Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"In the Footsteps of The Master"
When True Night Falls, by C. S. Friedman, DAW hc Oct. '93, a sequel to Black Sun Rising.
Blood Pact, by Tanya Huff, DAW pb Nov. '93, the fourth in the series, Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines.
Better in the Dark, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, a novel of Saint-Germain, Tor hc. Dec. '93.
I, Vampire, by Michael Romkey, Fawcett Horror, Aug. 1990.
You can't walk in the footsteps of The Master, or any Master, because a Master leaves no footsteps. It is the mark of the high adepts to pass through the world without a ripple in the ether or a trace on the sands of time.
In my younger years, I puzzled over this. It is natural for the young to want to "make their mark in the world." It offends the innate sense of justice to say that leaving no trace is a higher skill.
Yet we have all seen the opening of the TV series Kung Fu where, at the Shaolin Temple, Kwai Chiang Caine walks the rice paper without tearing it. In the Kaballistic tradition, the highest form of charity is anonymous. The most illuminating books of Kaballah are anonymous or under pen names. And the true Masters of the White Lodge do not appear on Larry King Live.
The Seeker who first sets foot on the Path often wishes to advertise their first accomplishments by making a fashion statement. It takes years for the need to separate oneself to evolve into the need to blend in, and then for the "need" to fade leaving only the mastery of the easy chameleon shifts governed by mature judgement about when to blend and when to stand out.
It may, in fact, take lifetimes to evolve so far.
A vampire has lifetimes. I learned a lot about the marks of adepthood by reading vampire novels and puzzling over the questions they raise. That is one reason I've recommended this sub-genre often in this column, and continue the list with these new books.
The vampire in sf/f literature has evolved into a new, nearly unrecognizable, species since Bram Stoker's Dracula. Today, a large percentage of vampire novels are about vampires who do not kill at all.
Along this evolutionary path is the vampire who does kill, but isn't happy about that necessity. And there is the vampire who directs his/her killing into more socially acceptable channels -- i.e. killing only criminals.
To most of us, having a need presupposes the right to fulfill that need. Having a right, presupposes the right to exercise that right. If you have the "right of way" on the road, you are expected to move, not yield. You become offended if others refuse to yield to your right of way.
And yet, the advanced student of the occult discovers that the magician's most crippling and deadly sin, power abuse, can occur with the most casual assertion of one's mundane rights. If one has a right, one has power. To wield power for personal gain is power abuse, and is the first step onto the Left Hand Path.
It doesn't matter if the power abused is magickal or the mundane power of the laws of the road. Power abuse has a backlash, but since we do it so casually, with so much social acceptance, we find it very hard to identify the resulting backlash (especially when the abuse was directed at a stranger and the backlash comes from another stranger.)
And that is another reason I recommend vampire novels to students of the occult. These authors -- particularly the ones listed above -- are discussing power abuse in highly entertaining ways, in ways riveting enough to hold the attention aside and let the subconscious grapple with the ethical problems of rights, power, and survival.
Consider: a vampire has an urge to kill which is far more intense than a dieter's urge to snag a chocolate milkshake. Consequences are rarely a factor in the dieter's decision. The brutal fact of human nature is that consequences wouldn't be a factor in the decision even if it were a life or death one. (I had an uncle who was diabetic and ate himself to death.)
A human can't take the solemn vows to assume magickal power on the assumption that, by an act of will, he/she will turn away from the temptation to use power for personal gain simply because the power is magickal and vowed to sacred use only. The habit of avoiding power abuse must be ingrained by daily practice in the smallest most ordinary acts. (This, too, is a Kaballistic principle which is the foundation of many perplexing details of Hebraic ritual, such as covering the bread while blessing the wine.)
The five dollar bill in your pocket is "power" -- the chocolate milkshake at Bascom Robins offers the personal gain (i.e. the promise of emotional gratification or a temporary surcease or just a pleasure hit) -- and the backlash is the pound of flab that reappears a week later -- not to mention the sugar-crash that occurs just a few hours later, or the intense hunger that hits the following day because of the sugar overdose. At the time of the act, the consequences are irrelevant.
The diet industry is under fire now because there is solid statistical evidence that dieting doesn't work. Most people gain back all the weight and more. Why? Because once the goal is reached (or nearly reached), the ironclad grip of will relaxes or is broken by the upthrust of the starved subconscious, and the old habits are resumed. Most people can, by will power, hold to a regimen for a few months, or even two years or so. But adopting a temporary regimen and changing your life are not the same thing.
There is evidence that how much you weigh and where you wear your flab is genetically determined. There are many psychological factors that can obscure that effect, but in essence, as long as you have the power to obtain and consume food, you will do so until your genetic gauge says full or total emotional gratification is achieved. The genetic gauge can be filled: the neurotic black hole can not be filled -- at least not with calories.
Some of us have genetic patterns uniquely suited to survive famine. Dieting is read by the body as a time of famine. Once food is abundant again, the body that has experienced severe famine is desperate to lay in supplies against the fearful specter of the next famine which could be a killer. This urge hits at the lowest chakra -- survival. This pre-empts even the urge for sex. (This is especially true for women because so much of a young woman's metabolism is geared for reproduction. If you don't have enough fat to support the little parasite during famine, you die. Genes tell you -- eat while you can!)
Is using power to preserve your life (physical, social, psychological, or psychic life) the same as using power for personal gain? Is pleasure really in another ethical category than life preservation? Is using power to avoid the emotional pain hiding behind your neurotic blocks the same as using power for personal gain? How can you tell the difference between self-preservation, pleasure-seeking, and defending a repression? Why don't consequences make a difference when esurience reigns? To what kind of person would consequences make a difference? How do you get to be that kind of person? Do you want to be?
These are the salient questions addressed by all vampire novels that deal with a vampire who would prefer not to kill.
And they are the questions that every student of magick must grapple with.
In my last column, I spoke of books that allow the reader to experience the fictional events as if they were happening to the reader. A vampire novel which is structured to allow such an experience, and which discusses the interlinked issues of power abuse, is worth many rereadings for the student of magick.
C. S. Friedman's series (there will be a third book) Black Sun Rising and When True Night Falls has this property. The premise for this world is that, somewhere in space, a colony ship from Earth crash lands on a very nice looking planet. And then the local ecology turns against the colonists viciously. It spawns all manner of mythical and supernatural psychic horrors, some with the power to draw blood or even slaughter humans. All of these horrors are drawn from the subconsciouses of the colonists themselves, only they don't know that.
One man discovers the truth and acts to bring the colonists into harmony with their world. And then he chooses to use that magic to make himself into an immortal -- which incidentally makes him into the next best thing to a traditional vampire. He does kill. Often. He can control it, up to a point. But he has no remorse for the lives he takes in order to survive. He is a legend: the founder of the largest religion onworld, and the devil incarnate, too.
Generations later, he meets up with a warrior-priest who is set on combating an evil force generated by supernatural creatures and humans allied. This priest is in danger of being considered an outcast by his order for associating with a known Evil -- the Hunter, the Vampire. And the priest also considers that he's endangering his own immortal soul.
The priest dares it all for the chance to put down this great evil force, but to have any hope of success, he must foster the friendship and trust of the vampire and make an ally of Evil.
In the end, the success or failure, survival or death, for them and their world hinges on their relationship. This action/fantasy has strong elements of intimate adventure driving the plot and resolving the plot. But what I liked best about it was the gradual acceptance by the priest that his karmic task was to reverse the process that had made the vampire to begin with. And that may be even harder than the ultimate defeat of the evil force they both oppose.
Again, When True Night Falls is a book you live rather than read. It is rich, deep, and discusses a thousand philosophical issues in disturbing clarity, all without ever resorting to mentioning the issues explicitly. The author does not display her opinion, but as Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek, she uses her premise to ask hard questions and she leaves the reader to work out answers. The book is all action, character, relationship and rapidly evolving situation. It is enthralling reading. This is the kind of book worth its $22.00 hardcover price because you'll reread it and pass it on to your students.
Blood Pact by Tanya Huff is much lighter reading. This series is set on a twentieth century Earth only lightly laced with a secret society of werewolves, vampires, and supernatural forces. Blood Pact is another adventure in the lives of the nearly blind detective, Vicki Nelson, and the vampire who writes romances, the bastard sun of Henry VIII, Henry Fitzroy. This one starts with Vicki getting a call that her mother has died. The author depicts the wrenching sequence of emotional adjustments Vicki makes to this with vivid accuracy. But things get even worse when Vicki discovers her mother has been re-animated.
This might be the last in this series of novels, but I hope it's not the last we hear about these characters. The series allows the relationship between detective and vampire to evolve and intensify, all complicated by Vicki's love relationship with her ex-partner on the police force.
The two rivals for her affection, human and vampire, come to a resolution of their conflict, and circumstances change the tensions in their triangle. But Vicki still shares something unique with each of these men, and she isn't the type to accept either/or answers.
Vicki is definitely a woman of power, and comes into her full power in this book. I feel there must be another book about these characters because Vicki now has enough power so that the slightest petty abuse of it would create the mother of all backlashes. The underlying conflicts among these three have not been resolved, but only shelved. And there is an ongoing arch-villain, a reawakened pagan god with a thirst for base emotions, waiting to swoop in and demand service.
Despite the hurtling action pace, these books bring us fully into the lives and relationships of these characters. Under the impact of events, the characters change, the relationships evolve, and in the end, you know that the things that have happened did happen to someone, probably yourself.
Better in the Dark by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, is another in the long series of historical novels about the vampire character Saint-Germain whose name has evolved continuously throughout the thousands of years we've been following him. I am glad that Yarbro won her lawsuit protecting her rights to the Saint-Germain character and is now writing these books again, for Saint-Germain is an adept of the highest order.
Thousands of years ago, when he was human and merely a prince, he was the chosen of his god, feeding the god his blood. When his father's throne fell, he died and rose, a savage beast. He spent uncounted years kept in a deep hole in the ground and was fed and worshipped as a demon. Once free of that, he ended up a slave in an Egyptian temple, learning the healing arts. After lifetimes there, he became high priest and eventually fled the ensuing political turmoil when Egypt's power waned.
Through all these millennia, he was walked through this world a part of and a witness to the great historical events that have shaped our current civilization -- but he has left not one trace of his passing except the writings of Saint-Germain, alchemist and occult scholar.
There is a real historical figure known as Saint-Germain who did write on the occult -- but is commonly considered more an entertainer than a reliable teacher. Yarbro had to defend her legal right to the fictional extrapolation that the real figure behind the Saint-Germain byline was a vampire. Now no other fiction writer can use that real historical figure as a vampire -- especially not one who really was trained in the occult disciplines in Ancient Egypt.
I consider all the chronicles Yarbro has written of Saint-Germain (and the women he has made into vampires) to be required reading for any student of the occult. The problem is that they are "Historicals." They are long, lazily plotted books, filled with intricate description and exactingly researched terminology for clothing, armor, weapons, and architecture.
Yarbro has adopted a linguistic style that gives the flavor of a book written long, long ago, yet is actually very, very modern in its terse and tight grammar. The chapters are interspersed with letters sent by messenger (before there was a mail service) -- and some of the letters are labeled as lost and never delivered. Some readers find this charming, others find it boring. Myself, I'm invariably awestruck because I know how hard it is to write such things.
The other problem some readers have with this series is that the story seems always the same. Saint-Germain arrives in a locale, establishes himself as a rich foreigner who is of equal rank with the local peerage, becomes entangled in a political situation and a love relationship, comes to care for the people involved, only to have them turn on him, or the situation crumbles into disaster, and he has to run for his life.
Some people find that sameness annoying. I happen to like that particular story, so I love these books, not because they are predictable, but because of the subtle nuances moving beneath the surface.
Each of these episodes in Saint-Germain's existence chronicles the forging of the character of an Adept. The more of these episodes I've lived through with this character, the better able I am to perceive the world from the point of view of a quasi-immortal. And that is the point of view of the reincarnated soul.
It is a point of view the student adept must strive to achieve. These books make the striving ever so pleasant.
In addition, Saint-Germain as we read about him in his later years anyway, is not a killer. He knows just how much it takes to drive him into a killing frenzy, and does his level best to avoid that. (Sometimes he fails.) Killing does not satisfy, though. Only love satisfies, love freely given by one who knows his nature.
Better in the Dark is one of the novels where that freely given love comes to Saint-Germain and deflects him from his chosen course. He uses his powers and his knowledge to defend an obscure citadel, not trying to make his mark on history but only to keep the riptides of history from making its mark on him and those he loves.
When he leaves, the only evidence of his passage are a couple of anachronistic technological devices and the slightest delay in the political tides. Better is set in the year 937 A.D. There are several novels set during the following thousand years, and one contemporary short story that places Saint-Germain in the U.S.A. The novel I'm waiting for is the one set a thousand years from now in an era of space travel and non-human interactions.
Saint-Germain is a vampire with a destiny. He is being shoved along through his spiritual development by divine forces, and I therefore conclude that those divine forces have a role for him to play in humanity's future history, an important role, one that will shape the destiny of our species. At any rate, that's my personal fantasy, the one that keeps me reading these books avidly.
Honorable Mention goes this month to I, Vampire by Michael Romkey. This Fawcett title is much more your typical vampire/horror novel. It postulates, however, good-guy vampires and bad-guy vampires -- as well as a vampire Secret Masters of the Universe society known as The Illuminati because they've learned how to use their supernatural powers to walk in sunlight.
This book also postulates that many of the great artists of history were really vampires or became vampires so their talents would be preserved for humanity. While possessing supernatural powers, these vampires don't make a point of studying occult philosophy, so this book stands in contrast to the others I've mentioned above. It is most definitely not intimate adventure.
I discussed dieting and power abuse above. Perhaps this connection was on my mind because a vampire story of mine titled "Vampire's Fast" appeared serialized in the first two issues of the revived Galaxy Magazine. It's about a supernatural vampire who swears to fast until he can feast on the murderers of his lover. ($2.50 per single copy, subscriptions 6/year -- bulk rate $18, First Class $22, Canada, $28. Galaxy Magazine, POB 370, Nevada City, CA 95959. Fax: 916-432-1810.) Some authors included in the first issue are Robert Sheckley, Horace Gold, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, David Kyle, Forest J. Ackerman. There are bound to be some award winning stories coming from this magazine.
BOOKS FOR REVIEW IN THIS COLUMN SHOULD BE SENT TO JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG, POB 290, MONSEY, N.Y. 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