself to feel, to care, to be hurt, was the only way I was ever going to produce any kind of work that mattered.” She came to believe that it was not a weakness to care about others. That “historically, it is small groups of passionate people who change the world.” Amen. I care about people, animals, plants, and the world, and am slowly zeroing in on a means to do my part to save it from the depredations of our out-of-control species. But I fear we are already beyond the point of no return. Fortunately for me, I am unlikely to be around when the chaos comes.
Interesting article in the newspaper for December 30 by Elizabeth Rosenthal titled “Analysis: In medical billing, fraudulent charges weirdly pass as legal.” She has been covering health care as a journalist and author. Now she got a face-full of it first hand. Her husband was on his bicycle and had a bad accident because of a pothole. He was charged over $9,000 for two days in intensive care, $20 for a pill that costs pennies at a pharmacy, myriad other charges, and over $7,000 for a “trauma activation fee.” Every component of his care was billed separately, so what was that for, aside from masked theft? He was also charged for doctor visits that did not occur, and services that were not performed. The list seemed endless. It was mostly covered by insurance, but why was the insurance paying for fantasy billings? She concludes “If we want to name the costs of our $3 trillion health system, we've got to rein in this behavior, which is fraud by any other name.” Yes indeed. And why aren't our politicians enraged by this, if they aren't on the take themselves? Is that where the trauma activation fee goes?
Article in THE WEEK reprinted from AEON titled “Working Hard at Being Happy” remarks on how hard we work to maximize our happiness, but concludes we'd be better off accepting that happiness is something that ebbs and flows, accepting that negativity is fundamental to life and thus to happiness. It seems that people in sad moods tend to be more persistent and hardworking in complex tasks. Folk in a Western culture pursuing happiness are four to ten times as likely to develop clinical depression or anxiety than those in an Eastern culture. Meanwhile the American Psychological Association revised its fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders so that any bereaved person grieving longer than two months might be considered to have a mental illness requiring medical treatment. Okay, my wife died three months ago and I remain in grief for her, so sign me up for mental illness. It won't be the first time that I deem the official standards to be crazier than I am. Recently I pondered when I might be ready to remarry, were there a suitable prospect available, as I do want to get on with my life, and I concluded that would be when I am ready to remove my wedding ring from my left hand and my wife's matching ring from my right hand. I am not ready today, and won't be ready tomorrow, or next week, or next month. In fact I may never be ready to do that. My wife is part of who I am; she lives on, in that manner, in me. Maybe when the good doctors of the American Psychological Association suffer similar loss and grief they will understand.
I'm a health nut; it is surely a significant part of the reason I have outlived the average American man, and for that matter, woman. I don't smoke or use deleterious drugs, I exercise seriously, keep my weight to what it was at college, do get enough sleep, stay busy, and I watch what I eat. I am a vegetarian, nudging toward vegan, so when I saw an article in NEW SCIENTIST about a nutrient vegetarians may be low on, my attention focused. This is Choline, pronounced KO-leen; it reminds me of the song about Jolene. “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, please don't take my man.” Lovely woman, lovely song. Choline, please don't take my health. It is an almost anonymous part of the Vitamin B complex. The richest sources are meat based. It makes up cell membranes and is important in the liver's fat metabolism, and helps in nerve signaling in the muscles and brain, especially for babies before and after birth. Women who take extra choline while pregnant tend to have smarter children. Just something to be aware of.
I live in Citrus County, Florida. Yes, the one that excluded the NEW YORK TIMES newspaper as fake news. I love the physical climate but not the political climate. As far as I can tell, local conservatives take whatever President Trump and his advocates are guilty of and accuse the Democrats of doing it instead. For example one published letter is headed “Democrats, take back your party.” It says the Democratic party has been compromised and no longer represents the values it had in the past. See what I mean?
Briefer notes: the scourge of robocalls continues, and they say they don't know how to stop it. One suggestion I have made is simply to have the phone companies charge a minimal amount, like one cent, for every call. Regular callers wouldn't notice, but the callers who make thirty million calls a month would. One passing annoyance was when I received a robocall purportedly from my wife, two days after she died. I didn't answer; I don't believe in ghosts. Is there a fifth force of nature? Scientists in Hungary claim they have found it. The four are gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and the strong nuclear forces. They call the new one a “protophobic force.” I will be interested to see what develops there. Of course in my fantasy the fifth force is Magic. The mundanes haven't caught up to that one yet.
The rush of holiday distractions messed up some of my movie reports; for example I saw but did not review the female sequel to Ghost Busters. It occurs to me that my reviews are of only peripheral interest to my readers, so maybe I will cut them down to passing mentions, a resolution for the new year. I don't like to bore my readers more than is good for them.
Thank you, to all who sent messages of support and condolence; I do appreciate your interest. I am getting along reasonably well, and expect to continue in that vein. Life does continue.
|Click here to read previous newsletters
|Home | What's New | Newsletter
Internet Publishing | Books | Xanth
Awards | Links | Email Us