Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Problems and Solutions

Life since returning to Japan has been a series of problems and solutions, with all the problems being, up to this point, resolved in a satisfactory manner.

One problem was my daughter Cornucopia, aged two, screaming routinely at 8 am in the morning, for three minutes by the clock. This is a long time to listen to a child screaming.

The occasion of her screaming was the measuring of her temperature, something done every morning so the temperature could be logged in the notebook which, daily, accompanies her to the daycare center. If her temperature exceeds a certain point she is not permitted to attend the daycare center, and, if her temperature escalates during the day, her mother will be phoned and told to bring her home.

Every morning, at 8 am, a digital clock marks the time on the TV screen, the TV being on at that hour, and it was, yes, three minutes by the clock that the taking of the temperature required.

The procedure is totally painless. The thermometer in the armpit does not deliver cattle-prod-sized jolts of electricity or anything like that. But my daughter, nevertheless, screamed. Every morning.

To this, my wife found two solutions. First, a temporary fix. Second, a solution which was permanent. Sort of.

The temporary fix was to suggest to Cornucopia that she take her temperature herself, which she did, not exactly enthusiastically, but at least without screaming.

She is at the age where she wants to do things for herself, such as buckle herself into her own pushchair or put her own shoes on, and resists other people helping her.

She says, often, in Japanese, "Cornucopia-chan do it!" -- meaning "Cornucopia the Cute will do it". (She always refers to herself by name, Cornucopia, appending the diminutive "chan", a childish version of "san", and never uses the pronoun for "I", not in Japanese and not in English either.)

A more permanent solution was to order a thermometer which promised to deliver temperatures inside of thirty seconds. This fast-action arrived on the second-to-last day of May, 2006, and I tested it, and it worked as advertised.

The thermal probe of this device sticks out from a bulb which is about as big as the circle made by my thumb and index finger, and features LCD numbers which, by thermometer standards, are exceptionally large, easier for me to read than are those of our previous thermometer.

Cornucopia was invited to try the new thermometer and did so, and was delighted by the swift response and the "beep beep beep!" with which this new electronic toy rewarded her.

Naturally, she wanted to try it again.

And again.

And again.

When I take her out of the daycare center at the end of the daycare day to bring her home, I count how many times she goes racing down the blue elephant slide in the daycare's modestly-sized playground, and it's always about ten times.

Eventually, it was time for Cornucopia to do something other than play with the thermometer, so the thermometer had to be put away.

So she, of course ...

... screamed.

The following morning she was still enthused by the new thermometer and insisted on using i three times.

Other problems, recently, have been of the computer variety.

We have, in our home in Japan, a wi-fi setup. The cable TV company runs its lines along the utility poles in the street, and a wire from this hooks up to an upstairs bedroom, where the cable TV company has installed a router. This is where the Internet arrives in our house.

There is a port for plugging in a LAN cable, and this has been connected, by a short LAN cable, to a dinky little radio station called an Airstation. This is made by Buffalo.

We are using two computers.

One of these is an extremely old Thinkpad, an i-series Thinkpad, one of those old charcoal-burning computers that you don't see around very much these days. It has 64 megabytes of RAM and runs a Japanese-language version of Windows 98.

In the side of the machine is a slot where you can plug in cards, and plugged into the slot is a little two-way radio which is in the form of a card which is designated as the WLI-PCM-L11GP.

The card plugged into the slot in the side of the computer talks to the Airstation, with the result that you can use the Internet anywhere in the house.

This is good because, quite apart from anything else, the upstairs bedroom where the router lives is, in the long term, going to be Cornucopia's.

If your computer has a port for a LAN cable then you can, at your option, connect the computer with a LAN cable, plugging this into one of the four LAN ports which are a feature of our version of the Airstation. But wi-fi is really a great way to go.

I bought the hardware about five years ago. It came with a Japanese-language manual and two CDs, and, more by luck than good management, I managed to set it up and get it working. If I ever had to get it working again, that would be a MAJOR hassle.

Recently, I was using the reliable old i-series Thinkpad and was horrified to realize that I seemed to have (somehow) broken the Airstation. Then my wife looked at the problem and told me that the Airstation was not plugged in. I had lost track of which gadget was plugged into which plug.

Later, I trashed the i-series a second time, by installing a free version of anti-virus software from AVG, which I had been using on my XP Thinkpad.

Our Norton antivirus software had expired, so it was time to do something. And, since the AVG software had worked perfectly on the XP, I had no qualms about installing it on the Windows 98 Thinkpad.

But, once installed, the AVG program trashed the machine.

During the boot process, the AVG program initialized at an early stage, flashing a message on the screen to say that it was doing so. Then all I could get was an hourglass.

The computer, I presume, did not have enough RAM to load the antivirus program, but persisted in trying to do so, with the result that the screen was frozen and I could do nothing with the computer.

Eventually, having tried every option I could think of, I rebooted the computer and yanked out the battery early in the boot process.

The boot process, therefore,failed.

With my Thinkpad running its Japanese-language version of Windows 98, if the boot process fails once, then, on a subsequent reboot, the machine offers you a bunch of recovery options, one of which is something called "safe mode", in which the machine loads a limited number of programs and device drivers.

I hypothesized that, if I could get the machine to go into safe mode, then it would not load the AVG program. And this is what it did.

Once in safe mode, I was able to uninstall the AVG program, which, however, I would recommend to anyone who has a decent modern computer running some version of Windows on a system with a reasonable amount of RAM.

When I rebooted the computer, it worked.

I was anxious about this because I have an old and more or less broken Thinkpad which seems stuck permanently in safe mode, and will probably end up being thrown away.

Having gotten the i-series fixed I resolved to pay Norton to enable us to continue to get antivirus updates.

Next, I thought I would like to plug a card into my XP machine and connect that to the wi-fi system.

So I went to an electronics store in Shibuya called Bic Camera to buy a new WLI-PCM-L11GP, only to find that they don't make them.

Buffalo still makes and sells a version of the Airstation, but techology has moved on.

My wife phoned Buffalo here in Japan and a technician recommended an alternative card which might work. Well, he said it WOULD work. I was not so sanguine and, anyway, this thing was going to cost five thousand yen.

Then this problem was solved.

My wife has been encouraging me to press ahead with the job of cleaning up my personal room, and, having made a fresh assault on the room, I soon chanced upon an envelope which was stuffed with what seemed like a formidable number of American currency notes.

I had no recollection of having possessed any secret slush fund in American currency, and had no idea what this money related to.

Some long-ago drug deal back in some former life which I had entirely forgotten about? The payoff for some forgotten hit which I contracted to undertake?

I had no thesis.

Then I found, with the money, a letter from my parents, dated 2004. The money was a gift for traveling expenses for my planned trip home to New Zealand, the money being left over from a trip that my mother had made to the People's Republic of China, where American currency is always acceptable.

When I counted the money, there was US $320, and my wife and I plan to buy the toy piano which my wife saw in the baby shop Akachan Honpo.

The toy piano will be considerably less than the toy piano on the market. The idea is that if Cornucopia seems really enthusiastic about the piano then we might get here started with piano lessons.

Having discovered the forgotten cache of American dollars, I pushed on with the archaeological exploration of my personal room, and the next thing I discovered, much to my astonishment, was a plug-in computer card, this being none other than the desired WLI-PCM-L11GP.

I plugged the card into my XP computer and installed two pieces of software which I found on the CDs which came with the Buffalo Airstation.

Although I had installed East Asian fonts, the Japanese-language instructions for the software displayed on screen as meaningless strings of question marks, so I installed on a best-guess basis, then connected to the Internet via a LAN cable when XP asked for permission to go online to look for a device driver.

Finally, more by accident than design, I had the wi-fi system working with my XP computer.

My next computer adventure will be to use the Windows 98 Thinkpad, which is running a Japanese-language version of Microsoft Word, and make an advertisement to advertise English conversation lessons at home.

My wife thinks this is a good idea and I guess it is worth a shot.

I may also try my hand at making some Japanese-language web pages to go with the advertisement. If memory serves, a Japanese-language page made with Word can be saved as a Japanese-language web page by simply saving it as an HTML file.

As I mentioned, on the second-to-last day of May, the new thermometer arrived.

On that same day, Tuesday 30 May, my wife and I went to a clinic at Mizonoguchi, where I underwent an MRI scan of the brain. I was asked to fast for this and did not understand why. But we asked the doctor and he explained that some people throw up, presumably on account of the dye which is injected to provide contrast, a rare earth called gadolinium.

If you are going to throw up then they would prefer you to do it on an empty stomach, thank you very much.

I was given the actual film of the MRI scan with instructions to deliver it by hand to the eye clinic at Meijin Hospital in the city of Yokohama, where I will be seen early in June.

My next adventure, then, looks like it is going to be an experiment with trying to get my own English-language students and set up my own business.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Do not put the blow job on the first page

Do not put the blow job on the first page: the moral of this story, which we will get to in due course.

Some years ago, in South Africa, there was a practice known as necklacing. This involved putting a gasoline-soaked automobile tire around somone's neck then setting it on fire.

At an opera staged in South Africa, the organizer -- presumably the producer or the director -- caused an automobile tire to be placed on the stage. The reference to the current phenomenon of necklacing clearly communicated itself to the audience, and the audience was offended.

Opera may, at times, deal with strong material, such death and doom, but reality is buffered by the fact that we are in the sacred precincts of art. Reality is mediated by the conventions of high art, and one of these conventions is that reality is not real. We do not have to take this as seriously as if it were for real.

But the intrusive automobile tire punched home an undeniable fact: there is a very real world out there where people are destroying other people, hideously, with burning automobile tires.

Some years later, I was sitting in the library skimming through GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, a long and complex novel by Thomas Pynchon, of whom Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia says (with italics here rendered as caps):

"American novelist, known for his experimental writing techniques that involve extremely complicated plots and themes. His most famous novel, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW (1973), won the National Book Award."

This, then, is a respectable prize-winning author who wins prizes.

The prize for which he won the above-mentioned prize includes, as I discovered while skimming through it, a scene in which a woman excretes a turd into a man's mouth.

(I remember it, across the years, as having been one turd, but perhaps I misremember, and perhaps it was multiple turds.)

Over the years, from time to time my thoughts have drifted in Pynchon's direction, and I've thought: how does this guy get away with writing stuff like that and still be accepted as what we might call a respectable writer?

I think the answer is because GRAVITY'S RAINBOW takes us into the arena of literary difficulty, which has some things in common with the world of opera.

The conventions of opera buffer us, protecting us from the harshness of reality, the smell of the burning rubber, the melting of the cheap synthetic T-shirt dripping hot onto the blistering skin, the harshness of the smoke in the lungs of the tormented victim.

In opera, death and doom can be accepted as abstracts, as artistic statements. Similarly, I think, the turd being excreted into the man's mouth.

Cued by certain conventions, those of the opera, for example, or those of difficult literary texts, we grant to the artist a license which we would not grant otherwise.

Shakespeare's KING LEAR, for example, includes an eye-gouging scene which many people would probably object to if it appeared on prime-time television, but which we accept because it is taking place in the precincts of high art, in the sacred arena where the ordinary words no longer apply.

When my science fiction novel THE SHIFT was published back in 1986, it was greeted by a stony silence. I am only aware of the existence of one single review, this a favorable one in the London magazine TIME OUT.

In retrospect, all the other reviewers were put off by the sex scene which opens the book, right there on page one.

If I had first buffered the reader by taking us into the realms of Complexity and Difficulty, then I'm sure I would have gotten away with not just the blow job but with anything else that I got it into my head to deal with.

But that is not my method.

My desire has always been to confront reality as directly as possible, and this is what I have worked toward. To feel the roughness of the edge of the automobile tire being driven into the skin as the burning weight drags down the victim. As the smell of burning hair mingles with the smells of burning gasoline and burning rubber.

Anyway, with that preamble, here is the text of the first chapter of THE SHIFT, the book which I am now preparing for publication, and, all going well, will publish in a second edition later this year:

Chapter One

“Mabel has to go,” said Zenda Malouche.
“No,” said Troy. “I want you both.”
Iridian Troy was the kind of man who could never enjoy a cake unless he could eat all of it.
“Why not?” said Zenda.
“She'd divorce me,” said Troy. “She'd get half of everything.”
“Then kill her,” said Zenda, his adorable mistress, licking the last of the cream away from his rampant deleted.
Troy sighed as she courted his strength with her tongue. He closed his eyes and leisured back into swansdown pillows. Smooth, creamy and hot. The promise of infinite joy.
“Don't stop now!”
“Troy, darling, all I'm asking is a little favor.”
“This is blackmail,” he said.
That brought to mind the Armenian terrorists threatening his operation at EisTonPolis. Once remembered, they could not be forgotten. His dragon sagged as business problems intruded themselves.
Murmuring his name, Zenda wished there was some seductive sobriquet she could use. Nobody ever called him “Iridian”, a name he hated. When she had tried to exert her sovereignty by inventing new names for her territory — “my dearest hush-hush” and “my chickaboo-sweet” — Troy had resisted her claims with displays of appalling anger.
Now he was picking up the phone.
“Troy, darling...”
Even “darling” had its dangers. Troy had now been her darling twice in a single session. To make that claim on him a third time would be a frightful risk.
“Mabel, darling,” said Troy, as his phone call was answered. “How are ya, honey? Run a bath, sweetbit. I'm coming down.”
But Zenda humbled herself before him, and he stayed.
She was his slave for thirty days before she dared to ask again. When she asked, she asked big.
“I want Capri,” said Zenda Malouche.
“Anything you say, honey,” said Iridian Troy.
He was mellow with tequila and with success. His efforts in EisTonPolis had finally brought him the labor supply contract for LZ Europe. Troy had now secured the contracts for five out of seven of the Landing Zones. Seventeen years After Advent, he was well on his way to achieving his ambition, which was to control all business between the planet Earth and the Medo-Mordran Confederation.
“When can I have it?” asked Zenda, letting her hands silk across his cooling flesh.
“What?” said Troy.
He had slipped away into a reverie about the crystal planet, Arcturus 9, which he had read about in the latest National Geographic. Ultimately, he wanted to buy a planet — at least one planet.
“Capri,” said Zenda.
“A great car,” said Troy, remembering the Ford Capri that had played such a notable part in his adolescence.
“No, the island,” said Zenda. “When can I have it?”
“Oh, that,” said Troy, munching on an agave worm. “When do you want it?”
“I want it now,” said Zenda.
“So do I,” said Troy, taking her in his arms.
But he was just kidding himself. He was too old, too fat, too heavy, too sodden with drink. He imagined himself as a young conquistador with an infinite future before him, but in truth he was dying. Nevertheless, Zenda took good care of him, pretending that he gave her pleasure.
The next day, he bought Capri. She had the run of it, but he kept it in his name.
“Happy?” he said.
“What more do you want?” said Troy.
“Isn't it almost time for Lahrisa to go away to college?”
“What, my little girl?” said Iridian Troy. “She needs her daddy.”
“Please,” said Zenda.
Zenda gave him an enema then sponged him down and licked his fundament with her delicate tongue. He liked that. But the answer was still no.
Zenda pouted.
“Then I want...”
She hesitated.
She hesitated.
“Speak, angel,” said Troy.
“I want my picture in Paris Match. A centerspread.”
“Naked?” said Troy.
“Looking beautiful,” said Zenda.
“No trouble,” said Troy.
There was, in fact, a little bit of trouble, but two days later the ex-editor of Paris Match was exploring the delights of downtown Gourma Rharous — a locality just to the east of Timbuktu — and top feature writer Jacques Delacroix and photographer Tog Tagard had orders cut for Capri.
By now, Zenda had escalated her demands. She wanted a series of articles celebrating her role as an international hostess, trendsetter and fashion leader. Troy was amenable: his mistress could have anything she wanted, as long as she tolerated his wife, and allowed him to keep Lahrisa.

Mabrouk Ouchennane, veteran of the Legion Etranger, sodomist, murderer, thief, liar, cheat, cardsharp, cut-throat, pimp, traitor, oathbreaker, informant, scab and embezzler — he liked to keep busy — was head of Process for Human Enablements International in the new Briefing Center at EisTonPolis.
He watched as the new recruits were shaved, showered and deloused. These shorn and naked animals, bereft of all body hair, were then sedated and strapped down. Ouchennane gave a signal, and the bodies began to move along the conveyor belts. Emerging on the far side of the depilatory machines, skins now needled bright with blood, they were carried along to the production line surgeons, who inserted long-release capsules of tranquilizers and painkillers.
The recruits were now ready for electroshock therapy. With a slight smile on his face, Ouchennane paunched into the electricity room. He gave a genial nod to the Spang observer who was present. The alien, a two-meter tall reptile with fluorescent orange skin and hooded green eyes, made no response. Ouchennane was not disconcerted. He gave a lazy wave of his hand, and the slack bodies were jolted by high-voltage electricity. Having learnt that the process was used in human institutions to produce sanity, the Spang had insisted that the process be made compulsory for all new recruits.
As the Medo-Mordran Confederation did not choose to accept criminals into its workforce, the recruits were then introduced to the process used by the most advanced human civilizations for correcting criminal tendencies. To be precise, they were locked up in cages; they would be kept in those cages during the two-year journey through space to Deep Five, the military project taking shape on the far side of the galaxy.
Side by side, Ouchennane and the Spang strolled along the catwalk in the cage block, studying the new recruits. The unconscious bodies slumped behind the bars. All but one. The one, a human female, was awake; she blinked at them, her eyes dull with chemical lethargy and the aftermath of artificial lightning.
“Deviant,” said the Spang. “How can you cure it?”
“We can drill out part of the brain,” said Ouchennane.
“Or we can kill it.”
“Open the cage,” said the Spang.
Ouchennane thumbed a button. The cage opened. The Spang dragged out the woman, dislocating her shoulder in the process. She offered no resistance as he knifed open her body and tore out the pancreas. Very shortly, she was dead. And the Spang was feeding.

The tarpaulin gave a little shade, but the heat was stifling all the same. Clive Mercurian Sendarka swatted a fly. He mashed it — but there were a million more where that one came from.
“I don't know why they all come to me,” said Clive. “You'd think they'd show some solidarity with you — after all, you're their color.”
“They're taking revenge for the white man's colonial exploitation of Africa,” said Gabriel Arkhangel easily, concealing the pain he felt at Clive's racist jibe.
“Yeah,” said Clive. “Sure.”
And, moodily, he stared out at the parched savannah where a number of bald men and women were excavating irrigation ditches by hand. The activity struck him as being singularly pointless. This part of the Sahel was getting drier by the year. Sooner or later, the people of this resettlement camp would join the refugees trooping south to Benin, Togo, Ghana or the Ivory Coast.
The resettlement camp was just north of Gorom Gorom in Burkina Faso, the country known until 1984 as Upper Volta. Here, people who had worked out their labor contacts with the Spang were given the opportunity to make a new life for themselves. Well, that was what the propaganda said — in truth, most of them would soon be dead, just like the survivors at the other resettlement camps in Siberia, Greenland, Paraguay and Sumatra.
Clive pulled out his ray gun and drew a bead on one of the workers. His fingers started to tighten on the trigger.
“Hey!” said Gabriel.
Clive fired.
The gun cackled.
“Very good, commander,” said the gun. “You've scored a direct hit!”
And, with relief, Gabriel realized it was not the real thing but just the Space Cadet version sold to kids whose parents had more money than sense.
“How's business, anyway?” said Gabriel, trying — not for the first time — to try to develop some kind of rapport with Clive Sendarka.
“Not so good,” said Clive. “You'd think they'd learn something out there in the stars, but when they come back all they do is bitch about the food. We got back one kid who said he'd picked up the secret of perpetual motion but he cracked under interrogation. Just another schizoid psychotic.”
Clive Sendarka was head of Recovery, which was supposed to use the knowledge gained by returning workers to unlock the secrets of the universe. Over the last ten years, Recovery had produced a better mouse-trap and a couple of minor discoveries in the more arcane branches of topology; Iridian Troy was not impressed.
“How's your own sling?” said Clive.
Gabriel was unfamiliar with the idiom — a noxious bit of gutter argot, no doubt — but guessed its meaning.
“The same as ever,” he said. “At Search, we're getting a 27 percent re-enlistment rate, but within a month half of them die for no obvious reason. We estimate that the median —”
“Spare us,” said Clive. “It's too hot for statistics.”
He fired the ray gun, which once more told him of his triumphs, then holstered his toy and began dipping a little moist snuff. His elaborate curled mustache was wet with drops of perspiration.
“It's interesting how they all die, though,” said Gabriel.
“Too much radiation, probably,” said Clive.
And he hit the “play” button of his portable compact disk player. A stream of discord came blaring out of the loudspeakers: the sound of a herd of drunken electronic elephants crashing through the heart of a disintegrating galaxy while a vigorous vandal fed a stream of lightbulbs and neurotic lemmings to the blades of an angry lawnmower. Gabriel reached out hurriedly and switched it off.
“What's the matter?” said Clive. “Don't you like electronic music?”
“That's not music,” said Gabriel. “That's pure unadulterated fashion, and a degenerate fashion at that.”
“So what do you like? Bongo drums?”
“Well — Beethoven's the greatest composer, Mozart the most talented. But on the whole I prefer Handel. He's the most civilized. He never loses his sense of proportion.”
“Come on,” said Clive, ignorant but combative nevertheless. “How can you suggest that Mozart hasn't got a sense of proportion?”
“Anyone who can write opera has to have a melodramatic streak a mile wide,” said Gabriel. Having made this mot, he began to have the uncomfortable feeling that Handel had written operas too – quite a number of them. He would have to look it up. Art was his field, not music. For the moment he pressed on recklessly. “Sometimes Mozart goes right over the top. Of course, he's too talented to make a really gross mistake like Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.”
“Beethoven's a genius,” said Clive.
“When did you last hear Beethoven's Seventh Symphony? Have you ever heard Beethoven's Seventh Symphony? No? No! I can tell you as a fact --”
“Go back to the lecture room, professor,” said Clive, and switched on his music again.
Fortunately, his music, so called, was then interrupted by the arrival of a snark. The big machine settled right on top of the slit trench latrines. A man disembarked from the snark; it was Ivan McCaffrey, the dragon hunter.
“Gabriel,” said McCaffrey, “the Big Man wants you. Now. At Capri. We've got a transit standing by at Gao. Get in the snark.”
“Hey,” said Gabriel, “not so fast. All my things are still back in the Sheraton at Ouagadougou.”
“You can pick up a toothbrush at Gao,” said McCaffrey. “But you can't go back for your luggage. Troy wants you – fast!”
“Got room for one more?” said McCaffrey.
“Sure,” said McCaffrey. “Hop in.”
As their snark flew north, some desert dissidents based near I-n-Tilelt fired on them fired on them with an antiquated surface-to-air missile, but missed. They made the airfield at Gao, transferred to the transit and blasted off, on their way to Capri.

“Why did Clive come back with you?” said Troy. “Unknown, sir,” said Gabriel.
“That ponced-up schmuck is after my daughter,” said Troy. Keep him away from her. You hear? You fail and the consequences will be unlimited. Got that? Unlimited!”
“I'll do my best, sir.”
“You do that. And while you are doing that, don't get any ideas about her yourself. I don't like miscegenation. Got that?”
“Sir. Yes sir.”
“'Kay. Now get outta here.”
Gabriel made a short bow and departed. Shortly, as Iridian Troy was savoring the details of the latest torture report from Mabrouk Ouchennane – as a sideline, Ouchennane was attending to the demolition of low-grade executives who had offended the Big Man – Gabriel Arkhangel was on his way to Salerno International Airport.
Naples, nuked during the War of Initiation, had never been rebuilt; Salerno now had the only airfield of any size in all of Campania. Gabriel had landed there earlier in the day in the transit which had brought him from Gao, and resented the fact that Troy had made him journey out to Capri for a briefing which could have been done by telephone.
Gabriel, a svelte black with connoisseur tastes and an income to match, held his job as head of Search simply because Iridian Troy liked to have at least one employee who was susceptible to the more subtle forms of humiliation. Knowing that Gabriel liked to do a good job, Troy continually set him impossible deadlines, then upbraided Gabriel in public when they were not met. Other tricks included interrupting Gabriel's routine to have him serve drinks at parties, or run messenger-boy errands.
Dragging Gabriel back from his tour of inspection in Burkina Faso so he could play chauffeur for a visiting French journalist was par for the course.
Gabriel knew he was being paid to eat shit. He hated it – but he needed the money. Seventeen years After Advent there were still tens of millions of people unemployed in the aftermath of the War of Initiation. If he lost this job, or resigned, he would never get work again – Troy would see to that. Sometimes Troy threatened to fire him. Then Gabriel had to beg, and beg he did.
Sometimes, after a session with Troy, Gabriel found himself seething with homicidal rage. But, confronted with Troy, he was the perfect servile servant. He bowed and shuffled, and managed the appropriate smiles and smalltalk. He suffered nightmares, palpitations, chest pains and attacks of agoraphobia, but endured these symptoms in silence, suspecting that they were psychosomatic and would persist until he left his job. Besides, he dared not seek help, knowing that anything he told anyone was likely to become Troy's property – and probably sooner rather than later.
Now, driving through Amalfi on the way to Salerno, he was glad that he was once more out of range of his boss. He had switched off the car radio and had left his electronic paging device back at his new office on Capri, so nobody could contact him until he reached the airport.
After leaving Amalfi, his trip was uneventful until he saw a woman standing in the middle of the road. She was dressed in what appeared to be transparent blue silk. She was ringed with an aura of green light. Suspecting that this apparition was all part of a Mafia hold-up, Gabriel put his foot down. The car surged forward. The woman dived in front of the car – and the vehicle went right through her.
Gabriel hit the brakes. The car skidded to a halt. He looked back, and saw the woman still standing in the road. He must have missed her. Should he drive on? Maybe she was an escaped mental patient or something. Maybe she needed his help. He reversed, and hit the button that lowered the windows. He shouted at her.
“Hey, what's the matter? You crazy or something? You could've been killed. You speak English? Huh?”
Under the transparent blue silk, the woman appeared to be naked, yet her body seemed hairless and seamless. He supposed she was wearing some kind of bodystocking. Maybe she was a professional, working the road.
The woman leaned forward and addressed him in a clear, well-modulated voice.
“Gabriel, I have come to implore you to lend your enhancements to the Reunification.”
“Hey,” said Gabriel, “what kind of weirdo are you? Did Troy send you? Is this one of the Big Man's little jokes?”
“Gabriel, listen to me. I have very little time. You know exactly who you are and what you are. Only fear hides --”
“Cut the psychobabble,” said Gabriel, sharply.
He was still shaking, still flushed with adrenalin. He still remembered that appalling moment when the car had appeared to crash straight into the woman. Frightened by having come so close to killing someone, he spoke roughly. If this was one of Troy's jokes then the Big Man had finally gone too far.
“Time forces,” said the woman, sounding breathless. “Victor's justice. I must attempt the ascent without you.”
Before his eyes, she started to rise toward the sky. For a moment it seemed that a miracle might happen. Golden light sheathed her in glory.
Then, when she was still close to the ground, something went wrong. Her body faltered, then tore apart into ragged purple light. Gabriel heard the distant echo of a failing scream. Then the apparition was gone. Crippled thunder staggered across the sky and fell silent.
Gabriel jerked open his briefcase. Inside was a can of mace, a pistol, a small but powerful computer, and an array of strictly personal detection and communication apparatus. He pressed a button marked “SCAN”, a button marked “SEARCH” and a button marked “GO”. A minute later a small printer spat out a tape giving an analysis of any and all local electronic activity.
The analysis showed nothing unusual.
Moving stiffly, Gabriel took the pistol and got out of the car. The hot, dusty landscape offered little cover for any enemy. Out to see, a half-submerged Trawl was plowing through the water. Inland, automated farming equipment was at work on the land. What else was in sight? A couple of chemical plants, an array of missile bunkers, a clutter of refugee shanties, and clear blue sky above sea and hills. Otherwise, nothing
A bus was coming along the road. Gabriel felt suddenly foolish, standing there with a gun in his hand. He got back into his vehicle and drove off. He supposed he would have to accept the woman for what she surely was – another symptom.
Nightmare, palpitations, chest pains, attacks of angst, visual and auditory hallucinations – the list was getting impressive. Was he insane? Not yet, brother – but he was getting there.

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” said Klaus the Computer.
“To get to the other side,” said Lahrisa.
“Why didn't the Greek cross the market-place?”
“Don't know.”
“Because he was afraid it would a-gore him,” said Klaus the Computer. “Get it? Get it? A pun on agoraphobia.”
“No, I don't get it,” said Lahrisa, frowning. “It's not a pun. And if it is, it's a very bad one. Give me a point!”
“I'm sorry,” said Klaus the Computer, “but --”
Lahrisa shut him off, thus winning the game. Then she picked up the phone and rang Switzerland.
“Are my chocolates ready yet?”
“Not yet, Miss Troy. We've had a small technical hitch. We've --”
“Bums,” said Lahrisa rudely.
Then she rang Antarctica to see how Antenor was doing. He was doing just fine.
Then she phoned her latest analyst, who was in Nome, Alaska, for a conference.
“Child,” he said, “do you know what time it is?”
“Don't talk to me like that,” said Lahrisa, with a note of warning in her voice. “Remember what happened to Mr Skoal.”
She actually had no idea what fate had befallen the unfortunate Mr Skoal. He had simply disappeared, shortly after he had made the mistake of making advances to her. But she was sure something had happened to him. Something permanent, probably.
“What did happen to Mr Skoal?” said her latest analyst.
“Dragons got him,” said Lahrisa imperiously. “Aren't you interested in my problem?”
“Child ... all right, tell me your problem.”
“I'm bored.”
“There was an old-fashioned cure for bored and badly-behaved children. It involved spanking them soundly and sending them to bed without any supper. It sometimes had truly remarkable results.”
“I'm going to tell my daddy on you,” said Lahrisa, and put the phone down.
Through her window she could see Clive Sendarka standing on the terrace, looking out to sea. He was wearing a pink jacket and a tartan kilt. Real swash! He had good legs.
Turning towards her window, he saw her and waved. She waved back. She still remembered how he had kissed her. Next time, she wanted more than a kiss.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reviewing my own Books

Some years back, I looked at a couple of reviews of my books on, and saw one written by an antifan who accused me of having gone and written my own reviews, and I thought, "Now, there's an idea!"

Recently, an e-mail asked me why people react to my books so variously, sometimes in an extreme fashion. I had no idea, but the e-mail gave me the idea of having a look at, where I found a list of books people had bought on

One of the books was THE LORDS OF THE SWORD, the first third of THE WALRUS AND THE WARWOLF. An American editor came up with the idea of publishing the book in three parts, got me to split it into parts, published the first of the three parts ... and then changed jobs. The project then went no further.

I also noted that someone had bought TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER, and that there was, as yet, no review for this. I toyed with the idea of writing a review for the book.

If written, the review might go like this:

"This alternative reality novel is set in a world were a certain number of the paranormally-enabled minority group, the astrals, possess the ability to voluntarily glorst: that is, to cause themselves to explode.

"They are, therefore, human suicide bombers, undetectable and impossible to distinguish from other citizens.

"As the age of terror gets rolling in the city state of Oolong Morblock, our hero, Ibrahim Chess, the last sane man left alive in Omblock, struggles to resist the pressure which is forcing him in the direction of becoming the terrorist mastermind at the heart of the conspiracy confronting the authorities.

"Warning: this no-holds-barred book may quite possibly exceed many people's comfort levels, featuring, as it does, amongst other things, torture and an extremely brutal hand-to-hand killing. In addition, of course, to suicide and suicide bombing.

But, if you can't handle the extremes of the book, how do you expect to be able to handle the extremes of the world in which you currently find yourself living? The one on CNN and on Google news."

Recently, I have given some thought to the question of what precisely makes a book exceed someone's comfort levels.

A hint, maybe, is in a review of THE WOMEN AND THE WARLORDS that I found on

The review is by a Cathal K. Ryan of Dublin, Ireland, says, in part:

"The book never softens its grimly realistic tone by making artificial concessions to political correctness (which, in most modern fantasies, dictates that women should never be at a disadvantage to men, despite the implausibility of this in a typical fantasy/medieval world). Instead, we are given a believable account of a (determined and resourceful, but not super-human) woman's struggle to survive independently (i.e. without a man) in a very male-dominated and repressive culture. If this sounds like rather depressing reading, then you're not far wrong - this book is certainly less uplifting than any other in the series."

This particular review is, on balance, favorable, but helps point at why the book is definitely not for everyone.

The point that there are no "artificial concessions" is perceptive. When I'm writing, I want to follow whatever truth I'm pursuing, and I want to push it right to its limits.

I have some more thoughts on why some people may find my work unacceptable, these thoughts to be delivered once I have properly hammered them into shape.

CT Scan Japan

Thursday afternoon I retrieved Cornucopia's pink class cap from the daycare center, because she needed it for a daycare trip to a park, all the mothers and children together, which took place on Friday 26 May 2006.

The same day, I went alone to the Meijin Hospital for a CT scan of the brain. By way of follow-up for the lymphoma for which I was treated last year in Japan, Dr Gunma, my hematologist, arranged blood tests, a CT scan of the brain, an MRI scan, a consultation with a specialist at the hospital's eye department, and, to be done later this year but as yet unscheduled, a CT scan of the full body.

For some mysterious reason I was under orders to fast until the CT scan, though it was a scan of the brain, not involving the gut. On four previous occasions I underwent CT scans and never fasted for any of them.

When I got to the hospital I had no idea where to go, so presented my paperwork at the nearest staffed desk, and a nurse kindly took me all the way up to the next floor, where I ended up at a desk marked in both English and Japanese as an X-ray facility.

The CT scan, which was straightforward, was at 1000, and my appointment with Dr Gunma was at 1130, so I decided to buy a snack.

I was sure there would be a shop in the hospital, since one part of Japan usually replicates another, and there is always a shop, including all kinds of things to buy.

So I asked my way to the shop and found it, only to be disappointed because there was nothing in the shop but paper: books, magazines, notebooks, nappies and the like.

Later, just as I was leaving the hospital, getting lost while trying to exit the place at about 1 pm, I came upon ANOTHER shop, just round the corner near the first one, complete with the expected range of snacks, and, additionally, entire meals already cooked, ready to eat and there to buy.

However, having failed to find the food-supplying shop, I went instead to the restaurant, and bought the "morning set", which cost 580 yen.

There was an A set which was a Western meal and a B set which was a Japanese-style meal. The B set looked more substantial so I went for that.

The meal consisted of a small tub of natto (fermented soy beans) which I rejected, a bowl of miso soup, a bowl of rice, a packet of dried seaweed wafers to go with the rice, a small helping of pickles and a piece of fish. Also a glass of water.

I have now seen the inside of five different hospitals, the one where Cornucopia was born, the one where I was seen for fruitless investigations during 2004, two hospitals that I visited while scouting around for a new hospital to which I might switch, and Meijin Hospital.

All these hospitals are pretty much identical. If one has a credit-card-size plastic ID card for patients, they all do. If one has a restuarant, ditto.

The only realy surprise at Maijin Hospital was that it had (a) a flower shop and (b) a barber's.

Before I got to see the doctor, I was asked to show my card showing that I was a member of the Japanese national health scheme. This is not a particularly good scheme but it has its good points. First, you are entitled to join as of right, so your medical history is of no account. Second, you get a 70/30 split in the costs, with the state paying 70%. Third, it is related to income.

My income in the last financial year was zero so, consequently, the fraction of my income that I had to pay added up to zero.

When I was asked for my national health insurance card, I presented my wife's, which has two additional names entered on it, duly certified by the appropriate authorities, one being my caughter Cornucopia and the other being me.

I then kept my appointment with Dr Gunma, which was a little late.

He told me that the blood tests which I underwent last month were just fine.

By the time I kept the appointment, Dr Gunma had already looked at the CT scan, and told me that he could see no problems.

I was scheduled to have an MRI of the brain in July, but Dr Gunma got on the phone and phoned around, and ended up arranging an appointment at a different hospital at 2 pm on Tuesday 30 May.

He warned the hospital that my Japanese was "heta" (ie lousy) and asked if they were prepared to deal with me. They said they were.

Dr Gunma was very anxious about whether we were communicating, and went over the instructions three times, then the nurse went over them again, though they were pretty straightforward, and I followed the Japanese well enough.

I go to Mizonoguchi station, go to the hospital (map provided), hand in a letter of introduction (provided by Dr Gunma), go have the
MRI at 2 pm, wait for one hour until the film is ready, uplift the film, then, when I return to Dr Gunma's hospital, bring with me the MRI film and deliver it to the eye department at 0900 on Tuesday 6 June at 0900.

Once I was done with the doctor, the nurse gave me some paperwork, then I went to the cashier to pay.

At all the other Japanese hospitals I have seen, they take your paperwork then give you a number. You sit until your number scrolls across an LCD screen which tells you which counter to go to. At Meijin Hospital, however, they called people by name, first surname, then surname followed by personal name.

My all-up cost for the consultation with the doctor and for the CT scan of the brain came to a total of 9770 yen, which, at the present rate of exchange, 110 yen to the dollar, is about US $99.

Regarding the up-coming consultation scheduled at the hospital's eye department, Dr Gunma told me he will have the eye specialist have a look at the MRI and try to see if he can find a curable cause for the deterioration of my eyes, but Dr Gunma indicated that in all probability it's a "shoganai" situation, "shoganai" meaning "that's tough".

I've done a little research on the Internet and got 11,700 hits for demyelination in association with "radiation induced". Obviously I'm not the first person to whom this happened.

To save you a trip to the dictionary, which I've already made, demyelination is defined as "A degenerative process that erodes away the myelin sheath that normally protects nerve fibers."

Back at Auckland Hospital, Dr Jerusalem told me that my eye damage was probably caused by demylination, and that it would not be progressive. He was wrong on the "not progressive" front but, clearly, he had heard about demylination.

The more I think about my radiation oncologists the unhappier I am with them. I specifically asked about the possibility of radiation damage to the eyes.

The only thing I was told on this subject was to expect the development of cataracts in two to three years.

The most charitable way in which I can characterize this answer is to say it was inadequate.

The bottom line seems to be that radiation therapy trashes your eyes. Not always but definitely sometimes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cancer Blog Survey

2006 May 25 Thursday

I got two pieces of e-mail today, one for an academic inviting people to participate in a research project into use of cancer blogs by cancer patients.

If you are interested, the link, which can be copied and pasted into your browser if you are interested, is:

I know nothing about this survey from my own personal knowledge, but am just passing on the information.

The other e-mail asked me if I had any idea why reactions to my work, as in reviews on, are so extreme. I had no theory and, what's more, I don't have the time for browsing through reviews on amazon.

But, now that has entered my thoughts, perhaps I'll have a look at what's out there. Some day.,

Software Orgy

Thursday 25 May 2006

Tomorrow I will go to the hospital that I attend here in Japan and will have a CT scan for the brain. Later in the year there will be a CT scan of the whole body and an MRI scan of the whole body.

As far as I can count, at this stage I have already undergone four CT scans, absorbing a hefty belt of radiation each time. It adds up.

Still, assuming that I keep on living, it is time to think about long-term plans.

Though I am as yet unconvinced that there are very many years remaining in my life, I have to consider the possibility that I might have what we could think of as a long term future: another twenty, thirty or forty years.

I am 49 and my maternal grandmother died in her 100th year, fifty years into her future from where I am sitting.

With the possibility of a future in mind, last night I came up with an idea for the fourth book in the projected TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series.

The first book, TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER, is on sale at and the next two books, COMRADE RAT MUST DIE and INTREPID GIRL REPORTER are underway.

The title for the projected fourth volume is OCEANS OF WEALTH.

It occurred to me that, if I am going to write the TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series as planned, then at some stage I might want to modify the map.

But this I made some years back under Red Hat Linux, which I was running at the time, and I used a program called DIA, most unsuitable, I think, for this map making project.

I don't have any program which can modify DIA files and, ideally, I would like to work with the DIA file that I have which dates back to the year 2002.

Then by some hideously complex process, of which I have no memory, I ended up converting it, finally, to a bitmap file.

I would like to work with the 2002 version because the bits and pieces of the map unglue from each other and can easily be pulled into position, making detailed reshaping no trouble, though it needs a little patience. I can also add in place names and other elements.

It occurred to me that perhaps, by now, there might be a Windows version for DIA, so I did a Google search for "dia windows download" and was rewarded with over one million hits.

I installed the GTK+ Runtime Environment 2.8, I think, which I got from the page and then I installed DIA.

I used Dia 0.95 which I got from the page

I then successfully opened my file from the year 2002 with DIA but did not seem to be able to save it in any formats other than the native DIA format.

I wanted to be able to save revised versions of my map in bitmap format, because then it is very easy to use the Microsoft Paint program to colorize the map.

