Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
The policy in this column, as I mentioned in my previous two-part article in Monthly Aspectarian, PROPOSAL FOR A NEW GENRE, is to review two books a month, one an older classic and one new, but never to give a bad review. If it's not worth reading, it's not worth discussing either. Hence the title: Recommended Books.
As I explained, however, there is more than that here for Monthly Aspectarian readers. In the training of a magician, the first seriously dangerous exercise is Rising on the Planes, and the first experience there is the encounter with the Guardian at the Gate -- your own personal Guardian. It is necessary to make an ally of your Guardian if you would proceed further, and that usually means answering a question you've never yet thought about.
There are many sf/f writers working today who are exploring some of those questions, and whose work can take you on a practice journey onto the astral plane.
Among these are a few writers who have developed their own model of the universe complete with a niche for magick and its laws and practices -- sometimes including the laws of science, and sometimes excluding them. Here I would like to introduce you to a writer whose model of the universe seems particularly well thought out and plausible.
Katherine Kurtz first became famous for her "Deryni Books" -- to date, consisting of four trilogies, a volume of short stories, and a nonfiction volume on the magical background of the Deryni universe (titled Deryni Magic.) In addition to all this, there is an amateur magazine -- a fanzine -- devoted to the Deryni universe (SASE: c/o Yvonne John, 518 Springhill Circle, Naperville, IL 60563). All the Deryni works are among the most highly recommended of the books mentioned in this column.
The "Deryni" are a race, often not considered human, having extraordinary ESP gifts. They have used their gifts to explore the limits of ceremonial magic and sincere worship of the Divine. The series takes place in an alternate history in which Deryni Kings abused power, lost power, and then regained it through humans in whom the magical gifts could be ignited. Ostensibly, the plots revolve around "Who Will Be King?" -- but beneath that, all the books are about the struggle of Orthodox Christians to come to terms with the existence of the magically gifted.
The Deryni series has been published by Del Rey Books in hard and soft cover, and most of the volumes are still available in stores and libraries. Currently (March 1993) Katherine is hard at work finishing Volume Three of the fourth trilogy, THE HEIRS OF SAINT CAMBER, working title Captive Kings. As you can see, I'm just not going to keep this down to 2 books a month!
I hope to squeeze in a full treatment and discussion of the 12 Deryni novels from a magical/ethical point of view in some future column and before there are 15 novels. This universe has a vital and active fandom. Separate from that, another group of readers has created an actual religious Order loosely inspired by the concept of Saint Michael the Archangel presented by Katherine in the Deryni novels and by the mystical experience of the universe seen through the eyes of her Deryni characters.
This Order often holds services at science fiction conventions as well as elsewhere. It is called The Order of Saint Michael and is "an ecumenical Christian community whose members seek a mystical expression of Christianity in its universal or catholic sense, bringing the rich traditions of the past into a form meaningful for men and women on the brink of the twenty-first century. It is not intended as a substitute for an individual's affiliation with any institutional church, but as an adjunct to and enrichment of his or her understanding of the Creative Force. The Order is sacramental and liturgical in orientation, but non-dogmatic and non-denominational, and includes both clergy and lay members.
"Within a Christian Trinitarian framework, the Order honors both masculine and feminine attributes of God."
The above was quoted from the Order's handout, and more information can be had by sending a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to The Very Rev. Laura McKeown, OSM, POB 3047, Allentown, PA 18106. Though the original impetus may have arisen among readers of the Deryni novels, the Order has become a thing of its own, and is a real-world organization not a fantasy-fan club, so don't confuse the two. These people seek to reawaken the "deep mystical awareness of the reality of sacramental grace" -- a basically magical concept -- among Christians who may have had trouble living in a decidedly non-magical or maybe anti-magical world.
But this column was not supposed to be about the Deryni novels, but about another of Katherine's projects.
The Adept by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris, $4.95, Ace Fantasy, March 1991.
The Adept, Book Two: Lodge of the Lynx, by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris, Ace Fantasy, $4.99, June 1992.
Katherine Kurtz now lives in Ireland, and Deborah Turner Harris knows Scotland. Both writers are adept at evoking location, and both are particularly pleased to have the utter realism of real-world Scotland to background these tales of a magical lodge patterned somewhat after Dion Fortune's Dr. Taverner's lodge. (Check your Occult book store for Dion Fortune's novels - I recommend them all, but Tales of Dr. Taverner most of all.)
Sir Adam Sinclair, the hero of the series, has a country estate "not far from Edinburgh. He is a nobleman, a physician, a scholar and -- an Adept." His mother is likewise an Adept of considerable talent and standing. She lives in America.
In the first novel, Sinclair must face a black lodge bent on using an ancient Scottish Clan artifact to raise the dead. The second novel pits Sinclair against "an unholy cult" the Lodge of the Lynx, which has gotten hold of a "druidic artifact" which can "unleash destruction on all of Scotland."
Stripped to its basics like that, the plots sound worthy only of a yawn or a juicy raspberry. Most serious students of the Occult might be put off by the covers and cover blurbs. But despite the comic-book sounding plots, these books are both rich and thought-provoking explorations of the way real magic functions in the real world.
Yes, there's a little exaggeration here and there for literary effect -- it sometimes takes a lot to communicate subjective experience to the psi-blind who think "subjective" means "not real." Read past the F-X and you will find a deeply satisfying story that presents you with solid discussions of the ethical uses of magical power, and with graphic demonstrations of the real world workings of karma.
These are stories not of character, or even of characterization -- but of relationships between characters, and the proper and improper uses of power in relationships, and the consequences of such use. They are candidates for the "new genre" I identified in my previous two columns, Intimate Adventure.
They are action-packed adventures fleshed out with a deep textured, rich background, so there isn't much room in each novel for developing relationships. The authors make the most of what room there is, though, and always place the use of occult power into the network of responsibility inherent in relationships.
There are at least two more to come -- ADEPT III: The Templar Treasure, May '93, and ADEPT IV: Dagger Magic, probably mid '94. I expect to see these two advance the relationships among the cast of ongoing characters, who seem obviously linked by deep karmic, past-life ties.
So if you can't find the first two books on the stands now, watch for reprints -- or ask your bookstore to order them for you. Yes, these books are that good. Chase them down -- invoke for them -- but don't miss a one.
While you're hunting through used book stores under K for Kurtz, (that's right next to L for Lichtenberg, you know) keep an eye out for her other occult novel, Lammas Night. It is set in England during World War II and involves an arcane battle by England's indigenous occultists against Hitler's own best magicians. Pure fantasy, but when you get done reading it, you begin to think the books you learned history from are woefully incomplete.
Katherine is also working on a book about the occult underpinnings of the American Revolution. It's tentatively titled Two Crowns for America, "a tale of Jacobite intrigues, Freemasonry, and American crypto-history." It should be out in late 1994 from Bantam, and though I've only heard Katherine talk about it at science fiction and fantasy conventions, I can't wait to read it.
Like Dion Fortune and Marion Zimmer Bradley, Katherine Kurtz is an author any serious student of the occult should be familiar with. In future columns, works will be measured against the standards these three have set, and I hope to have room to discuss individual works in considerable depth.
I want to end with an "honorable mention." This one isn't exactly on target for this column, but if you have teenage girls you want to introduce to the vampire genre, (I admit I'm partial to non-horror, non-killing vampires like Nicholas Knight on Forever Knight, on Crime Time After Prime Time on CBS) I suggest you try THE VAMPIRE DIARIES by L. J. Smith. There are four volumes I know of: The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, and Dark Reunion. They are all YA novels from Harper, in paperback, the latest dated 1992. The story revolves around the events in a small town when a vampire who doesn't want to kill and who refuses to drink human blood, joins a group of high school students. The Vampire Diaries has all the necessary gothic elements for a good romance, and discusses good and evil in a realistic way which I considered healthy. I'm fifty-one years old, and I enjoyed these books as if I were fifteen again - even the purely arcane battle at the end of Book IV.
You may have noticed that I tend to avoid describing the story of a book when I review it. Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me that, "The book the writer writes is not the book the reader reads." This is also true for reviewers and book buyers. The book I'd describe wouldn't resemble the book you'd read. Hence this column merely "recommends."
Take a journey onto the astral with Katherine Kurtz and see if you don't come back with a thought you weren't able to formulate before you took the journey. This might be an especially useful exercise for those who find Christianity so distasteful they are reluctant to read a book with a Christian setting. The Guardian loves to target such tender areas of the psyche.
BOOKS FOR REVIEW IN THIS COLUMN SHOULD BE SENT TO JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG, POB 290, MONSEY, N.Y. 10952.
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