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ReReadable Books

June 2012

Justice Part VI: The Once And Future Ideal


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



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Secret Weapon  by Kevin D. Freeman, Regnery Publishing, Jan 2012

The Devil in the Bottle by Carol Buchanan, Amazon 2012

The Queen of Washington by Francis Hamit, Brass Canon Books, 2011

Merlin – TV Series on SYFY, 2012

The Once and Future King, by T. H. White, Berkley Nov. 2011

Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele, ACE HC, March 2009

Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele, ACE HC, March 2010

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs, ACE HC, Feb 2009

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs, ACE HC, April 2010

Green-Eyed Envy by Kasey Mackenzie, ACE Fantasy July 2011

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green, ACE HC Jan. 2012

Lately I’ve been telling you to keep reading this or that series of novels that I’ve been reviewing.  That’s because lately “series” have become the “in thing” in publishing, and everyone is doing series about a world, a character, or a situation.  Many of these series are about Justice, abstract, concrete, and sorely wanting. 

Series are hard to write, and the writers who succeed are the ones with a lot to say about a subject.  Where do they get all that material to talk about?  Research!

That’s right, fantasy writers read a lot of non-fiction.  Just ask one on twitter of google+!  It isn’t always non-fiction about the esoteric, occult, or magical dimension of this world that they’re reading.  Sometimes it’s UFO abduction accounts, history books or conspiracy theory investigations presented with a straight face. 

Most people read that sort of thing (or avoid reading it) and shrug it off as a publisher preying on the gullible milking the public for every buck, or as a mental malfunction in the writer. 

But fantasy writers can’t afford a frozen mindset.  The best stories lurk under cover of reality!  The creepy thing is some of them are plausible enough to be true.

A reader reads to “escape” their current tangle into the “affairs of wizards”.  A writer reads to distill the essence of the past into what will or might yet be.  A writer looks for the ideal state of a civilization’s affairs, then compares the current state to the ideal state, and applies pure imagination to concoct an event that would change things.  Tracing how that change would unfold is where the readers have their fun.

So here’s one of the all-format, widely read, hugely controversial, wondrously stimulating non-fiction sources the best fantasy writers are reading this year.  You will see the results of their study in about five years, as writers finish digesting the concepts presented in this book and cast them into magical universes.  Secret Weapon: How Economic Terrorism Brought Down the U.S. Stock Market and Why It can Happen Again Kevin D. Freeman.  It’s about the 2008 stock market and housing crash, now ancient history.

An older novel, a classic in fantasy, by Gordon R. Dickson titled The Dragon and the George plays with some of these same monetary concepts by inventing a magical system in which magic users must never run afoul of The Accounting Department which balances energy use, “or else.”

Secret Weapon depicts our world as lacking Dickson’s “Accounting Department.” 

Secret Weapon is non-fiction about the global financial system, not about magic, right?  But wait!  Haven’t we studied the Pentacles suit of Tarot and learned about the magical underpinnings of money? 

There’s a reason that real-life White Magicians treat their magical weapons with such immense respect.  Those who understand that reason will find Secret Weapon posing the question, “So if that’s true, then what will happen to those people doing this?  And how do I get out of the way so they don’t topple over onto me when the backlash hits them?”  Writers will search out an answer to that question and write the best seller Fantasy of the next decade.

Another great love of Fantasy writers is history, non-fiction and original sources.  At some point, Secret Weapon will be considered an “original source.” 

One of the series I’ve pointed you to is by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, her Vampire series about St. Germain.  Her writing is so magical because history itself is her great love.  She doesn’t “do research” to write a novel, she reads original historical sources for fun, then uses what she’s learned to write fiction which is fun to read.

Another writer who does this, but leaves out the Vampire angle, is a woman I met on Twitter, Carol Buchanan, who writes about the Vigilante period during the gold rush in what later became Nevada and Montana.  Her 2012 release is The Devil in the Bottle, about how a frontier town under Vigilante Justice handles an alcoholic who is a “devil” when drunk, but an asset when sober.  It’s based on a real, historical character.  Carol does not graft modern 21st century attitudes onto the 19th century characters.  This novel depicts how it once was – and could be in the future anywhere humans live without official government.

Set in the same general period, but on the East Coast, The Queen of Washington by Francis Hamit gives us a glimpse of the gritty details of the years leading up to the Civil War, from a woman’s point of view, a woman who will not sit with folded hands while civilization crumbles around her.  She seeks Justice for All.  Again real history here as women did do such shocking things. 

If you know anything about sex-magic, note that Carol writes about men and Francis (a man) writes about the force women exerted on the course of history.  Both are concerned with the development of the U.S.A.’s monetary system, but focus on the implementation of Justice – and how that can differ from the imposition of Law.

Yarbro, Buchanan, and Hamit don’t get creative with historical attitudes, ideas, philosophies and facts when they take off into a fantasy world.  But what they create explains the hard facts. 

I’ve been watching the TV Show Merlin (highly recommended) and how it warps the history and legend of King Arthur.  You might consider gifting young fans of that TV series with the new edition of T. H. White’s The Once And Future King.  The permutations and combinations of the Arthurian Legend are much more fun if you know the original!  There’s even an audiobook at

The more exotic the setting, the more commonplace the human problems the characters face.  Yet they search for Justice, or re-invent it from scratch.

Allen Steele (whom I met at a convention where we were both autographing in front of a hotel-lobby waterfall) has given us a series of novels about a farflung interstellar civilization.  Transportation, communication, resources, and yes, Justice, are the sources of problems.  Some of the solutions, though, will give you plenty to think about, especially if you have read Secret Weapon.  Or Dickson’s Dorsai novels. 

In Steele’s Coyote Horizon, refugees from Earth’s ecological ruin are trying to settle a promising planet, only to have to deal with aliens who have set up an embassy nearby, but remain a mystery.  As that mystery is penetrated, humans have to re-think some basic assumptions.  In Coyote Destiny, we have terrorists, old Earth and the ruins of Boston.

Steele has given us a universe full of humans facing the problem of how to create civilization without the errors of the past.  What will or would humans do?  Steele has given this a lot more thought than most.  

Now, suppose we step sideways into a universe where some “illegal aliens” (or legal refugees) are mythical creatures.  Obviously, our current civilization must appoint or recognize cops from among the mythical, the magical, and Powerful to impose order on the intruder community. 

A number of writers are still exploring what the typical Detective Novel would be like if set in such a universe, as Laurell K. Hamilton popularized. 

One is Patricia Briggs whose “Mercy Thompson” series has captured my imagination, and I’m still recommending it.  Don’t miss Bone Crossed and Silver Borne as they continue to develop Mercy’s complicated love life where an alpha-werewolf and a hungry vampire face off against a rogue vampire and a vampire politician.  As the story unfolds, Mercy’s body-count rises impressively. 

Another writer is Kasey Mackenzie, who is doing a series called Shades of Fury, where the lead character is a Fury who is a cop.  In Green-Eyed Envy, Riss tells her story in first person as she hunts down a serial killer who appears motivated by jealousy or envy as the victims are all ex-lovers of the bride-to-be at an inter-species wedding.  A lot of the paranormal characters are against inter-species marriages.  But there’s a deep well of politics and power-mongering motivating these characters, which the author has a hard time summarizing from the first book in the series, Red Hot Fury, so I don’t recommend starting with Green Eyed Envy. 

Simon R. Green’s “Nightside” series continues with The Bride Wore Black Leather, again not the place to start this series, but a valiant addition to the mythos he’s creating. 

Mackenzie’s characters don’t grow and change from wrestling with morality, but Green leads you from ordinary to “in charge of life and death” and makes you feel how power forges character.


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



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