Comparing Where-To-Retire Strategies

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, April 24, 2017

My wife Susan and I have been talking about possible places to retire. Right now we each have completely different thoughts on the subject. It would help if I laid out the possibilities. Making this decision feels like climbing a mountain. Quite often I want to turn around and go back down.


The Least-Effort Lazy Plan

Our house will soon be paid off. We could just stay here. We’ve recently bought a 30-year roof. Since the Social Security Life Expectancy calculator predicts we’ll live another twenty years, we’re covered so-to-speak. Twenty years seems like a long-time and not-too-long time. To give perspective, the film Titanic came out twenty years ago.

Retiring in place has many advantages. We know the city. We have our friends. We have our routines. We know all our doctors, dentists, plumbers, and such.

The main disadvantage is it’s the same old place and we could be living somewhere much more exciting — or secure.

The Secure Low-Maintenance Plan

Maintaining a house, especially while getting older, is a pain-in-the-ass. My idea for the perfect low-stress retirement is to move to a 55+ community and rent a nice apartment. It would need to be well-built and soundproof. I don’t want to hear neighbors or they hear us. But the idea of having no yard is overwhelmingly seductive. I’d also love to live somewhere where we didn’t need a car. I imagine moving to a retirement community near a small city would be a safer place for aging. The bustle of a big city is probably scary while aging.

Living in a 55+ community would also offer lots of social outlets and activities. Plus all the support services would be geared to people our age. Such a lifestyle would maximize free time by reducing chores to a minimum.

The Atomic Ranch Plan

I love old 1950s ranch style houses, like those profiled in Atomic Ranch magazine. If we wanted to keep a house and car, it would be cool to move to small Florida retirement community, find a corner lot with a ranch house, buy a vintage 1950s car, and then recreate a beautiful recreation of our childhood. I could collect 1950s science fiction books, pulp magazines, and old vinyl records. I could put in a 21st-century large screen TV to show old movies and television shows. If I wanted to get really weird, I could drop off the net, and cut the cord to cable.

This retro-retirement-recreation appeals to me, but I don’t think it does for Susan.

atomic ranch

The Cool City Plan

If we’re not quite ready to mosey off to the elephant graveyard to wait to die, we could pick a trendy city to live in and attempt to stay young for another decade. This would appeal to Susan more than me. I already consider myself old. She still loves going to parties, eating out, rock concerts and baseball games. If we chose this path I’d like to find a very liberal city, but on the small side, maybe a college town. I like living in flat cities but wouldn’t mind being near mountains or oceans.

The Not Likely Adventurous Plan

If I had the guts to be adventurous I’d love to live in several interesting cities before I died. I feel bad about not trying to see more of the country or even the world than I have. I traveled around a lot when I was young, but have been in the same city for the last 46 years.

It would be far-out to get a 1-year lease in a new city every year for ten years, and then settle down in a 55+ plus community. Such a plan would require pairing down our possessions to a minimum. We’d have to learn to make new friends quickly, and how to find new doctors and dentists wherever we went.

The Least Likely Political Activist Plan

It bothers me that conservatives have taken over the nation. Conservatives have worked for decades at the grassroots political level to achieve their goals. If liberals want to regain power they need to duplicate those efforts. It would help the cause if liberals living in urban areas would move to red counties, districts, and states. It would help even more if they got involve with local politics and social activities.

The Most Rewarding and Scariest Plan

I have a friend who plans to move to Mexico. I’ve been watching films about expat life with her and reading newsletters and books about living abroad. I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. If I really wanted to enrich my life before I die, living abroad would be the way to do it. It could involve living in a city, an expat community, or even an overseas retirement community.



We Don’t Even Give Half-a-F*** Anymore

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, April 8, 2017

Many of my retired friends have expressed the same sentiment to me lately. It’s a variation of “I can’t believe how lazy I’ve become.” I feel that too. Although I don’t think I’d diagnose our conditions as laziness.

For some reason, we all just don’t give half-the-f*** that we used to give.


At first, I thought this malaise was brought about by the lack of discipline from not going to work every day. But I’ve also heard from friends nearing retirement about their struggles to care about their jobs. Before I quit work, I remember how little I cared for each new project. A rigid schedule didn’t make me care more.

