My Susan Collins problem

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“This is not a Republican problem. This is not a Democratic problem. It’s an American problem. We need to come together…”

And that is my senior senator, Susan Collins of Maine. She’s talking about health care, and she could be talking about a lot of things and say, basically, that.

She is moderate, but she is slippery. She is hard to pin down, but she is reasonable. She listens to all sides, but she listens to all sides. She thinks that anger is not a solution, but she’s not (apparently) angry about much of anything. She didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but she’s willing to work with him (or anyone).

She might run for Governor of Maine. I probably won’t vote for her. But I might. We could do better. But we could do a lot worse (look at our current governor, Paul Lepage, who, among other things, is one of the stupidest and stubbornest people in politics, not a happy combination).

And that, in a nutshell, is my Susan Collins problem.

Susan Collins is no ideologue. She likes to work with the other side of the aisle. She made Donald Rumsfeld very angry more than once when he was George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense. Unlike her former colleague, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins only almost voted once for a version of the Affordable Care Act. She has her own new health care proposal, Cassidy-Collins, which would maintain a lot of the A.C.A. and replace the individual mandate—really, the heart of the A.C.A.—with an opt-out for the uninsured; that might work.

Susan Collins is great at outreach and constituent relations. (But she did, earlier this year when Congress was getting bowled over by voter anger, opine, or whine, that some of the calls her office was getting were from “out of state” that were “overwhelming her staff,” an evasion that was scoffed at across Maine.)

Susan Collins opposed Trump’s more ridiculous cabinet choices—particularly Betsy DeVos and Scott Pruitt—but both did survive votes in the Senate, with DeVos getting through only with the Vice President breaking an unprecedented (but predictable) tie. It’s been claimed that Collins only opposed DeVos when she was sure it wouldn’t matter—Collins could have prevented the nomination from reaching the floor, after all. (Collins claimed to be acting on principle.)

And that’s my Susan Collins problem.

Susan Collins is among the last of a species—the moderate Republican. (That Barack Obama was and remains a moderate Democrat has not sunk in for most people.) She seems to truly believe in bipartisanship, cooperation, hard work, and, above all, listening. She tacks between opposites, where Bill Clinton famously “triangulated.”

But the presidency of Donald Trump, the entry into the White House of Steve Bannon (whom some dare call a traitor), the fact that people like Scott Pruitt seem almost moderate by comparison—and the blunt use of race and gender identity politics, by the right wing, threatens our very democracy—and a general refusal to consider systemic change to deal with systemic problems—these are challenges not to the Collins idea of cooperative legislative work, but to the very usefulness of Collins at all.

Her instinctive niceness is just not the tool we need.

And that is my Susan Collins problem.

She is trusted but does not necessarily deserve to be. She is moderate, even on the issue of which gains of the working class, women, blacks, immigrants, gays (and on and on) should be traded away. Her habit of aiming for the middle is easily manipulated by people who are willing to pull the right endpoint toward infinity.

And yet, like most voters (certainly in Maine), I know the system can’t be healed by more political gunfire. I know that renewal of our democratic ideals—cooperation, compromise, civility, listening to each other—is what we need more than anything. And I (a registered Democrat who voted at least twice for Olympia Snowe) actually do trust Susan Collins.

Susan Collins is not enough, but we need people like her. She’s not sufficient, but she might at least be necessary. She’s not enough to save us, but she might be the best we can get.

And that is my Susan Collins problem.

 

Daisy’s Back

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It happened. Over the weekend, I started writing again.

I plan on returning to my time cop, Lilah Bay, and a case of temporal terrorism, later this year. But this time, right now, Daisy Delatour, the young lady with personal problems and job problems and friend problems and romance problems—and a habit of going into dungeons looking for treasure—won out.

The title is Girl Necromancer, and it will see Daisy at University, studying up on those four- and five-word spells, and journeying into the catacombs under the big city of Thomasport. Her usual company is about her—her sorceress frenemy Lucette, her elf-archer buddy Zelin, her warrior boyfriend Gurth, her gay thief bestie Fenric and her trans friend, the priest Jan—along with a new character, Gwen, a monk of the Order of the Word who doesn’t actually believe in God. “Gwen has a quest,” says Daisy, and that enigmatic quest drives the whole story.

Meanwhile, my wife and editor/manager Laura is prepping Daisy in the Dark, Daisy’s first novel, to be self-published as an e-book on Amazon. Look for it—alongside my one already-self-published novel, Princess of Ghosts, which is itself a smashing read and cheap at only $2.99.

I would love to send out some review copies (in pdf format) of Daisy in the Dark, so if you haven’t read it here on WordPress (and it’s grown significantly since I posted it last year), please just email me at

paulgies@maine.edu

and I will happily send you the manuscript. And then, when we post the novel for sale, you can review it (good, bad or ugly).

And here’s the link to how you can buy Princess of Ghosts.

alicecoversmall

Thank you and let me know what you’re thinking!

Paul

 

If Symptoms Persist

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via Daily Prompt: Symptom

If symptoms persist, call a doctor. If they continue to persist, call a lawyer; constitutional lawyers are preferred unless you have a weak constitution. If symptoms still persist, call a botanist; after that, in this order, call: a linguist; a cosmologist (my uncle Ned is a good one); a proctologist; a member of the Sumatran royal family; a moderate Republican (not available in some states); an unpublished novelist; a telephone operator. If none of these are available, or if symptoms still persist, try eating unbuttered toast until it’s the Sunday of the week before Election Day in Canada.

May cause drowsiness, especially in cows. May cause alertness. If alertness persists, call a doctor or anyone owning a large wooden mallet. May cause shortness of breath. May cause shortness in general. Some patients have experienced swelling of the joints, especially the second and third joints of the middle toes. If swelling of the joints continues, try using a different method, such as a bong or a hookah. Patients under the age of 90 may experience projectile vomiting, especially from other people directed at the patient. If this happens repeatedly, try ducking, especially in rhythm with any relatively fast-paced Michael Jackson song. Patients over the age of 90 should not use this medication unless they are forced to at gunpoint. Patients who are exactly 90 may or may not use this medication, especially on their birthdays.

Possible side effects include headaches, shoulder aches, knee aches, and loss of free will. Some patients may experience a loss of patience. If this happens, sit down and count to 100 in Portuguese. Some patients may experience extreme disgust with the current political situation in the U.S. This is normal. Some patients may even experience revulsion or disorientation, especially with the way the Universe is set up. This is also normal and not something to worry about or contact your doctor about. If you experience what may seem to you to be hallucinations, in particular if you begin to notice that everyone you meet on the street is being followed by a sort of pastel-lavender giant rabbit, do not inform a doctor or anyone else. It may be best to keep things like that to yourself. If you yourself are contacted by a giant rabbit, or any giant version of a small herbivorous mammal, do not respond unless you are fluent in Mongolian. Side effects also include fluency in central Asian languages. This is unusual, but should not cause any problems, except in very rare cases; even then, the situation will be amusing to everyone involved, even the sufferer, who will find it all very funny at some later point in their lives, if they live so long.

If you lose contact with all your adjectives, please do not worry. This is ___. Many people who are ___ experience an appearance of _____ spots on their ____ hairs. Similarly, if you lose track of where your sentences are going, especially if they begin to. Many sufferers find that their suffering builds character. Some may find that the character built by their suffering has a relatively low dexterity but a very high charisma. If this happens, do not become an archer or an assassin.

Discontinue use after 31 days or on the second subsequent Arbor Day, unless directed to continue use by a doctor, a lawyer, or an Indian chief. Discontinue use and discard product in an environmentally friendly way if product shows signs of deterioration, such as spotting, formation of small concave quadrilaterals, or registering as a Libertarian based solely on misinformation about their platform with regard to warning labels on prescription drugs. Discontinue use and discard as soon as possible if not sooner, if you experience bouts of paper shredding or guitar shredding. You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?” You may see a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Don’t look back: you should never look back.

Discard packaging immediately. Swallow this warning after chewing thoroughly. Do not read this warning, as confusion may.

Questions or comments? Please call 1-800-800-800-800, extension 800, and ask for Donald.

#symptoms

Symptom

Anyway, it’s totally true about Ned

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Many people ask about my Uncle Ned. I haven’t seen him in years.

My Uncle Ned was in the Panamanian Air Force, on loan to the Sultan of Brunei. It was all a result of messily done paperwork: they meant to write Yucatan and they accidentally put down Borneo. So when he got there, there wasn’t much to do. So he got married to a local stripper. Not that kind of stripper: a paint stripper. Her name was Thelma. She had red hair—on her knuckles. The hair on her head was bluish-green. And I’m not using the word hair in the plural collective. It’s singular. They lived a happy enough life there, though they had to share their apartment with a commedia dell’arte troupe. After four years, sick of Ned’s habit of singing snippets of the Marseillaise in a broken falsetto while picking his nose, Thelma ran off with Pierrot; the last we heard, she was working as a bovine dentist in Patagonia.

Ned was heartbroken. He quit the air force and joined a team of Morris dancers touring Togo and Sierra Leone. The tour lasted until a nasty argument about tater tots caused irreparable tensions within the group. Ned was left in the lurch in Dakar. He decided it was time to return to the US and continue his education. He applied and was accepted into the Harvard University Masters’ Program in Cosmology, and it was three weeks before he realized that Cosmology and Cosmetology are not the same thing. But Ned stuck it out. He was never the sharpest tack in the drawer, but he could work his tail off. Well, it got left somewhere, anyway.

Three years later, Ned was fresh from his discovery that, even before the formation of the Solar System, even before the formation of the first galaxies, even before the four forces were completely decoupled—electromagnetism and the Weak Force were still coupling, apparently—even in those early days of the Cosmos, there already were an incredible number of assholes. Ned received his PhD and set about proving that long before life existed on any planet, jerks were already in charge of pretty much everything. But one day he was lecturing on the Cosmic Asshole Principle, to a room full of 200 bored college freshmen and a surprising number of silverfish and book scorpions, and suddenly a light went on in his head. That was when he remembered that the dentist had stuck an LCD bulb up his nose. But what was producing the electricity to power it?

We may never know. Ned looked at the bored college freshmen—he didn’t know it, but he was looking straight at a colony of dust mites living in some dude named Trent’s baseball cap—uttered a sting of Mongolian obscenities, pulled out a cigar and ran from the room. In the hallway he met his department chair. It was very unexpected, and he gave his knee a nasty gash on one of the legs of the department chair. Who had left it in the hallway? Again, we may never know.

Anyway, Ned went downhill from there. The Department of Cosmology was located on the top of the highest hill in western Rhode Island. At the bottom of the hill, he met a woman named Margaret, they fell in love, they got married and ran off to eastern Connecticut—well, they didn’t own a car. They also didn’t own a washer, though they did own a drier. So their clothes were dirty, but very dry. Life was hard. Ned and Margaret barely had two pennies to rub together. That was their only hobby: they spent lots of money on penny-rubbing gloves and fancy penny cases. People came from miles around to sell them gloves, and millipedes. Ned was always a sucker for a box of millipedes.

I’ll never forget the last time I saw Uncle Ned. He was full of donuts, he was wearing his best plaid flannel kimono, and he was about to realize a lifelong dream by rowing the length of the Bay of Fundy in a broccoli-shaped canoe. For some reason, he felt he needed to wear a bag over his head, which caused significant problems with navigation: he took the wrong turn at Moncton and headed straight for Tierra del Fuego. I wonder if we will ever see him again.

But that’s the kind of guy Uncle Ned was. Smiling right to the end. And that’s how I like to remember him, except without the bag over his head; come to think of it, he may or may not have been smiling. Anyway, Margaret still has hopes for his return. Every Arbor Day she posts a want ad in the Duluth News Tribune asking for donations to the National Panamanian-Brunei Air Force Cooperation Memorial. Ned would understand.

Questions?

 

 

Jacky JK

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Jacky Clotilde appeared in a room. The only light was from a cloudy day outside, through a single drape-shrouded window. The bed was hastily made. The floor was mostly clear of dirty clothes. Two small piles of folded clothes sat atop small figurines and a couple of books on the dresser. A book sat on the bed. Its cover showed a young man with tousled dark hair and glasses, in a loose dark jacket of some kind, his hand in the air under what was presumably his name. Several other books bearing the same name but different covers sat on a simple bed table under a small unlit lamp.

Jacky looked around without moving. Satisfied (if that’s the right word), she stepped to the closet and peeked past the curtain: more clothes, and a jumble on the floor, and another jumble on the shelf just at her eye level. She turned in place. She took several slow breaths.

She looked at her ring. She raised an eyebrow at the pale blue stone, but she didn’t say anything to it.

She stepped to the window and looked out, parting the wispy drape ever so gently. A street on a cloudy morning. Ground vehicles parked, and one or two lazily rolling along, on their errands. A small mammal messing around high in the budding branches: she guessed it was late winter or early spring.

She waited. Nothing continued to happen.

Jacky raised her eyebrows and blew out some air. Gravity, oxygen content, chemical smell: it was just another version of her home world, or the world her home world was a dream about, an industrialized planet with the usual sun, the usual orbit, the usual mass, the usual atmosphere.

She was early. But she did not dare make another jump: she did not want to attract attention. And Time Warriors were always attracting attention: not from anyone they could easily squash, only from other Time Warriors or worse. In any case, a time warrior generally had a decent supply of time.

Jacky went to the bed. She picked up the book with the young man with tousled hair. She opened it, read a little, then closed it and looked at the others on the bed table. Picking up one of them, she glanced at its cover—a happy-looking chimerical beast of some sort, with two children sitting on it—and looked inside. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but presently she sat down, on the bed, in the same faint indentation that the tenant of this room had made after making the bed.

After some minutes flipping and leafing and backtracking, she started to put the book down, and then went back to reading. “No, that’s not right,” she said to herself. “It doesn’t work like that. If only it did, my life would be—!” She read a little more, then put the book down and picked up another, and then another, the thinnest of the pile.

This one she read straight through for some minutes. Jacky was good at some things and not so good at others, but she was always a fast learner of language and a fast reader. Soon she was halfway through the little book.

She stopped and shook her head. “That’s not it at all,” she said. “That’s not how it—!”

Still, she picked the little book back up and read some more. Then she read from another, and then another, starting in on the thickest one about two thirds of the way through.

This time she could not stop, although she muttered and shook her head. Then another, with a dark blue cover: she couldn’t make out what that was about.

After some time, a long time really, Jacky, who was reclining on the bed now, put the book down and got up. She stretched. It was heck being seven or eight centuries old. She went to the window.

It was past midday already. She looked at her ring. Then she looked around: there were two different clocks, and she worked out what they were saying. Time warrior. She knew all about time, but she didn’t have a lot of experience with clocks.

“Well,” she said to herself, and went back to the bed.

At some point, Jacky was back in the one with the young man waving at his name. She was quite caught up in it: she had stopped murmuring complaints about how unrealistic and wrong it all was. She was reading, gripping the book in her right hand, playing with her ring with her left thumb. She put the gem to her mouth, then noticed what she was doing and stopped, and a few minutes later she did the same thing. She stopped. She looked at the bed table and noticed a stick there, a straight tapered stick of dark wood. For a moment her heart raced, and then she smiled and picked it up, and holding it in her left hand she read on.

She heard the door downstairs. She looked up, but read some more. Then she heard feet on the stairs. She sighed, put the book down, and got up.

Seconds passed. Time is a funny thing.

The bedroom door opened. A girl of sixteen, with brown hair and brown eyes, came in and dropped her backpack. She was tired and unhappy. She pushed the door shut and looked at the bed. She looked around. The wand from her bed table: its point was in her face. It was held by a woman of no particular age, a woman with dark hair tied back, a woman in dark clothes and sensible boots, a woman whose blue eyes, in the gloom, almost matched the big gem on her ring. The woman smiled.

“My name is Jacky,” she said. “I would like you to accompany me.”

“What?” said the girl.

They both looked at the bed, where seven books were scattered from Jacky’s scattered reading. “At first I thought it was nonsense,” said the Time Warrior. She smirked. The girl looked back at her. “She’s got time all wrong. But then I think, maybe she has more right than I give her credit for.”

“You were waiting for me?”

“I was waiting for you. I, ah, did some reading.”

“Wait. You just read the entire series? You’d never read the Harry Potter novels before?”

“No,” said Jacky. “I rather like this Hermione person. But it’s you I’m here to recruit.”

“Who are you?” the girl asked. Jacky smirked again. The girl said, “Where are we going?”

“Well,” she said, “where we’re going, we’re not going by train, that’s for sure.” Jacky held up the wand. “I never use one,” she said. “But it’s fine with me if you do.”

“Wait,” said the girl. “Are you me, older?”

“No, no. Eye color doesn’t change, kiddo. Are you ready? You really don’t need anything else.”

They looked around the bedroom. “Am I coming back?” said the girl.

Jacky took a moment, and then said, very quietly, “Well, I didn’t.”

Jacky goes back

via Daily Prompt: Swarm

Daily Prompt: Swarm

The stony ground spooled out beneath her. She wanted to stop but she kept on. And there it was, the hole in the earth, the swarm—

Maybe it first happened when Jacky was a child, too young to form clear memories, too young to explain it to herself or anyone else, her mother the engineer, her father the teacher, her older brother, her smart, reckless older brother.

Now she thought it through, Jacky was not sure it wasn’t just a dream. It could be both: there were other things she knew she had dreamed as a young child, and these too were loose, dangling memories, but they could not have happened: the horribly growing congeries of black balls in the air over the highway, the rats talking in the shady corners of the room, the odd angles of the walls between what she could see and what she could not, the flaming ring.

And yet Jacky had seen such things that these things held no fear or mystery for her anymore. She had seen thousands die at a time: she had been as Oskelay when the Tower went up, when one of the Kronah, one of the Twelve, was trapped by Lakanth’s wizards and destroyed, when the Tumbling Ring had begun its tumble, while outside Gremhar amused himself about the battlefield of the city, slaying women and children and old men who had lost everything but their lives, laughing at their cries as they lost the last thing they had.

She had walked the battlefield of Despre, where a hundred thousand fell, troll kings and elf lords, goblins and heroes, demon princes and wizard priests. She had walked the Terrible Day After at Skralnag, and seen what a full-scale quantic crater looked like. She had parked a car outside a village in Kazmin and walked its streets, among the crushed buildings and patches of dark where people had been. She had seen men die whom she herself had caused to die in ways she would rather not think about.

She had seen Nayori, the love of her life, walk out the door and into memory, walk out the door and into her doom.

And in its way, this was like that: it was no dream, this hole, this swarm in the—

Jacky sat up. She was in her chair, at her desk before the window, looking out upon the side yard. The slope ran to the left, down toward the pond. Lily and Sezan were out there playing; Waren and George would be pottering about the garden with beers in their hands.

She wanted to shake it off, but one little voice of the many felt she should just have a look. Look? Look where? She lifted her left hand and gazed at the pale blue gem on her big ring.

Her gaze intensified. She found a route. She was gone.

Jacky was walking over stony ground under a grey sky. There was a sound, somewhere between a buzzing and a rustling and a chattering. Before her, the path curved downward, backward really, as if she were coming to the top of a hill, but it was the lip of a pass as well, a hyperbolic paraboloid in gravel. Her eyes down, she watched the ground move down her view, then more ground, then more ground, and then the hole.

And in the hole, in the swarming hole,

Jacky sat up. She was in her chair. Was the sun in the yard a little wan just now?

She looked at her ring. “What was that place?” she asked. Her ring did not answer.

Jacky gritted her teeth. She raised her ring, her time warrior ring, and gazed into its pale blue stone. She found the place and latched onto it, reminding herself to be careful, to be aware, to do all the things she reminded herself to do. And she was there, she was gone.

Jacky was walking up a slope on stony ground.

There was a buzzing and a rustling and a chattering. The path curved backward, as if she were coming to the top of a hill. Her eyes down, she watched the ground move down her view, then more ground, then more ground, and then the hole. The swarming hole,

Jacky sat up. She was in her chair, at her desk.

She looked at her ring. She looked out the window. She said, out loud, “Okay. What the actual fuck?” She felt a little concerned just to hear herself swear. She felt a little concerned that Jacky Clotilde, time warrior, was actually concerned.

She took a breath. She would have to go see, now. All the voices agreed.

She raised her ring. There was a knock behind her. She jumped up and turned: it was just old Waren.

“Sorry, sorry,” the old man said. “Did not mean to startle. You okay there?”

“I’m fine,” said Jacky. “Just working on a problem.”

“So are we,” said Waren, and she saw George lean in from the hall, smiling his smile in his dark face under his captain’s hat and grey hair.

“We’re just reconfiguring the side yard,” said George. “Some irrigation issues, and, you know, croquet, the gnomes don’t like the way the croquet is set up. We could use your opinion at some point.”

“Sure,” said Jacky. “Just let me—uh, just give me a minute.”

“Problem?”

“I’ll let you know.”

The two old guys—wizard, time tech—excused themselves. Jacky straightened herself out and sat back down.

She raised her ring. Steeling herself, reminding herself of everything, she found the route and took it.

Jacky was walking up a slope on stony ground. She noted every rock, every swirl of sand, every bony pebble, every glint.

There was a buzzing and a rustling and a chattering. She listened to it, but she could not make out words, signal or just noise. She let herself resume plodding. The path curved backward, as if she were coming to the top of a hill. Her eyes down, she watched the ground move down her view, then more ground, then more ground, and then the hole.

Then the hole. Grey brown then dark then darker, in a few centimeters, teetering stones at the lip and sand slanting back, chattering and crinkling and buzzing and rustling and whispering, and then the hole. The swarming hole,

Jacky sat up. She stood up. No, she could not hear the chattering now.

She stepped into the hall, descended the short stairs, opened her big friendly front door, took a breath. Sky so blue. Lily and Sezan and one of the gnomes were down by the pond playing. She turned to the left and stalked over to where old Waren, pink of face with flying white hair, and George, black of skin with curly grey hair and his captain’s hat, both in comfy slacks and short-sleeved shirts, stood amicably debating with the senior gnome. They all turned, all smiles, beer glasses in their hands, as she came up.

“Solve your problem?” said George.

“No,” said Jacky.

“Need help?”

“That would be yes.”

 

About a Princess

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Alice was just a little princess. She was ten years old, the fifth child of King Henry of Ambrai. Her medieval world was a place where barbarians from over the mountains fought the Amazons in the passes and came down sometimes into the river valleys to take on the civilized knights and pikemen of the King, but she would never have thought of those things. She had a kitty cat and a favorite doll and enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep, a bed, in fact, all to herself in her own bedroom.

Alice was not just the fifth child of the King. She was my own third child. I wrote The Tale of Countess Vivian in a whirlwind of 300,000 words in 13 months, ending a week before my forty-first birthday in 1997. I messed around for several years with Vivian’s great great grandmother Tereza; in the meantime I wrote a space caper about a tiny killer fighter pilot lady called Halyn Silverfleet. And then came Alice.

Vivian can explain Alice. Vivian is way too long to easily sell, and I knew that even back then, when I was just in my forties, married to my first wife and childless (in the real world). Tereza, when eventually finished, was not a conventional narrative and wouldn’t go anywhere except as a prequel to Vivian. Silverfleet was in unfamiliar space, and I wasn’t sure how I could sell her. (Eventually I totally rewrote that one as Silverfleet and Claypool, and I plan on putting her up on Amazon later this year.) Vivian was and remains my first love, but, as my hero Tolkien would say, that tale grew in the telling: things happened that I never had any idea would happen, and I wound up with a tome when I had intended to write a ripping yarn.

