Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Rules of Evidence"
Inheritor by C. J. Cherryh, DAW hardcover, 1996 -sequel to Foreigner and Invader both reviewed here previously.
Exile's Song by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW hc, 1996 -- sequel to The Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile, Darkover novels reviewed here previously.
Dreamfall by Joan D. Vinge, Warner Books, hc, 1996 -- sequel to Psion and Catspaw and if I haven't reviewed them here previously, I should have.
Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin, Tor pb,1994 (in Norton's famous Time Trader series).
At first glance, it's not obvious what all the books listed above have in common. No, it isn't telepathy/esp, though that's the major element in the Bradley, the Vinge and the Norton/Griffin. No, it isn't time travel or interstellar war or just plain rip-roaring good adventure -- though all of these authors are justly famous for those. And no, it isn't intriguing alien cultures, though they are all tops in that field too. So what's left? Look again at my title for this piece, and then consider what you know of this list of authors and think hard about the major overall theme for this year's columns -- answering the Guardian at the Gate's trick questions: "Who are you?" "What is the purpose of life?"
We have here four major installments in important, long-running series. Each of these series is set in a unique universe, and each series focuses on a small group of characters whose lives unfold through dire and terrible adventures. But that's not what these novels have in common. That's what makes them different from each other. It's also what makes them saleable in the commercial marketplace (where all sf/f must be action/adventure so the relationships are complications to the action, not (as in Romance genre) where the action is a complication to the relationships) and it's not the real reason why each of these authors wrote these particular novels.
Stumped? Even if you read these books recently and in this order, you might still be baffled. The only reason I noticed this similarity is that I had a conversation yesterday with a young woman who is considering marriage and has discovered that the man she's interested in doesn't understand why the bumper sticker that says "He Died For You" is not only offensive but an unforgivable aggression verging on black magick -- well, gray, anyway, depending on the intentions and concentration-energy of the car owner who put the sticker on his bumper. At the very least, displaying that bumper sticker is a hostile act.
Now, why would someone put a bumper sticker like that on their car? Think about it. What moves those whose sacred path is through The Sacrificed God to choose "He Died For You" for their bumper instead of the inoffensive and laudable, "Jesus Lives!" or "Committed Christian Onboard" or something that merely identifies their path with pride and invites others to approach them in seeking?
How is it that one person can commit an act of gentle loving kindness that forces another to recoil in horror and offense from what they see as an act of aggression? And why does it become an explosive issue between two people contemplating marriage?
And why do we all tend to collapse into helpless, screaming, red-faced rage when confronted with mismatched reactions like this? Worse yet, why do we all tend to come back for more of the same, over and over again when the matter comes up in another guise?
If you feel that these questions are important in your life, I suggest that you review all of Suzette Hadin Elgin's books on Verbal Self-Defense -- reviewed previously in this column. Her point is that words, sometimes innocuous words delivered in a certain tone, can be acts of aggression. People commit these acts of aggression in true innocence of all intent to attack. The verbal abuser's blindness to his/her attack mannerisms comes from the fact that this is just the way everyone talks.
That a certain level of verbal violence is not unusual doesn't mean it isn't violence at all. The question that pertains to the similarities between these four novels is: Why do certain issues cause us to resort to verbal violence which can then escalate into physical violence? Where is this passion coming from? Why is it so important? And what is it that is so very, very important?
It isn't just that it's a matter of religious conviction. The issue here isn't religion. People behave with this kind of raging passion over a wild variety of issues. Issues which are of no importance at all when dealing with strangers become passion-triggers when dealing with intimates -- or potential intimates. What is it that taps into that subterranean volcano within us all and takes a subject and makes it an issue?
Every would-be novelist has to find a workable answer to that last question because novels are about issues, not subjects. Academic papers are about subjects. Novels are about issues. That's what makes a novel interesting.
These four novels have an issue in common, and that issue is the exact issue that has arisen between this young woman and her intended. The issue is not religion or prejudice or even man/woman communication -- those are just the manifestations of the issue on this go-round. The real issue is Rules of Evidence.
Each and every one of us who reaches adulthood comes to be convinced that we know how to prove something. Most of us know what we know and believe what we believe because all the evidence supports our conclusions. Of course, there are those whose religion is purely a matter of faith -- but that faith is based on the evidence of gospel which is just words that someone said and wrote. Followers of the gospels have noticed that during those intervals of life where they have in fact harbored no doubts, their lives have suddenly gone smoother, better, happier. To them that is concrete evidence that the gospels are correct and faith saves.
Fired by the joy of true contact with Divinity, they work to spread the gospel. Their intent is to open the eyes of others to the plain and simple Truth. The need to do that is proportionate to the clarity of their vision of that truth. People caught up in that mission can't see what they look like to other people. All they can see is how discovering The Truth fixed their lives and healed their souls. It would be truly evil to have such a treasure and not share it.
Knowledge is represented, in arcane practice, by the "element" fire, and in tarot by Wands or Swords, whichever your system attributes to the element fire. Fire has a peculiar property. When you give it away, it increases. That is, you can ignite another person's soul and your own will still burn just as brightly. And the light will spread twice as far into the darkness.
The highest adepts know that act of igniting a soul's fire has karmic consequences that accrue not only to the ignited but also to the igniter. The key ingredient in any initiation (which is a type of ignition) is consent. In this type of ignition, there can never be informed-consent because you can't see where you're going until your own light is burning. So the consent is always uninformed. The consent to initiation is always the consent to embark on a journey into the unknown.
To attempt to convince someone of a Divine Truth that has been vouchsafed to you before they have consented to this initiation is to practice the blackest of all arts -- the overriding of another person's conscience.
The bumper sticker, "He Died For You" is just exactly such an attempt. And it uses one of the basest of all human emotions, guilt, to enter an unguarded door in the subconscious mind and ignite the dry tinder that may be stored there. The damage to that soul and to the group mind of all humanity could be unending.
This young woman, an initiate recently qualified to teach her Craft, was astonished when I pointed out that her need to explain her perception of that bumper sticker to her significant other was exactly the same as the born-again Christian's need to convince her that He died for her, and they both failed for exactly the same reason: The Rules of Evidence.
She wanted -- no, needed -- to heal this man of his dreadful cognitive error. And there's nothing wrong with that. It is well within her oaths and vows. Her goal was not the problem. The problem was her explosive, passionate, urgent need that drove her to desperation and tears when he didn't "get it." Why? Where does this passion come from?
Well, I suppose the source would be different for different people. In this case, it was fear. She didn't want to have married him, had children with him, formed a psychic bond with him, and then find that she had to leave him when this unresolved issue exploded in their faces. And she's wise enough to see that it will explode someday if not dealt with . What she couldn't see at that moment was that it didn't need to be dealt with in the next five minutes.
What she came to see during the course of this conversation was that she was driven only by considerations of her own emotions when trying to pound this understanding into his thick skull. Her sense of urgency stemmed from her own fear of emotional pain.
This is a young man who has been through some serious psychic stress in recent years. She had not stopped to consider whether his sanity might rest on the thin and brittle barrier in his mind that protected him from grasping her point -- at this time in his life. She had not stopped to consider that his best interests might not be served by this illumination at this time. She had not stopped to ask his consent to an initiatory journey nor had she considered that his love for her would prompt him to consent to almost anything she wanted -- and she had not considered his vulnerability to his own fear of losing her. And she knew perfectly well that it is her role as teacher and healer to wait until the student asks, not to induce, entice or lure anyone into the larger, magickal view of the universe. That's why she objects so strenuously to that bumper sticker -- because it doesn't wait for the student to ask. But when push came to shove, she momentarily forgot about all that and let the magickal energies splash wildly off the wards of the household. Being good wards, they held.
I sent her away to study the Hippocratic Oath and to run some tarot readings with special attention to The Lovers and the Strength card.
Emotionally exhausted, I sat back in my recliner and after a while I discovered that my eyes had (accidentally, of course) focused on the two stacks of books put by for the next two columns. Suddenly, I was re-sorting the stacks into a different order. And here is the result.
What these four novels have in common is main characters who know something, see something, perceive something -- and have a legitimate need to convince others that what they see is true. In each case, the only evidence they have to offer is discounted or violates the rules of evidence for the person they need to convince. In the end, they all succeed, at least partially, and are somewhat vindicated by events.
A good writer can tell that particular story and deal with that issue in any formula/genre, even mundane contemporary fiction. But only in sf/f can you reach so very far outside ordinary experience for the what is known and how it comes to be known that the entire pattern becomes so very crystal clear. Sf/f is to human psychology what the microscope is to bacteriology.
C. J. Cherryh's Inheritor is the third novel about the world of the Atevi where a colony of shipwrecked humans has appointed Bren Cameron their single, lone ambassador to this alien species. As Bren comes to understand the Atevi he notices he's losing his ability to communicate with humans -- but the political chaos in the wake of the return of their ship, The Phoenix, forces him to make that attempt again and again. In the end, he finds himself embroiled in a love affair teetering on the brink of a marital commitment with an Atevi.
One thing about domestic issues -- the need to make your spouse understand is fueled by the need for personal ego-validation as well as to prove that what you think you know is really true. Convincing your spouse of your truths is one way of finding out who you are.
But we often forget that the most important element in the definition of identity is not "who you are" but "who you are not." Living among the Atevi while trying to deal with humans leads Bren Cameron to discover that he's not entirely human anymore. And that's the beginning of his answer to his Guardian. All three of the Atevi novels are can't-put-it-down all-nighters for me.
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels (all vitally necessary reading) are based on the idea that a lost human colony ship crashed on a world where the natives were able to interbreed with humans. The result of that interbreeding is a group of seven families of gifted psychics. Human politics then produce a breeding program to enhance these gifts and a whole government, religion and set of superstitions based on those gifts. Then the world is rediscovered by the Terrans and the plots thicken.
Exile's Song is set way at the end of this cycle of novels when Darkover has a seat in the interstellar government. The main character is Lew Alton's illegitimate daughter, Marja. Her parentage is a very confused story told exquisitely in Sharra's Exile and not fully revealed in this novel. The missing fact is that Marja's biological mother drugged Lew and psychically tricked him into impregnating her, then kept the child a secret in order to use her in a power-grab. In Sharra's Exile, Lew rescues the child and takes her offworld to raise her away from the dire psychic influences that traumatized her.
Throughout most of this novel, Marja is stubbornly trying to convince the Darkovans that she's just a Terran scholar here to study Darkovan folk music. True, she was born on Darkover, but that doesn't matter. Lew has not revealed anything about her past to Marja, and that now causes Marja a lot of trouble. She can't comprehend why everyone takes one look at her red hair, the line of nose and chin, and immediately treats her like royalty.
This is not a communications barrier. She masters the language quickly. It is a perfect example of how rules of evidence can be nothing more than a social convention. On Darkover, red hair is evidence of telepathy. Among the Terrans, red hair is just red hair. On Darkover, who your father is determines your marriage prospects and obligations. Among the Terrans, parentage is irrelevant and marriage unnecessary.
Marja keeps presenting evidence that means nothing to the Darkovans. They keep presenting her with hard facts and evidence that is superstitious drivel and outright illegal coercion -- kidnapping even -- to her. Upon this mismatched sense of what constitutes evidence the entire plot turns and generates the fate of a world. Marja is enmeshed and mired into the center of events -- but she doesn't actually generate any of those events. She resists -- she thrashes about -- she tries to pursue her own agenda, but even though her thinking is crystal clear and perfectly disciplined, she never really implements any of her personal agenda. This is the only Darkover novel of this kind -- and yet it is very, very much like a '90s rewrite of one of my all-time favorite Darkover novels, Star of Danger.
Joan D. Vinge's Psion, Catspaw and now the latest hc Dreamfall, are about a young half-human half-Hydran man called Cat who grew up as a street rat in the worst of all possible slums. But he has a psychic gift. He's discovered and is offered training and education in return for going out on a suicide mission. He does the mission and survives, though his gift is burned out. His reward for this sacrifice is a college education. Dreamfall begins after he's well into his new career.
In Dreamfall, Cat is, like Lew Alton's daughter Marja, a young scholar, a xenologist sent to the Hydran homeworld to do field research. And like Marja he discovers a great deal about his heritage during this novel, and he changes the course of history on this world.
Like Marja, he starts out with no access to his psychic gift. Marja ends up with her gift wide open and capable of untold destruction while Cat only regains some hope of his gift reawakening.
Like Bren Cameron, Cat has to approach the alien Hydrans constantly reminding himself that they aren't necessarily what they seem to be. The Hydrans are natural telepaths and keep assuming that Cat is an extremely rude telepath who is snubbing them on purpose, probably in pursuit of some human agenda. After all, the evidence is clear and unmistakable -- Cat's mind is closed to them, but his eyes tell them he is in fact Hydran. What else could it be than a snub?
When Cat finally gets some of them to understand that his mind is closed through no will of his own, they start communicating. As a xenologist, Cat understands how tricky assumptions about what constitutes evidence can be. But while he's worrying about the Hydrans, he comes to worse grief from the humans. Originally welcomed to the planet as a VIP, he ends up an indentured servant. It is a matter of record among the humans that his psychic abilities are burned out, so when he has information that they must believe he could only acquire psychically -- they don't believe him. They have the irrefutable evidence of his medical file. So therefore he can't possibly know these things.
Dire and terrible things happen because what is clear proof to one person is specious nonsense to another. Again, a stay-up-all-night read.
The last of these four novels is Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin. You will notice that this is the oldest of this group of novels, but I just read it a few days ago. Tor never sent me a review copy and I never knew this book existed until I was signing autographs at Lunacon next to P. M. Griffin and she gave me this copy. If you can find one somewhere, grab it.
This is about one of my all-time favorite series characters, Andre Norton's Ross Murdock and the other agents of a time-police organization defending the integrity of our time-line from marauders from the future or a parallel reality. This novel starts out with Murdock and the others marooned on a "desert island" called Hawaika with some powerful alien telepaths. They are rescued at last by the time-traveling cohorts and sent on another mission where they must become military advisors to a horse-and-crossbow army hastily crafted out of farmers. Telepathy and mental coercion are elements in this battle because the alien enemy uses a hypnotic control as their major weapon. Murdock has a badly scarred hand from long ago when he used pain to break their lock on his mind. That scarred hand makes him a legend on this world.
What makes this novel part of this group of four is not just that it's a member of a long-running series, but that it is also about trying to make people understand something for their own good. Murdock is part of a Mission Impossible-style task force that must not alter the time-line. So they can't tell the truth as they know it. But they still have to get these people to form an army and fight and win a war that the people don't even believe is coming.
All four of these novels are about getting people to believe the unthinkable, the impossible -- and rationalizing it as being for their own good. And since this is a problem we all face in one form or another in our personal lives, we experience vicarious satisfaction when the hero wins or is proven right.
Astrologically, the facts that we store in our minds under Truth have to do with the Second House -- or personal values. Ordinarily, you'll see Second House identified as finances or money -- your personal resources. But the Second House also represents your personal value system -- your "moral compass." Notice that the Second House is grouped with the First and Third -- self and communication. Your values are a signature component of your identity, and if you can't communicate them, your whole sense of self is rendered invalid. There is a life-or-death compulsion upon us all to communicate our Truths.
On the other hand, to have someone else's truths come flowing into your personal Second House is a traumatic violation of your most private sense of self. It is a form of rape. Psychic rape -- as Norton/Griffin deal with in Firehand and Bradley deals with in Exile's Song where Marja has to free herself of the overshadowing by Sharra, and Vinge deals with in Dreamfall.
We are all compelled to defend ourselves from that kind of overshadowing by another, and at the same time compelled to do some overshadowing just to prove ourselves real to ourselves. Sanity consists of a fine balance of one compulsion against the other and if that balance is disrupted, our spouses are the first to suffer. Sane people often wonder how it is that a mother can beat her infant to death. Someone who's had their Second House violated can understand how that violation produces collateral damage. Someone who has failed to communicate their values and had the energies back up inside them can understand explosive decompression.
There is a great deal more to be said on this subject and no room here to get into all of that. Study this group of novels -- read the prequels if you missed them -- and ponder bumper stickers the next time you're caught in a traffic jam.
I haven't answered the questions I posed at the beginning of this article because my answers aren't any more use to you than my grimoire would be. But if you don't have answers you can present to your Guardian with confidence (not arrogance; confidence), then reading these novels in this order may give you some clues about how to formulate answers that will work for you.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
Until I get the direct links installed here, you can 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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The Re-Readable Collection
Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg