Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

July 1997

"When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear "


Fool's War by Sarah Zettel (Warner Aspect Science Fiction, paperback, 1997).

Legacies by Alison Sinclair (Harper Science Fiction, HarperPrism, pb, 1996).

Keeper of the King by Nigel Bennett and P.N. Elrod (a Starline book published by Baen Publishing Enterprises, 1997).

Blood Debt by Tanya Huff (DAW books, 1997.)

A Stirring of Dust, a Forever Knight novel by Susan Sizemore (Boulevard Books, Berkeley Publishing Group, 1997).

The title of this month's column is the single most frustrating maxim I encountered on my own Path's "onramp."

It is an example of the sort of mystical mumbo-jumbo that gives all occult studies an odious reputation. It bears all the linguistic signatures of deliberate obfuscation. Linguistically, it says, "I'm wise and you're not, nyeh nyeh nyeh, so there!" Not only that, but the statement itself is blithering nonsense.

Mastering language is one of the prerequisites required of the serious student of magick. Learning to separate the denotation from the connotation from the particular semantic loading you, yourself (because of your personal history) put upon a phrasing is hard, but absolutely essential. Without the ability to tease apart the tangled knot of levels and dimensions within an utterance, the student travels the inner paths wholly unprotected.

In Western occultism, the essence of magickal practice is to master both the word (which gives form and substance to your work) and the emotion, which powers the work. Learning to get these two elements to fuse into a harmonious whole is the ultimate goal of all ceremonial initiatory practice. Once you've got the knack of that fusion, you move on beyond ceremonial magick into more dangerous paths. Attempt to move on without that knack and you're toast.

I've got five novels here that discuss a single aspect of mastering this knack of fusion. I suspect that those who are currently maddened by the title of this column can, by reading, enjoying and then studying these novels, solve the mystery of that idiotic statement.

Last month, we discussed "Eight" -- the Eights of the Tarot, the Eighth Sephirah of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, astrological Mercury, hermetic science, modern science, and modern communication. During that discussion, we touched lightly on Seven, Venus, and theater.

Last year, we explored extensively the requirements for getting past the Guardian at the Gate -- and what that has to do with identity and all the components of identity.

The Guardian at the Gate is represented in tarot by The World or The Universe. And this potential energy barrier "guards" the direct path up out of everyday consciousness, mundane reality -- into the Astral Plane. Check out a Tree of Life diagram carefully and you will see that there are three paths up out of everyday consciousness (which is represented by the #10 Sephirah called Malkuth).

One leads to the realm of the Moon, the Nines -- the Astral plane, dreams. One leads to the realm of Mercury -- the Eights, Science. And one leads to the realm of Venus, -- the Sevens, the Fine Arts.

From any of those three, you can access all the rest of the Inner Planes -- if you have the keys.

The major "key" is mastery of your own mind. Mastery doesn't mean control and doesn't require any power at all. Mastery is an amalgam of dozens of skills (Eight Pentacles is about skills acquisition) which, when harmoniously orchestrated (the Temperance card), provide you with the ability to move through and around a complex environment without disturbing anything inadvertently, or being unwillingly disturbed by the environment. This "state of mastery" is what allows the mystic to traverse the Astral plane (a tricky environment because it's wholly controlled by the subconscious) and exit into the realm of the Sixes. Mastery of your own mind is also useful in traversing the Eights and the Sevens.

Mastery requires an understanding of the relationships among linked systems (such as Ten, Nine, Eight and Seven). Your own inner mind is a conglomerate of linked systems which is a "below" which is like that which is "above" -- that is, your inner mind is congruent to the Universe. Master your inner mind and you'll be at home in the Universe because it will be familiar and tractable.

Fortunately, we have been given a map of the structure of the Universe so we have a clue to the structure of our minds. The map is called The Tree of Life.

Unfortunately it's very complicated and, I suspect, not fully understood yet. So it's futile to attempt to work down from an understanding of the Tree to an understanding of your inner mind.

Fortunately, humanity keeps producing geniuses who are gradually working up the Tree to an understanding of the personal inner mind in general. Armed with a general understanding of the human mind, it's possible to figure out a great deal about what your own mind is doing way down there where you can't see it, where it is generating and directing your life. (As I mentioned in the column where I discussed weight control and compulsive behavior, the subconscious always wins in the end.)

Knowing your natal chart and the principles of how the subconscious works, you can map the inner walls that divide your mind into compartments. Those walls are sometimes known as "neurotic blocks" -- emotion-powered defense screens that create pockets of not-quite-sane behavior (i.e. "buttons" other people push to get a rise out of you).

When a "button" is pushed, you may respond by doing the right thing, but with too much emotional energy behind it. Or you may respond by doing a wrong thing, with not enough energy behind it to complete the damage control to create success. Or, you may simply not-hear vital information that would guide your actions into different paths.

Prejudices work like neurotic blocks to cause you to not-hear vital information or to fail to ask crucial questions because you didn't think of them. You didn't think of them because you already know the answer and any other answer is unthinkable.

Prejudices also work on your vision. If you believe that something is impossible and you see it before you -- you experience a moment of severe disorientation, and then -- Pop! -- the visual evidence suddenly looks like a variant on something familiar. (UFO's are just weather balloons. Or, Pop! -- a weather balloon becomes a UFO right before your eyes, depending which way your prejudice is programmed.)

Some prejudices are absorbed before the age of five from your parents. Some are acquired in school. And some, the most pernicious, are the ones you figure out for yourself. The more painful or life-threatening the learning experience from which you derive your knowledge of "The Way Things Are," the more entrenched the prejudice. You don't care whether your answer is right or not. You simply must avoid that pain. (Would-be writers note: this is how you convince a reader that your characters are real.)

Prejudices are stored in the subconscious mind in the area labeled, "This is the Way Things Are." And they're almost always very great simplifications of very complex matters. The subconscious isn't smart. It can't reason abstractly. It reasons just about the way a dog does -- more by conditioning and experience than anything else. (Study the Strength card.) And once the subconscious is "full" -- it doesn't accept new data.

Thus the adage, "My mind's made up; don't confuse me with facts."

There is a very primitive (i.e. basic) mental mechanism that insists on classifying any new thing as a version of something familiar.

It is a survival mechanism for the species. Living amidst looming threats -- like saber toothed tigers or speeding autos -- the individual must react fast to any incoming data, and the reaction must be the safest reaction, not the correct one. That is, if there is error, it must be on the safe side rather than the risk side. Prejudices are the database that this mechanism creates and consults to minimize reaction time.

Prejudices are vital to our survival as a species.

Modern politically correct attitudes require the eradication of prejudice -- as if prejudice were a very bad thing.

It's no mystery to me why it is that pounding away at people's prejudices just makes them more prejudiced, not less. One experiences a gut level primal terror at the merest suggestion of an attack on one's prejudices. That primal terror is not a reaction to a threat of personal survival. It's a reaction to a threat to the survival of your species.

Two initiations have to be long-since assimilated in order to tackle the problem of your prejudices -- the Death Initiation where you face death and loosen it's hold over you, and the Guardian At the Gate who demands that you get a grip on your identity.

Very often, we fall back on our prejudices for the foundation of our identity, and a change in identity is experienced as death. Somewhere along the path of mastery, one must get over that habit.

The level of mastery that must be reached in order to unravel the title of this column requires not the absence of prejudice, but the efficiency and accuracy of your prejudices. More, mastery requires (in this modern era of rapid change) that your prejudices not be stored in "Read Only Memory" but in "Random Access Memory" where they can be edited like the index to your website every time one of your links must be updated.

Once you have the knack of editing your prejudices, then you have the problem of learning to construct bug-free prejudices. You have to learn to beta-test your prejudices. You have to learn to zip and unzip your prejudices. And you jolly well better back them up, too, just in case.

Once you've gotten your prejudices to work properly, you will discover that the insufferable title to this column is literally true, but leaves out an important fact. The important fact is that the Teacher has been right there in front of you all along shouting at you to get your attention -- but because of your prejudices, you thought he/she was something else. Probably something contemptible or ludicrous -- or boring.

As soon as you get your prejudices properly programmed and debugged, and they work for you rather than against you, then you are "ready" to take the next step in mastery. And the Teacher "appears." Or seems to appear, from your own point of view.

If you're ready to reprogram your prejudices, the following novels may provide help.

