Monday, March 20, 2006

Wordsmiths Warguild new edition

WORDSMITHS/WARGUILD new edition has now been published, available from

Unfortunately, while would like to be a child-safe site, something like THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD is not child-safe content, so to see this otherwise invisible "mature" content you have to certify yourself as adult, as follows:-

To see the mature content (1) sign up to make a free log-in identity then log in; (2) go to "MY ACCOUNT"; (3) click on "manage content access level"; (4) assuming you are 17 or older, choose "Mature" as the consent level, and save that preference.

Returning to you discover that a number of books which were previously invisible are now visible, of which THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD is just one.

Below is (1) a brief description and (2) a sample chapter, nineteen.

Togura Poulaan, a questing hero whether he liked it or not, is precipitated into a series of adventures in a world which includes dragons, sea serpents, war, wild tribes and the wizard Hostaja Sken-Pitilkin, lord of the island of Drum. A fast-paced fantasy novel published in the USA as two volumes, THE QUESTING HERO and THE HERO'S RETURN.

The new edition features zero in the way of textual changes. The only significant change is that the book now includes an area map.

Chapter Nineteen

The seas at the end of summer were in full flood. The tall ship strode the ocean, riding over the scalloping light, urged by a brisk wind which drove it through the dalloping dolloping waves.
The name of the ship was the Warwolf, but her figurehead was no wolf but a dragon. She had been built by the best shipwrights of the Greater Teeth. Her timbers were of winter oak and cedar, but for the masts, which were of kauri from Quilth, and the deck, which had been made of a chance load of mahogany alleged to have originated in Yestron. She had three masts, and sails of green canvas.
Togura Poulaan, taking his ease on a sunny yet sheltered part of the deck, surveyed the work going on at hand and thanked his stars - which were the two green ones known as the Cat's Eyes - that he was not a pirate. From this vantage point, it looked too much like hard work.
Taking advantage of the fine weather, the weapons muqaddam was supervising the overhaul of armaments and muniments. He was a broad-fisted man with shoulders like an ox and a shadow like a menhir. He was bald but for a little floccus scabbing the centre of his skull. His eyes, squinting out of a sun-weathered face, were as sharp as caltrops. His tongue was as rough as pumice, and he used it industriously.
Glad to be a passenger, Togura closed his eyes and leisured out at full length on the deck. Then cloud quenched the sun; a crisp whippet of wind came cleaning around him, and, chilled and annoyed, he sat up again.
"Come back son," said Togura. "Go away wind."
The wind, obedient to his commands, veered away to vanishing. But the sun remained hidden by a sulk of cloud. In the sea, something hinted through the waters. Seal? Dolphin? Whale? Rock? Togura narrowed his eyes, trying to see it more clearly. But it had gone. Perhaps it had been nothing to start with, or a chance bit of driftwood or float-stone now smothered by a wave.
Togura closed his eyes again, but was abruptly jolted into full alertness when a fight began. Looking round, he saw it was only two young pirates sparring with a lot of brag and paraffle. The weapons muqaddam, seeing their footwork looked sloppy, screamed abuse at them. They took heed, stopped fooling around and became more businesslike. They were rather good.
Togura had always imagined pirates as being lazy, leisurely beasts, loafing through the idle seas, amusing themselves with wine and women until the opportunity for pillage aroused them from their sport. Now, after only a brief acquaintance with the breed, he knew the reality was altogether different.
There was wine aboard, true, but it was rationed - a gill per man per day, which was next to nothing. There were women somewhere below deck - not that Togura had seen them - but the woman ration was stricter still. Most of the day was spent in work, maintenance, exercise and training. The Warwolf was a taut, sober, workmanlike ship, captained by the stern, ascetic Jon Arabin; there was no layabout nonsense here.
If Togura had ever had the misfortune to sail on Draven's ship, the Tusk, then he would have found a state of affairs rather closer to his imaginings - which was the main reason why the Tusk had been smashed on the coast of Sung, the crew butchered by the local populace, and the wreckage looted, while the Warwolf rode out the storm with matchless aplomb.
As the sun came out again, Togura dozed down to the deck and relaxed. For the moment, he had no worries. This ship, its mission urgent, had no time to call at Larbster Bay on this leg of its journey. Instead, it would take him all the way to the distant island of Ork, then drop him at Larbster on the return voyage. For the time being, all he had to do was eat, sleep, and enjoy the sun at the end of summer.
With all his difficulties thus comfortably postponed, it was pleasing to toy with the idea of being a questing hero. Once he finally got from Larbster Bay to Estar, he would most certainly have a look at the monster in Prince Comedo's Castle Vaunting. He would then be able to decide whether he should attempt to recover the box which held the index.
He remembered back to the days when he had lived in the stronghold of the Wordsmiths in Keep. Brother Troop had talked about the box, which held the index which could control the odex. Asked what the index looked like, he had answered:
"When you open the box, you'll know. Remember, it speaks the Universal Language."
Togura, daydreaming, imagined himself performing desperate heroics and recovering the vital box. It would open at a Word. And the Word was?
- Konanabarok?
- Yaradoshek?
- Slonshenamenel?
No, it was nothing like that. It was something else, but, for the life of him, he could not remember what. For a moment, he panicked. Then he relaxed. There was no need for him to remember how to command the box. All he had to do was get it to Keep. The Wordsmiths would do the rest.
It would be easy.
Or would it?
After all, there was not just Castle Vaunting's monster to deal with. If he slew the monster, that in itself would not be enough to give him the box which held the index, or the box was at the bottom of the bottle. Togura tried to remember Brother Troop's instructions for getting into the bottle, but could not. All he could remember was Brother Troop saying:
"The box itself lies as the very bottom of the bottle, and is Guarded ... which means there's death waiting nearby."
Remembering this talk of death made Togura once more doubt the wisdom of being a questing hero. He decided to procrastinate his decision until he reached Estar, which would not be for many days yet: there was no hurry.
A shadow blocked out the sun. Togura opened his eyes and saw a fair-haired young pirate looking down at him. The pirate, who was unarmed, was wearing a woolen shepherd's rig and rope-soled shoes.
"What are you staring at?" said Togura.
"Nothing that catches my fancy," said the youth. "They told me you were a manhunter, so I thought you'd be something special. But you're not."
Togura wondered whether to take offence, then decided against it. The doughty little pirate was a tough, nuggety piece of work. Togura might have trouble handling him if it came to a scuffle.
"Tell me, for you're the expert," said Togura, venturing a little flattery, "what's that island over there?"
And he pointed at a high-rising island some distance off. Its coast was "walled round with bronze," as the pirate idiom had it - that is to say, it had a rugged, iron-bound coast.
"That?" said the youth. "We name him Drum. That's - "
He broke off as the ship shuddered as if something had struck it. There was instant alarm on board. Men rushed to the side and peered overboard. Shouts rang out as deck queried crow's nest.
"What was it?" said Togura.
"Sharbly we grounded a whale," came the laconic answer. "No worry. It's gone, and us, we're not drinking."
At that moment, the ship lurched hideously. Togura was sent sliding. As he clung to the deck rail, he saw something rising up out of the sea. Up, up it came, ascending in blue-green coils.
"Snake!" said the pirate.
Its jaws leered toward them, as if it would strike, then it dipped down into the sea again. It was indeed like a snake, except that it was three times the length of the ship and had the girth of a bullock.
"There's another!" cried Togura.
There were two - no, three ... four! five! ... there were six sea serpents in the waters around them. Togura heard Jon Arabin, the ship's captain, bellowing orders. Shortly he heard wails and screams as the ship girls were brought up on deck. Fighting and biting, they were dragged to the stern and thrown overboard. They thrashed round in the water, screaming. Blood foamed on the waves as the sea serpents ravaged them.
"That's murder!" said Togura, shocked.
The young pirate gave a twisted grin.
"Them or us," he said. "Which would you prefer?"
"Well ..."
It was indeed a difficult question.
Jon Arabin gave another order. And the weapons muqaddam grabbed Togura and started to drag him to the edge of the deck.
"This is a joke, yes?" said Togura.
The weapons muqaddam made no answer.
"A joke? Understand?" said Togura desperately. "A joke?"
They were now very close to the edge.
"Draven!" screamed Togura, sighting his friend at last. "Stop him!"
"Sorry, boy," said Draven, advancing at a casual saunter. "This isn't my ship. I've got no authority here. So enjoy your swim."
"I can't swim!" screamed Togura.
A lie - but he thought it worth trying.
He locked his hands round the stern rail, and, struggling vigorously, managed to kick the weapons muqaddam in the guts. His enemy did not even grunt.
"Did you hear me?" screamed Togura. "I can't swim!"
"Bait doesn't have to swim," said Draven, grabbing hold of Togura's flailing feet. "Give my regards to the chiefest of serpents."
"Don't do it! Please!" begged Togura, as he lost his hold on the stern rail. "Draven, help me!"
"Heave ho!" said Draven, cheerfully.
They gave him the old heave ho, and over he went. Arms and legs flailing, he tumbled through the air. He hit the sea awkwardly with a crash, a shock of cold water, and a blunt, ugly pain, as if someone had rammed his rectum with an iron bar. The impact drove him deep.
Momentarily stunned, lost to all knowledge of his place, time and name, he struggled for the light. Breaking the surface, he gasped for air. A slip-slop wave slapped him in the face. He remembered what was happening. A shrill whinny of terror escaped him. He thrashed at the water as if having a fit.
"No no no," moaned Togura, drawing his legs up to try and stop anything from biting them.
Another wave slapped him harshly, cutting off his moans. Blinking away the stinging salt of the sea, squeezing a web of water from his eyes, he dared to look around. He could see no women. No sea serpents.
The big seas hoisted him up then slopped him down again. The Warwolf, bulking away from him, heeled in the wind. He saw its lower timbers were foul with weed, barnacles and sea squirts; it was overdue for careening. Draven waved to him from the stern, then shouted something; the wind blurred away the sense of his words.
"What?" shouted Togura.
Draven shouted more unintelligible words, then pointed at something. What? Trying to see, Togura forgot all about keeping his legs up. They drifted down. The next moment, Togura felt something firm underfoot. Ah, ground! A miracle!
The ground began to rise.
Oh no!
Togura began to cry out with short, panting, uncontrollable, hysterical screams. Up came the green surge in a smooth, hypnotic flow, riding up between his legs and lofting him into the sky. He found himself straddling a sea serpent, which was racing through the sea toward the ship. He began to slip. He grabbed for a handhold, finding nothing but a few barnacles clinging to battle-scarred scales. Taking his weight, the old scales themselves started to scab away, revealing fresh, gleaming, frictionless scales beneath.
As the sea serpent raced toward the ship, Togura slid sideways. He scrabbled desperately for purchase. He had a brief, hallucinatory glimpse of the deck of the ship. It was below him. Men were scattering in all directions. Then the sea serpent crashed down. The stern splintered. Timbers smashed. Togura was thrown through the air.
Togura, bruised to the deck, rolled to his feet in an instant. He stood there, swaying. The ship lurched, the deck canted, and down he went again. He saw a scream wailing between the sea serpent's jaws. Then the scream was gone. The jaws were turning toward him.
Togura accelerated from a crawl to a sprint in one and a half paces. Then he collided with a pirate. Both went down. The sea serpent slavered above them. Blood dripped from its jaws. Togura, paralysed with fear, mewled weakly with terror. But the pirate bravely struggled to his feet, drawing his cutlass. A mistake. The monster snacked on the cold steel, then munched down on the pirate. Togura slithered away, then got to his feet and ran with a blind, lurching gait.
Knocked to the deck by the ship's next ungainly movement, Togura turned to see half a dozen pirates charging the sea serpent, using a spare spar as a battering ram. Wood splintered, bones crunched, and Togura went humbling up the ratlines, climbing for dear life or cheap, life at any price, there was no time for bargaining.
He climbed and climbed until he could climb no more, and then, at a dizzy height, he hooked his arms through rope netting and slumped there, exhausted. The ship, struck by another sea serpent, heeled alarmingly then righted itself; the motion, amplified by the mast, did sickening things to his stomach.
"Enjoy your swim?" said a laconic voice beside him.
Togura opened his eyes to look at his neighbour. It was the fair-haired young pirate he had conversed with earlier in the day.
"You're a murderous pack of unprincipled bastards," said Togura savagely.
The youth laughed.
"What did you expect?" he said. "We're pirates! You got off lucky, though. Bait can be cut, blinded, tortured. Or ship-raped, my hearty. If there's time. This time there wasn't."
"Does that mean I was bait all along? Did you expect to meet - "
"Not so angry, man. Settle, settle! You, you were our much loved, honoured, respected passenger until we met the monsters. Stall it, man, don't say it - of course we weren't expecting them. None in their right minds - or out of them, for that matter - would sail to a monster's jaws full knowing. My name's Drake. And yours?"
"Togura," mumbled Togura, his strength for anger fading.
"Forester," said Togura, speaking up loudly, amending his name as he remembered who he was masquerading as.
"Welcome, Forester. Do you - "
The mast lurched alarmingly.
"Dahz!" exclaimed the pirate Drake, using a foreign obscenity.
Togura realised a sea serpent had coiled itself around the base of the mast. Even as he watched, the mast, very slowly, began to bend. Then, with a sudden shatter-crack, it snapped.
They fell.
Togura screamed.
The sea roared up and smashed them.
Engulfed in green, harassed by rope, choking and breathless, Togura struggled for air and daylight. Breaking up to the surface of the sea, he snorted water, sucked air, was floundered over by a wave, ducked by another, hauled down by a third, rolled over and over by a fourth, then lifted up by a fifth to an eminence from which he saw the Warwolf, encumbered by a trio of sea serpents, crabbing away through the sea with its broken mast trailing.
"Swim!" yelled a voice.
It was Drake.
Togura saw his young pirate friend, still clinging to the mast. What was better? To cling to the mast until the sea serpents were ready for dessert? Or drown in the bottomless ocean?
"Swim! Now!" shouted Drake, wind and distance rapidly eroding his voice.
Togura struck out for the mast and the ship, but it was hopeless. The sea was rough; a strong, fast current was sweeping him away from the ship. Finally he gave up and trod water, watching the ship, listing badly, dragging itself away from him, still in the grip of three implacable monsters.
Seeing a stray spar surfing through the water, Togura swam for it, reached it, latched on and clung to it for dear life. One end was all munched, crunched and splintered; he shuddered. The ship was now too distant for him to make out any detail of what was happening on board, but he saw black billows of smoke beginning to rise from the vessel. Soon one of the remaining masts was on fire; it was Togura's guest that the ship was doomed.
"Drown down, you buck-rat bastards," he muttered, cursing the ship and its crew.
By now he was very, very cold; he began to shudder violently and continuously. He would be chilled down to his death unless he could get to land. But there was no land anywhere near. Or was there? The island of Drum was now much closer. The current was taking him toward the shore.
The current was swift, but, even so, it seemed a long time before he could cast off from the spar and strike out for the shore. He swam very slowly. Caught in the surf, he almost drowned, surviving by luck alone. The waves tumbled him onto a pebbly beach. He struggled up the beach and across the driftwood line at high tide mark, then shuffled into a cave and collapsed, exhausted.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Outcome: Eyesight marginal but alive

2006 March 17 Friday.

Eyesight marginal but alive: that is my medical outcome. A sample taken from the spine was tested in the lab and was found to be clear.

The eyesight damage, presumably caused by radiation treatment, is irreversible. The optic nerve in the right eye had atrophied and the right eye is effectively blind.

I have no guarantee as to what will happen to the left eye, but currently it appears to be stable, giving me workable vision for the moment, though how long that will last for I have no idea.

Meantime, my oncologist tells me that if nothing catastrophic suddenly happens, then he is done with me.
I am currently taking eight milligrams of dexamethasone a day, and now I will taper off to zero over a period of four weeks. First a week on four milligrams then a week on two then a week on one then a week on a half, then done.

I plan to start regular exercise to build up my muscles. The dex has hit the thigh muscles quite hard, although this time I have not suffered any kind of minor bleeding such as nose bleeds or burst capillaries.

Provisionally, all going to plan, I will be heading back to Japan on or about 20 April, which is a bit surprising as I was expecting bad news, and, quite frankly, did not expect to ever see Japan again.

I now have the problem of finding some kind of economic niche for myself in Japan, but I figure that my prospects in Japan are as good or better than they would be in New Zealand.

My plan is to organize myself into a new life on a low gear basis, taking my time.
"It's a good news bad new situation," as my oncologist says.

I take the attitude that a lot of people who are currently dead would, if the had the option, prefer to be alive.

My wife and I have already decided on the hospital where I will get checks, a hospital at Shin Yokohama, a very short commute from our place in Japan.

So I have, at this stage, the bare bones of a plan, and the details will get fleshed out depending on how things go once I am in Japan.

Because I signed up for the national health scheme which operates in Japan, which anyone can join, I can show up at any hospital, and I don't have to worry about whether anyone would want to insure me. It's not an ideal health system but it's good enough for my needs, at least for the moment.

My next move is to get a new passport, and apparently this only takes ten working days. I was able to uplift the necessary form from a travel agent here in Devonport, New Zealand. Apparently all travel agents carry passport application forms, which is very convenient, and, all going to plan, I will mail my application by registered post on Monday, sending it to Wellington, the capital.

Meantime, workwise, I'm pushing ahead with a new edition of THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD, which I expect to publish before heading to Japan.
I went to The Copy Shoppe yesterday and asked them to scan the maps for THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY, and I anticipate having a new edition of this, too, on the market, inside of ninety days at the outside.

That done, all ten books of the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS will be in print, as Corgi originals for seven of the books can still be bought from, and I have published a second edition of WITCHLORD/WEAPONMASTER and, as noted above, will publish volumes two (WORDSMITHS) and nine (WORSHIPPERS) in a timely fashion.

Meantime, I have started work on COMRADE RAT MUST DIE, the second book in the TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series, which features a drug which enables normal people to acquire paranormal powers.

And I am also assembling ideas for a third book in the series, INTREPID GIRL REPORTER, the girl in question being thirty-four years old and with two kids, one aged three and one aged five.

No completion date for these two novels at this stage, but I am anticipating getting COMRADE RAT MUST DIE done some time in 2006, and I would expect to finish INTREPID GIRL REPORTER in 2007 or maybe 2008.

The basic idea for INTREPID GIRL REPORTER is that Ruth Lordship is a reporter for AFTERLIFER magazine, dealing with postmortal existence, ghosts being an ongoing part of the social scene in the city state of Oolong Morblock.

The other main character is Halo Chat who, having been variously employed, is a ghost hunter, someone who scouts out ghosts, spooks, afterlifers and postmortals of various descriptions who might be available for commercials, film shoots or other purposes.
I was rather dubious about my prospects of bringing the projected twelve book series to a conclusion, and there is as yet no master plan for the twelve books, but at this stage I am cautiously optimistic that I will live long enough to see this project through, though it all depends on my eyesight, for which I have no guarantee.

I now have three pairs of spectacles, each just for the left eye. One is a compromise in the form of a progressive lens, one is optimized for working at computer distance and the third is optimized for seeing fine print at about 25 centimeters.

With the fine print lens, I can read an ordinary library book and I can also read a newspaper, so I am not, currently, confined to the world of large print books.
My life, from this point on, becomes an experiment.
Statistically, my survival chances, five years after treatment, are forty percent. So everything is provisional. But today I was thinking about INTREPID GIRL REPORTER and I was thinking that this could, potentially, be a book that I would very much enjoy writing.

One book I will probably not write is a book of death poems, THE DEATH OF BIRDS, though I have about twenty or so poems on the theme of death and dying, which I plan to include as a DEATH POEMS section in a book of assorted pieces which I am calling THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER.

This currently includes a handful of passages on Islam and some cancer blog entries, and a very lean HOW TO WRITE section focusing on the art of writing fiction.
I am also planning to include a very few stories, a smattering of poems, the DEATH POEMS and, possibly, a couple of essays.

If the cancer were to return then that would give me the impetus to finish off THE DEATH OF BIRDS, but I would prefer to forego the impetus, given the choice.

So there I am.

I have a result and I have the privilege of experimenting with staying alive and of seeing how that works out for me.

At this stage, having spent seven years in Japan, Japan feels like the truer home.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Radiation Damage Rather than Cabcer Naybe

2006 March 09 Thursday.

This afternoon, on being driven home from the hospital, I was so intent on thinking about my eye surgeon's input that I totally failed to notice that I was being driven across the Harbour Bridge, which is a bit like failing to notice being driven across Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge.

My eye surgeon's tentative hypothesis is that my eyesight problems reflect radiation damage caused by radiotherapy, rather than a return of cancer.
If cancer, he would expect bilateral effects. However, while damage to the right eye is progressive, the right eye now blind but for a little peripheral vision, the left eye, according to my eye test, is stable.

My own subjective impression that the left eye is deteriorating is quite possibly a consequence of the fact that the right eye has more or less failed.

When I had cataract surgery on the right eye, the natural lens was removed but the natural capsule was retained, and was used to stabilize the artificial plastic lens that was inserted into the eye. The capsule has apparently degraded in some way, becoming pitted and dirty, but that does not appear to be the cause of the defect in the right eye.

The optic nerve is observed to be paler in the right eye, and optic nerve problems are not usually reversible.
My eye surgeon thinks my oncologist is right to search for signs of a recurrence of cancer, but, if none is found, then his vote seems to be for radiation.

He was unsurprised by the fact that I am more or less night blind, and attached no particular importance to this.
He observed something which I had not noticed in the mirror, which is that I have developed, once again, a puffy steroid users face, thanks to the dexamethasone I am taking regularly, eight milligrams a day.

My eye surgeon will no longer be working in the public health system one month out, but he told me to see him privately when I next feel a need to do so, free of charge, which was extremely nice of him.

The next step, tomorrow Friday, is a lumbar puncture, a spinal tap, to get a sample to biopsy to see if it can be established that there is cancer in the meninges, the lining which holds the brain and spine.

Feedback, all going to plan, will be available on Friday 17th March.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

My future revealed: live with eye damage or die of cancer?

2006 March 3 Friday.

My future revealed: live with eye damage or die of cancer?

That was what I was expecting to find out when I attended an 0830 appointment at oncology today at Auckland Hospital here in New Zealand.

The words "or die of cancer" are a bit gloomier than the situation requires, since there would be, if cancer had returned, a slim but non-zero prospect of survival, providing that it were technically possible to provide treatment at this stage of my disease within the public health system.

Which it had indicated to me earlier might or might not be the case ... my oncologist would have to do some research and come back to me with an answer.

So what did I do in the build-up to the appointment?

Well, ate bananas, ate icecream, ate gingernuts, ate pretty much anything I could get my hands on, my appetite stoked up by the dexamethasone that I have been taking to keep any swelling in the brain in check, just in case the brain cancer has returned.

I noticed that after only about a month of taking eight milligrams of dexamethasone a day I am already experiencing (at least, this is my subjective impression) a degree of weakness in the major muscles of the thighs, which this drug is notorious for attacking. (Not all muscles -- just, weirdly, the major muscles in the upper arms and the upper legs.)

Ate a lot, worked a lot on my computer, went to the optometrist to have spectacles made optimized for reading fine print, and attended a family brunch at my sister's place on Sunday 26 February.

The brunch was described by one of the participants as "the Alcoholic's Anonymous failure party," and, though everyone else was, in fact, very moderate, I deliberately got as drunk as I have ever been in my life, ending up a little unsteady on my feet, which took three or four glasses of wine. Coffee and chocolate on top of wine, that's a great sensation, on occasion.
Other acti

Retrained my brain to play Solitaire and occasionally win, not exactly the most difficult intellectual task in my life.

With that preamble, Friday arrived, and I went across the Waitemata Harbour by ferry from the North Shore City suburb of Devonport, where I am living with my parents, to the city of Auckland.

A bus at about 0730, and I was at the hospital with plenty of time to spare.

Oncology is a kind of laid-back place, no sense of crisis about it. Cancer, as a rule, moves very slowly, and is not a crisis. The exception is if you see an unexpected black spot on your skin, which should be taken to the doctor today, since it might be melanoma, an extremely dangerous skin cancer which can take you down and kill you in a matter of weeks.

But, generally speaking, cancer does not have the drama of a heart attack. What you get with this disease is leisure, quite possibly more leisure than you have ever had before in your life.

Back some years ago I decided, the hell with this writing life, it hasn't worked out for me, so I'm going to have a career, a married life, wife, child, household responsibilities, go to work, pay my taxes, forget about this novel-story-poem business.

But having cancer canceled that life for the year of 2005, and, naturally, with no other options, I moved right back into writer mode, becoming the total writer and producing three books in that year, the fantasy novels BAMBOO HORSES and TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER and the medical memoir CANCER PATIENT.

Then I found myself unable to return to life and work in Japan in 2006 because I needed to wait for a diagnosis of my fresh problem, a deterioration in my eyesight to be attributed to either irreversible but non-progressive damage caused by radiation, or, alternatively, by the return of cancer.

So by this point 2006 has already become the year of five books, the fix books being my poetry collection ARC OF LIGHT, my short story collection THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES, the three books of the OCEANS OF LIGHT trilogy (which I did not write in 2006 but did publish, as I had the computer files for the books all ready to go), and, on top of that, a second edition of THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER, which had been out of print for some years.

So I, of my own free will, more or less made a decision to abandon the writer dream and try my hand at becoming what we might call a normal person.

Instead, I've found myself in a totally abnormal situation, living in large measure without sleep, working alone through slabs of the night while everyone else is asleep, taking just enough dexamethasone to feel balanced and businesslike, the transitory euphoria phase a thing of the past and extreme irritation not yet having set in.

And an unlimited work schedule ahead of me, with plans including a new edition of my science fiction novel THE SHIFT, which has been out of print for twenty years, and new editions of the two books in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series which are also out of print, THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD and THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY.

And a book of death poems, THE DEATH OF BIRDS. And an include-everything-not-included-elsewhere book which I'm calling THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER.

Plus I have clear concepts for the next two books in the TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series, if I get that far.

So, that's the preamble.

And now, what actually happened at the appointment? What was the result of the MRI scan? Radiation damage or a return of cancer?


It turns out to be a trick question, one that quite simply does not have an answer, at least not for the moment.

I went to my appointment this morning with Dr. Oncologist with the stone cold knowledge that, one way or another, I would get an answer, good or bad. But that is not what happened, not at all.

It turns out that the MRI scan was clear and shows no cancer in the brain, certainly not the "large mass" that Dr. Oncologist indicated he had been expecting.

On the question of nerve damage to the optic nerves caused by radiation, the MRI is, apparently, silent, not the kind of diagnostic tool that can address that issue. I am scheduled to see my ophthalmologist, the eye surgeon who did the cataract surgery on both my eyes, on Thursday 9 March, and Dr. Oncologist says he will be interested in anything the ophthalmologist might be able to tell us.

