Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

March, 1994

"Intimate Action "


Turning Point, by Lisanne Norman, DAW pb, Dec. 1993

The Legend of Nightfall, by Mickey Zucker Reichert, DAW Fantasy pb. Dec. 1993.

Emperors of the Twilight, by S. Andrew Swann, DAW pb. Jan. 1994.

Flame of Fury, by Sharon Green, Avon Historical Romance pb., Nov. 1993.

The TV Guide sidebar for Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994 highlights the debut series opener for Babylon 5, the new sf series, comparing Babylon 5 to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. TV Guide says B-5 "opts for action over character development," implying that ST:DS9 does not opt for action over character development, at least by comparison.

When I saw this sidebar this morning, it shocked me into open mouthed horror for five full minutes. In one pithy sentence, the TV Guide reviewer fingered the traditional essence of commercial success in the sf/f field and implied that one highly budgeted show was gambling that the traditional avenue to success in sf/f was still wide open.

In other words, the big money is betting against Intimate Adventure -- the new genre I have identified repeatedly in this column over the past year -- and is betting for the type of fiction that I wish would just crumble to bits and blow away.

Traditionally, science fiction/fantasy has been pure Action/Adventure. I've defined this field's ingredients in past columns, and so won't repeat that now. But one element is important. In pure Action/Adventure things happen thick and fast with lots of violence and blood, but they don't happen to anyone.

That is, the character who is an assassin's target sleeps the night away without nightmares, and at the end, when the would-be assassin speeds off a cliff and crashes in a fireball, the target character does not end up in a trauma clinic for ten years of therapy, nor does the reader break down and cry through three tissues. The events you as reader witnessed didn't happen to you, as they do in Intimate Adventure, nor did they happen to the protagonist who emerges unscathed and ready for the next adventure.

Characterization and character development are two of the building blocks essential for Intimate Adventure, and they are essential to produce the three-tissue ending for the reader. But they are static elements. They do not make intimate adventure. For a story to be intimate adventure, the character must be not only described and developed, but also brought out of him/herself into an adventure of the spirit that changes the person forever.

In Astrology, this is symbolized by hard transits of Saturn to a personal planet, accompanied by Uranus ticking off squares and trines in quick sequence, usually involving Jupiter and/or ninth house elements. Intimate Adventure rarely involves the kind of romance symbolized by transits of Neptune. It is more like the sort of experience triggered by Pluto opposing the natal moon, especially when the moon's natal nodes and current eclipses are involved.

In Action/Adventure, the formula requires the pacing of events to overload the protagonist's ability to absorb and react emotionally. If the protagonist kills someone, there will be no more than a moment for a flash of regret or triumph, and then he/she will be running again.

Historically, sf/f has belonged to the Action/Adventure genre, and seldom do you find an editor, publisher or producer who would dare risk investor's money on a futuristic story with aliens from outer space or esp in it unless it was Action/Adventure or at the very least Heroic Fiction.

Star Trek changed all that, as I have noted previously in this column, proving that the core essence of what people come to science fiction to get is intimate adventure not action/adventure. TV Guide's reviewer implied that the very successful ST:DS9 acknowledges this shift in the field. At this writing, I haven't seen the Babylon 5 series opener, just the two hour premier. The premise struck me as having plenty of intimate adventure potential. I can only hope it will be explored.

Commercially, intimate adventure has had to be packaged as action/adventure because I/A hasn't been recognized as a genre yet. So sf/f writers have learned to lace their action/adventure with intimate adventure. I can only hope Babylon 5 will use this same technique. If they haven't thought of it yet, they could surely take lessons from the following writers.

Turning Point, by Lisanne Norman upholds the remarkable standards the folks at DAW have always maintained. For those of you who search out books by author or subject, let me clue you in to a professional secret. The one person who does not get their name on a book (usually) is the editor. At a large publishing house, there can be many editors who handle sf, so it's hard to see consistency. But DAW is a very small operation (sf/f only) with an unusually consistent editorial hand behind it all. The DAW logo on a book really means something special.

Turning Point belongs in the DAW list, and I hope to see many more Lisanne Norman titles forthcoming. This adventure takes place on a planet with an Earth colony which has been conquered by inimical aliens. The woman, human, who is the hero has a twin sister with whom she shared a unique telepathic bond. When the aliens kill the twin sister at exactly the moment when the hero is discovering a shipwrecked alien (of a different alien species that humans have never encountered before), the telepathic bond is transferred to the alien.

Sick, injured, in shock, at death's door, the alien is mistaken for a local animal. As our hero nurses him back to health, the inimical aliens close in, and the new alien has to continue to masquerade as an animal. For me, the best scene in the book was when our hero learns that her pet is not a pet but a person. And then she has an ally in her fight to save her colony from disaster.

In the process, Earth ends up with a new allied species in the fight against the inimical aliens.

Earth's problems are solved because of a deep, intimate friendship between a human and a non-human. Honesty and trust resolves the war, not force of arms but force of personality and character, carries the day. This is the core of the definition of intimate adventure.

Turning Point is the type of book I will always give my highest recommendation. Though it has all the action, danger, and death that any pure action adventure would have, it does not sell the concept that there is any glory to be had in warfare, or that winning a war solves a problem. And as a bonus, it has appealing characters who are so compellingly drawn that the events of this story happen to the reader as well as to the characters. This is a book to live not to read.

The Legend of Nightfall, by Mickey Zucker Reichert: Reichert writes like that, too. All her previous books have that compelling sense of "you are there" that is the hallmark of good writing. The Legend of Nightfall is a 496 page, $5.99 book and worth every penny.

The trick to writing these huge, oversize novels is to write loosely enough that the reader can put it down, but tightly enough to draw the reader back. This is a book to read a couple of hours before bed every night and stretch it out because it's so delicious.