First, we have Sarah Zettel's Fool's War. This is an interstellar action/adventure novel which is more driven by situation than relationship. Yet, the characters do alter the courses of their lives based on how other people feel about actions as well as on ethical and moral grounds, with a little guilt thrown in. It is 455 pages (for $5.99) of breathless page-turning, with all the complex and convoluted plotting even I could desire.

I'd love to reveal the original gimmick that makes this novel a "must read" -- but it pertains to the issue of testing your prejudices for efficacy. So not wanting to spoil the game, I will only point out that, if nothing else, you can see here a perfect illustration of the "blinding prejudice" that keeps the Teacher from "appearing" before your eyes. Understand these characters, and you will understand the title of this column perfectly.

One interesting thing about these five novels is the way they came into my hands and backed up on the to-be-read stack then got read all at once. Fool's War came as a review copy weeks before I found time to read it. This next one, Legacies by Alison Sinclair also came as a review copy and got put on the "Well, if I ever run out of better things" stack. Luckily I did run out of better things.

Notice that although it was right here under my nose, my prejudice kept me from seeing it until I had read Fool's War.

Legacies is about guilt for causing a tragedy. The premise is that "five generations ago" a group of people built some starships and took off to explore the universe against the collective good judgment (prejudices) of the majority on their home world (not Earth). They ended up marooned on a planet with a very non-human indigenous species with some interesting prejudices of their own. Unable to return home, they can only quiver in the grip of the fear of guilt -- for when they left, they went into "warp" too close to their home planet and their best theoretical scientists think their "wake" destroyed either the population of that planet, the planet itself, or possibly the planet and the star it orbits, too.

This is the story of a group of the descendants of those refugees -- one of whom has been acculturated to the indigenous alien point of view. They return to verify the status of the home planet and half the novel occurs there.

The other interesting item in this novel is that the refugees govern themselves by consensus reached via debate. I think the author might have been reaching to explore a form of government that might be better suited to a technologically based society than representative democracy. I think it fails to describe such a government -- however, I can't tell if the writer did this on purpose for artistic reasons or if she just didn't know that she'd substituted spin doctoring for politics in government.

Sinclair presents a society where a committee of the whole composed of citizens who can pass a test of scholarship must be convinced by a debate staged by the proponents and opponents of an issue. Then the whole society moves on the matter -- quite effectively, once they've agreed. They determine agreement by a vote and the majority rules even if they're wrong.

This is a little like some of the religious societies we have on Earth, but with the twist of very high intellectual attainment being the requirement to vote on issues.

Unfortunately, my disbelief didn't remain suspended through the description of preparing to debate the proposition to send a contingent back to the homeworld to see what the situation there really was. The debaters who were presenting their proposition paid more attention to their clothes and their style of delivery -- voice, mannerisms, etc., than to the substance of the argument. And when they addressed the substance of their argument, they paid more attention to the emotional appeal than to issues and facts.

Furthermore, the utterances which were supposed to be the argument weren't actual argument. They were more like what passes for "debate" on television during a political campaign -- I state my case, you state yours without reference to mine. Nobody doing the debating changes their opinion as the result of the debate. No third position emerges from the two presented. It's posturing and performing, not debating, and seems based on the "zero-sum game" attitude toward life discussed last month.

The novel's premise is that the refugees haven't sent a ship back since they recovered the capability because previous groups to debate this issue failed to convince the majority of the audience -- and those groups did nothing but present facts, figures and calculations. Therefore, this group presents an emotional appeal and wins.

Sinclair makes a dramatic point with this, however, in terms of describing a new and different form of government -- it just doesn't work for me. On the other hand, as magick it works perfectly. And since the indigenous aliens are psychic, it works thematically.

These debaters are staging a magickal ceremony in Seven (Venus) and deliberately and skillfully manipulating the audience's prejudices, revealing the prejudices for what they are. (The path from Ten to Seven is represented by The Moon Card.) The audience changes their prejudices because of the way the debate was presented.

Likewise, the indigenous aliens here have to change their prejudices. And they do it without a fuss, too.

The half of the novel that occurs on the planet of origin and involves interaction with the descendants of the survivors of the disaster caused by the departing ships' warp drive wake is also about prejudice, truth, facts, fantasy, and fears. The two halves of this novel are neatly woven together around these central themes, and there's a lot to get your teeth into, in addition to the discourse on prejudice.

Right after I read Legacies, my daughter gave me my birthday present -- a month late. She had acquired it a couple of months earlier, but held onto it to present it in person -- because she felt it was too valuable to risk in the mail. I agreed.

It is a hardcover copy of Keeper of the King by Nigel Bennett and P.N. Elrod, personally autographed to me by both authors. My daughter acquired this at a store where both were signing and was surprised Elrod remembered me.

Nigel Bennett is the actor who played La Croix on the TV vampire series Forever Knight that I rave about in this column so often. P.N. Elrod writes a vampire series I rave about in this column. Through Forever Knight fandom, I acquired a respect for Bennett, but I've done a lot of collaborating. I didn't expect this collaboration to produce a top notch product. Discovering otherwise allowed me the opportunity to rewrite one of my prejudices that didn't work too well.

So now I can rave about this collaboration. The novel is seamless, flowing, dynamic -- everything a good read should be. I devoured it at two sittings. I wish I had four more of these on my reading stack.

What I really loved about this novel was the way the protagonist, an ethical vampire whose sacred charge of honor is to protect "the King" (in this case the Prime Minister of Canada -- though his first job was protecting King Arthur), has a complicated enough life to make him seem real. He has a conflict -- internal and external.

His "mother" (the woman who made him a vampire) is deathly ill and to be cured must drink from the Holy Grail. Since he was Lancelot, this is not a problem -- except that he's just accepted an assignment to thwart an assassination of the Prime Minister. And he doesn't know exactly where the Grail is -- but that's written down in an old book. However, the assassin (who, it turns out, is also a vampire who works as a hit man) has been "paid" with the stolen original of that old book. (I never figured out why the microfiche version wouldn't give the hero the information he needed. I'll have to reread this book.)

The double-bind is a quandary worthy of such a pair of ethical vampires. I enjoyed watching them work it out while dealing with the assassin too. I could have reviewed this book in a column having to do with the Ten Commandments. The climax pivots on the prejudices shared by these three vampires old enough to know better. See what you think of their prejudices and how tenaciously they hold onto them.

Next, we have two books I bought at Magic Carpet Con in Chattanooga the first weekend in May. That was on the week-long trip when I visited the distributor I mentioned last month and had some more of my prejudices adjusted.

The moment my eyes lit upon Blood Debt by Tanya Huff, my prejudice-driven reflexes had my hand grasping hold of the paperback, ready to defend my possession of it against all comers. Fortunately, the book dealer, being a fan himself, had sense enough to bring enough copies and I didn't have to fight. I finished reading the book at the convention -- couldn't put it down. Here it is more than a week later and my review copy from DAW hasn't come yet. Maybe they didn't print enough copies. What a chilling thought.

Blood Debt is the latest in Huff's series about Henry Fitzroy, the bastard son of Henry the Eighth who, as a vampire, makes his living by writing Romances. His life had been fairly dull until he met a young woman who had been a policewoman until her eyes went bad. Forced out of police work, she opened a detective agency. Fitzroy ended up helping her on a few cases, then involving her with some friends of his (werewolves) who had a problem. He saw her through the death of her mother (twice, since they had to kill the mother's corpse after it became animated) and saved her "life" by making her a vampire.

Meanwhile, her lover/boyfriend/partner is still a policeman. And, despite the fact that two vampires can't co-exist in the same city, still regards Fitzroy as his rival.

In Blood Debt, Fitzroy becomes haunted by a ghost whose screams kill people in adjacent apartments (yes, he lives in an apartment and sleeps in a nice bed). He calls his private detective-vampire friend to come find the ghost's murderer so he can lay the ghost.

Now, do a careful contrast/compare between the prejudices Fitzroy's vampire-teacher inculcated in him and those discussed in the other novels in this column.

Look at the way Fitzroy approaches the awareness of this prejudice. Contrast it with the way Vicki (the detective) approaches this prejudice. Consider the resolution they come to over it. And the role of Vicki's human lover in that accommodation.

The fifth novel in this set, A Stirring of Dust, a Forever Knight Novel by Susan Sizemore which I grabbed with my other hand while seizing upon my personal copy of Blood Debt. A Stirring of Dust is an exceptionally well-constructed novel. The author's hand is firm on the material, and the writing is terse and penetrating. I don't know who "Susan Sizemore" is -- but she or he is an accomplished craftsman. This is a flawless piece of work. It's also a good book.

However, it would have made a much better episode than a novel. It's almost exactly to episode formula (complete with flashbacks) and takes very little advantage of the expanded opportunities the novel format permits. This book hits another of my personal prejudices. I simply can't "get into" novels with a floating point of view, or an omniscient narrator point of view. Omniscient narrator is the point of view taken by any television show or movie, for that matter. It works on screen just fine. But for me, it just doesn't work at all in words. And that spoiled this novel for me. (See how prejudices can get in the way of the Teacher appearing?)

The writer of this novel translated the characters from TV style to narrative style very well. We see and hear the characters' inner dialogues, and while "in" a particular character's point of view, we really are inside their minds. Thus this isn't strictly omniscient narrator point of view -- standing outside the characters. It's a well-disciplined use of multiple point of view. Other novels in this set have it, too, but here it was more distracting than in those cases (for me and my prejudices).

This is an important point because prejudice is what keeps people from looking at situations from other people's points of view -- and that's what causes a lot of the strife in the world. In order to look at a situation from another person's point of view, you must set aside your own prejudices and adopt theirs for the moment. That's hard -- but very worthwhile.

This style of writing is an exercise in doing that, and this particular novel has the added bonus of weaving the characters together into the situation in a very realistic and believable way. This writer knows the psychology of prejudice very well indeed, and has plenty to teach us about it.

The other problem I had with this novel is the same problem I always have with TV-Tie In novels -- it doesn't advance the plot of the TV show. But that's not the author's doing. On Forever Knight, we have Nick, La Croix, and Natalie (the coroner who is Nick's physician -- but then all her other patients are dead, too) embroiled in a situation. This novel is set during the time when Vachon (another vampire) and Tracey (another human) are added to the ensemble. This group of people are caught together in a situation which is the only reason this TV series is interesting.

Since Forever Knight has been canceled, I was hoping (yes, I know better but it's a prejudice of mine to assume the best will happen) that the novels would pick up the situation and carry it on through a series of novels where the situation progresses to a resolution.

The series attempted a resolution of sorts to the situation Nick was in. It didn't satisfy the fans. Or me.

The people who acquired the license to do the book, and the people who sold them that license, opted to do what every other TV show has done -- produce an endless series of books that go nowhere and accomplish nothing but retreading the same ground over and over. The author has no choice but to conform or not get published.

Given that, this novel is perfect. The situation at the end is identical to the situation at the beginning. Every interesting ingredient of the TV show is treated but not changed. We watch the characters confront and interact in potentially fascinating ways -- and the potential is never fulfilled, just like it is never fulfilled on the air. None of the major characters dies. Natalie protests having to cover up vampire kills in the city, but does nothing about it. Nick solves the case. The Nightcrawler monologues are brilliant.

So why read the book? Other than that it's a "can't put it down" read -- and that it's Forever Knight -- this novel is about a couple of other aspects of prejudice and fits into the group of novels here very neatly.

There is a "red herring" who gets himself killed by La Croix. La Croix has no patience with prejudices, especially those that inconvenience him.

Then there's a very, very old vampire who's been in a box for a couple hundred years, and is now trying to use archaic prejudices to cope with the twentieth century Toronto scene with nobody to provide a clue to what's going on.

In addition, there's Vachon's prejudice against casting himself in the role of a leader.

There's Natalie's prejudice against falsifying reports.

And poor Tracy Vetter, who's such a very "good cop."

Each acts on their understanding of the world filtered through their prejudices -- and the author nails each character's characteristic responses with diabolic precision.

This novel might be the most revealing one of this bunch to someone who is looking for clues to his/her own prejudice mechanism -- simply because it's composed of such familiar elements that it's easy to understand.

Students of writing can use these five novels to study how to use characters' prejudices to generate believable plots. Students of magick can use these novels to grasp the signs and portents that herald a prejudice-driven action. Students of astrology can gain a grasp of the "shape of a lifetime." Students of tarot can probe the barriers between everyday consciousness and the inner planes.

The "Teachers" that "appear" in these cases are, in fact, fictional characters.

Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.



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