I declared a moratorium on reading novels last year, so I could get my own writing done. I finished writing Xanth #47 Apoca Lips, then got into another collaboration, so my time remains squeezed. But I am also starting to read, hoping in due course to catch up on that backlog. I am not necessarily reading the novels in the order received, but more by convenience and mood. It has been over a year since my wife Carol died, and sieges of grief occur as they choose, though I have remarried in the interim. It is possible to feel grief and love at the same time, and my wife MaryLee accepts that. She still suffers nightmares about her Ex, though that was a quarter century ago and he is dead now. We understand each other's past histories, and support each other as we can, both of us being very glad we found each other. This time of the coronavirus siege and political upheaval would have been far more difficult for each of us, were we alone. So don't expect complete sense from me at this time.
I read The Dragon Gate by Randy Ellefson, whose massive nonfiction world building trilogy I reviewed in 2017 and 2019. Now he is trying his hand at fantasy, and I was curious to see how that monstrous research translated into actual fiction. Mixed; he is not exactly Tolkein, but he does have an original take on the standard fantasy theme of ordinary people abruptly launched into a fantasy realm where they achieve greatness. In this case it is not one but four folk, friends Ryan, Anna, Eric, and Matt, who visit Stonehenge in England as tourists. Ryan is big and strong and rich; Anna is a beautiful blonde; Eric is a deadly knife thrower, and Matt is a smart techie, but they are just having a good time. An arc of fire appears and Stonehenge manifests as it was in its prime. Then they are in the fantasy realm, costumed as heroes, with a mission to close the Dragon Gate so that no more dragons can pass through it and ravage the land. They are welcomed to Olliana, in the world of Honym, where they are taken as champions. Uh-oh; it seems that somehow these relatively ordinary folk have been cast as real fantasy heroes, when they lack the necessary magic powers and indeed have no real idea what's going on. They are forced to fake it, to survive until they can get home. The story is complicated, but gradually they discover how to manage. For example, atheist Anna learns how to communicate with a real goddess and gain necessary help. They finally do succeed in closing the Gate, but it turns out to be less simple than that. They have become heroes in their own right. They eventually do make it home, but find that the mundane lives they had known before are no longer satisfying. They have been bitten, as it were, by the hero bug. There will be more in future volumes. This should be worth your while.
Incidental news. I promised MaryLee warm Florida winters. Why else would a woman come to the backwoods to be with an octogenarian man? Now we're getting cold fronts, and she says “Well?” Sigh. We have been married nine months, and apart from that, we're fine. They now have several coronavirus vaccines, but it will be months before they filter down to peons like us, so we're remaining under lockdown. Maybe, possibly, eventually, ultimately, finally, at long last, this trial will pass, and I'll get to take MaryLee out to shop, to the beach, to eat out, to the big tourist attractions, to ride on a sightseeing train. Who knows, we might even manage a honeymoon, some distant day, before we're too old to go out at all. But we are cautious about such ambitious dreams, in these interesting times.
My interest in politics is not great; I've always been a registered independent. But the two Georgia senatorial races were interesting, as they finally gave the Democrats control of the senate, by a squeaky margin. I understand the Republicans bottled up 300 House bills, preventing reform, but we should be seeing changes now. The Trumpist rear guard is threatening what amounts to revolution, but I think they will be taken increasingly unseriously.
I continue to exercise, but that's not perfect. Normally I pull the 55 pound draw-weight bow 20 times right sided one day, left sided the next day. The left side remains okay, but first the right side suffered loss of my ability to hold it firmly in place as I draw, so that the bow swings forward, messing up my draw. Apparently the relevant back muscle just gave out, which I can't say I understand. Then I came down with what feels like tendinitis; maybe the needle nicked the tendon when I got my flu shot at the turn of the year. The pain stopped me from even trying to draw. After two weeks I tried bracing the bow against a door frame so it couldn't swing out of position, and then I managed to draw it. One time. So now I'm doing one right side draw a day, and as the tendon heals I will go to two, three, and so on eventually back up to 20. I don't want to aggravate the tendon by pushing, I mean pulling, too hard too fast, but neither do I want to lose my arm muscle, so it's a compromise. My other exercises are okay.
I am back to reading, as the above review suggests, but will take time to catch up on the backlog, as I am a slow reader. At the moment I am reading the sexy Radley's Labyrinth for Horny Monsters, by Annabelle Hawthorn. Most of those monsters are female and shapely and hungry for sex. I'll review it next month, when I finish reading it. I also continue writing, now being in a collaborative novella. The protagonist is devising a way to translate the DNA code to readable English. What will it say? I still write to paralyzed Jenny once a week, and keep up with snail and email. The Sunken Garden continues, though a number of the plants have shut down for the winter. The Mexican Heather still shows its purple flowers, the tomatoes are flowering madly, and the volunteer dandelions are flourishing. Outside, our lone Azalea is flowering nicely, as is our Turk's Cap Hibiscus. I now drive the Kawasaki Mule ATV daily to fetch the mail. MaryLee used to ride with me, until she came down with painful shingles. So I am staying busy, just not newsworthy. Should some freak of luck ever put me back on the bestseller lists, that would have to change, lest I get buried in mail.
And the pile of clippings of things of passing interest to me. I learned new word: “smishing,” which is the illicit using of text messages to get your personal information. Such as getting Netflix free for a year; just click the link and fill out the form. Don't even click No or Stop, because that verifies the activity of your phone number. Newspaper article by Michael Hiltzik explains why he never agrees to disagree: because some opinions are just wrong. He uses Lamarck's theory that acquired characteristics can be inherited as an example. Interesting, because they can be inherited, via the epigenetic system. It clears in a couple of generations, but the children really can suffer from the sins of their parents. And of course refusal to even consider an opposing viewpoint can lead to bigotry. Even in science. How many authorities dismiss the idea that fluoridation is a health hoax out of hand, when the truth is foreign to their belief? But in general he is correct; it can be useless to debate bigotry. Even his own. Article in the 7 November NEW SCIENTIST suggests that dreams may be far more profound than generally thought, because they improve the generalization of acquired experience. That is, if you sit on a thumbtack you learn not to do that, but generalization can help you avoid sitting on other uncomfortable things, a broader education. It concludes that maybe the invention of fictions allowed us to get the benefit of dreams when we are awake. That got my attention, as I earn my living by writing fiction. It says “Maybe art is also pleasurable for humans because we are constantly being overfitted to reality.” If I understand that correctly, and I'm not sure that I do, we need the changed perspective of the arts to give us a broader understanding of reality. I feel that the arts are what distinguish the human kind from the animal kind. Art makes us human. Including the appreciation of fiction. If dreams facilitate that, more power to them. I hear on the radio's daily weather reports what the local temperatures are. One site is The Villages, a retirement community. A newspaper article says it is the nation's largest, with 120,000 residents. Wow! It is considered a utopia, yet many of its residents are unhappy. My guess is that the realities of approaching death are closing in on them despite appealing diversions. Decades ago my wife Cam and I seriously considered moving to a retirement community, but concluded that golf and bingo were not our thing, and we settled for our tree farm. Still, I can see the appeal. Article in NEW SCIENTIST 14 November 2020 on the great population debate. “Is the coronavirus pandemic just the latest indication that there are too many of us on the planet?” We are coming up on 8 billion people, and heading for around 11 billion in 2100. Less than two centuries ago average life expectancy was around 40. Here I am, age 86, and I am by no means exceptional. Is there a kind way to curtail the deadly trend? One way is to educate women globally and give them equal rights, so they won't have to bear more babies just because Joe Schmoe won't bother to use a condom. But “Right across the world, we see women's rights being curtailed by people trying to increase the population.” Ouch! The best answer seems to be to give people cheap, easy access to modern contraceptives. I am inclined to favor global airborne contraception, so that only those who take steps to counteract it can be fertile, and every child would be wanted. But formidable religious groups would oppose that, and it is probably politically unfeasible. I suspect we are doomed to perish as a culture and perhaps as a species as we march over the cliff of fertility.
