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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

August 2002

"5 of Swords"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg, jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Knight of the Demon Queen by Barbara Hambly, Del Rey Fantasy, Feb 2000

Kingdom of Cages by Sarah Zettel, Aspect SF, June 2002

Sister of the Moon by Janeen O'Kerry, Love Spell Historical Romance, Dec 2001

Mutant-X - TV Series on WB network


In our writing school, WorldCrafters Guild, we emphasize the essence of all drama, and all fiction is conflict and its resolution. No other writing lesson is so crucial to the development of a writer, and no other writing lesson is anywhere near as difficult to master.

How can that be? Our culture sees life as a football game, replete with ferocious people attempting to prevent us from achieving our goals with strategy, mass, power and skill. Our culture sees life as a series of compromises in which you get not what you deserve but what you negotiate - and sees negotiation as a form of combat.

Most of our intimate relationships are founded on various forms of verbal combat. Winning is rewarded, and losing gets you nothing.

How is it that we grow to maturity without understanding conflict?

Perhaps it's because combat in all its forms from recreational games (video and live-action), fictional and otherwise, -- and winning in combat -- really has nothing at all to do with conflict.

Winning in combat against an adversary does not resolve the conflict -- unless you subscribe to the philosophy that might makes right. And if you subscribe to the philosophy that might makes right, you probably have no idea what conflict is.

When you lay out the Tarot on Jacob's Ladder, the 5 of Swords comes out on top of the 8 of Cups. (if Cups represents Briah and Swords Yetzirah). Or put another way, they are two notes of the music of the spheres that resonate.

Finding how the 5 of Swords and the 8 of Cups (and other such overlapping pairs and triplets) are identical is how you penetrate the mysteries of the Tarot.

I have 3 books and a TV show here that may help you make that leap of abstraction.

Barbara Hambly, Sarah Zettel and Janeen O'Kerry have all addressed a portion of the content of the 5 of Swords, attempting to define a conflict, but standing far outside that conflict, shying away from it each time it gets emotionally hot (Cups represent emotion).

The writing technique used to "distance" the reader from the emotional life of the point of view character is to switch to another point of view. This breaks the building emotional continuity, and obscures the connecting links that drive a soul to deal with karmic realities. That obscuring works artistically much as a photographer blurs the background depth of field to sharpen a foreground image.

Knight of the Demon Queen by Barbara Hambly is the sequel to Dragonsbane and Dragonshadow. But it reads well enough on its own. The main characters Jenny Waynest and Lord John Aversin are beaten, destroyed people with their magical powers crippled, spent in their struggle against the Demon Queen.

Seeing yet another threat to what's left of their worlds, they take the field to try their best to confront and defeat this overwhelming force. The book ends off with no resolution, and the two heroes apparently doomed.

The strategy that has been used against them is embodied in the 5 of Swords. Their responses to the success of that strategy is not, however, typical of you or me, but more of the larger than life fantasy Hero.

Sarah Zettel has given us a story again from the point of view of several characters (one an A.I.) who likewise are the victims of someone using the strategy of the 5 of Swords, and likewise the ending of the novel, Kingdom of Cages, is equivocal. There is no typical action-adventure sense of triumph (6 of Wands), vindication of your philosophy because your might has vanquished all opposition.

In both these novels, we live through the points of view of the victims, not the victors.

Sarah Zettel has given us a galaxy spanning civilization of human colonies from Earth. The Earth of that day has been ecologically destroyed so those living on Earth are in domes. Out in the Galaxy, many planets have been colonized, but in each case as Earth-derived microbes interact with local microbes, and as human sciences attack the resulting hybrids, plagues are spawned that overwhelm and kill off all the colonists, chasing the remainder from the colonized planet - to other planets where they spread the plagues they've spawned.

It is a scenario which at once violates everything we think we can infer about how life might develop on other planets, and extrapolates what we know of how microbes behave with an eerie, deadly accuracy. This is the way science fiction should be written, right out of today's headlines.

The plot of the novel revolves around one planet where the Diversity Plague has not yet taken hold, where A.I.'s have been used to force humans to behave in such a way as to avoid creating a new Plague on that planet. The scientists of that planet must find a way to stop the Diversity Plague on other planets before all those refugees invade their planet. The stakes are the survival of the human species.

The various viewpoints give us the arguments for keeping the pristine planet clean by preventing immigration, and the humanitarian argument for taking in the refugees.

The novel ends off with the invasion in full swing, but no resolution of the question of which course of action has the better chance of letting the human species survive.

Janeen O'Kerry takes us back in time to the era when the Sidhe were on the verge of extinction -- to a local war between one little Kingdom of humans and a tiny remnant of the Forest people. Apparently interbreeding had been going on for a long time. The lead female hero is a Sidhe Queen. The lead male hero is a Sidhe/human half-breed. The stakes are the survival of the Sidhe.

Again the point of view shifts, breaking up the emotional continuity that leads the reader to experience the karmic lesson vicariously. Both points of view are from the victim of a successful application of the strategy embodied in the 5 of Swords. It's a little harder to see that here because the writing lacks the finesse and sure handedness of Hambly and Zettel. The background is sharp and the characters real but the author has yet to master dialog and pacing.

The Mutant-X episode that brings all 3 of these novels together involves a New Mutant who has the ability to turn into pure energy and penetrate computers, travel into electrical circuitry, bounce himself off satellites and reform his body almost anywhere.

That would be a great asset to Mutant X's organization - except the young man is a megalomaniac -- his whole personality organized around the idea that since New Mutants have the power to take what they want, and rule the world, they therefore should do so. That might makes right.

Since this is a TV series, the story is told from the POV of the Hero (Mutant X's organization) and the hero's routine adversary government agency. Unlike the novels, this story ends with the Hero winning. But if the New Mutant had won, had taken over either organization and/ore the World, he would have succeeded in applying the strategy of the 5 of Swords and gotten away with it (apparently).

So what is that strategy?

Look at the picture on the 5 of Swords in the Rider Tarot Deck. You see two dejected figures traipsing off the battlefield, and one smirking figure collecting swords.

On the Tree of Life, 5 is associated with strife, with forces out of balance, with "might" unleashed. That translates into Mars in astrology, war, combat. The teenage process of "proving yourself" strong enough, cool enough, gritty enough, to be counted adult is one of many manifestations of the 5 of Swords. It's a process of testing your strength against the problem to gain status.

Swords represent actions and decisions. And your decisions, which are yours alone, are your last line of defense around your ego. (keep watching the 8 of Cups for motives)

But as with the young New Mutant on Mutant X, or with Hambly's Demon Queen, or Zettel's A.I. reinforced "protect this planet at all costs", or O'Kerry's powerful humans and beaten Sidhe negotiating for peace, if you happen to be the one with the sheer, powerful strength to disarm your opposition, and you assume that you should and must because you can -- what will be the consequence?

How does a person feel when their defenses are stripped away, stolen, snatched and used against them by a more powerful entity making them feel helpless? Does the word "hatred" come into play? Does winning resolve the conflict?

Why does a person think they should because they can? How do you handle being the victim of a more powerful bully? Study these novels.

To send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, email jl@simegen.com  for instructions.


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



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