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May 2012

"Justice Part V: Is Justice a Zero Sum Game?"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd Ace, Nov 2011

Terminal World by Alistair Reynolds, Ace, June 2010

Alien Proliferation by Gini Koch, Daw, Dec 2011

Fire Works In The Hamptons by Celia Jerome, DAW Nov 2011

Killbox by Ann Aguirre, Ace, Sept 2010

Aftermath by Ann Aguirre, Ace Sept, 2011

Vamparazzi by Laura Resnick, DAW Oct. 2011

We started 2012 looking at Justice via a very important novel, Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, in Part 1 of this series, “Gaming for Keeps.”

In February we delved into the way power is used and abused by controlling the agenda, defining what your options are (just like a computer program’s dropdown menus gray out some choices and after a while you don’t even see them.)  That was titled “The False Hobson’s Choice.” 

In Part 3, in March, we focused on what Justice has to do with “Luck, Leverage, and The Stakes,”  Last month we examined the question “Is Justice Fair?” by looking at the Tarot Justice card and a group of novels presenting quandaries to the unwary hero.

Now we need to contemplate the “false Hobson’s Choice” produced by the universe model of reality as a zero-sum-game.

The zero-sum-game concept is that there is a “pie” that has to be “sliced” so everyone can get their “fair share.”  The pie is just exactly this one size, and can’t be stretched.  If there are more people, each person’s slice must be smaller so everyone gets the same amount which is only fair.

One of the hallmarks of fantasy is the society based on the feudal system, where there are rich Kings and Dukes and poor peasants, and our hero, raised as a peasant, is really heir to the throne.  Urban fantasy usually includes some kind of aristocracy of Magic, either by the sheer amount of power a character has or by a traditional position (usually inherited) requiring the character to “impose order and discipline” upon other magic users. 

A person of power, a decision maker, imposes justice on upstarts who have a different idea of what constitutes justice.  The reader is invited into the story to ride along with the hero and decide which side of the issue justice is on.  Usually, Kings turned despot must be overthrown by the sword and magic with clever tactics. 

This makes for a simplistic story with lots of action but without the nuances, knotty problems, shades of gray and royal purple that adults expect in their fiction.  Urban Fantasy today is not children’s literature.  It’s much more like the science fiction that Gene Roddenberry modeled Star Trek upon when he had Kirk win the un-winnable test scenario, the false Hobson’s Choice of the Kobayashi Maru.  Kirk did what every science fiction hero does.  He changed the rules because he refuses to live in a zero-sum-game. 

In science fiction, the zero sum game model exists mostly to be proven wrong.  The Hero changes the situation by discovering or inventing something that others believed impossible or had never considered because it’s unthinkable.

In science fiction, the hero specializes in seeing through the ruse of the false Hobson’s Choice.  Wherever the power wielding authority figures decree “Choose this or that!” the hero creates a third, or maybe fifth choice. 

Mike Shepherd does this magnificently in his Kris Longnife series, in particular Daring, the 9th in the series.  Kings and aristocrats dominate in a farflung, multi-kingdom interstellar civilization facing a possible invasion (or 2) from aliens.  Kris risks the fate of humanity, to find out what’s going on and push back the limits of the possible, in spite of political opposition.  Her father, the King, is running a meritocracy, and is determined his daughter will merit his throne one day even if it kills her.  The way Situations morph when she stirs into them seems downright supernatural. 

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds is science fiction with a Steampunk flavor.  This is a future where huge, towers housed a burgeoning population, but something vital collapsed in the society.  Now people have no idea how they came to be living like this.  Up on top of the towers live beings that are called “angels” but might be machines, or biological constructs or a combination.  People have theories and traditions about how this came to be, but most are too busy surviving the hostile world to care.  Now, a group of characters come together and start learning things that change the parameters of the possible.

Reynolds captures the essence of science fiction and adroitly hurls it into the steampunk revolution. 

Gini Koch’s Alien series is another wild blend of science fiction and fantasy that gives us the characters, questions, and problem-solving heroes of science fiction together with aliens so alien they’re just like us, only with a technology so advanced it seems like magic (but isn’t – right?).  The 4th in the series, Alien Proliferation, follows the wildest wedding story you ever read, Alien In The Family, and now we have to live through the birth of a half-alien, and the exploits of that newborn babe.  Don’t miss Alien Diplomacy, which just hit the stands. 

The essence of science fiction is really very simple.  The sum total of human knowledge is our wealth.  It’s Pentacles of the Tarot.  Knowledge is power in this material world.  But the sum of human knowledge is not a pie.  If I learn something, that does not mean you sudden don’t know it, or can’t know it, just as I can’t “make money” by taking it away from you.  Knowledge (Pentacles) is a concrete form of the element Fire (Wands).  Knowledge kindles by proximity, it multiplies, and ultimately transforms reality. 

The “science” part of science fiction is the organization of knowledge, and the “fiction” part is the limitless vista of imagination, the Vision that lets us “see” by the metaphorical light of Spirit.  Science Fiction has always been the “map” of the astral plane which is, on the Tree of Life, termed Yesod, or Foundation, the 9’s of the Tarot.

Yesod is the foundation of our reality.  On Yesod, the concept “zero sum game” is nonsense because you can always grow the pie by changing the boundaries.  Does that mean there is no Justice on Yesod?  That’s the kind of question modern Urban Fantasy is beginning to ask. 

The science fiction hero’s thinking style is emerging to dominate the breezy, sexy, fun-filled, urban fantasy scene.

Celia Jerome’s third “Willow Tate” novel, Fire Works In The Hamptons has a hero who has had her nose in her own life, trying to leave her paranormal-talented family out of it.  She’s a graphic novel artist/writer living in New York city and doing very well, thank you!  But her mother calls her home to the Hamptons with an excuse, and a covert agenda – to marry her off to a suitably paranormal paramour.

Her mother’s timing is not accidental.  Willow Tate’s paranormal talent is manifesting despite her best efforts causing creatures from another “dimension” to keep popping into her life and endangering the neighborhood.  Better that neighborhood be this little town in the Hamptons filled with the Talented rather than downtown Manhattan.  In this third novel, Tate has to protect the town from “fire flies” with real fire and a need to reproduce.

Anne Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series. Killbox and Aftermath give you a hard, intense look at what it means to be your own person in a galactic civilization designed to dictate exactly what your place in the universe must be. 

Sirantha has the special gene needed to navigate grimspace but no gene for navigating politics.  She gets into more trouble by fixing things than most people get into by breaking things.  Under the impact of love, she learns and changes, and becomes a new person, one who is now able to team up with genius inventors who innovate to victory.  In the end she out-innovates them all, refusing to accept the zero-sum game model of reality. 

Laura Resnick likewise has captured the “zany” trend of mixing and matching elements of Fantasy, Reality, and the improbable.  Here, Laura gives us Vamparazzi, in the Esther Diamond series.  This is the tale of an actress making her way to fame and fortune from the gritty underbelly of Manhattan theater.  She gets the role of the damsel in a play written by the fellow who stars in it as The Vampire.  He has made it his public shtick to “be a vampire” complete with sleeping in a coffin and blacking out the windows of his Manhattan loft apartment, and “blood” bottles in his ‘fridge. 

The play, a limited off-Broadway run, is a wild, success attracting groupies and paparazzi even before the mysterious blood-drained corpses are discovered in underground tunnels beneath Manhattan.  Esther Diamond’s boyfriend/cop has gone undercover and out of touch with her, striving to mete out justice to thieves, drug dealers, murderers and vampires.  Vampires?

Is her out-of-the-closet Vampire leading man a real vampire?  Or is it someone else?  Oh, wait!  There’s no such thing as a vampire.  Right? 

But if there’s no such thing as a Vampire, how can you bring them to Justice?  Well, either you do or you don’t, right?  You can’t have it both ways, can you? 

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg, for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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