Nightfall is a persona of the hero, who has many personae. Nightfall is a renowned assassin. He has one magical talent. In this fantasy world, some people are gifted with magic, but they only get one gift apiece. Unscrupulous magicians can, by ritual slaughter, take that gift and make it their own. And they can collect magical gifts. Thus, anyone with a magical gift is prey.

Nightfall's magical talent is the ability to increase or decrease his effective mass -- not shapechange, but mass-change. He's learned to use that gift in many unexpected ways. Reichert's thinking behind her use of magic in this as in all her other fantasies is impeccable and startlingly original.

But what makes this book shine is the situation Nightfall must cope with. When his secret identity is penetrated by a King's Court Magician who has collected many gifts, Nightfall is captured and forced (by magic) into a promise that binds him magically to a high principled but naive prince. He must accompany this prince out into the world and help him to grow up.

The prince is an amazingly realistic character who is painfully comical. Reichert uses the absurd, the comedy of errors, the pratfall, and situational humor all in rapid rotation and perfect synthesis without edging over into the use of humor to denigrate, dehumanize, or cut. She has respect for the human dignity of her most undignified characters.

Reichert's absurd young prince is turned into King material right before your eyes. You don't quite know how it was accomplished, but you believe it.

The plot is simple, straight forward, and gathers momentum as it gathers perfectly plausible complications. The climax is completely satisfying because you watch the karmic wheel turning right before your eye.

The essential thematic elements in this book are trust and power. Nightfall, at the beginning of the book, has good solid reason to believe that his one true love has betrayed him. His personal agenda is to discover the truth about his lover. When he does, he clears his lover of betrayal, but discovers something far worse, and things get complicated by power struggles and the human lust for power.

This giant book works as sheer entertainment because that very serious, philosophical, magickal theme is worked out in the plot, characters, situation, and relationships. Most readers won't even notice it has a serious theme.

In May '94, Reichert has another novel coming from DAW (for $4.99) called The Unknown Soldier. It's billed as an sf novel, not the fantasy she's been writing, and it draws on her experience as a doctor. I can hardly wait to see a copy!

Emperors of the Twilight by S. Andrew Swann has more action than intimate adventure. It's a sequel to Forests of the Night (which had a picture of a tiger-cat person with a futuristic rifle on the cover) which I raved about in these pages recently.

This is a future Earth where genetic engineering of humans has produced a number of hybrid types. The cat-man, Nohar Rajasthan is a private eye. Evi Isham, species Frankenstein, is a government agent. In Forests they get tangled up in a high-speed chase plot within a plot, and end up exposing some aliens from outer space who have essentially bought the U.S. Congress via campaign donations.

Now, some years later, in Emperors, Evi discovers that her transfer to another division of the agency had been covered up by having her listed as dead on the official records. But someone (or several someones) is trying to kill her -- messily. Desperately.

She hurls herself from trap to trap until she finally discovers that she has been inadvertently working for an illegal conspiracy to cover up the presence of the aliens while keeping the captured ones alive to study. Now, various elements are vying for control of the captives.

It takes her and Rajasthan working together to unravel the tangled mess. Again, all the violence, bloodshed, military might, and hit-squad action don't solve the problem. They just make it worse. In fact, it's made so bad that even a fully functioning partnership can't quite solve the problem. A lot of invading aliens get killed. Perhaps in a later novel, Earth will manage to carve out a real peace with these aliens.

As intimate adventure, this novel is a bit less satisfying (though as sheer action, it misses not one beat). The hero, Evi Isham, does find true love as her karmic reward at the end of the novel, but it is not as a result of the events and decisions she makes in her job. This is a novel which says, implicitly, that a personal life is separate and apart from a job or a career. In my personal philosophy, career and home/family are not independent variables. This book pretends they are, which is a wish-fulfillment fantasy and may have its place in the Fool's Quest.

Flame of Fury, by Sharon Green is a historical romance, a category romance. If you read category romance, you've read this plot a hundred or a thousand times. There is a rich heiress, a greedy stepfather, a forced marriage, a plan of escape, and ultimately a true-mate who won't take no for an answer and admires her spunk. The interestingly different parts lie in the personalities of the people involved.

But when Green gets through with this time honored and worn plot, you can't put it down and the suspense is killing you. Even if you read the last page first, the suspense is killing you by the last chapter. If you like Green but hate romance, read this book. If you like romance but didn't like any of Green's sf/f, read this book.

I've reviewed Sharon Green's sf/f here before. She is one of the very, very best writers of intimate adventure in the commercial field today. In her books, the action doesn't impede character development -- it is the character development. They should invite her to write a Babylon 5 script! Or better yet, a season's worth!

HONORABLE MENTION this month goes to a Nancy Varian Berberick series. This one has a magickal setting and a magickal problem -- elves and gnomes and magickal jewels with the power to upset the underpinnings of the world. Titles: The Jewels of Elvish, TSR Fantasy April '89; Shadow of the Seventh Moon, Ace Fantasy, '91. A sequel to the Shadow of the Seventh Moon will be published in April '94 by Ace Fantasy, titled The Panther's Hoard. This material bears the earmark of the gamer's mentality more than intimate adventure, but there is much to be said for gaming as training for a magician.

I've reviewed a couple of titles from Laurie J. Marks here before. She has a November '93 DAW book titled Dancing Jack. I found parts of it riveting and other parts meaningless and annoying, but I'm not sure if that's because it wasn't well conceived or because I just don't responding to the lesbian overtones. I think this is a good book, but I'm not certain. I still intend to grab any Marks title I find, especially if it's a DAW book. Maybe she was trying to do something I would have liked if she had succeeded, but I just couldn't quite see what she was trying to do.




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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg