Doug Harter has updated the Xanth Character database (XCD) with Skeleton Key. The XCD is available in both PDF and HTML versions on the website. That is Xanth #44, about the alien cuttlefish child squid, who looks, acts, and thinks exactly like a human girl, and is told she is the most important person in the universe. She brushes that off, of course, but it turns out to be true. It has now been published, and there are three more Xanths in the pipeline. So why are you wasting your time here, when you could be reading it?
I read Radley's Labyrinth for Horny Monsters, by Annabelle Hawthorne, the second in the Horny Monsters series. There was a time when lady writers wrote relatively gentle fiction. As I put it , the lady writer takes the reader by the hand and leads him into the scene, her wonders to behold. The male writer picks the reader up by collar and crotch and hurls him into the action. Of the two, the latter tended to attract more readers. This was especially true with respect to sex in fantasy. Well, times have changed, and today the ladies can heave as well as do the men. This book is an example. There is more groin-grabbing sex here than I recall seeing in any fantasy novel, except for the first one, Radley's Home for Horny Monsters, which I reviewed in Jamboree 2019. Mike Radley inherited a house filled with monsters who tend to be female, shapely, and eager for sex. Pretty much a man's dream, except that there are hostile forces that want to screw him in a far less enjoyable manner, and he has to somehow defend the house against their formidable magic. That action is frequently interspersed with quite varied sexual engagements, described in rich detail. For example, Mike makes out with Abella the Gargoyle, who folds her wings and softens at his touch so that she doesn't feel like stone, especially inside. She gives him oral sex while penetrating her own vagina with the tip of her tail for added effect. Another time he has vaginal sex with a nine inch tall fairy, Cerulia. How? Well, she stretches, becoming like an ardent condom, her head and breasts swelling like balloons as he ejaculates. Another time it is with Lily the Succubus, who changes forms during it, so that she looks like several of the other girls in turn. See what I mean? The sex is hot and heavy and multifaceted. But there is a solid story here too as he fights his way through to a narrow victory over the forces of evil. Also some pertinent thoughts. "The idea of sex as a luxury, no different from wine or cigarettes, was wrong. The sex he had with all these women was an expression of their bonds, something that brought them closer. Yet, because it was with so many different people, it was frowned upon, anathema to a functional society. Somewhere along the way, mankind had labeled sex as dirty, something only to be enjoyed in a certain way with certain people." I think that's damn well told. Sex is a natural part of mankind and other animals, and it performs a social role in addition to propagating the species. So I recommend this novel and this series for action, sex, and thought. My only caveat is that there are so many characters that it is tricky to keep them all straight. I finally noted them on a paper as I read, about 30. I believe it would help to include a list of characters and their types. Lily—succubus. Naia—water spirit. Jenny—magic doll. Beth—real estate agent. Zel—centaur. Cecilia—banshee. And so on. Then the reader could flip to that list to get clear which maiden Mike is sexing at the moment. They are all highly individual characters, and deserve to be kept distinct.
Next book on deck is Veilfall, by Adron J Smitley. It's close to 400,000 words, and I am a slow reader, so I may read and review just the first novel-length part, Cursive Love, in next month's column. Last year, when reading and reviewing novels prevented me from writing my own, I called a halt. Now I am resuming, slowly, trying to be fair to the several backlogged authors. I will say at this time that this is one compelling story. If you are into fantasy, look it up.
