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ReReadable Books

March 2011

"Reality Plate Tectonics: Part I"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,jl@simegen.com  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Warehouse 13 by SyFy channel Summer Series 2010

Ancient Egypt, 39,000 BCE, The History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X by Edward F. Malkowski, Bear & Co, 2010

Heroes Return by Moira J. Moore, Ace Fantasy pb, Aug 2010

A Legacy of Daemons by Camille Bacon-Smith, DAW pb May 2010

Can’t Teach An Old Demon New Tricks by Cara Lockwood, Pocket Books 2010

In January and February 2011, in a two-part column titled "Not Your Mother’s Science Fiction," we looked at a few examples of SF and Fantasy that show how the current market has grown up. Most of what the publishers are sending me now is not aimed at 12 year old boys, but at adult women with at least one college degree.

When Science Fiction began in its modern form, the 1930’s, most 20-something women didn’t have college degrees, and few had High School diplomas. Women of any age didn’t constitute a market for imaginative novels playing fast and loose with science. That’s all changed.

Changes in the slant, theme and content of fiction, any genre, are gradual enough that, if you’ve been reading right along, you barely notice at all. As the "narrative" coming out of your news flow shifts, the "narrative" of fiction shifts, but with a distinctive time-lag.

Fiction published by big traditional publishers is usually contracted two or three years in advance of the book hitting the shelves. The author concocted the idea for the story, very often, as much as five years prior to that. The publishers try to scope out what "you" will buy, or want, or enjoy or rave about on blogs as much as ten years in advance of the text meeting your eyes.

So publishing lags the public taste. There are exceptions. A writer may be ahead of the market, write on spec (without a contract or pre-payment) and when asked for "something" to fill a publishing slot, pull out a complete manuscript that is right in sync with greater trends.

An editor may find a manuscript on her desk just the moment a trend comes to her attention and see that the manuscript exploits that trend. She’ll buy it out of the slush pile. Some nonfiction is written within weeks of an Event to catch a trend of interest, but fiction usually lags.

The many permutations and combinations, variations on the current theme will appear a year and a half later at the earliest. So to find a real "trend" in publishing, you need to trace back about a decade. Sometimes two.

If we look back to 1990, we see the work of a generation of SF/F readers has redirected the field.

We once read almost exclusively about the far future, or some "Middleearth" parallel reality where magic actually works or supernatural creatures exist. Now we read almost exclusively about our own reality (Urban Fantasy) where the laws of physics have changed, the laws of magic replace physics, or supernatural creatures invade or threaten.

The hybrid genre rooted in the 1980’s that gave rise, in the 1990’s to this wild, free hand, imaginative rewrite of our real world and its history is termed Steampunk. Google it. It’s more fun than almost anything else out there.

I blogged about this trend in aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/07/emigrating-to-future.html

If you don’t know what "steampunk" is like, watch Warehouse 13 on the syfy channel. The Warehouse 13 agents hunt down Victorian appearing devices that do things we usually ascribe to magic.

Now, you and I know that these devices did not exist historically and don’t exist now.

Don’t we? Surely we know that?

For over 20 years, an entire generation has grown up with TV and novels depicting history in these various twisted, distorted ways. Some of the younger generation may not know, or be entirely convinced, of what is real, and what is just made up.

I saw a tweet on twitter where a fellow noted he’d encountered a 20-something who knew how to read a map, but had never read a map ON PAPER. Disorienting generation gaps like this abound, and are growing wider.

Young people know they don’t live in the same world their parents live in, and the young are convinced the elders are wrong to resist tech changes. If the elders have such terrible judgment about the obvious, why should the younger trust the elder’s judgment about what is real and what isn’t?

I recently encountered a wonderful publishing company that specializes in out-of-the-way subjects. I found this book presenting a theory that could support the entire thesis of Warehouse 13, or the craziest steampunk thesis you can think of. Ancient Egypt, 39,000 BCE, The History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X by Edward F. Malkowski. It has a slick photo section in the middle.

Malkowski lives in Illinois but researches and writes about pre-history civilizations. In this book, he presents the view that the Ancient Egyptians we think built the pyramids were telling the truth about a civilization of gods who lived long before them and bequeathed this wondrous technology.

Note how that’s the opposite of younger distrusting elder’s clinging to old tech. Here the younger embrace the higher tech of the elder, a common motif in magic, but not in science. Which is right? Which is better? Realer?

According to Malkowski, recent puzzling discoveries about the technology used to build the pyramids calls all we "know" into question. But if that doesn’t interest you, check out www.BearandCompanyBooks.com

In the midst of new discoveries pushing back the evolutionary tree of humans, new theories of how humans dispersed among the continents, new revelations via genetics, our notion of what "the real" world is, is shifting.

The Discovery Channel has carried factual coverage of scientific theories of alternate universes generated moments after The Big Bang, which itself is still in question.

As we once thought of Earth’s surface as a solid crust that occasionally moved or cracked in earthquakes, we once thought that science had mapped out solid "reality."

But science discovered the Earth’s surface is composed of tectonic plates that move against each other. And now it appears (appears mind you) that science has discovered that "reality" is composed differently than was taught just 20 years ago.

During the years steampunk has burgeoned into a hugely popular sub-genre, science itself has been rewriting reality at an ever increasing pace. So with the typical lag in publishing, we are now seeing a flood novel series that rewrite history, invent island universes, or skip through alternate realities where the laws of physics are magic.

As long as you can keep it all straight in your mind, you will love the following three novels that embrace the wild variety of possibilities.

Moira J. Moore brings us the fifth in her Heroes series, Heroes Return, where ESP or maybe magic co-exists with science on a world where the people know they arrived recently from somewhere else, but don’t know from where or how. Male-female "pairs," of Source and Shield bond for life with the ability to stop natural disasters, usually earthquakes, psychically managing the energy. Now Shield Mallorough and Source Karish are posted to Karish’s home Duchy where he must deal with his mother, the Dowager Duchess. Mallorough must develop new skills and learn magic even though there is no such thing. As with all the books I mention, this series is highly recommended.

Camille Bacon-Smith gives us an urban fantasy world, very contemporary, but where magic is routine and demon-politics can ruin a private detective agency’s day. Evan Davis and his supernatural partners, Brad and Lily operate an upscale, high end agency, trying hard to stay out of demon politics. They just want to lay low and recover from their previous adventure, but they get suckered into signing a deal that violates demon laws. They have to deliver the goods, and they do. Bacon-Smith is an excellent writer with a practical but limitless imagination.

Now as I said, the field of fantasy has undergone a tectonic shift right under our feet. Today, pure "fantasy" complete with demons and magic, can be published without a genre label, by a USA Today Best Selling Author, and draw a publicity campaign on Amazon.

Can’t Teach An Old Demon New Tricks by Cara Lockwood is a prime example, but not anything like the only example.. I got this one via the Amazon Vine Reviewer’s Voice program, not directly from the publisher.

Can’t Teach An Old Demon New Tricks has all the requisite earmarks of a Romance, along with a nice dollop of horror complete with possession of the main character’s husband by a nasty demon, is hysterically funny, has wild worldbuilding mixing up and cross-matching mythologies creatively, -- it just breaks all the rules – which is why I really like this book and think you should read it. Perfect airplane read! Today the paranormal is normal.

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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