Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

March, 1993

"A Proposal for a New Genre Name"


You're probably wondering why your favorite metaphysical publication has an sf writer reviewing science fiction/fantasy books. Of course, if you've read my novels, you're probably not wondering. Some of you may know me only as a teacher of Tarot and Qabalah and think that's what this column is about. I hope not to disappoint any of you.

The policy in this column, after this introductory survey, is to review two books a month, one an older classic and one new, but never to give a bad review. If it's not worth reading, it's not worth discussing either. Hence the title: Recommended Books.

But I will deal in more than recommending books. I am going to create a reading program that will guide aspirants on the Path. Fiction creation and fiction imbibing are magical exercises in the Qabalistic Sephirah called Yesod. Yesod contains but is not composed entirely of the astral plane, the locus of dreams, aspirations, imagination, ectoplasm -- i.e. the Foundation of Reality, represented by the Tarot 9's. Thus fiction is the preceding cause of all that crystallizes in Reality.

In the training of a magician, the first seriously dangerous exercise is Rising on the Planes, and the first experience is the encounter with the Guardian at the Gate -- your own personal Guardian. It is necessary to make an ally of your Guardian if you would proceed further.

There are many methods of doing this, but the most effective is the imbibing of fiction. Fiction where the background is not the "real world" (i.e. the sephirah Malkuth represented by the Tarot 10's) can be used by the author to reveal his/her personal understanding of the quintessential nature of the "real world."

Since Malkuth and Yesod are reflections of one another ("As Above: So Below"), studying Yesod, The Above, reveals the nature of Malkuth, The Below. Studying Malkuth reveals the nature of Yesod. Studying both reveals the relationship between them, (i.e. the Tarot Arcanum The World) and thus allows the student magician to answer the riddle of the Guardian at the Gate and gain an ally on the astral plane.

Since the times when all fiction purveyors were bards or shamans, fiction has been used as the universe of discourse in which matters of ultimate concern (i.e. the nature of Man, the nature of God, and the relationship between them) are explored, argued, and taught. Nowhere is this more true than in sf/f.

In no other genre do you find the depth of personal interaction between reader and writer, and even between writer and writer that you find in sf/f. SF/F has an active annual round of conventions at which writers and readers become friends, associates, and business partners. In no other genre is the line between fan and professional as blurred as it is in sf/f. In no other genre does the magic flow as freely.

Under the surface of the sf/f genre, there is an active dialogue among writers conducted within the contexts of their books. Some of this dialogue has to do with the task of making an ally of the Guardian of the Gate.

It is this aspect of sf/f I intend as the focus of this column. The general, overall theme that connects all of these works with magical training is Power -- how it is acquired, and what to do with it once it is acquired. The riddle the Guardian presents is often designed to reveal the petitioner's understanding of the use and abuse of Power.

And so we come to the proposal for a new genre. Cutting across the various sub-categories of sf/f, from the outer reaches of the Horror genre, through the Vampire as Good Guy, the Alien Invader as friend, and all the way into the fantasy quest novel, I have observed a singular dialogue occurring among writers, a discussion of the use and abuse of power in the defense of the Self, the heroism and courage it takes to defend the Self -- and the even greater courage needed to refrain from defending the Self. Only the ability to stand defenseless in the face of the most terrifying threat impresses the Guardian. These books explore what it takes to acquire that ability.

Keep in mind that all the books listed below are exercises in entering and exploring Yesod. Put another way, that means each one was designed to be a Rip-Roaring-Good-Read, to transport you to Otherwhere/when and keep you there until your emotions are deeply and thoroughly stirred. That's all the writer can do for you.

Upon your return to Malkuth, it is up to you to examine the core nature of the emotion you experienced, -- never the same for any two readers of a book -- and to remember that the fuel of every magical operation is the magician's own personal emotions, a very dangerous fuel indeed in the hands of the innocent, the ignorant, or the emotional coward.

Delan The Mislaid by Laurie J. Marks, DAW 1989, $3.95

The Gate of Ivory by Doris Egan, DAW 1989, $3.95

Gate has two sequels, equally as good, Two-Bit Heroes, DAW Jan. '92, and Guilt-Edged Ivory, DAW, Sept. '92. The hero of all three is a woman who is the only one who can read Tarot for a practicing magician.

Both Delan The Mislaid and The Gate of Ivory are fast paced action adventure with a very distant sf background and a fantasy flavor in the foreground. To me, this seems to be the coming wave in sf, the hint of a new genre being defined by writers and readers. More on that later. First let's look at two good examples.

Delan is set in what might be a collection of large asteroids left from the breakup of a planet. The sentients are of four major types, all of whom seem to be genetically related though they do not appear similar. They all hatch from eggs, but apparently suckle the young.

At least two of the races produce individuals with magical talents, including the ability to open a dimension gate. Delan, the central character tells the story in first person, as he writes his memoirs.

He is of a race that sprouts wings during a delayed puberty upheaval. Since he was hatched from an egg cared for by another race, one much more human seeming to the reader, he didn't know this was going to happen to him. The adult of his race who Companions him through this crisis teaches him love and bonds emotionally with him, the first real friend Delan has ever had in his life. Delan's plight is especially complex because his race is hermaphroditic but he was raised as a deformed female.

The "human" magician who stole Delan's egg and put him in the wrong nest to hatch alone is plotting the destruction of Delan's race. The story revolves around Delan's contest with this magician. Delan is imprisoned, raped and tortured by the magician, but escapes because he, too, is coming into his magical talent.

The story becomes deeply personalized when Delan's Companion is also imprisoned and tortured and Delan is too devastated at that time to go to the rescue.

The substance of the drama is Delan's struggle to find a personal and sexual identity as well as a meaningful relationship to define his existence. In the process, he helps bring peace and meaningful relationships among the four races on his world.

Laurie Marks leaves the questions of who these people are, why they're so human, and how they came to live where they are living completely open. The reader is free to imagine that these folks are not even remotely human, or to assume they are the leftover detritus of genetic experimentation parked some place to rot -- and with true human spirit, getting ready to take on the universe in triumph.

But Doris Egan is quite clear about the background of her universe in The Gate of Ivory. Here we are on a world inhabited by humans descended from Earth stock, planted there by nonhumans who came visiting Earth and sold Earth an interstellar drive.

Humans who colonized other worlds with ships built on Earth are rather ordinary, as is our viewpoint character, Theodora, who again tells the reader the story in first person.

A prince of the leading family in Sorcery, a Sorcerer who is under a curse, chooses her to read divination cards for him. His grandmother cursed him so he wouldn't be able to read cards for himself until and unless he learns how to treat women properly.

He becomes utterly dependent on the woman who reads for him, and can't replace her until she dies. His former reader was murdered by an enemy of his, but he doesn't know who.

It is his own magic that causes his card reader to be able to do divination, and when his enemy cuts off his magic, Theodora's ability to read evaporates. Only her personal heroism gets them both through that period alive.

Again this is a story hung on an adventure framework, but actually centering on the search for a workable definition of the male/female relationship where dominance and domination are not allowed to figure into it at all. Intimacy is the solution, not dominance.

Both books present the theme that partnership is the key to survival as well as to happiness, and both books are deep, rich, entertaining, and worthy of many awards and accolades including the Hugo and Nebula. DAW Books deserves an award for publishing them both.

For many years now, I've been struggling to define what makes "this kind" of sf different from "that kind" of sf, and since the field has never really agreed on a workable definition of sf, my struggle has been very difficult.

In an attempt to clear the confusion, I'm going to risk adding to the confusion by proposing a new subgenre name -- a designation that would identify similar books even when they are published under different labels, for this material turns up in hard sf, soft sf, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Adult Fantasy and in Young Adult books of all sorts. It also can be identified in material outside the sf/f field. It's not limited to books, but has been turning up in successful tv shows, too.

I am calling this kind of fiction Intimate Adventure.

The sf/f genre has been traditionally regarded as a subdivision of the Action/Adventure field, and thus if an sf novel isn't at least nominally Action/Adventure, it isn't likely to be published.

In the Action genre, the plot is driven by a physical problem which has a physical resolution. "Abe is the only entity that can save the universe, but the entire Klin empire has sworn to hunt him down and kill him." The stakes in Action stories are society, civilization, territory, or possession of things or power over people. The means of settling the dispute involve physical courage and combat of some sort.

In the Adventure genre, most often seen in children's and young adult novels, a person either chooses to leave the comfort and safety of home or is jarred out of a routine life by events. Leaving the known lifestyle behind, the person goes out into the world to meet new things, people, and challenges, to "go where no one has gone before."

Both Action and Adventure usually focus on a main character who is heroic or who becomes heroic through the experience of events. And so Action/Adventure is a sub-category of Heroic fiction.

In Heroic fiction, the characters are painted larger than life. They are The Best or The Only one for the job, and they have the character traits we associate with competent adults -- the courage to do what's right, no matter the personal cost, the ability to assess a problem, make and implement decisions, then get people to cooperate, the knack of beating the odds. (For you would-be writers, this is what Market Reports mean by "strong characters." Not characters with lots of muscles, but characters who don't whimper and whine and wring their hands in the face of adversity while waiting for someone to do something to help them. Characters who take their destiny into their own hands, and who refuse to accept the unacceptable.)

Mundane or general fiction sometimes deals with heros, and sometimes with combat, and sometimes with lifestyle changes so drastic as to constitute adventure, but these are usually incidental elements, decoration not theme. In Heroic Action/Adventure there is an implicit thematic statement that says The Pure In Heart always win, justice, goodness and mercy carry the day, and The Hero succeeds though possibly at something he never started out to do.

Heroic Action/Adventure doesn't always have a happy ending, but it does always show that the hero's efforts have made his world better somehow. The Hero's efforts count.

In the purest form of this new genre, Intimate Adventure, we have Heroic Action/Adventure without the Action. The stakes are not the possession of things or power over people, the stakes are happiness, fulfillment and a worthwhile life. The means of settling the dispute involve two things: the courage to be emotionally honest, and the art of standing defenseless in the face of the most fearsome emotional pain. (Anyone who has successfully conducted a magical ritual knows why this second art is the single most important magical weapon a magician must master.)

By combat one attains dominance; by intimacy one attains freedom.

Intimate Adventure is Adventure because one or both of the contestants locked into the struggle for intimacy has left a known, safe existence behind, either physically, or emotionally. Thus, one popular form of Intimate Adventure is the First Contact novel where a human meets a nonhuman person and they must reach across the gulf between them to form a functioning partnership. (All partnerships involve some form of intimacy.) The movie Enemy Mine is a good example.

In the commercial press, Intimate Adventure rarely appears in its pure form under the sf or fantasy label because, as I mentioned above, sf/f has traditionally been Action/Adventure, and intimacy has been largely excluded.

But mixed and woven into Action/Adventure sf, we find a wide variety of examples of Intimate Adventure has popped up over the last couple of years. They are so diverse that it is impossible to say which is the purest or which is the leader or the most prominent in the field. We are seeing the gradual emergence of a new genre, which is slowly defining its own rules.

Books For Review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.




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