Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"THE HONOR DEFAULT SETTING"
Aftermath by Levar Burton, Warner Aspect Science Fiction, pb, 1997.
Intimations of Mortality a Forever Knight novel by Susan M. Garrett, Boulevard TV tie-in, November 1997.
Writ in Blood, A Novel of Saint Germain, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor hc, 1997.
"Miracle" by D. C. Fontana, an episode of Earth: The Final Conflict, created by Gene Roddenberry. This episode aired twice during the fall of 1997.
The Star Trek Encyclopedia, A Reference Guide to the Future, Updated and Expanded Edition, by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda, Pocket Books, 1997 (coffee table hardcover edition $50.00).
This month I had another novel brought forcefully to my attention (totally by accident, right?) which is not Trek, but is written by a man who has proven to me that he knows and understands Star Trek on a very deep level.
Last month, quite at random, I mentioned one of my own fiction series that has spawned 17 websites in a webring, (the Sime~Gen series) and this month, the novel (with a Trek connection) brought so forcefully to my attention depicts with uncanny verisimilitude the conditions of transition between epochs of world history that could give rise to the Sime~Gen Mutation.
A week before I read this novel that kept popping up in front of my face every time I turned around, the first book in my Tarot series, The Biblical Tarot, Never Cross A Palm With Silver, was shipped by the distributor and began to appear in the chain stores.
The Acknowledgements page of that book identifies the raging current, the "el Niņo" of my life, that connects Star Trek and the Tarot and my sf novel career, causing storms and disruptions and fertile rains in my life.
Three days before I read this ubiquitous novel (in self-defense by this point) I turned in the final printout of the second Tarot book, on the Wands.
Thus psychologically and emotionally conditioned, I found in this novel a great deal that may in fact not be there, or that might not be apparent to any other reader. That, of course, is the essence of a "good read" -- and the real reason we read novels at all. Reading is a personal experience, a personal initiation aimed at you by your own Inner Planes Master.
The novel in question is Levar Burton's Aftermath. And for me, it was about the link between Honor, Heroism, Trek and Tarot/Astrology.
That vibrant confluence of subjects made it easy for me to overlook attributes of this novel that would, ordinarily, have put it on the bottom of the to-be-reviewed stack. Stylistically, it is replete with the 1950s sf quirk called the "expository lump" -- sf is very hard to write because the background is not familiar to the reader and must be explained. Beginning writers almost always start by explaining the nifty background they've invented -- thus creating the expository lump and bringing the background up to the foreground. There are a few easily learned techniques that solve the problem of what I call "information feed." After writing another novel or two, the new author generally masters those techniques.
However, the existence of these lumps convinces me that this really is a first novel and Burton probably wrote this himself. (I haven't asked him -- I'm inferring all the following from the text of the novel.)
This is a formula catastrophe novel that clings to the conflict lines perfectly -- the underlying structural technique is beautiful to behold. This was crafted by someone who knows and understands both fiction, general and genre, and understands the modern television-drenched reader. Only a writer would even notice this structural magnificence, so you can safely ignore it.
All of that is the substrata that supports the art upon which this story is based. And it's the art that's enthralled me here.
This thing isn't so much a novel as it is a piece of photo-journalism. Judged as photo-journalism, it would be a prize winner. The artistry of imagery exhibited here is unsurpassed in my recent experience. And I don't mean flowery poetry -- the language is plain, even, terse and to the point. The imagery isn't in the words chosen or the clever poetic combination of syllables or the meter of the sentences. The imagery is in what is described, and the point of view from which it is seen. It is not painting -- it is photography.
This photo-journalist has assembled a group of word-photos that depict the end of civilization as we know it, and the aftermath of that ending in terms of the impact that ending has on individual lives. No war correspondent that I know of has ever done better.
In his introduction, Levar Burton says that he's always been a science fiction reader but growing up, found it distressing that the average sf novel's hero didn't look like him. (Burton is the actor who plays Geordi LaForge on ST:The Next Generation.)
Burton's pre-eminent mastery of visual storytelling is thus understandable and his choice of using that technique to tell this story is very much a generational thing. I grew up on radio sf/f, and it never occurs to me to care what a character looks like. I identify with thinking style, not visage. Honor/Heroism is a thinking style that is evenly distributed among the human races.
Burton has connected his high-impact images with a narrative thread that focuses on four (significant number that: there are four worlds of the Qabalah and four letters in the ineffable Name and it takes four variables to create a Boolean algebra) . . . four individuals whose lives are on a collision course with each others' karma.
The subtext is honor and karma interacting with technology which makes this novel science-fantasy rather than science fiction.
"Honor and karma affecting the course of technological development which in turn shapes the course of human history and spiritual evolution" is a perfect description of Aftermath. It is also the exact description of the Sime~Gen series.
I just took a break from writing this column (something I almost never do when writing these essays) and went upstairs to get a cup of tea. I flipped on the TV to CNBC to find out what's happening in the world and at a commercial I had a sound byte shoved in my face. A Wall Street type intoned with a straight face, "If it's an opportunity, you have to seize it."
The water pot almost boiled dry while I stared slack-jawed at the television.
Astrologically, opportunity is a keyword of Jupiter, and Jupiter rules Sagittarius (which is currently being transited by Pluto as mentioned last month). And one important aspect of honor is honesty, integrity (keywords of Sagittarius). Distinguishing between one kind of opportunity and another is a function of Virgo ruled by Mercury.
The editors who excerpted the sound byte chose it (Virgo, discrimination, choice) with an eye toward what will arrest the attention of the channel-surfer -- with an eye toward the general public's consciousness of issues.
This sound byte was in a commercial designed to sell a news show to viewers of the financial news. The script editor of the commercial seemed to assume the majority of CNBC viewers believe or want to believe that the path to real financial success is to seize every opportunity with a heroic disregard of the consequences. Consequences is a Saturn keyword.
Last month I discussed an article from Reader's Digest, October 1997, "What Heroes Teach Us" by Irena Eremia Bragin from Washington Post Magazine.
The article was about the real-world consequences of real-world heroism. In the digested form, it seemed to me to imply that here was a man whose honor required him to sacrifice the quality of life (and maybe life itself) of his wife and daughter -- against their will. The article, written by his daughter from her own point of view, described a man who seemed (to his daughter) to be acting with disregard of the consequences of his actions upon his family.
Turn that real-world story inside out and look at it from the man's point of view. Perhaps, to him, it seemed he had been presented with an opportunity to make a difference in the course of history and that he therefore had no honorable choice but to seize that opportunity.
Burton's fictional character, Leon Cane, likewise discovered a horrifying truth -- and his honor forced him to become a "whistle-blower" -- publishing an article in such a way that it was believed by the world and thus brought corporate America to a full stop. With corporate momentum checked, the course of world history was diverted. (If you think nothing could really do that, read this novel!)
Bragin's father's self-sacrificing action did not make much of a dent in the course of history -- at least not one that anyone can see with reality-veiled eyes.
But because Burton was writing a novel, he was able to take a wider and longer view of events than either Bragin or her mother and father ever could. Burton showed us four people pursuing their karma with honor and changing the course of history (world and human history). In the "Aftermath" of the economic collapse of the world, a scientist, Rene Reynolds, creates a device that can replace the health care delivery system. And with the help of an Indian shaman and a young girl, Cane is able to mend some of the damage and present the world with Rene Reynolds' device as an opportunity for better things yet to come. And the shaman gives his life to save Reynolds'.
For contrast, look at Susan M. Garrett's Forever Knight novel, Intimations of Mortality. In this vampire cop-show, our hero is a vampire who refuses to kill humans and works as a cop to make amends for a life of killing. His most fervent wish is to become human again, live a normal life span and die in the human way. Garrett confronts Knight with a photo-journalistic vision of what that "real human life" might be like, with some nightmarish twists that bespeak Knight's personal psychology with uncanny accuracy.
The visions come from a magic token. The magick creates scenarios that reveal the karmic glue that holds the TV characters together. Nick Knight's fate is not a matter that will change history or the destiny of humankind. Nothing so grandiose. Only his personal soul is at stake.
Burton's book has such vast scope and such intense themes that there's little room for what I term "Intimate Adventure" (see the first articles in this column posted inside CONNECTIONS on http://www.lightworks.com for a definition of Intimate Adventure).
Forever Knight is a perfect example of Intimate Adventure on television. It is about the depths of Nick Knight's personal relationships and how emotional honesty in those relationships is his path to his personal goal. Garrett has put her finger right on the center of this bundle of themes, nailing the Knight characterization precisely, and depicting the responses of the people around him with unerring accuracy. I feel she knows the show better than some of the script writers. Even if you've never seen this show, try this book.
And while we're on the subject of vampires (creatures for whom questions of honor are central), there's a new Saint-Germain novel from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro titled Writ In Blood.
I think this is the 13th novel in this series about another vampire who doesn't kill humans, and I can hardly wait for the next. Saint-Germain has become an old friend. The cover blurb says Saint-Germain's saga is "a feat of the imagination that rivals the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice." Actually, it's Anne Rice's work that rivals Yarbro's.
Writ in Blood is set in 1910 in Europe, with the world trembling on the brink of World War. Once again, Saint-Germain, born and raised to the aristocracy and thus accustomed to regarding his personal actions as matters of state requiring impeccable honor, enters the field of world politics at the behest of a head of state who wants to use family connections to settle matters without bloodshed. St. Germain involves himself in these affairs of state out of honor, not in the pursuit of opportunity.
The world attempts (once again) to cut him down because his actions bespeak the pursuit of opportunity, or at the very least his actions obstruct people who are pursuing opportunity (arms merchants view war as an opportunity to be seized without question).
Saint-Germain's actions do not avert world catastrophe. He risks his comfort, his fortune and his safety, and his actions cost him and his closest associates dearly. But St. Germain comes out of it still existing.
He has the old aristocracy's attitude that the purpose of his riches, his knowledge, his power, is to serve the people -- and because his own people have long since vanished into history, he serves those among whom he makes his home and expects nothing less of those who work for and with him. It is, for St. Germain, a matter of honor to behave so, and he never flinches from the potential personal cost.
It occurs to me to contrast St. Germain's actions and attitudes -- and the attitudes of readers of this fantasy series -- with the cogent explanation of the daughter of a real-world hero whose actions hardly made a dent in the world's problems.
Is it that we admire a fantasy hero who never thinks to count the personal cost of his honorable actions while we deplore the real world hero who neglects to consider the personal cost of his honorable actions?
Do we wish that honorable action could be undertaken without regard to personal cost? Do we want to live in a world where every opportunity leads inevitably only to good things if seized immediately and without consideration? Are these novels wish-fulfillment fantasies -- like a 007 movie? Is that wish being used by TV advertising to sell us news shows?
If on the one hand, we covet honor-at-all-costs and on the other hand we deplore the pain and agony necessary to uphold honor in the real world (and count it a price well paid only if it's clearly, obviously and instantly effective in changing the future course of history), then I would say these science-fantasy stories are addressing an internal conflict endemic in the group mind of our civilization.
We somehow share a conviction that honor, personal, cultural or familial, is worth defending. When push comes to shove, when the "kid-gloves of civilization come off," when "the chips are down," -- our default setting is to defend honor and damn the consequences. Do the "right thing" and all will be well.
And we desperately want to believe that every opportunity that comes flying at us out of the karmic murk is "the right thing" and will ultimately redeem our honor if we pursue it without question. But we're surprised and bitterly disappointed when in the "real" world things don't happen that way.
What karmic experience, what the Initiation, could bestow upon such a wide swath of humanity the "default behavior setting," "Honor-At-All-Costs?"
I don't know the answer to that, but I think I know what it would feel like to experience that Initiation. The question and the perception of the answer came to me this morning over breakfast while watching the episode "Miracle" on Earth: The Final Conflict.
That was the second time I had seen this episode, and this time I noticed that it had been written by D. C. Fontana, who became a very important mover-and-shaker within Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek offices. Her scripts were among the very best of the classic Trek episodes. And I think she's brought something of that insight to this new Roddenberry show which is owned and executive produced by Gene's widow, Majel Barrett Roddenberry. (Conflict of interest disclosure here -- I'm not objective about this because I know both of these women and knew Gene, too.)
"Miracle" is a story-arc episode, the one about a teenager who became famous by surviving a car crash that killed her parents and left her without hands. She is suicidal as the episode opens. The Companions offer her an opportunity - an experimental treatment to re-grow her hands. It succeeds, a tangible answer to her lifelong prayers, and when -- during a press conference -- the young girl is introduced to Dahan, she sees the sun behind Dahan and views Dahan as an "Angel of God" -- and instantly tells the world about her vision.
Honor required this child to shout out her new Truth for the whole world to hear.
Too stunned to think, in that ineffable moment of transcending Truth, she "defaulted" to her pre-installed setting that upheld honor at all costs. How could she know such a hugely important thing about the Companions and not say so out loud? It never occurred to her to try. It would be extremely dishonorable to withhold such vital information from the world.
It was a dramatic moment where events coalesced to create a media event that held its own Truth -- a sound byte that convinced billions in an instant -- billions long conditioned to respond to sound bytes.
Because this is a TV series, not a novel, it was necessary to return everything almost to the initial conditions so the girl didn't get to keep her hands, and we learned something important about the Companions that even Boone didn't find out. But the important thing about this episode is the writer's engineering of that ineffable moment when this girl knows she is seeing an angel. She knows.
First she underwent a miracle and then she perceived the event as a miracle. These two kinds of initiatory experiences are represented in Tarot by the 6 of Wands, and the Ace of Cups (which, in Jacob's Ladder are overlaid one upon another -- two versions of the same experience. Or the same experience on different "levels.").
I think 6-Wands/Ace-Cups is the defining paradigm for the Initiation that installs Honor-At-All-Costs as our default setting. Being somewhat un-illuminated humans we then extend this unique Initiation by analogy and assume that because honor (Saturn) must be seized and pursued at all costs, then opportunity (Jupiter) must likewise be pursued at all costs.
But while Saturn provides the shoulds-oughts-and-musts of life, Jupiter provides growth-truth-honesty. Saturn limits; Jupiter expands. When Saturn acts in your life, you "must" (must being a keyword of Saturn) respond. When Jupiter acts in your life, you "may" respond. Saturn demands; Jupiter permits.
Jupiter is also associated with the Mutable water sign, Pisces, which can represent a psychic element, and always has to do with insight, intuition and dreams. Thus it's appropriate to discuss the Ace of Cups (Cups representing the element water) in conjunction with Jupiter.
The moment when the young woman first felt her new hands move almost defines the Six of Wands, while the moment when she saw Dahan was an Ace of Cups moment. The Power overflowed the Six of Wands and took the quantum leap over to the Ace of Cups, hitting with emotional impact. Her reaction to that incredible downwash of pure power was typical of the reaction of someone admitted prematurely to an Initiation.
I suspect that many of our souls have been through the Honor initiation prematurely and thus accidentally acquired the credo that opportunity must be seized. And so we view any opportunity as an emergency: should that moment of opportunity pass un-seized, we will have lost something priceless. (Of course you can't lose Jupiter. It's not going anywhere. And it circles the zodiac every 12 years, while Saturn takes 28-29 years -- thus opportunity is almost constantly available, but honor takes longer to build.) I wonder what world-wide event could have taught so many souls such a thing so prematurely? Could it have to do with Atlantis?
Speaking of ancient history, we come to the Honorable Mention this month, a new edition of a reference guide to Star Trek called The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Because I keep harping on that ubiquitous television show, I thought you'd like to know this book is just out. I prefer Bjo Trimble's Star Trek Concordance, which might be hard to find right now, but this one would be worth picking up if you don't have such an item already. In fact, even if you do -- there's a lot of new material in here. This current edition comes with free blueprints to the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC - 1701 - D.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to. To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below.
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