This makes me wonder if our condition is age related. It’s as if vitality is slowly leaking from our souls. That would be quite disturbing if we still gave a full-f***. Does aging mean dwindling drive? How sucky that would be! Ironically not giving a full-f*** makes it easier to take.

I feel like Henry Bemis in that old Twilight Zone episode about a guy who gets all the time in the world to read but then breaks his glasses. Retirement meant I had all the time in the world to pursue by ambitions but my goddamn fuel for giving-a-f*** is running out! Instead of hoarding minutes to get something done, I hoard gives-a-f*** energy.

It scared me recently when I read people over 65 watch the most TV. There’s a fine line between loving TV, TV addiction, and TV mindlessness. And so many of my friends have become political news junkies. Could obsessive worry about Donald Trump be zapping our ability to give-a-f***?

I really want to find a cause that’s not aging. If I’ve got ten or twenty more years, I want to use them, not waste them daydreaming in my recliner.

Not only do we care less, but we’re moving slower. If you’re over 65, have you noticed that? Do people tell you that you’re slow? Did you see the interview with Ted Koppel and Sean Hannity? Wasn’t it so visible that Hannity was impatient with Koppel because was so slow? Is thinking half-as-fast related to only giving half-a-f***?

The weird thing about not giving half-the-f*** I used to give is it doesn’t hurt. It’s as if I hear the Sirens and don’t care about being seduced. I don’t know if this essay can help us rally.

Does noticing you care less make you care more?


Other Recent Essays

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, March 24, 2017


I thought I’d link to recent essays I’ve been writing for Book Riot and Worlds Without End – two sites I like to plug.

Book Riot:

Worlds Without End:

I guess I’m neglecting my duties at WWEnd. I’ve started several essays for them that I haven’t finished. In recent months I’m starting a lot more essays for all my writing outlets than I finish. I worry that it might be age related. That I’m not focusing on work as well as before.

I worry that unfinished essays are a sign I’m getting older because I’m not focusing as well as before. But I’m also pursuing more hobbies and I’m enjoying more social activities so it might be I’m just having too much fun. Then again, isn’t focusing on creative pursuits all about ignoring time-wasting fun?

I usually get at least one idea every morning in the shower, and often I get two or three. Completing them is a matter of making myself stick to the task. That means sitting at the computer, writing and rewriting, until the essay is finished. I’m afraid I’ve been more indulgent at playing lately. I am retired. I tell myself it’s okay to do anything I want. Yet, I have a sense of guilt about doing things that don’t produce results. If I go a day without writing it feels like I wasted that day. On the other hand, I might have filled that day with many other wonderful pursuits that are rewarding in other ways.

Just before midnight, I go to sleep wishing I had more time in that day. I can’t comprehend how I ever scheduled a full-time at a job into my life.




Technology & Education

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Does technology improve education? Are people in the 21st century better educated than those from the 19th century? If we use current politics as a metric I’d have to say no. We have a president who constantly makes absurd claims and is backed by a majority in congress. Those wealthy, “well-educated” leaders are currently claiming that the loss of healthcare is a gain in freedom. Evidently, they’re depending on Americans being poorly educated to get their treasured tax breaks. The Republicans have made a political movement out of anti-education in era when technology brings us tremendous amounts of information. Obviously, all that availability of knowledge hasn’t helped the average citizen see the con.

Technology has apparently improved all walks of life except education. If schools reflected the productivity we see in agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and communication, we’d all be Einsteins. Why hasn’t that happened? When I sat down to write this piece I assumed technology was an overwhelmingly obvious benefit to education – but the little devil on my left shoulder started muttering snarky observations. She might be right.


The world wide web has made living on Earth feel much smaller. We can Skype folks from any country in the world, so why aren’t foreign languages skills booming? Anyone can study free lectures from ivy league universities on science and mathematics, yet STEM scores aren’t improving.

We have access to more news, information, knowledge, data, experiments, statistics, scientific studies than ever before in history, yet America elected a human whose grasp of reality is so slight that his observations are the daily butt of comedians. We have more data but not more wisdom. We’re unable process the daily tsunami of information that our tech tools gives us.

This leads me to theorize that being well educated comes from inner motivation and not external tools.


Are We Being Cheated Out of Ebook Cover Art?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I’ve always loved dust jacket art on science fiction hardbacks. I also love cover art on science fiction paperbacks, and cover art on science fiction magazines. But what the hell is happening with covers for ebooks? I can understand when self-published authors create their own covers and they look awful. But why are we seeing covers like this:


These new ebook editions have no copyright page or publisher listed inside. At Amazon, under publisher, they give: Robert A. Heinlein. As cheapo ebook covers these aren’t terrible – but they aren’t appealing either. I guess they decided that no art is better than bad art, and I’m thankful for that.

I assume publishers spent money on cover art when the covers often sold books. And I guess, since ebooks aren’t displayed in bookstores, publishers feel little need to sell books by their covers anymore.

If you look at the cover art from 2016 – here’s a selection at the old SF Signal site, and look at a selection of cover art from the 1960s and 1970s at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, you’ll notice, at least in my mind, that cover art is less creative.

For fun, I thought I’d give a brief history of these two covers. Tunnel in the Sky has never had any great covers, but some of them were not bad. The Door into Summer has one great SF cover, and a couple interesting ones. Clicking on the covers should bring up larger images.

First off, their original hardback covers from the 1950s:


Now their early paperback covers:


A couple foreign editions:


Later 20th century paperback editions:


Some 21st century versions:


And for some extra fun, here’s what The Door Into Summer looked like when it appeared  in F&SF.


These aren’t masterpieces of cover art, but they are a lot more appealing than the current covers. Can you understand why I feel cheated?

I still miss the cover art from 12” LP covers. The art on CD cases were never the same. Is migrating to digital media destroying the wonderful world of cover illustrations?


2015 Year in Reading

By James Wallace Harris, December 31, 2015

Novel of the Year

The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

For most of my life, my all-time favorite novel has been Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s now The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I guess I’m finally moving past my childhood. The Heinlein novel, which I first read in 1964, gave me a future to think about, but for the past several years, I’ve been looking backwards, especially into the 19th century, and The Signature of All Things captures, at least for the moment, where I’m at philosophically.

Runners Up (no order):

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • The Broken Bubble by Philip K. Dick
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This was a very good year for fiction. I read many more great novels, but these are the ones that shook me up. If you look at the full list of books below that I read in 2015, you’ll see some astounding novels I’m leaving off. This was an excellent year for new science fiction (Aurora, Seveneves, The Water Knife), but I can’t bring myself to consider them in the runner up category.

Nonfiction Book of the Year

This Changes Everything - Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein is powerful statement about our future. Klein makes a great case that capitalism is at fault for our environmental problems. This is one of those books that everyone should read but won’t.

Runners Up (no order):

  • The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  • Spinster by Kate Bolick

It was also a great year for nonfiction. One of my reading goals last year was to read more nonfiction. I didn’t work as planned, but I do think I’m reading a bit more nonfiction.

Reading Log for 2015

Author Title Finished Format Year
Timothy A. Pychyl Solving the Procrastination Puzzle 2015-01-03 Audio 2013
Roger Zelazny This Immortal 2015-01-06 Hardback 1966
Albert Camus The Stranger 2015-01-06 Audio 1942
Ray Bradbury The Martian Chronicles 2015-01-09 Audio 1950
Kevin Birmingham The Most Dangerous Book 2015-01-17 Audio 2014
Edmond Hamilton City at World’s End 2015-01-19 Audio – Yahoo 1951
Edward O. Wilson The Meaning of Human Existence 2015-01-23 Library hardback 2014
Robert A. Heinlein The Man Who Sold The Moon 2015-01-26 Audio 1951
Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things 2015-02-03 Audio 2013
Evan Osnos The Age of Ambition 2015-02-10 Audio 2014
Hector Tobar Deep Down Dark 2015-02-13 Audio 2014
Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction 2015-02-18 Audio 2014
Brian Aldiss Non-Stop 2015-02-21 Hardback 1958
Nick Bostrom Superintelligence 2015-02-28 Audio 2014
Naomi Klein This Changes Everything 2015-02-28 Kindle ebook 2014
Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens 2015-03-12 Audio 2015
Jack McDevitt Moonfall 2015-03-13 Library hardback 1998
Roxane Gay Bad Feminist 2015-03-15 Audio 2014
Olaf Stapledon Last and First Men 2015-03-22 Audio 1930

Lynn Kear and John Rossman Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career 2015-03-26 Kindle ebook 2006
Mary Doria Russell Epitaph 2015-03-29 Audio 2015
Nancy Kress Yesterday’s Kin 2015-03-30 Kindle ebook 2014
Eric H. Cline 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed 2015-04-04 Audio 2014
Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven 2015-04-05 Kindle ebook 2014
Atul Gawande Being Mortal 2015-04-09 Audio 2014
Paula McLain The Paris Wife 2015-04-14 Hardback 2011
Benjamin Hale The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore 2015-04-18 Audio 2011
Liu Cixin The Three-Body Problem 2015-04-27 Audio 2014
Walter Tevis The Queen’s Gambit 2015-04-28 Kindle ebook 1983
Alan Paul One Way Out 2015-05-02 Audio 2014
Mary Shelley The Last Man 2015-05-18 Audio 1826
Madeline Ashby vN 2015-05-22 Audio 2012
Ross MacDonald The Moving Target 2015-06-01 Library hardback 1949
Paolo Bacigalupi The Water Knife 2015-06-06 Audio 2015
Frank Herbert Hellstrom’s Hive 2015-06-12 Library hardback 1972
Pat Barker Toby’s Room 2015-06-17 Library ebook 2012
Jules Verne The Mysterious Island 2015-06-21 Audio 1874
Daniel DeFoe Robinson Crusoe 2015-07-04 Audio 1719
Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up 2015-07-10 Kindle ebook 2014
Robert M. Edsel The Monuments Men 2015-07-15 Library hardback 2009
Jack Williamson The Humanoids 2015-07-15 Audio 1947
Harper Lee Go Set A Watchman 2015-07-19 Audio 2015
Harper Lee To Kill A Mockingbird 2015-07-21 Audio 1960
Kate Bolick Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own 2015-07-30 Library hardback 2015
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Lucifer’s Hammer 2015-08-10 Audio 1977
J. A. Johnstone Phoenix Rising 2015-08-11 Scribd ebook 2011
Kate Bolick Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own 2015-08-12 Scribd audiobook 2015
Robert Silverberg Downward to the Earth 2015-08-15 Scribd audiobook 1970
Andy Miller My Year of Reading Dangerously 2015-08-19 Audible 2012
Nevil Shute A Town Like Alice 2015-08-23 Audible 1950
Aziz Ansari Modern Romance 2015-08-27 Audible 2015
Kim Stanley Robinson Aurora 2015-09-02 Audible 2015
Daniel Coyle The Little Book of Talent 2015-09-04 Audible 2012
Barbara Oakley A Mind For Numbers 2015-09-04 Audible 2014
M. R. Carey The Girl With All the Gifts 2015-09-16 Audible 2014
Neal Stephenson The Seveneves 2015-10-13 Audible 2015
Isaac Asimov Foundation 2015-10-23 Scribd audiobook 1951
Kate Wilhelm Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang 2015-10-27 Scribd audiobook 1976
Dan Harris 10% Happier 2015-10-28 Kindle ebook 2014
Robert Silverberg Thorns 2015-11-04 Scribd audiobook 1967
Samuel R. Delany Babel-17 2015-11-10 Audible 1966
Charles Dickens Bleak House 2015-11-21 Audible 1853
Clifford Simak The Heritage of Stars 2015-12-01 Audible 1977
Alan Weisman Countdown 2015-12-08 Audible 2013
Martin Ford The Rise of the Robots 2015-12-16 Audible 2015
Philip K. Dick The Broken Bubble 2015-12-20 Audible 1956
Hal Clement Mission of Gravity 2015-12-24 Kindle ebook 1953
Philip K. Dick The Man In The High Castle 2015-12-27 Audible 1962

I read 68 books this year, the most since I’ve been doing these yearly reviews.

Reading Goals for 2016

Every year I make big plans for what I want to read in the coming year, and every year I fail to follow through. So this year I’m not going to make any promises. I want to read more nonfiction, but there seems to be some kind of psychological barrier to how much information about reality I can take in on any given week. I sometimes think I need to read fiction to balance the psychic load.

Past Year Reports

Essay #992 – Table of Contents