A cave man has appeared in Minnesota: Zug Zug, enclosed in a block of ice. Also maybe his long-lost companion, Zarah. No, they aren't real; they are sculptures commissioned by an ad agency. But why not? Maybe somewhere in an alternate reality a modern man and woman are presented in stasis to be admired by cave men. Not necessarily related is the indication that the human body temperature is dropping. It is now about half a degree C lower than it was around Civil War times. It seems to be a sign of health. Research suggests that hallucinogens can be highly effective treatments for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. Many are illegal now, but there's a push to decriminalize or legalize them. The benefits could be phenomenal. For example, 80% of smokers could quit with such therapy. January 2 NEW SCIENTIST has an article on AI, that is, Artificial Intelligence, by Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind. He hopes that they can solve AI, fundamentally understanding intelligence and creating it artificially. Already it has cracked one of the hardest problems in biology, determining the shape of proteins as their component amino acids fold themselves into complex 3D shapes. There are 10 to the 300 power possible configurations for a single protein, so you can see why this is a challenge. But that's just the start. There may be dozens of breakthroughs in the next decade. Hmmcould one of them be the solution to the population problem? More power to you, Deep Mind! Another article in that issue is “Measuring up the Universe,” by Stuart Clark. How big is it? The farthest we can see is about 93 billion light years, but the universe is surely bigger than that. We just don't know, and ours may be just one of multiple universes, immense bubbles of galaxies, the inflationary multiverse. Is your head exploding yet? If not, you probably aren't paying proper attention. Promiscuity is linked not only to venereal disease, but also to higher rates of cancer, especially for women. Junk food makes you stupid; saturated fat and added sugar, mainly. SCIENCE NEWS for 12-5-2020 article by Maria Temming says that there is a purple and green glow in the sky known as STEVE that they can't figure out. It's not an aurora, and it's really weird. So if your name is Steve and you're weird, maybe that's why. 5 December NEW SCIENTIST article “Our Restless Minds” by Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that the human capacity for invention may relate to autism. That's another attention-getter for me, because autism runs in my family and I fear it could be stalking me. This suggests that autism isn't genetic happenstance, but is entwined with our capacity for invention. I am about as inventive as the next speculative fiction author, as my body of fiction shows. Could this be a benefit of lurking autism? That makes me nervous. It seems that empathy relates, which is, oversimplified, the ability to feel another's feeling; and so does systemizing, which is the ability to make sense of things. It helps to have both circuits, and I believe I do. I feel for people, animals, plants, and favored tools, and I want to understand everything in the universe. Is that too much? If that's autism, I can live with it. THE WEEK for 1-22-21 has an editorial by Theunis Bates on the nature of American culture. He suggests that the storming of the Capitol by 8,000 pro-Trumpists has been called entirely un-American, but actually they were everyday Americans fed a diet of conspiracy theories, who believed they were doing the right thing. He points out that violence is a fact of American life. “The US has the highest rate of mass shootings in the Western world and a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than those of similarly developed countries.” He is making uncomfortable sense.
When my wife Carol “Cam” died in 2019, I joined a local Hospice bereavement group. I haven't mentioned it much here because its proceedings are private, and for ten months it has been in abeyance because of the Virus. But today we had a meeting of the very few participants who remain after that layoff. I want to share a statement the moderator brought in, by an unknown author, that is in the public domain. “Grief/ Never ends.../ But it changes./ It's a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith---It is the price of love.” This seems true to me. I have been there, and am paying that price. I also thought of an analogy to a statement on a plaque intended for a different purpose, but that I think can apply here. “Fate whispers to the Warrior 'You cannot withstand the storm.' The Warrior whispers back 'I am the storm.'” Grief seems hard to withstand, but we handle it because we have no alternative. We are perforce Warriors. I still miss Cam, but I know she is not coming back, and I am getting on with my life. That is the way it has to be.
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