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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Aw Ghost 2018
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The electronic edition of Xanth #39 Five Portraits will be downpriced to $1.99 on 8-6-2018. That's the one that introduces the five unusual children from the future, rescued by Astrid Basilisk and Demoness Fornax. Those children feature increasingly prominently in subsequent novels, especially #44 Skeleton Key where Squid, the cuttlefish in the form and feeling of a girl, is the most important person in the universe, not that she believes it. On 8-20-2018 books 38, 39, and 40, I think in a single deal, will be downpriced to $3.99. Those are Board Stiff, Five Portraits, and Isis Orb. The first introduced Astrid Basilisk, lovely and nice but with a literal drop dead stare, and the third was plotted by a ten year old girl. They're all worth your while, regardless.


I watched the Discover video “Digging for the Truth: The Hunley: New Revelations.” They discover new evidence in the mystery of what sank the Civil War era The Hunley, the South's submarine, which they have finally found. It was only four feet by three and a half feet in diameter, pretty crowded for eight men. It sank twice when being tested in 1854, killing 13 men including Mr. Hunley who financed it. The sub did sink a ship, but then didn't come home. What happened? Did the crew run out of oxygen? There was a hole in the hull; did that sink it, or did that happen later? They found bones at the individual duty stations. They had to use candles for light. The propeller was hand cranked. The energy used in cranking used up the oxygen faster, and making carbon dioxide that would poison them. Was it a suicide mission? They found the captain's gold pocket watch, which marked the time of the end. The sub used a torpedo with a hundred and thirty five pounds of black powder explosive, which it had to jam into the target ship, then back out and detonate by pulling on an attached cord. The sub survived the blast; something else sank it, rapidly. They don't yet know, but the indication is that something shattered the port and let in water that flooded the sub and drowned the men in place soon after the blast. The sub was being fired on; could a lucky bullet have done it? It's an intriguing mystery.

I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the first movie. There is an invisible wave of crime in New York; stealing is rampant, but there are no witnesses. Until something starts catching the criminals. The mutant turtles: Michelangelo. Raphael. Donatello. The reporter April O'Neil almost gets mugged, but the turtles rescue her and tie up the muggers. Now she is going after the criminal Foot Clan. But she has one of the turtles' tridents. The Clan ambushes her, and the Turtles rescue her. They tell her their history. The rat Splinter, who had been a pet of Master Yoshi, discovered four baby turtles in a polluted area. Then they all grew rapidly in size, coordination, and intellect, and began to talk. Now they fight crime, wearing bandannas that cover their eyes as token masks.. They love pizza. Then the Foot Clan comes after them, invading April's apartment where they are. Ninja combat erupts and soon there is fire that burns down the house as they escape to her family's old country estate. When they recover they return to take on the Foot again, along with Casey Jones, who rescues Splinter. Then they have to fight the fearsome Shredder, Oruku Saki. Splinter kills him. Casey kisses April and all ends well. For now. It is crazy wild fun nonsense. So why did I watch this? Because I have a versatile turtle in my next Xanth novel, and I wanted to find out more about fantasy turtles. But my turtle is really not this type. It does remind me, however, that one of my favorite cartoons ever was when the fishing industry used huge nets to catch fish, which also caught and drowned threatened species sea turtles, and I think they had to pass a law to finally stop it. The cartoon was of the Ninja Turtles quietly boarding a fishing boat... I read Safari, by Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufmann. He did the pictures and she wrote the text. Our daughter gave us this book for our anniversary. The pictures are special: as you open the book, the animals move, showing them walking, running, flapping ears, or chewing. It is done in the manner of pop-up books, with tabs drawing one frame over another so that new images form. It is startling at first, as the creatures seem to come to life. The text is interesting too. The animals are all African: cheetah, lion, gorilla, rhinoceros, zebra, elephant, gazelle, and giraffe. Did you know that more than half of young giraffes don't grow up? That an elephant can squirt water from its trunk with enough force to kill a human? That an elephant dies around age 70 when its sixth and final set of teeth falls out so it can no longer chew enough to survive? That only about one in twenty cheetahs make it to adulthood? That a hippo can weigh over seven thousand pounds? Okay, so you don't need to know such things in your daily life, but they are nevertheless interesting. It's a nice little book for a coffee table.

I watched The Shape of Water. In 1962 during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, young white Elisa is trapped in a life of isolation in the city. Black Zelda is her co-worker as they do routine cleaning and housekeeping at a government laboratory. It seems Elisa is mute from childhood, so Zelda does all the talking. Then something happens to one of the scientists, Strickland, and he emerges injured and bleeding. They have twenty minutes to clean up the blood. Elisa finds a severed finger, and sees an alien creature in a water tank. She keeps her mouth shut, as such workers do, but what is going on here? Another day she sees an alien man creature in a pool and offers him a boiled egg to eat. He growls and scares her off, but does eat the egg. Strickland says the thing may look human but is a monster who bit off two of his fingers. She continues to befriend the creature, bringing him more eggs to eat, and dancing for him. But Strickland cruelly uses a cattle prod on it, not caring at all for its welfare or feelings; no wonder it doesn't like him. Because the creature can breathe air or water, the Russians want him, but Strickland means to vivisect and maybe kill him. Elisa devises a plan to smuggle him out; but first she gets to know him better. She gets him in a bathtub, then joins him naked. So they make love, off-screen. Later she fills a bathroom with water and they do it again, but water leaks out and down, wetting folk in a theater below. Meanwhile. Strickland is desperately searching to find the creature, pushed by the general who demands that this mess be unfucked. But the creature is ailing, needing a more compatible environment. Strickland ruthlessly investigates and pursues. He finally catches up and shoots both the creature and Elisa, but the creature revives and kills him, then jumps into the sea water with Elisa. He kisses her and somehow she revives, breathing water. It seems he can heal himself and others. They are together, and their future is unknown. I don't believe this, on several levels, but what a story it is! She had nothing, and now she has a phenomenal new life and lover.

I read the booklet sized first installment of Tales of Isos, written and drawn and self published by Hannah Beck, queen.chain.designs@gmail.com. She was inspired by Princess Nada Naga in Xanth, Prince Dolph's first girlfriend. I did not invent the naga folk, they are from mythology, but I adapted them to Xanth. They are serpents with human heads who can change form to full serpent or full human, or somewhere in between. Hannah is working out their species history, which turns out to be as long as the universe. It starts: “Long before us, there was only the Sky and the Water. There was no Sun. No Stars. No dry land. Only stretches of Deep Night...and Endless Ocean.” Well, the ocean grew bored of simply existing, so she lapped and played and twisted herself into the form of a body with human head, breasts, arms, and serpent tail. Thus Nadia was the first person, rather than Adam or Eve. But she was still bored, being alone, so she decorated the ocean with corals and kelps and made it glow. Still she wanted someone to talk to, so she pulled up a big stone, crying “Speak to me!!” The stone sailed up into the sky and fractured, forming pieces that I think became the stars, but it didn't speak. Meanwhile lava bubbled up through the hole torn in the bottom of the sea and made continents and sang of its birth, forming into Alanwi, another lady. The volcano left behind sprouted a new being, Tsuuba, the first male, and his delight brought forth other life. Now at last Nadia had company. New creatures formed, including Bala, the first snake and then first true naga. There is much more to tell, and the Tales of Isos will cover it in due course. But for now the essence is that it was from the naga that snakes and humans and others derived. Now you know.

I watched The Sense of an Ending. Anthony “Tony” Webster leads a quiet British life. His daughter Susie takes him to a meeting of pregnant lesbians, as her mother can't attend. Susie is a pregnant lesbian herself. He talks with his ex, Margaret, who wants to know about his prior relationship with Veronica. Flashback to the past as Tony visits Veronica's family, meeting her father, mother, and brother Jack. Later they are making out in the car, until she says it doesn't feel right, maybe because they aren't in love. Another time she approaches him and seduces him; now it feels right. Her mother warned him against Veronica, who uses people. A friend commits suicide. Tony is manic-depressive, pondering similar. In the present he hears from Veronica, who will meet with him to discuss her mother's estate. Her mother willed to him her diary, but it turns out Veronica burned it. What did it contain? She gives him a letter, I think a nasty one he wrote her when they broke up. Now he learns that the baby Veronica supposedly had was actually her mother's. What a family history! But all is quiet now.

I watched Murder on the Orient Express. About 70 years ago, as a child, I picked up one of my mother's books, a murder mystery by one Agatha Christie, and read it, and it amazed me. This movie is based on that book. Hercule Poirot brilliantly wraps up a case and takes a vacation: a ride on the famous luxury Orient Express train. But an avalanche traps the train between stations and it must wait until help comes. Then they discover a body: a man has been stabbed to death in the night, Mr. Ratchett, a man man nobody likes. The murderer has to be still on the train. So Poirot is drafted to solve the case. The victim was drugged and stabbed a dozen times. Poirot interviews the passengers. A woman gets stabbed, but not fatally; the killer is disposing of the murder knife. Poirot discovers that a number of the passengers were connected to a prior crime in America relating to the Armstrong family, which suffered brutally. Then the movie differs from the novel, as I vaguely remember, pumping up the conclusion with violence; movie makers do that, seemingly unable to appreciate nuance. But the essence remains: all twelve suspects did it, taking turns to sneak in and stab the man in the dark. Or in the movie version, coming in together and passing the knife around until he was dead, then departing. They murdered a murderer. So who is guilty? All of them, or none of them? They aren't killers; none of them could have done it alone. They don't deserve to be condemned for it. So Poirot blames it on a lone assassin who escaped the train, accusing none of them; they are all free to go, and to make peace with their consciences in whatever manner they can, as will he. Regardless of the version, it's quite a story, possibly the most famous murder mystery ever.

