Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
Forever Knight local TV syndication reruns.
Kindred: The Embraced - Check your local Fox station Wednesday night after 90210
Vampire: The Masquerade by Mark Rein-Hagen (I can't find the date and publisher)
Dance of Death by P. N. Elrod, ACE Fantasy, 1996
Time without End by Linda Lael Miller, Berkley Romance, 1995
You Can Write A Romance and Get it Published! By Yvonne MacManus, Toad Hall Press, 1996
Blood Ties by Karen E. Taylor, Zebra Horror, 1995
The Time of the Vampires edited by P. N. Elrod and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW pb, 1996
Those who read this column habitually may have noticed that I often rave about the Canadian-produced TV show, Forever Knight. That show is a marvel to me for many reasons other than the profound thematic content. As a writer, my enjoyment of television is directly proportional to the quality of the script and inversely proportional to the emphasis on special effects. I admire Forever Knight because it was a very low budget show tackling a subject that has always been thought to require high-budget special effects.
Now, no sooner have they canceled Forever Knight than we have a new, very high budget entry into the TV-Vampire genre. Kindred: The Embraced is a totally different product and is aimed at a totally different market. And sure enough, my appreciation of it is virtually non-existent compared to my absolute enthrallment with Forever Knight. This column has a policy against giving negative reviews, though, and I don't intend to give one here. I intend to discuss this year's general topic, "What is the purpose of life?" via a contrast/compare study of these two similar but different fictional products.
In all fairness, I must confess that I missed the series opener for Kindred and as of this writing have seen only episode #2 where they discover a vampire doctor has been preying on his child patients. I became hooked on FK with the first TV pilot/movie years before it became a series. However, I don't think that my missing the series opener of Kindred is my problem with it.
As some of you may have noticed while reading the end-credits on Kindred (which I'm sure every one of you does just the way I do on slow-motion madly scribbling down the names), the entire series is based on a vampire novel which if I'm not mistaken I did review here but I don't know when. The novel is Vampire: The Masquerade by Mark Rein-Hagen. I didn't know the new TV series was based on a book the first time I viewed my tape. Five minutes into that second episode I remembered the book and knew where this series had come from even though the front-credits didn't list anyone I recognized as connected with that particular novel. I had been impressed but not enchanted by that book; now I'm a little more impressed because it has proved vividly memorable.
Upon inquiry with my contacts in the role-playing gaming community (i.e., I asked my daughter, who asked her S.O. who referred me to Jeff Freeman, a 27-year old librarian living in Huntsville, AL, who's been playing role-playing games for over 15 years, who wrote a veritable Ph.D. thesis contrasting the TV series with the game that I wish I could include here), I have determined that the game, with a second edition copyright of 1992, came before the novel which this TV series is supposedly based on. The game was the first really big money maker for White Wolf, the gaming company founded by Mark Rein-Hagen and others. White Wolf publishes novels and short story collections based on World of Darkness, which is the setting for a large number of horror games. Apparently one innovation you'll find here is that much of the game setting is explained in short story format.
To connect with some of this on the Web, try Jeff Freeman's recommendation: B.J Zanzibar's World of Darkness home page at: http:/ezinfo.ucs.indiana.edu/~adashiel/wod/wod.html.
From Jeff's descriptions, I do believe that the TV series does capture much more of the flavor of the game than might be best for a TV production. But the series also captures the essence of the novel. Therefore I don't feel I need to see the series opener to launch this discussion. Even though I can't find my copy of the book to give you the publisher and date, I remember the story and I expect the series opener simply laid down the premise and situation in the same artful and slick way the book did.
Still, I'm not enchanted by either the book or the TV series based on it. The reason has to do with my personal answers when the Guardian at the Gate asks me, "What is the purpose of life?"
Let me establish here that there is no "correct" answer to that question. The answers that will get you past your Guardian Angel and out onto the Astral Plane where you can learn and progress in occult studies are all personal answers, and the answer that worked the last time you got past won't work this time.
Every time you grow, your key answer changes. The Guardian's purpose in asking the question is to determine if you know enough about where you are in life's pattern to be able to find your way back again without any of the concrete landmarks of "material reality." So to find an answer that will work with your Guardian, you must study your life and your self and see the links between your life and your self.
And that is why we imbibe fiction, to learn to See. And that is why TV is such an effective way of guzzling down a dose of fiction. It's visual.
It's also an effective way of poisoning yourself or making yourself sick with junk mindfood.
Neither of these two vampire shows is "poison" or "junk", and taken together they might reveal to you an answer that will get you out of your Gate. Let me point out what I have observed, but pay close attention because the value of my observations lies wholly in your ability to argue against them with facts, lines of dialogue, interpretations of characters' tones of voice or facial expressions, and bits of business you have observed on these two shows.
Number One, and most obvious to the American TV viewing eye: Kindred is by far and away the superior show. I'm certain it will pull fabulous ratings by comparison to FK. People will simply like it better. Most American viewers who respond this way won't know why. From a professional standpoint, my answer is simply money. American audiences are trained to go for the expensive look without even knowing it's expensive. Kindred isn't top-heavy in stunts and effects, but the trained professional eye sees how serious big bucks were spent on casting, directing, extra cameras shooting every take, high quality recording media, sets, costumes, and the premier artistic excellence of the post-production work. It will simply seem like a "real TV show" as opposed to the "cardboard" feel of FK. And the script for the single episode I saw wasn't bad.
Number Two, FK is real science fiction with a thin layer of horror genre symbolism laved over the surface while Kindred is pure horror genre.
FK is based on the premise that a pathologist discovers an exsanguinated vampire recovering on one of her "cold marble slabs" (well, stainless steel gurney) and at his invitation sets out to cure him of vampirism. She shows solid results when she finds a genetically engineered agent that temporarily cleanses his system of the vampire element. If the show hadn't been summarily canceled, Nick would have made it all the way, permanently.
Kindred is based on the premise that clans of vampires can barely manage to coexist with humans because all they want to do with their immortality is battle each other for power and there's nothing a human can do about it except be embraced and join them.
The difference between sf and horror is in the goals of the protagonist, in the protagonist's expectations of the efficacy of his actions in achieving his goals, and in the success that is achieved. In sf, the goals are lofty, the protagonist knows without doubt that the loftiest goals can be achieved even if she/he might not make it, and in the end some measure of real success toward that lofty standard is, in fact, achieved.
In horror, the main goals are to avoid evil, or to fight evil, to prevent evil (i.e., a negative goal rather than a positive one); the protagonist knows that success is only a matter of chance, not the result of personal effort; and in the end, any success is only a temporary respite from certain doom. True heroism consists of "holding out until chance or powerful intervention saves you." (Note the similarity to the "formula romance" where the vampire novel has become very popular.)
In a nutshell, the difference between sf and horror is in how each depicts the structure of the universe, the structure of a soul, and the relationship between the universe and the soul.
Number Three, FK is primarily focused on the role of relationship in karmic progress, and how karmic progress stalls out when one exists rather than lives. In this it resembles Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germaine novels more than anything else.
Where Kindred will focus is, at this writing, anybody's guess and I'll bet even the executive producers don't exactly know because it will depend on the ratings of various trial episodes.
Kindred might end up as unrelated to the book and/or game it's based on as Highlander the TV show is unrelated to the Highlander movies. But for this discussion, I will assume that Kindred will continue as it has begun.
I have asserted in previous columns that good fiction, the kind worthy of the label "Art", has one pervasive characteristic by which you will always know it. In good fiction there is always some connection between the things that happen to a character and who that character is.
In real life, we are embedded in so many affairs and distracted by so many attractions that we can't see the underlying pattern of our own life. The artist's job in any society is to look at the world from a different perspective and create an art object that reveals to the art consumer those underlying patterns in the consumer's own life.
The Guardian at the Gate is asking these trick questions to elicit your perception of the pattern that underlies your life and how that pattern relates to the patterns underlying other people's lives. If you know that much, you can always find your way home.
Contrasting and comparing FK and Kindred may very well give you a perception of one of those patterns operating in your life.
FK, taken as a whole, draws a picture of two adults, Nick Knight, Vampire and Natalie Lambert, Forensic Pathologist, who build piece by piece, one painful lesson at a time, a relationship that changes both of them. They achieve this by emotional honesty and true emotional heroism. One secret at a time, Nick's 800 year background becomes Nat's daily consideration and source of wisdom, and Nat's human emotional evolution becomes Nick's source of strength and life and growth. Karmic flypaper because of their pasts, they are stuck together to work out their presents. Note that all the patients of a forensic pathologist are dead, by definition, and Nat becomes Nick's physician. That's called poetry and it's an art form.
Kindred's second episode ends with the main relationship doomed. The Prince of Peace proclaims with absolute certainty that his niece, who has been embraced by a rival vampire clan, will disintegrate psychologically because of the divided loyalties and loves. We have no reason to think he doesn't know what he's talking about.
She no longer has the mortality to spark her lover's karmic growth; her lover no longer has the means to protect her. The objective is to keep the masquerade, to prevent humans from finding out that warring clans of vampires exist on our doorsteps. The Prince of Peace (who is only trying to prevent war, not achieve peace) proclaims that someday 2,000 years of clan rivalry can be overcome and the two lovers can be reunited. But all he's really accomplished is to threaten the rival clan leader with death by exposure to the sun and then spare his life (by letting him ride in the trunk of his car shades of FK!). Since when is rivalry and hatred overcome by subjugation and humiliation?
Technically, this show has little of what Congress would call "violence" in it, and so would be passable prime time fare under the new standards. Yet it subliminally validates standards and values that assume violence is unavoidable, and only those who are best at violence should be allowed to rule that way, they won't have to use much violence.
Even Luciene LaCroix on FK (a true vampire villain if ever one walked the night) isn't stupid enough to think subjugation and humiliation will make Nick love him. He's trying to teach Nick not to love anyone or anything and so his methods make perfect sense. Because his actions might well achieve his objectives, LaCroix is an sf hero, not a horror villain. That's why he has such a passionate following on the FK fiction list.
In psychology, the hallmark of neurotic behavior is in the lack of a cause/effect connection between the behavior and the objective. Also, the objective is hidden subconscious unavailable. For example, some people who feel unloved try to fulfill the need for love by eating, or someone who feels psychologically unclean tries to get clean by repeated hand-washing. No matter how much (or what) you eat, you're not going to achieve the feeling of being loved, or no matter how much you wash your hands you're not going to feel psychologically cleansed.
For people caught in these behaviors, food and love or washing and guiltlessness are connected somewhere in the subconscious. The form and complexity of that connection is different in different people. The thing that's the same in every victim of this syndrome is that the form of that connection is invisible to the victim. The first step to overcoming the syndrome is finding the connection and studying its form.
But while a person is caught in a neurotic behavior cycle, they keep repeating the behavior in ever increasing frustrated bewilderment about why they aren't getting the expected results. "I'm such a failure! I just have to get tougher on myself and try harder!"
Just about everyone either has or has had this kind of mild neurosis in their makeup somewhere. That makes it very easy to identify with the situation of a protagonist in a horror story. When you're in the grip of a neurotic behavior cycle, there really is no visible relationship between what you do and what happens to you. You can easily become certain that only random chance governs destiny, that people who have it good in life are just lucky and people who don't are just unlucky. Any other theory is unthinkable, ludicrous, because you know of your own experience that there's no way to win, nothing you do has predictable results. But if you just persist and survive long enough, your luck will change.
By contrast, the sf hero acts from a clear understanding that if he can just do this then that will necessarily be the result. Doing this may be difficult, but at the end of the book that does indeed happen. The reader feels satisfaction, triumph, a charge of happiness. Why? Because the hero of the book succeeded in doing this?
No, though that's what most readers believe is the reason. The charge of triumph comes from the validation of the view of the universe that says there does in fact exist a direct and understandable connection between what we do and what happens. That is the basic philosophy behind all science. All that we call science is merely the systematic investigation of the relationship between the doing of this and the happening of that. The assumption is that if only we can map all the thises connected to the thats, we will then understand the entire universe perfectly.
That's why it's called science fiction not because the people in the stories are using "science" (just check out Star Trek's technobabble and see what I mean). It's called science fiction because the relationships between what the characters do and what happens as a result validate the assumptions underlying the scientific view of the universe.
