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Piers Anthony, July, 2021

AwGhost 2021

HI-

When it comes to going wrong, Florida is no slouch. As the Delta Variant of the Covid-19 virus spreads in America, our governor the Trump clone is opening things up and blocking policies like mandatory masks and social distancing, so Florida is leading the resurgence of new cases. In fact, one in five new American cases is in Florida. THE WEEK had a lovely cover for 7-23-2021 showing the anti-vaxers marching with signs declaring freedom from masks and vaccines, plunging off a cliff. Two of them in midair are shapely young women. Male that I am, somehow it seems worse for a pretty girl to expire than a dull man. I got my first vaccination shot at the local Publix in JeJune, and my second in Jewel-Lye, Moderna, but MaryLee and I still wear masks in public and keep what distances are feasible. We never had a proper honeymoon, and hope that if the Virus ever fades away we can travel a bit, eat out, attend things like amusement parks, and generally act like newlyweds. At least, as I have remarked before, if you have to spend a year or more on home lock-down, it helps to be freshly married. No, we are not masked and social distanced in bed.

I read the news, columns, comics and such in the daily newspaper, keeping up in my archaic fashion. As I have also remarked, I come from another century and am slow to pick up on the conventions of this one the way the natives do. If I ever do watch the news online, it would probably be the Naked News, if it still exists. Yes I know, I come across as a dirty old man. To which I respond, why is a normal male interest in attractive young women considered dirty? My standard question on indecency is whether the body of a person shown as God made it is considered obscene. What does that say about God's designs? Anyway, I was amused by one day's Pickles comic wherein he was trying to write her a love note, but had trouble with the spelling, so that first he called her Sweaty Pie, then Angle Face.

I dream constantly when asleep, and sometimes when awake, as when I wish the powers that be in the film/TV industry would discover Xanth. But normally my dreams dissipate the moment I wake. up. But one recent one I remember. My dentist told me that I needed serious work on a tooth, and told me where to go to get it done. This turned out to be a blank building on a city street, without door or entrance. So I went to stand almost touching the wall, and I realized the panel before me was changing, becoming a kind of elevator. It bore me inside, where bright signs flashed, informing me that the procedure would take 38 minutes or cost $38,000. That did not freak me out, as a dreamer tends to accept the reality around him. Soon I found myself lying on a panel, recovering from the procedure, MaryLee lying beside me, maybe holding my hand reassuringly. Then I woke, and was bemused, because I now wear dentures and have no natural teeth. So what was with this dream?

In LOCUS for July was a review of a book on Roger Zelazny, by F Brett Cox. For those not familiar with Zelazny, I will say that back in my day he was a meteor in the Speculative Fiction genre, winning praise and awards galore, perhaps best known for his Amber series. He was younger than I, a contemporary writer, and you might think I would have resented the way he got all the attention while I was largely ignored. But this is what I call my Zelazny lesson: it is hard to resent a person who is constantly praising you. He always said how good a writer I was, and not just to me. We were friends. He died from cancer in 1995, and I was sorry. I note that his critical reception declined as his popular acclaim rose. I know how that is; I was a contender for awards until I became a bestseller; then forget it. Nobody likes me except the readers. So Zelazny faded, I think in significant part because the cancer sapped his writing enthusiasm, but he was indeed a good writer, and yes, we probably shall not see his like again.

Also in this issue of LOCUS is the column by Corey Doctorow, who generally has an insightful take on the undercurrents of the world. This one starts off “I care about monopolies for exactly one reason: self determination. I don't care about competition as an end unto itself, or fetishize 'choice' for its own sake. What I care about is your ability to live your life in the way you think will suit you, to the greatest extent possible...” He goes on to describe how outfits like Facebook are coming to control our illusion of choice. We would do well to understand his point, lest we lose our freedom to live by our own choices instead of what the big corporations dictate. This mischief is closer than you may think. Our world is quietly whimpering out. More on that anon.

Last column I remarked on the verb “pie/pied” that I was sure existed but wasn't in my dictionaries. As I have remarked, I have no belief in the supernatural, and I suspect this annoys it, so it gets back at me in little ways, like vanishing common things from existence. This has happened to me all my life, and pie is merely the latest example. Well, a reader sent me A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 3, which has it. It seems that it is a term for metal type that has become all jumbled up. It says “Obviously, sorting pied type is a time-consuming job.” So that's where fate hid what I suspect was a more general term, maybe in the manner of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, not realizing that my readers are smarter than I am and can sometimes ferret things out of obscurity. So this time I wasn't finked by the fickle finger of fate, or dinked by the dangling dork of destiny. This time. But fate is a most challenging antagonist. One of the classic bits I remember is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated from 11th century Arabic literature by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859: “The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,/ Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/ Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” Beautifully true words. Once Time or Fate have spoken, History is final, giving the Finger to those who object. Except in Fantasy, with time travel, though that can run afoul of Paradox.

I am reading little these days, apart from the daily newspaper, my news and science magazines, and correspondence, as I move slowly through my now collaborative serious novel Deep Well. But I did steal time to read the small anthology The Good, the Bad, & the Cute, published by Mannison Press as a minibook, because a story of mine is in it. I like to know the company I keep. This is subtitled “The Secret Ways of Dolls.” These twelve stories reveal things we did not know about dolls, who are not necessarily very nice when you get to know them. In fact some are downright vicious. This is no children's book. Most of the stories are fantasy, but one is maybe science fiction, as a doll helps steer a spacewoman straight so she can make it safely to Mars. Some, I think, I do not properly understand, such as “The Daily Isabelle,” by one of the editors, Ronald Linson. Grandma has a doll, Isabelle, that mysteriously changes outfits every day, amazing the protagonist, five year old Emily. She loves that doll. When she is ten, Grandma dies, and Emily inherits the doll. She takes it out of its cabinet – and suddenly Grandma is alive again, and Isabelle no longer changes. Three years later Grandma dies again, and Isabelle resumes changing daily. So it seems the doll extended Grandma's life, but I'm not clear how. Okay, Reader who is smarter than I am, so buy this book, read the story, and explain it to me. Maybe along the way you will find other stories here of interest, including mine. You do want to know about dolls, right?

I am a workaholic, but I can have trouble getting things done. Sometimes it seems that whatever I have to do, I must do something else first. Today, Sunday, I am trying to complete and edit this HiPiers column. But first I had to call the newspaper circulation department to inform them that one of the two newspapers I subscribe to was not delivered. I got an endlessly repeating recorded message that they are closed on Sunday. I finally left a recorded message. Will I get the newspaper? I am not sure they really want that to happen. Meanwhile today is Chore Hour Day. When I stopped doing archery, in part because I was losing two many arrows in the dirt when the refused to go where I aimed them, I dedicated the time to Chores, and that has really paid off, as I do make progress on things that would otherwise be neglected. Today, among other things, I cleaned out ovens and stove “eyes.” They have been gathering fallen bits of food for decades, and I thought they could endure a few more years, but MaryLee gave me the Word. Women aren't necessarily reasonable about such things. Married men will understand, while married women may mentally peer down their noses at me and say “Decades?!” So my time is cramped, as usual.

I received a booklet responding to the top ten objections to the Gospel. I am agnostic, with no particular concern for the Gospel. I looked at it, and have to say I regard this screed as specious. I could take it apart item by item, but what's the point? Believers will not listen to logic. I also saw a book being given out free at the post office, so I took a copy. It is The Enemy Unmasked, by Bill Hughes. It turns out to be not a thriller but a semi-political screed. It starts “The United States of America is at the brink of total collapse. Once a great and powerful nation, the United States is now in free fall to disaster from which she will never recover.” It goes on to say that it is evident that a Divine hand was protecting and guiding America, but now, as with the Romans, it has ceased to be good, and will no longer be great. What happened? A significant part of it is the malign influence of the Illuminati and the Jews. Need I go further? I don't disagree with all of it. As they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. For example, the Patriot Act should be thrown out. Yes indeed! For those who don't know, I regard that Act as one of the most unpatriotic pieces of legislation ever enacted. You think you have financial privacy? You don't. Because the Patriot Act requires financial institutions to give the government your figures, and to not tell you they are doing it. Their Privacy Statements are works of fiction. They are required to lie to you. So yes, America is in decline, but I think not entirely for the reasons this book says.