So I returned to the basic premise of Vivian and thought I would start over. And that basic premise is:

  1. Girl inherits monarchy
  2. Girl is forced into exile, where she hones her mysterious powers
  3. Girl, now a woman, returns with a vengeance

And that is where I started with Alice. Of course, as tales do, that tale grew in the telling as well, but it grew in a totally different direction. Alice is playing in the graveyard early in the story:

Once lingering there late by herself Alice was caught by clouds rising up to meet the falling sun, and found herself suddenly in darkness just short of night. For a minute she was terrified, rooted to the spot by her fear of what might inhabit the next shadow. But her eyes adjusted, and as she looked around she was cheered to find herself not alone. Beneath the great ash tree that stood before the entrance to the tombs of the kings played a girl not much more than Alice’s age. After a moment the other girl noticed Alice and paused in her digging in the dirt, and they smiled on one another. A poor girl, dressed in an old torn smock, but in her dirt there was not much difference between them really, except perhaps for a few untended cuts and bruises that, if they had happened to the Princess, would have been tended past all reason. And the girl wore on odd necklace of some sort of semi-precious stone.

Then the sun escaped for a last moment from the cloud, and the realm between the mausoleum and the ash tree brightened again, and in that space Alice found herself alone.

Alice, it turns out, can see and speak with ghosts.

Alice also develops a friendship, and this is the character every novel seems to have, the one that the author never intended. (Tolkien’s was Faramir.) For Princess Alice, this is Skela, the daughter of the Amazon captain Ingrid. And there is a disturbing prophecy:

“Ye want to know who ye’ll marry,” the old woman said.

“Yes, I guess.”

“I won’t tell that. It’s not written.” Alice grinned and suppressed again the urge to pull loose and sprint home, as the old woman stared at her, her lips pursed. “Don’t run just yet, girl,” said the woman. “I do have somewhat to tell ye. Three are the things I see.” She held Alice’s eyes another long moment and then said, “Ye will leave, but ye will come back.” She stared at Alice while the girl pondered that. It seemed like fortune enough for one day, but there was more. “Ye will claim what is yours, but it is not yours yet,” the woman added. That sounded all right. Then: “And ye will not return until ye have given up every thing ye love, all save one—ye can only choose one thing to take with ye, your kitty cat or your doll or the fella ye like or your sister here. One thing.”

And with that, I was no longer in control of the story, and every time I tried to make it go a different direction, it crashed into a wall and I had to go back to where I missed the turn and start again from there. I finished Alice within a year, friends read it and pronounced it good, and I went back to Tereza and finished that. I got tenure at the University of Maine at Farmington. We had a son. I wrote another novel that wasn’t very good, I struggled with another one that never got done, and eventually I got back in the groove with NaNoWriMo and the Jacky Clotilde stories. My wife divorced me, I remarried very happily (to the beautiful and talented Laura Seames), and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And for Christmas, Laura gave me an amazing gift—three printed copies of Princess of Ghosts, and its publication on Amazon.

And all that is how Alice, whose story went without a title for over a decade, really became the princess of ghosts, and can legitimately be called my best-selling novel. It even has two whole reviews, and it has a median rating of exactly five stars.

And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, then the price will: $2.99 for the e-book, 150,000 words, a dozen battles, sword fights, chases, ancient secrets, ghosts by the score, and young Alice grows into much more than just a princess. It can be yours, just by clicking the picture below.

alicecoversmall

 

Princess of Ghosts,  by Paul J Gies (c) 2014

Price: $2.99

And if you do read it, give it a review, or in some fashion let me know what you think.

–Paul

How many ways I hate Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films

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I love The Lord of the Rings. The book, that is. The movies? How I love and hate them. The scene-setting is generally perfect (when not overdone). The casting is perfect (except when it’s not: the estates of Faramir and Merry and Pippin should all sue). The plot tweaks are annoying, as if J. R. R. Tolkien needed to be schooled on how to set up a story; but some of the gender-balancing is undeniably helpful. The dropouts (Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, the Scouring of the Shire) are missed but understandable.

So they made three three-hour movies of The Lord of the Rings, which is 1400 pages long. That went pretty well (at the box office). Why not take The Hobbit, one fourth as long, with a smaller cast and a far simpler plot, and make—three full-length movies? What could go wrong? Well, not in any order…

 

  1. The orcs

All look alike. And we spend far too much time with them and their stupid motivations.

orcboss

This is one of the orcs. Don’t ask me which one.

 

Azog (or Bolg?) even has a Noooooo! cry at the end of the first movie. The Battle of Five Armies goes on forever (more on that later) and there are a whole lot of bald tattooed orc giants, and I could not tell one from another, much less keep straight which one of them was peeved at which good guy for what reason.

 

  1. Mountains
hobbitmts

I’m not lonely anymore!

New Zealand is beautiful. It makes great mountains. The Misty Mountains, the White Mountains of Gondor, the mountain ranges that skirt Mordor: lovely casting. So Mr. Jackson could be forgiven for wanting a lot of those mountains in The Hobbit. There’s one big problem: the quest in The Hobbit is all about a place called the Lonely Mountain, so called because it’s all by itself. No other mountains around. As is clearly shown in Tolkien’s own map of the local area, which is prominently shown several

lonelymap

This is from when I was very lonely.

times in the movies.

 

  1. Dol Guldur

In The Hobbit, the Necromancer of Dol Guldur is a mysterious figure. Gandalf goes off to deal with him, leaving the dwarves and Bilbo on their own in Mirkwood. Reading The Lord of the Rings, it’s kind of important that the Necromancer is mysterious: they don’t know (and Saruman is less than helpful about) who and what he is, until they chase him out of his stronghold. And it’s an important plot point in LOTR that Sauron only provides a token resistance at Dol Guldur before retiring to Mordor to work on his actual plan.

