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April, 1993

"A Proposal for a New Genre Name - Part 2 "


A Proposal for a New Genre Name - Part 2

Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Survivors by Jean Lorrah, Pocket Books, 1989. $3.95

Imago by Octavia E. Butler, Questar, 1989, $19.95

The Song Of Naga Teot, Book One; Teot's War by Heather Gladney, Ace, 1987, $2.95

The Song Of Naga Teot, Book Two; Blood Storm by Heather Gladney, Ace, 1989, $3.95

Among the books in this mixed field are Jean Lorrah's Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Survivors. This focuses on Tasha Yar's development of intimacy with the android Commander Data. Imaginative, clean, well written and powerful, this novel is also intricately plotted and fully satisfying. In fact, it strikes me as more compelling than any of the aired episodes to date. It's certainly one of Jean Lorrah's best, and I wish she were writing scripts for the show.

Imago is the third and concluding book in Butler's saga of the alien Oankali. (Dawn and Adulthood Rites preceded it.) There is virtually no Action (a few gunshots but fire is never returned) in this novel. It is about an alien protagonist's absolute biological need for total intimacy with humans. The interesting part is that this alien is two-fifths human and of a "third sex." The Adventure happens when the alien suddenly discovers it is going to be of a different sex than it had grown up believing it would be. And the Heroic elements are in how the alien deals with the rejection caused by its suddenly changed sexuality.

Throughout this trilogy, I've felt that the aliens are not the "good guys" they think they are. They believe that humanity destroyed Earth in a nuclear holocaust because humanity is genetically flawed, possessing a gene for "hierarchical behavior."

The Oankali, however, "had evolved from acquisitive life, collecting and combining with other life. To kill was not simply wasteful to the Oankali. It was as unacceptable as slicing off their own healthy limbs." That is a direct quote from the exposition in the text. The problem is that the Oankali regenerate limbs quite easily, so destruction isn't quite as unacceptable to them as to me.

The Oankali evidence no God-consciousness, no soul-consciousness. They think their way is better than the human way. Even after three novels, I'm not totally convinced. I think they're different, but no better than equal. They might even be evil. They live by traveling the galaxy in huge, living ships. Every once in a while they destroy a planet in order to breed new ships. Even though they save samples of all the life on the planet, they don't seem to think it necessary to get permission from the residents before destroying their home planet. They assume that because humanity destroyed Earth, they don't have to get the permission of the survivors. They think that because they saved the survivors, they don't need the survivor's permission.

Imago is about intimacy. It raises and leaves unanswered a large number of knotty questions. It makes you think -- and feel. It is Intimate Adventure -- an adventure in intimacy. I can't wait for the next Octavia Butler novel!

Teot's War was such a powerful book that I reread it when I finally laid hands on the sequel Blood Storm. It's labeled fantasy and is set in some made-up desert feudal society that could be anytime, anywhere. It's the people who make it interesting. Naga Teot is a swordsman (using two thin blades that can be thrown called Scaddas) who is also a Bard and a prince of a devastated people.

His mission is to save his race from extinction by alerting the local King, a sworn friend of Teot's deceased brother, to the fact that Teot's people are not the raiders responsible for death on the kingdom's borders. Heroically, he gets the attention of the King -- and holds it.

At the end of the book, the King realizes who the real enemy is and war is declared. The book, however, is not about war -- though there are some good, rousing battle scenes, and Naga Teot gets to display his martial arts mastery -- the book is about the contrast between deep emotional intimacy founded on psychological needs and the kind of emotional intimacy needed to support sexuality. Both types of intimacy define the channels through which magical power must flow through the magician and into manifestation.

Blood Storm picks up as winter preparations for war are finished and continues the adventures in intimacy between two men. Soon, their behavior attracts accusations of homosexuality, but the reader has been in their shared bed all the way -- and the reader knows there has been not a flicker of sexual arousal within either of them.

Naga Teot has suffered since earliest childhood from mental aberrations caused by his witnessing his whole clan being burned to death with flamethrowers. The King to whom he swears Great Oath has committed himself to curing Naga Teot of this malady.

In the end of Blood Storm, Teot seems to be cured, but the war is lost and another Oath sworn. Now, Naga Teot is sworn to put his King back on his rightful throne. Because of the support provided by intimacy, Naga Teot's motive has evolved from a thirst for revenge to a need to see justice done. At the moment, there are no future books scheduled for publication, but the author has much material left. I recently laid hands on the only extant copy of the original manuscript for the first novel and I've participated in the outlining of the sequels. This series has my highest recommendation, and I strongly suggest you keep your eye peeled for two forthcoming books in another series by Heather Gladney. I rarely reread books!

And speaking of rereading books, in the process of defining Intimate Adventure, I reread two very different novels which I'd like to recommend to you.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin, Poseidon Press (an imprint of Pocket Books), 1982. There was also a paperback that had a plain white cover.

The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ballantine Books, Hardcover April 1979, paperback, August 1980.

Two more different books you won't find anywhere. The only similarity is that they are both ostensibly historicals, and they both have strong elements of Intimate Adventure. Fevre Dream is set in the days of the great Riverboats. When it first came out, I wrote a lengthy, rave review, which I won't repeat here. Fevre Dream is a vampire novel. The viewpoint character is a human riverboat captain hired to transport a non-killer vampire down the Mississippi hunting killer vampires.

The non-killer vampire has become the most popular vehicle for discussion of the temptation to abuse magical power, or the power to bend another to one's will. Forever Knight, on CBS's Crime Time After Prime Time on Tuesday nights, treats this theme in the tv version using a vampire who becomes a cop to "repay his debt to society."

Fevre Dream works with a totally different setting addressing some of the same themes. The story is about the agonizingly slow development of intimacy between a decent human being and a non-killer vampire. They form such a close team that in the end, they face down and exterminate the worst of the killer vampires.

This book made such an impression on me that I studied it when I went to plot out my own vampire novel, Those of My Blood (St. Martin's Press, 1988) -- which is also about the development of intimacy between a non-killer vampire and a decent human. But my human hero is female, and the vampire is male.

The Catch Trap is set in the 1940's and '50s in an "alternate universe" circus world. Because the two main characters are actually in a homosexual relationship, Bradley couldn't use any real people or circuses because the casual reader might assume she was revealing the true private lives of living people. She wasn't.

The Catch Trap is about intimacy and artistic energy -- which is, after all, the basis of all magick. It is about the relationship between intimacy and artistic excellence. In a way, Heather Gladney's work is a continuation of the matters Bradley addresses, (which is not surprising since they go to many of the same conventions) depicting the role that intimacy plays in achieving mental health even in the face of childhood trauma. The Catch Trap uses the art of circus flying while The Song Of Naga Teot uses martial arts and sacred oaths. The Catch Trap deals directly with sexuality as an aspect of intimacy; The Song Of Naga Teot deals with nonsexual aspects of intimacy. But they share one theme. Intimacy is essential to mental health, which is essential to channeling magical energy safely.

To complete my definition of Intimate Adventure, I'm going to list here some titles to study. Find the common element among these books and you will have the element that distinguishes Intimate Adventure. Each one of these has other elements mixed in, most notably Action.

The oldest book in my stack here with the least Action evident is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin, Ace, 1969. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and I thought then that the days of Action/sf were over. The Left Hand of Darkness is about a human descendant of the colonists of the planet Winter who have evolved to where they have a definite gender only during kemmering, their mating phase. A male human visits the planet Winter and is forced by circumstances to develop a certain amount of intimacy with a native -- but LeGuin does not explore that fully.

Marion Zimmer Bradley did explore the problems in such intimacy in World Wreckers, one of the Darkover novels which has had many editions from DAW books. All the Darkover books should be considered when defining Intimate Adventure. Darkover is a planet where human survivors of a shipwreck interbred with natives to produce a genetic strain capable of mastering ESP functions. Bradley's depiction of ESP has dimensions of realism achieved by no other writer before her.

P. M. Griffin's Star Commandos series from Ace Books, Star Commandos, Star Commandos: Colony in Peril; Star Commandos: Mission Underground; Star Commandos: Death Planet; Star Commandos: Mind Slaver; Star Commandos: Return to War; Star Commandos: Fire Planet; Star Commandos: Jungle Assault, the latest of which came out in April 1991, illustrate how a pure Action framework can still support Intimate Adventure.

The books are all slender volumes containing lots of action description and harrowing escapes as well as threatening scenery, leaving precious little room for the Intimate Adventure. Yet it is there, and in truth, the relationship between the three telepaths who are trying to keep their telepathy and backgrounds secret, is what drives these books and makes them successful. Two of the telepaths are married to each other, but their marriage is fraught with emotional tensions -- not the kind you find in Romances!

The guy, not totally human, was an Admiral in the space fleet that the gal's side (human) defeated and still hates. In fact, the gal was a key figure in that defeat. Now, she is his superior officer in a Commando unit.

Each book has two plots, one between the two principle characters, and the other involving their current mission. But in the best of them, the two plots are woven into a tapestry of thematically related issues that affects the way their marriage is working. This is not "happily ever after" romance. In fact, it's not romance at all. It's intimacy of the kind necessary to learn to avoid abusing power.

P. M. Griffin has tackled another sort of Intimate Adventure in Andre Norton's Witch World hardcover, Witch World: The Turning, Storms of Victory, $19.95 from Tor, 1991, probably in paperback by now, which contains two related novels, one by Andre Norton and one by P. M. Griffin.

Most of Andre Norton's work -- there have to be more than 150 titles in that list -- has included at least one thread of Intimate Adventure even when it wasn't the main thread of a book. Even in her earliest work, Star Rangers being an example that comes readily to mind, the pivotal plot development that solves the action problem is possible only because people have the courage to let down their personal barriers and allow intimacy -- often telepathic intimacy, or some other type that gives the Other power over the Hero.

I won't belabor Andre Norton's work here, except to say that if you're a parent looking to introduce your child to sf or to reading in general, Andre's earliest titles still stand up to a modern generation's view of the world and open doors into the wonders of Yesod while fostering the moral courage necessary to permit intimacy. Norton's Witch World novels, however, are aimed at a more mature audience.

The most spectacular thing about the Witch World novels is how they have inspired others to write within that framework. P. M. Griffin has picked up the pervasive background theme of Intimate Adventure and brought it to the foreground with her short novel in this volume, Seakeep.

P. M. Griffin deals here with the relationship between a not-quite human Falconer mercenary Captain, and the woman who has inherited the responsibility for an entire Dale, a small community of farmers and fishers. In the end, she does the unthinkable -- she proposes to him, to give him "hand and hold" -- marriage and the land that comes with it -- but I won't tell you what he says to that. If you know Falconers, you won't be able to resist reading this book, and if you don't -- you have a treat in store for you.

Fire Dancer, Dancer's Luck, and Dancer's Illusion all by Ann Maxwell, from Signet, 1983, form a trilogy about a normal evolved intimacy between a Fire Dancer -- a woman who can raise vast amounts of raw psychic/magical power -- and a Bre'n -- a being who can control and direct that raised power. This is an action/adventure trilogy in which the two protagonists set out to gather the remnants of their nearly extinct people.

The Pride Of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming all by C. J. Cherryh tell the story of a human lost in a vicious and warlike galaxy who makes a very bare (but realistic) beginning at intimacy with a nonhuman ship's captain. This series is about political power more than magical, but the discussion of the principles is the same. C. J. Cherryh did even better at Intimate Adventure in Cuckoo's Egg, the story of a human cloned and raised by aliens as an experiment. Here she used the martial arts rather than esp or magic as the means of gaining power, but the ethics of power-use apply to all three fields.

Becoming Alien by Rebecca Ore, Tor, 1988, tells the story of a human absorbed into the family life of very alien beings. Intimacy is necessary to grasp even the peripherals of this alien culture.

War For The Oaks by Emma Bull, Ace 1987, intimacy between a human and a Magical Being loose in contemporary America, an Urban Fantasy by category. It explores many questions of the use and abuse of magical power.

I can't emphasize too strongly that sexuality is not always a component of intimacy in Intimate Adventure. Intimacy is the process of developing a relationship based on open, honest emotional responses, especially about needs and desires, a way of relating defenselessly by cultivating trust and the ability to ask for help with grace but without demeaning the Self. This often leads to sexual behavior among humans, but with aliens, all bets are off.

Bright And Shining Tiger by Claudia J. Edwards, Questar, 1988, is also a fantasy using magic and magical beings, exploring the rules that magic must obey, but the intimacy here is between a man and a woman who have a land to save.

Shards Of Honor, The Warrior's Apprentice, and Ethan Of Athos all by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen Books, 1986. This is about a martial arts expert (a prince among his people) whose bones break easily. He has assassins after him constantly. The woman in his life and the intimacy that comes with her sneak up on him.

These three books are a "can't put it down" read. Political power, the martial arts ethics, and the absurdities of divine humor combine to create an uproarious discussion of the use of power in problem solving. And the series has continued with notable success. Watch the Bujold byline for more of these.

Firebird and Fusion Fire, (Kathy Tyers, Bantam 1987 &'88) are about the compelling and strange intimacy between a non-telepath and a telepath. The woman involved is definitely a hero, and there's enough action to prove that several times over. But the story is about how intimacy overcomes violence.

Blood Hunt and Bloodlinks by Lee Killough from Tor, 1987 and 1988, are vampire novels about a cop who becomes a vampire and hunts down the woman who bit him. This predated the tv show Forever Knight, and may be the first of the vampire-cop subgenre. (I'd like to hear from anyone who knows an earlier one.)

In the process of hunting the vampires, Killough's hero-vampire discovers the true meaning of intimacy when he finally gets the humans who had been his friends to accept that he is now a vampire -- but he won't kill them.

Lee Killough has been working around the edges of Intimate Adventure, using vast amounts of action woven into the intimacy. Here are a few of her titles: from Del Rey, The Dopellganger Gambit, Deadly Silents, The Monitor, The Miners And The Shree. From DAW, Liberty's World.

Check out three books by the recently deceased Ward Hawkins from Del Rey -- an interdimensional action/adventure which pivots entirely on the intimacy (non-sexual) between a human and an alien: Red Flame Burning, Sword Of Fire, and Blaze Of Wrath. Some great writing here by an veteran television script writer. Note that some of these books are written by men.

From DAW books comes another two titles for the Intimate Adventure label, both by Kris Jensen, Free Master and in 1991, Mentor. These are stories about a woman troubleshooter sent to a planet where the reproductive cycle of the natives causes endless personal complications, not the least of which is that in the last phase of their lives, some of them develop a very powerful sort of ESP.

I have seen Intimate Adventure in its absolutely pure form, but never on television, or in the commercial press, only in amateur magazines.

I'd like to hear from readers who can perceive what I've pointed out here, and I'd like to hear from those who can't grasp it. The books I've mentioned above are by no means all of the titles which have elements of Intimate Adventure, and I haven't discussed how strong those elements have to be to merit the Intimate Adventure label. I would like readers to nominate books for that label, so we can see if any consensus has developed yet.




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