Clippings: they have found fossils in Canada that are 890 million years old, 350 million years older than they thought existed. This keeps happening; they assume that history must have started with whatever scientists or archaeologists find. Scientists are stumped by what's killing songbirds in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington DC, and eight other states, like the blue jay, starling, grackle, cardinal, robin, finch, sparrow, bluebird, red bellied woodpecker, chickadee and wren. They get swollen eyes and erratic flight. You don't suppose they are tuning in on contemporary politics and suffering repulsion? The national debt is worsening, hardly helped by the Trump tax cuts. Republicans blame it on Biden, but it goes back two administrations. There is a real gun made to look like a Lego toy. Lego wants that to stop, understandably. A woman stole a man's dog. Then she had remorse and returned it to him. He had offered a reward for the dog's return, but used it instead to help pay for a recovery program for her fentanyl addiction. I like that man, and maybe that woman too. The Virus vaccines cause some complications, like blood clots, but that risk is about four in a million, while the risks of Covid-19 are far worse. Article in NEW SCIENTIST FOR 1 May, 2021 (Did I mention how I have trouble keeping up? As the saying goes, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get!”) titled “The Wisdom of Trees” suggests that trees communicate with each other through their roots, and may have consciousness. The following article indicates that we are making progress against malaria, but the Covid-19 pandemic is messing it up. Vegetarian news: it seems that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Al Gore are among the big names backing Nature's Fynd, a startup developing meatless burgers, dairy-free cheese, chicken-less nuggets, and other products using a fermented volcanic microbe derived from Yellowstone National Park. This should reduce cruelty meat production and aid the fight against global warming. More power to them! Internet circulated story “The carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean” says that when you boil them, the carrot becomes soft in that adversity, the egg becomes harder, and the coffee bean changes the water around it. Which are you, when times get tough, a softener, a hardener, or a changer? The Equedia Letter says a massive disruption is in the making as a Chinese social network is poised to change the world. Tik Tok is taking over the internet. But I wonder about such electronic networks. What happens when the hackers go after them? I would rather not be dependent of them for my news, entertainment, and social life, and certainly not my privacy, lest it all be skunked by anonymous pirates. There's a new craze: Onewheels, futuristic skateboards with a single wheel. That certainly looks like fun, were I about 70 years younger. They found a chalk carving of a huge naked man with a stiff erection, dating back over a thousand years ago. It is near the village of Cerne Abbas in southern England. I wish I could see the woman who aroused him to his thousand year hard-on. She must be some creature. It may be the cerebellum that separated us from the chimps, rather than the prefrontal cortex. NEW SCIENTIST for 7-10-2021 explores the ten biggest questions about consciousness. That's one of my buttons, which is why I read it out of turn. First they wonder what it is, how a 1.3 kilogram organ the consistency of tofu can generate the feeling of being. But in all this discussion I did not see the answer, which is feedback. When perception looks at itself perceiving, it becomes self aware. When machines become conscious, that will be the mechanism. When a scientist wins the Nobel Prize for figuring that out, remember where you read it first, though I did not originate it. HOMETOWN CITRUS, a newspaper supplement, describes Monkey Island, where they put surplus monkeys. They feed them twice a day and let them be. Makes me wonder whether the planet Earth is the equivalent God set up for surplus humans? THE WEEK wonders how close we came to Trump disaster. “We now have even more evidence that Trump was unhinged, and viewed laws, rules, and norms as 'irrelevant.' If Republicans choose to support another Trump run in 2024, it will be 'crystal clear what they are signing up for.'” I suspect it will be the death of their party. And it seems that Neanderthals and humans mated often, 45,00 years ago, according to new DNA Analysis. Then Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago. Could human women have been too much for them? My guess is that the advancing humans killed the men and made bed-mates of the women. That's how it's done, in warfare. Not nice, but effective.

Until next time, hoping that I get more interesting as I age. I'm not far short of 87 now.

PIERS

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