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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"The Essence of Story"
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Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952
Shattered Light #2 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Pocket Books Fantasy, March, 1999
Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace by George Lucas
In Spring 1999, Sime~Gen Inc. launched our free Professional Writing School, WorldCrafters Guild http://www.simegen.com/school/ . In June 1999, we started our first course online, "The Essence of Story," http://www.simegen.com/school/OnlineLessons/ training new writers in the tools they will need in this new electronic age.
Being busy with all that, I managed to miss out reading Shattered Light by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro until the end of June, whereupon it suddenly struck me that this novel is a harbinger of the very things-to-come we are preparing for at simegen.com -- an integration of media and delivery systems to present you with multi-level fictional worlds to play in.
What has this to do with the training of a Magician? Fiction is the handiest access portal to the Astral Plane. When a large number of minds build a fantasy together (such as an RPG or a MUSH) that "place" takes on a reality of its own, and the energy available there grows with the number of people and the number of hours spent concentrating on it.
Fiction exists first and foremost as a construct on the astral plane, built by the "author" of the story (usually subconsciously) before ever writing down a single word.
Very often, a writer will build a construct from the material supplied by other writers who have carved out and decorated space on the astral. Such unintentional plagiarism can be an eerie experience for either the borrower or the lender of the material.
Still, for the readers of the story, access to the story-structure on the astral, the ability to visit it, participate in building it, move in and live there for a while, is the real "fun" in reading a novel - when the characters walk off the pages of the book and into your dreams.
With the advent of the World Wide Web, we have the potential for building bigger, wider, deeper, more powerful constructs of this sort -- and letting all the readers participate.
For years now, fans of the Sime~Gen novels have been playing a number of such online, real time, RPG (Role Playing Game) scenarios ( http://www.simegen.com/gamers/ ). But when that first started, (by snail mail and telephone back in the early 1980's) it was a big surprised to me. When it began again online, it was merely astonishing.
Sime~Gen was not originally designed as an RPG or MUSH or board game platform. It takes a considerable effort to translate the universe premise into a playable scenario. But it has been and is being done.
Jean Lorrah's Savage Empire novels originally published by Signet have attracted a group of people who are doing an online MUSH from it. It was designed to work as adventure films, tv series, or games, though it is written primarily as narrative fiction. (info: email firstname.lastname@example.org )
"Shattered Light" is a little different. It is based on the CD-ROM/ online game, (available at http://www.catware.com/sections/sl/index.html ) much as many of the TSR novel series have been. For decades, the publishing company TSR has been blending board games and novel-format storytelling, and reaching a very large audience that has taken many of the games online.
Meanwhile, sales of ordinary novels-on-paper are still declining. Simon & Schuster launched Simon & Schuster Interactive years ago to fight that decline in sales, and now it has, together with the S&S imprint Pocket Books, and Five To Midnight, launched Shattered Light as a World Building game on CD-ROM and online from Catware with printed novels, too.
What's so special about Shattered Light from the magical standpoint? It is pretty similar to various TSR projects you are probably familiar with, and may in fact not be competitive with TSR's established lines of very popular games/novels/fictional universes.
Shattered Light has a magic premise that "works." The premise is that the "light" was "shattered."
On the back cover it says, "Delos: a world not unlike our own . . . until a reckless attempt to capture the primal power of the universe shattered the very laws of nature transforming Delos into a realm of magic." When the light was shattered, an entity was "released" known as the Laria. Men of valor have been trying to defeat the Laria for ages.
Isaac Asimov generated a famous novel by altering the speed of light. "C" the speed of light is basic to all of physics, and magic. Shattering the links that hold "C" to the material plane would indeed alter reality. Not, however, in the ways depicted in this novel.
Here a vampire sets out to defeat the Laria -- and this vampire is written by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.
I grabbed this book off the shelves at a Barnes & Noble in the mall where I went to see the new Star Wars movie.
TSR's games, Shattered Light and other S&S Interactive titles, and Star Wars itself now, are aimed specifically at young people who have gone through school in computerized classrooms and who are native citizens of cyberspace.
They are all fictions that are "interactive," designed to be participated in rather than just admired from outside.
As a result, they are far more powerful than radio, tv, and movies up to the mid-1980's. The values encoded into the universe concepts in this "interactive" medium have direct entrée into the subconscious mind.
For that reason, magicians who seek to tread the "Right Hand Path," the path of the White Magician, must scrutinize these works with care before participating in them.
From a reviewer's and writer's standpoint, I was at first disappointed in Yarbro's vampire, who is written as the point-of-view character. Her Saint Germain novels that I have always raved about here, are replete with characterization, and the plots always turn on the deepest core elements of Saint Germain's personality which is fraught with angst and conflict. Those novels are about the relationships in a vampire's existence.
This vampire, Wladex intends to defeat and then replace the Laria as the supreme power on Delos. He kills for blood, casually, callously, and without internal conflict. In fact, none of the characters as presented show any internal conflict. The external conflict that drives the plot is with a series of menaces to whom valiant knights mean nothing, menaces sent by the Laria.
The plot of the novel is an obstacle course, and the characters, while motivated to destroy the Laria, have no personal dimension or existence. Yarbro's Saint Germain novels are usually more story than plot. This one is all plot and no story. She has once again demonstrated total mastery of all fiction forms. That alone makes this book is worth reading. But I waited all the way through for the story to start -- it didn't.
I had exactly the same experience at the movie Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. I saw that movie with my 30+ year old daughter and her husband. Afterwards, I noted that it was all plot and no story -- we never got to know the characters. She said yes, that she kept waiting for the story to start. There were no relationships, so there was no story. My daughter's husband, however, said that he found nothing lacking in the film.
We seem to have developed a large number of people in this world who prefer their fiction to be devoid of story -- perhaps because they add their own story via "interactivity?"
From my experience as a writer whose work is used as a game-template, I think that there are people who have stories, and need plots to help them live those universes. There are people who have plots and need stories to help them live in those universes. And there are people who have stories and plots, and need a universe to connect story and plot.
These people, all three types, will re-shape our fiction delivery system, but not storycraft itself. The Essence of Story remains the same from Shamanic Tales around the tribal fire to Sci-Fi Prime on the Sci-Fi channel -- conflict is the essence of story and the essence of plot. Soon, we will all be needing the skills that only professional writers, storytellers, shamans and magicians have needed before so we can fill in the gaps and create our own fiction.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg