Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"What Did I Ever Do To Deserve This!"
Molt Brother by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Playboy Science Fiction pb, 1982 and Berkley Science Fiction paperback, 1985
City of a Million Legends by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Berkley Science Fiction pb 1985
Boldly Writing, a Trekker Fan and Zine History, 1967-1987 by Joan Marie Verba, FTL Publications, POB 1363, Minnetonka, MN 55345-0363, September 1996, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month we discussed karmic flypaper, the strange psychological effect that glues us to our fictional entertainment or creates "love at first sight" between strangers and gives rise to the concept that "there's no accounting for taste." I also mentioned a book on how to write Romance, and that I had been invited to contribute to a similar book from the same publisher on science fiction world-building (i.e., inventing backgrounds that aren't real).
We all know that in our everyday consciousness, each of us is attracted to different music, paintings, sculptures, TV shows, role playing games, or even to different colors in clothing. With age, we learn not to waste time on things that don't reward us with the sort of comfort that these attractions provide. So we ignore part of the world and cleave to the other part. The pattern we create by systematically sorting the world becomes part of our identity, part of the answer that our Guardian is looking for when asking, "Who are you?"
Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance are three genres that stretch the imagination to the breaking point because they use backgrounds that aren't "real" that the author makes up by re-sorting the details of reality. Even the setting of a Contemporary Romance departs from "reality" for during the events in a Romance novel, the characters are in the grip of the kind of Neptune transit that makes even an ordinary day in a city seem rose pink and wedding-lace white; not real but as alien as another planet around a far star.
In astrology, transits of Neptune are famous for distorting one's perception of reality by dissolving one's sift-and-sort habits, making the edges of things and the shapes of other people's personalities blurry and indistinct, for warping judgment, for raising endorphin levels to the "feeling no pain" point. "Falling in love" is just one such goofy state that Neptune can produce. It can lure you into a business partnership without considering the downside but only the "get rich quick" side, or it can lead you to take dire risks without realizing you've misassessed the possible consequences.
Many people who've experienced major transits of Neptune (it takes 165 years to circle the sun, so many adults haven't) enjoy that happy-go-lucky state so much they spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture it. But whatever Neptune did, it won't ever do to you again in this lifetime. Neptune is the source of the "honeymoon is over" syndrome when the shimmering glamour of Neptune lifts, it seems that the person you've married has changed. The common assumption is that the other person tricked you, not that your perceptions were temporarily distorted.
Neptune thus rules trickery, but the real trickery is inside your own mind for Neptune has a way of activating or at least dissolving the restraints on greed, sloth, love of luxury, and belief that the world owes you. The things you usually regard as just a wistful fantasy suddenly become a tangible reality that could be within your grasp if you dare reach for it.
Thus, what you cherish as your pet wish-fulfillment fantasy the one you put yourself to sleep with at night will seem to be offered to you as a possible reality under a Neptune transit. Very rarely does Neptune deliver what it seems to promise.
When the shimmering veil of Neptune dissolves, when stark reality becomes visible once more (when the Emperor realizes he has no clothes), we learn a lesson. What lesson we take from the experience determines our future "karma". Some ties are subtle and delusional such as "That dirty rat tricked me I'll never trust anyone again" and some are salutary, such as, "Oh, boy, was I a na´ve child!"
That dirty rat may have been trying to trick you, but you were the one who fell for it because of some quality or value or wistful fantasy held so deep within your psyche that you aren't aware of it. Without that awareness, the logical complaint about the pattern of life is, "What did I do to deserve this!" which really means, "I didn't do anything to deserve this."
When we finally ask, with a real question mark, "Well, what could I possibly have done to deserve this?" then systematic novel-reading might help, especially those novels reviewed in this column where I focus on books where the plot-events happen to the characters that is, the characters hold something deep within their unconscious psyche that they need to know about in order to change the pattern of their lives, and the events of the plot are just the voice of the Divine trying to get a message through.
An even better state of mind for novel-reading is, "I don't care what I did to deserve this though it must have been truly spectacular! What do I have to do to make it stop!"
This forward-looking attitude comes of the realization that thousands of different actions can catapult one into the same karmic traps, so the details of what you did don't matter. That realization generally awakens after several years of studying tarot.
The reason tarot works so well is that all the karmic problems of life fall into several clearly defined categories. The reason tarot and most divinatory tools are derided is that "All fortune tellers just mumble generalizations and our own subconscious guilts make us hear something specific to ourselves."
People who try to defend divination from this accusation on the grounds that it isn't true will inevitably fail because the accusation is perfectly true. That's what a good tarot reader does classify your problem. Then you can go to ancient wisdom sources and look up the solution. Life really is that simple. Most karmic problems have well known, field-tested, tried and true solutions. One of the things that the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance genres have in common is a disproportionately high concentration of writers who have a conscious grasp of those karmic problems and those well-known solutions.
Now I'm about to do something that's absolutely forbidden to reviewers (and maybe snap shut another of those little karmic bear-traps on my tender anatomy but what's one more among so many?) . I'm going to talk about two of my own books.
I'm not going to tell you that these two books, Molt Brother and its direct sequel, City of a Million Legends, are good. Maybe they're not. How could I know?
I can say that I just reread them, and it was a very weird experience. I need to tell you about this experience to illustrate our discussion topic of the year, the trick questions of the Guardian at the Gate: "What's the purpose of life?", "Who are you?", "What did you do to deserve this?"
Writing is hard work, and it is highly skilled labor just like reading. A story writer's job includes not just making up words, but examining those words to make sure each is properly chosen, and each one carries its weight. After several drafts and proof readings you may sell the work for publication and dance with glee at the thought of all those readers sharing it with you. But then the manuscript comes back with editorial corrections, and months later, it returns again marked up with the copy-editor's questions, then it comes back as "galleys". The transition from manuscript to galleys in 1982 when Molt Brother was first published involved a typist copying your manuscript which meant a new bunch of typos to be found and the inevitable crop of your own mistakes that you never saw before because typewriters at that time didn't make a page look like print.
By this time you've memorized every comma and every paragraph in the book. You know the scene sequences by heart just as you know your favorite singer's best album. Very often, you can hardly stand the sight of those words anymore.
Imagine my astonishment when I opened Molt Brother to reread it to refresh my memory and take notes for writing the third novel and found not one familiar word on the first page! Or any of the pages. It was like reading something written by somebody else.
This isn't typical of me. A few years ago I reread my Sime/Gen novels and my Kraith work from the early '70s. It was all still absolutely familiar typo by typo after twenty years. Of course, I've been working with many other writers who are still writing Sime/Gen stories and novels which we publish for fans of the series, so I "live with" several drafts of each of their stories. It keeps it all fresh in mind. (1999 addendum: Sime/Gen is now known as Sime~Gen -- see the afterword to House of Zeor posted on http://www.bb.com -- and lightworks.com still plans to post MB and City. )
Reading MB and City was like discovering a new writer a fantastically fine one, too. If I hadn't been so enthralled, so spellbound, I would have squirmed in embarrassment over every brilliant twist in the book. But since I had written precisely what I most enjoy reading, it's hardly surprising that it would strike me that way.
If you want an objective opinion, you can look up some of the old reviews at your library. Or one of these days soon, you might find the books themselves in whole or in part posted on the World Wide Web at the site where The Monthly Aspectarian is posted - http://www/lightworks.com/MonthlyAspectarian .
I'm going to talk about these two books here because they are more than just entertainment fiction - my own treatise on the Laws of Karma how we get into messes and what it costs to get out of those messes what we did to deserve this.
I believe that many of the books I review in this column have this quality for their authors that they are cast as entertainment fiction but underneath that, they are discussions of the laws of reality. I'm going to talk about my own books because I know the whole story behind them whereas with other authors I can only guess or accept what I've heard them say.
You may still be able to find copies of Molt Brother and City in used book stores, and I have a few copies left for sale. So I'm not talking about something you can't have if you need it. But I think you'll understand my point with or without reading these books.
Molt Brother was first published in 1982 by Playboy Press, but the thinking behind it dates from 1978/9. The book, however, didn't exist until one day I got a call from my editor at Playboy who had been my editor at Doubleday and who had done heavy editing on Unto Zeor, Forever, my first award-winner. She said, "What I really need from you now is a new series in a totally different universe, a series of large books."
I remember this conversation very well. I was sitting on the phone stand in my office with a cooking pot in one hand (I had been making dinner) and the phone tucked under my chin. With my right foot, I kicked open a file drawer next to the phone and, setting the pot aside, I pulled out four file folders with what I had thought were four separate universe ideas in them. Each idea had come into my mind and then stalled, refusing to become a book. Her words made me realize I had already created exactly what she needed, but it was in four pieces possibly because I had told my subconscious "make it shorter." But her words showed me the thematic links between the four ideas which meant they really were four facets of the same idea, and I sketched the novel series to her, freehand over the phone.
The four ideas in those file folders were:
1) The main plot-generating postulate: Karma as a plot-driving mechanism where the individuals in "present time" incarnation are reincarnations of leaders of an ancient civilization. This I got from general occult readings where the theory is popular that the baby-boomer generation contains a high proportion of reincarnated souls who were responsible for the fall of Atlantis, reincarnated now to do it right this time.
But I was writing sf, so my leaders of an ancient civilization had led a galaxy-spanning civilization to destruction. And this main postulate has two parts. A) Persuaders: these are people who were given the psychic power to persuade anyone to do anything. Persuaders are a very Pluto-related concept. B) What if the whole galaxy were littered with relics such as Stonehenge? What might they have been used for? In 1979 I had visited Stonehenge where I figured out what all those stone circles all over the galaxy are really for and how they brought down a galactic civilization. They are called crowns, and they are communications devices a Uranus/Mercury related concept.
2) An interstellar civilization of many aliens where several species have ancient wisdom traditions that are different but valid versions of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This is my answer to James Blish's famous novel, Case of Conscience.
3) The Internet, but one which spans a galaxy. In 1978, "The Internet" wasn't a buzzword but a science fiction dream. I extrapolated my concept from the bits and pieces that had already come into existence and came up with something pretty close to what actually happened in the '80s. If these novels are reissued today, I hope to be able to update the language but the underlying concept doesn't need any changes. This is my answer to Herbert's novel Dune.
So I used the concept of the human interface, a human whose brain is direct-connected into a computer network. My interfaces are connected via their subconscious minds. They think creatively using an interstellar Internet.
And 4) A species of nonhumans who take their committed life-partners among those who protect them during the helplessness of molt rather than from among those who parent a child with them. This premise allows for a discussion of some of the feminist ideas that were just being proposed in 1978 and haven't been fully integrated into our social structure even today. What does gender have to do with identity? With love? Romance? With trust? What does sex have to do with anything important? Because the issue is integrated into the premise, there are no essays or long speeches on the subject, just some heated dialogue, and eventually a murder. (This was long before the movie The Burning Bed.)
So I told my editor a story that would make a good springboard for a long series of novels. She said, "That sounds like what I'm looking for. Write it up and we'll have lunch."
I wrote it up the next morning. Even on a typewriter it only took a few hours to turn out 7-10 pages of outline neatly weaving all this cerebral stuff into a rip-roaring action story. The opening line of the first book was a "first" for me it may not have been the very first time I opened a story with a line of dialogue, but it was surely the first time I was satisfied I'd done it correctly. The line is, "But Arshel, committing yourself to a human? They don't even molt!" The entire complex structure of themes and subthemes that support the series is encoded into that single line. All the rest is commentary.
That afternoon I overnighted it to my editor so she'd have it before our lunch date.
This is a karmic story, remember, and it does have an astrological punch line. But here let it be noted that City was the first book I ever wrote on computer, and Molt Brother's contract paid for the computer which has long since been junked. And now there's a chance Molt Brother will become the first of my novels posted on the Web which is a division of the Internet, which I invented just to tell a karmic story but then real people (possibly reincarnated Atlanteans) finished inventing the real Internet. They had started inventing it at MIT around the time the students and faculty there started playing computer Star Trek games. If you have any doubt of the karmic links between me and Star Trek, you should read Boldly Writing, A Trekker Fan and Zine History, 1967-1987, which I'll discuss below.
So I went back to madly trying to finish the novel I had under contract and before I knew it I was sitting across a tiny table in a Manhattan restaurant doing a Power Lunch. And I nearly got knocked out of my chair when my editor said, "I like it but I have a suggestion."
Every beginning writer loves to hear an editor say "I like it" it's only us seasoned old pros who dread those words. This was the lunch at which I learned a whole new definition of dread. This was the first and thankfully the only time in my career when this happened. But on the other hand, maybe that's because I learned something from it.
Her suggestion? A sex-change operation on one of the four main characters of the first novel one of the main characters who would become a survivor and continuing main character. It's no accident, by the way, that there are four main characters to this series, four premises to this series, four "Worlds" to the Qabalah, and it takes four independent variables to create a Boolean algebra and Boolean algebra was the subject of my first published item in a Star Trek fanzine.
This character my editor wanted to change was a viewpoint character half the first novel was to be told from this point of view. I knew this character, and the gender was part of his identity.
But my editor (whose editing had won me an award for my second novel, Unto Zeor, Forever) said, "Just change this alien character to a female, write two chapters and expand the outline and I'll write you a contract." Nearly choking on my vichyssoise, I smiled and said, "No problem. You'll have it by Wednesday." That was a Thursday. As vivid as the memory is today, I still have no idea what else I ate at that meal. I barely recall the occasions of other lunches, other contracts, other pitch sessions over the years. This one is etched in fire in my mind. She wanted the first book by October. This was spring. Of the same year.
So I threw out one of my most favorite characters who had been in the original idea folder and invented a totally new person who happened to be female, then recast the outlines and wrote the sample chapters.
I wish I could tell you I had the contract and advance money by the end of the month, but that's not how publishing works. What I did have was a verbal acceptance. That was back in the days when certain high ranking editors had the power to make deals directly with authors. There are very few of that breed left publishing is very nervous these days.
The cold hard fact of this industry is that I can write books faster than publishers can write contracts (even though they only have to fill in the blanks in a form!). I had turned in the first novel before I got the contract or there would never have been a Playboy edition. And right away, my editor offered me a two book contract for the two sequels, City of a Million Legends and The Last Persuaders, my first two-book contract.
Shortly after MB was published, Ace/Berkley bought Playboy and my two-book contract. Since they'd already paid for it, they decided to publish City and re-issue Molt Brother as a Berkley book. Somewhere in the midst of this, editors changed chairs and suddenly they didn't want the third book at all. By then I was drowning in projects and just never wrote the third book even though the opening scene and most of the story have been burning a hole in my mind for about fifteen years.
Now it looks like I'll get a chance to write that third novel because the publisher here at The Monthly Aspectarian wants to read it and then publish it on the Web.
Now to karmic theory, astrology and Art.
Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends are the first two books of the first trilogy in what I call The Book of the First Lifewave the first habitation of this galaxy. My theory of karma is that if you make a mess, you have to clean it up. If you were a personage of far flung influence in the lifetime where you made the mess, it could have affected many people's lives. Therefore, it can take you many long and harrowing lifetimes to heal the damage you did to each of them. Boring, uninteresting and repetitive lifetimes.
At certain points, you may have to rise to a position of prominence again in order to expedite the process. Chances are that you'll have to be born prominent as were the characters in Molt Brother. The universe is constructed in such a way that the people you need, the resources, the opportunities and the tools you need to do the job will come into your hands as surely as the "Currents of Time" brought Dr. McCoy to Kirk and Spock in City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison.
These are moments of Initiation, of karmic tests, when the tools are laid out on the table before you and you are given a clear choice to use those tools or not to act or not just as Kirk had to watch a fatal car accident and choose whether to act or not.
Very often, the moment is not recognizable. Very often, you must work "blind" because it is a test of those innermost values that emerge under Neptune transits and lead you to make a mess bigger than you are.
There is no way at this point in my own life that I can know if the Lifewave books are karmicly significant for me or not. But there are some interesting coincidences here that I've tried to reveal as I've told this story.
I've mentioned, in the last two columns and in last year's series of columns on how writers trick you into believing six impossible things before breakfast, how your enjoyment of a work of art depends on how closely the work of art depicts what you see when you look at life; and last month we discussed the difference between horror and sf/f. Now I've tried to show you what I see when I look out of my own eyes at my life. I see connecting links, cause-effect chains, resonances, harmonies, patterns. Oh, there are blank and blurry spots in the patterns, and there's lots of noise to obscure all these patterns. And when a thing happens (such as that phone call from that editor) you can't tell if it's noise or pattern. For twenty years, it didn't seem to mean anything.
Meanwhile, Guy Spiro calls and says he's publishing a monthly magazine and will I do a review column for him. I said, Sure, why not? I've done columns before and it never meant anything. Noise or pattern? Who knows? Then Guy starts posting the column to the Web. That's neat. But is it noise or pattern? Who knows? Then Guy starts talking about how impressed he's always been with MB and City, and how the future is in Web-publishing.
Now, in 1996, suddenly that original phone call from my editor at Playboy is looking very much like pattern, not noise.
This story reads like a novel, doesn't it? Or is it that novels read like life? As Above; So Below. As Within; So Without. The laws of symmetry apply. And there are more reflections to consider.
Yesterday, as I was outlining this story, the galley proofs to Boldly Writing by Joan Marie Verba arrived in the mail. Joan has been a factor in my life for twenty years, mostly because of her work in Star Trek fandom. I had no idea her "fanzine history" was such an ambitious work. I haven't finished reading it yet I'm only up to 1975 but I advise any Star Trek fan who wasn't around in 1969 to order a copy from the address above right now. And those of you who were around could probably learn a thing or two about life's patterns from this book. She has taken the amorphous welter of material that came off the fan presses and revealed a sharp, clear, and most important of all, documented, pattern.
She has shown us how Star Trek fandom was a force that gathered in, energized, trained and produced people who have since then racked up an astounding list of achievements. We predicted this in Star Trek Lives! which was published in 1975. Now, twenty years later, the people we wrote about have proven that we were correct.
But for me, the most eye-opening thing Verba has said about those years was the following: "T-Negative closed out the year by putting out its 13th issue in December 1971. The most interesting item here is in the letters section, wherein Jacqueline Lichtenberg attempts to explain Kraith, an exercise something akin to trying to explain the meaning of life."
T-Negative is the title of a very famous Star Trek fanzine edited by Ruth Berman. Kraith is a series of Star Trek stories (still available) for which I created the background and series premise. At its peak, we had over 50 Kraith creators people who made original contributions to the Kraith Series and even shaped and changed its direction in the same way that the script writers often shaped and changed Trek itself. But this is openly accessible by any ambitious writer. I wrote the longer Kraith stories which appeared in T-Negative, and many smaller stories were published in all the other fanzines.
At the first Star Trek convention in New York (not the first convention, the first one in New York) I met two other fans who went home and launched Kraith Collected a series of fanzines that collected those stories from all the other `zines. The fan response to Kraith formed the basis of the research for the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! and now the letters I exchanged with Gene Roddenberry during the writing of Star Trek Lives! are to appear on a CD-ROM biography of this great man, to be released soon.
The pattern Verba has revealed behind the early Trekzines bears an eerie resemblance to the pattern I have sketched here of the origin of Molt Brother. It is a pattern of powerful karmic forces flowing beneath the surface of things a Pluto-driven pattern. Another characteristic of Pluto-, Neptune- and Uranus-driven life patterns is that they take at least 20 to 40 years to become identifiable.
That's just the sort of pattern I use to generate plots that address characters' unconscious feelings, patterns that start before the book does and continue long after it ends. This is the pattern of my life, and it is what I write when I tell you a story. It's what I look for in the books I choose to review here. Life makes sense. Finding the pattern is only a question of time-perspective which is why vampire stories are so important to this study.
Oh, yes, I promised you an astrological punch line. Here it is.
Molt Brother was published in April of 1982 with Pluto aspecting my Ascendant, Neptune entering my 5th house, and Uranus (computers and electronics) trining my Sun. Today, Pluto is trining my Sun, Neptune is trine my Uranus exact, and Uranus is aspecting my Sun. In addition, my progressed Sun is conjunct my Natal Uranus this summer.
Was that moment when that editor called me and asked for a long series of large books actually one of those moments when the tools were assembled on the table before me and it was my choice whether to pick them up and do my karmic janitorial duties? And did I pick them up by writing this series or did I turn away from something that needed doing by squeezing this Lifewave universe into an already overloaded schedule? Should I have paid more attention to Trek or less? If I did the right thing, how come the third Lifewave book got scrapped? Was the delay necessary so that I could forget what I'd planned for Book III and now I can write a completely different book for Guy Spiro? For you?
All I can say is that if this is one of those "moments" in Eternal Existence, when the tools are on the table and the choice is to be made, then the mess I made must have been a doozy because this is a large pattern that involves a lot of people most of whom I've never met.
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