I read Arcana Creek by Brian Clopper. This is a juvenile fantasy (remember, juvenile is a category, not an indictment) featuring eleven-year-old Max Edgars, who is visiting his grandmother for the summer. About all there is to do there is play by the small river flowing by her house, Arcana Creek. But as it turns out, there is more to that little stream than shows. For one thing it’s magic, off and on. For another, there’s a naiad, or water spirit, named Sunia, who introduces herself in mysterious fashion. There’s a troll named Walter living under a bridge nearby. And Tolvo, a fox who has learned magic spells. The creek is innocent enough, but when there is heavy rain it gets stirred up and muddy, and evil magic takes over. Nice creatures become mean ones when that water touches them. In due course Max decides to go rescue his lost grandfather and his grandmother’s sister, who are captives of the evil spirit Fraught. This becomes a fair adventure, as you might imagine, because Max is just a boy and Fraught not only is far more powerful magically, the whole mission is a trap to catch Max and compel him to poison more of the magic waters.
I read With a Side of Universal Destruction by Brian Clopper. This is quite different from the prior novel by the same author. Will Strooter is a man in his mid twenties who keeps a goldfish named Lloyd in a bowl, as he has done for fifteen years. When it dies, it turns into a collection of orange globules. He puts it out, bowl and all, on his doorstep, expecting it to be mysteriously replaced with a living fish by the end of the day. This has been happening for fourteen years. His erstwhile babysitter Ruth, when he was eleven, had given it to him as a parting gift when she went off to college. Lloyd seemed to bring him good luck, and when it was dead he had bad luck. He has a lingering crush on Ruth despite her absence from his life. Meanwhile his work at the office is pretty much only for the paycheck. Now it is complicated by the rush of bad luck during the fish’s absence. An accident sets fire to the place. Will is in danger of getting fired. Then he encounters Ruth, whom he hasn’t seen in fourteen years. She is now in her thirties, but looks the same as his memory of her. At that point things change. She says she looks no older because she’s a shapeshifter. That there will be no new Lloyd fish. That they are in danger and must flee. Sure enough, an alien flying craft strafes them, blasting things and people in its effort to wipe them out. They wind up on her spaceship. Then it gets complicated. The oversimplified essence is that she planted a god in him, way back when, and now others are out to kill him and take the god’s power for themselves. The action is continuous and the conclusion shakes the universe. It is dangerous to mess with even young gods.
Personal: to rehash the background, leading into the foreground, and maybe the future, Carol, my wife of 63 years, died about seven months ago. I was proactive in handling my grief. I read half a dozen books on grief that my daughter got me. I wrote a novelette-length essay about our long marriage. I joined a hospice bereavement group. And, knowing that my choices were to live alone or with company, as Carol was not going to come back, I decided to try for company. I wrote to MaryLee, who had been a correspondent for 24 years, as I felt she was the most likely woman I knew who would be compatible. I asked her to come be my companion. I had no idea what she looked like; it was character I sought. In digested effect, I told her that while I might not be much, we had these warm Florida winters, in contrast to those in Tennessee. She drove down to give it a try. It is said that love is friendship that has caught fire. Well, it caught fire. On Wednesday, April 22, Earth Day, we got married. The auspices were mixed. The coronavirus siege blotted out our prior plans, and some counties were canceling the issuance of marriage licenses, so we got on with it before that could happen here. She had wanted a beach wedding, but they closed the beaches, so we made it simple and close to home. When we got in my car to drive out to the wedding site, the car refused to start, so we switched to her car. She had a nice bouquet of red and white roses for the occasion—which she forgot, leaving them in the car; but we did get some nice pictures of her with them later. I wear dentures; a front upper tooth came off, making me gap-toothed. I turned it in to the dentist, and in due course we had to search out the lab for it, as the virus siege stopped deliveries. The fix cost me $260. One day later it popped off again, and we were in lockdown, so I figured it wasn’t economic to try to get it fixed again, and tried not to smile during the wedding. When we exchanged rings, I had put hers in my watch pocket with my spare change. Then when I went to retrieve it, it was gone. Finally I found it, forming a circle around a dime, looking like the rim of the coin. What a way to hide! We were married at 9 AM by a Notary Public, Kat, on our tree farm, beside a sable palmetto, the state tree of Florida, with my daughter Cheryl and friend Charles as witnesses. They had set it up beautifully, and the pictures were very nice; I may run a couple with this column. We even stood one alligator apart, thanks to a mini alligator statue Cheryl bought at the foot of the tree. It was a lovely little ceremony. I remember especially MaryLee’s look of love as we exchanged vows and rings. Carol will never be forgotten: I still wear her gold wedding ring and mine on my right hand, and expect to wear them until I die. But now I wear the platinum wedding ring on my left hand that signifies my marriage to MaryLee. We had ordered a queen size bed to share; it didn’t arrive until the day after the wedding, so we had to jam together in a twin bed. There are worse fates. We had thought of a wedding dinner, but the Virus vetoed that and we ate alone together, with two small cakes, chocolate and vanilla, in lieu of a big wedding cake. But we really are married. It is the second marriage for each of us, and I think the final one, though I suspect it will not last as long as my first marriage did. It even changed my appearance: now I have no suspenders, and no socks on my feet while wearing sandals. There’s a new sheriff in town, as it were. MaryLee says it takes ten years off my appearance, but I’m still a thoroughly senior citizen. So are we perfectly matched? Well, I’m a morning lark and she’s a night owl, so we do spend time apart. But we’re about as compatible as can be, whichever way, and we do love each other. I am looking forward to a happy decade. Stay tuned.
The Authors Guild ran an open letter promoting the shut down the so-called National Emergency Library that used the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to distribute copyrighted books online. They say it is piracy, pure and simple, and I agreed, as I said in my Apull HiPiers column. I received a response to that from Dean Howell, who said he wanted to correct some misinformation, as he is an Open Library user. He says the Archive operates within the confines of United States law, and is a legitimate library. All of its copyrighted works are protected by Adobe DRM, and readers are required to use Adobe digital editions to decrypt the DRM and read the book. There is also an option to read the book on your browser. “Both offerings are poor and difficult to use.” Open Library legally procures copyrighted works by soliciting its users for book sponsorship, and pays the publisher a certain amount of money. A given book can be read by only one person at a time. Typically there is a waitlist for books. What they have done during the pandemic is lift the waitlist restriction so that readers no longer have to wait in line. The books are still protected. So who is correct? At this point I am uncertain.
One of my incidental interests is composting, as this reduces waste and is a kind of home-grown recycling effort. I have mentioned it before, about a year ago. We routinely compost our organic kitchen wastes, and occasionally get new plants growing from them, helping nature do its job. Now I have heard from John Quinn, who says that his team recently created a guide for individual households that want to get started composting. If you are interested, here is the link. https://www.johnquinnrealestate.com/home-composting-guide/.
Lesser notes: they have found strange particles over Antarctica. No, they don’t seem to represent Dark Matter. There are also odd FRBs, that is Fast Radio Bursts coming from distant galaxies that tease us by repeating, then vanishing. The national death rates from Covid-19 vary significantly by country, but this could stem from differences in testing; the actual rate could be similar. The coronavirus is one type, but it turns out that there are more viruses on Earth than the are stars in the universe. Wow! We have two mulberry trees I rescued and transplanted to our front and back yards. It seems their leaves have toxins inimical to all insects except the silk moth, but I have to protect them from creatures like deer. They are trying to turn hydrogen into a metal. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and its metallic form might be a room temperature superconductor, which would be a phenomenal asset. But the process requires a very hard squeeze. They are working on it.
The advent of my love and marriage messed up my writing, reading, and video viewing, and I am behind on them all, as the relative brevity of this HiPiers column shows. MaryLee is a sexagenarian (that means sixties, not sexy) and I am an octogenarian (eighties, not eight sided crystal shaped), but we feel like teens in our new passion. I presume that in time things will settle down and we will return to normal productivity; remember, she’s a writer too, and an artist with her photography. But for now—well, when I get close to her I just have to hold and kiss her, and she kisses me back, and when I wake at night with her beside me I have to catch her hand or whatever. Newlyweds will know how it is, and others may remember. When the Virus Siege alleviates, if ever, we hope to spend some time on the beach, and maybe travel a bit. We’ll see.
Click here to read previous newsletters