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Piers Anthony, Aug. 1, 2020
Piers Anthony, Aug. 1, 2020

OctOgre 2020

HI-

OctOgre 3 addition: My thanks to Salguod Retrah, who keeps the Xanth Character Database up to date. He added the characters from Jest Right in SapTimber.

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MANNISON PRESS, of the Little Girl Lost and Little Boy Lost volumes, sent a story to contributors. “Time Served,” by Ronald Linson. I read it in fragments as a few minutes were available here and there while doing other things. Ralph Goodman is convicted of murder and sentenced to five years in the distant past, three million years ago. They give him a shot and when he wakes he is there in the Pliocene. It is actually fairly pleasant, on a grassy hillside with wildflowers, near a herd of small horses. Now all he has to do is survive. He manages, and does okay. When his time is up and they bring him back to the present, he just wants to return to the Pliocene. But there’s a surprise. Yes, you are wondering about paradox, since anything he changes might impact today’s world, but that is covered. It’s a nice story, maybe a signal of the kind this publisher will want when it does another volume.

My meandering mind leads me along some devious bypaths. One day it led me to one of William Butler Yeats’ lesser known poems, “Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop,” published in 1932. Old Crazy Jane has some of the most profound truths I have seen. “‘Fair and foul are near of kin,/ And fair needs foul,’ I cried.” Then she gives an example. “A woman can be proud and stiff/ When on love intent;/ But Love has pitched his mansion in/ The place of excrement; / For nothing can be sole or whole/ That has not been rent.” Think about that. If a man wants to make love with a woman and generate offspring, he must go between where she defecates and where she urinates. Some virginal women have a hymen that must be rent, that is, torn, before the act of love can be completed. So the fairness of love must handle the foulness of excrement and torn flesh. One needs the other; they are indeed near of kin.

I am at age 86 well into retirement age, but I am a workaholic, which means I can’t just relax and take things easy. My life continues constantly hectic, or so it seems. For example, I am trying to keep my books in print, because readers ask for them, and out of print novels can be hawked for several hundred dollars for used copies. I hate having my readers ripped off. But MUNDANIA PRESS folded, and has become unresponsive, which means that some of my best work is in limbo. DREAMING BIG has taken over my Relationships series of story collections, where some of my best and provocative fiction is, and DREAMING BIG is ready to republish the first five volumes. So I needed to find my original files on them, after changing computers and operating systems. Bear in mind that I have had 200 books published; back files can be tricky to locate in the crowd. I succeeded, with help, but it was a frustrating exercise. Yet typical. Not the least of my frustrations is the old Windows email system I inherited from my wife Carol. It is balky and difficult, and likes to abolish my email letters when I am maybe two thirds through them, so that I have to retype them, wasting my most precious commodity, time. Sometimes they can be found elsewhere, such as in trash or delete, but sometimes they are simply gone. When MaryLee tried to help, the letter was vanished beyond recall, and she had to do it over. Then next day the original version appeared, from we know not where. There really is a ghost in that machine.

Last month I planted decade-old wildflower seeds, hoping some would come up. Sigh; so far none have appeared. Oh we do get volunteer wildflowers, like dandelions, but it’s not the same. However the Sunken Garden as a whole is doing well enough. The latest planting is a seven foot tall papaya tree that so far seems to have survived the rigors of transplant with only the loss of a few branches. I transplanted our AeroGarden tomatoes and lettuces there when they outgrew the indoor no-soil unit, and so far they seem to like it. We also have three avocado plants grown from seed saved after eating the fruits. Limited gardening can be fun. I bury the household organic garbage there to let it compost. As I see it, composting is significant recycling, and I encourage it. In that connection here is another link for How to Make Compost; I was not able to display it on my aging computer system (you have surely heard the saying “Old age is not for sissies”), but those of you who reside in the 21st century more comfortably than I do should be able to invoke the site. Https://gardeningmentor.com/make-your-own-compost/.

I continue to write my current novel, Xanth #47 Apoca Lips, and am in Chapter 6, where a number of the early characters appear briefly, such as Bink, Chameleon, Trent, and Iris. A reader suggested it, and they shouldn’t fade away entirely as the series ages. I am able to write only a few hundred words a day, because of containing time-consuming distractions, but I am now about 43,000 words into it. Apoca, remember, is the gal with a devastating kiss. Then she kisses the Demon Chaos, whom you will meet in Jamboree 2021 in #44 Skeleton Key. It is said that a Demon is to a mortal person what a galaxy is to a grain of sand; she learns that the case is vastly understated. Fortunately Chaos is on her side. In Xanth demons and Demons are not evil: they are more like fundamental forces.

At this stage MaryLee and I have been married five months, and my guess is that we will last at least another month, year, or decade, as fate may decree. I promised her good things, like touring Disney World and the other local attractions, but the coronavirus degrees otherwise. Lockdown can’t last forever, can it? Don’t answer that. We do enjoy riding the Mule ATV out together in the mornings to pick up the newspaper. But I am also aware that it is the verge of the one-year anniversary of my wife Carol’s death. She lived to age 82, so I can’t claim we were parted early, and I am getting the bleep on with my life, but I can’t just tune out 63 years of togetherness. I really don’t much like death, for all that it is inevitable.

This column was interrupted by my bone density test. A side effect of the levothyroxin pills I take is loss of bone density, so I need to keep on top of it. A decade or two back I had osteopenea, which is a precursor to osteoporosis, so now I watch my bones as well as my general health. The test was routine, but still I felt faintly nervous as I had to lie on my back with my knees on a block while the machine went back and forth, humming like a big truck and beeping as it prepared to back over me.

We watched part of the Presidential debate, and didn’t bother to finish it. Debates are meaningless if the rules are not followed. The next debate will see the rules enforced, or lose its audience almost completely. That should get the networks to pay attention. It was as if this one never heard of a debate before. All that is needed is to give each debater his/her time to speak, and if the other party interrupts, turn off their mike until their turn comes. We don’t need any more yelling out of turn.

The newspaper comic Beetle Bailey had its 70th anniversary. It started September 4, 1950, and has had more than 25,500 strips. I remember; I was in high school, and it was a college comic. Then Beetle, on a dare, signed up for the Army, and has been there ever since. Perhaps it signaled part of my own life; I finished high school, spent four years in college, got married, and wound up in the US Army, because in those days young men got drafted. I had been raised in a pacifist Quaker family, and did not much like war, but my choices were stark: military service, or prison. I felt that less damage would be done to my conscience in the military than in prison, and never changed my opinion. Whether those with consciences should be imprisoned is a question it seems most Americans prefer not to think about. I might have avoided military service, as my wife was pregnant, so I was technically a father, exempt. But then she miscarried, and I was pitched into the Army for two years. I remember going to the Chaplain and explaining that while I was not a pacifist, I doubted that I could kill an enemy soldier (I am a lifelong vegetarian because I don’t like killing animals either). He said he was sorry that my patriotism was not better than that. So according the word of Jesus, to be patriotic means killing strangers? This became one plank in my general contempt for religion. I am not agnostic because I haven’t thought about it; it is that religion does not match my standard of morality. And yes, I believe that if Jesus came to the mortal world again, he would prefer my company to that of that Chaplain. Fortunately I served between the Korean and Vietnam wars, stateside, so was never put to the kill or be killed test.

I pick up stay correspondences, along the way, and some of them are interesting. Yes, of course, every fan of mine is interesting and superior, by definition. But some folk are different. One such is Marcus Ten Low, who puts out a newsletter, Wise Vystopia. The September 2020 issue discusses veganism. That is, the stage after vegetarianism, with no animal projects eaten or used. As a vegetarian I use milk and eggs, because it doesn’t hurt the animals to take them, though now that I know how badly those animals are treated, I am seriously considering turning vegan. I admire the vegans for their militant efforts, and believe the world will be better off when they finally drive the meat, milk, egg and leather industries out of business. Don’t laugh; they are making real progress, all over the world, and I do believe we will see it happen soon enough, like within a decade or so. With luck I will live to see it. Meanwhile a quote from Wise Vystopia: “Mainstream media will not tell you the shocking truth that the coronavirus started in a situation in which nonhuman animals were needlessly exploited. In fact, more than 75% of all pandemics, including mad cow disease, swine flu, and the coronavirus, are zoonotic diseases: that is, they have been cultivated among animals, particularly farmed animals, in the first instance.” He says that governments patch over problems but do not address core issues. “It has only been the power of the vegan movement that has heavily reduced the powers of the dairy industry, for example, and shown that when people learn the truth, they will do the RIGHT thing.” I am perhaps more cynical; I think they will do the right thing only when it gets cheaper and more convenient than the wrong thing. In the old days, when our leaders in America said all men are created equal, it turned out they didn’t mean black men, though they did know of slavery. They did not include women; the gender had to fight savagely to achieve equal rights, and that effort is as yet not quite complete. We are perhaps getting there soon. “Giving up meat, dairy and eggs will not only reduce your risk of dying from the major health complications such as heart diseases and cancer, it will boost your immune system, making you considerably less susceptible to infections. Your refusal to consume animal products such as leather, wool or silk will help make the world a better, more humane place. Most importantly – for the animals – choosing to live vegan will free your conscience and allow you to live the very best life without the hypocrisy that comes with consuming our animal cousins.” There is more. If this interests you, you can inquire to mlexa68@gmail.com, or donate to paypal.me/marcuslow1.

My book reading and video viewing has plummeted, thanks to the changes in my life of the past year; I hope to return to them in due course. Some readers may have noticed how much shorter my current columns are. But I do still go through my news and science magazines, and read the newspaper, and portions of this monthly HiPiers column are devoted to that. Herewith some of those items.

From May 30, 2020, NEW SCIENTIST (I did mention getting behind?) All five mass extinctions are now linked to global warming. I think it is that volcanic activity heats land, sea, and air, kills plants, and the animals starve. Um, yes, but it was a meteor that set off the volcanism that took out the dinosaurs, and today it is mankind’s pollution that is heating things without volcanoes. No Signal is a novel that has implants put in every person’s brain, controlling them. Thus everyone behaves. What could go wrong? I’m betting plenty. NEW SCIENTIST for July 18, 2020, has an article on AI, that is, Artificial Intelligence, and considers among other things whether machines can ever become conscious. That’s one of my buttons. MIT Professor Max Tegmark was interviewed, and the interviewer suggested that you can’t program something to have feelings. Tegmark says that’s a mistake we made with animals, thinking they don’t have feelings, and now we are doing it with machines. Oh, I agree; my novels have thinking, feeling robots. But what is the secret of doing it? They don’t know, but my guess is the right kind of feedback, that is, thinking about thinking, feeling about feeling. The breakthrough could be incipient. Another article ponders the secret of photosynthesis that plants accomplish; if we learn how to do it, would make food that bypasses plants. Then maybe we could leave Nature alone. THE WEEK for 9-25-2020 reprints an article from THE WASHINGTON POST Magazine about football-linked brain injuries from concussions. They do exist, but are hard to identify. That’s hardly the only concern. I was an experienced soccer player, but was excluded from the high school program without even a tryout, apparently because of my size, being the smallest in my class. In retrospect I suspect they did me a favor, because that spared me “heading” the ball, which could have damaged my brain. Newspaper item on how gun suicides are a public health crisis; half of American suicides are by guns. My sentiments are mixed; I don’t much like guns, and certainly don’t like the corrupt NRA, though my Army experience suggested I was a dead shot, but I do think folk should have the right to end their own lives if they so choose, and guns make that easy. And items on so called conservatism today. My take: since when did “Principled Conservative” became an oxymoron? Because it seems it is. And one on LGBTQ Hispanics in Miami who are objects of hate crimes but must suffer in silence. Only about a third of reported cases lead to arrests, and of course the great majority are not reported. I am a white heterosexual who loves the look and feel of women. I wouldn’t want to be persecuted for that, and don’t like seeing others get persecuted for their orientations. Perhaps related is a review of a book Democracy In Chains by Nancy MacLean, about the radical right’s stealth plan for America. They want to make America a plutocracy, and seem to be making good progress. I hope the coming election stops them cold.

More anon, when.

PIERS

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