Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Art and Government"
Caledon of the Mists by Deborah Turner Harris (paperback, Ace Fantasy, 1994).
The Bastard Prince by Katherine Kurtz (hardcover, Del Rey, 1994).
Rediscovery by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey (paperback, DAW Science Fantasy, 1994).
Changing Fate by Elisabeth Waters (paperback, DAW, 1994) (check out last month's column for this review).
In the next few columns, I'm going to do something rather typical of my personality in one of its less laudable manifestations. And I'm going to do it in public. I'm going to bite off more than I can chew. I'm going to fumble my way into a gigantic, amorphous and controversial subject.
Marion Zimmer Bradley has warned me often that there are good reasons she doesn't like to deal with politics. I've listened to many an erudite and learned spiritual leader attempting to apply the lessons of eternal wisdom to modern day politics and sounding prejudiced or just plain idiotic.
Yet here I go diving fearlessly into these turgid waters because that's what the latest crop of books I've been reading is about. Government.
Actually, it's not surprising that these authors should be discussing aspects of a single topic. They know each other and they read each other's books.
Elizabeth Waters is a close associate of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the great stateswoman of our subdivision of science fiction/fantasy. Waters and I have been students of and fans of MZB for more than twenty years. Waters' first novel is about small kingdoms, the Year King, and shapechangers trying to be accepted in the politics of the non-magically endowed. It's about ordinary personalities caught in the grip of extraordinary talents that have political consequences. It's not about what these people want to do it's about what they must do. I expect Waters has more to say on that topic.
Deborah Turner Harris is Katherine Kurtz's collaborator on the three books I've raved about in an earlier column, the Adept series, The Adept, The Adept Book Two: Lodge of the Lynx, and The Adept Book Three: The Templar Treasure. And there will be more Adept novels forthcoming. This is the series which depicts a modern day Dr. Taverner.
Harris is an expert on the Scottish background and writes rich, deep and detailed descriptions of the area, culture, history, and attitudes as well as the native magic.
Caledon of the Mists is a book I can recommend to you only with a certain reservation. It's a hybrid that may not be to the taste or liking of the typical science fiction/fantasy reader. I had a big problem with it because the main viewpoint character is not someone who shares my personal attitudes toward life, at least not at the beginning of the book where she gets her "fanny caught in a beartrap."
An aside here: one of the topics entwined in this gigantic subject is Art. Regarding the art of writing novels, one of the first things a student learns is that there are two plots, and that's about all you need to know about plotting. "Johnny gets his fanny caught in a beartrap and has his adventures getting it out" and "A likeable character struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal."
Caledon of the Mists is a "beartrap" novel where the beartrap is becoming the head of state of a kingdom, and "Johnny" is a woman, the younger sister of the prince who was trying to reconquer the kingdom his grandfather lost.
This young princess backs herself into this beartrap by being childishly bad tempered and spoiled rotten and then turning passively gracious like a good "adult" female "should" be and just accepting what the men around her say she must do for no good reasons of her own.
This is in sharp contrast to Waters female hero who is fully sovereign in her own mind before the story starts, but has to fight for her sovereign position in her political world.
Harris's princess starts with a thoughtless passivity that repels me. I don't want to be that character. So why am I recommending this book? Because the writing is so good that it puts me in danger of being that character! That's why I shy away from this book because I could get sucked into that mindset and I find it horrifyingly repulsive.
This woman has never taken any interest in government in theory or practice. She is uneducated in what it takes to be a head of state and doesn't seem to realize that's a danger to herself and to her country. She seizes the reigns of power only because someone told her to when
the opposition to the rebellion killed her brother. She isn't even particularly outraged by that killing or its magical method. Her first reaction to her brother's death is just maudlin self-pity.
I found this particularly unbelievable because this princess is supposed to have been well trained in a very demanding and effective school of magic. This incongruity is of course a clue to what this book is about the forging of an effective temporal force out of a theoretical spiritual one.
The events of the book which is all about who should be king/queen forges this woman's personality from the wimp she was into the beginnings of the head of state she may yet become, but we never get to the part where she extricates her fanny from the beartrap. And at the end of this book she isn't quite the sovereign she must become to hold this power. In subtle ways, she still defines her identity in terms of her relationship to a man. A head of state can't afford to do that.
I called this book a hybrid. That judgement has to do with the art behind the blend of elements composing plot, character and theme. The plot is the staging of a war of rebellion, the throwing off of the yoke of an oppressor. The tools and weapons of war are rooted in magic as practiced by another race - the race that trained our princess. But the story is about the push-pull shoving match between masculine and feminine personalities, a story that ends with the girl getting her man.
Magically, that is a sound juxtaposition, for all magic ultimately is fueled by the polarity underlying manifestation and masculine/feminine is one of the more accessible polarities.
Sovereignty is an initiation stage attained by throwing off the domination of parental authority without the loss of parental respect or the disruption of the line of heritage and tradition i.e., the psychic roots. "The King is Dead: Long Live the King" . . . And the first duty of a sovereign newly crowned is to provide the kingdom with an heir apparent which has an oblique connection to sexuality.
Artistically and commercially, this novel's juxtaposition of sexuality and revolution might not be so sound. The story is precisely structured to target the romance genre reader. The princess's personality and how she learns to seize her sovereignty are exact copies of a million romance genre novels. (That's not a disparaging remark. I happen to be partial to the romance genre and excited about the evolution that is occurring in that genre.)
While Harris's story is a romance, the plot is a civil war. That, of course, is Gone With The Wind and other very famous works. But can you see Scarlet O'Hara as a head of state? We have many women in our modern world who are and have been successful as heads of state. But they don't remind me of O'Hara.
Artistically and commercially, I think that the "Likeable character struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal" would have been the more natural and satisfying choice to tell of a rebellion against tyranny. Some of the characters in Caledon are living that plot, but the princess isn't at least not at first.
Caledon of the Mists has tackled a gigantic and tangled web of themes, and is a carefully and smoothly crafted work that attempts to discuss the relationship between the people, their government, their magical roots, and the personal and intimate lives of their heads of state. That is, it discusses the "divine right of kings." But artistically, all of that is just too much to cram into one book that starts off with a wimpish protagonist.
Nevertheless, if and when "who should be king" interests you, all four of the above books and the other works of these authors are on your must-read shelf because these books form a good, solid survey course in the subject.
The "divine right of Kings" i.e., sovereignty, is a vital issue in the Quest of any magician-in-training. When you reach out your hand for Power, you must be sure of your own personal sovereignty.
And so we come to another of my favorite writers, Katherine Kurtz. Her newest hardcover, The Bastard Prince is a rip-roaring good book, and a fine addition to the Deryni mythos. It's the kind of book you read all in one sitting if you can read that fast.
Caledon of the Mists is at least as good as Katherine Kurtz's first Deryni novel, but The Bastard Prince is Kurtz's twelfth in this series and practice makes perfect. It really isn't fair to compare a first fantasy effort to the master's latest masterpiece. But they are about the same subject who will be head-of-state . . . i.e., politics and warfare as a tool of diplomacy.
In the Deryni novels, for the most part, we are in the point of view of the reigning monarch and his/her defenders not the rebels who are trying to recapture the throne lost by the grandparents in a war. And for the most part, the Kings of Gwynedd tend to have a firm sense of their own personal sovereignty, so I tend to like them better.
In the Deryni universe, magick is the major tool of warfare. Deryni magick uses the innate esp in the Deryni race, but goes beyond that to deal with archangels and divine forces. Deryni use their esp, but they also "cast spells."
The Bastard Prince is the third in a trilogy titled The Heirs of Saint Camber that started with The Harrowing of Gwynedd. The middle book
I reviewed some months ago is titled King Javan's Year. And now we end the trilogy with The Bastard Prince. The trilogy is really a single story, and in the development of the Deryni universe, it holds a place very similar to the book we'll discuss below, Rediscovery.
Years ago when Kurtz was backgrounding the stories set later in the series, she delineated the ancestry of the king she was dealing with then, King Kelson. One of the things established at that time in the lineage of the human kings of Gwynedd was that there were three young kings who ruled for very short times three brothers who became king in quick succession. From the birth dates and accession dates it was clear they reigned under regency. And it was intimated that these regencies were a political problem.
