Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"The Mind Writes in the Body "
The Darkover Series by Marion Zimmer Bradley, many titles from DAW paperbacks
"Star Struck" -- A Journey to the New Frontiers of the Zodiac by Kenneth Miller, Life magazine, July 1997.
The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton, Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novel from Ace Fantasy, 1997.
Babylon Five, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Syndicated Television.
Shadow on the Moon by Connie Flynn, Topaz Romance, 1997.
Rejar by Dara Joy, Lovespell Timeswept Romance, 1997.
The title of this month's column, "The Mind Writes In The Body" is a "Darkovan Proverb" taken from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Novels -- of which I rave in this column continually. In the Darkover Universe novels, the premise is that a lost colony ship from Earth crash lands on a planet where "matrix crystals" augment natural human telepathic ability, and interbreeding with the natives produces extreme psychic talent in humans.
This culture substitutes ESP and a broad interface with the Unseen for technology. MZB's original education was in psychology, and her interests lean toward history, anthropology and language. So the society she has invented for Darkover is rich, deep and, above all, rings true to any reader with a modicum of psychic awareness. This is the kind of society a telepath-dominated group of humans would create, and these are the proverbs about life they would live by. You can probably find a handy listing of available titles on amazon.com
"The Mind Writes in the Body" is a principle of what Dion Fortune calls "applied psychology" and others call magic. A human being is a complex conglomeration of multiplex systems (just like objective reality). We are a product of our natal chart, modified by environment and upbringing, charged by the identity of Soul we bring to these manifestations, and ultimately glued together in a do-or-die situation with our body.
Those who have mastered astrology realize that our appearance is strongly influenced by our natal charts. Theory has it that this link is that strong because we all choose our moment of birth. The link is so strong that an accomplished astrologer, such as Noel Tyl, who is one of several featured in the July issue of Life magazine, can deduce some of the primary features of a person's chart just from their appearance and a few moments of casual conversation.
I've mentioned Noel Tyl many times in this column, and since then have made his acquaintance by e-mail. I personally recommend all his textbooks on astrology to the beginner, the intermediate and the advanced student -- even, or especially, the practicing professional will find much to learn in his writings. His books are listed on http://www.amazon.com and I've e-mailed him a note explaining how amazon.com invites authors to post comments on their books. He doesn't surf the net so hasn't yet discovered how amazon.com works.
In blatant defiance of the rules of reviewership which demand that reviewers remain aloof from the authors they review, I e-mailed him and challenged him point blank, "Pick four basic principles of astrology you want the public to remember forever..." (an obvious journalistic question which the article in Life doesn't include).
Noel Tyl answered:
1. The soul picks its time and place to be born.
2. Genes and environment (zeitgeist, culture, family) adjust the
3. People adore change and development but almost invariably resist it.
4. Horoscopes relate to horoscopes; people attract or antagonize each other
I thought that was a good answer. I feel that if you take all four of these principles together, you can synthesize from them the parameters of that element of our selves we call our "mind" -- as discussed in some depth in the June column, "Mastering Mercury." Or you can synthesize the set of parameters of that element we call our "body." This summer, in 1997, Noel Tyl is writing a book on Medical Astrology which I can hardly wait to get my hands on because it will no doubt illuminate for me that interface between mind and body that is so vital to the practice of any spiritual path. And that may change some of my prejudices.
For the moment, though, I think that when we accept the teachings that our life has to offer, find our identity within the matrix of our culture, allow ourselves to change in response to developmental pressures and embrace our relationships as both expression of self and spur to growth and change, then we attain a radiant beauty in old age that can have a salutary impact on the youths around us. And isn't it strange that this four-fold process maps itself so perfectly onto the Tree of Life's "Four Worlds" or the four suits of the Tarot?
This is my "prejudice" as discussed in the July column, "When the Student is Ready, the Master Will Appear," and it is the prejudice I used to filter, read and judge this set of books this month.
Let's look at it another way. A master portrait artist learns how the face and body age and change with time. Those who become really good at capturing portraits on paper/canvas learn how a given "face" (the product of natal chart features blended with race and environmental factors) will age to reveal "character."
In more contemporary jargon, we all "morph." Animated characters do it in seconds -- humans take a bit longer. From the perspective of the Eternal, there's probably not a lot of difference between seconds and decades. (See the October column for more on Perspective and Mastery.)
Fictional characters in novels can "morph" in ways that reveal the kinds of inner truth visible only in an older human face -- one that's lived more than sixty or seventy years. You can read such a novel in a week of evenings and learn seventy years of truths from it -- if you have mastered the art of reading as described in this column.
So as I see it, we are all shape-changers. We take on a shape that we choose to start life with, and we change that shape over time. Then we change it "back" (i.e., get born again). And as our body morphs, so also do our Mind, Spirit, and Soul. (Notice that four slipping in there again.) The difference between humans and characters is the time-scale -- and maybe how difficult and inconvenient a shapechange can be.
As Noel Tyl said, "Life -- lives -- are lessons."
The way you know a lesson is learned is by how it changes you -- how you morph in response to the teaching of the Teacher who has appeared.
A prime example of this kind of response to the teachings of life is the character Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (not slayer, hunter) in Laurell K. Hamilton's series of novels which includes Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, Circus of the Damned, The Lunatic Café, and Bloody Bones. Each of these novels is titled after a nightclub in the novel, and they aren't as disgusting as the titles make them sound. They're actually a long, intricate, complex love story.
On amazon.com, I found a series of "reviews" (little messages that readers who have read a book post to alert other like-minded readers to good books) posted under The Killing Dance before I'd even read it. There was a long list of comments raving about this novel, and one very bitterly disappointed reader who felt betrayed by the writer and felt this was a very bad book because it was so different from all the others in the series.
I read all these comments with careful attention before I read the book. (Being a writer whose novels have been commented on at length for over twenty years, I have no difficulty with other people's opinions coloring my own, nor with information about what's in a story "spoiling" my enjoyment. I do not recommend this exercise to non-writers.)
Upon reading the novel (correction -- inhaling the novel), I found justification for both opinions. The previous novels in this series "suffered artistically" (according to my personal prejudices) from having too prominent a plot and not enough story. In other words, too much happened in too few pages for the characters to "morph" in response to the events of their lives.
However, for another reader, one whose personal prejudices are slanted toward viewing life as an adventure, who is deeply convinced that the best among us remain untouched by trials, tribulations and triumphs, and who finds the involvement in relationships too frustrating to be entertaining, The Killing Dance would seem terribly flawed.
A long discussion on the AOL SF Forum Author Spotlights board which continues on the Sime~Gen Listserve comparing Babylon-5 to Star Trek:Voyager has pinpointed how a reader's/viewer's enjoyment is very dependent on their original perception of what the fiction is going to be about. Think about it this way: when you have your mouth set for BBQ chicken, a fried hamburger just won't do.
As I've mentioned in a previous column or two, Babylon-5 "lost" me when the voice-over changed from describing it as about "Mankind's Last Great Hope For Peace" to something "better" -- the hope for victory.
Since my personal prejudice places peace at a higher value than victory, my emotional bond to this show shattered and has not reformed yet.
Recently, both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have also pulled what I consider an "about-face" in thematic direction, changing what they are "about."
Captain Janeway helped the Borg to assimilate a species meaner and nastier than the Borg already were -- and thus made the new-Borg completely beyond the Federation's ability to cope with.
That is, because of Janeway's thoughtless action, the Federation hasn't a chance to survive the next Borg incursion unless the Founders, the shape-changers from across the galaxy via the wormhole, have something to add to the Federation's defense. The chance of the Federation being saved by the Founders seems remote since, in Deep Space Nine we learned at the end of this season that the Federation and the Founders are preparing for an all-out war with each other.
The most distressing thing about this, from my point of view, is that Captain Sisko morphed his personality and values to match the war footing. I no longer recognize this man as the one I've watched raise a son for several years now.
So I can empathize with the reader of the Anita Blake novels who preferred the densely plotted, never-stop-to-take-a-breath pacing, and boiled tough as nails personality of Anita Blake, who prides herself on remaining aloof and untouched by the most intensely disturbing events. If I personally admired that sort of person and aspired to be like that, I would have been bitterly disappointed in The Killing Dance.
One of the lessons that life has taught me is that the Anita Blake of the first five novels in this series was headed for a massive nervous breakdown. Considering her responsible position in the world she inhabits, that would have meant the slaughter of hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent people.
Seeing the firm skill of Laurell K. Hamilton in developing this character, I read the first five novels as a statement of Anita Blake's problem, and a series of lessons, karmic and astrological, driving her to face the cold hard fact that she's not cold and hard enough to live without love -- even the love of someone who's already dead and rather proud of it. Or to live without someone whose werewolf infection has caused his personality to take on an overlay of wolf-pack behavior -- Noel Tyl's second point, modification from the environment.
I felt Anita Blake would have to see the truth of these two people and choose -- and give her heart or die trying. As I saw it, that is what this series is about.
That's how my prejudices caused me to read these novels, to assess where they were headed, and to be fulfilled and overjoyed at the development and resolution in The Killing Dance. To me this is not only the best of the Anita Blake books to date, but the right and proper confirmation of my understanding of the first five, that presages even more deep, complex drama to come.
This development -- Anita finally opening herself emotionally to the impact of other characters' needs, wants and ambitions, letting herself be changed by others, validates my personal world view. So I love the book! And I foresee many sequels. The July '97 Locus (http://www.locusmag.com ) lists the next Anita Blake as just delivered, and to be titled Burnt Offerings. However, they also say that Hamilton has sold three new books -- two which will start a new series, and one which might be anything. So it might be a while after Burnt Offerings until we see Anita growing up some more.
In the Babylon-5 vs. Star Trek analysis on the Sime~Gen Listserve, I have discussed at length how and why these television show developments have disappointed and frustrated me, and I've taken some educated guesses at why these particular changes have been made. Essentially, television is driven by advertising revenue which is tied to "market share" (the percentage of all the viewers at a given hour who are watching that particular show).
When the market share of a show drops, the money-people move in and make dramatic and artistic changes based not on the content of the show, or why viewers who love it watch it, but on why other people who wouldn't like it won't watch it. When a show becomes financially non-viable, they change it to broaden it's "reach" -- to make it appeal to a bigger slice of the viewership. Since war sells better than drama today, they grafted wars onto dramatic shows to keep the shows on the air.
These changes are not in accord with my personal world view, and so I don't "like" these changes -- and I see them as betrayal of promise, not as a fulfillment of potential as I see with the Anita Blake developments in The Killing Dance.
For those of you who intend to read the book on the Tarot that I've just finished drafting (The Biblical Tarot: The Magic Of The Wands) I hope you will read the Anita Blake novels and watch these television shows and relate all that you see and feel to my discussion on how to account for taste using the Tarot. I have discussed the matter of accounting for artistic taste in previous columns, and will probably mention it again because it is one of the fascinating mysteries of life.
Speaking of the mysteries of life, right up there with taste in art comes taste in people, friends, lovers and enemies -- or as Noel Tyl said in his item #4, "Horoscopes relate to horoscopes; people attract or antagonize each other predictably."
If we look at life as a process of morphing into the beauty of old age via the impact of others upon us, then the entire subject of the romance genre morphs into something much more important than it appears.
For romance by definition is the beginning of a relationship. The romance novel traditionally ends at the proposal or the wedding. But I've noticed a trend in the romance field lately that seems to be paralleling the development of the "supernatural romance" and the "futuristic romance" -- a foment that is occurring as young women's values shift and change. The trend seems to be toward heroic women who do not see the beginnings of relationship as the end of their independent identity.
True, the romance field is decades behind the SF/F field in this. You could never sell Anita Blake as a romance lead character even though the six novels we have about her are definitely romance. Her personality as a career woman is much too strong for the current romance field -- but she's perfect in science fiction.
Still, this next novel, Shadow on the Moon by Connie Flynn, depicts a very strong woman with a sense of career direction, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency -- and anyhow she finds true romance. The only problem is, the man she ties up with is a werewolf. The werewolves of this universe are different than in the Anita Blake universe, but the rules a werewolf lives by are still a massive complication to a relationship.
Readers of this column will like Shadow on the Moon because it's about a ceremonial magical solution to the problem of being a werewolf, and there are a three major elements in the fictional depiction of this ceremony that make perfectly good sense. These particular elements are necessary elements in any real-life romance and in any real-life ceremonial magic: (1) the courage to face the unknown, (2) willing sacrifice, (3) steadfastness of purpose.
Shadow on the Moon compromises in only one area needed in valid magick -- that of the selfless act. As you all know, the signature of white magic is that the magician gets no personal reward. When you act to your personal advantage (even if its just subconscious avoidance of neurotic pain) the magick is tainted. The definition of magick I'm using here is the broadest one, the one favored by Dion Fortune, "Every deliberate act is a magical act." And that magick is applied psychology whose consequences are largely psychological.
In Shadow on the Moon we have a woman who is rescued by a werewolf who is trying desperately to cure himself of his condition, and is being thwarted by other werewolves. The cure requires that a woman who truly loves him perform an intricate ceremony under the light of the full moon -- a process which puts her life at risk, and depends entirely on her ability to concentrate from moonrise to sunrise.
After being rescued from a car accident, she finds herself imprisoned in the werewolf's cabin in the wilderness, first by a snowstorm and then by him.
The ceremony requires that she truly love him -- and he sets about winning her love. She ends up actually in love with him, not just loving him. It's a little thin, but believable enough to a veteran sf reader well practiced in suspending disbelief. If that had been me imprisoned in that cabin, his behavior would have created eternal antipathy, not love. But it wasn't me -- it was her. And I could see how it was appropriate for her to fall for this guy. The author didn't give us the natal charts, but she did delineate the personality traits that spell attraction. So the character ended up in love with this werewolf.
Her love introduces a problem to the magick part of the ceremony -- because by rescuing him from the werewolf curse, she is actually serving her own emotional needs. That tips the magic into the gray area -- and the author did not go to any trouble to make this distinction. I don't know this author, so I don't know why this fairly simple matter was omitted from an otherwise long, complex and satisfying adult novel.
This novel, however, depicts with the graphics possible only to a shapechanger novel, how one person's impact upon another actually "morphs" both people into something new.
Next we come to our Honorable Mention this month, Rejar by Dara Joy. This one is a badly flawed novel, and suffers from the same problems I discussed above -- starting off telegraphing it is one thing, changing course in mid-novel, and becoming yet a third thing at the end. This novel, too, was discussed extensively on the Sime~Gen Listserve's writing workshop and so I read about it before I read it.
It was brought to our attention by my sometime collaborator, and well known Star Trek novel author, Jean Lorrah before she finished reading it. Then she posted to the List a warning that the middle didn't live up to what she'd understood it should be, given the beginning and the cover copy which indicated it would be intimate adventure. The ending got even farther off the track. Others read it and agreed and it was thoroughly dissected on the List by writers and writing students alike. We all had such fun with it that I had to read the thing. I liked it.
But then I'd been warned beforehand there was an inept switch of subject matter in the middle, so I read this novel about the way I'd read a Star Trek fanzine -- applying a different set of standards to what I expect from it than I normally would to a published novel. Not a lesser standard, a different standard. This novel is an attempt to say something the author feels quite passionate about -- and like fanzine novels often do, it gets away from her and ends up saying very little.
I don't know this author personally, and I've no idea what the actual story is behind this manuscript -- however, I suspect just from reading it that it was written or originally conceived for a different genre -- perhaps as fantasy or sf. And then re-done to sell it as a romance. It has magical gates between worlds, like C. J. Cherryh's fantasy novels, and somewhat like one of Sharon Green's series. It also resembles Marion Zimmer Bradley's Worldgates which predate both Cherryh's and Green's gated universes.
Dara Joy's gates go between planets in a galaxy which has at least two distinct species originating on different planets. One species is a natural shapechanger species with a vampire-like allure for the opposite sex, and a vampire-like thirst for sex. The hero of the story has one alternate form -- that of a cat. And a lot of his personality seems linked to that alternate shape's male feline proclivities.
These elements are not as well-handled as Jennifer Roberson handles her shapechangers in the eight novel series, The Chronicles of the Cheysuli which I reviewed in this column years ago. In fact, it seemed to me that the premises I loved the most (you can guess which those were) got in the way of the standard romance plot and that resulted in hollow relationships. I, however, being forewarned that this novel had problems, was able to suspend my disbelief and forge ahead to the end of the novel. Yes, I read the whole thing -- and I liked it.
I think it might turn out to be an important book -- simply because it has these flaws caused by the awkward mixing of genres. If the author discovers and reads Darkover, and studies Roberson's Cheysuli, the next time she tries a novel of this type she may succeed.
But more likely, I think, some other writer out there will read this book and answer the challenge Dara Joy has thrown down. That answer may be a better blend of these elements, and could give us both a sizzling plot such as Laurell K. Hamilton does, and believable characters and relationships as Marion Zimmer Bradley has in the Darkover novels.
When a novel is perfectly executed, it gains imitators who usually fail to please the readers who loved the original novel. But when an initial exploration of a new genre-form fails badly, it usually spawns a number of other novels that do it better -- and the audience response increases rather than decreases.
As Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote in her circus novel, Catch Trap, there are those who invent tricks and those who perfect them. I suspect Dara Joy might be an inventor, not a perfector -- or at least that's what she was doing in this novel.
I think the romance writers are groping their way into the subject of the shapechanger as they explored the subject of the vampire, and we may see increasingly excellent shapechanger novels.
The shapeshifter metaphor is an important one for students of the occult, for as I pointed out above, "the mind writes in the body" -- what we think, we become, though it takes a lifetime to manifest.
This why mastery of Mercury, the subject of the June column, is so important. This is why mastering the art of editing our prejudices, the subject of the July column, is so important. This is why learning to read novels -- not just to decipher the little black squiggles on the page into sounds, but comprehending the vision of reality the author is showing you -- is so important.
If Noel Tyl is correct, and it is true that we get to choose the moment of our birth, and if the moment of birth enrolls us in the "University Major Course of Study" for this lifetime, and our environment particularizes our lives but doesn't change the underlying "Major Subject," and if the trouble people have with life is mostly caused by resisting the changes built into the natal chart, and if our relationships are so predictable by astrology -- and I'll add another hypothesis to his, -- if we go through this process more than once -- then it follows that somewhere up the line we will get another chance to choose a moment of birth.
It seems to me that what we think and feel and do and covet now will delineate what options are available next time we get to choose. To do a better job of it next time, we must let change happen, we must allow ourselves to "morph."
I don't know about you, but in grammar school, handwriting -- both print and cursive -- was my worst subject. I'm not any better at letting my mind write in my body than I am at letting my hand write on my paper. This "life" business is going to take some practice, so I do hope we get to repeat the courses in summer school.
Send books for review in this column 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