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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

May 2000

"Civil Obedience in SF/F"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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


The Vampire Files: The Dark Sleep by P. N. Elrod, ACE Hardcover, June 1999

Roswell, television series, WB network, Jonathan Frakes Co-executive Producer

Superman with Batman and Robin, audio tapes from Radio Spirits, Inc. POB 2141, Schiller Park, IL 60176, a Smithsonian Historical Performance

The Lensman Series by E. E. Smith, Ph.D. -- search "The Lensman" (in quotes) at www.amazon.com for a list of titles in this wonderful series.

The Dark Sleep is a novel about insomnia -- the title refers to the perfect sleep that comes from a free conscience.

Like most good science fiction, it raises a number of questions about justice, about social responsibility, about due process, and thus ultimately about karma.

In this particular novel, the series Hero, Jack Fleming (the vampire) is the narrator in first person, but is an involved onlooker in the main plot -- which tells the story of Charles Escott and his insomnia which has been a mystery to Fleming since he met up with the detective.

It turns out that Escott is the survivor of a massacre who did not witness the actual deed, and thus can't be a witness in court. The murderer got away with the deed, mostly because of that. Conscience and grief have been torturing Escott's sleep ever since.

As with all good sf/f, this novel sets up a Situation then asks a question of the reader -- a tormenting and deep question -- by simply resolving the matter according to the Action/Adventure formula. The Hero takes matters into his own hands, does "the right thing" that any of us would like to believe we'd do, and walks away feeling better about himself.

And in its highest abstract form, this question is something along the lines of, "What is the role of society's Law in determining the optimum karmic course of behavior?"

Because this is a detective series, it deals in murder. Most of us don't confront murder on a daily basis. But the underlying question that is addressed by novels of this sort, most especially the Vampire novel where occult power is an issue, is a question of the Use and Abuse of Power, of Honor in the proper application of power, and in the limitations of one individual's ability to apperceive the totality of a situation.

Is Revenge Honorable? Does it do anyone any karmic good? Does it do anything but relieve a personal subconscious anguish? And does it even have a good chance of relieving that anguish? If so, is it karmically right?

And if it is up to the individual with the power to act where society's Law can not, can the individual who has the power to act depend on the subjective knowledge provided by his own personal understanding of the Situation? Or is an external, objective observer's judgement more reliable?

Does Honor allow you to act upon what you know, or do you have to act only upon what you can prove to those who are uninvolved?

Roswell, the TV series, has tackled something very similar several times, and nailed it dead-center in the episode where Jonathan Frakes, co-executive producer with a long list of folks who have various "producer" positions, appeared as a celebrity Master of Ceremonies at a UFO convention with many mentions of Shatner and Nimoy as a running joke.

I didn't catch the title of that episode, but at the convention, a man whose wife had been murdered in 1970 turns up. He's been pursuing a serial killer who leaves mysterious handprints on his victims, and is convinced that serial killer is an alien -- and now he believes one of Our Heroes (teenage boy) is this serial killer, and a shapeshifter alien from outer space.

In the showdown, this apparently flipped-out bereaved man confronts his nightmare -- the alien who murdered his wife, and is prevented from killing our Hero by the Sheriff who shoots him -- in a "righteous shooting."

The question remains -- what if this flipped-out man were actually correct -- what IF he had found a shapeshifter alien serial killer who had left a trail of murders behind him for thirty years? Would that individual human be honor-bound to execute that alien who was so powerful our civil law couldn't touch him?

And if he is Honor-bound to commit that murder, must it be on his own, personal perception of the truth? Or does he have to prove his case to someone else before the execution? More important for Seekers on the Path are the questions -- "What would be the karmic consequences of acting without having convinced anyone else? What would be the karmic consequences of acting after convincing only one other person?" And worse yet, "What are the karmic consequences of not acting at all?"

And all of this very serious thematic substance is wrapped inside that running joke about conventions, celebrities and Star Trek stars, which I found so hilarious I almost missed the point!

Roswell is aimed at teens, as is Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and like Buffy tackles some very serious, adult issues. Both those shows are about teens catapulted into situations that, in our culture, teens are not equipped to face.   (Read Buffy Parody Contest entries or winners.)

There is a long standing tradition in science fiction of asking just this kind of question, in just this kind of way. Gene Roddenberry, when we interviewed him for our book on Star Trek fandom, Star Trek Lives! told us that he created Star Trek to ask questions, and that was his criterion for judging a script "good." Does it ask a question? Or does it present someone's personal answers instead?

Jonathan Frakes may or may not have been the source of this traditional sf element in Roswell, but we know he knew Gene Roddenberry -- and Gene grew up on the old traditional sf radio adventure shows.

I have been studying those old radio shows, not out of nostalgia but because (completely by "accident" you understand) last year my daughter gave me some old Radio tapes of the original Superman episodes broadcast before I was born! And this year, I find myself playing hostess on simegen.com to a writing course on The Radio Play given by Brian Hoolahan, a radio producer, and Joe Doran, a scriptwriter.

Together with the two modern examples above, a Vampire Novel in a successful detective series, and a TV show about the Roswell UFO crash-site, and comparing that to another 1940's sf series, The Lensman Series by E. E. Smith, Ph.D., which presents the concept of a superior alien species of Energy Beings (like Star Trek's Organians) who credential certain superior humans and non-humans to operate outside the civil Law.

Yes, it's the 007 James Bond concept, but with an SF twist of an intergalactic war waged over millennia. The Lensman premise explains UFO sightings by connecting them to a vast intergalactic conspiracy to manipulate human civilization -- shades of Earth: The Final Conflict, likewise a Gene Roddenberry production. The Lensman Series also has a love story-arc to rival Helen of Troy!

In the Lensman Series, the lens is both a credential and an empowering device -- that bestows or enhances psychic powers (much as the Matrix Crystals of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Series which is a product of the 1950's sf scene but advanced with the times so that each novel reflects the years just before it was published).

Both Smith and Bradley created in-depth philosophical discussions of the matters pertaining to Power, Honor, and Civil Law -- and they did not agree!

Today, reviewing Radio shows from that era, and comparing them with TV and novels of this era, I see connecting links.

The discussion started by Superman in comics and on the radio ( I wish I knew where to get more of those tapes) continues unabated in an unbroken line of young readers/viewers who grow up to become writers, and tackle these philosophical issues in their own generation's most volatile public form -- science fiction and fantasy. I'm seeing this right now in the students in the WorldCrafters Guild school.

The same issues are being discussed in fiction outside the sf/f genres. This is a fiction trend worth watching.

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



Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,



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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