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ReReadable Books

October 2011

"Asking The Right Question"


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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Dipped, Stripped and Dead by Elise Hyatt, Berkley Prime Crime, Oct. 2009

French Polished Murder by Elise Hyatt, Berkley Prime Crime May 2010

Original Sin by Beth McMullen, Hyperion, 2010

Revenge Served Cold by Jackie Fullerton, Thomas House Publishing May 2010

Immortal by Gene Doucette, Hamel Integrity Publishers, Oct 2010

Burning Shadows by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor HC Dec 2009

Saint-Germain: Memoirs by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, ESP, Oct 2007

My Immortal Assassin by Carolyn Jewel, Grand Central Publishing, Jan 2011

Trolls in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome, DAW Fantasy, Nov 2010

Last month we looked at the human core drive to "get the right answer" – to gain approval, to succeed, to be accepted. That need makes a great character motivation for stories because it takes no explanation to convey the urgency of the matter.

Behind that need is hidden something a bit more abstract. Successful people, especially those who are successful in wielding Power, seem to settle on a specific method of "getting the right answer."

It isn’t just being right that matters, but applying respected principles precisely so that when the answer does come out "wrong" the admiration and confidence garnered by previous success doesn’t go away. "That’s just a mistake. His judgment is usually sound. It’s not his fault"

In Ancient times, the truly educated were schooled in the "science" of Magic – in Astrology, Tarot, Alchemy, and Mathematics. Those are the four disciplines any student of magic must master even today.

In "Modern Times" those Ancient disciplines are scoffed at for not being "disciplines" but "superstitions." The thinking methodology for formulating the right question in these Ancient disciplines is considered to be random, knee-jerk animal responses favored out of dark ignorance, not the light of rigorous scientific reasoning.

There may actually be a new shift in progress, a shift from "Modern Times" to maybe "Future Times." The harbingers are turning up in fiction, twanging my non-scientific intuition as well as my disciplined futurology.

There are two fiction genres to watch, as alike as two peas in a pod: Science Fiction/Fantasy and Mystery.

Neither genre is monolithic. As with modern Romance genre, both SF/F and Mystery have spun off sub-genres. The most fascinating thing to me is how one writer will turn up in all of these genres. This is not new. I’ve known many such writers.

Seeing genres spawn sub-genres and writers dive in to re-design genres seems to me a harbinger of real change in the Group Mind of a society – today maybe of all humanity?

Last month we ended off examining Sarah A. Hoyt’s Science Fiction Romance, Darkship Thieves. The same author also writes Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and has a new series there under the brand new byline (she has a lot of bylines) Elise Hyatt. I did a blog on a list of her pen-names in various genres on my writing craft Tuesday blog at aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com posted on May 17, 2011 titled Should You Make Up A Pen Name, Part I.   It's a co-blog and I post on Tuesdays.

Science Fiction is all about solving mysteries. The key to solving any mystery is formulating the question in a useful manner. Scratch a science fiction fan and you’ll find a Sherlock Holmes fan.

The same is true of Fantasy as you can see from the well earned popularity of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels about a Magician who is a Private Eye – or maybe a Private Eye who happens to be magically Talented.

Mystery is actually the lynchpin between Science Fiction and Fantasy. In Science Fiction, scientific thinking is the Hero, the problem solver. In Fantasy, even or especially where Magic is involved, psychological thinking is the Hero – understanding people and their motivations. In Mystery, the detective, whether carrying a badge or not, needs both scientific thinking and an understanding of human nature worthy of a student of Astrology, Tarot, and Alchemy.

Rarely have I seen a genre-mystery which blends these kinds of thinking so seamlessly as Elise Hyatt does, but come to think of it, a genre-hopping author would be adroit at portraying characters who both think and feel simultaneously.

So I recommend you read the cozy mysteries Dipped, Stripped and Dead as well as the direct sequel, French Polished Murder, both by Elise Hyatt sub-titled A Daring Finds Mystery.

You might learn something about the antique furniture business and maybe a little about the chemistry of refinishing furniture. Our "Sherlock" in this series is Candyce Dare, with an infectious curiosity for the science of wood finishing and an eye for incongruous detail. But Dare also has Miss Marple’s piercing sense of human motivation, a budding romance with a cop who likes her three year old boy, and a re-married ex who does not respect her at all.

For a change of pace that isn’t really much of a change, try Original Sin by Beth McMullen (who isn’t Elise Hyatt). I got this one via the Amazon Vine program. You all know I get free books from publishers and writers, but sometimes I review books I’ve bought.

Original Sin is "A Sally Sin Adventure" about a mother of a small, very demanding, child. She’s a retired secret agent, codenamed Sally Sin, called back to duty to face an old nemesis, a man she understands the way Peter understands Neal on the TV Series White Collar..

Original Sin is set entirely in the "real" world of international covert ops, but there’s plenty for the mystery fan. The characters and story read just like most of the fantasy novels I’ve been reviewing here lately, with overtones of the TV Series Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

Back to Original Sin in a moment, but first here’s an odd novel I’ve wanted to point you to for a long time now, Revenge Served Cold by Jackie Fullerton – I think I met this author on twitter. This is a Mystery/Fantasy cross genre mix, a little like Topper. The private eye is a woman who partners with her father’s ghost to exonerate a client. This is a well written, smooth reading novel with great characters. It’s a marketing headache though because it’s exactly the sort of novel you and I adore!

And here’s a novel you probably won’t "like" but will never be sorry you read. I’ve written extensively about it on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com starting Jan 25, 2011. Immortal by Gene Doucette may be a game changer for writers. The publisher bills it as a Fantasy/Crime/Historical crossover, and it’s all that and more, sans Vampire.

Immortal is about a man who’s immortal – maybe older than Gilgamesh. We meet him in our modern world when he is hanging out with college students enjoying being drunk and drugged. But his relaxation is interrupted when an old enemy, a demon, comes after him right in the middle of the city. How he handles this challenge reveals how the millennia have shaped his character. He’s not at all as noble as St. Germain but has many of the same problems.

Doucette’s writing is exemplary, but the narrative switches tense and person. If that bothers you, you will not enjoy this story.

Now back to Original Sin, which is High Concept in Hollywood parlance, and so became widely promoted, and uses the same narrative switching structure. These two books should be studied for clues about what’s really going on in publishing, especially with genre boundaries.

Speaking of St. Germain, one of my favorite Vampires by one of my favorite authors, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, don’t miss Burning Shadows where Count St. Germain tries to save a small village from Attila the Hun as the Roman empire crumbles and he is caught in a political vise that makes it very hard to conceal his Vampire nature. He has to pretend to be the husband of a woman who is empowered to direct his actions as they deal with politics.

Saint-Germain: Memoirs by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a collection of stories scattered in original publication and collected here. Saint Germain is usually classed as Historical Horror, but the series started with Hotel Transylvania which had all the elements of Romance you could possibly want. Mostly I see them as Romance.

To see genre changes since Hotel Transylvania was first published, take a good look at My Immortal Assassin by Carolyn Jewel – which has both the long, detailed sex scenes of modern erotic Romance and a world built to showcase Dark Mages, Demons, humans, and the endless fight against the forces of destruction, especially those that can be unleashed by raw sexuality.

After reading all that, you’ll need a good laugh, so try Trolls In The Hamptons by Celia Jerome. The main character is a woman who draws and writes graphic novels, but her family is ESP talented. Here she has to deal with an incursion from an adjacent reality, rescue a child and send him home with a Troll, and fall in love with the man chosen for her to have Talented children with. And she has a deadline to meet, too.

DAW Fantasy is a good place to shop for strong Fantasy Romance mixed genre.

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  thejlbox@ gmail.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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