In the movie, we spend what seems like hours fighting it out at Dol Guldur. We get Galadriel and Elrond and Saruman throwing their magic weight around. We get Gandalf (who gets dirtier and dirtier through the movies; don’t they let Sir Ian wash his face?) get beaten up by another of those giant orcs (which one? Don’t ask me) and stuck in a cage. Eventually, Galadriel gets to be the one to turn purple and utter wild curses and somehow drive the Necromancer away. It’s action, but it’s also distraction; someone who has read The Hobbit and LOTR is already a bit incensed, and someone who hasn’t is mystified, because the Dol Guldur brouhaha has nothing, literally nothing, to do with the Lonely Mountain. A vague explanation of the importance of the Mountain in terms of the grand strategy is unconvincing. (Gondor would be threatened? Really?)

 

  1. Tauriel

Please don’t get me wrong. I like Tauriel. The Hobbit on paper has exactly zero actual female characters, and I am very much in favor of rectifying that. I thought the addition of Bard’s family, and a few tough old Lake Town broads, was heartening and not distracting. And having a bad-ass elf maid on screen is excellent, especially as she shows no cleavage whatever.

tauriel

I’m sad because my plot thread makes no sense.

But the love interest between her and Kili (or Fili) is not only an invention out of whole cloth which Tolkien would never have countenanced, it’s also a distraction. And that’s my problem with a lot of the Peter Jackson plot additions: they don’t add to the central idea, they distract from the central idea. And while Tauriel is not any kind of damsel in distress, this sort of love interest does reinforce the unfortunate idea about female characters that if they’re not in a relationship already, then one needs to be found for them, as if unattached women have their antennae constantly buzzing for someone with a Y chromosome, anyone with a Y chromosome. The same rule is not applied to the male characters.

And, of course, it also plays into one of the films’ other little problems.

 

  1. Dwarves who look like humans

Did anyone else have trouble distinguishing, in the heat of the battle, between Thorin and Bard and sometimes Fili (or Kili)?

Live action fantasy films have a basic issue about how to portray size differences among

dwarvesandbard

I guess Jackson clicked here and made the dwarves full size.

races. The Lord of the Rings movies managed this pretty well, since the hobbits were all played by adult humans, rather than midgets. The Harry Potter films had midgets as the goblin bankers and Flitwick, but they had the problem of giving Hagrid the proper height as a half-giant, and they managed this too, with camera angles and a gigantic body double (a body quadruple, perhaps) for Robbie Coltrane, who is six foot one and manages to look twelve foot two in some scenes. The problem can be solved.

So dwarves. They’re supposed to be short. They’re also supposed to be stout, dour and heavily bearded. So Balin, Dwalin, Bombur, Dori et al manage to be properly dwarfy, but, perhaps because only the three of them are Durin’s direct descendants, Thorin and his two nephews look just like “men,” and in particular, just like the Laketown men. Is that why Tauriel falls in love with Kili (or is it Fili)? In any case, it makes the battle scenes very confusing, and the battle scenes are already very confusing: more later.

 

  1. Worms? Bats?

It’s the Battle of Five Armies, but two armies get invited that Tolkien did not include: the

giantworms

I am honestly not sure these are from The Hobbit and not from Dune.

war bats and the giant worms. The war bats are at least vaguely referred to in the book; in the last film, a big deal is made of them, but they turn out to be just something else for Legolas to ride and hang from. The giant worms: what is this, Dune? The Spice must Flow? Or maybe Tremors? Kevin Bacon as Legolas??

 

  1. Action forever

The aimlessness of a lot of these intrusions into Tolkien’s plot (and they’ve been powering the West of England on Professor T turning in his grave, ever since the first LOTR movie came out) really comes home to roost in the battle scenes. The first Hobbit movie had one master set piece with the running skirmish under the Misty Mountains, though that was basically Hollywood Action 101. The second film mangles the encounters with Smaug—especially the distended and opaque struggle between the dragon and the dwarves, which is the complete opposite of what happened in the book.

Dwarves get in mine carts. They get dumped out of mine carts. They sneak along a walkway and evade the dragon. Who spots them anyway. They get trapped in a room full of dead dwarves. Then they get out. Then they get Smaug to light the furnaces for them, so they can get the river of gold going. So what was the idea with the river of gold? The whole filling up a cast to make a gold dwarf king, which then burst on the dragon, causing—what? The dragon to fly off to Laketown, happy with his new gold leaf? In the book, all this is neatly explained just with Bilbo’s Smaug chat.

Then the actual Battle of Five Armies, which goes like this: Elves, Men and Dwarves almost come to blows. (Book.) Orcs on wolves intervene. (Book.) So far: four armies. Then the orcs invade Dale, murdering hundreds; okay, because Bard, Legolas, Dain, Gandalf, Tauriel, and, when he’s finally pissed off enough, Thorin slay orcs left and right. (Literally: that’s the basic procedure. And how many behind the back sword blocks are there?) Everyone in Dale runs to the Great Hall, and then they all come back out fighting. (Remind me why they went in there.) And then Thorin, Fili, Kili, Legolas, Tauriel (these two are back from Angmar, which is actually like three weeks’ ride away, with info that is out of date by the time they return) get up onto those mountains, and Ravenhill, and fight Azog and Bolg and about forty other identical bald tattooed orc giants. Bilbo pulls out his sword and heads up there too, but slays no one. Eventually Legolas runs out of arrows, Bilbo and Tauriel get

battleoffive

The troll on the right is literally asking the guys around him what the hell is going on.

bonked on the head (no lethal fast-pass samurai slashes for them), and Kili, Fili and Thorin get killed. (All that except the last item: not book.)

I will grant that the ice fight between Thorin and whomever was cleverly done. Legolas has some nice moves in the air which directly contravene the law of gravity (you can’t get much push up off a falling stone). Tauriel gets some cool moves. But after about 43 hours of battle, the viewer is very happy to hear Bilbo wake up and mutter, “The Eagles are coming!” (Book!) The fifth army has showed up, after two unnumbered armies. And at that point, the battle ends basically because the Eagles show up: no further explanation is needed. If only Sauron had some evil flying creatures—like, oh, war bats.

It reminded me of Avatar, which was wonderful except for the half hour of meaningless carnage at the end. But at least Avatar was treading new ground in a dozen other ways (first major film to utilize the talents of polychaete worms, first film to illustrate the sexual attractions of blue people), whereas The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies was stomping all over old, hallowed, sacred ground with big heavy orc boots.

 

The point is not that you can’t change the story when a book is made into a film. Inevitably you do change the story. The point is that when you do so, you try to keep to the author’s vision, and if you can’t even do that, you try to do no harm. These changes (and plenty of others in the three movies—three movies? Really?) only serve to distract. Even the action winds up being boring after the fifth hour straight.

There were changes I appreciated. I did like having a maiden among the elves. I thought Bard’s son added something. I adored Radagast, who is nowhere in the book and is only a very minor off-screen character in LOTR. I adored the dwarves’ song just before they set out in the first movie: honestly, at that point, I thought I was watching a masterpiece. How sadly disappointed I was.

Thoughts? Soon I will be back to actual writing again and my mood may improve.

—Paul

All images are from The Hobbit films, and fair use applies. (Except the one with the worms, which might be from Dune, or Tremors, or who the hell knows. Fair use STILL applies.)

As the regime’s flesh starts peeling off—what’s left?

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We know it’s been a bad day for the Donald J Trump administration. Their pick for labor secretary, the restaurant owner Andy Puzder, withdrew his nomination, and the less bizarre of Trump’s two campaign bosses, Kellyanne Conway, lost one more strand of her last tie to relevance when Morning Joe banned her from the show.

But it was a bad week before that, with the Michael Flynn resignation and predictable defeats in the courts, not to mention the Pyrrhic victories of the nomination votes for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy Devos.

But it was a bad month before that, because—well, a month ago, Obama was still president, and a solid majority of the US, along with about 90% of the population of Europe, Africa, etc., were still relatively happy with the United States, its policies, and its politics. It seems fair to me (biased though I admit I am) to say that Trump has had a relatively hard time of it in his first four weeks as leader of the free world. And the first month of a Presidency is normally strewn with bumps and traps.

And it should be no surprise that a president who came into office after a bumbling and divisive campaign, having lost the popular vote by an unprecedented margin, is now burdened by historically low approval ratings, most recently from Gallup, hardly a fake news source.

But hidden in that poll, in that 40-55 % approval/disapproval split, is the regime’s remaining, seemingly rock-stable base. And that’s what has people on the left paranoid about a Hitler-like minority takeover and dismantlement of democracy. Typically, even a repressive dictatorship retains the support of 30-40% of its subjects; witness the allure of Stalin for Russians, or post-Pinochet support for Pinochet in Chile, or post-Franco support of Franco in Spain.

I do not really think that the regime is capable of staging an inside coup, a la Putin (or Mussolini or… you say it, I don’t want to). I am not convinced the regime is that good at tying its fucking shoes, frankly; sorry about that, but it can be hard to express oneself properly on the subject. But one thing does scare me.

Trump got elected, and maintains himself, by balancing two slightly overlapping constituencies:

  1. Christian conservatives, i.e., the traditional  base of the post-Nixon Republican Party, who, as I’ve said before, almost qualify as victims, since their ideological requirements forced them to vote for Trump and force them to keep on good terms with the regime, despite the fact that nearly all their leaders have collections of knives they sharpen late at night while thinking of Trump, and
  2. The broader alt-right, the believers in conspiracy theories, the lazy white supremacists, the generic losers and loners whose forebears were Know-Nothings and whose liberal parents thought Ross Perot was a savior.

It’s been often noted that Donald Trump is a rather ironic choice for Christian conservatives: several times divorced, committed adultery with Wife n+1 while married to Wife n, for n = 1, 2, 3…; was pro-choice as recently as the George W Bush administration; doesn’t seem to have ever looked inside a Bible. (Don’t feel singled out, evangelical conservatives: he hasn’t opened a lot of books, except to sign his name in them. Whether he can even read is a topic of debate.) But they need him as much as he needs them. As long as he owes them—and every indiscretion or bumble puts him more in their debt—conservative Christians can get anything they want. But if once they are forced to dump him—say, he cheats on Melania in some public way, or he tries to stage a military takeover—their easy days are over. Bush (either one) could sometimes say no to the Christian right, because Bush (either one) was professional and serious enough to withstand right-wing manipulation; that is, Bush (either one) was sort of a leader.

So the break with conservative Christians, when it inevitably comes, is going to be ugly, and it’s going to leave both sides weak and angry. They’re already weaker than they look: they lost the popular vote for President; their landslide win in the House of Representatives came from a 49-48% margin in the actual voting in congressional races.

On the other hand, there’s this sort of person:

facebookdebate

Red and green are arguing against the current administration in that no-holds-barred way which so many of us love in Facebook debates; orange and yellow are defending the Prez, and grey is just trying to get the facts straight.

But what I want to point out about this little exchange—a small sliver of a long argument in which many people said many things she would never have said to a friend in person—is the way facts are used. While Red starts out with what is clearly opinion—that the President doesn’t know his constitution very well—it’s at least an opinion that could be backed up with evidence. But Orange then makes the claim that Donald Trump’s IQ is the highest of any president ever. There is literally no evidence for this, and Orange doesn’t deign to provide any. Nor does Yellow explain how the Democratic Party of 1870 is related to the Democratic Party of 2017, or how Elizabeth Warren’s possible Native American blood relates to the issue of Trump’s legitimacy. (Distraction from the point of debate has been a repeated tactic of the Trump movement.)

And that’s where fake news comes in. Orange, later on, denies that CNN is a legitimate news source; that angle comes straight from Trump tweets. I’ve heard Trump advocates say that Snopes.com has a liberal bias; that the Washington Post, the New York Times and ABC, NBC and CBS News are all fake. (And here’s Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, writing incisively and hilariously about this.) Even Fox is unreliable—look at the Trump-Bill O’Reilly exchange about Putin. But what are you, if the only news source you still trust is Trump tweets? It passes the line of fascist follower and goes straight into the definition of insanity.

So as the flesh falls off this zombie administration, this weirdly inept Russian plant regime, what’s left? Christian conservatives (I apologize to my many Christian friends who don’t deserve to be associated with Jerry Falwell’s spawn) who are hurrying to steal as much ideological silverware as possible before the bust-up, and crazy people, for whom no reality exists in which Donald Trump, of all people, has an IQ that isn’t superhuman.

So what do we do?

  1. Keep organizing. Keep marching, keep writing your congressman, keep going to town hall meetings held by your senator.
  2. Support traditional, principled journalism. Contribute to NPR.
  3. Keep calling a spade a spade, and a zombie regime a zombie regime.
  4. Keep demanding answers. Keep demanding investigations. Our previous president was held to an incredibly high standard, and he managed it. We cannot, as Americans, let our standards for democratic principles be diminished.
  5. And be nice about it. Seriously. Be like “Grey” in the exchange above. Be rational, but be polite. That’s the principle beneath all of democracy. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but democracy only works if you accept defeat and victory with equanimity.  And when you lose an election, you pick yourself up and get ready for the next one, which involves actually persuading people to vote for you who last time voted for the other guy.

And be prepared, because this regime shows every sign of falling straight to pieces. When the flesh finishes falling off, it’s entirely possible that the bones will drop in a heap on the ground. Nixon and Watergate cost the Republican Party the worst defeats at the polls of the post-war era; this could make that look like a minor skirmish. And for those of us not inside the GOP, this could be ugly.

Thoughts?

When Jacky met Jacky

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When Jacky met Jacky

 

Jacky Clotilde was strolling down an aisle of a library. She paused, thinking of something. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She jumped out of her little boots, landed back in them, turned with a spell on her tongue, and jumped out of her boots again.

“Please don’t say a word,” Jacky Clotilde told her.

Jacky took this in for a minute, happy to oblige. Jacky looked at Jacky, and vice versa.

Jacky, surprised in the library, thought the Jacky who surprised her was older. It was hard to tell, since they both had time warrior rings—they both had the same time warrior ring. It was something about the eyes.

The older Jacky waited. She stole a glance around at the stacks. The younger Jacky presently said, “You must be here for a reason.”

Jacky smirked. “We’re all here for a reason, baby,” she said. Jacky rolled her eyes. Jacky, the older one, the one who surprised the other one in the library, put her serious face on and said, “Well, clearly.” She looked around.

“I know this is supposed to be dangerous,” said the younger Jacky, “coming back to meet yourself. So it must be a pretty good reason.”

“You just made Time Warrior,” said Jacky. “You’re still stupid.” She playfully cuffed her younger self on the top of the head. “It’s not dangerous, it’s just confusing to your companions, of which you currently have none.”

“Hey, I have—!”

“I know, I know, it’s not what I meant. Hell, I have less friends than you do, I know I have less lovers than you do, and I’m only five biological centuries older than you. I just mean I had to find you alone.”

“To do what? Give me hints? Tell me who I should kill right away, and who I can wait on?”

“I’m not going to do that. Sorry. So I—!”

“Not because of paradoxes,” said the younger Jacky. “Tell me it’s not because of paradoxes.”

Jacky smirked yet again. “There are no temporal paradoxes.”

“I knew it. I knew it! So can’t you give me hints? Do I kill Gremhar? Don’t even tell me how long it’ll be. Just do I kill him?”

“Not going to tell you. No, not because of temporal paradoxes.” They smirked at each other, the two Jackys. “Because you deserve some suspense.”

Jacky rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she said. “What are you here for?”

“I need your help with something,” said Jacky.

 

After one minute and forty seconds of further discussion, the two of them took hands and vanished. Four seconds later, they were back.

“That was actually kind of fun,” said the younger Jacky. “I mean, I can see why you wanted another you for that. But—!” She wanted to ask about time travel again. She felt stupid and young, even though Older Jacky was not especially patronizing and literally looked exactly like her. Jacky felt her inner teenager coming out. “Is this gonna happen a lot?”

“No,” said Jacky. “I don’t think it’s going to happen again.”

“Well,” said Jacky, “if you live forever, then everything happens again. Right? You can literally never say never again. Good or bad. Has that started to happen? Things repeating themselves?”

“No,” said Jacky. “No, things won’t be repeating themselves.”

“But we’re going to—? Wait. What?”

“We’re not, ah, you’re not going to live forever.” She laughed grimly. “We, you used the correct pronoun, we are not going to live forever. I’m very sorry, except in a way I’m not.”

They looked at each other, a million thoughts in each of those two nearly identical, so muscular brains. “Well,” said the younger one, resurrecting her smile, “I better get to my next.” She looked around. “I’m looking for a copy of Lyndon & Schupp.”

“Ah, yes,” said Jacky. “Great diagrams. It’s, um, two aisles down, Aisle K, right near this end, second shelf up from the bottom.”

They smiled at each other a little longer. Jacky giggled and said, “It’s been an honor, I think about you a lot.” They shook hands, then hugged.

“You’re going to go through a lot,” said Jacky, “but trust me? Somehow it’s going to be worth it.”

“You mean everything comes out okay?” said Jacky with a smirk. “It all makes sense?”

“Well,” said Jacky, “it’s going to be worth it.”

They looked at each other for one more moment. “Well,” said Younger Jacky, “Aisle K, second shelf up from bottom.”

“Take care of myself,” said Older Jacky.

“I must get on. Nayori will be waiting. Don’t want to make her worry.”

A shadow passed across Older Jacky’s face. “No, we don’t,” she said. “Don’t, um, make her worry.”

“Jacky,” said the younger one, picking up a hint of something.

“Just tell her, uh, Nayori, hi from me,” said Jacky. She twisted her ring and vanished, leaving the other Jacky gazing uncertainly at empty air.