However, something bad has definitely happened to my messed up eyes, and my subjective impression is that the left eye has been getting worse, cloudier than before, so whatever is happening is quite possibly progressive.

The MRI having come back clear, and yet vision problems existing and possibly worsening, Dr. Oncologist's next move is going to be a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap, which I will have on Friday 10 March.

One possibility is that the cancer has returned but not in the brain itself, where the MRI would presumably see it, but in the meninges, these being the sack of fibers which contains the brain and the spinal cord.

By taking a sample by means of a lumbar puncture it will be possible to biopsy the area of concern and, maybe, get some kind of result. All going well, a result will be ready by Friday 17 March, which is the tentative date for my next appointment with Dr. Oncologist.

Dr. Oncologist's registrar will be doing the lumbar puncture at oncology daystay on the 10th, something I'm not looking forward to. At this stage I've had, if memory serves, seven lumbar punctures, one a biopsy, six to administer a chemotherapy drug called Ara-C directly into the theca, the sheath which contains the spinal cord. I really don't like this procedure. This is, after all, my spinal cord which is in play.

Even once the lab results from the biopsy come back, I have no guarantee of an answer.

The next step could be, possibly, something called a PET scan, a positron emission tomography scan, depending on whether Dr. Oncologist thinks there would be any utility in doing the scan.

Apparently one of the chemicals significant to a PET scan is glucose, and, because the brain continually metabolizes glucose, the brain is a natural hot spot as far as glucose is concerned, so there might be a question mark over what the PET scan might show.

Additionally, PET scans are not available in New Zealand, but apparently one can be had for two thousand dollars, presumably in Sydney, Australia, three hours away by air.

Following the meeting with Dr. Oncologist, I felt totally calm. After all, if you've been preparing yourself for some days for the possibility of getting handed a "die quite possibly soon" card, a "no answer yet" offering should be in the realms of the manageable.

However, that said, later in the day I realized that my stress levels were peaking alarmingly. This is a kind of replay of 2004, when I was going to hospital time after time for test after test and not getting any answers.

The bottom line is that the machineries for interrogating the body are quite simply not very sophisticated, not in relation to what it would be nice to be able to know, and know right now, thank you very much.

The happy result of the day was that I was able to get the paperwork Thai Airlines has, very reasonably, been asking for in order to process a refund for the flight I cancelled, the required documentation being a photocopy of my passport, a medical report of some kind, the MRI report being the first such report that has become available to me, and a letter from an oncologist, which Dr. Oncologist provided, saying I need further tests.

I did not buy my ticket online but went to the House of Travel locally here in Devonport, and, when I had to cancel the flight I had booked back to Japan, I was glad to be able to deal directly with the travel agency, as they were helpful and friendly in sorting out the problem for me, and waited patiently until I could come up with the paperwork.

To wrap up, I give the text of the interpretation of the magnetic resonance imaging scan.

"Indication: Primary CNS Lymphoma Treated with Methotrexate. Now visual symptoms. ? relapse.

"Technique: Saggital T1, axial T2, FLAIR, DWI with post contrast sagittal and axial sequences through the brain.

"Findings: Comparison is made with the previous study performed on the 10/11/05 [10 November 2005].

"In the interim, there has been a very slight increase in the size of the gliotic cavity within the right superior frontal lobe of uncertain significance. However, there is no significant enhancement associated with this focus or elsewhere within the brain. No significant change is demonstrated elsewhere, in particular the white matter change surrounding the lateral ventricles and occipital lobes. There is no evidence of acute infarction or intracranial haemorrhage.

"Interpretation: no significant interval change."
I interpret this, rightly or wrongly, as meaning that they considered the possibility that I might have had a stroke and concluded that, no, I didn't.

The good news, then, is that my brain is, as far as the MRI scan can tell, as normal as can be expected under the circumstances, not on fire, not infested with Argentinian ants, not jam-packed with melting icecream. Could be worse, and let's be thankful for small mercies: no stroke.