Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

October, 1993

"Reality Is Just a Crutch For People
Who Can't Handle Science Fiction"


Darker Jewels a novel of Saint-Germain by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor Fantasy hardcover, March 1993.

I, Strahd The Memoirs of a Vampire by P. N. Elrod, TSR, Ravenloft, October, 1993.

Good Guys Wear Fangs, ed. by Mary Ann B. McKinnon, Order From Bill Hupe, Footrot Flats, 916 Lamb Rd., Mason, MI 48854-9445.

Knights of the Blood, Created by Katherine Kurtz, written by Scott MacMillan, Roc Fantasy pb, July 1993.

The Adept Series: Book One, The Adept by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris, Ace Fantasy pb, 1991. Book Two, The Lodge of the Lynx, Ace Fantasy pb, June 1992. Book Three, The Templar Treasure, Ace Fantasy pb, July 1993.

Dark Enchantment by Jane Toombs, Silhouette Shadows #12, Silhouette Books, July 1993.

The Ritual Bath (a Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Mystery) by Faye Kellerman, Fawcett Crest, 1986 -- check your library for hc editions -- sequels: Sacred and Profane, The Quality of Mercy, Milk and Honey, Day of Atonement.

Murder Most Mellow (a Kate Jasper Mystery) by Jaqueline Girdner (she actually spells her name without the c before the q as in my name). Other Kate Jasper mysteries include: Adjusted to Death, The Last Resort, and lastly, in June 1993, Fat Free and Fatal.

This month's focus is on books with a "reality" background and what the student of the occult can learn from such works of fiction. As some of you know, I often teach writing workshops, and this year, I am a teacher in the official writing workshop at ConFrancisco, the World Science Convention in San Francisco over Labor Day. In reviewing the very high quality manuscripts for my section, I noticed a peculiar awkwardness in the way new writers handle background and thought that the student of the occult could learn something from studying fiction with "reality" backgrounds.

According to TV Guide, this fall's offerings will rely heavily on "reality" shows -- like Emergency and 911. Apparently, viewers hunger for such contact with "reality." The occultist, however, must distinguish entertainment from information if he/she is to master the power of theatre well enough to produce an effective ceremonial.

Too many people accept tv news as information when in fact it is heavily edited for its entertainment effect. Note how the ads for upcoming news shows use clips and headlines that produce open-mouthed fascination and emotional reactions. The new "reality" based shows will do the same. The following reading exercises may help the serious occult student to discern the manipulations beneath the surface.

Read these books with attention to the artistic reasons for the author's choice of background.

"Reality" backgrounds are nothing new in science fiction/fantasy. They are often required in the horror genre to produce the stark contrast of nightmare which is the hallmark of the genre.

The historical backgrounds Yarbro uses for her Saint-Germain novels are an important key to her success with this character. Darker Jewels is recommended for those who are already fans of St. Germain -- or those who love the background of Czarist Russia in the 1500's. If you haven't read any St. Germain before, I recommend the oldest of the books such as Hotel Transylvania or The Palace. Or choose one which has a historical period you find interesting.

St. Germain is a vampire -- the story of his making is illuminated best in Out of the House of Life. He is uncounted thousands of years old. He is an Egyptian healer-priest and an alchemist, as well as the son of a king and a priest of a forgotten god. In each of the books, he arrives in a locale, makes himself a home, and has it swept away from him -- usually through no fault of his own, and often because he performs an act of compassion. His attitude toward this pattern of his life forms the subtext of great interest to the initiate -- a subtext which will be unnoticed by the noninitiate.

St. Germain lives his existence with a keen awareness of the laws of karma (which he never mentions), and a deep reverence for love which is his main sustenance.

As an addendum to the long lists of vampire novels I catalogued in the last two columns, I want to alert you to the (currently available) I, Strahd, by P. N. Elrod whose vampire novels set in Chicago of the '30's I warmly recommend. I, Strahd is about a vampire invented by Christie Golden in Vampire of the Mists, a previous Ravenloft title I raved about. Oddly enough, I, Strahd did not succeed for me the way Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire did, so I can't recommend it without the caveat that it is for vampire completists or Ravenloft fans.

I suspect that I, Strahd did not work for me is that the main character becomes a vampire only in the middle of the book, and throughout the entire book, he has no intimate -- neither confidante nor opponent. The problem with using Strahd as a point of view character is that the fantasy realm of Ravenloft is cut off by magical boundaries from the rest of its world. This is shown to be the result of Strahd's magic that turned him into a vampire. In this book, he does not succeed in penetrating that border -- and therefore you have what is technically known in writing parlance as a "hung hero" -- a hero who can't do anything about his situation.

But those who love Ravenloft with adore this book because it reveals many of the secrets of the realm's existence and history and shows the inside of Strahd's mind.

And I still give a blanket recommendation to anything you see under the P. N. Elrod byline. Which brings me to the subject that ties television to vampires and occult studies, especially in the use of backgrounds.

Recall that above I said that I had been criticizing manuscripts by beginning writers and learned something from them about how background and story go together. You, too, can have this experience by picking up a "fanzine" on your favorite topic. Fanzines are "magazines" written and published by fans for fans, sold at cost of printing and postage. The authors and the editors, artists and publisher pay many expenses out of their own pockets and never get paid back. These are not "nonprofit" (which means staff gets a salary) -- these are works of love.

There's a fanzine called GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS, see above for ordering address. It is modeled in the tradition of TV's FOREVER KNIGHT which I've mentioned before as my favorite, as well as P. N. Elrod's vampire detective novels. It does stories in which tv show heros (such as Quantum Leap) and P. N. Elrod's vampire novels are mixed into the same universe.

I have not yet seen an issue of GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS, but I will very soon. I recommend it mostly on the fact that it is published by Bill Hupe who also publishes some of my own stories spun off from STAR TREK, the Kraith Series. Send him a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for ordering information, and tell him I sent you.

If you're interested more in STAR TREK fanzines than any other subject, send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to: STAR TREK WELCOMMITTEE MAILROOM, POB 12, Saranac, MI 48881, and ask for ordering information for the Directory which lists fanzines and licensed memorabilia as well as some STAR TREK conventions.

Reading the non-professional press can be one of the most enlightening experiences of your incarnation. Until you step outside the strictures of what the professional press/tv feeds you, you can't see how they are bending your mind with subtle tricks.

And while I'm on the subject of vampires -- let me just mention The Vampire Journals by Traci Briery a Zebra pb, 1993. Here we have a female vampire whose memoirs take us from 18th century Italy to the present and reveal another side to the story presented in a prequel told from another vampire's point of view. I'm sorry I don't have the prequel's title to hand, but I vaguely remember reading it.

Speaking of vague memories -- in a previous column I mentioned that I was uncertain if Lee Killough's vampire detective novels BLOOD HUNT and BLOODLINKS might have had a third book. I just heard from the author that, no, alas, there was never a third. I must have written it on the astral while I was asleep and then read it to myself -- I hope she'll write it down and publish it some day.

Another "reality" based historically backgrounded novel with a new twist on vampire origins is Knights Of The Blood. Katherine Kurtz, who writes occult novels with a Christian flavor, has used the research she did on the Knights Templar for other historicals -- and for The Adept: The Templar Treasure, -- for the background of this historical that travels from the Crusades in the Holy Land to contemporary Los Angeles (they used to live in LA), to Germany and unsolved murders and war crimes involving a vampire. There are both vampire "good guys" (the Knights of the title) and vampire "bad guys". And a human caught between the two.

If Knights of the Blood has a flaw for me, personally, it's in the very deep, richness of the reality backgrounding, but many readers actually buy and read books for just exactly that richness of reality-detail. This writing team definitely has the ability to transport you to the time and place of the action -- regardless of century. And the occult student (especially those who don't have my taste for intimate adventure) will find there is much to be learned from Kurtz and MacMillan.

Or, for that matter, from Kurtz herself. I've mentioned The Adept series in previous columns -- no vampires yet in The Adept series, but plenty of intimate adventure. The third book The Templar Treasure, illustrates the importance of intimacy in linking souls, incarnations, and mystical events throughout history. The plot of this one turns on the emotional intensity generated by historical figures and imprinted on a magical object. It's a "must read" for any Seeker on the Path.

After you've read this group of books, take a moment to meditate on the tv concept "vehicle" -- Katherine's Adept is a "vehicle" to tell stories about adepthood. Nicholas Knight is a "vehicle" -- the starship Enterprise is a "vehicle" as well as a vehicle. The "vehicle" is the ongoing element that provides continuity and thus reader/viewer orientation. In "reality" based shows/novels, "reality" is the "vehicle" -- keeping the reader/viewer oriented. The "vehicle" is often the excuse to tell the story -- such as in the tv show Hart To Hart which uses "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" as its vehicle and nevermind story logic and plot holes.

The Romance genre also uses "vehicles," and the Silhouette line called Silhouette Shadows uses the vaguest hints of occult involvement as a "vehicle." Only the most accomplished professionals who really know their subjects cold can pull it off successfully, though. Jane Toombs is such a professional's professional. She works with background as part of an organic whole, not something separate just painted onto the "flats" behind the actors.

The Jane Toombs romances for various lines all partake of the same exquisite depth that those written by Marion Zimmer Bradley (under various bylines) show. Dark Enchantment is a good example. Here an elder Witch has died and left her house and her heritage to her niece. The niece of course is "reality" oriented and can't accept the appointment without cleaning out and reorganizing her own subconscious. We also have the elder male adept to provide for her the other pole in her magical projects -- or is it she who will provide for him? -- or is that a ridiculous question?

Coming back gently to the "real world" from our fantasy empires, let me recommend as Honorable Mentions this time the Faye Kellerman novels about Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus.

Lazarus is an Orthodox Jew living in a separate community near the Southern California town where Decker is a policeman. In Ritual Bath Lazarus is stalked by a killer and Decker saves her -- or is it she who saves Decker? -- or is that a silly question? Anyway, Decker presents himself as a non-Jew at first, and then we discover he was adopted and only later in life discovered that his "real" parents had been Jewish. He gets caught up in the Orthodox community's affairs and the rest of the books, though focusing on his solving one or another crime, chronicle the intimate adventure of reaching across cultural barriers and searching for primary meaning in life.

Although ostensibly set in real world California, these books are actually science fiction at its best -- dealing with aliens on an intimate level.

And the last Honorable Mention here is the Kate Jasper mystery, Murder Most Mellow. If this were a mystery review column, this would have garnered a RAVE. It's flawlessly a executed formula mystery. But what I liked was the way Marin County (across the Golden Gate from San Francisco) is depicted as an alien culture and the hero, Kate Jasper, is depicted as bridging us into that alien culture.

In Murder Most Mellow the author gives us a glimpse of the Bay Area New Age psychics-and-crazies community. Since I am a U of Cal at Berkeley graduate from the sixties, and for the last thirty years have virtually commuted to the Bay Area from New York, I know that community. Girdner uses science fiction and fantasy techniques to paint that community in a stark light. She gives us a look at ourselves from the outside without too much unconscious and distorting prejudice.

One thing I can virtually guarantee -- if you go to Marin, you very likely won't find anything even vaguely resembling Girdner's background. But if you live in the Bay Area for a few years, the truths behind this depiction will become evident. I am fairly certain that the Chicago area residents who read this magazine will recognize their community in Girdner's sketch.

Besides, it's a jolly good read.

And that, basically, is what this column is all about -- entertainment. To be entertaining, fiction must depict "reality" or whatever background is appropriate in an entertaining fashion, one that is artistically appropriate.

I warned in a previous column that students of the occult should never attempt to DO one of the rituals depicted in a work of fiction because knowledgeable writers formulate them carefully to be unworkable and unknowledgeable writers create disastrous blunders that could do a lot more harm than good. The same principle applies to the use of background from fiction you have read.

In the Romance and Historical genres, writers vie with each other to get the research correct. The good writers come up with alternate universes based on meticulously researched facts -- but they are still alternate realities -- astral plane locales not real ones.

Once you can see how and why this is done, you will learn a great deal about the actual reality we all live in, especially from the books recommended in this column. The best writers assume that readers are onto their tricks and use those tricks to encode subtexts and metatexts, communications between adept and adept utterly concealed from the noninitiate.

Books for review should be sent to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, New York, 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. logo

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