My wife Carol died in 2019, and I am getting on with my life, as my remarriage indicates, but there are tag ends that continue, pulling at my heart strings. I came across my old accounts, from May 1959 through December 1978, eighteen and a half years. They are penned and penciled, one little page a month. I need to provide a bit of background. I spent two years in the U.S. Army, which institution does not necessarily follow the rules. It was said that there was the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. True words. When I declined to sign up for monthly savings bonds, because we needed the five dollars a month they cost to live on, hell broke loose. I had been denied leave time to visit my family back east because I was too valuable as a math and survey instructor, but when I balked at the supposedly voluntary sign up, the other battery instructors, including those who lived off-post as I did, were required to report daily for 5:30 AM reveille. They thought that would put pressure on me, but the other men told me they were glad to do it, because they didn't like being forced into something against their choice. I was removed as an instructor and kicked out of the battery. I wound up pulling weeds as I learned a new job, sending up weather balloons. I was denied promotion, so that by the end of my Army stint an associate who had been one of my students ranked me. That loss of promotion cost me fifty dollars a month. It was said that the Army couldn't make you do something, but it could make you wish you had. Yes, that five dollars a month we needed cost me ten times that. I did fight back, to a degree; I went to the battalion commander with a charge of extortion against the battery First Sergeant. As I recall, we talked amicably for something like two and a half hours while the other personnel marveled. I suspect the commander enjoyed talking with someone who had a mind and fortitude, for a change. I remember he asked me what I truly wanted in life, and I said I wanted to write. He said I was narrow. I wonder whether he ever learned of my later career as a writer, and maybe reconsidered which of us was narrow? I suspect the sergeant was shaking in his boots, because he was guilty, but in the end the Lt. Commander declined to act, though privately yielding the justice of my case. He, too, was constrained by the realities of Army existence, and canning the sergeant would have made severe ripples that just might have prejudiced his own next promotion. In the Army you toe the line, or else, whatever your rank. So that was that, and eventually I did sign up for the bonds, and our meager savings declined accordingly. When I got out of the army, one of my assets was $56.40 in bonds, but in addition was the money from the leave they had not given me; they had to pay me for it, and we lived several months on that. So there was May 1959, my first entry, showing $61.40 in the bank, $56.40 in bonds, and $10.00 cash, for a total of $127.80. For June it was up a bit, to $198.63. Up another notch for July, $320.81. We were gaining, thanks to living rent free in my grandmother's house, and about $100 a month from my portion of a trust left by my late grandfather. $820.54 for September. We were getting rich! Then it dropped to $222.97 for October as we made a down payment on our house. But I had landed a good job and our totals started nudging up again. In the next year we got close to $3,000, but it tumbled when we paid cash for a new VW car. Then in May 1962 came the worst day of my life: I lost my job, Carol lost her baby stillborn, the third such loss, indicating that we were unlikely ever to have surviving children, and my doctor informed me that my concerns for our future were all in my head, that I was worrying about nothing. So I was imagining my problems. That got me ridered, that is, excluded, on my health insurance for "all mental disease." Get it? If the doctor can't diagnose it, the patient is crazy. It was, of course, not imaginary; it took me decades to run it down. It was low thyroid function, and one little pill a day fixed both my chronic fatigue and my depression. Fortunately my severance pay sustained us for a few more months. Soon we agreed on a trial year of writing while my wife worked, she now being unpregnant, the agreement being that if I had no success I would give up my dream and focus on earning my living more realistically. Then in December 1962 I got paid for my first story sale. It is right there in the accounts, $20.00. So I had the start of my writing career, thanks to the Monkey's Paw of the death of our baby. But it wasn't enough, and I returned to work, teaching English. I hated it. Then in May 1966 I retired again to writing, and in a couple more months managed to sell my first novel, Chthon, which I had written in fragments over the course of seven years part time. It was a long and difficult uphill climb from there, but the records reflect it, figure by figure. So who cares about old accounts? I do. My life is pinned there, like a butterfly on a board.
James Gunn died. He was one of my favorite authors, back in the day, with stories like "Breaking Point" about folk on a space mission pushed to the mental breaking point by alien minds, and "Wherever You May Be" about a girl with phenomenal psionic powers, but only when she was unhappy. So a psychologist played up to her, getting her to love him, then cut it off, plunging her into misery, so he could study her. Then hell broke loose, as she used her powers to read his mind and discover what he had done. I got to know Gunn personally, and liked him, and it turned out that his son was a fan of mine. He was 97. Ben Bova died at age 88. I knew him personally too, as another writer, and liked him. He became editor of ANALOG in 1971 until 1978. The old order passeth, and I am sorry to see these parts of it go. Incidentally, I learned of these losses from LOCUS, and note with bemusement that I received the January issue February 4 and the March issue one day later, February 5. Maybe the mail is finally speeding up, now that the election is over.
I continue my exercises, of course, working around my limitations. My sore tendon has torpedoed my right side bow drawing, but I am able to do it by bracing the bow against a door-frame. I limited it to one a day, lest I aggravate the tendon, but on the day I was eighty six and a half I raised it to two, and to three today, the first of March. We'll see. My other exercises are okay. Folk tend to avoid meaningful exercise as they age, while putting on weight, and that is a ticket to decline and death. My father exercised all his life, but around age 90 must have had a small stroke that took out his health consciousness circuit. He stopped exercising, seeing no point in it, and started overeating, and by the time he died at age 93 he weighed too much to stand on his feet. This is not a route I mean to take. For one thing, I promised MaryLee ten good years, so I have to make it to at least 95. She wants me to try for 15 years. Should I?
I received a special report edition of Equedia, a sort of business newsletter whose pronouncements I take with a mouthful of salt since it dismissed the developing Covid-19 crisis as an ailment no worse than the flu that would soon fade away. Half a million American deaths give the lie to that. This time it has a provocative opening. What if your phone can alter the way you feel, so you can dial yourself alert, calm, happy, or whatever else you wish? Without having to ingest substances. Maybe that is about to happen. With the rise in depression and background mayhem occasioned by the Virus, something like this could become quite popular. It seems this device, developed by Hapbee Technologies Inc., is wearable and temporary. That is, when you turn it off it fades in fifteen to thirty minutes, so you are not locked in to a mood. I am dubious, but can see the advantage of turning it on to Sleepy at night, and Alert in the morning. I wonder if there is a setting for Sexy? I will be interested to see if this comes to anything.
The 16 January issue of NEW SCIENTIST has an article by Robert J. Sternberg titled "Rethinking intelligence." It suggests that standardized intelligence testing is narrow, self serving, questionably scientific, and ultimately self defeating. I, as a child who took three years to get through first grade (undiagnosed dyslexia may have had something to do with it) but eventually got out on his own and became a highly successful writer, agree emphatically. Standardized categorization tends to exclude original thinkers. One of my favorite examples, oversimplified, is the question what is the closest planet? The keyed answer was Mars. Well, first the question is misphrased, because planets are not stationary in space, they are in orbits, and without telling exactly when you are looking, you can't say whether Mars is on Earth's side of the sun, or on the opposite. So it should ask what is the closest orbit. Then there is a problem because the orbit of Venus is closer to that of Earth than the orbit of Mars; the maker of the test had his information wrong. But both answers are fallacious; the closest planet is Earth, so close you can touch it. So I did not score well on this type of test. A professor explained to me that the test was of intelligence, not facts, and those who gave the keyed correct answers were more intelligent than those who did not. I fear he wasn't savvy enough to be familiar with the term self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to get away from this sort of thing before I could make my mark on the world, and of course my standardized critics still think I'm stupid. As I put it in my funny fantasy, I'm an ogre, and ogres are justifiably proud of their stupidity, but they do make their mark on their environment by twisting tree-trunks into knots and teaching young dragons the meaning of fear. Now you know.
My wife MaryLee is from Tennessee. I looked at one of her magazines, THE TENNESSEE MAGAZINE, put out by the Gibson Electric Corporation. So it is essentially an advertising publication, but such things cans have interesting aspects, and this one's not bad. Its editorial says that in February 2000 the National Academy of Engineering compiled a list of the twenty greatest achievements of the 20th century. Television was #3; Airplanes were #2; #1 was the electric power grid. I, like most folk, hadn't thought of that, but when you consider the mischief wrought by a power lapse, it makes sense. It seems that North America's power grid has been called the most complex machine ever built. It is a trillion dollar web of generation stations and millions of miles of power lines. I have learned something.
And my accumulation of clippings. They are halting a $1 billion electricity transmission corridor through sparsely populated woods in western Maine because of legal action. A more rigorous environmental review is sought. While I don't oppose progress, I do support the environment, so I will be interested to see how this turns out. Citrus County, Florida, where I live, has some lovely scenery, but socially it is a conservative bastion with some frustrated liberals like me hoping for better days to come. Letters in the local newspaper for February 27 argue the case, with one referring to the "despicable opposition" to Trump, and another saying that in failing to convict Trump they have trashed the rule of law and the Constitution. Another says that the senators are cowards, knowing Trump is guilty but not daring to act on that belief. "They cannot choose a candidate with character, morality, integrity and honesty to run for POTUS because they fear Trump and his minions." Another letter condemns an obituary for the late Rush Limbaugh as blatant proof of bias, I think because it hinted he was a bigot. The larger report in the newspaper said "What he did was to bring a paranoia and really mean, nasty rhetoric and hyperpartisanship into the mainstream." Yes. All in one day. The newspaper runs a weekly column of quotes from the left and the right. I normally agree more with the left, but not always. Remember, I have never registered with a political party, neither of the big ones being liberal enough for me. But this time the Right remarked that George Orwell objected not only to fascism and capitalism, but also to the supposed worker's paradise of communism. Because he denounced the delusion of Stalanism, he drove away friends and sometimes had trouble getting published, but was ultimately proven correct. Yes indeed; at one point I taught his Animal Farm to high school classes, a penetrating exposure of the reality of communism. That's a story of how the animals revolted and took over the farm, with the pigs as the new leaders, but the pigs soon became indistinguishable from humans, and the other animals were more oppressed than ever. So in my view those "liberals" who condemned Orwell for that were idiots. He saw things pretty much as they are.
