Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

October, 1994

"Might, Right, Art And Government"


Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly (Del Rey Fantasy, 1994).

The Volan Curse by Jane Toombs (Silhouette Shadows #35, 1994).

Death and the Maiden by P. N. Elrod (Ace Fantasy, 1994).

The Vampire Legacy; Blood Secrets by Karen E. Taylor (Zebra Horror, 1994).

Forever and the Night by Linda Lael Miller (Berkley Romance, 1993).

An October '94 release,

Covenant With the Vampire, #1 in The Diaries of the Family Dracul by Jeanne Kalogridis (Delacort, 1994).

Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels (Berkley, 1994).

Last month, after discussing the development of science fiction/fantasy on television and in audio-cassette readings, I promised to tie together the vast tangle of topics begun in the August issue "Art and Government." In August, we discussed the latest additions to two major series, the Deryni books of Katherine Kurtz and the Darkover novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley and the questions, "Who should be King?" and "How should a kingdom be governed?"

In September, we looked at a number of TV sf/f shows, their background assumptions about divine forces and occult powers, and the ingredient of violence which is once again a target of government investigation.

If televised sf/f clings to the print media's assumption that sf/f must be action/adventure to be entertaining, then we may lose all sf on TV to the governmental violence-hunter's ax.

I put forth the proposition that politics, negotiation and war are all designed to determine who is right by establishing who has more power. And I ended the discussion of media sf/f with the promise that this month we'd look at how a writer might grapple more with the question, "What is right?" rather than with "Who is right?" That is, how can we write entertaining sf/f that isn't about "Who will be King?" but about "How to be King?"

How do we, as a society, figure out what is the right thing to do?

Most of us know what is "right." We know what's politically correct. We know we should feed the hungry and defend the downtrodden. But how many of us know why we "should" do these "right" things? How many of us really know how our minds distinguish between a right thing and a wrong thing?

I'm not talking about "what is right" now. I'm talking about the mental mechanism that allows us to recognize right from wrong. It's not conscience. Conscience tells you whether a thing is right or not. It delivers up a predigested answer. It refuses to tell you how it found out this thing is wrong or that thing is right.

Conscience is like ROM in your computer. You can't get at it to change it. You can't get into it to see what its program says or where it's gliching out on you.

Very often, you don't even bother to consult your conscience because you've memorized the answers it gives you.

In the August column, I mentioned the two main plot forms — "Johnny gets his fanny caught in a beartrap and has his/her adventures getting it out" and "A likeable hero struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal."

Notice in both cases, the protagonist — the character whose head you are sitting inside of as the story unfolds — "Johnny" or "Likeable Hero," is an underdog. In each case, there is a person just like you who is facing something pretty terrible by his/her own choice. In the first instance, that choice may come from slapstick stupidity or intransigent ignorance. In the second, the choice is more deliberate as the Hero chooses a goal but only then discovers the size of the obstacles.

Deep down in the understructure of the commercial novels in the sf/f field — the action/adventure field — is the assumption that any reader/

viewer will automatically take sides with the underdog. The books and movies in this field that sell best are the ones with a "happy ending." That is, the protagonist has to win, not get killed messily.

Thus, commercial sf/f in every medium is aimed at the majority consumer, and that consumer has told producers of sf/f that the winner should be the least powerful person in the beginning of the story.

But there's one other requirement. During the course of the story, Johnny or Likeable Hero has to grow and change to become somewhat more powerful by the end. The protagonist has to learn a lesson and thus earn success.

Almost all the novels I've recommended to you in the year and a half I've been doing this column conform to this formula. It's so deeply ingrained in our field that we don't think about it critically. I've taught writers to cast their fantasies into this mold so they can sell — and they have sold. Our society says, "The underdog should win."

Thus, books, especially fantasy novels, about deposed kings coming back and overthrowing the tyranny of a usurper never have to examine the question of "How should this kingdom be ruled?" rather than, "Who should rule?" It is self-evident and unquestioned by all readers — of course the underdog should rule, not the tyrant.

If he weren't the underdog, he'd be the tyrant. And tyranny has to be overthrown. At all costs.

There's a question here that is very hard to formulate because I, myself, have a deeply ingrained aversion to tyranny. But the question came to me as I was thinking about the television show Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. The cable channel TNT is rerunning the original Kung Fu episodes, and I've been studying them as well to see if they stand up to my memory of them as they were first run around twenty years ago. They do.

The Oriental martial arts are a useful study for the student of the occult because they deal with the practical matters of handling power and counteracting the power of others.

In this particular original Kung Fu episode, the story remembered from the temple in China had to do with a student at the temple who sets his vows aside and leaves the temple fired up with the ambition of defending the downtrodden and leading them to throw off the yoke of tyranny in order to lead better their lives. The student returns, beaten, having led a village into total destruction. He goes out again and fails again. Then he returns and admits he's made a mistake.

In the modern Legend Continues, Caine leads his son Peter into a defense of the deposed heir to the throne of China in order to cleanse the stain on the family honor because his ancestor had killed the Emperor's nephew because the nephew, in a fit of temper, killed a Master.

Meanwhile, many decades ago in China, Imperial forces destroyed the Shaolin temples. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that modern day Shaolin would side with that Imperial line, honor or no honor. It's self-destructive.

We're talking about a fantasy TV show, here, folks. This silly little action/adventure western/cop show that does telepathy, reincarnation, levitation, astral travel and psychokinesis — this fantasy show that has spawned lots of fanzines (mostly written by women) filled with stories and novels written by fans — this no-account little Fox network, PTEN show, is challenging our stereotypes, is shaking up the unconscious assumptions, is doing what Great Art is supposed to do: Forcing us to think about things we usually don't even see.

This show is talking to us about how we figure out what is right.

Simultaneously, I was reading the newest Barbara Hambly novel, Stranger at the Wedding. This novel is set in the universe of The Windrose Chronicles (which I highly recommend), The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage and Dog Wizard. But this novel doesn't involve the characters of that series. We have here a young woman, a wizard in training, whose sister is about to be married. Through magical means, the young wizard comes to suspect there is a death curse upon her sister that will be triggered on the sister's wedding night.

The student leaves the wizard's school and goes home for the wedding to search the house for runes that set the curse.

The bulk of the book is about this search, and the desperate means the young wizard uses to postpone the wedding so she can have enough time to find and disarm the curse runes.

This is really a very good book and I do highly recommend it, but I'm going to use it to illustrate a point.

Books about overthrowing tyrants never discuss why tyrants ought to be overthrown. Stranger at the Wedding is a book about saving a sister's life on her wedding night, and it never discusses why the sister's life is worth saving.

With barely a moment's consideration, the wizard violates her vows to her superiors never to use her powers to interfere in the lives of non-wizards. She thinks about the penalty if she's caught, but never evaluates her sister's life against that penalty. She just goes right ahead

with greater and ever greater violations of her vows. We keep expecting her to get caught. But in the end of the book there's a good chance she won't ever get caught and punished.

When the mystery is solved, we see that the innocent sister's plight is the direct result of the wizard's actions taken years before she made her vows. Therefore, we can see a moral argument in defense of the violation of the vows, but not of the coverup.

So the saving of the sister's life is at great cost to the wizard, but we never find out why the sister was worth saving — other than that she's the wizard's baby sister.

None of these people are very important in their world. The world would never notice if one or both of these women died. The only thing at stake here is the sister's life — and the wizard's personal happiness and honor.

"The underdog should win." "Tyranny should be overthrown at all costs." "Personal happiness and honor are worth violation of sacred vows." These are the values of our society. They don't have to be questioned. Do they? And we really shouldn't know how we decide that these things are true. Should we?

I started the August column by warning you that I was about to bite off more than I can chew. Now you can see how large and tangled this subject is and how the threads of it are buried deep inside the underpinnings of the fiction we imbibe regularly.

If violence on TV breeds violence in the streets, what then do these subliminally reinforced assumptions in our fiction do to us? In discussing the movie The Shadow, I mentioned how distressed I was at the way the Tibetan Master was depicted. That is just another example of how fiction can implant an idea that will later grow into an unquestioned value in the consumer's mind.

At the end of the September column, I hinted that my answer to the question, "How do we determine what is right?" had to do with the occult definition of art. Let me try to sort out the rest of the books to be discussed this time by proposing an occult definition of art.

In general, art can be said to be a selective representation of reality. That means that art isn't reality, but only a representation - let x equal the amount of water in the tub and y equal the rate at which water enters the tub. How long will it take for the tub to fill?

We can solve that problem because we allow x to represent the amount of water in the tub. Mathematics is powerful as a problem-solving tool because it uses a standardized method of assigning and using representations.

Art is equally as powerful and it works the same way — symbolically. That's one reason that mathematics is an essential part of the education of a magician.

So how does art work for the magician?

My occult definition of art involves the astral plane. The generally accepted occult theory is that everything, every object and person, has an image on the astral plane. Magic works (simplistically explained) by changing the astral plane image. Then after a while, the manifestation of the thing or person on the material plane will change to conform to its image on the astral. (In Tarot, the 9's represent the Sephira Yesod which means Foundation and is the astral plane. To alter a building, you change the foundation first, then the walls. If you change the walls first, the building will fall down. To change things magically, you change the astral image — then the material plane manifestation can change.)

There are images on the astral plane that have no correspondence in lower manifestation — yet. Some of those are novels.

My occult definition of art: If a construct on the material plane is recognizable as congruent with a construct on the astral (and/or higher planes), then the construct on the material plane is art.

Art lies in the recognizable congruency between the material plane construct and the astral plane construct. Thus "art" or "beauty" is in the eye of the beholder; it is in the ability to recognize a single thing on two planes of reality simultaneously. Art is a subjective judgement, and since most people don't remember their astral travel in dreams, mostly our recognitions are unconscious subjective judgements.

But art is also simultaneously an objective judgement.

To be art, the congruency must be real.

When that congruency is real and recognized — especially if it is consciously recognized — magical power flows through the circuit from the astral plane, through the art object, and into the mental circuitry of the observer.

Most of us go through our lives unaware of the map of the astral plane we build in our sleep each night. We are unaware of the constructs we create on the astral. We are unaware of exploring other people's constructs on the astral.

But when, on the material plane, we encounter something that is an exact representation of something familiar on the astral, we recognize it. We say, "Yes!" And we accept it as a Higher Truth.

And that is the mechanism most of us rely upon to figure out what is the right thing to do. That is the mechanism we rely upon to distinguish right from wrong. That is how we decide what is right. Recognition. Subliminal familiarity.

If you have to think about it, it can't possibly be right. If you recognize it, then it must be right.

Each of us has within ourselves a map of the universe, a view of reality, a weltanschauung, a worldview, a visualization of the macrocosmic all. No two of us are reading the same edition of the same map.

But we all use the same mechanism to figure out what is right. If a newly acquired fact fits into our map, if it's recognizably part of our inner world, then it's right. If it doesn't fit, then it's wrong. Right is art. You can tell it's right because power flows through that channel. Right feels right.

We all get different answers because we're using different maps, but we all back our answers with the same absolute conviction because we all use the same method: Recognition on two planes simultaneously, the subsequent flow of power, a "right" feeling.

So politics, negotiation and war are all designed to determine who is right. Art determines what is right.

And that is why a "stupid little television show" like Star Trek or Kung Fu or Babylon 5 or Alien Nation is as important, or possibly more important, than the nightly news. And that is why reading "that trash" may be the most important thing you have to do — more important sometimes than your homework or cooking dinner (but not more important than walking the dog or changing the baby's diapers).

Which brings us to the most despised genre of all, the Romance. I've reviewed several of Jane Toombs' romances here before, and will continue to point you to the special ones. This one is from the new and very exciting romance line that deliberately explores the supernatural, Silhouette Shadows.

Very few romance writers can handle fantasy, let alone the occult. Jane Toombs is one of those few because these subjects have been a lifelong interest with her. One of her areas of expertise is the werewolf. And in this case, she has taken us to a family that bears the curse of the werewolf, The Volan Curse.

The Volan family is interesting because Toombs depicts a full range of personalities in two generations confronting and dealing with the fact of the werewolf appetites. Because this is a romance, the story starts as the male and female lead characters first meet and ends when they decide to get married. The male lead is the Volan, and the female lead has to be convinced that werewolves are real and this guy she's attracted to has a problem that's not just a psychological one. Once through that hurdle, love conquers all.

That's the genre formula required for a romance, but when Toombs handles it, it's art. Her characters have subconscious minds, and they both take an active role in recarving the astral landscape they travel so that reality reshapes around them on the material plane. If you don't like or don't read Romance as a rule, Sharon Green and Jane Toombs are two writers you should explore. They prove you don't need violence to tell a rip-roaring good story.

The modern vampire novel is not about Evil and succumbing to Evil. It's not about going to war against Evil. It's not about Deals with the Devil. It's not about the politics of Power.

These new vampire novels are about establishing credibility, fulfilling needs, and finding recognition across unfathomable gulfs. These writers are changing the archetype of the vampire on the astral plane. That archetype is growing and maturing, becoming more sane, more approachable, and less threatening.

Death and the Maiden by P. N. Elrod is another in her vampire series, but not a Vampire Files novel. This is the sequel to a book I raved about last year, titled Red Death. These two are set during the revolutionary war on Long Island. The interesting thing about these two books is that we have a newly risen vampire who is accepted (guardedly) back into his family because he feeds on the blood of cattle, not humans — at least not very often on humans. And when he does feed on humans, he takes only a little, doing no harm.

As a rule, I don't like horror as a genre, and the vampire novels I review are generally about the non-killer "good" vampire.

Blood Secrets is from a Horror line and has the requisite windowdressing to be horror, but it is a "good vampire" vs. the "bad vampire" who kills his victims story. And it has a few psychological twists.

Forever and the Night is not related to the TV show I love so much, Forever Night. This one is worth reading because it is an example of what is being done with The Vampire archetype in the Romance genre. Here the male vampire is trying to solve the problem of how to establish a satisfying relationship with a mortal woman.

Covenant with the Vampire also deals with the mortal family of a vampire, but this one is the family of the famous Count Dracula. Kalogridis tells the story through the journal entries of the humans involved, humans with a sensitivity to the vampire's problems and viewpoint. She also gives us a human who becomes a vampire and gains a real appreciation of the vampire's problems. That's the vampire who interests me. Covenant is the first of a trilogy and I can't wait for the next!

So what can we learn about government from reading a stack of vampire novels? The vampire novel is a fiction form which is also much maligned and dismissed as trivial or silly. Why do I keep coming back to this form, especially in a column talking about Art and Government?

Each of these vampire novels is written by a woman. Barbara Michaels, in her bestselling novel, Houses of Stone, uses these two epigraphs: "Literature is not the business of a woman's life and it cannot be." That's from a letter written to Charlotte Bronte. And: "All women, as authors, are feeble and tiresome. I wish they were forbidden to write, on pain of having their faces deeply sacrificed with an oyster shell." That is from Nathaniel Hawthorne, in a letter to his publisher dated 1852.

In the text, Michaels has a male character who is a professor point out that there aren't any great books written by women. And she has another professor, a woman, point out that there are a number of eighteenth century novels by women, more than most people realize because they were rejected by critics. One such was published in 1791 and still read in 1912 by "housemaids and shopgirls." But of course it couldn't have been a great book because it was only read by women, uneducated women at that. Of course, in those days, what other kind of woman was there?

Today, the vampire novel has been adopted by educated women. And in the hands of women writers and readers, it has become transformed, and is still being transformed.

These new vampire novels are about "What is right?" more than they are about "Who is right?" They are about changing what we consider right. They are about changing the way people relate to each other, about whether or not the underdog ought to win, about whether or not a tyranny should be overthrown and why. They are about developing the skills needed to change the historical situation depicted by Michaels in Houses of Stone - that anything a woman says may safely be discounted.

Art is the correct tool for change. Not force, not warfare, not violence, but art. Overthrowing tyranny by war is an attempt to change the walls before changing the foundation. Either nothing happens or the building falls down. To say that tyranny should not be overthrown is not to say that tyranny is good. It's to say the tool for change is not violence. Violence can't create change. Art can.

Even as we speak, several fanzines are being published containing original universe vampire stories that could not be sold commercially. They violate commercial requirements the same way those early eighteenth century women's novels violated commercial guidelines. They shake up the astral plane images and make people subliminally uncomfortable.

As I watch sf/f evolving on TV, I also watch the evolution of fan fiction in the amateur press. And I explore the astral plane through my own fiction and the fiction other people write in my universes. I see a change happening.

Most of those creating that change are not trained magicians. There will be a lot of collateral damage when those changes manifest. Art is more powerful than war.

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



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