So I installed the Gimp, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, which you can install once you have installed the runtime environment mentioned above, which both DIA and the Gimp use.

I think I got the installation file for the Gimp from the following:

But the Gimp cannot open DIA files.

I then remembered, hazily, something I used on Linux called Ghostscript. Was there a Windows version of this?

Yes, there was, and I ended up installing it.

Having clicked around the Internet for a bit, I downloaded some stuff and then, I think, I did the following:

1. gs853w32.exe, AFPL Ghostscript 8.53 for Win32. 9548288 bytes

2. install gsv48w32.exe, GSview 4.8 for Win32 1494016 bytes

I found that this software deals with postscript files and portable document files, neither of which seemed useful.

Yet I did remember using DIA, somehow, in conjunction with Ghostscript.

Going back to DIA, I found that there is a FILE -> EXPORT option which allows DIA files to be saved in a variety of formats, including the desired bitmap format, and also JPEG files, and also as encapsulation postscript files, which can be opened with Ghostscript, and presumably is how DIA came to be associated with Postscript in my mind.

The software I installed on my Windows XP Professional computer worked, up to a point, in that the DIA file from 2002 opened perfectly. However, exported as a bitmap file, it was disappointingly skimpy. I want a version as big as the original, not a small version, because I want to cut bits out of the large version using my screen capture program.

I then remembered that I have, made, somehow, with Red Hat Linux 6.0, a copy of the DIA file in bitmap format which is the same size as the DIA file.

It occurred to me that maybe I could open this big bitmap file with the Gimp, so I decided to give it a shot.

It would have been easier to find the file I was looking for except that my desktop icons had gotten messed up. This happened, with no other apparent cause, after the service pack which Microsoft recently installed on my computer, without, as far as I can tell, giving me the option of saying no.

The big bitmap file, which I found it, was 7.51 megabytes.

By that stage of my software orgy I had been working continuously for a considerable time, and was feeling more than a little brain damaged. Everything takes ten times longer than you think.

So I decided to call a halt to my software adventures for the time being.

The key point, however, is that I can now open and manipulate the map I made back in 2002, and so can update the Oolong Morblock map, in whole or in part, as the mood takes me.

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, decisions.

When we go to the menswear shop, Aoki, should I buy a pair of long trousers or a pair of short trousers? I opt for both. The short trousers I took to New Zealand got worn out and the trousers I bought there were bought at a time when I was thinned by cancer, and, by the time I was ready to get on the plane back to Japan, they were too small for me.

The two minute noodles, the ones that are two years old -- shall we keep them or throw them out?

There were only two packets, so I sampled one and decided I would survive the other.

How about using the two-year-old butter in the banana cake? My suggestion was that we ditch it, which was what we did. However, my wife did use the butter which was only six months old.

Now, these circus tickets being offered in August: do we take our daughter, aged two?

At the zoo in Auckland, she was interested in the peacock, which she wanted to chase and catch, but it was on the other side of a fence, and was already running in the opposite direction. She was also greatly interested in the sea lions, which you could view through the glass side of a tank.

The circus is two hours long. Do we hold her on our laps for free or buy her a seat? I voted for the seat.

And one more decision. Do I buy the clear tape with the clear plastic case which is almost invisible? Or do I go for the luridly girl-pink plastic case?

The girl-pink version wins. A white breadboard disappears against a white wall. I need a world of contrasts.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Microsoft Reader disappoints

Monday 22 May 2006

"The Confessions of Street Augustine," says Microsoft Reader, reading to me from THE CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE.

A technology with, obviously, some rough edges.

After going to some trouble to install it, I found Microsoft Reader a disappointment, because the "largest" font is way too small for me to read comfortably on screen.

You have to take what Microsoft gives you and, if it doesn't suit, then tough.

I have a copy of Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia on my computer, and, again, the problem is that the font options are way too small for me.

It's nice that the Reader can read aloud, but, since Adobe PDF files can also be read aloud, this does not, to my mind, represent a significant improvement.

When Microsoft Reader was originally recommended to me, I downloaded the free software, installed it, then found it required online validation.

Microsoft refused to accept my browser, demanding Internet Explorer instead.

Giving up, I abandoned Reader until a day when I was under less pressure. I had to change my Windows XP setup so web pages were automatically opened by Internet Explorer, and, having done that, tried to validate the software online.

But Microsoft rejected the version of Internet Explorer which came with the computer which I bought last year, so I downloaded and installed the very latest version.

Microsoft then went and installed a service pack on my computer. If I was asked if I wanted this to happen, the option of saying no escaped me.

With the basic package validated, I installed the supplementary package which makes Microsoft Reader capable of reading aloud.

Finally, I clicked on a Microsoft Reader file and was confronted by a totally cryptic opening screen. Pressing the PAGE DOWN key made the second page appear, and, at the bottom of this page, the reading controls appeared.

Having fooled around with the fonts and having found the size inadequate, I wondered if I could copy and paste the text into my plain text editor. This is my standard approach for dealing with Encarta articles.

I found I could use the mouse to highlight a portion of the text visible on the screen then copy it and paste it, but there did not seem to be any way to effortlessly copy the entire text.

Given a choice, I would rather have a book just as plain text, because then I can easily adjust the on-screen display or, using Open Office 2.0, make a pdf copy, if I prefer that option.

Having said that, messing around with Microsoft Reader has made me aware of the fact that there is a market of sorts out there, although how big it is I have no idea.

The conventional wisdom is that nobody ever made a commercial success out of the e-books route, but conceivably be something to investigate, when I have the time.

Time is in shorter supply than you might expect, given that I am not yet back at work. Today I made a first step, phoning up to answer one of the job advertisements in today's issue of THE JAPAN TIMES.

Meantime there is family life making demands on my time.

A crisis at breakfast today:

My daughter, two years of age, set up a piteous cry, declaring that she was hungry. In response, my wife asked if our daughter had finished her cornflakes. Answer: no. We adults, unimpressed, expressed our opinion that it was unreasonable to complain of hunger while being in the middle of an unfinished meal.

At this age, my daughter's default solution to the universe is to scream at it.

She has become a fan of the television novel screening on NHK at 0815 six days a week, a story in episodes of 15 minutes, which are about the length of her attention span.

Recently, eager for the program to start, she tried the screaming strategy, but this ploy failed to persuade NHK to advance its programming by the desired ten minutes.

She knows the word "piano" and has, in fact, hammered on the keys of at least two pianos that I know of, one being the instrument in my sister-in-law's house.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Time Capsule

Saturday 20 May 2006

My next project is going to be a new edition of THE SHIFT, the short science fiction novel (about 60,000 words, making a book of 215 pages, as embodied by the first edition), and, since I have no computer files for this, I am inputting the text by hand.

Word by word.

The book was first published in 1986 so I figure I probably wrote it in 1984 or 1985.

The blurb says, in part:

"As events go from bizarre to weird, a galaxy of marvellous characters is propelled toward a cataclysmic finale in this gloriously zany romp."

For my part, I believe that the book deserved a better reception than it got, which was, for the most part, a stony silence, and I am keen for the book to get a second shot at literary life.

Opening the book is like opening a time capsule into which various artefacts from the 1980s were deposited.

I was a little surprised by an early passage which says:

"As their snark flew north, some desert dissidents based near I-n-Tilelt fired on them fired on them with an antiquated surface-to-air missile, but missed. They made the airfield at Gao, transferred to the transit and blasted off, on their way to Capri."

We are located in Africa, in a world in which the terrorists have weapons and are happy to use them.

Reading this early section, I recalled that, later in the book, one of the characters stirs up the wrath of the Islamic world, and I wondered where that came from.

1986 was then, and this is now, two decades later, and the world changed in the interim -- didn't it?

Where did that "Islamic wrath" idea come from? From the Rushdie affair?

I checked.

Salman Rushdie hit big time trouble after publishing a book called THE SATANIC VERSES in 1988. In the following year, an ayatollah in Iran ruled that Rushdie should be put to death.

As far as my memory of my life goes, the Rushdie affair was the first time that Islam came leaping into the headlines. But there must have been inputs into this situation before then.

What does legally blind mean?

Friday 19 May 2006

What does legally blind mean? Today's question.

A reader sent an angry letter to a New Zealand newspaper denouncing a customer who had been seen in a supermarket with a dog. The dog was a guide dog, but the woman was plainly not blind, since she was peering at groceries on the shelves.

Someone wrote in to explain that people who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category which does not necessarily mean being stone blind. The woman seen in the supermarket might quite possibly have been able to see the groceries at close range, yet need the guide dog for survival on the busy streets.

The situation is, I believe, similar in America, New Zealand and Japan. People who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category if they satisfy one of two requirements:

(a) They can only read very large print; or

(b) Their visual field has failed to a stated extent.

I do not know whether I, personally, fit into the Japanese category of "legally blind", as the eye specialist who will interpret the result of my recent visual field test has not yet delivered his analysis.

But, regardless of the technicalities, it is possible that my eyesight will deteriorate, in the left eye, to a state of near-total blindness, just as it has in the right eye.

This uncertainty is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.

I was grateful to receive an encouraging comment from a reader, Melvin, who wrote, in part:

"I hope that life still has more than enough things to enjoy and experience, and unfinished business to pursue, that it never becomes tiresome."

In that spirit, my intention is to push ahead with further projects, to the extent to which that is practical, the latest being a new edition of my science fiction book THE SHIFT, out of print since 1986.

For practical purposes, I have two problems:

1. Things I see which do not really exist, and

2. Things which do exist but which I fail to see.

The latest sumo tournament is in full swing and, while watching TV, I saw a very formal ceremony in which, to my eyes, one of the sumo wrestlers appeared to be wearing a black bra. I knew that this was impossible so dismissed the vision.

On the other hand, there was the incident of the draining board.

It is made of two pieces of plastic, and water drains through into the lower compartment, so it is my habit to pick it up and empty out the water.

Recently I did this and a drinking glass, which was invisible to me, went crashing into the sink and smashed.

The next day, I looked very carefully and, before reaching for the draining board, checked to make sure it was empty. There was nothing there.

Then I swept my hand through the "empty" space and found, perched on the edge of the draining board, a while plastic bread board sitting (invisibly, as far as I was concerned) against the white paint of the kitchen wall.

In the brightness of the day, I need sunglasses. That's no problem. In a dimly-lit room, however, I am blind.

The day I recently went to a noodle restaurant with my wife, I opted to sit outside rather than inside because I could not see in the murky gloom of the interior.

Even outside in the bright sunshine I could not see properly, and confidently poured soy sauce onto the surface of the table when I thought I was adding it to a small dish of condiments.

Still, at this stage I can still work reasonably effectively using my computer, as the easiest thing for me to see is black print on an illuminated screen.

Friday, May 19, 2006


CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS by Hugh Cook -- all ten volumes are currently in print.

Each of the books in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS is a self-contained novel complete with a beginning, a middle and an end; the books do not rely on each other to make sense, and can be read as isolated volumes or our of sequence without any loss.

On Friday 19 May 2006 I uploaded volume nine, THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY, the cover for which is above. The full text of the prologue is at the end of this file, and sets the scene.

I describe the book as follows:

In the city of Dalar ken Halvar, two warrior, Asodo Hatch and Lupus Lon Oliver, battle for supremacy in virtual reality arenas. The outcome of their struggle will be the key to the outcome of a struggle taking place in the city in the world of the fact and the flesh. This is military SF, much of the action set in the Combat College.

Hugh Cook's books are currently available as follows:-

All ten of the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series are in print. Seven of the titles are available as Corgi paperbacks. These were remaindered some years ago by Transworld Publishers but stocks were acquired by Colin Smythe of Colin Smythe Ltd, who continues to make them available. The Corgi paperbacks, rebadged with new ISBNs by Colin Smythe, can still be purchased on

The three missing volumes were published in new editions in 2005 or 2006 and also have ISBNs so are available via


For the following books I have purchased ISBN numbers so these, too, are on sale on

The novel BAMBOO HORSES (a fantasy novel with murder mystery elements); the suicide bomber novel TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER; the medical memoir CANCER PATIENT and the collection of random pieces (blog entries and the like) entitled THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD.

The slender book of poems entitled ARC OF LIGHT is available for purchase at

Further titles are available but only from the storefront

To see some of these titles it is necessary to certify yourself as being a mature person, as explained below.
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.

Title available on include a book of short fiction, THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES.

Also available at the storefront are the three books of the OCEANS OF LIGHT fantasy series set in Chalakanesia, these books being WEST OF HEAVEN, EAST OF HELL and NORTH OF PARADISE.

As of 2006, worsening eyesight problems are making it difficult for me to continue writing, but I plan to persist for as long as is practical.

Possibly, depending on how my eyesight fares in 2006 and perhaps through 2007, I may make the following items available:

1. A new edition of the short science fiction novel THE SHIFT, which has been out of print for many years. It was first published in 1986.

Additionally, I have plans for a new edition of the workmanlike New Zealand novel PLAGUE SUMMER, about drug running against the background of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. This was first published back in 1980.

The suicide bomber novel TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER was planned as part of a series.

At this point I have plot outlines and some text for volumes two and three of the TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series, these being COMRADE RAT MUST DIE and INTREPID GIRL REPORTER.

What follows is the prologue of THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY, which sets the scene for the action which follows:


It was purple. It stood taller than any ordinary man, and its muscles had been pumped up to obscene dimensions by long dedication to that brutal form of exercise known as pumping iron. Its hair was heaped up upon its head in a monstrous topknot, for that hair had been uncut through all the days of its life. It wore long, flowing robes of a purple which matched its skin, and as it entered the dim-dark of the laboratory it looked for all the world like a High Priest of one of the Wild Tribes entering upon the bloodstained gloom of some obscure temple of torture.
But this purple-bruted thing was no creature of the Wild Tribes. No. This muscle-pumped bodybuilder was Asodo Hatch, a student of a Combat College which had been designed to produce Startroopers for the Stormforce of the Nexus.
Asodo Hatch had graduated from Combat Cadet to Startrooper at the age of 30, and now at the age of 31 he was pursuing Higher Level Studies, concentrating on those areas in which he had proved to have special aptitudes -- linguistics, law, theocratic sociopolitics and xenopolitics. Therefore know him from the start as a scholar, an intelligent man with a well-developed understanding of politics and religion -- a man who was not so much a creature of his own time as a rightful citizen of any time which could properly claim to be civilized.
Unfortunately, we come upon this muscle-bruted purple creature in a time which was not civilized at all. We come upon it in the Empire of Greater Parengarenga during the reign of the wizard of Ebber then known to the world as Plandruk Qinplaqus. We come upon this Frangoni warrior during the days of a great Age of Darkness, when the great Khmar of the Yarglat had yet to bring a uniting discipline to the anarchic continent of Tameran, and when the high-visioned dreams of Aldarch the Third had not yet brought a similar uniting vision to Yestron.
We come upon this purple-skinned thing at a time when it was cautiously entering the laboratory -- the shadowy, unoccupied cavern at the rear of the Combat College. It had come there in response to an anonymous word-processed invitation which it had found stuck to his door with a piece of chewing gum. The chewing of "chewing gum" is one of those commercially-inspired compulsive behaviors typically associated with financially dynamic high-tech civilizations; the habit had been ubiquitous in the Nexus itself, and still survived in the Combat College, even though that College had been isolated from the Nexus for over twenty millennia.
So Asodo Hatch entered the laboratory, and in that laboratory he found a corpse. Of this, much might be made, were it a unique or unusual experience. But, quite apart from his studies in the Combat College, Hatch had been for seven years a soldier of the Empire of Greater Parengarenga, and in those years he had devoted a great deal of time and effort to the production of corpses from the basic living material, and so the discovery of one extra and additional corpse lying about the planet did not unduly distress him. He was however surprised to find that the corpse was that of Hiji Hanojo, the Ebrell Islander who was the Combat College instructorship; for amongst the students of the Combat College it was widely believed that the long-missing Hiji Hanojo had been mugged and murdered near the Hot Mouth, and that his body had been discarded into the depths of that hole.
Such was the length of time which had passed between Hiji Hanojo's disappearance and his discovery that Hatch initially made that discovery by olfactory means. In the usual course of events, nobody made the trek to the laboratory, since it was an extensive but utterly empty chamber at the end of a long and barren tunnel driven into the heart of the minor mountain of Cap Foz Para Lash. Hence the nondiscovery of that corpse.
But obviously someone had known it was there, since someone had left the anonymous chewing-gummed message which had first compelled Hatch to make the long and uninviting walk to the laboratory.
Asodo Hatch did what was necessary.
He reported the death to Paraban Senk, the unembodied Teacher of Control who ran the Combat College. Senk ordered that the body be removed to the cure-all clinic for autopsy.
To help him with that grisly task, Asodo Hatch requested and received the assistance of his brother Oboro Bakendra Hatch, who was the older of the two, and who was three years his senior. The two then won the assistance of the Pang female named Shona, who was a strong-stomached and imperturbable specimen of womanly warriorhood. These three then press-ganged the services of the short and scuttling Ebrell Islander who went by the name of Lupus Lon Oliver, who proved exceedingly reluctant to assist, for he had scant acquaintance with death-in-the-flesh, and was in no hurry whatsoever to acquire any.
These four then carried out the grisly task of removing the corpse of Hiji Hanojo to the Combat College cure-all clinic, which, despite its name, was quite incapable of curing anything so radical as death.
Once the corpse was in the cure-all clinic, the unembodied Teacher of Control who went by the name of Paraban Senk performed a careful autopsy by means of remote-controlled instruments. On autopsy, Senk found that Hiji Hanojo had been murdered. He had been choked with a plastic bag, an item which Senk recovered from the throat of the rot-stench corpse. Inside the plastic bag was a sample of semen, which proved on analysis to be that of a dog.
Who had the capacity to commit such a crime?
Paraban Senk surveyed the psychological profiles of all 502 people then training in the Combat College to see which of them might have been capable of such a crime. The answer? All of them! This was not surprising. Murder is one of the universal human crimes, a crime of which virtually everyone is capable; and those who trained in the College were systematically tutored in the arts of slaughter.
Furthermore, as a part of their training for war, the students of the Combat College had all been tutored in the most sophisticated of all psychological techniques to allow them to survive full-force interrogation, which made it unlikely that Senk would be able to trick one of them into making a confession.
Who then had an alibi?
Since Hiji Hanojo had been dead for an uncomfortable number of days -- a very uncomfortable number of days in the opinion of Lupus Lon Oliver, who had thrown up thrice while helping to remove the body from the laboratory -- nobody had an effective alibi.
Who then had a motive?
The obvious motive for killing Hiji Hanojo was to supplant him as instructor. The instructorship was lucrative; there was only one such job; and virtually everyone in the Combat College wanted that job. Senk recalled a time -- well over a thousand years ago, now, but the memories of the unembodied Paraban Senk were imperishable -- when instructors had been systematically assassinated at a rate of twenty a year.
Senk did not want to see a repeat performance of such mayhem.
Accordingly, Paraban Senk announced that all students whose training was due to terminate in less than three years were disqualified from contention for the instructorship; and, furthermore, that the competitive examinations required to select a new instructor would not be held for three years. Senk also made it clear that a similar policy would be enforced should the next instructor also meet with a violent end.
This ban and the accompanying delay constituted a kind of rough justice designed to cheat the murderer from all possibility of immediate profit, and to deter any future would-be murderers by removing the temptation of the possibility of quick-gain profits consequent upon a killing. Now, even if Hiji Hanojo's unknown murderer was the person who ultimately won the instructorship, at least that person would be denied the immediate profits of that instructorship.
This was very important, for most crime is committed to seek a quick gratification; and there are few people who would take great and murderous risks to win the uncertain chance of securing the prize of a job some three years in the future.
And whoever had killed Hiji Hanojo, it was certain that the securing of Hanojo's job was uncertain, for there were at least a good half-dozen elite students who had a serious chance of winning that position in competitive examination. The half-dozen in this elite group consisted of the Frangoni warriors Asodo Hatch and Son'Sholoma Gezira; the Ebrell Islanders Lupus Lon Oliver and Sefton Ten Guy; the Pang male named Darius Flute; and the immigrant from Shintoto who went by the name of Scorpio Fax.
But even so -- even at that early date, nobody seriously doubted that the ultimate competition would be between the Ebrell Islander Lupus Lon Oliver and the Frangoni warrior Asodo Hatch --because those two had already established themselves as the best of the best.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Visual Field Test Japan

Visual field test done in Japan. Eyesight destroyed by radiation therapy. Radiotherapy causing blindness.
Above is the visual field test which I had done in Japan on Tuesday May 16 this year, 2006.
Earlier, back in January, I wrote about a visual field test that I had done on both eyes in Auckland, New Zealand.
At that time, the result indicated a loss of vision in the upper right hand quadrant of each eye and, additionally, some loss of the central vision in the right eye. My ophthalmologist agreed with the notion that this eye damage was caused, in all probability, by the radiation therapy I was subjected to back in 2004.
This time, no test was done on the right eye because the right eye is now blind and useless.
The latest visual field test shows the white area as being those in which I see and the dark areas as being those that I do not see.
The test was the same in Japan as in New Zealand, but for two points.
For a visual field test, you stare at a fixed point on a screen, without chasing any flashing lights you might see, and you click a button every time you see a flashing white light.
A computer generates an image showing the result, as pictured above.
The first difference was that, in Japan, before the test began, they displayed, on the screen, four orange lights, which made a diamond pattern on the screen. They told me to watch for a flashing white light in the center of the diamond, which I did.
In other words, the first significant difference was that you got to see the flashing white light before you started looking for it. You were shown an example of exactly what you were looking for.
The second difference was that they told me about how long it would take -- ten minutes or so. The first time, I was given no guidance on timing, and, subjectively, I thought the test was about half an hour ago.
Additionally, when I did the visual field test in New Zealand, another person was already hard at work in the same room doing such a test, and so the person supervising the test was reluctant to answer my questions.
That said, the test was essentially the same.
I noticed that some of the flashing lights were much brighter than others, which I assume is because part of the eye was more damaged than other parts.
Before undergoing radiation therapy in New Zealand, I asked about the possibility of eye damage, and was told that I could expect the development of cataracts in a few years, because radiation grazing the backs of the lenses would cause the development of cataracts.
If I had been told that the radiation would result in blindness then I would not have opted for the radiation. I would, rather, have taken my chance.
I asked about this particular point, the risk of damage to the eyes, and I was not adequately informed.
As far as I am concerned, I was lied to. My life was destroyed by a decision made by doctors who did not adequately inform me about a point on which I raised the specific issue.
Burn in hell, you bastards.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Legally Blind

Legally Blind

Tuesday 16 May, I went to an eye specialist in the city of Yokohama where I live, and he had a visual field test done. He indicated that his analysis of the results would probably demonstrate that, by Japanese standards, I am legally blind.

When I uploaded my latest book, THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD, the front cover of which is shown above, the process took about ninety minutes and was tiring because my vision had deteriorated appreciably since the last time I uploaded a book.

This book is now available for sale at and, all going well, should be available via in a couple of months.

While working on the DEATH POEMS section of this book, I came upon the following poem, THIS WAR IN IRAQ.


A public man.
His suicide was broadband.
Where was my Lotto win from that?
Promises, promises:
The delights of the future
Include water wars,
But this,
As yet,
Is prospect only,
No ice cream offered upfront with the nuts.
This Treaty of Versailles business,
What was my payoff from all that?
My carnage files are missing.
I cannot find
Why the corpse in the morgue should signify,
Why the raped vocal chords
Could be construed as therapeutic.
This war in Iraq,
Precisely what
Is its utility to me?
Your baby,
Dead or an octopus,
How does that
Improve the flavor of my tea?
Where is my coup from the genocide?
In the big bowl of blindness
Where is my edible hummingbird?
In the ashes of the bushfire
Where is my portion of the heart?

This poem pretty much indicates my mindset as my world closes in on itself, my entire focus my own problems.

That said, I'm peripherally aware of Iraq.

After George W. Bush nukes Iraq, what is his plan for dealing with the country?

Nuke it back to the stone age so Iran cannot manufacture even sewing machines? Recruit missionaries from Pennsylvania and try to convert the entire Iran population to the low-tech Amish religion? Have Iran garrisoned by loyal allies, such as Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Bush regime strategy, as far as I can make out, seems to be based on a manual which the White House has been studying recently, THE TOOTH FAIRY'S GUIDE TO WISH FULFILLMENT.

With THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD finished, I find I have the motivation to drive forward with the production of a new edition of THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY, the ninth book of the ten-book CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series, and the only one, at this point, still out of print.

All going well, I will complete and upload the new edition of THE WORSHIPPERS AND THE WAY in either May or June of this year.



Picture actually shows the back cover rather than the front cover.

Above is the back cover of my latest book, a collection of various pieces with the title THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD.

The table of contents is given below.

The book was uploaded on Sunday 14 May 2006, is immediately available for purchase via, and, all going to plan, will be available via within the next two months.

What is this book?

This is a book designed to be dipped into at random rather than read as a coherent unit. It is an eclectic collection of writings with no organizing principle, a random sampler of a mind at play. Poems, stories, blog entries, journal excerpts, essays and experiences. A randomized mish-mash designed to be dipped into rather than read as a unit. The plan for building this book was very simple: if I've got it, let's throw it in.

Table of Contents

Page 20 — Part One — ISLAM
Page 43 — Part Two — CANCER BLOG
Page 207 — Part Three — HOW TO WRITE
Page 259 — Part Four — STORIES
Page 312 — Part Five — POEMS
Page 353 — Part Six — DEATH POEMS
Page 383 — Part Seven —.WRAPPING UP MY LIFE

Item by Item

Page 20 — ISLAM. Part One of this Hugh Cook reader. While this is billed as a book for dipping into at random, the pieces are thematically grouped, and the theme of the first section is , broadly speaking, Islam.
Page 21 — Item One — THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD. Cam we have a war between cultures, please? And could we have it right now? You go get the guns, I'll start hunting around for the ammunition. First published online February 2006. Note that any item listed as first published online first appeared when posted on the site
Page 24 — Item Two — WAR BETWEEN RELIGIONS. Wasn't that why we had the Middle Ages, so we could get this stuff out of our system?
Page 29 — Item Three — HUGH MEETS MOHAMMAD. This Islamic hospitality you may have heard about? Okay, this was my experience.
Page 33 — Item Four — WAR OF CHOICE. George W. Bush exercises his free will and opts for an entirely unnecessary war. From time to time, from certain quarters, the chant of "Death to America!" is heard. The average American has, it seems, absolutely no thesis as to why this should be so.
Page 35 — Item Five — JIHAD. So what is this "jihad" business? An Islamic correspondent puts me in the picture. The context, of course, is that it was not the jihadists who started the war in Iraq but the Crusaders.
Page 38 — Item Six — WAR CRIMINAL NATIONS. British and American war crimes in Iraq: the use of radiation weapons against the civilian population. Technically, the civilians are not the target; in practice, they are the victims. A brief introduction to uranium weapons. The victors will, of course, write the history on this one. There will be no justice on this issue anywhere on planet Earth but, in a fair court — one imagines one run by space aliens — both the United Kingdom and the United States would stand condemned as war criminal nations.
Page 43 — CANCER BLOG. Part two of this Hugh Cook reader is a series of blog entries starting in January 2006 which, for the most part, relate to my brain cancer, first looking back at neurosurgery then confronting the possibility that the cancer may have returned. Daily life and non-cancerous things such as Edward Lear and my print-on-demand program also get touched on, in the unstructured manner of blogging.
Page 44 — Item Seven — MOCKING THE DEAD. Children at a primary school (that is, an elementary school) in New Zealand are taught to mock the desecrated bodies of the dead. Nobody seems to question the appropriacy of this behavior, presumably because the culture which is being mocked is currently in no position to throw bombs.
Page 47 — Item Eight — NEUROSURGERY DETAILS. Brain cancer has arrived so it is goodbye to politics, goodbye to war, goodbye to the fate of the whale and the future of the world. The self closes down, the wider world vaporizing, replaces by the narrow arena of brain cancer and its complications. One's personal death, possibly right on the doorstep, outweighing the deaths of the many millions. Here, insights into what happened to me when I was under the knife: the details of my neurosurgery.
Page 51 — Item Nine — DOOR TO AN ALTERNATIVE REALITY. There exists (this is my thesis) a door that I can step through to access an alternative reality. In this alternative reality, I am no longer the cancer patient. Instead, I am a married man with wife and daughter, living in a house in a tolerably prosperous city, going off to work in the morning and pursing my career. I have no idea whatsoever that this is the stuff of dreams and fiction. For me, the door is real, and so, too, is the promised world which lies just beyond it.
Page 57 — Item Ten — THE CANCELLATION OF MY LIFE. My life, the life I had planned for myself, has been canceled. On a temporary basis, perhaps. Or perhaps forever.
Page 62 — Item Eleven — A JUNKIE AGAIN. Back on my familiar drug, dexamethasone.
Page 69 — Item Twelve — THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING CANCER. So what is the immediate impact of this disease which is possibly back again? (Possibly, possibly not.)
Page 77 — Item Thirteen — FLYING HIGH ON DRUGS. The first lyrical honeymoon days of a good drug trip. Yes, this is not your quick ten-minute hike outside the boundaries of reality. This is a trip which is running for days.
Page 87 — Item Fourteen — UNDER SURVEILLANCE. Yeah, and everyone knows that I'm doing these drugs, and they're watching. Watching for my mental lapses, too.
Page 96 — Item Fifteen — BETRAYING MY DAUGHTER. My feeling is that, in large measure, my circumstances are out of my control. Even so, I feel bad about betraying my daughter.
Page 104 — Item Sixteen — HOLDING PATTERN. The system will deliver a diagnosis in its own good time. In the meantime, my life is in a holding pattern.
Page 111 — Item Seventeen — TWO SCRIPTS: LIFE OR DEATH. Two scripts have been prepared for the movie of my life, one a kind of family comedy, the other a black-and-white movie about death and dying. I have no idea, at this stage, which script I am going to be handed. Whichever script I get, it gets played out for real in real time.
Page 117 — Item Eighteen — QUESTIONS ABOUT MY DEATH. Premature, because I don't yet know that I am dying. However, I have a window of opportunity, and questions I want to discuss, including, if it comes to that, the mechanism of my death.
Page 121 — Item Nineteen — SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE DEATH. If the cancer has returned, it seems that there is just one drug on planet Earth which may (possibly, perhaps) be the answer. An introduction to the pharmaceutical industry and its marketing strategies: life is a beach.
Page 123 — Item Twenty — INFORMED CONSENT PROCEDURES ARE BROKEN. Why informed consent procedures are broken. What is broken, why it is broken, how it could be fixed, why it will not be fixed.
Page 133 — Item Twenty-One — INFORMED CONSENT PROCEDURE FOR DEATH. And now let's take a look at an actual informed consent procedure ...
Page 135 — Item Twenty-Two — BRAIN DAMAGE. As the brain cancer patient I have suffered brain damage from the cancer itself, from chemotherapy and from radiation therapy. The state of play, as far as I can make it.
Page 142 — Item Twenty-Three — MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING SCAN. What it is like to be slid into the tunnel of the big magnet. This is as near as I can get to the experience: you lie flat for however long it takes (in my case about thirty minutes) and listen to the weirdest electronic music in the world.
Page 146 — Item Twenty-Four — SPECIAL LANGUAGE FOR TALKING TO BABIES. Meantime, life moves forward. An alphabet book by Edward Lear, A WAS ONCE AND APPLE PIE, is encountered and reviewed.
Page 149 — Item Twenty-Five — ME AND RAY BRADBURY. Nominally the cancer patient, I am, in practice, in Total Writer mode, at least for the moment. Working, right now, on preparing a book for publication. As I do so, a story keeps coming back to me, a story by Ray Bradbury, the American science fiction writer who is the author of, amongst other works, FAHRENHEIT 451. This piece deals with the emotions of craftsmanship, of being the builder, the maker, of creating and sustaining a world.
Page 153 — Item Twenty-Six — THE WITCHLORD AND THE WEAPONMASTER. I, the author of this book, become the publisher of its second edition. A blurb of the book plus some final words. May be a little early for final words, but it does not hurt to have them on the record.
Page 157 — Item Twenty-Seven — THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES. And, in February 2006, I publish another boo, this one a fairly solid short story collection, THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES, over 600 pages of SF, fantasy, horror, weirdness and strangeness. The TABLE OF CONTENTS is given, showing an item-by-item breakdown of the book.
Page 168 — Item Twenty-Eight — HARRIET'S ARMPIT. And here, to give a sample of the flavor of THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES, is one of the items from the collection.
Page 174 — Item Twenty-Nine — MRI RESULT IS READY. But I get it not now but in a week. My crisis, if I can call it that, moves at the speed of global warming.
Page 175 — Item Thirty — WEST OF HEAVEN. Meantime, the productivity machine grinds on. Having published the three books in the OCEANS OF LIGHT trilogy, I supply to the world a front cover of the first book in the trilogy, WEST OF HEAVEN, plus a blurb for the same book.
Page 193 — Item Thirty-Two — MY FUTURE REVEALED: LIVE WITH EYE DAMAGE OR DIE OF CANCER. The answer is whatever the answer is. One way or another, today I am going to get closure. Right?
Page 200 — Item Thirty-Three — THE SAGA OF MY ILLNESS. How things worked out for me on the medical front during the days in which this book was under construction.
Page 207 — HOW TO WRITE. Part Three of this Hugh Cook reader. A selection of pieces constituting a concise guide to writing fiction, with special emphasis on the plot, and with a fairly elaborate look at the editing and proofreading as carried out on the final draft of the novel TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER. What I know about writing and can usefully communicate on the subject is compressed into this fairly compact section. There is, please note, a traditional recipe for learning how to write, and it goes like this: write a million words and throw them away.
Page 208 — Item Thirty-Four. A FICTION TEMPLATE. Simple instructions for constructing a plot. A recipe, like a recipe for baking cookies. Some assembly required. Life experience is helpful: getting married, working on fishing trawlers, going to war, joining an organized crime gang, entering politics, living in a cardboard box for a couple of years, whatever. That said, this lean passage pretty much communicates what is teachable regarding plot construction. Read it and believe it. An expert writes.
Page 219 — Item Thirty-Five — BOY HAS ALREADY MET GIRL. A simple solution to handling the boy meets girl business.
Page 221 — Item Thirty-Six — PRACTICAL WRITING MECHANICS. Work habits, keeping track of work done, plot and promise. how many characters should there be? Managing transitions. Being satisfied with a simple straightforward workable sentence.
Page 230 — Item Thirty-Seven — THE PLANET OR THE SHOE. A set of writing exercise. If you have total facility then you will learn nothing from this. If some things turn out to be easier than others then you may be able to extract a lesson from the experiment. If you cannot, then you cannot: the experiment is offered, but is not explained. Hint: to the extent that there is a message, the message can be extracted from the title, “The Planet or the Shoe”.
Page 234 — Item Thirty-Eight — PROOFREADING AND EDITING. A long and deeply serious look at proofreading and editing, over seven thousand words going into details of how to hunt for typos, how to edit so things make sense and how to tweak the text for style. Warning: your sense of good style is, ultimately, your own, and my stylistic notions may not be yours.
Page 259 — Part Four — STORIES. Some fiction stories.
Page 260 — Item Thirty-Nine — GLORIA GETS MONEY. Gloria gets a very simple grant of powers.
Page 262 — Item Forty — HILDA SELLS HER BODY.
Page 263 — Item Forty-One — IMELDA BRINGS HAPPINESS.
Page 265 — Item Forty-Two — JANE RECYCLES EVERYTHING.
Page 266 — Item Forty-Three — KYLIE WINS COMPETITIONS.
Page 267 — Item Forty-Four — GALADRIEL SMITH AND THE MASSACRE OF THE ORCS. First published in LEGEND in 2000. 3,835 words. Fantasy.
Page 280 — Item Forty-Five — UPGRADE. Science fiction story , 9,173 words.
Page 312 — Part Five — POEMS. Assorted poems, otherwise uncollected.
Page 313 — Item Forty-Six — STILL LIFE. First published in CRACCUM in 1978.
Page 314 — Item Forty-Seven — CONSTIPATION. First published online 2006
Page 316 — Item Forty-Eight — TROY. The opening of a projected epic about the Trojan War. First published 1986.
Page 345 — Item Forty-Nine — CICADA SUN. A high school poem written under the influence of THE WASTELAND. First published in the New Zealand literary journal LANDFALL in 1976.
Page 353 — Part Six — DEATH POEMS. A selection of poems about death and dying, originally intended to be the core of a book of death poems, to be called THE DEATH OF BIRDS. Two additional poems were written for this series, item the poem, SADDAM IS GUILTY which is part of item thirteen, FLYING HIGH ON DRUGS, and item twenty-one, INFORMED CONSENT PROCEDURE FOR DEATH.
Page 354 — Item Fifty — BEING DEAD. A breakdown of the basic deal. Maybe you were misinformed.
Page 355 — Item Fifty-One — THE DEATH OF BIRDS. Never read their obituaries, but birds do die. This is a look at the process.
Page 356 — Item Fifty-Two — THE CHEATED DAUGHTER. A father betrays his daughter. He has his reasons, of course. Men always do. Naturally, there is another woman involved. A number of other women, in fact.
Page 358 — Item Fifty-Three — RECIDIVISM. As a deterrent, the death penalty fails.
Page 360 — Item Fifty-Four — NINE MONTH PARACHUTE DROP. And what if the sentence is to be death, death guaranteed, no treatment on offer? I need a script for this, and, really, I need it now. So I can prepare for my death sentence. If that is what, in fact, is coming down the pipeline.
Page 361 — Item Fifty-Five — THE HAPPY PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES. Meantime, the world rolls on as usual, with the standard tragedies within it.
Page 362 — Item Fifty-Six — DYING WE CAN DO TOMORROW. Not if you are in the middle of a heart attack, obviously. Then your death becomes immediate. But one of the privileges of cancer is leisure. Time to sit around and drink red wine and eat chocolate. This, then, is a live life now poem, a seize the day poem.
Page 363 — Item Fifty-Seven — RED HOT TEARS.. And there are moments ...
Page 364 — Item Fifty-Eight — WALKING AROUND MY CITY. The familiar experienced as defamiliarization.
Page 365 — Item Fifty-Nine — ICE CREAM BRAIN. A brain damage poem. If not death, then a siege, and ice cream city, quite possibly, no match at all for the besieging sun. The radiation has already made its impact. The enemy is already within the gate.
Page 366 — Item Sixty — THE BIG DOOR. Annihilation conceptualized: death as a big door.
Page 367 — Item Sixty-One — ON HIS BLINDNESS. Visually impaired and, quite possibly, destined to go blind within the year. Blindness, if blindness, as a prelude to death.
Page 369 — Item Sixty-Two — MYTHOLOGIES. A product not, as far as I've noticed, to be found on the supermarket shelves.
Page 370 — Item Sixty-Three — THE EGOTIST DYING. The self-obsession of a dying man: death conceived of as an act of selfishness.
Page 371 — Item Sixty-Four — BLIND MEN CAN STILL EAT MARZIPAN. All is not lost.
Page 372 — Item Sixty-Five — KITES. Nostalgia, sorrow, loss.
Page 373 — Item Sixty-Six — IN THE LAND OF BIG BROCCOLI. In the land of big broccoli, in New Zealand, far from the winter in Japan, there is, amongst other things, broccoli.
Page 375 — Item Sixty-Seven — THE ACTIVE CHILD. Someone's daughter, not yet quite two years of age. Miss Energy Bundle, Miss Total Personality, death refuted by the instant.
Page 377 — Item Sixty-Eight — PROGERIA. Accelerated aging, a problem which is not ours. But there is a problem, my love.
Page 379 — Item Sixty-Nine — CORNFLAKES. The routine demands, and must be catered for.
Page 380 — Item Seventy — THIS WAR IN IRAQ. And all this other stuff, history, public events, the ongoing life of the world, given and to come, the future and the past — what exactly is that to me, right now?
Page 381 — Item Seventy-One — MY CONCEPTUAL SIEVE. Before death, dissolution. Working with a partial brain.
Page 383 — Part Seven — WRAPPING UP MY LIFE. A few tag ends wrapping up some of the broken pieces at the end of my life.
Page 384 — Item Seventy-Two — RETURN TO JAPAN. After having cancer and having advanced well down the path to total blindness, I return to Japan, having departed in December 2004 for what had been planned as a short holiday, and finally getting on a plane back to Japan in April 2006.
Page 387 — Item Seventy-Three — REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING. Returning to Japan after a long absence, I explore the archeology of my life.
Page 389 — Item Seventy-Four — MEDICAL TREATMENT JAPAN. My medical issues are addressed swiftly and professionally in Japan.
Page 391 — Item Seventy-Five — SURVIVING JAPAN. Easy enough to do.