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ReReadable Books

September 2010

"The Science of Magic Part III: Defining The City"


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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Fade Out by Rachel Caine, Signet pb Nov 2009

Unknown by Rachel Caine, RoC Fantasy pb Feb 2010

Dead Matter by Anto Strout, Ace Fantasy pb March 2010

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly, Del Rey pb, Sept 2009

Unperfect Souls by Mark Del Franco, Ace Fantasy, Feb 2010

Hell Fire by Ann Aguirre, RoC pb, April 2010

What exactly is a "City" and what has that to do with the Science of Magic?

"Science" is the organized database of everything we know about physics, math, chemistry, the functions and interactions of the physical universe from smallest particle-wave energy packet to stars and galaxies.

"Magic" is a much bigger subject.

Let’s say "Magic" is the study of how the soul interacts with the physical universe.

You can’t prove or disprove the existence of God or the Soul using the tools that "exist" in the physical universe. The Divine has to remain a "non-falsifiable hypothesis" as philosophers say.

Why is that? Because God doesn’t "exist" – God doesn’t do the existing; God creates existing, not just things that exist but existing itself. From inside existence, physical eyes and instruments can’t detect God because those instruments exist.

Only an instrument that transcends existence can "detect" Divine energies and interact with them. That which exists detects Divine energies only through "The Soul" – the part of the existing person that doesn’t exist but transcends.

"Magic" is the organized body of knowledge about the interactions between the Soul and the Divine. Those interactions leave traces in existence. One kind of trace is the agglutinations of individuals we call "Cities."

Those who have resided in different cities suspect that cities have souls, Group Souls. Each city has a character which, when you’re shopping for a place to live, you evaluate the same way you evaluate a potential friend. You like this place. Or you don’t like this place.

Archeologists and Anthropologists can look at a denuded topological map and point to where a city will be born, grow, thrive, and die. Cities are anchored to geography by surrounding resources, transportation, connections to other places, climate etc.

People are anchored to Group Minds the same way, through communications, resonant sympathies, complementary resources, mutual interdependencies.

And Group Minds bond to Cities giving a locale its character, individuality, and magical potential. Some locales are Gateways rife with ley lines. Without the Group Mind, that gateway resource is inactive. With the right people, activity explodes.

Writers create fictional cities using artistic sensitivity to the interaction between the character they need to tell you about and the location of the story. Some novels are more about the city than the characters. The city can be the hero of the story or the character in jeopardy being rescued.

Novels about the evolution of the Soul of a City abound in today’s bookstores. Here are a few examples. I’m sure you can pull half a dozen off your own bookshelf.

Rachel Caine has made New York Times Bestseller novels out of her Morganville Vampires series. The premise is rooted in a city created by and for Vampires, molding the human society to Vampire needs, and keeping that Group Mind englobed by scientific-magical forces. One recent novel in this series, Fade Out, is an installment where one problem is solved, leaving another bigger one for the sequel. This is a series you should read in order, like a soap opera. I particularly loved the character Ada, a Vampire brain energizing a computer and running the town, opening and closing dimension gates.

Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series is likewise in a richly developed Universe, but doesn’t focus closely on one city as the main character. Now, the Weather Warden novels have spun off another series where the ecological balance among physical and mystical forces is the main character. In Unknown, a Djinn called Cassiel stands up for her Ethic, gets cast into human form, bonds with a human, Luis, and struggles not to destroy all humanity by protecting Weather Warden children. This is a series well written enough to pick up the story anywhere.

Dead Matter by Anton Strout is another in the Simon Canderous series, a paranormal detective professional who defends the City of New York from Vampires and other paranormal invaders. This is another "hardboiled" detective novel in first person such as I discussed last month. I have recommended Strout’s Canderous novels since I reviewed Deader Still in the Sept. 2009 issue.

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly, which came to me via the Amazon Vine program, evokes a Northwest City that might be around Portland or Seattle. Again First Person hardboiled narrative by Ray Lilly, a fellow with paranormal powers but who has become magically indentured to a high level magic user, Annalise, who leads the rescue mission for this town. Together, they form a commando squad enforcing the low profile of the magical world by handling their own problems. Ray Lilly’s terrible situation makes him interesting, especially when he ends up rescuing Annalise.

I reviewed Mark Del Franco’s Unquiet Dreams in the May 2009 column, and here now is a sequel Unperfect Souls, another Connor Grey novel.

In Unperfect Souls, Connor Grey faces escalating violence in "The Weird" a section of Boston walled off by the police and left to be controlled by the Guild (magic users) and other paranormal authoritarian bodies that are basically at war with each other. Connor’s main problem fascinates me. In a previous action to protect the innocent, Connor was wounded and lost most of his "powers" as a wizard. Now he’s been dismissed from his job and works as a private consultant to the human police. As with Jim Butcher’s Dresden character, Connor has something black growing in his brain/mind/soul. He’s ignoring it to focus on protecting The Weird and Boston. But when tempted, he spends some time investigating what’s wrong with him because he knows he might succumb to that blackness.

Connor is another paranormal detective with a personal plight I find interesting who protects Boston. Last month I recommended another novel where Boston desperately needed paranormal protection – Deadtown by Nancy Holzner – where shape-shifter Victory Vaughn fights demons in an alternate present-day Boston, after a few thousand people have been mysteriously zombified.

In Hell Fire, Ann Aguirre gives us a worthy sequel to Blue Diablo which I reviewed in the June 2010 column. Here Corine Solomon finally goes home to the small town where she was orphaned by a magical war and faces down her worst nightmare to free the town of a demon who lives in the forest and devours people. It’s the demon of her nightmares. Hell Fire is has a searing triangle romance, breathtaking paranormal elements, intimate adventure, mature point of view and solid writing craft.

For more on Ann Aguirre see my blog entries:



It may sound wearisome to hear of all these (actually very good) novels where a paranormal detective or a detective with paranormal powers must protect a city or town, especially an alternate present-day city where normals know little about the existence of the paranormal.

Taken together, these novels show us that the readership is fascinated by conspiracy theories, superheroes who aren’t of super-character just super-powers, and by a vision of the universe as a thin film of brittle normalcy stretched fragilely over a seething cauldron of something outside the ken of "science" – and actually outside the bounds of anything you and I understand as "magic."

These novels play to a populace spooked by a world bigger and meaner than they feel themselves to be. And like humans throughout all time, they seek to find the underlying pattern, to cling to the alpha-leaders, the individuals with the morals, ethics, and abilities to fend off the threats and protect the "City." Or Town. Or Village. Or Tribe.

One of the real-world ubiquitous features I don’t see in these novels is social media. Some novels have cell phones and texting, true. Most eliminate cell phones around magic users because they tend to short out and fizzle.

These novels portray our modern reality without the modern high-impact intrusion of connectivity. That might be because too many plots would fall apart if facebook were in regular use. Twitter. The Ladders for finding 100K plus magic-user jobs. Nope, you won’t find our real modern world blending with a magic-riddled reality.

This lack will "date" these novels eventually, but right now they’re an escape, a refuge of some kind from the impact of the implications for the Group Minds of our Cities.

In the Social Networking reality we live in daily, the magical wards around our Group Minds are penetrated – painfully – by outsiders. Iran and China are trying to barricade their citizens from this threat. Long distance intimacy disintegrates The City.

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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