And its called "horror" because the characters can not do anything to help themselves because the universe itself is random, unpredictable and intractable. The best they can do is "hold out" against evil, fight off evil, and prevent war, never realizing the evil and the war is inside themselves and the harder they fight, the worse their situation becomes just as the more you eat, the more unloved you feel.
That's why I wrote an entire column last year around a group of novels that illustrate how overthrowing is not the best way to get rid of tyrants. The harder we work at overthrowing tyrants, the more tyrants we have. We've been at it for tens of thousands of years and we've got more tyrants now than ever before. It's not working but we keep doing it.
As I see it, Julian on Kindred, who is termed "Prince of Peace," is nothing but a tyrant who hasn't begun to discover that his worst enemy is inside himself. That's why Kindred isn't likely to evolve into anything but a horror series it might be good horror, even great horror eventually, but it's not likely to change at such a deep level.
On the other hand, Forever Knight started with Nick Knight fully aware that he was his own worst enemy, that his plight is the result of his own choice (having allowed himself to be seduced by a vampiress, having acceded to the wishes of a tyrant) and that therefore, his next choices and deeds will save him. At the point where he meets Natalie, he has already put in some time "repaying society for his sins." He meets Nat because he got blown to pieces by a bomb while trying to save human lives and thus ends up in Nat's morgue in a body bag. He meets Natalie, his great love and his salvation as a direct result of his own choices and deeds.
That clear connection between value system, choices, deeds based on those choices, and subsequent events marks FK as science fiction.
The lack of such a definitive connection marks Kindred as horror.
I, with the eye of an artist, look out at my universe, my life, my friends, and the six o'clock news, and I see that in Reality, there does in fact exist an understandable connecting pattern between Values, Choices, Deeds and Events. (More on that pattern in my life next month.)
I have revealed in previous columns that my personal bias is toward the Kabbalistic view of the universe. Note that Values, Choices, Deeds, and Events correspond to the Four Worlds of the Kabbalah, or the Four Suits of the Tarot. Values is the suit of Wands or the world of Idea. Choices stem from the subconscious, our innate sense of right and wrong, which is largely driven by Emotion or, in the Tarot, the suit of Cups. Deeds corresponds to the Tarot suit of Swords or Actions. And Events correspond to the suit of Pentacles and are the manifestation in outer reality of the net result of Values, Choices, and Deeds.
In the Kabbalistic view of the universe, there is a clear and definitive relationship between these four "Worlds" (though figuring out what that relationship is may take a lifetime and you won't find it in a book). The form of that relationship that is real for you is one important component of your Identity, of Who you are, of the way you must answer the Guardian at the Gate in order to be allowed out onto the astral plane. The form of that relationship is what I referred to in the title of this piece karmic flypaper.
The form of the relationship among the Four Worlds as you perceive it is what sets your life into repeating patterns and leaves you "stuck" (Six of Cups Reversed, Knight of Wands Reversed, World Reversed, Judgment Reversed stuck solid) in a behavior pattern. That form also marks your place in the orderly cycle of karmic development. When you venture out onto the astral plane to learn, you must return to your correct place. If your perception of the form of the relationship among the Four Worlds has changed during your journey, then you will be able to tread a real-world path out of the repeating pattern of your life. But you must tread that path in material reality in the World represented by the suit of Pentacles.
Fiction which depicts a universe in which there is no form to the relationship between Values, Choices, Deeds and Events doesn't "enchant" me because it doesn't have that added dimension of realism for me.
Such fiction is of interest to me only insofar as it shows me what other people see when they look out of their eyes at the universe. I can maintain an academic distance from Kindred. I become karmicly glued to Forever Knight not because it depicts the universe as I see it, but because there are some intriguing differences that pose questions.
This is a perfect example of how necessary it is for any student of the occult to imbibe fiction, particularly sf and fantasy. When you run into a scene, a character, a line, an image, a tidbit of Art that glues you down tight, that gives you psychic whiplash, that gives you dreams you wake up from crying, then you know there's something in that fiction that depicts the universe you live in but perhaps don't see too clearly.
Perhaps the fiction has it right. Perhaps you do. Or perhaps there's a truth somewhere in between. But when art has that kind of impact, you can learn karmic truths about your internal flypaper by studying the fiction. When a neurosis won't appear for a direct confrontation and blatant psychoanalysis, very often it can be seen in the magic mirror of fiction and in emotional responses to fiction.
Study that fiction that moves you or glues you, and you will see your universe more clearly, and you will learn something about yourself. Granted what you learn may not be something you'll relish, but it may contain the answer you'll need the next time the Guardian challenges you.
For me, FK has that quality and Kindred doesn't.
With vampires flourishing on TV, the store shelves are rapidly emptying of vampire novels because as I reported here two years ago the editors stopped buying them even though writers are churning them out in record numbers. The flood has even abated on the romance shelves. For those who have become intrigued by this analysis of FK vs. Kindred, here are a few quick comments on some books you might still find on the shelves. Every one is worth some serious study and consideration, and when contrasted with these two TV shows, could easily teach you something profound.
Dance of Death by P. N. Elrod: This is the fourth in the series: Red Death, Death and the Maiden, and Death Masque which all center on a minor character from The Vampire Files, Elrod's previous series which I have reviewed previously. Many of these novels are still available. Check Elrod on both the sf/f shelves and the mystery shelves. You might even find some on the horror shelves. The entire set of paperback books has my highest recommendation. Unlike most series, this is not deteriorating as she adds books. Elrod is not just commercializing a success here. This is a long, intricate and well plotted story with a lot to say about the interaction between the mortal and immortal.
In Dance we live through the discovery by a young vampire, Jonathan Barrett, (who doesn't kill humans for blood) that he has a son by a woman who once seduced him but who never meant anything to him. This is a vampire living with and loved by his mortal family. The family members who hate him do so not because he's a vampire (which they know about) but because of his personality and alliances.
Time without End by Linda Lael Miller is the third in this series which started in 1993 with Forever and the Night. In '94 we had For All Eternity. Miller showcases different characters in an ensemble cast and gives each a novel and a story of their own while dipping into the lives of the others we've met. These books are light reading, fun, a breath of fresh air. They aren't horror. They aren't science fiction. They're marketed as romance, but actually they work much better as plain fantasy. There's some serious universe creation behind the thinking. They keep me glued to the page and I'm hoping to find another one soon.
I've pointed you at a number of books that are published under the romance genre label, but I am a science fiction writer and grew up without ever reading a Romance. Even to this day, I can hardly stomach the genre except where it's begun to stray into my own field because of the characters' basic attitudes. But as a writer with a heroic attitude toward life (I make a lousy and unconvincing Damsel In Distress and do as much rescuing as I do getting-rescued), I have this burning ambition to write a genre romance just to prove I can do it. I've tried several times and failed abysmally.
So I devoured You Can Write A Romance and Get It Published hoping to learn something. I didn't. Why? Because this book is mostly about how to write fiction which I already know how to do at least the publisher of this book thinks so because they've invited me to contribute one-third of a similar book on science fiction world-building.
That's called a disclosure statement. I have a conflict of interests here since I know the people behind this book on writing romance. But I'm recommending the book because I also teach writing and wish all my students had read this one book. At one point, MacManus points out that any source of conflict other than the romance itself has to be a sub-plot. Just reverse that and make the romance the sub-plot and everything she says about writing is true for sf and fantasy and mainstream fiction, too.
Blood Ties by Karen E. Taylor is part of her "The Vampire Legacy" series about Deidre Griffen, a female vampire who tells her story in the first person. The series so far includes Blood Secrets and Bitter Blood, both also reviewed in this column. This is a fascinating and readable series about Deidre and her cop/lover she has made into a vampire. In this one a vampire serial killer stalks the community. The ending is reasonable but not satisfying and that dissatisfaction could use some study. This is from Zebra Horror, and most of the Zebra vampire novels are too "dark" for me but this series has a dark background with bright light characters in the foreground. Fascinating.
Honorable mention this month goes to an anthology of brand new, all original vampire short stories featuring many of the vampire writers I've reviewed over the last few years in this column. It is edited by P. N. Elrod and Martin H. Greenberg and titled The Time of the Vampires. Check it out if you like very short stories.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
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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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg