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Piers and daughter unload boxes July 2014
SapTimber 2014
HI-

I watched a four movie set, Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol 2: Women's Prison, in B/W wherein the heartless head matron's cruelty triggers a prisoner revolt when a pregnant prisoner dies. Standard fare, but well enough done. Then Over-Exposed, with a shapely young woman moving from floozie to photographer and turning out to have real talent for it, then having to choose between top success and love. Then Night Editor, where a married cop on a date with Other Woman sees a murder occur, and has to investigate it without revealing his own involvement. One Girl's Confession, a young woman steals $25,000, confesses to it, serves her time, then plans to recover it, if she can do so unobserved. Then it gets complicated. She winds up without the money but in a good situation.



I watched Riverworld. This is based on the literary series written by Philip Jose Farmer. I knew Farmer; in fact I collaborated with him on a novel, The Caterpillar's Question. He is famous for The Lovers and other remarkable works, but I was never able to get into Riverworld; it simply did not interest me despite my interest in history. So I hoped the movie would be more interesting. It was. It starts with Matt and Jesse getting engaged, when a suicide bomber blows everything up. Matt wakes on Riverworld, where folk from all eras of history are coming back to life. There's the Spanish Conquistador Pizarro, the American novelist Mark Twain, and Richard Burton of the Arabian Nights translation as the sinister antagonist who seeks to nullify Matt and seduce Jesse. There are at least three beautiful young women, including one warrior maiden. It's one wild adventure, complicated by mysterious hooded blue folk. People die, but later come back to life. It seems it is an alien game, setting up resurrected humans to fight each other while the aliens watch. So do they cooperate, and live, or refuse to and die? It seems they live, and Matt will continue his search for Jesse, as scripted by the aliens, though the warrior lass may be a better match for him.



I watched another of the sets of Blu-Ray videos I bought back in Mayhem. Stealth is near future airplane adventure, with three highly selected folk flying phenomenal new planes, doing precision missions. Then a fourth plane is added, robotically controlled. That gets struck by lightning in a storm, and thereafter misbehaves, causing problems. The tension never lets up, as the woman gets stranded in North Korea while the man struggles to rescue her. Vertical Limit is even more taut, as they try to rescue survivors of an avalanche-struck team on Mt K2, in the Himalayas. Height and cold make me nervous; I hated it but couldn't stop watching.



I watched Arms and the Man, a DVD video given me by my wife. It's a George Bernard Shaw play, and I'm a long-time admirer of Shaw's work. He was a prolific popular vegetarian writer with a sharp mind and opinions; what's not to like? A fleeing enemy soldier breaks into a young woman's bedroom, seeking refuge; they have a dialogue and she does shelter him, letting him sleep, then lending him a concealing overcoat so he can escape. He's the chocolate cream soldier, because he prefers chocolates to bullets, and is a candid and likeable fellow. After the war he returns to return the coat. We see how her fiance is a posturing shell making out with her pretty maid, and finally she realizes that she prefers the chocolate soldier, who turns out to be fabulously wealthy via a recent inheritance, so her family approves. A bonus feature is another short Shaw play, The Man of Destiny, wherein Napoleon in an inn has a dialogue with a woman who stole some of his documents. The two turn out to have similar mind sets. These are fun plays about character I can recommend to those not addicted to special effect explosions.



I celebrated my 80th birthday with a full day. We went the the real estate's office to close on a property sale, a ten acre square parcel of forest land. Then we rented a U-Haul truck and loaded a truckful of boxes of books, the last of the HiPiers stash, because the warehouse was shutting down and we had a deadline to get out lest our stuff be trashed. Some boxes were light, but some weighed maybe 60 pounds, giving my daughter and me a workout. I also wrote a 140 word vignette; more on that next paragraph, and read 30 pages about Jesus; a lot more on that farther along. We celebrated the day by eating some cheesecake. You thought we'd have a wild party? Not at this age. My real life is dull.



I received several requests for stories. It seems that there is an annual scavenger hunt called GISHWHES—the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. http://gishwhes.com, part of which is to obtain a 140 words or less story from a published writer. It had to feature the Magician Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an Elopus. (Web underling's note for those who might have participated in this hunt: Yes, the original line item in GISHWHES did not mention magician status. Piers is sure the first request he received did, so he stuck with that theme.) Misha is an American actor best known for his role as the angel Castiel on the 2005 TV series Supernatural; I being a relative recluse without cable or satellite TV know nothing about him. The Queen of England I should know something about, as I was born in England and am a naturalized American citizen, but I really don't. Elopus is a crossbreed whose parents evidently met at a love spring; he has the head and trunk of an elephant and eight octopus tentacles for legs. Spot research by my daughter who is more in tune with the 21st century than I am indicates that this scavenger hunt has been questioned by at least one blog as a possible scam, and that importuning pro authors for free samples is not recommended, and certainly it was a drain on my time, so I probably won't be doing this again. But I did write stories for the four competitors who asked me. Here they are:




Elopus

by

Piers Anthony


Pedro woke to the phone. He fumbled it to his ear. “Huh?”

It's Lynn. Are you ready for the big day?”

Big day? He must have really tied one on last night! “Honey, it's 4 AM.”

It's 4 PM, idiot,” she corrected him fondly. “You'd better be ready in five minutes; the taxi won't wait longer. Today we show Elopus to the Queen of England. Our big day!”

Uh, sure,” he agreed as he scrambled into his clothing and grabbed the ring.

Soon they stood before the Magician Misha. “Marry us,” Pedro said.

Misha seemed surprised, but obliged.

That's wonderful, dear,” Lynn said. “But what about the Queen and Elopus?” She pointed to the tentacular elephant who had served as a witness.

Oh! I thought you said elopes.”



Queen

by

Piers Anthony


The Queen of England was on her way to an important function when a sudden storm crashed a tree, burying her limo in debris. She could not possibly make it in time.

So she dialed a secret number. “Misha, I need help.”

I'll send Elopus,” the Magician said.

Elopus was part elephant and part octopus. He piled into the debris with his trunk and tentacles, hurling branches clear. In moments the limo was free.

How can I thank you?” the queen asked as her journey resumed.

Elopus really cares about the welfare of his parents.”

She took the hint. Her talk was so passionate that it changed the world's outlook. Suddenly nations got serious about dealing with ivory poachers and illicit sea pollution. All over the world elephants and octopi were protected.



Night

by

Piers Anthony


The Magician Misha was horrified when he received the call. “Elopus, what have you done?”

Elopus was top half elephant and bottom half octopus, with a trunk and eight tentacles. He wasn't much for talking. He indicated the creature beside him. She was top half octopus and bottom half elephant, with the head of a squid and four elephantine legs.

You petitioned to present Octophant to the Queen?” Misha asked, aghast. “No wonder she has drawn her sword and spoke of night. Well, there's no help for it. You'll just have to keep a stiff upper trunk and accept her will.”

So Elopus and Octophant presented themselves to the Queen. She raised her sword high, then tapped it on Elopus' rounded shoulders. “I hereby dub thee Sir Knight Elopus.”

It seemed she wasn't angry.



Haunt

by

Piers Anthony


<

Sir Elopus and Dame Octophant went to his knightly estate, a gift from the Queen of England. It was an ancient haunted castle. But it was severely flawed: no haunt. The original ghost had retired. How could they live here? Was the Queen playing a joke on them?

Then Octophant remembered the gift the Magician Misha had given her. It was a package wrapped in Christmas paper. She hadn't opened it because it wasn't Christmas. “This is not the Ghost of Christmas Past, by Dickens,” Misha had said. “It's the Ghost of Christmas Present.” What did that mean?

Then a seaweed bulb flashed over her head. She set down the box and opened it. A baby ghost with tentacles and elephant legs floated out. “Hooo!” it moaned, delighted with the vacant residence.

Now it was complete.




And there you have it. Now you know how Pedro got married, the Queen made her appointment, and Elopus became a knight with a girlfriend and a freshly haunted castle. I don't know how the scavenger hunt turned out



My main topic this Column is Jesus: did he exist, and was he divine? First some spot background. I was raised as a Quaker, that is, the Religious Society of Friends, whose primary interest is pacifism, and I graduated from a Quaker high school. I was steeped in their theology. I did not join in significant part because I am not a pacifist, though I respect Quaker principles and pacifism for those who can manage it. I married a Unitarian-Universalist minister's daughter 58 years ago, and death will us part. I respect that denomination too, and suspect that wherever good work is quietly being done, whether helping slaves historically or facilitating economic burial today, there is likely to be a Quaker or a U-U person involved. Our young daughters attended a Jewish pre-school school, and brought home their rituals; they also had Catholic neighbors. So I am hardly ignorant of religious belief and practice; I have had a thorough immersion in it. But I am a lifelong militant agnostic, by which I mean I have no belief in the supernatural and I regard God, the Afterlife, and miracles as supernatural. This dates from when they first told me about God, as a bearded old white man sitting on a cloud, looking down and deciding who would go to Heaven and who to Hell. I was then six or seven years old, but I knew nonsense when I heard it. I said in effect “Phooey on that noise!” Subsequent clarifications and refinements only seemed to gloss over the essential fantasy; God and all His Works remained mythology rather than reality. I never took them seriously. I remember an essay I wrote in 6th or 7th grade that never made it into the school magazine, wherein I remarked that Jesus died and went to Heaven to become the shining Son, only they changed the O to U to remind us that he died for U. Can't think why my teachers weren't thrilled with that explanation. My fifty plus year professional career has been writing entertainment fiction, much of it outright fantasy, but my real life is firmly grounded in reality. To clarify a technical aspect, as I see it: a theist believes in gods of one kind or another, and in magic, that is, miracles, heaven, hell, divine intervention, resurrection, reincarnation and so on. A deist believes in a god but not in magic; that is, God created the universe and its governing rules, then left it alone. An atheist rejects gods and magic totally and thinks believers are fools. An agnostic says it's not possible to know the truth, so leaves it alone without pointedly questioning the faith or unfaith of others, unless challenged to do so; to each his own philosophy. Religion is a spate of organized belief systems that tend to be self-righteous, condemning those who do not subscribe to a particular faith. I see many intelligent, sincere folk who are believers, and others who are unbelievers. I also see folk who come across as anal warts both in and out of religion. I do not see religion as particularly ennobling; consider the historical Inquisition, witch burnings, wholesale slaughter in the name of Allah or destruction of infidels. As I believe the newscaster Paul Harvey once remarked, all over the world people are killing people, in the name of religion. Jesus would never have approved that. Not that the godless eradication of innocents by atheist Russia or the Nazis is any improvement. So while I allow people their own beliefs, I want none of that deadly fanaticism for myself, and can react pointedly when believers push beyond polite limits, as I am doing now.



Those well meaning folk who constantly seek to convert me to their own visions of Jesus are doomed to failure; I already know Jesus. In fact I researched him and made him a character in my provocative quarter million word religious novel Tarot, also published in three parts: God of Tarot, Vision of Tarot, and Faith of Tarot, and its associated hundred-card Animation Tarot deck. In that novel, Brother Paul of the Holy Order of Vision is sent to the Planet of Tarot to ascertain whether the God that seems to be physically and magically manifesting there is or is not genuine. It turns out to be a considerable challenge on many levels. I have said of that novel, that if you read it and are not offended at some point, then you probably don't properly understand it. It's not ignorance of the religious message that repels me, but the hypocrisy of its general practice. Folk may swear by the Bible, but they don't put people to death for working on the Sabbath, or stone people for cursing, or forgive their enemies. But many of them do try to make the Bible condemn homosexuality. This smells like bigotry clothed in religion. I don't expect to convert them to agnosticism; as has been said, it is hard to convince someone of something when his livelihood depends on his not understanding it, as with a priest. But of course they see their side as the one true one, regardless of the facts; they shield themselves in their faith so they don't have to think too hard. It simply does not occur to them that they might be loyal to a crafted myth. Historically and today, folk whose myths are challenged have ultimately resorted to killing the challengers, as mentioned above. They don't see such violence as the last refuge of the scoundrel. So what then of Pascal's famous wager, rephrased: if God exists and you deny him, you're toast in the hereafter, literally, so its better to accept him and be safe. If he doesn't exist and you accept him, you're still as safe as otherwise. So bet safely; it's the expedient choice. But this is readily refuted, because each sect claims that only their particular version of God is valid, and you will be saved only if you join that sect, and there are thousands of sects; how can you ever be sure of the right one? More likely, all are correct, in that all the others are fakes, and there is no God or Hereafter. Your scant time in life is really too precious to waste searching for the correct myth to worship, quite apart from the moral shame of crafting your belief not to be a better person, but to secure your avoidance of hellfire. That narrow self interest disgusts me, and I should think it would similarly disgust God, and Jesus, if they exist.



In my researches for my fiction I have encountered some evidence for the ongoing power of legend. Consider King Arthur: there never was such a person in England. He was a myth brought there by Alani troops sent to help pacify England by the Romans, and their engaging story caught the fancy of the natives. Consider the French hero Roland: he did exist, as a minor officer in the French army who lost his life in an ambush as he departed from Spain. From that poor beginning sprang the fabulous fictional Roland. So legends can flower amazingly from small beginnings. Was this the case with Jesus? We shall see.



Yet in my fashion I am a believer. I am a Humanist, and subscribe to their principles while retaining my own peculiar perspective. The official definition of Humanism begins that it is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. My take on religion is slantwise. If you define God as Truth, Honor, Beauty, Decency, Intelligence, Empathy, Love, Realism and the like, then you can say I believe. I have read about Jesus, and agree generally with what he said. So you might say I have believed in Jesus, but not in God. I see too many professed Christians who do not subscribe to the principles of Jesus the way I do; they amass money and power at the expense of others and can be bigoted about things like the rights of the poor, blacks, women, gays, and so on. I think that if Jesus existed, and he came to the world again, he would prefer during his free time to chat with someone like me rather than with a typical conservative Christian because, frankly, my agnostic belief and practice seem to hew more closely to his ideals than do many of those who publicly advertise their Christianity. He would see that I am trying to maintain an open mind amidst a global sea of closed minds, as he himself did. He would appreciate that I am honestly trying to do some good in the world, though uncertain exactly how, without wearing a hair shirt. What good does self punishment do others? He might even concede that providing a non-religious fantasy refuge from the inescapable rigors of real life is a form of good, though he might deplore the puns. He could remonstrate with me about my failure to give all my money to the poor or to turn the other cheek when attacked; it's not a perfect fit. As he said, approximately, before a mistranslation made it ludicrous, it is easier for a camel's hair rope to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But I would in turn remonstrate with him about his not being a vegetarian; shouldn't animals have rights too? And I might tease him about walking on water: “You really should learn how to swim.” He would laugh and agree.



But now comes the question: did Jesus exist at all, in other than a figurative sense? That is what this agnostic is addressing. I am not a biblical scholar, and can't be sure I have every detail straight, and there is more literature on the subject than I could ever hope to compass, but I think I have the essence. I approach it from the perspective of an experienced fictive artist: novels, stories, persuasive imagination. I know how to tell a good story, and may be able to recognize that craft when I see it elsewhere. I doubt that my discussion will satisfy those who are locked into their faiths, but perhaps it will help clarify the outlook for those in doubt. I read Paul L Maier's illustrated book In The Fullness of Time, and watched his four hour video Jesus—Legend or Lord? and read his Summary “Did Jesus Really Exist?” Dr. Maier is a historian specializing in this area. Both his writing and his speaking are wonderfully lucid and sensible, and he seems to have a good approach. I suspect Jesus would like him too. For the contrary view I went to articles in the secular humanist (yes, there are also religious humanists) magazine FREE INQUIRY www.secularhumanism.org. There are many more sources on both sides, but I'm a writer rather than a philosopher, and prefer to research efficiently. I am not addressing whether Jesus was divine; there is no question in my mind that he was not, because I accept nothing supernatural. The moment we get supernatural, I smell fantasy. He was merely a good man who tried to improve the world, and was crucified for it, hardly the only one. In fact one point Dr. Maier makes is that the supernatural elements that are claimed for Jesus' time have not occurred since. Did reality change after Jesus left the scene? That leads into a point of mine, echoing the deist belief: if God created the universe and established certain rules to govern it, why would he try to save mankind by breaking those rules? When you play a game, do you follow the rules? You do, because without those rules you really have no game. The rules define the game. It doesn't make much sense to have Jesus, representing God, breaking God's rules or otherwise cheating. More on this in a moment. Dr. Maier gives a nice summary of background lore, such on the Apostle Paul, the source of much information about Jesus though the two never met. What about Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus? He had been killing Christians, but then he was blinded and heard Jesus talking to him, asking why Paul was persecuting him. Paul forthwith became a Christian and was a mighty force for the spread of Christianity until his death. But what caused his change? Sunstroke? Hallucination? An epileptic seizure? Psychology? Dr. Maier discusses each one, dismissing them, except, curiously, for the most likely one: a stroke, which he doesn't mention. There can be massive lethal strokes, or more commonly lesser ones that take out a portion of the brain and can in time be worked around to restore some degree of function. Paul was disoriented, blind for several days, heard voices, and reversed his orientation. I suggest that only a stroke could account naturally for it all. To the folk of that age, physical affliction could be the result of God's wrath, as we see repeatedly in the Old Testament, and mental affliction was the sign of possession by demons or an act of God. Paul, blinded and hurting, must have asked himself what he had done to anger God and thus be so cruelly smited, and the answer was obvious: he was on the wrong side. He had been killing God's disciples, and God had had to physically blind him to get his moral attention. So he sensibly admitted his error and changed sides, and soon his vision returned and he recovered. No mystery at all. He never had occasion to discover that his sight would have returned even if he had not changed sides.



Dr. Maier presents two kinds of evidence. Internal, which is largely the Bible. External, consisting of documentation by Christian, Jewish, and secular sources. In the video he also goes into geographic and archaeological evidence. The Bible of course supports Jesus, though there is a caveat; more on this too in a moment. A principle Jewish source is Flavius Josephus, an early biblical scholar. Maier concludes that yes, of course Jesus existed, and his resurrection proves he was divine. “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus' existence. And yet this pathetic denial is still parroted by 'the village atheist,' bloggers on the internet, or such organizations as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Wow! That's telling 'em. Case closed?



Not so fast, sir. It may be that he has not before encountered an alert agnostic. I was sorry to see Dr. Maier descend to prejudicial terms like shallow, pathetic, and parroted, which is little better than name-calling, after seeming so sensible before; that's generally a signal of weakness of case. I think by doing that he shot himself in the foot. I do not regard myself as a pathetic shallow intellect parroting nonsense; I am honestly looking for the truth, as I have all my life in every respect. The FREE INQUIRY material emphatically contradicts this evidence also, as we shall see, though they of course favor atheism rather than religion. They point out that there are no Roman references to Jesus at the time he lived, only later to what the Christian sect believes. No references? If the methodical Romans crucified Jesus, didn't they at least record his name and crime? Apparently not. Then take the historian Josephus (I learned from the video that this is pronounced Jo-SEE-fus, not JO-sephus): he makes general sense, but the paragraph naming Jesus is contextually intrusive. That is, bluntly, it may have been spliced in at a later date; Josephus didn't write it. So one of the most important non-biblical sources for the early verification of Jesus was possibly faked. Sure, scholars are debating the case, but that's the gist; the reference is suspect and can't be taken as proof. There really isn't solid unquestionable evidence for his existence. As I like to say, if you have to cheat to make your case, it's not much of a case.



Then there is a devastating thought experiment by David K Clark in the April/May 2014 issue of FREE INQUIRY, “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ.” I'll try to digest it down to the pith. Suppose you're a downtrodden peon with virtually no chance for a decent life. You dream of something better, but know it would take a miracle. Then comes Jesus, preaching that at least you can have a place in a glorious Afterlife. You embrace that belief; it's your only chance. But can you trust the man? What proof is there that he is divine? Only this: he promises to die and then soon return to the world, proving his divinity. So your salvation depends on such a resurrection. Then the time comes: the cruel Romans arrest Jesus and publicly torture him to death. But he will rise again in three days. Wouldn't you make sure to be there for the joyous occasion, the proof that your acceptance of him will save your soul? You bet! But here's the rub: no one was there. What happened to the fervent crowds who mourned Jesus' death? Why did they skip the sequel, the point of it all, the foundation on which the Christian Church was built? Obviously because it didn't happen. Jesus never predicted his own rapid resurrection, so no one knew of it and no one attended the non-event. Thereafter came only scattered dreams among the bereaved, of encountering Jesus alive, as commonly happens after the shock of a death; it has happened to me. I understand that even the Apostle Paul is remarkably vague about the details of the crucifixion; he sticks to the facts as he understood them without much elaboration. To him, I think, the point was the belief inspired by Jesus, rather than any supernatural illumination. I think Mark and the other gospelists were wrong; they spun a good story, embellished by things like the virgin birth, stellar motion, and assorted miracles, calculated to encourage belief among the credulous, well after the fact, so that direct verification was not feasible; and who cared about discrepancies such as there being nothing but a mysteriously empty tomb? Well, there's an answer there too: the Romans were efficient; no one got off the cross alive, and they burned the remains. The tomb was empty because there was never a body in it, only a story concocted decades later that turned out to be highly successful in its purpose: to make converts. There's nothing like a good story to stir the emotions. I know; I earn my living telling stories. How do you write historical fiction, as I have done, notably in Tatham Mound and the GEODYSSEY series which seeks to cover 8 million years of global human history in five volumes. You make up a good fictional character, plant him in a historical setting, and have him interact in minor ways with real historical figures. Their reality makes your story seem real too; the historical figures can be documented, so the implication is that your character is documented too. Sure Pontius Pilate existed, and King Herod too; that does not automatically authenticate Jesus, only the setting.



So what do I conclude? That there was probably a person traveling about and preaching salvation, one of several, who was unusually informed and sharp of mind, with a persuasive presence that recruited disciples and made converts, but that he did not claim to be supernatural and, indeed, was not. He may have been crucified for his supposed apostasy, after a kangaroo court conviction, and that was the end of it. Until the talented storytellers got on the case, decades after the fact, and generated the legend. They put idealized words in his mouth, added significant incidents, and shaped the whole into a coherent narration that made their point. Most important, they crafted The Resurrection, a miracle to prove his validity in a way that his real death did not. The rather miserable life and death of the original man became a paean to the imagined God. They converted existing pagan celebrations into Christian ones, so that folk did not have to give up their passing pleasures. And they amplified the Promise: this marvelous salvation can be yours, too, regardless of your lowly status or your sins, if you only accept this wonderful story and believe. You don't even have to practice what you preach; you can keep your money (apart from tithing it to the church), you can maintain your prejudices; it doesn't matter as long as you broadcast your belief in this wonderful figment. Pascal's wager, gold plated: bet on the expedient side. Who wouldn't accept? Look around you at the myriad public Jesus ministries to see the truth of this. But it's not my Jesus.



So when I say I believe in Jesus, what do I mean? That I believe in the ideal that is the presented person, who preached fundamental decency, just as I believe in my version of God, with Honor, Love, etc. It's a nice concept, and we can all profit from it. Just leave the magic out of it, and the hypocrisy. And yes, if that idealized Jesus came to the mortal world again, and saw what is being wrought in his name, his tears would surely flow.



On with the secular realm. Xanth #39 Five Portraits will be published OctOgre 21, 2014, and can be pre-ordered. This is a kind of sequel to #38 Board Stiff in that it picks up where that leaves off and starts with the same characters. But the main character is now Astrid Basilisk-Cockatrice, in lovely human form, whose mere exchange of glances can kill the other. She's a nice person, and I really like her, but this is a caution. She makes friends with the Demoness Fornax, and the two set out to rescue five children from the doomed Xanth future. Then it gets interesting, as the other Demons try to punish Fornax for interfering in Xanth business, and Astrid has to protect the children from dragons and worse. It is perhaps my favorite of the recent Xanths, because of the friendship and the children, and a conclusion that is not like that of any other novel I know of.



I read Spires of Aurora, by Nathaniel Covell. This is a medieval setting fantasy wherein monks and a few others have special powers to control electricity, mainly in the form of lightning bolts. The Spires seem to be points that take in such current, defusing its power. The story concerns a plot to destroy several nations to benefit one, using these powers. There's a lot of action, with folk throwing bolts and fending them off, and a young man discovering that his father is on the wrong side, but I did not pick up on meaning beyond the power struggle, electric and political. It is narrated in a kind of present tense I found a bit off-putting, as I did the saidism. That's when the author uses alternates to “said,” in an apparent effort to relieve the monotony. It doesn't work; it is better simply to use “said” and let it disappear into the background, having served its purpose, so that the story can proceed unimpeded. I would not call this a bad novel, merely one that is not as good as it might have been.



I read Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler. She was a black author, born in 1947, died in 2006, with a considerable career in between, winning myriad awards. I had not read anything of hers, so picked up this collection of two stories discovered after her death, to sample her wares. A writer may be a bestseller, or an award winner, but neither is a guarantee of good writing; I have to see for myself to make a judgment. The first story is “A Necessary Being,” wherein pure blue is the color of royalty, and rare individuals of that color are rulers so valuable that a tribe will cripple their legs to insure that they can't escape. Then one wanders into a desert kingdom, and the dubious fun begins. It is competently written and uncomfortable in places, consistently resolved. The second is “Childfinder,” where a telepathic woman seeks telepathic children to save them from the risks of an unkind society. It reminded me of the opening of van Vogt's novel Slan, where the telepaths had to hide. Original, no, but the issue is fairly presented. I suspect these two stories, randomly selected by their rarity, are not a proper indication of the author's full talent; they show competence rather than ambition.



I read Unidentified Funny Objects 3, edited by Alex SchVartsman, the third in a series of humorous anthologies. I was invited to contribute to this one, and did, “Do Not Remove This Tag” and what happens when you violate that stricture. That's how I got a copy of the volume, so I read it to see what company I'm keeping. 23 stories, about as wildly varied an assemblage as I've seen, all competently done, and I can recommend this volume to readers who crave passing diversion. One is pun-filled and no, it's not mine. It is beyond my ability to do justice here to all the stories, so I'll just say that if you like light fantasy you surely won't be disappointed here.



One of the bargains I bought via Hamilton was Collision Course, 20 thriller type movies for five dollars. It's hard to go far wrong at a quarter a movie, and actually they're not bad middle grade stuff. CIA: Exiled is about an agent who took the rap for a mess-up that really wasn't his fault and is relegated to a quiet Caribbean Island where trouble soon seeks him out regardless, with a couple of pretty girls thrown in. Special Ops, where a special mission to recover a chip relating to a secret nuclear weapon is betrayed and ambushed, and the leader of the mission has to fight his way free not only of the enemy but of his corrupted boss. Seal Team VI: Journey into Darkness, with a Seal team dropped near Kuwait just before Desert Shield, 1991. An innocent civilian boy is killed, echoing the death of the mission chief's son's death. Bail Out, wherein three bounty hunters go for a huge reward and run afoul of battling drug smugglers. Night of the Sharks concerns treasure in a sunken plane guarded by a big shark. Again, well worth the 25 cent price.



I watched In the Cut, wherein a young woman is killed and dismembered, and the protagonist suspects her cop boyfriend. And Trapped, with a child abducted for ransom. But the child could die without her medication. It seemed routine at first, but the farther it went, the better it got, until the amazing finale.



I can go only so long without writing. I still have books to read and videos to watch, but I took a few days off from that and started writing one of the ideas in my Ideas file: “Pira.” That's short for Piranha, the vicious little fish. All the women in her family have predator fish names, but for some reason she prefers the abbreviation. We first meet her when she's 8 and looks 4; she has phenomenal sight and coordination, but has to be home schooled because she can't interact effectively with normal folk. A neighbor boy, 14 year old Orion, takes an interest and befriends her. Now fast forward to when he's 21 and she's 15, looks 9, and is desperately in love with him. He was just trying to be nice; he's no child molester. She also has undertaken special training and can wield twin lasers with her hands that are undetectable separately, but ferocious where they intersect. She can literally kill at 50 feet by triangulating on the target. But she needs governing, and Orion is the only one who can do it. Thereby hangs the story, as he must safeguard her for deadly special missions around the world, while she's more interested in trying to get him into bed. I'm 10,000 words into it and probably won't be able to stop until it's complete.



News items: now there's a tick bite that makes you allergic to red meat. As a lifelong vegetarian, I find that less than frightening. Raising cattle for beef is nearly 10 times as damaging to the environment as, for example, eggs. I wonder if there are ticks that make folk allergic to war, greed, gluttony, etc.? Some women are opting out of strident feminism; that seems sensible to me. Folk are coming to realize that marriage is not exclusively about procreation, despite the attitude of some religious extremists. You can be well beyond the age of procreation, as my wife and I are, and still have a good marriage, as we do. You can be of the same gender and have a loving relationship. Yes, children are best born into good marriages, but that's a subset; marriages don't have to beget children. Conservatives are beginning to catch on that being anti-government and blocking health care for the poor are not really conservative values; maybe they'll stop voting for the nuts that espouse these things. But meanwhile the wealth gap continues to widen, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The savage employment efforts of Walmart and now Amazon are surely contributing. I seem to remember Jesus saying something about that. Let's face it: when you pay your workers so little that they have to get government assistance just to survive, it's the big companies that really are sponging off the taxpayers. A study shows that five minutes of running a day will drastically reduce your chances of dying prematurely. But see my next paragraph. The inventor of the smart gun that won't fire unless its proper owner is holding it has caused gun rights advocates to brand him a traitor. Get that: they don't want safe guns. Lovely quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.” Article in NEW SCIENTIST says that one day we will create artificial intelligences far superior to us. But can we be sure they will remain our friends? And they may have located the site of consciousness in the brain; it's called the claustrum, and it turns consciousness on and off. Solicitation from an outfit that claims to have the ultimate secret to better health, with no drugs, vitamins, doctors or surgery. They'll share it with me for $150 if I order immediately. Thanks, but I already know it: exercise.



I still run for exercise. Friday, my last run of AwGhost, I was approaching the spot where I fell in Jewel-Lye and thought that I didn't want to do that again—when my left foot scraped the drive and suddenly I was down again. As I type this I am in moderate distress; I have scrapes on my left hand, arm, calf, hip and head, lesser ones on my right hand, and bruised left ribs. It's those last that cause most of the mischief. The act of lying down is painful; once I'm on the bed I'm mostly okay, at least on my right side, but when I have to get up again, more pain. Some of my exercises are on the floor; they have become difficult. I still draw my archery bow 20 times each morning, one day right handed, next day left handed, half and half on Sunday, to maintain my muscle, but right now I can't even start, and my hand weight exercises are chancy if I can do them at all. It also wiped out my erotic life; sex is difficult when you can't assume a position without pain. Routine household chores are mixed; reaching a high cupboard when making a meal can give me a twinge, as can trying to get the far side of a sheet straight when making a bed. Slicing a tomato or washing dishes when my thumb is bandaged isn't fun either. Even doing my hair into my ponytail can be tricky. Or changing my underpants. Or getting in and out of the car, or fastening the seat belt. The sores on my hands also manage to scrape when I try to get things from pockets, and it's a real project to open our door, because the latch is stiff and my wrist lacks power. Just sitting down on the couch, or on the toilet, or before my computer gives me a faint twinge, and getting up again is worse. In fact today I can't even cough without a jolt of pain; I have to borrow my wife's supportive heart shaped pillow, dating from her open chest surgery, to buffer my ribs. Laughing can be painful, and Heaven forfend that I sneeze! It's amazing the havoc a two second fall can wreak. No, I don't think that God is punishing me for apostasy, and I'm not changing sides like the Apostle Paul. I trust it will ease in a few more days and I'll be back to normal. However, I regard this as sufficient warning: evidently my toes don't always pick up to the extent required, and that's dangerous. My wife is completely sympathetic; that's how she fell, several years ago, and was hobbled for weeks. Once might be a fluke, but twice, even when I'm thinking I'm being careful, is indicative. I'm lucky I didn't break something. I will go to a fast walk, with jogs only in places that won't hurt so much if I land on them with limbs or face. It's just one more way I am having to slow down, with bad grace, even if it shortens my life. Age is a lady dog.


PIERS
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