Now she has told the stories of those three young kings held captive, drugged, tortured, threatened with death, forced to breed at the will of the regents. It is all wrenching drama, exquisite pain, political corruption, magical dangers, and terrible, desperate struggles in the wake of the failures the principles of the previous trilogy, The Legends of Camber of Culdi, to establish their chosen and rightful king on a completely sovereign throne.
All six of these books with their triumphs and their overwhelming tragedy set up the situation that Kelson, the descendent of these kings, must deal with decades later. The masters of magick, the Deryni, who set these kings on the throne of Gwynedd and help them claim their human powers of magick, also struggle with failure and leave a legacy of tragedy for their descendants to deal with.
Personally, I don't like tragedy. Not because I shy away from reading about terrible things happening, and not because I really believe that life consists of nothing but winning, but because the interesting thing about tragedy is not that it happened but what the victim does about it, how it affects him/her later on, how it skews the destiny of the victim's descendants. So the classic tragedy structure leaves me cold because the story stops too soon which leaves one with the impression that all that suffering was pointless.
In my last column, I said that sometimes the purpose of one's life has nothing at all to do with one's self but with the distant posterity that must come after.
The results of tragedy echo down the centuries. To listen to those echoes and learn from them is the beginning of wisdom.
Kurtz's plans for the Deryni saga now include later books in the reign of King Kelson. She says she will try not to write any more trilogies, but stick to single books to tell an entire story. I hope she can finish the story of the Deryni, the magical race that was welcomed and allowed to practice magic openly, then grabbed for temporal power, abused it, was deposed and purged from the land.
To me, the finish of this story, centuries in the making, is the reestablishment of official sanction for the Deryni, the acceptance of their magical talents neither as rulers nor subjects but as coequal partners in the economic life of the nation. With Kelson's reign, we're getting close to that era.
Now we come to the Grand Master of magical-fantasy, Marion Zimmer Bradley. The latest Darkover novel, Rediscovery is a true rarity a collaboration with Bradley. I haven't focused a column around Mercedes Lackey's own novels, which is remiss of me. Truthfully, I have read only a smattering of her work, but it's enough to recognize the validity of what she does. She knows her magick and rarely stumbles in her storytelling. Check out her own books because they are nothing like Rediscovery.
In fact, Rediscovery is not much like the ordinary Darkover novel, either.
I read it with intense bemusement because it does indeed answer all the questions I've long had about this early period in the history of the planet Darkover, but I don't think it is actually a novel.
Darkover is the fourth planet of a red star, a dying world with several old, dying intelligent races living far outside the purview of the humans resident on the planet. In Darkover Landfall, written long after the series was established, we learned how the first group of Terrans came to Darkover, crash landing a colony ship destined for another planet and making the best of the situation. We learned how they came to interbreed with the native species. And we learned more of the natives and that interbreeding in World Wreckers.
But in Rediscovery, we learn how this lost colony was "rediscovered" by the Terran Empire. We learn how some of the elder statesman of the later period of Star of Danger and Sword of Aldones were involved in the first contact with these well-meaning rediscoverers.
The Darkover series is not directly focused on "who will rule," but rather tackles the question of "How should a people be ruled?"
That, to me, is a much more important question, a much more interesting question. And oddly enough, it is not a political question.
Politics is a form of warfare designed to determine who is right, not what is right.
The Darkover novels address the problem of what is right and leave aside the problem of who is right.
In the Darkover novels, we see clearly how the issue of what is right actually forges the personalities, ideologies, and moralities of the people involved in governing.
Rediscovery is a necessary addition to these novels, but somehow, to me, the book itself isn't a novel. That's an artistic judgement, and some professors of literature might disagree.
In Rediscovery I see the material for several novels intertwined. There are many viewpoints represented, many stories sketched, and several plots that will thicken in later novels are founded here. This is how it happened, and I really believe it. Worse, this is how things of resounding political consequence down through the ages really do happen.
Rediscovery is "the Terran empire as a whole gets its collective fanny caught in a beartrap." The whole rest of the series is the Empire's desperate and futile struggle to get its archetypal fanny out of that beartrap.
I would like to see later Darkover novels in which that futile struggle is transformed and resolved. There is a beginning of that in the attempts in World Wreckers to study the telepathic amplifier known as Starstones or matrix crystals in use on Darkover. But most of the novels are about the effect the Empire has on Darkover, and what interests me most is the effect Darkover has on the Empire.
My other area of interest in the Darkover universe is what I call "The Heyday of the Starstone Technology," - a time period in which MZB has now written a few good novels. These novels, set in what MZB calls The Ages of Chaos, are about what happened when people turned to matrix technology to forge weapons of war to decide who will rule. But they also show us what Darkover might have to offer the Empire, how Darkover might change the Empire as profoundly as the Empire changes Darkover.
Taking all the Darkover novels as one single Work of Art (which MZB herself never intended them to be), I see Rediscovery as the protagonist getting its fanny caught in the beartrap but the "out" part, the part where we see how Darkover affects the Empire hasn't been written yet.
The reason I see the Terran Empire as the protagonist is that the huge, sprawling interstellar Empire with its bureaucratic stiff-necked regimentation and science-blinded immorality is, to me, the obvious underdog when pitted against Darkover, a poor, mostly glaciated, sparsely settled planet.
The collision between these two forces, the Terran Empire and Darkover, is the collision between science and magic. At issue is not who should prevail, but what should prevail and why.
MZB doesn't present the reader with nice little pat answers. Like Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek, MZB asks questions and challenges you to find your own answers.
The Deryni books present what seems to be a clear cut case against oppression of minorities, even powerful and hard to control minorities. The Darkover books don't present a case either for or against oppression even when it is depicted. The Darkover books show you why oppression happens and how it comes to prevail for a while during the life cycle of the civilization.
MZB rips away the masks of the rulers and shows you the fear underlying the fist of power and then leaves you to deal with that fear as you find it in yourself.
The Darkover novels are not about who will rule Darkover but about how it happens in the conduct of human affairs that rulerships change, that times change, that decadence happens not as an evil failure but as a natural part of the life cycle of governments. In the Deryni novels, this evolutionary process is pegged to "who will rule" or "who has the divine right to rule." In the Darkover novels, this evolutionary process is pegged to the simple fact that it is a cycle that can't be stopped by any "who" or any "what". It can, however, be shaped and directed.
And if the Darkover novels make any political statement at all, that is it. Government is an integral part of the life process. To learn to handle the fact that governments exist, one must learn to handle the fact that life exists. What mates with what determines the characteristics of the offspring, but genetics is only the beginning of who that offspring will be.
In the Darkover universe, the tangled web of aging governments resembles the tangled web of family relationships in MZB's wonderful circus novel, Catchtrap.
The attitudes depicted in Caledon of the Mists and the Deryni novels and the vast majority of fantasy novels about royalty, kingdoms, and magical warfare, are attitudes toward life itself. These books should be read as part of your own, personal, inner dialogue about who you are, what you are, and what your life is for, where you get power and what to use power for.
The Darkover novels are a good foundation for this inner dialogue, and the other authors using other universes provide other voices in this ongoing discussion.
In a few months, we'll get back to this topic, I think. But first I'll give you a chance to look these books up and read them, think about them, discuss them. Ask yourself what government is, where it comes from, and why it exists at all. Ask yourself how and why it evolves and changes. Ask yourself what the life span of a civilization is, and why is it just that long and no more and no less. Connect all this to your study of the cycles of Saturn in your natal chart.
There's a lesson here for the magician in training. It has to do with the use and abuse of power, another ongoing topic we have discussed in several previous columns. It has to do with the Warrior, Priest, King archetypes. It has to do with the understanding of world affairs as the result of applied magick. And oddly enough, it has a lot to do with human sexuality in theory and practice. More to come on that subject.
Meanwhile, may I point out that the readers who love the kind of books discussed here gather annually at a convention called Darkover Grand Council Meeting. Katherine Kurtz, MZB and I are very often all there at the same time, sometimes on the same panel together, sometimes scheduled opposite one another. We're all planning to be there this year.
This year, it's Nov. 25-27, at the Holiday Inn at Timonium, Maryland (just north of Baltimore). Membership is limited to 600. For information send a SASE to Armida Council, POB 7203, Silver Spring, MD 20907. This is the 17th year for this convention and I was guest of honor at the very first one. This stuff is definitely habit forming.
Books for review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 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