I watched Keeping Mum. The chaotic household of the pastor, Walter, needs stabilization, which arrives in the form of Grace, the new sweet old housekeeper with a hidden history. The wife, Gloria, is having an affair with her handsome golf instructor, Lance; the daughter is making out with a chain of boyfriends, the young son is getting bullied by classmates, and Walter is ruinously clumsy on his soccer team and generally disorganized. Grace helps Walter shape up his sermon with some humor, helps mess up Gloria's affair, messes up the bullies, distracts errant daughter with cookery, and the neighbor's chronically barking dog disappears along with the neighbor. She even gets Walter to rediscover Gloria sexually, renewing their love. Gloria and daughter get suspicious and try to check in Grace's big trunk. Grace catches them and clarifies things. She is Gloria's mother, and is acting to set things straight in her own sometimes brutal fashion. There are bodies to hide. They hide them, and Grace moves on, having set things right. They just need to deal with the bodies hidden in the pond.

I watched War Games, uncertain whether I'd seen it before. I recognized an early scene, and another, so thought I had seen it, but didn't remember the details. It's a 1983 movie, so it could have been some time. Maybe I saw a preview with those scenes, because I sure don't remember the rest of it. There is an alert and the nuclear missiles are readied for launching, likely to kill twenty million people. But one man at the last moment is unable to turn the fatal key, aborting the launch. Turns out it was a test case. 22% of their key personnel can't turn that key. They can't have that; they need to know that the missiles will launch when a crisis comes. Then to high school: David is a computer whiz who changes his recorded grade from an F to a C. His girlfriend Jennifer also got an F; he changes hers to A. Then he manages to hack into a secret government training game, Global Thermonuclear War. Only that connects to the actual defense system and triggers an alert. David hangs up, but now the game is in progress. David gets arrested, but hacks his way out of confinement, merges with a tour group, and escapes. He calls Jennifer, who drives three hours to join him. They go find the supposedly dead professor who designed the game. He lives on an island without a boat. The game proceeds; victory will mean a nuclear strike. But it's a fake attack by phantom missiles. They wait it out, and there is no impact. But the game wants to make a retaliatory launch anyway. It finally decides that the only way to win is not to play. The world is saved. It's one dramatic finale. And I am satisfied: I never saw this movie before.

I watched Hackers, another computer movie. Dade Murphy is in a new school in New York City and doesn't know his way around. He beats Kate at a computer game, the first to do so, thereby making her an enemy. A man comes and bashes Dade's computer with a bat. Then Kate comes, kisses him, and others swarm in to catch them together. Obviously a frame job. Then the two of them agree to a contest: she wins, he's her slave. He wins, she's his girl, in a dress. But they are both under siege by a criminal enterprise that threatens Dade's mother if he doesn't do what they demand. They labor to identify the enemy so they can stop the Da Vinchi virus and copy a worm to prevent an ecological disaster. The action is so fast and scrambled that I had trouble following the story. They manage to expose the evil plot to the world, and finish with a date with her in a dress. They do like each other.

I watched Antitrust, the third computer related movie I got in a bargain price package. Milo Hoffman is a young genius programmer thinking of doing a start-up by raising venture capital. But Gary Winston, powerful CEO of NURV, the world's largest computer company, makes a pitch for him to join them. What about serving the world with open source? Gary spells it out: someone is bound to steal the program and become a billionaire from Milo's idea. It is better for Milo to make his own billion, and use his money for good works. As a creative cynic who has dabbled in dreams and in business, I have to say that this makes sense to me, though I rejected it when I was a teen. Milo signs on, and meets pretty Lisa Calighcan, a fellow employee, which makes his girlfriend Alison Poulson nervous. But smart computer programmers are getting killed in mysterious accidents. Then his best friend Teddy is brutally murdered just when he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Gary mentions a similar breakthrough. Someone was spying on the friend, maybe NURV. So Milo starts investigating on his own, in ways only he can. He learns that NURV is watching all its employees, and has a visual record of the murder. So it is connected. And that Alison is secretly working for them. So he goes to Lisa, who is not part of the conspiracy. Meanwhile Alison may be putting sesame seeds in his food; they are deadly to him because he is allergic. Does she mean to kill him? She says she loves him, but catches on that he knows. They catch him, but he has sneaked a disc to a friend, who puts it on global broadcast. The world has the program. Lisa betrays Milo in the end, but Alison helps him. She really does love him.

I watched Panic Room. Meg and her young daughter Sarah move into a New York house equipped with a panic room: a hidden chamber for emergency use in case of intruders, that has monitors to track the rest of the house. Not that they'll need it, they think. But the first night three men invade: Burnham, Raoul, and Junior, who thought it was empty. They are after something worth a million and a half dollars—in that room. Meg and Sarah escape to the panic room, which has monitors so they can see where the men are. Also a public address system so they can talk to them. They say to get out, but the men don't. One man has worked on making panic rooms, so he knows they can't break in; they have to get the girls to come out. The men try to pipe in gas, to make the girls sick, but Meg manages to set it afire, blasting the men back instead. Sarah gets a flashlight and signals SOS to the neighbors, if only they see it. But it's raining outside; folk aren't looking. Meg sneaks out to recover her cell phone, but it's hard to get a signal in that room. She manages to make a land line connection, but 911 puts her on hold. She calls her ex, but gets cut off. But he comes over, and gets caught by the men. They savagely beat him up, trying to make Meg open the door to save him. Sarah has a seizure, maybe diabetic; Meg sneaks out again to get the shot she needs. One man shoots another. They catch the girl, while Meg gets their gun. Burnham gives the girl the shot to save her from going into a coma and maybe death. Then he drills out the lock on a safe to get the X-bonds in it. Meanwhile Meg bashes out the house cameras so they can't tell where she is. It devolves into an ugly melee, until Burnham shoots the third man just before that man clubs Meg. The police come, ending it.

I read Ancient Allies, by Sharon Cindy Cameron and Lenn Cameron. This is a kind of picture book with a difference. The authors share their experiences with, and appreciation of, assorted animals ranging from ravens, dogs, cats, giraffes, a black rhinoceros, snow leopards, a tarantula, a hawk, lion cubs, bears, an octopus, a bumble bee, and a duck. Many are associated with the San Francisco Zoo, where they are well cared for. Some are pets, or just observed in passing. So much of nature is literally at our feet, if we just look. Each creature is its own person, lovingly depicted and pictured here. You can feel the joy radiating out as the wonder that is life is revealed in its nuances, and sometimes more. There is a picture of “A Voluptuous Goddess Derriere” floating over the sea, dare I say mooning us? But the main characters are the ravens: “Scientists now believe that of all the creatures on the planet, it is the ravens that are in contact with extraterrestrials.” Their brains are different, and they show a community and caring that few other creatures do, and even have a kind of wedding ceremony. The authors love life in all its aspects. This is the kind of book that you can just look at, letting its ambiance surround you.

I have made no secret of my religious agnosticism, but not everyone chooses to accept that. Some seem to think that I must have not read the Bible, or heard of Jesus, or simply not have thought about it enough, and that it is their mission to persuade me to come to Jesus and save my soul from everlasting torment in Hell. I do not suffer fools or rascals gladly, but do take seriously those who are serious. I have an ongoing dialogue with Daniel Daly of Noahide Books, http://noahidebooks.angelfire.com/, who says that atheism is wrong, and so is agnosticism. Oh, really? I responded “Just as the Apostle Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus, you had your vision. But I'm pretty sure God did not tell you to disrespect those whose visions are other than yours. If God exists, he surely has reason to accept atheists and agnostics. They are not wrong, just different from your belief.” He replied that he would argue that out of Theism, Agnosticism, and Atheism there is a position which is factually correct, and asked to publish my letter in his letters section. I replied “I stand by what I said, being a militant agnostic, and you are welcome to publish it in your online letter section.” He responded with a discussion concluding that I was probably really an atheist. “Militant agnostic? I don't think so.” Oh? I replied “Interesting that you think that my lifelong agnosticism is really atheism, and that you are free to redefine my belief. With similar license I could choose to think that your belief in God is a delusion. The one is as valid as the other, no?” As may be becoming clear, while there is an element of humor in my “militant agnostic” description, there is also an element of warning. I don't just smile and let arrogant ignorance pass unchallenged. He replied with an invitation for me to share my understanding of life, the universe and everything with him. Okay, since I think my readers may also be interested, here is a more extended discussion.

When I was a child, circa 1940, I was told that the night before Christmas Santa Claus traveled the world on his sleigh, delivering presents simultaneously to every child in the world. I thought that was bovine feces, and never believed. Subsequently they told me about God: he was an old white man with a long white beard sitting on the edge of a cloud, looking down and deciding which mortals on the ground below would be admitted to Heaven and which would be relegated to Hell. The decision seemed to hinge mainly on whether a person subscribed to Jesus as his Savior. I smelled more bovine feces, and never believed in that. But since it may not be fair to let a child's definition govern the existence of God, I clarify that it may be a matter of definition. If you define God as Truth, Beauty, Compassion, Honor, Rationality and the like, then you can say I believe. But the moment you get into the supernatural, my acceptance fades, and God as commonly defined by the Bible is supernatural. One fan of mine did have a good take on that: she said she regarded God as natural. But I don't regard burning bushes that talk, or folk rising from the dead, or the conversion of water to wine and wine to blood as natural. For most folk God is almost by definition supernatural. Indeed, only magic classified as miracles can make a Catholic saint. So by accepted standard definitions, I am an unbeliever. But, say the Theists, the universe is far too complicated to have been formed by mere chance, so God must have created it. Oh? Then who created God? If he had no creation, being eternal, well, why not the same for the universe? It is not a persuasive argument.

What then of agnosticism, which is uncertainty? Here we have three broad classifications. The Theist says that there is a God, and probably adds that He is My God, while all others are false. For thousands of years folk have killed each other and made wars because they have different gods. But I want to know where is the proof? What actual objective evidence is there that any god has ever existed? Don't quote the Bible for this; that is a compendium of the writings of believers. Anyone can believe what he chooses, but that has no objective validity. Some may believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, others in Zeus. None have made a sufficient case for me. The Atheist says there is no God. Okay, where is his objective evidence? He can't prove his case any more objectively than can the Theist. So as I see it, Agnosticism is the only sensible position. It is not a vague uncertainty, but a demand for rigorous mathematical or scientific proof. Until persuasive evidence is presented, my private impression is that there is no God. Don't confuses that with atheism. I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning—that is, that the sun will continue shining and the world will continue spinning—but I can't prove it, so I am agnostic on that score also, but I do look forward to another day.

I am not anti-religion, merely rational. I married a minister's daughter, and we have been together 62 years. I have written about belief and religion, notably my quarter million word novel Tarot, unfortunately broken by a publisher into three parts. Therein Brother Paul, of the Holy Order of Vision, is sent to the planet named Tarot to ascertain whether the supernatural manifestations there are or are not God. It's quite a challenge. I like to say that if you can read it and not be offended at some point, you don't properly understand it.

But let's assume, for the sake of debate, that there may be a God. His ways are devious indeed. I remember a famous story by Arthur Clarke, “The Star.” I read it scores of years ago, so may misremember details, but have the essence. They discover an ancient alien civilization far from Earth that was a miracle of technology and deportment, an ideal we well could emulate. But it was destroyed when its star went nova. We learned of its existence only when the light of the nova reached us, two thousand years ago, but we noticed. The concluding question is “What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the light of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?” What a question, and it echoes in my mind as I remember my own personal history. When I was sixteen my cousin Teddy was fifteen, a grade behind me, at the same boarding school. He never finished; he got cancer and died. It was a shock I never entirely got over. If there is a God, it seemed that he faced a choice in the ongoing story that human history is; as a novelist I am a kind of god of my fiction, and I do encounter difficult choices. It seemed it was necessary for one of two boys to die, Teddy or me. He had everything going for him, being a good student with many friends and a likely future in his father's successful business, while I was a disturbed character with little prospect for success; few would ever miss me. But God made His choice, and he was the one taken, while I was left. What was the need to give this fine young man to the fire, that I might survive? It seemed to make no sense. I visited Teddy's family, sleeping in his bedroom, getting to know and love his sibling, who seemed like the perfect little sister. I saw the awful impact his death had on his grieving family. Well, the ensuing half century suggests that I, with my erratic creativity, did things that conventional Teddy would not have done, such as becoming a writer who has received hundreds of letters from fans telling how my books helped them through dark times and may have even saved their lives. Did God, cognizant of the future, choose to save those lives instead of the one life of Teddy, though there was no way he deserved to die? Was it simply a numbers choice, like steering a train onto the track that kills only one person instead of several? That was not a choice I could have made. Teddy's untimely death continued to disturb me, and finally I concluded that death out of turn was wrong, for people or animals, and I would try not to contribute to it. I became a vegetarian in college, so as not to kill animals on my behalf, and have remained so for 65 years so far. That is about as close as I come to religion; my vegetarianism has religious force. It was the one requirement I made of my wife, and she became a vegetarian for me. I am not against religion, but neither do I have any brief for it. I think of the way that God was a woman in the old days, circa 3,000 and more years ago, and the Israelite religion had to compete with neighbors who offered sex with seductive priestesses as a kind of worship. It was hard to compete. So Israel, and later Christianity, tried to make sex itself, together with attractive young women, sinful, ushering in the ugly misogynistic millennia that have suppressed the rights of women ever since. It's a shame.

We married, and soon my wife was pregnant. But it went wrong, and she had a miscarriage at about four months. That catapulted me into the US Army, because in the 1950s the draft took all fit young men who were not fathers. She rejoined me in Oklahoma—and suffered another miscarriage in 1958, at about five months. Then, out of the army and in civilian life, I had the worst day of my life. I lost my job, my wife lost her third baby at about six months, and my doctor told me that my concerns were all in my head. It turned out years later that my depression and fatigue derived from low thyroid hormone; levothyroxin pills ameliorated both. So it wasn't in my head, it was in my neck. It left me with an abiding dislike of abortion, because that was technically what happened to those babies. They died because they were forced out early. But the loss of our third baby, who lived only for an hour, freed us to gamble. My wife went to work so I could stay home a year and write full time, and in that year I made the breakthrough, selling my first two stories. It was a small beginning, but it was to lead in due course to a phenomenal career that made me wealthy. I think it would not have happened had any of those three babies survived; as parents we could not have have afforded the gamble. So here is the question I ask of that theoretical God: what was the need to give those three innocent babies to the fire, that I might have my career?

But my wife's doctor thought he had managed to fix the problem that cost us our babies. My wife had a septum in her uterus, that divided it so that there was not room for a baby to grow to term. Once that was fixed, we carried two babies to term, finally having our family. But my career was in difficulty. When I protested getting cheated by a publisher, I did not get a settlement; I got blacklisted for six years. One publisher did not honor the blacklist, so I got through, but not in the way I would have otherwise. Then came the miracle: the publisher may have cheated one too many writers, and got sued, and the errant proprietors fled, and the company was taken over by another. The new administration sent me a brochure inviting me to do business with them. I wrote back “Don't you know you're blacklisting me?” They said things had changed. Then I had to wrestle with my conscience: should I resume selling to the publisher that had blackened my name with lies and crippled my career for six years? True, it was under new ownership, but it was the same publisher. It was the hardest decision of my career, but I concluded that forgiveness was better than grudge, and I wrote and submitted a fantasy novel. It was A Spell for Chameleon, the first Xanth novel, and if ever there was a turning point in my career, it was there. Here was the key: the new editor, Lester del Rey, had written for this publisher before, and when he got there he looked up the records of his own book, and discovered that they had been cheating him by crediting him with 69,000 sales when the true figure was 169,000. That's why he understood my situation. What were the chances of such a coincidence happening? Or was it divine intervention? The series continued, and the fifth Xanth novel, Ogre, Ogre, may have been the first original paperback fantasy novel—that is, no hardcover edition—to make the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. I had achieved the stratosphere, thanks to a popular series and the publisher's effective promotion. So in effect I forgave them, and they made me wealthy. But my experience with the unfair blacklisting left me extremely cynical about the ethics of publishers and of the writers who knowingly support them, and today I actively expose publishers I catch treating writers unfairly. I can do it because I am now independent of writing sales and have the will and the means to take it to them, and they dare not mess with me; I will take them to court and win, because I have the resources to do so, as I did not before. I have also supported self publishing, and helped make it feasible in a way it was not in the past, in part by my support of and significant investment in Xlibris when it was a fledgling enterprise. Was that the service God wanted of me? Was I deviously guided to help other writers gain their fair chance to achieve their dreams? The average bestselling writer seems to have the attitude “I got mine; too bad for you.” I am not average, really, in any respect, because of my bitter experience. I don't know, but a case can be made. God did what was necessary to save lives and improve publishing, using a disenchanted agnostic as an instrument in a manner that a believer might not have had the stomach for.

If there is a God, he must be a cynical brute.

I watched Flatliners. Five ambitious medical students are set to die, and to live to describe the experience. The deal is to go under with drugs, heart stops beating, wait one minutes, then revive and report. But it is risky, because they can't be quite sure the recovery process will work. We see Nelson's vision of running through a green field with a dog as they labor to bring him back. But then he suffers a vision while awake, a continuation of the death vision, but more violent. David and Rachel get into a weird bidding war to decide who is next: stay dead for a minute and twenty seconds? Minute and a half? Two minutes? David wins. Meanwhile the waking visions continue for Nelson, who chases into the subway, an odd network of passages and columns. Where is Sam, the dog? Instead there is a child—who savagery beats him up. David goes under next, and sees snowy mountains, dark waters. Now David starts having visions. Rachel is third, visiting her childhood and youth. The power fails, and they have to restore her manually, a damned close call. And now she has the waking visions too. Is it memories of children they have wronged, now getting revenge? Nelson in another vision finds himself besieged by pretty girls on the prowl for him. Rachel suffers a vision of a man while she is in anatomy class. David visits and apologizes to the black woman who was the girl he cruelly teased as a child. Nelson gets beaten up again by the child. It turns out that he really killed that child, throwing stones so that the child fell out of a tree and died in the fall. Nelson's participation wasn't known. Rachel sees her father kill himself. Nelson, remorseful about not telling the others sooner about these grim aftereffects, puts himself under. They find him, but it's been nine minutes. Twelve. The child forgives him, and he recovers after all. This is a tense story, psychological rather than supernatural, but scarily effective. It also point up the cruelty of children to each other. They are not necessarily sweet innocents.

I watched Perfect Stranger. This one has Bruce Willis and sightly Halle Berry, two names I actually recognize, but even with ear plugs I had trouble making out the dialogue. Rowena “Ro” Price is a sharp investigative reporter, but political pressure shuts down a major expose she's been working on for six months. She quits. Then a friend is murdered, and Rowena teams with her associate Miles to go after powerful ad executive Harrison Hill, who may be connected. She goes undercover as Katherine, a temp at Hill's agency, and as Veronica, who flirts with Hill. But he catches on. But they get the goods on him, and he is convicted of murdering his associate Grace. But Rowena's own life is complicated. Miles tries to blackmail her, hoping to make her his sex slave, and she kills him. My impression is that this tries to substitute unlikely surprises for solid plotting.

I watched Freedomland, the last of the dollar movies. Brenda Martin walks to the police station with blood-soaked hands. She tells her story: she got carjacked, her hands scraped as she landed on the ground, her car stolen, with her four year old son Cody in the back seat. It's a rough neighborhood, with high racial tensions; the blacks resent that there so much fuss over a white child when similar problems with black children are largely ignored. The detective assigned, Lorenzo, is black, but Brenda trusts him, and he knows this neighborhood well. The people are angry, and verging on a riot. Lorenzo believes in God, and that there is a purpose to everything, and that Brenda is lying about something. What really happened to that boy? They check Freedomland, a deserted institution where children were kept and mistreated. Then she says that the child drank cough serum and died. She shows where she buried him, but it is clear that she could not have done it. She's still lying. Then she says Cody started rejecting her, demanding things. She wants him to sleep, and he says “If you go, you'll be sorry.” When she returned he had drunk the whole bottle and was dead. So Lorenzo has to charge her with homicide, and she goes wild and has to be restrained. The mob attacks the police, and the battle is on. It turns out that Lorenzo's own son is in and out of prison; he has really done no better than Brenda, and she sees that. He will visit her in prison. This movie has the feeling of telling it as it is.

I watched The Signal. Nic, who walks with crutches, his friend Jonah, and girlfriend Haley are making a cross country road trip, delivering her to California for a year. He faces gradual degeneration that will in due course put him in a wheelchair, and he is pondering breaking up with her so as not to hold her back. That's not the way she sees it. Meanwhile a mysterious hacker who got into MIT's secured network is now into Haley's computer, contacting them. They agree to meet the hacker, Nomad, in a remote location at night. Haley screams and disappears—and Nic wakes alone in a wheelchair, largely paralyzed, in an isolation unit, being interviewed by a man in a bio-hazard suit. He has encountered an EBA—Extraterrestrial Biological Alien. Jonah and Haley are there too, in other wards. Or are they? He discovers that his legs are mechanical; no wonder he can't feel them. He finds Haley unconscious on a gurney. He wheels her out of the building. But then a truck departs with her. Nic runs after it, with his metal legs, and rescues her. But then the highway ends. They detour, but don't seem to get anywhere. Armed, suited men come after them. They find Jonah, who says they are in Area 51. Jonah's hands are mechanical. Jonah gets shot, but helps them escape. But the troops catch them. They haul Haley away, but Nic runs, using his alien tech body. And the doctor turns out to be alien tech too. This is Nomad, Damon spelled backward. This is where it ends. Intriguing but inconclusive.

I watched The Seventh Seal, which has a personal history for me. I ordered it long ago, back in the tape playing days, but they sent me a different Seventh movie, then no longer carried the one I wanted. So for maybe twenty years I have searched for it, and now at last I have the restored edition on DVD. It is Swedish with English subtitles, in black and white. A Crusader knight, Antonius Block, encounters Death on a desolate beach and proffers a deal: they will play a game of chess, and Death will not take him as long as the game continues, and if the knight wins, he goes free. Death agrees, and they start to play. Between moves Antonius interacts with others, and his friend saves a woman's life, and Death takes another man. Another young woman is be be burned at the stake because they say the devil is in her. Meanwhile the plague is coming. Death wins the chess game, and says the next time they meet, Antonio and his friends will be done. That seems to be the case. I don't think I properly understand this movie. The blurb material suggests it was a turning point in the movie industry, with phenomenal sequences like the Dance of Death, but I was not even aware that Death danced.

I watched The Sorcerer and the White Snake. This is a visually spectacular movie, in Mandarin with English subtitles. Two naga, snakes with the heads of women, watch men gathering herbs. One fears they will clean out all the herbs on the mountain, so she spooks a man and he falls into the lake. It seems he can't swim. But the other changes into a woman and dives down to save him. She kisses him, giving him a lungful of air, saving his life. But when Xu Xian wakes he is being revived by his friends, who did not see the girl. But she's there, watching him, and when he mentions being saved by a girl others think he imagined, she pushes him into water, dives after him in full clothing, and kisses him again, maybe her way of flirting. She associates with him as Susu, and he falls in love with her and marries her, not knowing her nature. But the Sorcerer knows, and fights her as an evil demon, and Xu Xian wounds her, not recognizing her in her giant snake form. She flees. But Xu, now at last knowing her nature and still loving her as Susu, is determined to save her. So he goes to fetch a magic herb that will cure her. That leads to a phenomenal adventure as Susu and her naga friend try to help him when he is captured, but have to battle the Sorcerer. It is a fantastic show. The Sorcerer wins, and Xu loses his memory of Susu, but she is allowed one last kiss and he begins to remember. Human and demon are not supposed to mix, but their love was true. They will meet again in another life. This is a moving Chinese-legendary romance.

My summer project this year is Hilltop Farm, a collaboration with my sister Teresa. When we came to America in 1940, having been kicked out of Spain by Dictator Franco who seemed not to understand or appreciate the feeding of hungry children, my parents were totally set against war. Quakers—the Religious Society of Friends—protest war anyway, and they had had an ugly taste of it being in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, which was the prelude to World War Two, and wanted no more of that. They feared for America as the war intensified. They decided to withdraw from society, returning to the fundamentals, as it were: subsistence farming, largely independent of the modern society. They would make an ideal religious and secular community, living off the land. When the world crashed and civilization died, then they might emerge to begin the restoration. They started with two or three committed couples, one of which was our family of four. This was my home from 1941 to 1945, a significant section of my childhood from age six to eleven. But trouble started early: the second couple was Canadian, and they were denied visas to live in the United States, on technical bureaucratic grounds; had they seen that coming they could have avoided the ban. New participants came in, but they often lacked the understanding and commitment of the ones lost, and in the end the project foundered. You can't make a unified community when it's like a herd of cats. Now my sister and I, both octogenarians, who were purely incidental and mostly in the way, are about the only survivors who were actually there throughout. We have the voluminous records, and the memories, and if we don't present it, ironically, no one else is likely to. So we're doing it while we can. We're about 19,000 words into it at this point and not nearly done. I expect to self publish it in due course, for the wider family, as this is not a commercial effort. Others will be able to find it if they want.

I am a fan of Ötzi the Iceman, who was killed in the Copper Age Alps and buried in ice for over five thousand years before global warming melted him. It's the oldest murder mystery, and we still don't know the killer, and probably would have trouble bringing him to justice now. I have Ö in my GEODYSSEY series; his daughter was distraught when he disappeared, but he saved her life by leading the pursuit away from her. NEW SCIENTIST has another note on him, as more is slowly discovered. It seems he was in dire straits, having been cut off from supplies of essential tools and pursued by enemies. He took good care of his weapons, frequently resharpening them, but they were almost worn out. More were available about 40 miles away, but he couldn't go there because they were watching. Even as it was, they found him and shot him in the back, and left him to die. Ugly business.

Our bodies are basically bags of bacteria. The microbiome is the collection of microbes that live mostly in our guts, affecting just about everything we are; they greatly outnumber all of the fixed cells in our body. Even so, we have been missing many, such as the archaea, which look just like bacteria but are a different branch of life. We don't know exactly what they do in us, but they surely aren't there just for fun. Well, except maybe for the ones in our genital tracts. It should be interesting as medical science zeroes in on them.

Long article in NEW SCIENTIST for June 30, 2018, on how to think about 13 assorted subjects. Such as the Multiverse, the idea that our known universe is just one of perhaps infinitely many we can't see, overlapping ours without affecting it. Or Consciousness: if you don't believe in anything you can't define or measure, you have a problem, because the fact that you are thinking about it proves it exists, but what the hell is it? How is it made? What happens to it when you sleep? Can you be sure that anybody else is conscious, or are they faking it? Time, generally considered the fourth dimension, but again, what is it? The closer we look, the more devious it becomes. Particles—we may think of them as marbles, but closer inspection shows they are nothing but waves of energy. What is an atom, really, but some tiny ball of energy (the nucleus) orbited by even smaller balls or waves (the electrons), with an immense proportion of space surrounding them. So is an atom merely curled up bits of energy flashing each other? What counts are the fields and forces that suffuse space and determine how they behave. Think of them not exactly as marbles, but as the waves generated when marbles are dropped into a pool of water, making ripples. Now if we only knew what that “water” is made of... Genes: bits of protein that define us. Or do they? What about epigenetics? I think of the genes as like the keys of a piano; the epigene is the player who selects those keys to make the music. Yes you need the keys, but without the player you still have nothing worthwhile. Schrodinger's Cat: alive or dead? Many scientists think it is in both states at once. I see that as nonsense; we simply don't know its state until we open the box. Logic—another straightforward concept that suffers when inspected too closely. Life: one definition is “A self sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.” I am not sure of that; I suspect future robotic machines will be capable of such evolution, if they aren't already. I'd call them alive, but not chemical. Gender: do we really know the difference between male and female? I like their definition: gender differences fall on a continuum, not in two buckets. Entropy: this is that tricky measure of disorder, which always tends to increase. That is, things become more disordered, and complete disorder is 100% entropy. Place 20 coins heads up on a tray, shake it, and they become jumbled. Play the film backwards and you see them weirdly orient to put their heads up, becoming organized. That's order, or low entropy, and you don't see it happen on its own. Similarly hotter dissipates to cooler. Life is a process or organization; when it ends, the body dissolves back into garbage. But why? What rule governs entropy? We just know it is so, not why it is so. The Blockchain: this is the essence of Bitcoin, the electronic currency. It is a kind of database storing monetary information so that it can't be faked. It is independent of any government, so can't be controlled or inflated by government meddling. That also makes it the darling of crime bosses who don't want their financial dealings traced. But it requires some heavey computation. The bitcoin blockchain alone consumes more electricity than the country of Ecuador, and that is getting worse. Black Holes, those spots where so much matter gets crammed into so little space that gravity prevents even light from escaping beyond their event horizons, the point of no return. Classical physics can't explain what happens inside a black hole. They lie at the margin of what is knowable and what is not. And Scientific Truth, if that is not an oxymoron. Science observes and makes predictions, but how can we be sure there won't be an exception ahead? That is the basis for my rejection of knowledge about God, above: how can we ever prove there is not a god in the universe next door? Or that there is a scientifically undetectable God in our universe? Could God be made of Dark Matter? Challenging questions. And no, I don't believe in Dark matter either.

Other notes: a study of studies indicates that married folk have less heart disease than unmarried folk. I did not get married for my health, but my 62 years of marriage suggest that it was a healthy thing. Brand names that actually exist: Fartek babywear, Krapp toilet paper, Bums biscuits, Nora Knackers crackers, Dribly lemonade, Cock Drops cocktail bitters, Arses red wine, Plops savory snacks, Bum toilet paper, Pee Cola soft drink, Crapsy high fiber breakfast cereal and its rival called Plopsies. Fairly makes your mouth water, or maybe something else. A quarter million Americans in their 80s are still working. Yes, it's healthier; I do it myself.

Situation in Tampa, Florida, that is arousing attention. A car pulled into a parking lot, skipped the open spaces and parked in the disabled reserve space though it had no disabled sign. That's a no-no; the disabled need those spaces. My wife has a disabled sign; she's essentially home-bound, on oxygen at home, and uses a wheelchair when on errands in town, mostly doctor's visits. But if there's a parking space close enough to where's she's going we can do without the wheelchair. She can walk, she just can't walk far or stand very long. To have healthy folk grab those spaces is annoying at best, and real trouble at worst. So we know what it is about. Well, this car took the place and the healthy man, Markeis McGlockton, got out and went into the convenience store. Another man, Michael Drejka, approached and berated the woman remaining in the car with her children, Britany Jacobs, who was the driver. McGlockton emerged from the store, saw Drejka harassing his girlfriend, marched up, pushed him to the ground and stepped toward him to follow up. It seemed that not only did this man not care about the law or the rights of the disabled folk, he was going to beat up anyone who challenged his girlfriend for violating them. Then Drejka, on the ground, drew a gun and shot him, and he died. It was all caught on video. Oh, my! Where are the rights of this case? It turns out that the Drejka had been bugging folk in the area before, looking for trouble, knowing that if it came he was protected by Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Sure enough, he was not arrested. What a dandy way to kill people: find a cause where you are technically on the right side, give them hell, and shoot them if they get ugly. McGlockton was arrogant and aggressive and wrong, a bully, but did he deserve to be killed for that? Should a gun be used to settle a parking quarrel? It is hard to pick a side. Would a few more details help? McGlockton stepped back when he saw the gun, so the action was over at that point, but Drejka shot him anyway. Drejka was white, McGlockton black. Drejka pulled his car right up next to Jacobs' car, as if his whole reason for being there was to confront her. When the Stand Your Ground law was passed, justifiable homicides in Florida rose by 75%. But the NRA is pushing to change the law to make it easier for shooters to use it as a shield. They sell more guns when people shoot people. Britany Jacobs has now hired a lawyer, civil rights attorney Ben Crump. This is not the first or second time a gunman has initiated a confrontation in Florida, and shot the other person. THE WEEK for August 3, 2018, has a feature on the reality of the notion of a Good Guy with a gun stopping crime. It's complicated, in part because the police can't always tell right away which armed man is Good and which is Bad, and the wrong one can get shot. So who is ultimately guilty of this murder? It was enabled by the Stand Your Ground law, and I think would not have happened without it. I think that law should be abolished; it would make us all safer. Yes, folk could still stand their ground, but when they kill others, there should be an investigation and trial. No automatic immunity for killing. One commentator made a very interesting remark: that maybe the answer to overly permissive gun laws is to get more guns into the hands of people of color. That might make hard line white legislators pause.

I watched the Discover DVD video How the Earth was Made: Ring of Fire. The Pacific Ocean is surrounded by volcanoes, historically some of the most devastating on Earth. The viscosity of the lava depends on how much silica it contains. Hawaii has little, so is runny; the others have much, so it is thick and forms cones. They trap the gases until they burst out with horrendous force. Some magma contains hornblende crystals, which means the presence of water. The water does not cool it, but pressures it with steam so that it explodes. Also Carbon 12, made by plants. Oceanic rock becomes magma hundreds of miles inland; how can that happen? By the process of subduction, the edge of one tectonic plate plunging beneath another, carrying its rock below. There are also associated earthquakes; ninety percent of the world's quakes occur in the Ring of Fire. Rock thrusting over rock makes the quakes on land, and tsunamis in the sea. There are about 1,500 earthquakes in Alaska every month. Subduction makes the deepest ocean trenches in the world; those trenches really define the Pacific. The continent of North America is moving west at about three inches a year. Powerful convection currents separate the sea floor, pouring out magma, making new land. It is a dynamic global system. The Earth is never at rest.

And I will surely be restless, too, until I meet you here again next month.

PIERS


STAR TREK

Deep Space 9, Season 3, Episode #1: “The Search Part I” The Dominion says it means to stop Federation incursions. Sisko reappears, having used a Romulan cloaking device, as the Romulans also wish to halt this problem. He says that five years ago they prepared a ship, the Defiant, to tackle the Borg. It as a thorough warship, and they will board it per Federation orders. It will go to the Gamma Quadrant to locate the Founders to establish peaceful relations. The personnel are not easy with this, but must fall in line. There is a lady Romulan officer with them, T'Rul, to guard their cloaking device, and a Federation security officer, which antagonizes Odo. They learn that the Vorta are a possible connection. The Jem'Hadar are the enforcers, deadly and merciless. Soon they are in a battle with three enemy ships. They destroy one, but three more are coming. The Defiant gets boarded and there is personal combat. Odo gets himself and Kira to a shuttle. They go to a planet in the Omaran Nebula and discover a vast pool of shapeshifters. A woman forms and approaches Odo “Welcome home,” she says.

DS9: S3 #2 “The Search Part II” Odo and Kira have just encountered the shape-shifters, who are are part of the Great Link. A woman takes Odo's hand, sharing the Link, and now he knows he is Home. Meanwhile Sisko meets Borath, a Founder; O'Brien and Dax managed to get in touch. Odo was one of 100 babies sent into the galaxy to learn its ways. Now he merges, literally, with the woman, as they embrace and dissolve into fluid together. Sisko is outraged that a sudden new treaty is reassigning all personnel of the DS9 station without his approval. What is going on? Sisko gathers his crew and they go to shut down the wormhole. It turns out that the changelings are the Founders of the Dominion, trying to impose order on the rest of the galaxy despite the horrendous cost. Odo refuses to go along, and parts company with them, sparing the galaxy. For now.

DS9: S3 #3 “The House of Quark” Business is down and Quark is annoyed. Then the lone customer, Kozak, attacks him; they struggle, and the knife ends up killing the Klingon. Then Kozak's brother D'Ghor comes. Then Grilka, Kozak's wife, who abducts him and takes him to her home, and marries him at knife-point so she can have an heir. Quark checks her family's finances and discovers that D'Ghor has been systematically cheating Kozak for five years. D'Ghor challenges Quark to combat, but Quark demonstrates that there would be no honor in this, and the Klingon authority agrees. So he has saved Grilka's estate for her. All he wants in return is a divorce, which she grants.

DS9: S3 #4 “Equilibrium” Jadzia Dax is distracted by a melody and is acting strangely and suffering hallucinations. The only previous Dax host, Joran Belar, to experience trauma was in a coma for six months. So Sisko and Bashier take her to the Trill Symbiosis Commission, who are the experts. Timor says her hallucinations acre actually memories of one of the prior hosts. Next day Timor is evasive, as if someone doesn't want him to talk. They investigate, and learn that Joran Belar should not have been a host. That information has been deleted; there was a cover-up. It turns out that half the general population is capable of being Dax hosts, but that information would bring chaos because they would all want to be hosts. Sisko keeps the secret, to save Jadzia, who is now integrating more properly with Joran. She will be all right.

DS9: S3 #5 “Second Skin” There seems to be a duplicate Kira Nerys, who was in a Cardassian concentration camp ten years ago. Our Kira departs to investigate, and disappears. She wakes later made up as a Cardassian woman on Cardassia. They tell her she was Iliana, sent to infiltrate the resistance, given the memories of Kira so she could merge. She meets her supposed father, whom she doesn't remember. The Obsidian Order needs information from her, as she was their operative. They put pressure on, but her “father” intercedes to protect her. But she points out that this may be a trap for him, as they suspect him of disloyalty: cause him to betray them to protect her. Sure enough, the authorities step in—but so do Sysko, Odo, and Dax, and their Cardassian ally, Garak, rescuing Kira and giving her “father” sanctuary so he can continue looking for his real daughter. He and Kira have developed a real respect for each other; he's a good man, and she does resemble his daughter.

DS9: S3 #6 “The Abandoned” Mardah is Jake's lady interest. She works for Quark, at the gaming tables, and is a distractingly pretty girl, by no coincidence; she distracts customers who might otherwise win too big. Is there cynical reason for this 20 year old woman's interest in the 16 year old son of the station commander? Meanwhile Quark accidentally bought a baby, thinking it was equipment. But the child ages rapidly; in a day he looks eight years old. Why has he been sent here? He is a Jem'Hadar, a natural killer. Odo helps him, but it is tricky. Mardah has dinner with Sisko and Jake, and Sisko gets to know both of them better. Odo helps the killer escape; he can't integrate with others not his kind.

DS9: S3 #7 “Civil Defense” Jake has trouble with a file. O'Brien checks, while Sisko is there. And the file is balky, triggering an ancient Cardassian message that workers are in revolt and have eight minutes to stop. The three of them are locked in the ore processing unit 5. The automated messages continue threateningly; gas may kill all people on the station. Failing that, the station will be destroyed. They have to regain control before they all die. It even summons Gul Dukat, who arrives and means to bargain to establish a Cardassian garrison here. And the program makes him a captive too, with delicious irony. Now they all are battling together to save the station before they all die. They manage to accomplish this at the last second. This is one tense episode.

DS9: S3 #8 “Meridian” Kira pretends to be Odo's lover, to get rid of an objectionable prospective suitor. Meanwhile the planet Meridian appears, literally, from an intersecting dimension. They visit, using the Defiant, learning about it. Handsome Deral comes on to Dax, and she is interested. They walk through a garden, climb a tree, kiss. Meridian's sun needs to be stabilized so the planet won't phase in and out so much. Jadzia plans to join him on Meridian, leaving DS9. But her presence there messes it up and they have to haul her back; she can't join Deral after all. Quark schemes to make a holo image of Kira naked to satisfy a customer, but she catches on and doctors it to put Quark's head on her body. The customer is furious. It's a nice body, though.

DS9: S3 #9 “Defiant” Kira has been overworked too long and is on the verge of a breakdown. Bashir relieves her of duty so she can unwillingly relax. He takes her to Quark's establishment and gives her four relaxing things to do, two of which she must accomplish. And Commander Riker from the Enterprise introduces himself. She gives him a tour of the station, including the Defiant ship—and he shoots her, stunning her, and takes the ship. He's an impostor named Tom, Will's second self, with two accomplices. Gul Dukat and Sisko go to Cardassia to organize the search and nullification of the Defiant. An observer from the Obsidian Order is with them. There are political secrets and complications. They surround the Defiant so it can't complete its mission, and negotiate a deal that saves all parties. But what is going on in that system that the authorities don't know about? Fascinating questions. Kira brings the ship back.

DS9: S3 #10 “Fascination" It is the Gratitude Festival. Everyone attends, many in costume. Lwaxana visits and monopolizes Odo. Jake, who lost his girlfriend, now says he loves Kira. Keiko has to spend yet more time away from O'Brien. Other relationships are strained. Kira's boyfriend Vedik Bariel gets interested in Jadzia, but she is interested in Sisko—or is it a practical joke? Then Kira and Bashir suddenly get together, unable to resist each other. It turns out to be Zanthi Fever going around, that mixes up attractions. It passes, and normalcy returns. Zanthi? An interesting name.

DS9: S3 #11 “Past Tense Part I” They take the Defiant to Earth for a formal event. Sisko, Dax, and Bashir beam to Earth, but land in 2024 and are in trouble. O'Brien, Kira, and Odo are left to crew the ship. Sisko and Bashier are arrested; Jadzia meets Chris Brynner separately, and he helps her. But Sisko and Bashir end up in Sanctuary District A, a hellhole, where they know there is about to be a phenomenal riot; they need to get out before it happens, as they must not interfere with history. But they inadvertently do interfere, and history starts changing, and they have to try to fix it.

DS9: S3 #12 “Past Tense Part II” Sisko assumes the identity of the key man who died, Gabriel Bell, so that history won't be changed. In the present time there is a bubble of un-change around their ship, while the rest of the cosmos differs; they send an away team of O'Brien and Kira to go into the past to try to salvage things, but they go to a later time. Dax sneaks into the Sanctuary and joins Sisko and Bashir; she looks quite different in 21st century style. O'Brien and Kira try again, this time more successfully. The state troops invade, slaughtering a multitude. Sisko gets shot, but survives. But the original time-line is restored, and our folk return to their own time. History has been saved, as it were, but it was a close call, thanks to a glitch in transmission.

DS9: S3 #13 “Life Support” pretty Leanne approaches Jake for a date, but his friend Nog's” crudity messes it up. Meanwhile there is a problem with an approaching ship, and Vedik Bareil, Kira's boyfriend, is injured. He dies. Then there is a sign of life, amazingly. Bashir manages to revive him, to the great relief of everyone, as he is involved in key negotiations between Bajor and Cardassia that might result in permanent peace. But he is ailing, and still may die. Bashir wants to put him in stasis, to save his life, but he wants to complete the negotiations despite the danger. They do negotiate the treaty, but he dies. Kira will not be pleased.

DS9: S3 #14 “Heart of Stone” Odo and Kira are returning from a spot mission when there seems to be trouble with another ship. It lands on a moon, and they follow. Kira's foot gets caught in some kind of growing crystal that feeds on energy. The cave is threatening to collapse on her. We learn that Odo's name in Cardassian means “nothing.” Kira seems to be doomed as the crystal slowly surrounds her. She says she loves Odo, and he confesses that he loves her too. Meanwhile Nog wants to attend the Academy and become a Starfleet officer. He persuades Sisko to support him. And Odo catches on that Kira is an impostor. She's another changeling trying to persuade him to leave Starfleet and join the changelings. The real Kira likes him but doesn't love him. When the real Kira inquires whether anything significant was said, he demurs, choosing not to tax her with his private emotion. This may be my favorite episode so far; I like Kira and I like Odo, and each could do worse.

DS9: S3 #15 “Destiny” Three lady Cardassian scientists visit to assist in setting up a communications system that travels through the wormhole. But others don't want them here, lest it bring prophesied destruction on the station. Two are polite but the third seems arrogant. Stage by stage the Prophecy seems to be coming true; a reaction threatens the closure of the wormhole. That alarms Kira. One of the ladies comes on to O'Brien, in a cross-cultural misunderstanding; that's awkward. But one of them may be an agent sent to mess up the project. They realize that they may have misinterpreted the prophecy, and succeed in setting up the system.

DS9: S3 #16 “Prophet Motive” Quark has a great deal in progress, including the attentions of a lovely Cardassian woman Emi. Meanwhile the Grand Nagus may have a plan, but Quark distrusts it. There's a big gift to be announced. Quark is going crazy trying to figure it out. He realizes that the Nagus has been changed, and argues to change him back. Things revert, and all is well, maybe. And Bashier fails to win an award he expected to win. So nothing much has been changed.

DS9: S3 #17 “Visionary” Both Klingons and Romulans are here for two days, coincidentally. This of course means mischief. O'Brien suffers a dose of radiation poisoning, and starts having visions of the near future. In fact they are real, and at one point there are two of him meeting each other. He is actually time shifting about five hours into the future. He tells Bashier to give him a special test that will save his life, and does, in the “past.” “Who told you that?” Bashir demands. “You did.” In the future. The Romulans suggest that Odo has a romantic interest in Kira, which of course she rejects, though we know from Episode #14 “Heart of Stone” that it's true. The future O'Brien discovers that the Romulans are about to destroy the station to cover up their nefarious activity. The “present” O'Brien is too sick with radiation poisoning, so the “future” O'Brien returns in his place to give the alarm and save the station. What a story! Another candidate for my favorite.

DS9: S3 #18 “Distant Voices” An alien Lethean wants a restricted substance, and zaps Bashir when raiding his supplies. He wakes alone in the station, except for Quark, who flees. And Garak the Cardassian tailor. The computer and other systems are down. Where are the others? He finds them, except for Sisko, but they are oddly argumentative. Bashir discovers that he is in a coma, and concludes that the others represent aspects of his personality, and the station is his mind. Now he find Sisko, who represents his skill and professionalism. And the Lethean represents Death, stalking him. Meanwhile Bashir is getting visibly older and weaker. He tries to open panels to address the computer, but the cabinets ace filled with tennis balls. But he finally pulls through, having confidence in himself, and recovers. He has survived his 30th birthday.

DS9: S3 #19 “Through the Looking Glass” O'Brien pulls a phaser on Sisko and beams them to a parallel universe, through the looking glass where Sisko led a rebellion against the Alliance. But he is dead, so they need our Sisko to take his place. Why should he? Because his wife Jennifer is the leader of the other side. The wife our Sisko lost in this universe. In that universe Dax is Sisko's mistress. Kira is the leader of the Alliance who sort of likes Sisko, and she is sexy as hell in this role. Bashir is a high lieutenant rivaling Sisko. Garak is on the side of the Alliance. Kira manages to capture Sisko, and they kiss, though they are enemies. And Jennifer is there, but a different person. Sisko overcomes his guards and makes a break, taking Jennifer along. Kira leads the pursuit. Sisko activates the station's self destruct system and bargains with Kira, winning freedom for the rebels and respect from Jennifer, whom he must leave.

DS9: S3 #20 “Improbable Cause” Someone tries to kill Garak; there is an explosion in his residence. But Odo concludes that Garak blew up his own shop. The two of them get captured by the Romulans, who are on a mission to pass through the wormhole and attack the Dominion. If they eliminate the Founders, the Dominion will be wiped out. Odo is a shape changer, one of the Founders by species, though not with them. Enabran Tain, the Cardassian who tried to kill Garak before, now wants Garak to join him so they can work together, as they did before—and Garak agrees, to Odo's chagrin. The story is to be continued.

DS9: S3 #21 “The Die is Cast” Odo is now a prisoner. Tain assigns Garak to persuade Odo to join them, but Odo is disgusted. At DS9 they are preparing for war; the Federation is sending nine warships, but a larger Romulan invasion fleet is already passing through the wormhole. They want to eliminate the Founders. Sisko and his crew take the Defiant to the Gamma Quadrant in direct conflict with Federation orders. Garak tortures Odo by preventing him from liquefying, to get information on the changelings or Founders, but doesn't work. Tain attacks the planet, but it turns out to be a trap as 150 Jem'Hadar ships appear, an overwhelming force. One of the Romulan officers turns out to be a changeling, tricking them into it. Odo and Garak escape in the runabout and return to the Defiant. The Cardassian and Romulan fleets are wiped out. The Federtation command forgives Sisko, but hopes he doesn't do it again.

DS9: S3 #22 “Explorers” Sisko has grown a small beard and has a project to build a spaceship based on an ancient blueprint. Lovely Leeta introduces herself to Bashir, when Dax brings news that soon another woman he is interested in will visit the station: his main competitor in school. But when she comes, she walks right past him as if he doesn't exist. That's curious. Sisko and Jake voyage on the newly built ship, which looks like a butterfly when its solar panels are spread. Then the sail gets torn off and they are zooming at warp speed without control. They wind up in Cardassian space, having recreated a famous ancient journey. Bashir introduces himself to the lady and learns that she didn't recognize him, having confused him with someone else. They are soon deep into technical dialogue, having much in common.

DS9: S3 #23 “Family Business” Jake is setting Sisko up with a date with a lady freighter captain, Kasidy Yates. Quark is faced with a Ferengi Writ of Accountability, a disaster. It relates to his mother, Moogie, who is guilty of making a profit, as Ferengi females are forbidden to do. She turns out to be a financial genius, making far more latinum than Quark ever did. She is also wearing clothes, also forbidden. But in the end Quark us able to bribe the official and make it right. And Kasidy turns out to be an ardent fan of the extinct game of baseball, as is Sisko. Suddenly that relationship is alive.

DS9: S3 #24 “Shakaar” The new head of the provisional government of Bajor is Vedik Kai Winn. Kira is not pleased, but agrees to perform a mission for Winn. She has to persuade Shakaar, her old rebel squad leader, to return reclamators to the government for recovering devastated fields. But Shakaar's group needs those reclamators for their own fields. Violence breaks out because Winn lied to Kira and tried to have Shakaar arrested. Rebel leaders are on the verge of fighting each other, but meet and decide to avoid civil war. Instead they unite, and Shakaar will run for the top office. Scheming Winn is finished.

DS9: S3 #25 “Facets” Nog Ferengi is determined to get into the Starfleet Academy next year. Meanwhile Jadzia Dax will have a special Dax event of her kind, the zhian-tara, and would like to borrow the bodies of her seven closest friends, which are the regular crew plus Leeta, possibly Bashir's girlfriend, who will tune in to Dax's previous hosts. Kira becomes Lela, the first host. O'Brien is Tobin, the second host. Leeta is the third, Quark is the fourth, animated by a female, to his discomfort. Bashir is the fifth. Sisko is the sixth, Joran, who may have been crazy. He attacks her, but she fights back, and Sisko returns. Odo is the seventh, Curzon, whom Sisko knew. The last two decide to stay merged, which does not thrill Jadzia. Sisko says she should confront Curzon and make him back off. She does, and he admits that he had fallen in love with her, and still loves her. She persuades him that if he rejoins her, he will be a part of her, as he should be. But the experience benefits both Jadzia and Odo. A most interesting episode.

DS9: S3 #26 “The Adversary” Sisko has been promoted to Captain. The others congratulate him. Meanwhile there has been a change in command at a neighboring empire. Tzenkethi, and the Defiant must go to show that the Federation remains in charge overall, lest the new administration forget. But something has taken over the key ship's systems; a saboteur must have done it. They discover a changeling, who escapes. The Dominion hopes to start a war between the Federation and the Tzetkethi. The ambassador was fake, and they can't trust anything he told them; there may never have been a change of power int Tzenkithi. They don't control the Defiant, but must stop it. They must find the changeling, who can resemble any of them. They go out in teams to fire phaser beams down all the passages. They start the self destruct sequence. Then there are two Odos, each claiming to be the real one. The real one defeats and accidentally kills the fake one, and they save the ship. But the fake one tells Odo as he dies “You're too late. We are everywhere.” That promises real mischief for the future.

DS9: S4 #1 “The Way of the Warrior” A double-length episode. There is a station wide search for the changeling. They don't catch it, but are alert. Cisco has a date with Kasidy Yates, interrupted by a Klingon visit to the station. They use the drops of blood test to prove they are not changelings. The Klingons attack and beat up Garak for no apparent cause. The freighter Xhosa, which Kasidy commands, is attacked; Sisko backs the Klingons off. But they need another Klingon to handle the Klingons, and fetch in Worf (from The Next Generation), who quickly investigates. But the Klingons are not forthcoming. Something is going on. Worf finds out that the Klingons mean to attack Cardassia, thinking that the Dominion has taken over the Cardassian Empire. The Federation disapproves, and the Klingons withdraw from the peace treaty between them. Mischief indeed. Sisko contacts Gul Dukat, who is no longer in power, and will try to rescue him with the Defiant. They succeed, barely. The Klingon fleet attacks the station; the station returns fire, destroying a number of ships. Klingons beam aboard and there is combat. The Federation ships arrive, and the Klingons back off. Sisko talks Worf out of resigning from Starfleet. He becomes the station's new Strategic Operations officer.

DS9: S4 #2 “The Visitor” A young woman, Melanie, an aspiring writer, visits old Jake Sisko, Ben Cisco's son, a famous writer. She asks why he gave up writing at 40. He says his father died when he was 18. It was an accident with a special unit. The others helped Jake cope, and he recovered. Ben's ghost appears to him, and vanishes. Problems mount in the sector and there may be war with the Klingons; folk are departing the station. Then Ben reappears; it seems he was not killed but knocked out of phase, and this is a year later. But he fades out again. So Jake knows his father is alive bunt locked in a temporal flux. Then the Federation turned over control of the station to the Klingon Empire, and Jake had to leave. He came to this house and became a writer, got married to Korena, and was happy for a while. Ben appears and talks to him, and fades out. He decides to return to school to learn what he needs to somehow save his father. He is so absorbed in that effort that he loses his wife. Now he is going to make one last effort, in a window of opportunity, to cut the astral cord that links him to Ben, and return Ben to the moment of the accident, maybe freeing him. It works, and Ben Cisco is back in the real world, alive.

DS9: S4 #3 “Hippocratic Oath” They believe that a Jem'Hadar visitor to the station is an enemy agent, as this species is all killers. Sure enough they take O'Brien and Bashir hostage. Bashir decides to help them, as they are trying to escape the white, the drug to which they are addicted, but O'Brien objects and escapes. They search for him. But it seems that only the commander has any conscience. All the troops here will die. Worf doesn't trust any of this, but does not properly understand the ways of the station, which differ from those of a star ship.

DS9: S4 #4 “Indiscretion” Kira receives a message from Bajor: a fragment of a ship has been found, the Ravinok. Kira will investigate, but the Cardassians send a representative to accompany her. It is Dukat, her nemesis of old. And they find it. He finds the bracelet of Tora Naprem, the Bajoran woman he loved. Kira is looking for Lorit. Another is Ziyal, Dukat and Naprem's daughter. Meanwhile Kasidy and Sisko have a difference that threatens their relationship. The crew and prisoners of the Ravinok survive! But Dukat says he has to kill his daughter to preserve his reputation she is evidence how he fraternized with the enemy. Kira said if he does, Kira will kill him. Ziyal says that if she can't be with her father, she'd rather die anyway. He capitulates and welcomes her. And Sisko apologizes to Kasidy, and all is well. A feeling episode.

DS9: S4 #5 “Rejoined” A Trill science team is coming to borrow the Defiant, to conduct an experiment making an artificial wormhole. The team is led by Lenara Kahn, whom Jadzia knows. A former host was once married to one of Jadzia's hosts, and now both are in later hosts. But Trill protocol requires that they have no romance now, lest they be banished from Trill society. Yet both are tempted. Jadzia and Lenara talk and find they have more in common than their married prior hosts did. They kiss, desiring each other. They are in love because of the Trill history. They want to be with each other, but that would get them exiled, and their trills would die when they do. Finally Lenarta departs, heartrendingly for them both. Another feeling episode.

DS9: S4 #6 “Starship Down” They take the Defiant on a mission to the Gamma Quadrant to meet the Karemma, where two Gem'Hadar ships appear, going after the Karemma ship, which hides in a planetary atmosphere. The Gem'Hadar go after it, and the Defiant follows. It gets hit, but recovers, then runs afoul of another enemy ship and gets hit again. Power is out, Sisko dangerously injured. Kira and Sisko are together; she must keep him awake until a medic comes. Bashir and Dax are together, huddled against the chill temperature. Sisko is slowly slipping away, and Kira is desperate. Quark and a Karemma, Hanok, try to defuse a torpedo that penetrated the hull. Kira prays for Sisko, and he starts to recover. Worf learns how to work with regular folk, and they succeed in blasting the Gem'Hadar ship fighting them. All ends well, barely.

DS9: S4 #7 “Little Green Men” The Fenengi Quark and his brother Rom take a ship to Earth to deliver Nog to the Academy. But something goes wrong and they arrive in Earth's past, circa 1950. They adapt translators so that they can communicate with the primitive folk. Odo is there with them, having changed form to go along, watching them. The Earth authorities don't trust them, taking them for little green men from Mars. They escape and return to the present 400 years later and deliver Nog safely to the Academy.

Oops, I got the wrong disc, and am watching these two out of order. Sigh. DS9: S4 #24 “Body Parts” Quark says he is dying; his recent physical indicates he has the Dorek Syndrome and he has six days to live. Keiko O'Brien has been away, and returns with a complication: her baby had to be transferred to the only other woman available, Kira. So now Kira will bear O'Brien's baby. Quark auctions off his soon-to-be remains; the Ferengi Brunt, FCA, buys them, then Quark learns he doesn't have Dorek Syndrome, but still must deliver his remains. So he sets up with Garak to kill him. But it has to be the right way. Finally he decides to break the contract, which deprives him of all his assets and puts him out of business, but at least he lives. The O'Briens invite Kira to live with them, because of the baby. And the other members of the station come to Quark's rescue, giving him supposedly surplus junk that is anything but.

DS9: S4 #25 “Broken Link” Garak introduces Odo to the lovely new restaurant owner on the station. She expresses interest in a closer relationship. Then Odo suffers an attack of something and collapses. He's got something, and must go to the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant, to see the Founders. They take the Defiant. The Gem'Hadar assume command of the ship. The lady leader of the changelings talks with him. They caused his illness, to bring him back for trial in the Great Link, because he killed a changeling. They beam to the planet, where Odo and the woman enter the pool. They return later with Odo cured and rendered human. That's his punishment: to be completely human in biology as well as in appearance. Meanwhile the Klingons are declaring that they are taking over this sector, and the Federation has ten days to clear out, or there will be war. But Odo says that while he was in the pool the other changelings there were trying to hide things from him, but he did pick up some identities, and the Klingon chief Gowron is one of them. He is a changeling. Wow! This promises to get dangerously complicated next season.

Back to where I belong: DS9: S4 #8 “The Sword of Kahless” the old Klingon Kor has a quest: to find the Sword of Kahless. Dax and Worf accompany him, taking a runabout to the planet where the ancient evidence was found. The Hur'q invaded and plundered Klingon territory over a thousand years ago and stole the Sword. They find it, but are pursued by rogue Klingons. It is apparent that the Klingon who holds the Sword gets dreams of leading the Klingons; both Worf and Kor want it, and neither trusts the other. So Dax holds the Sword. They fight each other for it, and Dax shoots to stun them both. They realize that it is not their destiny to keep the Sword, and they return to the station.

DS9: S4 #9 “Our Man Bashir” A James Bond parody, with Bashir as Bond. He, Garak, and Kira are locked in a Holosuite drama, she as a sexy Russian agent. Dax is Honey Bare, another sexy agent. O'Brien is one-eyed Falcon, an enemy. Worf is Dr. Noah's assistant. Sisko is Noah, who plots to release so much lava that the continents of the world will sink, and Mt. Everest will became an island in the sea. They can't interrupt the program lest the folk trapped in it be lost. But Bashir has the sheer nerve to save the day. I love these parodies; they show off the actors in brave new roles.

DS9: S4 #10 “Homefront” They receive a priority message: there has been a suspicious explosion on Earth, killing 27 people. The recording shows that it was a changeling who did it. The changelings have finally reached Earth. That is mischief. They go to Earth, as Odo is a changeling and should have valuable information. Earth security is lax, as Odo demonstrates. Blood tests, phaser sweeps, random checks are required. Odo starts finding shapeshifters imitating key personnel. There is a general power failure, the result of sabotage, and the Gem'Hadar, the most brutally efficient soldiers ever, may be coming. They get the president to declare martial law.

DS9: S4 #11 “Paradise Lost” The siege of Earth is continued. Sisko investigates the Red Squad of cadets, who sabotaged the power grid. He concludes that Star Fleet is behind it, as a demonstration that triggers the necessary action: martial law. Now Star Fleet is in charge, not the civilians. When Sisko doesn't agree, he is relieved of duty here. A changeling in the form of O'Brien talks with him, saying there are only four changelings on Earth at the moment, and look at what they have done. Sisko is arrested to keep him out of it. Odo springs him. The Lakota challenges the Defiant and fires on it. The Defiant fights back. The Defiant gets through when the Star Fleet officer lets it, and the Admiral is through; even some of his own key personnel abandon him. Martial law is canceled. Earth is saved from dictatorship. But the changeling threat remains. This is one tense episode, and one tense situation.

DS9: S4 #12 “Crossfire” Bajor First Minister Shakaar, whom we met in Season 3 as a rebel fighter Kira worked with, visits the station on business. Odo gets news that someone plans to assassinate Shakaar; the True Way faction has assassinated others. So Odo and Worf step up security. Shakaar tells Odo privately that he thinks he is falling in love with Kira. That's awkward for Odo because he loves Kira himself. Quark catches on to that situation. The central elevator drops out of control when Shakaar, Kira, and Odo are in it. Odo uses his shape changing ability to halt it, and Worf tracks down the saboteur. Odo is distracted by his hopeless interest in Kira, as she in increasingly interested in Shakaar, and it is interfering with Odo's job. This is clearly a situation that needs to be resolved. But how?

DS9: S4 #13 “Return to Grace” Kira must negotiate with the Cardassians. Dukat is assigned to help her, having been demoted for bringing his illegitimate half Bajoran daughter Ziyal home. It also cost him his wife and reputation, but he says he doesn't regret it. Kira still feels he did the right thing; she had interceded to save the girl, preventing him from killing her. Now Dukat seems to be interested in Kira himself. On Dukat's freighter they encounter a Klingon ship, fire on it, and it warps away. Dukat and Kira work together to improve the freighter's fighting capacity, their personalities clashing, as he clearly admires her and she clearly wants no part of him. But they cooperate to spring a trap on the Klingon War Bird—and manage to exchange all personnel between the two ships, so that the Klingons are on the freighter and the humans and Cardassian are on the War Bird. Then they blast the freighter. And they discover key information. And Dukat makes his pitch for Kira to join him in fighting the Klingons. But she has been that route, and prefers to return to the station. She takes Ziyal with her, with Dukat's acquiescence, as the war front is no place for the girl.

DS9: S4 #14 “Sons of Mogh” Worf's brother Kurn visits, wanting Worf to kill him, per a Klingon ritual, as he has been deprived of honor. Worf does, but Dax catches on and intervenes to save Kurn, who is not pleased. Meanwhile the Klingons have activated mines in this region of space. Worf and Kurn beam aboard a Kingon ship and get the addresses of the mines so they can be detonated. That saves much mischief, and the Klingons clear out. But Kurn is unsatisfied, so Worf arranges for him to have his memory wiped and he is adopted into a new Klingon family. No dishonor there.
DS9: S4 #15 “Bar Association” Quark treats his employees badly. Rom forms a union, and they go on strike. That complicates things on the station, and Sisko orders that it be settled. Brunt comes, a tough Ferengi liquidator enforcing Ferengi law. He beats up Quark, because Rom cares about his brother, and this is a way to pressure Rom. Finally they work out a sneaky compromise to get rid of Brunt: the union folds officially, but they get everything they were demanding, including immediate pay raises. All is well again.


There is more to watch, and I will continue watching. But I already know that Deep Space Nine is my favorite of the Star Trek series I have watched so far. I especially like feisty Kira, but they are all good characters.

PIERS
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