Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

September, 1994

"Television, Power and Government "


The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael Okuda, Denise Okuda and Debbie Mirek (Pocket Books, April 1994).

Star Wars, The Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers (Bantam Spectra, Jan. 1994 hardcover. Look for the paperback.).

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Dark Mirror by Diane Duane, Pocket Books hc, Dec. 1993; also on Simon and Schuster audio cassette).

Star Trek - Transformations by Dave Stern. (Original audio program on CD — this was never a book, just a recording — starring George Takei with Dana Ivey and Daniel Gerroll).

Star Trek - Sarek by A. C. Crispin (Pocket Books hc, March 1994).

Quantum Leap - The Wall by Ashley McConnell (Ace, Jan 1994).

Alien Nation - Body and Soul by Peter David (Pocket Books, Dec. 1993).

Alien Nation - The Change by Barry B. Longyear (Pocket Books, March 1994).

The Shadow by James Luceno, based on screenplay by David Koepp (Ivy Books, July 1994). This is also a major motion picture.

I warned you last time in "Art and Government" that I was going to wade into some murky waters, but I didn't get to the murkiest — television.

Because of the issue of violence on television, government, power and politics are becoming increasingly intertwined into entertainment television. This is especially true of science fiction and fantasy on TV because science fiction/fantasy is traditionally an "action" genre, which basically means violence.

As you've all probably figured out by now, I'm a great fan of Star Trek in all its incarnations. And I'm not blind to its faults. As the primary author of the Bantam paperback, Star Trek Lives! (which was written back in the early seventies when Star Trek was dead) I am both devotee and critic of this show in all its versions.

A large number of the flaws in Star Trek stem from the fact that it is a television series. So when I talk about Star Trek, in many ways I am talking about television in general.

When I launched the research project that eventually became Star Trek Lives! the general public was more scornful of fans of any television series than of students of the occult. A person who was a fan of a science fiction series who took such stories seriously was dismissed with, "How could anyone waste their time on such frivolous trivia!"

So I wrote a book to answer that accusation, taking it as a serious question, not a statement of opinion. Except for the names, addresses and dates, everything in that book is relevant to today's general media fan. I'm not talking about couch potatoes and channel surfers here. I'm talking about you and me — critical viewers, seekers, and creative artists.

Today, there are so many sf/f TV shows and movies that it's impossible to watch them all, never mind read all the spin-off novels. I don't have encyclopedic recall of every episode of these series by title and co-stars. But I tape them and I watch them avidly. And I read many of the novels, both professional and fannish.

Resisting the impulse to get lost in the details, I'm observing the ongoing evolution of a field — televised sf/f.

So, first I want to point you to the Star Trek Encyclopedia that has just come out from Pocket Books. It's filled with all the details, and has everything in it you miss when you fast-forward through the credits. It also is a necessary tool for those who want to write novels based on the Trek universe.

Last time, I promised an ongoing discussion of art and television and barely mentioned these words. I talked about fantasy series that are focused on "who should be king."

Star Wars and its spin-off novels fall into this category in media sf/f. SW depicts an interstellar rebellion against a tyranny led by the children of dethroned leaders.

Again, I haven't read all the novels, but I tend to follow certain authors. The Star Wars novel by Kathy Tyers attracted my attention because I like her sf/f novels. The Truce at Bakura is a creditable addition to her bibliography. Even if you don't much care for movie spin-offs and tie-ins, and even if you don't really like the Star Wars movies, this book is a good read.

Many movie and TV tie-in books are written by experienced sf/f writers who can, in the strictly formulated tie-in novels, offer you only the barest hint of their depth and talent.

It's a tremendous challenge to write in someone else's universe. Thus, the successful writers of spinoffs are apt to be the best at other forms as well. Take, for example, Diane Duane. Her ST novel, Dark Mirror, is a marvel of intricate plotting and psychological drama balanced with good sf adventure. This is a Picard novel in which "our" Next-Gen Enterprise has to deal with a descendant of the Mirror Universe Enterprise — yes, the mirror universe that James Kirk disrupted with his political advice to the Mirror Spock.

Dark Mirror is also out on tape cassette, beautifully produced and gorgeously read by John De Lancie. For the audio cassette, the novel was edited (superbly) and scored to create a resounding and entertaining presentation that's almost like the old radio drama shows except that one actor does all the voices. Audio cassette is a fiction delivery medium that deserves attention and growing respect.

And here's something new, a CD recording that was never a book or movie or TV show. Transformations is read by three voices, but mostly by George Takei. This is a good Star Trek "episode" to listen to while doing something repetitive and boring like making dinner or driving a car. Don't try it while balancing your checkbook. You'll never get done.

Both tape and CD are expensive — more expensive per hour of entertainment than a book. And the story material is "thinner" — i.e., less profound, less thought-provoking. Artistically, these recordings are a chamber orchestra as opposed to a symphony. You can't say that chamber music is better than a symphony. They're different. And the recorded "book" is still a developing artform.

Sarek by A. C. Crispin is another Trek novel that could have failed abysmally in less sensitive or skilled hands. Crispin is a fan of the show who sold her first professional novel as a ST novel (an incredible feat!) and has gone on to do tie-ins with other TV shows as well as a number of very good ST novels. She meanwhile has founded a series of her own and collaborated with Andre Norton in one of Norton's universes. There is generally very little occult science in her work, but her use of human psychology and intercultural conflict makes for a wonderfully entertaining read.

As I suggested above, check out the other A. C. Crispin titles in other universes.

Ashley McConnell does a similarly good job of depicting real human concerns and believable human psychology against an sf/f backdrop in the Quantum Leap novel The Wall. The wall in question is the Berlin wall, and this is set at a time when it was going up, not down. McConnell depicts the life and destiny of a military family involved in these world-shattering events. Because Quantum Leap is a time travel series, we are able to see the ultimate effect on the characters' lives decades later.

The Wall is an example of how tragic events taken out of context seem meaningless — but in context, all that suffering becomes meaningful.

The two Alien Nation novels listed above Body and Soul and The Change are by two of the best sf/f writers in the business — Peter David, whose werewolf novel I raved about some months back, and Barry B. Longyear upon whose short story the wonderful movie Enemy Mine was based. Alien Nation will have a movie released this fall, and I intend to be first in line.

Alien Nation was real science fiction done on TV as a series — but it wasn't entirely an anthology series. In an anthology series like Star Trek, the objective is to return the lives of the protagonists to the exact same place at the end of the hour as they were at the beginning. This is so that the episodes can be viewed in any order, which makes them more valuable as a syndication property. But it also causes the serious artistic flaws that rouse scorn for those who become fans of a television series.

The producers of V — the TV show about Earth being invaded by a reptilian people who wanted to eat us — were also involved in the production of Alien Nation. V was more of a "mini-series" designed so that the episodes built on one another and told an ongoing story so it worked best when viewed in order. Alien Nation had an ongoing story that developed from episode to episode, but each episode was a complete story.

And it made TV history in another way — it showed a respectable and heroic male becoming pregnant and being proud of it. More: this show presented religion in a way that could help break down prejudice against practitioners of magick.

It also depicted cross-species love affairs, some that were merely sexual and some that involved heart and soul.

These two novels capture a lot of that depth and breadth of treatment of the alien condition. I'm looking forward to the next sf TV effort of these producers because the sf aspects of the premise of Alien Nation was deeply flawed.

And lastly, I come to a revival of an old superhero I loved as a child. The Shadow.

At this writing, I haven't seen the motion picture, but I've read the book. Students of the occult should read this book carefully, and I expect you'll need to see the film because it might be different.

There's big money behind this superhero movie. It will be seen by a vast and varied audience, most of whom will believe what it says about students of the occult, and in your everyday life you will have to deal with people who harbor unconscious assumptions based on this film.

Back in the thirties and forties, Tibet was a place so far away and so impossible to get to it was synonymous with the moon or Mars, or Tau Ceti. The religion practiced in Tibet might as well have been the Tenctonese religion from Alien Nation. You could say anything about Tibet and be believed because nobody knew.

But today, with satellites and jets, we know there are horrible atrocities being perpetrated on the people in that region, and they aren't any different from us in any way that matters.

According to this novel, which is based on the screenplay, a great Master of the ancient wisdom of Tibet used some sort of esp or occult power to force Lamont Cranston to change from a drug dealer into a crime fighter.

In the thirties, you weren't likely to be exchanging notes with a Tibetan on the net. In the thirties, you weren't likely to have a Tibetan refugee move into an apartment next to you, or a Tibetan company swing a deal with your employer. It really didn't matter if you thought all practitioners of the prevailing religion in Tibet could do magic and would gladly preempt your personal will if they didn't like the way you made a living. Tibetans may as well have lived on Mars for all the interaction you might ever have with them. They weren't real.

Today, it's another matter. I get a queasy feeling when I see any religion maligned. It's worse when it's done so offhandedly, casually and without challenge that I know some people will believe it. And it's worse yet when such abuse is heaped on the heads of people who are being stomped on.

Tibetans, like every other sort of human, come in small, medium and large of body, mind and soul. There probably are some who have real power and of those, there probably are some who would abuse that power by using it to interfere with another's free will. But only some. And other Tibetans would object — vehemently.

You must see this movie and read this book not because the story is good (actually it's not bad; it's just not what I expected), but because you must be articulate enough to counter any residue the unconscious and offhand slur on Tibetan ethics may leave on the people you deal with.

Superheros are fun, and most, like Superman (I love the series Lois and Clark) are wholesome enough. When I was a child, I always understood The Shadow to be a protector of the innocent who had occult power. This book, and perhaps the movie as well, do not depict this Shadow in that way. This Shadow is an evil person who didn't outgrow his evil but had his life-process aborted. So he takes out his sadistic impulses on "evil" people, not "good" ones.

That may have been the original intention of the novelist that Walter Gibson credited in the acknowledgments as having written hundreds of Shadow novels. In the thirties and forties, that was just a throwaway premise to get the story going. In the nineties, either the premise had to be changed or the issue had to be raised and discussed, not ignored.

Now, let's look at this grab bag of TV/movie tie-ins as a whole.

Star Trek is typical of sf in that it may accept telepathy but scorns mysticism unless it's Vulcan mysticism — which doesn't have much in the way of divine force behind it.

Star Wars depicts occult power and occult technology as the tools of The Warrior, but not of much use to anyone else.

Alien Nation takes the alien religion seriously as a social force and a method of attaining inner peace.

Quantum Leap leaps over the issue of God with a few offhand comments that sound like Dr. Who premises — that the universe is so shoddily constructed that things can go wrong with it that mere humans can put right. (Even a human without any magical training, like Sam Beckett.)

And The Shadow a genuine thirties hero. Well.

As I said above, I see from the overview of the TV scene which includes Babylon Five and The Highlander, Kung Fu — The Legend Continues, and many more, that we are watching Hollywood groping through the evolutionary stages that sf went through in the print medium. They are gradually educating an audience as sf had to educate its readership. And they are inventing the effects and camera language as well as music and costumes as they go along.

What you're seeing on TV today hasn't quite reached the level that print-media sf had reached in the fifties.

But they're learning, and each successive show is a little better than the last.

The truly fascinating aspect of this evolution is the way the sf/f on TV or in the movies borrows both from the forties print media and the

nineties at the same time. While they are producing the action/adventure — special effects-type sf that uses lots of violence, they occasionally slip in a tiny bit of Intimate Adventure — a relationship story in which the real problem is solved by emotional honesty, not straight shooting.

So, what has all this got to do with government? Is the most interesting question "Who will be king or president?" or is it "What is right?" Or does it matter which question you address?

There is a rising voice in this country decrying violence on television as a source of violent behavior in our society. Since sf/f has historically always been an action genre filled with violence as the means of solving any problem, the antiviolence on television movement may wipe out sf/f on TV. Or, it may force an evolution of the TV genre that has so far failed in the print media. It may force sf/f on TV to deal with "What is right?" more than "Who is right?"

Politics, negotiation and war are all designed to determine who is right by establishing who has more power without ever examining the nature of the issue.

What mechanisms are available to the writer to explore the question, "What is right?" How do we determine what is right? In our society, in our family relationships, in our love lives, in our professional careers and in our occult studies, by what process do we figure out what is the right thing to do? (I'll give you a clue; this is a lead-in to the subject of art and its occult definition.)

Next month, I'm going to discuss how we determine "What is right?" and I hope by then you'll have read some of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, and some Darkover from Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as seen an episode or two of the various sf shows I've mentioned.

Books for review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 10952.



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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg