Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

April, 1996

"There is a Disturbance in the Force "


NOW VOYAGER, edited by Michelle Erica Green, 8114 Inverness Ridge Road, Potomac, MD 20854, ,  

The Yellow Pages of Fandom from Star Trek Welcommittee compiled by Judy Segal. STWelcommittee mailroom address is 93 Vosper St., Box 12, Saranac, MI 48881. All queries must be accompanied by a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. The stamp is important — these folks get nothing from Paramount. They are fans who pay their own expenses.

Previous "Recommended Books" columns referred to here are posted at the World Wide Web site,

Lois and Clark - ABC network, Sunday nights.

Verbal Self-Defense - a series of nonfiction titles by Suzette Hayden Elgin discussed in some depth in my previous columns. Elgin was interviewed in this magazine in the January issue where I also discussed her book Genderspeak.

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues - check your local syndication/Fox channels.

Crown of Shadows by C. S. Friedman DAW hc, October '95; final volume on the Coldfire Trilogy I've reviewed the two prequels — Black Sun Rising and When True Night Falls — both with highest recommendations; they are currently available in paperback from DAW Books.

Partisan by S. Andrew Swann Hostile Takeover #2, DAW pb. I reviewed #1, Profiteer, with recommendation.

Sing the Light by Louise Marley, Ace Science Fiction, pb.

Prince of Dreams by Susan Krinard, Bantam Fanfare, pb.

The War Minstrels by Karen Haber — sequel to Woman Without a Shadow (also recommended) — DAW Books

One paragraph from my March column has been excerpted and quoted in a publication called NOW VOYAGER, the organ of the Kate Mulgrew Fanclub (Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Janeway). That particular paragraph has also impressed one professional editor over dinner in Manhattan while I was pitching a book project. Oddly enough, the editor, who does not edit sf/f, was fully conversant with all the Treks and with Forever Knight and read the excerpt on ST:Voyager I had printed out from my March column, was nodding and muttering, "Yes. Right. Of course." After I got home, I downloaded my e-mail and found the request to quote that same comment that had impressed this editor. Suddenly, this month's column crystallized in my mind.

For anyone who wants contact with any of the ST fandoms, the Star Trek Welcommittee publishes a Yellow Pages of Fandom which is now available in a fantastic '96 edition. It also lists most of the professional products available. The General STWelcommittee mailroom address is 93 Vosper St., Box 12, Saranac, MI 48881 and they are developing a World Wide Web presence. NOW VOYAGER is already available via e-mail from There is even a NOW VOYAGER fanclub listserve but you have to join the club to e-talk to all these very special people.

During this past week alone, two people who were active fans of The Original Series (TOS) with me in the '70s and with whom I'd lost touch, have turned up via e-mail contacts grapevined through Forever Knight's listserve, and both of them watch the same TV shows that I've recommended in this column and count them as current favorites. One has become a professional writer under a pen name I hadn't heard before.

Perhaps associations made in the '70s through snail-mail groups — associations that return via cyberspace and are still relevant twenty years later — might have something to do with this year's general topic for this column, What is the Purpose of Life? Can television fiction have anything to do with The Purpose of Life? Can printed novels?

Before you can answer that obviously absurd question, you must know what a Purpose is and what Life is (assuming you know what fiction is. If not, read the series of columns I've done throughout '94 and '95 on how writers trick you into believing six impossible things before breakfast).

Inside the concept "Purpose" hides a very nebulous and slippery concept — "Who". A Purpose has to be somebody's — it can't exist alone just as a magnetic monopole can't exist alone (or can it?). So we are led to consider "Identity" — what is it, where does it come from, how do you specify it? In other words, before you can discover what your purpose is, you must know who you are and before you can tackle that, you need a hypothesis about the nature of a "who".

Before you can discover what "The" purpose is, you must know who other people are — which requires a solid grasp of who you, yourself are. You might even have to worry a lot about "To Be" — as in defining Existence as opposed to Life — so you'll know what "are" means — to which end we've been discussing a lot of Vampire fiction lately because Vampires are immortal and don't "live" but "exist".

"Identity" has a component within it called "Relationships" — your "identity" is reflected in your chosen associates and validated by those associations — so it's easier to see who you are by looking at who you relate to, but "they" aren't necessarily part of your identity; they may only be the magickal mirror into which you look to check your appearance before venturing into "public" (i.e., venturing onto the astral plane).

A lot of people are discovering new things about their identity as they encounter old friends on The Net. These associations often center on television fiction. People who wax passionate about the same TV shows — even if they have different reasons for liking the show — find they have something very important in common that they can't express any other way.

Because of television fiction, two total strangers — a writer and an editor — sitting over dinner in Manhattan — suddenly have an entire language in common and feel like old friends. The important element in that transaction is that neither thought this instant rapport was particularly noteworthy.

That paragraph of mine quoted in NOW VOYAGER is as follows:

"So some viewers see Janeway as a Kirk, and some see her as a weak sister who doesn't belong on the bridge of a garbage scow. Very few put the two views of a Captain together and realize that her confused characterization accurately portrays this society's confused view of what a woman is — an adventurer into the "where no woman has gone before" of the Corporate Board Room, or a home-maker whose house-builder has failed to keep the roof on during the storm of recession."

That same "Identity Crisis" of our society that I referred to in that paragraph is further portrayed by the recent Lois and Clark multi-parter featuring their wedding and Lex Luther's ingenious attempts to disrupt the festivities. At the end of Part One we discover that the "Lois" whom Clark has married is an impostor. Thank goodness the minister had to be replaced at the last minute by Perry White — whose credentials might be challenged.

I know of a devoted fan of Lois and Clark who is a 28-year-old professional woman with exemplary skills and a pristine paper-trail who suffers from deep inner doubts of her qualifications for a better paying (but more difficult) job. L&C played a terribly cruel emotional trick on people who suffer from this extremely common "impostor syndrome", targeted by many self-help books: the irrational emotional conviction that "they" will find out you aren't who "they" think you are.

So if you're not who they think you are — WHO THE H--- DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

That question is usually thrown at someone in a belligerent tone and wrapped in scathing body language (such as looking the person up and down with upper lip curled in disgust). The question, when delivered with the right intonation and body-language (as Suzette Hayden Elgin's Verbal Self-Defense books explain), is really an accusation, not a genuine request for information. More than a simple accusation, it is verbal violence — an attack.

We are accustomed to hearing the accusation of unconscionable arrogance and disregarding the question itself in order to counter-attack or defend ourselves. So when the Guardian at the Gate (your Guardian Angel who keeps you from straying so far from your body during sleep that you can't get back) asks "Who are you?", we have no answer to the question because we're too busy trying to decide whether to counter attack, "Who the H--- are you to challenge me?" or to deny the accusation of arrogance.

The unconscious assumption is that if somebody else thinks you're arrogant, then you must be arrogant — especially if you don't think so. But if somebody else thinks you're terrific, they must be mistaken. You certainly can't answer the question, "Who are you?" with "I am an exceptionally good and wise person." That is as unthinkable as answering "I love you" with "I accept your love" rather than "I love you, too," and for exactly the same reason — we dare not receive their ignorance and cherish it. (For a discussion of "I Love You", see my column for the May '95 issue of this magazine, titled "A Kabbalistic Principle in Love, Sex and Magick.")

And so we never actually hear the question, "Who are you?" We hear the subtext — whether it's there or not.

Alternatively, we answer the Guardian as if confronted by the police who expect a driver's license, Social Security card, and thumb print as the definitions of identity. "I am Sue Whitewing."

As long as you think you are your name, your rank and/or your serial number, you will be turned back from journeying on the Inner Planes because it's just too dangerous for someone with a shaky grasp on their Identity. Your development as a practitioner of occult science will stall out right there.

On the other hand, if you think Your Name is irrelevant and has nothing to do with your identity — that you can discard it and adopt any name and persona you like — you are likewise not going to pass the Guardian. You may have many interesting adventures in the foyer, but you will never be allowed into the house — and may never notice the lack.

So if you aren't who "they" think you are, and you aren't Your Name, then who are you? How do you find out who you are?

If you watch Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (a fantasy TV show I highly and unreservedly recommend) you will often hear Kwai Chang Caine answer the question with "I am a man as any other," or "I am a Shaolin priest" or some similar phrase that answers Identity with classification as a human male no different from any other. His Identity (as a Master of several occult disciplines) is that he has worked hard to eradicate all marks of distinction and has become indistinguishable from other members of his category — the broadest category he can claim still includes the qualifier male.

His Identity is his indistinguishability — which is a highly laudable and much revered and respected accomplishment in Chinese culture, an achievement of the first magnitude. Maleness, however, he finds to be an ineradicable distinguishing mark. Very Oriental.

Watch some PBS and Travel Channel items on China, the international women's conference that was held there in 1995, or read up on the anthropology and linguistics of the very ancient culture and you'll see they put the surname before the personal name for a deep philosophical reason having nothing at all to do with Christian humility. Individuality must be submerged, sacrificed and discarded for the good of the family — nation — corporation.

Western culture emphasizes the development of those traits which differentiate you from all others of your category. Oriental cultures consider your differentiating traits to be unfortunate, as inappropriate in public as bad breath, and as destructive to all that is valuable in life. Western cultures create organizations that gain strength from the individual strengths of the members; Oriental cultures create organizations that gain strength from the inter-changeability of the members.

In twentieth century USA, we have an amorphous culture which is ambivalent about individuality. The "West Was Won" by "rugged individualists" and most of our heroes are loners or loose cannons or hot shots — like your typical sf/action hero hot-dogging it across a battlefield. On the other hand, there is a reason why the Dress for Success book was a best-seller.

This ambivalence in our culture is accurately reflected in our popular TV shows such as ST: Voyager with the ambivalent Janeway characterization. Note the reluctance of the producers to let Lois marry Clark or "Beauty" marry "the Beast" (in the now defunct Beauty and the Beast — which was sf not fantasy) or Natalie to marry Nick on Forever Knight or "Mrs. King" to marry "Scarecrow" or for Duncan McCloud on Highlander to settle down again . We have many sitcoms about married couples — but Hart to Hart is one of the few "couples" shows with real action/adventure in it — and they didn't have children and the premise wasn't sf/f. Family life is funny or heartwarming (The Waltons) not a Heroic Achievement (exception: Bonanza, but there was no mother in that household).

In Western culture, which lauds the rugged individual, one can not achieve Heroic status by deriving Identity from being a dedicated spouse and parent. As Mulgrew said in TV Guide, Janeway can't sleep with Chakotay though that's what the fans want to happen on ST:Voyager. The premise in our culture is that espousal and heroism are mutually exclusive, but as any real-life married person will agree, heroism is a necessary prerequisite to successful espousal. Cultural assumptions are not necessarily reflective of esoteric truths.

When you search for the answer to the Guardian's question, you must look beyond the prejudices and unconscious assumptions embedded in your culture. One place an American can look for the magickal mirror that reflects our unconscious cultural assumptions is entertainment television (which includes most nightly news programs).

To answer the Guardian, you must be aware of your cultural assumptions. Is your Path of Mastery to shed all signals of individuality? Or is your Path to perfect those gifts bestowed upon you by the divine hand of your Creator? Or is it perhaps some other Path? And what has your Path — or how far you've gone on your Path — to do with your Identity?

I have five novels here this month that might help you explore some of the underlying questions embedded in this subject and have a grand good time doing it, too.

Every one of these books is a guaranteed good read, pure entertainment which, taken in nightly doses, will reduce your blood pressure and tension levels. But while you're reading, you'll never be able to tell it's good for you by the way it tastes.

I'm going to name these novels here and take a stab at identifying the aspect of Identity each novel explores:

"Are you the religion you practice? What is religion?" Crown of Shadows by C. S. Friedman.

"Are you the profession you practice? What is profession?" Partisan by S. Andrew Swann.

"Are you the Gift or Talent that sets you apart?" Sing the Light by Louise Marley.

"Are you merely the spouse of a powerful figure?" Prince of Dreams by Susan Krinard.

"Are you the minion of your Ancestors?" The War Minstrels by Karen Haber.

"I am Sue Whitewing, raised Catholic but currently a practicing Wiccan, working as my husband's dental assistant but I wish I'd gone to medical school because I have a talent for healing — but I couldn't because the only legacy my parents left me was a pile of bills, a collection of lawsuits, and a birth defect because my mother smoked."

Sue Whitewing is a fictional character I just invented to illustrate this point. The usual "any resemblance" disclaimer applies. However, notice how I merely answered all those questions and the answers produced a vivid character native to our culture.

What could the hypothetical Sue Whitewing learn from these novels that might help her begin to sort out her Identity from her cultural assumptions about what constitutes Identity?

C. S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy, of which Crown of Shadows is the third novel, has a complex science/fantasy background with equally complex foreground protagonists and antagonists. This is set on a planet colonized by humans who discover that the biosphere has an identity of its own and evidences some of the properties Earth-humans would ascribe to ESP and magick.

One of the lead characters is a clergyman, and the other is a creature of darkness who at one time had been the founder of the faith of Light the clergyman follows. Through the three books, these two must team up to save their world. These three books are about how faith, religion, spiritual development, and awareness of the Divine are all different things. We live through the characters' struggles and feel how each one penetrates the other, undermining faith, eroding evil, living to change and changing to live. But you'll never notice the "message". The third book is a worthy conclusion to a preeminent work of art that borrows just a bit from the vampire mythos and builds something original from the archetypes.

On Forever Knight, in the episode The Human Factor, Jeanette has fallen so in love with a mortal man that she loses her vampire traits. That happened because of how involved she became with Nick's search for mortality and that involvement altered her beliefs.

How much of our Identity is bound up in our Beliefs?

Walk onto Friedman's world of Erna and become the warrior-priest Damien Vryce as he struggles with the founder of his faith for possession of his soul. You might discover something about yourself and how your beliefs delineate your identity.

Partisan by S. Andrew Swann is the second book of a series set in a galactic civilization, the outgrowth of the Earthbound civilization in his previous books reviewed in this column. In this universe, there are genetically engineered human mutants and non-humans of various origins, all entwined in dense political plots and counter-plots. It reminds me strongly of Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League stories translated into the '90s.

Swann's focus character derives his sense of identity from what he does for a living and has a noble sense of responsibility toward his employees. In addition there is time travel (the really believable kind that is a consequence of the laws of physics, not a defiance of them) and actions have far-reaching consequences. The relationships — as with most action sf — are complications to the plots rather than the real plot-driving mechanism as they would be in Intimate Adventure.

The only relationships that drive this series' plots do so for dark motives such as revenge and power — not for love and joy and building a good future for the children. The characters, however, are emotionally open enough to be touched by one another and changed by the associations. Perhaps they could grow into intimacy. There is some unusually careful and profound thinking buried under all the action. I'm eager to read the next one in this series. Swann has won my respect.

Sing the Light is also a science-fiction/fantasy crossover style novel. On this colony of humanity, the cold, bleak, harsh planet with an unusually long year has produced a human psychic mutation. These Talents use music and perfect pitch to focus an ability to create heat and light on a dark and frigid world. We walk through the dark cold snow with a woman who has to find her Talent and her home before she's really ready. She meets a man who likewise has a superlative Talent, but has not been trained in the orthodox school as she has. Young, fresh out of training, she is confronted with the dilemma of orthodoxy (which demands she derive her entire identity from her Talent) vs. freeform creativity in which the Talent is just one component of identity, and she finds value in each.

Prince of Dreams is the story of two brothers — vampires — immortal — and the descendants of the mortal woman they loved and fought over. One brother imprisons the other — for what the reader might consider good reasons — but a century later, the prisoner gets loose. The mortal woman who attracts them both must decide which is the good one and which the evil. After all, would a really good person imprison their brother without sustenance for a hundred years? Would a really good person who really loves a woman edit her memories without her permission?

How much of your Identity is revealed by or changed by your passions? Walk a mile in the moccasins of a vampire's beloved and find out how much of your Self exists outside your chosen's ken.

In The War Minstrels, Karen Haber gives us more of the complex interstellar society where certain mind-crystals can be a useful tool or an addictive drug — or a power beyond all human control. This is a sequel that you might enjoy even if you haven't read the prequel. The main character is an empath and the main nemesis is a Groupmind formed around a certain crystal and/or controlled by a human who might have been a man once but now has devolved to become merely an evil force. Yet this is a science fiction novel that borrows nothing from horror fantasy. The devolved Personalities we encounter are clearly and obviously ordinary humans — and the path of their destruction teaches us a lot about the nature of Identity.

In science, if you want to know what a thing is — you analyze it. You take it apart into its components. Karen Haber analyzes human personality with the kind of searing accuracy S. Andrew Swann brings to human society.

As always with the fiction I recommend in this column, to get full value for your reading dollar, you must immerse yourself within the characters for a time, become the person whose head you're riding in, and solve their problems within their parameters. It is an investment of Self that will pay off handsomely with time, for you will gain a new perspective on your own life — and Identity. Only sf/f pays off so much for so few hours invested.

Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 10952.



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