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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Apull 2018
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For those interested in my more risque titles, Cautionary Tales will be on sale for $2.99 on Apull 302 2018. This is the collection of stories that were not right for regular publishers, or maybe for my regular readers who think innocuous Xanth is all I do. It begins with “Bluebeard,” which has simulated online sex with a child; others are spot essays, such as “Root Pruning,” about the ugly situations that can foster creative writing. A disturbed childhood is an asset to a writer, not a liability. So approach this volume with caution; it may not be entirely to your taste.

My wife and I continued to mend in Marsh. She remains on oxygen and using a walker, but is doing better overall. I completed the novel and resumed reading books and watching videos, as reviewed here, and there will be more to come next month. My program of watching one Star Trek episode a day while writing the novel seems to have been a success, a bit to my surprise. My dentistry for the lower denture is largely done, though I still eat with a bit of pain. My face has healed and my ribs are just about better. However, the X-ray on the ribs coincidentally showed a spot on my lung that a CT-scan confirmed. Maybe by the next column I will know whether that is significant news. I hope it isn't.

I watched The New Generation Star Trek Season 2 #21 “Peak Performance.” The Enterprise agrees to participate in a war games exercise. Riker tackles it, though overwhelmingly favored to lose. He assembles an Away Team and practices in simulation. The team consists of Worf, Wesley, and Geordi, among others. Meanwhile Data plays a game of strategy with the opposition commander, and loses. That shakes him up, for all that he has no human emotion, but he serves as well as he can. By using guile, they manage to win the encounter. And Data plays the rematch for a draw, which completely unsettles the commander and is a victory in principle.

I watched TNG ST Season 2 #22 ”Shades of Gray.” Riker is walking in a planetary forest for a geological survey when something stings his leg. A microorganism has infected him. Data investigates and finds a vine that deliberately infects warm bodied animals. Dr. Pulaski can kill it, but only by also killing the nerves it infects. It is rapidly spreading and will soon reach his brain. He dreams of walking alone in a pleasant forest, where he encounters Data. He is reliving memories of critical parts of his life. But his body is weakening. They finally eradicate the infection and Riker recovers. So this is a reprise episode.

I watched TNG ST Season 3 #1 “Evolution” Beverly Crusher is back as doctor after a year elsewhere. They are to observe a nova, but there seem to be problems as things malfunction. The main computer may be breaking down. Wesley fears it's his fault, because he was experimenting with mini robots, nanites, that could get into cells to repair them. Two robots escaped, and may be messing with the computer. Meanwhile the visiting expert sleeps and dreams—and lightning strokes attack him. The nanites may be trying to eliminate their maker. They are constantly and rapidly evolving. Data volunteers to let them invade him so hi can become a conduit to communicate with them. They make a deal, the nanites find a better home, and the ship's computer becomes functional. Meanwhile Beverly is worried about Wesley, but he seems to be growing up okay at age seventeen.

I watched TNG ST S3 #2 “The Ensigns of Command” There appear to be humans settling on a planet where they can't survive. How can this be? The Enterprise must investigate. There are now over 15,000 descendants of the original landing. The Sheliaks who govern this sector of space demand that the humans be immediately removed, or they will be destroyed. The colonists refuse to go. Data negotiates and is persuasive, but the impasse doesn't change. Picard reviews the original treaty and uses its technical language to obtain the three weeks needed for an evacuation ship to arrive. So they work it out, and Data gets a kiss from the lady negotiator,

I watched TNG ST S3 #3 “The Survivors” They receive a distress call from Rana IV, which is under attack by an unknown force. When they get there they spy only two survivors on a devastated planet. They send a landing party, who meets the married couple, Kevin and Rishon, who are in their 80s. Why were they spared? Dianna Troi picks up something nebulous, and is haunted by a song. The alien ship reappears, fires at them, flees. They pursue, but realize it is toying with them. Deanna continues to suffer, the music getting worse. They are stopping her from seeing the truth. Picard finally figures it out: one survivor, Kevin, who turns out to be am immortal alien who loved a human woman. When the alien ship killed her, he destroyed the entire alien culture and recreated her in emulation. Another intriguing episode.

I watched TNG ST S3 #4 “Who Watches the Watchers” They are on their way to assist an observation station whose reactor is failing. But there's an explosion before they get there. They were observing a primitive Vulcan settlement in the Mintakon sector, and a man and his daughter Oji see them. Riker and Deanna Troi beam down, their appearances changed. Undoing this damage without violating the Prime Directive of non interference is a challenge. Picard brings the leader Nuria aboard the Enterprise to explain that he is not a god, but mortal, like them. Incidental note: I like stories set near Mintaka, because it is one of the stars of the constellation Orion's Belt. My leading lady in my novel Chaining the Lady is Melody of Mintaka, so you can see it is familiar ground for me, as it were.

I watched TNG ST S3 #5 “The Bonding” The Away Team is suddenly in trouble. They beam it back, but one woman is dead. It was a booby-trap. Her twelve year old son Jeremy Aster is aboard, now an orphan. Worf commanded the expedition, and is himself an orphan, and wishes to bond with the boy. But Worf is a Klingon. Then Jeremy's mother Marla Aster, appears, alive. How can that be? A beam from the planet is animating her. They cut off the beam and she vanishes. But returns as an energy force from the planet. She wants only to shield Jeremy from grief. But they persuade her that grief is part of the human condition. He bonds with Worf.

I watched TNG ST S3 #6 “Booby Trap” Geordi is on a tropical beach with a girl, Christi, in simulation, but she doesn't feel that way about him. The ship picks up a signal. It's a Promellian battle cruiser. But its call for help was probably sent over a thousand years ago. Picard, Data, and Worf beam aboard the derelict. It is manned by dehydrated corpses; they died at their posts. Then the Enterprise begins losing power, its engines unresponsive. Have they fallen into the same trap that took out the old battleship? Geordi animates the original program maker for the Enterprise, which takes the form of an attractive woman, Leah. They make a simulation to figure out how to get free, and succeed, in a close call. And Leah kisses Geordi. She's a simulation, and knows it, but she's also the computer. There may be something there between them for the future.

I watched TNG ST S3 #7 “The Enemy” Riker, Geordi, and Worf beam down to a dust storm planet, setting markers. They find a live Romulan. Geordi is pushed into a well and gets left behind. They contact a Romulan ship, which demands return of the survivor. Geordi encounters another Romulan, Bochra, who takes him prisoner. On the ship, only Worf's DNA can save the Romulan. But Romulans killed Worf's parents. The Romulans dies. The Romulan commander is ready for war. But planetside Geordi and Bochra must cooperate to survive. They are beamed aboard, Bochra is returned to the Romulan vessel, and the crisis abates. So who was the enemy, really?

I watched TNG ST S3 #8 “The Price” There is a stable wormhole that could be invaluable for navigation. The local planet is accepting bids for it. One of the hired guns—Ral, a negotiator—is a supremely handsome man who gets interested in Deanna Troi, and fascinates her. He can read emotions too. It quickly gets sexual. The Ferengi delegation is sheer mischief from the start, poisoning the Federation's chief negotiator. Meanwhile Geordi and Data take a shuttle and enter the wormhole. The Ferengi follow them, but don't heed their warning and get stranded on the far side of the wormhole. And Troi separates from Ral, though there could be more at another time.

I watched TNG ST S3 #9 “The Vengeance Factor” They discover a station raided by the Gatherers, a mischief band that needs to be stopped. The Away Team of Riker, Worf, Data, and Geordi checks a planet raided by the Gatherers. They are ambushed, but counter-ambush and bring the raiders aboard the Enterprise. They are crude barbarians, but willing to negotiate. Except that the Sovereign's cook, Yuta, the last of her clan, who looks young and innocent, can kill with a touch, and does, secretly. They catch on: she is on a private mission of vengeance, and seems to be immortal. Riker likes her, but shoots her rather than let her complete her vengeance. A sad but necessary action.

TNG ST S3 #10 “The Defector” A Romulan scout ship requests asylum; it is being pursued. They beam the logistics clerk aboard. He says the Romulans plan to attack in two days. The defector may be a plant to trick them into making the first aggressive move into the neutral zone. He is actually Admiral Jarok. He says he wants to prevent a war that may destroy the Romulans. But can Picard believe him? It turns out to be a trap, but Worf has prepared a counter-trap, and the Romulans back off. A good, tense mystery and resolution. I loved the surprise ending.

TNG ST S3 #11 “The Hunted” Angosia, a planet, wants to join the Federation, but a dangerous prisoner, Roga or Danar, (they seem to change names. Oh, first and last names) has escaped. After a chase they beam him aboard, but he fights violently. Yet Deanna Troi senses that he is not a bad man. He was trained to be an ultimately efficient soldier, and has killed 84 times, and hates it. Angosia means to return him to prison, but he would rather die. He breaks free and roams the ship, then beams aboard the Angosian transport vessel. In the end Angosia must decide whether to accept the soldiers back into their society, as they deserve.

TNG ST S3 #12 “The High Ground” They bring supplies to the planet Rutia. A terrorist bomb goes off, and Beverly Crusher, a doctor, immediately tends to the wounded despite the danger. And gets taken hostage by Kyril Finn of the rebel Ansanta, who need a good doctor. They have a Dimensional Shift technology that works to travel from place to place, but slowly kills those who use it. That's why they need a doctor. They attack the Enterprise, and kidnap Picard. But now the Enterprise has located the rebel's power source. They raid it and rescue Beverly and Picard. The terrorism is stopped, maybe. Many ethical issues pondered here.

TNG ST S3 #13 “Deja Q” The Enterprise goes to help a planet threatened by a descending moon, impact in about a day. Then Q appears. That will complicate the situation. Or maybe Q is causing the mischief. Q says he has been defrocked and condemned to be human mortal. Can they believe that? Aliens attack, having a grievance with Q. When they lower the shield to address the moon, the aliens attack. So Q suffers a bit of humanity and departs in a shuttle, to draw the aliens' attack to him instead of The Enterprise. His folk restore his powers. He abolishes the aliens and thanks the Enterprise, especially Data, to whom he gives the power to appreciate humor.

TNG ST S3 #14 “A Matter of Perspective” This is a he said, she said story, played through via simulations. Riker was aboard a space station just before it exploded without warning; he beamed back just in time. The locals charge Riker with murder. They program the Holodeck to recreate the conditions of the station explosion. Scientist Dr. Apgar's wife Manua comes on to Riker, and Apgar is furious. Manua says Riker tried to rape her; he says there was no such scene. It seems that both are telling the truth as they see it. Picard figures it out and puts together a series of simulations that show that Dr. Apgar actually tried to kill Riker, but it messed up and he killed himself.

TNG ST S3 #15 “Yesterday's Enterprise” They encounter a strange warp in space. From it emerges—the Enterprise-C, the prior edition. The present one is -D. It appears to have traveled through time. It's in bad condition, with only 125 survivors. The concern is that if the C returns with knowledge of the future, it could change it. Guinan (Whoopee) says her intuition indicates that the C must return, though that means certain destruction. Tasha Yar is back, an indication that history has already changed, because she died in the regular history. The C goes back, with Tasha joining it, and the history we know is restored. This is one mind-stretching adventure.

TNG ST S3 #16 “The Offspring” Data has crafted Lal, his android child. The name means “beloved.” She decides to be female, and does appear to be a very feminine girl. To observe human beings informally she becomes a waitress at Ten-Forward, Gianan's bar. The Admiral, seeing her as a breakthrough in artificial life, wants to transport her to his own ship, separating her from Data. She begins to feel emotions, and that freaks her out. She shuts down, but Data saves her memories in his own mind. This in an interesting consideration of the meaning of life and awareness and emotion.

I received a DVD, The New 8 Bit Heroes, a documentary made by one Joe Granato. It tells how they decided to make a new computer game. Being a game fan was not enough. Having the desire to do it was not enough. One problem was marketing. Another was funding it. 8 bit is primitive compared to current chips, but there are folk who remember the early games and would like to have modern games that emulate them. Provided they can be made to play on contemporary machines. They are using kilobytes for this game, compared to today's megabytes; that's a squeeze. It takes time to conceptualize and organize the elements. And—I'm in it! Not the game; the video. For a couple minutes, at least. I look old and animated, not really part of this scene. I draw the analogy of the editor who cuts out whole chapters of a novel, to “improve” it, and doesn't understand why the author objects. I liken it to cutting off your left hand because it lacks the facility of your right hand, so you stand improved without it, right? Sometimes an author's only recourse, when faced with that attitude, is to leave the publisher, and I have done it, and paid the price. Part of the root of that problem is that some publishers seem to think that authors are servants, mere providers of interchangeable “content,” and don't have artistic rights. Does a servant talk back to his master? Not if he values his hide. It seems it can be similar with creating a game, only there's more than one editor involved. They don't just write it; they need music that fits the mood, art that evokes emotion, effective animation. Each is its own challenge. Critics talk about what they don't like; what about the fans talking about what they do like? Does the artist take a year out of his life to perfect it, and the viewer says okay, and moves on to the next, soon forgetting it? Is this really worth the time the creator takes? Is he essentially creating a children's toy, to be dropped on the floor when a new distraction appears? What does it take to get it across the finish line? That doubt can be awful; it's an emotional roller coaster. In the end it seems this game will be made and presented. But this is an education for me. I thought writing a novel and getting it published without being neutered was a challenge. Try it with an original game! There's so much heartbreak lurking here. A game is happy go lucky only for the player.

TNG ST S3 #17 “Sins of the Father” In the exchange program, a Klingon officer comes to take Riker's place, Riker present but giving way. The Klingon, Kurn, is arrogant, critical of everyone except Worf. He turns out to be Worf's younger brother, bringing news of a charge against their father that Worf must defend. Picard accompanies Worf, and Kurn acts as his second. But Kurn is treacherously attacked and wounded, so Picard takes his place. There is something rotten in the Klingon hierarchy, and Picard is determined to sniff it out. There was another survivor, a Klingon nurse, a witness. Worf's father was not a traitor. But that truth must wait for another day.

I read the 44th Xanth novel, Skeleton Key, by Piers Anthony, 104,000 words. That is, I wrote another 25,000 words, completed it, and edited it, and sent it to my proofreaders to catch the myriad errors I miss. Of course what I say is the typos grow on the page after my editing, and I trust loyal fans will believe that. This is perhaps the wildest of the Xanths. The protagonist is Squid, an alien cuttlefish emulating an eleven year old human girl, as she has since #39 Five Portraits. She is one of five children rescued from a doomed Xanth future, and the others accept her as a sibling. They appear on #42 Fire Sail, #43 Jest Right, and they take over here in #44, which features thirteen children and largely excludes adults. The half skeleton children Piton and Data are part of it, and the royal Magician-caliber children of Prince Hilarion and Princess Dawn are there too. So if you don't like children, too bad. No, you haven't missed the prior two novels; they have not yet been published, pending a movie that then got torpedoed. Now they're in limbo. Anyway Squid is informed that she is the most important person in the universe. She has trouble believing this, but it turns out to be true, literally. She has a vision that she will have to kill her best friend and sibling, Win. She absolutely hates that, but the fate of the universe may depend on it. The children form a dance group with the square dance, round dance, triangle dance, and others, and they are very good. Then the novel complicates and finishes with the most extreme finale yet. It addresses issues of homosexuality, sexual identity, juvenile romantic interest, crossbreed rights, and the ultimate nature of the universe. It should outrage a myriad ignorant critics. You should enjoy it, when.

TNG ST S3 #18 “Allegiance” Picard is reading, and falls asleep. Something transports him to another venue. Yet he seems to remain on the Enterprise. Others are in that other venue, also relaxing when they were brought here. Meanwhile the fake Picard has them set course for a pulsar. A fourth captive arrives. The fake Picard asks Beverly Crusher on a date. They dance and kiss, then he breaks it off. The others gradually catch on that this is not the captain they know. They stage a tacit revolt, depose him, and Riker takes over. Meanwhile the real Picard exposes the alien device and returns to the Enterprise, where he is immediately recognized. All is well again.

I watched the movie Carol, which I got because that is my wife's name. How's that for being governed by logic? Department store clerk Therese (Pronounced ter-ESS) in New York of the 1950s meets sophisticated Carol, who is trapped in a loveless marriage. The two become friends. Carol's separated husband, Harge, visiting their child Rindy, doesn't want to break it off. Harge goes to court, charging Carol with immoral contact with Therese and others, trying to gain sole custody of the child to spite her. Ugly divorces are like that. Carol and Therese go on a long drive west, to Ohio, on to Chicago, which annoys Therese's boyfriend Richard, who thinks its a lesbian liaison. And on to Waterloo, Iowa,where they celebrate the New Year. They kiss and make love. And discover their tryst has been recorded. It was a trap to snare Carol. She departs with a letter of explanation, leaving Therese brokenhearted. Carol returns to Harge, in grief for Therese. She fights for her daughter's welfare. She meets Therese and invites her to come live with her, but Therese declines. Then finally does go to join her. This is one powerful exploration of the bypaths of love.

TNG ST S3 #19 “Captain's Holiday” They decide that Captain Picard has been under a lot of strain and needs a vacation. They finally persuade him to go to Risa, a vacation planet. Sexy women approach him, and a Ferengi male, Sovak, who demands a disk And a woman. Vash is the woman. Two visitors from the future, Vorgons, say Picard may have found the Tox Uthat, a device capable of stopping all action in the heart of a star, a powerful weapon. Picard goes with Vash to locate the Tox Uthat in the wilderness. He knows she's nothing but trouble, but she's attractive and she understands him. They make love. Picard outsmarts the several parties involved and has a great time with Vash.

TNG ST S3 #20 “Tin Man” They are given a special mission, and take aboard Tam Elbrun, which may be awkward news. He's a telepath and maybe crazy. A star may be going nova, and orbiting it is the Tin Man, thought of be a living thing, alien intelligence. The Romulans want to get to it first. Tam and Data beam aboard it. Tam says the alien needs lives to protect, so it has meaning in its own life. When Tam and Tin Man joined, it healed them both. What happened to the Romulans is unclear.

I watched The Flowering of Human Consciousness—Everyone's Life Purpose. This is a three and a half hour discussion by Eckhart Tolle, a spiritualist who seeks the truth about personal identity. I don't feel competent to summarize it effectively, as I am far from spiritual, so I merely made spot notes as I listened. Herewith. It starts with a man on stage, Tolle, speaking too quietly to hear, so I put on the ear plugs and that helped a lot. He dings two metal disks. He says the focus could be considered the awakening of intelligence. Become aware of the gap between words, the gap of stillness. A shift in identity. Humans have been a content based accumulation of knowledge, suffering, experiences. Imagine that you don't have a name, an identity. You are simply a field of awareness. Every experience is content of the mind. We feel incomplete and try to add to our personal identity. Some who have made it economically still are not complete. There is no happy ending because you are going to die. All that you are may finish as the space on your tombstone between your date of birth and date of death. The little Me inside may be a false identity that you need to be rid off to be truly alive. Then your Me is no longer the content of your mind. The false self will use anything to strengthen itself. The desire for knowledge. To understand the universe may be part of it. It's a delusion. Once it gets established, everything else is colored by it, the desires and fears, wanting more content. One attitude: “What do you think about the present moment? I'm against it.” They say they want peace, but they don't really want it, because their mind set depends on non-peace. What of the beauty of a flower—there's a lovely bouquet beside him on stage—the first thing you notice is its stillness. It does not have a mind; you bring the mind to appreciate it. The flower is surrounded by stillness, alive but not noisy. Now consider a traffic jam. That's another experience of non-movement. This stillness has its own meaning. There is spaciousness around a flower, and around anger of the traffic jam. This is the Now wherein everything happens. Most people go through life in a mode of reactivity, reacting to the Now. You have the power of life, to say yes to Now. You become aware of the undercurrent of stillness in which everything happens. You are that undercurrent of stillness. You allow it to come; you dwell in the field of Now. The power of consciousness flows through you. There is the simplicity of this moment. You don't need the sense of self. You don't become special, you become ordinary. Even a taste of this discovery is a revelation that can never be undone. Mental noise has momentum; even that you can allow. You can allow yourself to be unhappy. The power of surrender, that you bring into the No, and the No can dissolve. (I am not clear whether he is saying Now or No, but think I have it straight. I wish there were subtitles.) bring the Yes into the No. Peace no matter what happens. Once you know who you are, you are one in your essence with every other life form, including the flower. Every life form is part of the one consciousness that you are a part of. The only place God can be known is in your own essence. Each life form is yourself, called Love. You are then continuously in a state of love, not possessive but inclusive. Jesus taught this. You love your neighbor as yourself, when you know your neighbor as yourself; your neighbor is yourself. Christianity has a history of violence, ironically, but the truth is there. It will never change. Intelligence is much vaster than what is measured in IQ tests; it is the Yes to life. The mind becomes one with the vastness of eternity. Spiritual discourse does not come from words; it is more than information. Allow it to be with you. (Back to Piers: as an agnostic who has studied Jesus, I find this consistent with the message of Jesus that so many Christians evidently have left behind.)

Disc two of Flowering continues with Eckhart Tolle sitting on the same stage. Our central nature, our essence, has no content, no form. We have to relinquish the desire to understand. Only when we give up trying to understand, to analyze, to possess, can we truly appreciate it. The value of the pointer is to point the way, not to explain it. Stillness is the new state of consciousness. Identification with form is an error, perhaps evil. Evil is the ignorance of not knowing who you are, the lack of self knowledge, of not knowing God. What is emptiness? Consciousness without thought. Put aside your accumulated knowledge and perceive the world through stillness. Put aside even the desire to understand. Awareness fulfills every moment. Be free of thought, no longer run by thought. Don't think. Feel the Presence. Surrender to the Now. One person's note says he avoids the Now by sleeping; please talk loudly. (Laughter.) Action that arises out of the state of acceptance is far more powerful. Eckhart once was in a situation requiring constant thought; he left. Can Presence emerge even in such a situation? Yes, briefly. What about pain? The pain body is the accumulated physical and emotional pains that live in you. Anger, sadness, fear, feeding on your reactions, taking possession of you. Witness it, understand it as simply emotional pain. Without a Me you won't suffer. Allow it to be, not fighting it, only a vibration in the field of Now. Just a small part of the larger space. You are lucky to have it. Violent films and such are run by the pain bodies, to feed the pain body. There is a great demand for it, by the pain body. We are so used to the madness that we don't even see it. Pain bodies don't like to be looked at; it diminishes them. So Eckhart seems to be a success, which pleases his mother. He is Somebody rather than Nobody. Which of course is not the point. Your essential nature is being nobody. Go beyond the need to figure it all out, the need to know. If you truly need the answer, wait and it may come. The transformation of consciousness is something else. Human beings may be little patches of consciousness traveling through space. This may not be personal growth but personal diminishment, which is the real success.

I read the 26th America's Galactic Foreign Legion novel: Butcher of Arthropoda, by Walter Knight. This is one wild story, I think unpublishable in any traditional venue, but this series has evidently found its market. Colonel Joey R Czerinski, battalion commander of the Galactic Federation Foreign Legion's troop has been assigned to occupy the spider planet Arthropoda. The spider emperor is dead, and Joe's job is to impose a regime change and enforce the peace. So he plans to addict the whole planet to drugs so the spiders sleep rather than revolt. He makes a bus driver the new emperor and goes on from there. Let me give just one small example of the wildness of this story. Joey encounters a woman he knew and decides to have sex with her, but she has to pee, so they compromise: she gives him a golden shower recorded on video that goes viral in the galaxy. Then they time travel back a couple thousand years to Earth to have Jesus Christ officiate at their wedding. In the end things are suitably if bloodily wrapped up and the planet is pacified. I would be more cynical about such adventures, were it not for the current American political scene, which may be getting parodied here.

TNG ST S3 #21 “Hollow Pursuits” A Lt. Reginald Barclay, whom they call “Broccoli” chronically messes up. He's in Geordi's unit, and Picard tells Geordi to work harder to get along with the man. Geordi tries. Things just seem to go wrong in Barclay's vicinity. He spends a lot of time in the Holodeck with recreated members of the officers playing medieval roles. Riker objects to being represented there, but Counselor Troi says it is better to go along with it. Then Troi herself gets emulated as a love goddess, and she is no longer amused. The Enterprise malfunctions dangerously. They discover Invidium, a little used substance, messing things up. Barclay helps figure it out.

TNG ST S3 #22 “The Most Toys” They are on a routine mission when a woman electrocutes Data, stunning him, and puts him on a shuttle capsule which then explodes. Then Data wakes on another ship, one of the “toys” the proprietor Kivas Fajo, collects. Worf is promoted to take over Data's position. Fajo's assistant Varria helps Data escape, but gets killed herself. Data is rescued and Fajo is arrested. Justice has been served.

TNG ST S3 #23 “Sarek” The Enterprise has the honor to host the first meeting between the Federation and Legara. The Ambassador arrives, and attends their Mozart concert—and walks out. Meanwhile senseless arguments are breaking out on the ship; in fact a free-for-all breaks out. Ambassador Sarek may be the cause, telepathically. He may have a Vulcan illness causing loss of control of emotions. Picard has to tell him. The answer may be a mind meld so that Picard's control becomes Sarex's control. But now Picard is a wild mess of emotions. He hangs on in private while Sarek conducts the negotiations. So the event is a success, thanks to Picard.

TNG ST S3 #24 “Menage a Troi” Deanna Troi's mother Lwaxana is on board, and the Ferengi, which promises mischief. The Ferengi Tog takes a shine to Lwaxana, and manages to beam her, Riker, and Deanna to his own ship. He courts Lwaxana and she is obliged to listen, as Riker and Deanna are tacitly hostage. They manage to sneak out a masked message in the static. Picard quotes Shakespeare in a pretense of wooing Lwaxana, convincing Tog to let her go. He also promotes Wesley Crusher to full Ensign. In sum, things are wrapped up to conclude the season.

I watched Final Fantasy, The Spirits Within. This is derived from a game, and has marvelous visual effects. The year is 2065. Alien spirits have rendered Earth into a wasteland and mankind faces extinction. Dr. Aki Ross seeks to collect eight spirits, to create a force powerful enough to destroy the aliens. The bad spirits infect people, and have to be destroyed. So far they have a weapon that contains them without destroying them. Aki is one such person, infected by a phantom. She has found six spirits, using a sort of eyepiece, but needs to find two more to effect her own cure and that of others. She has weird dreams that could be some form of communication. But she is dying. Her boyfriend Gray joins her in a dream, where robot-like alien creatures converge on her. This time she figures it out. The phantoms aren't invaders, they're ghosts. But different factions disagree on how to fight them. Will the wrong faction ruin things for humanity? Gray and Aki kiss. Aki finds the 8th spirit—and it's a Phantom spirit. She is cured. Gaea is there. The ignorant general tries to destroy it, and destroys himself. I think the phantoms and the remaining humans will get along, and survive.

TNG ST S3 #25 “Transfigurations” They rescue an injured man from a planet, John Doe. His injuries are severe, but he is recovering remarkably rapidly. Geordi helps, and seems to have a subtle transformation himself, becoming far more confident and competent. John Doe possesses the power to heal with a touch. An alien ship pursues him and demands his return so they can kill him as a criminal. When Picard balks, the alien commander strikes down all the personnel, but John Doe restores them. He is metamorphosing to a new and superior state. That's why the existing order fears him; they will lose power. He progresses regardless, and departs as a bright spirit.

I watched After Earth. The principle characters are black. Aliens wipe out Earth. Cypher and his son Kitai get stranded on Earth a thousand years later. Both Cypher's legs are broken. Kitai needs to learn “ghosting,” which is to approach an alien monster without a trace of fear; then the alien can't see him. Because everything on Earth is designed to kill humans. Kitai travels alone to fetch a signal flare. Cypher can see and hear him, and directs him as Kitai encounters assorted dangers in a forest wilderness. Baboons, panthers, a giant predator bird, a poisonous slug. It is one harrowing journey. And an alien creature, the ursa, is pursuing him. He achieves fearlessness so it can't detect him and he attacks the ursa, killing it. Then he sets off the flair, enabling the rescue. This is about as compelling a narrative as I've seen.

TNG ST S3 #26 “The Best of Both Worlds, part 1” A new colony has disappeared. Did the Borg do it? Meanwhile Riker has been offered a command of his own but is uncertain he wants to leave the Enterprise. The Borg vessel intercepts them. It looks like a huge cube of compacted trash. It demands that Picard beam aboard them; when he refuses they attack and damage the Enterprise. The Enterprise hides, but the Borg vessel finds it and abducts Picard, then heads for Earth an high speed. An Away party beams aboard the Borg ship and takes out a key protocol. But Picard is now a Borg. To be continued.

TNG ST S3 #? “Mission Log” Season 3 of TNG is over. They discuss the impact of certain scenes, of the participation of Whoopi Goldberg as bartender of the Ten-Forward. Then an analysis of individual characters. Comments by the script writers, who sometimes really had to scramble with short deadlines. The challenge of the special effects. Models of ships. The music. Okay, this completes the third season. Next month I'll start in on Season Four. So far I am loving this series, liking it better than the original Star Trek series.

I read Simple Rules, by Donald Sull and Kathleen M Eisenhardt. The thesis is that we are getting overwhelmed by increasing complexity, but may do better by simplifying things. Simple rules can actually be more effective than complicated ones, and not just because they are easier to remember. It has multiple examples of companies or individuals getting bogged down, then simplifying and becoming successes. There is no single set of rules to apply to every situation; you have to orient on one, then work out the rules, but they will serve you in good stead thereafter. Unfortunately there are folk who benefit from complexity, maybe because it hides things that would shame them if others realized, such as in the tax code with all its special interest provisions that benefit the few at the expense of the many. That can't be fixed because those special interests will fight madly to preserve their illicit advantages. Some rules need explanation, such as the one for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That is, avoid highly processed foods, and stick to things like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and not too much of those. Other problems boil down similarly. Mainly, as I see it, you should use common sense to work out approaches to problems.

Last year a reader called my attention to an error in Xanth #38 Board Stiff. Five lines were omitted near the end, making nonsense of a passage. I notified the publisher, which is now Open Road, who took over from Premier Digital Publishing, and gave the necessary correction. Three months have passed without response, so now I will run the correction here, for the benefit of understandably confused readers.

The last sentence of page 268 of my hardcover file copy, which I had to buy from Amazon, reads “It will be good to exercise my powers again. agreed.” It should read, after the word ”again”: We will travel Xanth, eliminating the virus, and conclude at Caprice Castle, where we will assist them in the restoration of puns from their capacious storage cellar. There will be time. Somewhere along the way you will surely find a man who is worthy of you.”
“That would be nice,” Merge agreed. (End of correction)

Sure enough, in a later novel Merge does find a worthy man, who joins her and her adopted daughter Myst, and Myst goes on to remarkable adventures of her own with the other siblings. Thanks to that bit of advice from her mother that got deleted here.

Every so often I will mention something of interest to me and perhaps to some readers. Over a year ago I mentioned gardening. One of the things that go along with personal gardening is composting, which is in essence recycling your household wastes for the benefit of plants and the environment. We compost our organic kitchen wastes. Here is a related site. https://gardeningmentor.com/make-your-own-compost.

In THE HUMANIST magazine I read an article about Finding Clara Barton, by Luis Granados. Clara Barton founded the Red Cross, and a cache of her lost papers was found decades later. However famous she became, it turns out that she was far from perfect. “Was she a hero? Absolutely. Her flaws were stunning, but her achievements were staggering. She was smart, she was hardworking, she was imaginative, she was empathetic, she was politically adroit, and she could charm rude teenagers into cooperation...If she hadn't grown that enormous chip on her shoulder by forced subservience to men far less capable than she, it's possible that she'd have enjoyed a productive but historically insignificant career, like millions of other women and men.” Yes, history is seldom made by those who accept the status quo.

Dark Matter is one of my buttons. It doesn't exist, but astronomers can't accept that, so they keep trying to find it, as with the credulous folk trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Newspaper article titled “Absence of dark matter may prove its existence,” as if all that is required to make a case is lack of evidence. However, there really is a case to be made here. The reason they believe in dark matter is that spinning galaxies should fly apart, because they are spinning too fast for conditions, and they don't. What holds them together? There must be a hidden pot, I mean, hidden matter whose gravity does the job. There is an alternate theory that clarifies that they simply don't properly understand the way gravity works on the galactic scale, but let's let that be for now. Well, now they have found a distant galaxy that has very little actual matter and is spinning at the rate it should to hold together. So no dark matter is needed there. But if that is so for that galaxy, how come all the others don't match? They must have dark matter; that is the reasoning. Sigh, I will have to rephrase my theory. The new (actually it's quite old) galaxy has so little matter that it follows the rules we are familiar with. It's the other galaxies, with much more matter, that exhibit the larger property of gravity, how it acts more powerfully at a distance than they understand. If you added enough matter to that new one, it would come to invoke that larger property and act like the others. Only when there is enough matter does that special effect take hold; it may be an emergent property. Maybe we'll see, in due course, and the entire dream of Dark Matter will fade out.

There was a newspaper article on Elvis Presley, the singer. He was five months younger than I, and entered the Army a year after I did. He could have gotten a cushy special services deal, but chose to do it for real, for which I applaud him. He met the girl he married then. Unfortunately he also got into drugs then, which eventually helped end his life. So while I had as much trouble in the army as any non-combat soldier does, with my whole battalion getting punished because I elected to exercise my right to say no to a supposedly voluntary sign up for low-interest savings bonds, and on the whole it was a two year waste of time, I did get my American citizenship then and did go on to a life I would never want to trade for Elvis's life.

Outrage Dept: America needs teachers committed to working with children who have the fewest advantages in life. So the federal government offered grants of up to $4,000 a year to standout college students who agreed to teach subjects like math or science at lower income schools. Many teachers did, I think having social consciences as well as needing the money. I was once a teacher; I would have been interested in such a program. The teachers fulfilled their part of the bargain. But then they got hit by technicalities and discovered that their grants had become loans with interest owing. For example, they hawe to send in a form each year, certifying that they are meeting the requirements. They did, only to have the company administrating the program claim it did not receive them. One teacher re-sent the form—but then they claimed it arrived too late. See what I mean? They could have thrown away those forms so they could grab the money. In this manner thousands of teachers who were honoring the program's purpose were suddenly put into dept, with no recourse. There is a smell here. There's a lawsuit, and I hope it sets thing to rights. As it is, it is the government that is reneging, not the teachers.

Stephen Hawking died. When told he had only two years left to live, well, he lived more than another fifty years. He was called one of the greatest cosmologists ever, despite his condition—until someone pointed out that it was probably because of his condition, that gave him little else to focus on. He was born in Oxford, England, seven and a half years after I was born there, and he liked to read science fiction, so we had a couple things in common. And maybe one more thing: he said “My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” Amen. I'd even settle, grudgingly, for an incomplete understanding. I read A Brief History of Time and liked it. I am not a cosmologist, but what I can follow of his work on black holes satisfies me that he was indeed a salient thinker.

We are on the DO NOT CALL list, and it seems to make little difference. I get them on my cell phone too. In the old days the callers simply ignored the list; now they use robocalls. This, like SPAM, is one of the things the authorities could stop, if they wanted to. How? I have mentioned before how a button on the phone could be set up, that when touched locks the incoming call in place and dials the enforcement agency, where a hefty fine awaits. But they use fake numbers; we once saw that the caller was listed as our own number. Yet there must be a connection to their real number, or they could sever sell anybody anything. Another solution would be to charge enough for calls, any calls, so that an outfit making a million calls would pay a bruising fee. So why isn't anything done? If the current politicians were given notice they'd lose their positions unless the calls stop, we'd see them stop soon enough. I hate it when they obviously figure the average man for an idiot. I hate it worse when they prove it.

NEW SCIENTIST reviewed a book, The Strange Order Of Things: Life, feeling, and the making of cultures, by Antonio Damasio. What is consciousness? Awareness by itself isn't the point; instead our brains work with our bodies, which produce feelings. Awareness merged with feeling is what counts. We can also think of it as Reason and Feeling, with Feeling pulling the strings.

As item startled me: I have been seeing reams of stuff about guns and the way the NRA owns politicians so as to keep on making money from guns regardless of the cost in human lives, and it's all depressing. Then I saw one of the absolutism of Planned Parenthood, which it seems is like the NRA of the left, only it's abortion it promotes. As one who doesn't much like abortion, I found that an eye opener. Guns take lives; so do abortions. The genesis of my concern dates from my personal history, wherein my wife and I lost our first three children to stillbirths, technically abortions. I don't like killing animals, which is why I am a vegetarian; I certainly don't like killing babies. Yet I leave individual choices to the individuals concerned, so don't condemn meat eaters, or gun owners, or women who do not wish to have babies at this time. I merely wince.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST on dreams. Not the meaning of life dreams, the garden variety sleep dreams. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we need those dreams; they are not a waste of time, even if they are not remembered. They may be the way the mind judges the emotional context of specific memories, and as mentioned above, feelings are a significant aspect of meaningful consciousness. But we don't get enough sleep, and the alarm clock typically cuts off the last hours of sleep, when most of the vital REM dreams are performed. We are doing ourselves harm. Maybe that is part of why the world seems to be going to hell. I don't know if there is a simple cure, because too many folk, if given extra time to sleep, would use it instead to play poker or watch porn on TV. Sigh.


PIERS
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