Newspaper item says that one in six Gen Z adults identify as LGBT, a small but rising share of Americans. I suspect it is reality, formerly suppressed because of social disapproval. As I put it, I am adamantly heterosexual, loving the look and feel of women, and I have no intention of changing. I assume the LGBT folk are similar in their orientations, so I follow the Golden Rule and accept their lifestyles as I hope they allow me mine. The sexual spectrum is broad and devious, and should be accepted as it is, not with parts condemned. Well, I might have a problem with those who prefer sex with corpses, or extreme sadism, or rape, so maybe keep those away from me; I guess I am not that liberal. Another item says that "technostress" is being experienced among older adults. That is, feeling overwhelmed by all the new technologies. It seems that I am not the only one who comes from another century and gets confused by the newfangled gimmicks appearing on the scene. In my day phones made and received calls, cars had running boards, women wore skirts, and a popular commercial cereal was called Cherioats. What happened? Another item describes ice volcanoes on Lake Michigan. Wow! They used to be found on the planet Pluto. Maybe some moved. Another says that the recent election process went smoothly in Florida, and the GOP is moving fast to make sure it doesn't happen again. They feel that too many Blacks are voting, imperiling Republican power. A letter in the newspaper by Charles Shinsky says that solicitation calls are out of control. He received a call informing him that he had a computer virus. He replied that he never had a computer, but the calls continued until he counted 68 of them. I believe he has a case. I say yet again, the authorities could stop robocalls and such if they wanted to. The question is why don't they want to? Article in SCIENCE NEWS for January 30 says it is time to define despair and its risks. Well, yes, but when the Virus wipes out jobs, impoverishes people, and kills half a million in America, while politicians wrangle about measures to maybe help a little, I can see there is reason for despair. Article in NEW SCIENTIST for 12 December titled "Here's looking at YOU" says that arguably you only become a person when you can reflect on other people's view of you. It has an interesting illustration showing a girl on the sidewalk looking at her cell phone while others are entertaining themselves picnicking on the hillside beyond, resting, playing, chatting, and so on. All of them are the same person. Yes, there may not be much difference between us, could we but understand each other better. I have wondered whether consciousness itself could be like a flame that lights assorted candles that are our different bodies, really the same thing in slightly different settings. We each think we are unique, but are we really? Item in THE WEEK for February 26 is about the cyberweapons arms race. There's a big global market for backdoor access to crucial software. This may be the clearest and most present danger facing the world. This makes me nervous. Another article in the same issue is titled "What the Know Nothings didn't know." It seems that circa 1850 there was powerful political force that roughly resembled the Republican party of today. It was secretive; when asked for their views and political plans, they replied "I know nothing." They seem to have been against immigration—as an immigrant myself I bridle—and they accused Catholic priests and nuns of strangling babies and holding young women against their will. QAnon, anyone? Then they faded out, but their spirit evidently remains. A news report says that Donald Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements while in office. Another report indicates that the true number of Covid deaths is 44 percent higher than the official count in America. I am not surprised. Article in the 30 January 2021 issue of NEW SCIENTIST described gaslighting, the term originating from a 1938 movie Gaslight, wherein a man convinces his wife that she is losing her sanity by doing things like dimming the lights in their house and telling her she is imagining it. Beware, especially if you are doubting your sanity; you are not necessary going crazy. The same issue tells how scientists are trying to locate extraterrestrial civilization by spotting Dyson spheres, where a globe surrounds a star and captures all its radiating energy. Such a thing is unlikely to happen naturally. But let's not be too quick to contact such a civilization if we find it; they might regard us as vermin to be eradicated. They just might be right.
David Fletcher and I completed our collaborative novella The Genetic Code, a bit over 20,000 words, and I sent it off to my agent for marketing. Suppose you could translate the DNA code into English, so anybody might read it and tinker with it? Maybe it will happen. Then I wrote a short short story, "Fly the Fly," a sequel to "Walk the Walk" and "Ride the Ride." Mainly I am keeping busy, as I slowly orient on my major project for this year, my geothermal novel Deep Well. If I do it right, I may help show the way to eliminating air pollution and the resultant global warning, my bit of good before I leave this scene. This morning I attended the Hospice Bereavement meeting, as I still miss Carol, my wife of 63 years. My present wife, MaryLee, understands. It is possible to be in grief and love at the same time. This time the moderator brought a statement by one Julia Cook I will share: "Grief is like a snowflake. Sometimes it comes one flake at a time; other times it comes like a blizzard. It melts away, but it always comes back. Just as each snowflake is unique, each person experiences grief in their own unique way." True words.
And to you folk freezing up north: spring is coming. I promise.
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