Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Fiction Addicts, Unite!"
C&M Online Media Inc.; Boson Books, 3905 Meadow Field Lane, Raleigh, NC 27606. C&M Tel: 919-233-8164; Fax: 919-233-8578;
Initiation by Elisabeth Haich, a 1965 translation from a 1960 work in German published in English by Pocket Books, March, 1979, and many other editions since. A definitive work in the occult field.
The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Marion Zimmer Bradley, editor (Warner pb, $4.99, Nov. 1994).
Sherlock Holmes In Orbit, Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, editors (DAW, Feb. 1995).
"My name is Jacqueline and I'm a fiction addict and I do not intend to change that."
Last month I examined the definition of sf and sf/f, both historically and in the present. This month, let's strip that definition down to basics and talk about fiction in general as simply "information." This is how computers, word processors, and the information superhighway regard fiction sequences of letters, each composed of bits. The sequencing is just a code, nothing more information.
As a fiction addict (and writer), I find that definition of fiction revolting. Even if that definition prevails, though, I will not give up my habit.
This may put me out of step with the modern world, relegate me to being nothing but a dusty fossil on a shelf. Or it may not. In general, I find the world of the Information Superhighway is just beginning to promise to become the world I was born to live in.
But there was an article in the January '95 Monthly Aspectarian that distressed me mightily. I know it's unprofessional for two reviewers in the same magazine to go head-to-head on an issue, but this one is irresistible.
Maurice Harter, who normally reviews comics for the magazine (splendidly, I might add), did an article on a book by Paul Scheele, titled The PhotoReading Whole Mind System. I have not read the book, but Harter's article is very well written and clearly presents a very exciting concept for reading techniques. And Harter is absolutely correct that information-glut is a serious stress-generating problem in the modern world. To survive in this world, we must process information faster than we are hardwired for. Any technique that gives us a survival edge is welcomed. And it appears Scheele has found a very effective technique.
Nevertheless, as an sf writer and reader-addict, I have grave misgivings. As a practicing occultist, I am even more alarmed by Harter's thesis: "If we are going to survive, we need to learn how to read and process information much faster and more effectively." That's a quote from the end of the second paragraph of his article on Scheele's system.
The main thesis of my "Recommended Books" from the very first column I've done for The Monthly Aspectarian has always been that fiction reading especially in the sf/f field is an essential adjunct to the training of a magician, whether the magick craft being studied is ceremonial or not.
Harter specifically recommended Photo-Reading for reading novels. For information dense technical manuals and newspapers, I could not fault the application of any speed reading technique. I use them myself. But those of you who apply speed reading techniques to novels are specifically avoiding the benefits that can be derived from the books recommended in this column.
Being an addict myself, I not only spend most of my time imbibing fiction (most of it printed) but I hunger for more and more faster and faster. I prefer book reading to television because I can read more story in an hour than I can watch in that same hour. Greed rules supreme. I am "tempted" (in the spiritual sense) by the concept of PhotoReading or any such system.
Life's demands are ever multiplying and I have less and less time to spend reading. Speed reading novels is so very tempting. And I confess ashamedly that I have done it.
That's how I know that it's not a good idea.
I spent the first five years of my professional writing career learning how to control my readers' reading speed, how to use writing technique to slow speed readers down to their slowest at certain crucial points in a story. I did this because I found (through direct personal contact and questionnaire circulation among readers of my books who don't know me) that speed readers missed critical information encoded into the fiction. They miss it because they speed read. I know that for a fact because when I walk them through the paragraph in question, they find the information they previously missed.
It doesn't matter how good the speed system is, speed readers miss encoded information. And it is this kind of specially encoded information that I look for in the novels I review here. I don't review novels that lack that type of encoding. I'll explain the results of my personal research in a moment.
First, please note that last month, I discussed a line of novels from Llewellyn in which occultists were attempting to write fiction to convey magickal principles. These writers have not developed and honed a technique to control speed readers' reading speed. If you speed read their books, you will definitely be wasting all of your precious reading time not saving it. And you won't learn what they have to teach. (You might learn something else, but not the things I laud these authors for in this column.)
Harter says that Scheele claims that PhotoReading before sleep allows the mind to process and organize the material during sleep. This is true of slow-reading, too.
By one of those odd coincidences that we all solemnly believe are simply random chance, I have here a letter dated Jan. 6, 1995, from a fan of my novels who is an eclectic sf/f reader.
This man is an army colonel who recently took early retirement from a job in a Pentagon-type environment. The man's a computer expert of the first order, a techie who loves these techie-toys, not for their own sake but for what they can accomplish. Now that he's retired, he's tackling the acquisition of a new skill fiction writing. (Talented, too.)
This recently retired colonel scans novels into his computer and reads them several times on screen, deliberately using the computer's data retrieval abilities to cut the time invested in looking up vaguely remembered references.
Harter says that PhotoReading "released" him from the "bad habits" of reading word-for-word and "backskipping."
This retired colonel has found (as many have) another way of coping with the time wasted in "back-skipping" a technological solution: instant reference. This is akin to solving the problem of the intrusiveness of the telephone with an answering machine, or the problem of the tyranny of broadcast TV program schedules with a VCR.
This retired colonel says, "I am not a very fast reader and I like to spend the time I read to slowly and quietly savor the stories which I am reading, (usually no more than two chapters a day at the most) and let my subconscious work on the book while I am sleeping. (This is especially true for books that I really like . . .)" He also says, "I know that others will read an entire book at a single sitting. I have done that before, ...but I don't seem to enjoy the book as well that way." (My ellipses represent irrelevant material I cut from his statement).
My point: here is someone who is perfectly capable of coping heroically with the high-speed data-throughput of the modern world, who has sense enough to realize that novel-reading is different and requires a different technique from reading a computer manual.
My personal research with readers of my own books has shown me that speed reading prevents the decoding of the material I put into a story specifically to create the good feeling of having "enjoyed" the story. Within that material I encode yet another level of material to make the story memorable. Within that memorable material I put another level of encoding which I carefully design to usher the reader onto the astral plane material to dream about and that material leads the reader to learn his own lessons from the reading experience (not my lessons, not what I want to teach, not "information", but what the reader is ready to discover on his/her own about her/his own karma).
The speed reader misses the first level of nested encoding and thus all the carefully constructed interior levels.
The "encoding" algorhythm I use and the "material" I refer to above is entirely emotional. The substance of my artform (the novel) is emotion - not words, not information about emotions, but the actual emotions themselves. The reader's receptive equipment is not the eye or the brain or the "whole brain" that Scheele refers to in PhotoReading it's not even "The Mind" as in "Brain/Mind Bulletin" the reader's receptive equipment is his/her entire endocrine system and her/his immortal soul connected to the endocrine system via the chakras.
The human endocrine system has an innate reaction time, and its most prominent characteristic is that it produces delayed reactions. When you turn on adrenalin, you turn off other things. You can't grieve effectively when you're running for your life, but if you don't grieve your genuine griefs, you'll go crazy. You can't cry your way through two boxes of tissues when you only take two hours to read a novel.
I work for a year (sometimes more) using skills acquired over twenty-five years of hard work to create that two-tissue box book, for example, to trigger ungrieved griefs and lead you through a grieving and cleansing. You may pay over twenty dollars for that book in hardcover, six in paperback. You can speed read a book that size in two hours maybe three, because I'll force you to pedestrian pace in several scenes. And you could pass a classroom quiz that would convince your instructor that you had read the book and understood it. But you won't be cleansed.
Drug addicts have the impression that they drive better "under the influence" or that psychedelic chemicals enhance the ability to understand reality. If their subjective impression were reinforced by social approval, we would have a situation exactly congruent to the situation of speed reading. Our society says read faster, read more, remember facts, and you'll be rewarded more.
But your endocrine system simply can not respond as fast as speed reading techniques habituate you to reading. It would be unendurable if you could respond that fast shattering, deranging, and most unpleasant. Even if your sanity survived, you'd never subject yourself to another of my books ever again. Mostly, you'd hate the novels recommended in this column because I search for that special quality of art in the novels I recommend here.
Speed reading a novel of this kind is not only a waste of a writer's year's work, an insult to their art, and a waste of your money and reading time it is like "comprehending" the Mona Lisa in an eyeblink, "understanding" Beethoven's Fifth on high-speed playback so you only need fifteen minutes and one playing, or meditating thirty-five seconds every morning and calling yourself a magickal practitioner.
Our whole culture is moving inexorably toward this attitude that proclaims the solution to attaining real understanding is to go faster and faster and faster. The more things you know, the better you understand everything.
I truly believe this is a fallacious concept. I believe that it is vitally necessary for our survival both physically and spiritually, to stop. (Not slow down, stop as in Casteneda's "stop the world.") I believe that understanding one thing in total, absolute depth (as described in Initiation by Elisabeth Haich Pocket Books, March 1979 sixteen years ago) gains you far more information than gulping information faster and faster.
Haitch's novel describes the retrieval of a past life memory as an Egyptian priest. In that priest's elementary training was a period of weeks and weeks (years) spent sitting in a courtyard meditating on a tree. The entire book is about the lessons derived from understanding that one natural item a tree. To do that, one must stop.
In reading a novel, the upper limiting speed is not determined by intellect, or skill in reading, or any cognitive skill that will get you through the novel or let you pass a test on it to prove you've read and understood it.
Anything you can say about a novel that proves to anyone else that you've read and understood it actually proves that you didn't even read it. When you have actually read a novel, you become utterly inarticulate about it. You tend to shake the book at someone you want to recommend it to, and gibber and shriek and behave like a lunatic until the other party reads the book so you can speak the same language share the experience, not the information about the experience.
That's one reason why the books I love the most and desperately want you to read get such short mention in this column - the greater the impact the book has on me, the less I can say about it articulately. I can only tell you that this or that novel has the potential to conduct you outside yourself to a position of understanding. Now I'm telling you that won't happen if you speed read it, and it doesn't matter how effective the speed reading method is. In fact, the more effective the method is, the worse it will be as a novel-reading tool.
In reading a novel, the upper limiting speed is dictated by your ability to get into the novel, to become the characters, to live their lives, to laugh their laughs and sigh their sighs, cry their tears, and love their lovers with every sensuous square inch of your skin. Go rent Schindler's List and watch it on fast-forward and see how much it means to you.
Do you measure the quality of a laugh by how quickly you can finish doing it? Do you measure the significance of making love by how quickly and often you can do it? Then by all means acquire cognitive tools such as PhotoReading which have as their primary objective the reduction of the time it takes you to read. If your primary objective is to reduce the amount of time it takes you to live your life, then you need this tool.
If not, then consider OCR (Optical Character Recognition) the computer tool that makes it possible to scan a novel onto disk and read it on screen. So far, this tool has not been perfected. It introduces typos so your search functions will miss things you might be looking for to reread and meditate on. But the more people want it to work right, the better it will become.
Alternatively, we have the advent of yet another company trying to start a distribution system for novels via electronic publishing, Boson Books as mentioned above.
In my January and February columns here, I highlighted my thesis that the "fiction delivery system" is broken. Here is a company striving to mend it. As far as I can tell, it is not specifically an sf/f focused company; however, they have made a general mailing to members of the Science Fiction Writers of America who were the first to adopt word processors and have the most material on disk.
Because of their on-line position, they are able to discern and accept reader feedback better than hardcopy media publishers can.
At the moment, it seems their product will be inferior to printed books because the words may lack proper formatting (such as italics), and it will start out being more expensive. But this is an important niche player on the information superhighway. They have avoided the major mistake that took down the previous group to try this type of venture strictly within sf/f. That group specifically excluded original material that had not been published in print. Boson Books is accepting original manuscripts that have not been published elsewhere. And they pay a reasonable royalty for such original product.
Fiction addicts should pay attention to this new company, especially if you're not a speed reader with eidetic recall.
I rarely mention anthologies in this column because I gave up reading short stories when my reading speed increased to the point where I'd have to read five or six to fill an evening. I don't like short stories for the same reason I dislike the idea of speed reading a novel; I read too fast to get the impact. However, there have been exceptions stories remembered for a lifetime, such as Gordon R. Dickson's Lullungomeena. Short is an artform, a very demanding artform for the writer.
The shortest and most self-contained short story I've ever written was bought by Marion Zimmer Bradley for her Fantasy Magazine, and is in this current Best of anthology listed above. It's not the reason I recommend this anthology. MZB has discovered and nurtured some of the best talent in the fantasy field through her magazine. She has achieved a stature in the fantasy world equal to that achieved by John Campbell in the sf world of the sixties.
To decide whether you want to subscribe to MZB's fantasy magazine, try it out via this anthology. You'll recognize some of the names from this column. If you can't find the magazine and decide you want it, send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to MZB's Fantasy Magazine, POB 249, Berkeley, CA 94701. This is a top-flight magazine that is placing authors and stories on the Nebula Awards recommendations list (voted by professional writers).
Even though it's become a prestige publication, MZB still edits it herself, and never accepts a story where the magical background fails to meet her extremely knowledgeable standards and stringent ethical principles. But the stories are mostly very short.
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit is another anthology, but this is another sort of fantasy, one based on a single writer's single character. Holmes has an active fandom of his own, separate and apart from the sf fandom I speak of often. They publish fanzines and newsletters and both study what Doyle created and fill in the blanks with their own creativity. Holmes fandom is rife among sf types and always has been. Here we have a compendium of established sf authors who have been invited by Reskick (an accomplished writer of the top ranks) to play in public.
These are all new, original Holmes stories perpetrated by the most imaginative talent of our time. Martin H. Greenberg is an elder statesman of the sf field and is to anthologies what Underwriter's Laboratories is to electrical equipment. You won't find as many names recognizable from this column in the Holmes anthology, but you may discover some writers who can take you where I can't.
Even so, speed reading is counter-indicated for fiction addicts.
Books for review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 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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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg