Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Where Do You Do Your Living? "
Mansions of Darkness by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor Books hardcover, 1996
Full Moon Dreams by Lori Handeland, Love Spell Romance, 1996
Waiting for the Moon by Kristin Hannah, Fawcett, 1995
A Vampire in the Theatre by Nanci Folsom Casad, private publication, 1983, 1995; POB 49, Savoy, IL 61874
You are reading the October issue, but I'm writing this at the beginning of August, on my way off for a long, complex road trip ending in a week at the World Science Fiction Convention over Labor Day Weekend in Anaheim, California.
I managed to snag an advance copy of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's '96 Saint-Germain novel (her vampire character who has become so famous) and just finished reading it, along with a fanzine Vampire novel, A Vampire in the Theatre which I picked up at the Star Trek Convention near Baltimore, Maryland just after the 4th of July, Shore Leave, where Joan Winston and I were guest speakers.
The weekend after Shore Leave, I was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Lunarians in Manhattan, one of the oldest science fiction fan organizations (I think it is the oldest!) who hold the annual regional convention, Lunacon.
At Shore Leave, one of the program items I did was a single about the future of science fiction in cyberspace, where I spoke of the origins and future of the Internet and the Web. At the Lunarians meeting, I used some of the audience comments from that talk at Shore Leave to enlarge upon that topic, and added some material I had heard in a speech Isaac Asimov gave at the American Booksellers Association annual show some years ago in Washington, D.C. I then brought in some material I had gleaned while a guest in the Santa Cruz, California home of Robert Heinlein many years before his death.
As it happened, three of the Lunarians at the meeting were sysops (operators of systems those responsible for running a "site" on the Internet (the term usually applies to Bulletin Board operators)).
One of these very knowledgeable folks volunteered to stand by as a consultant for the group of fans (about twelve people so far) which is preparing to launch a Website where we will post fan-written fiction set in my professionally published sf series, The Sime/Gen Universe Novels (which novels may also be posted on the Web as soon as technical difficulties are solved).
I have spent a good fraction of my time during the last few weeks gathering and cross-connecting two e-mail writers' workshops, one general sf for AOL members and the other, Sime/Gen. In the opening sessions, I've challenged these beginners to reconsider the purpose of writing fiction (when one person agonized over convincing readers of her thesis in a particular story), and I've delivered a Lichtenberg-original treatise on conflict as the core of the storyteller's art that seems to have ignited a few light-bulbs over people's heads.
In addition to the Sime/Gen Fan Website where fiction will be offered free, we are also at the verge of launching a Sime/Gen Listserve (I discovered why they invented Listserve by taking a pratfall or two in cyberspace: my Mailing Lists for these fan groups grew too large!).
The other "place" I have been spending time is on AOL itself, inside the Fiction Forum, Science Fiction Spotlight Boards. There we have a lively discussion of Babylon 5 vs. ST:Voyager going under the topic The Death of SF on TV, and it's getting into some truly murky and profound waters. Meanwhile, a small subset of the e-mail writer's workshop folk have paused to discuss Hitler's religious convictions, arguing over whether they were religious convictions or not, thus getting into the whole definition of religion and dealing with the concept "faith."
One might suppose these two subjects, B5 vs. Voyager and Hitler's religion, might not be connected especially not with vampires, werewolves and Love At First Sight. But as I've been contemplating the questions the Guardian at the Gate tends to use to blindside seekers when first we venture out of body through the Gate and onto the astral, seeking initiation I've remembered a question we have not discussed in this column. It's one of my Guardian's favorites. I remembered it while bumbling around in the material world to all of these prosaic and unremarkable places. At least to me, in my life conventions and fan meetings and trips, letter discussions and personal friendship with other writers obtuse philosophical points are prosaic and unremarkable because they are so common.
And that question is "Where do you live?" or "Where do you do your living?" Yes, it's another "trick" question your mailing address won't answer it. You must first consider the definition of "where" and the definition of "living" and yes, please note that this little question also contains that ghastly word, you, that we've been wrestling with for months now. To answer this question, you must include an assumption about your identity and to do that, you must consider all the questions we've discussed in that regard over the last ten months or so. "Where Do You Live?" is a dreadfully difficult question.
Notice the catalogue of common activities in my life. Write a catalogue of your own common activities. Think hard about this exercise and connect those activities into a pattern. Then read the books listed above or as many of them as you can lay hands on, and whatever non-horror genre vampire novels, time travel novels, and novels about immortals that you can lay hands on this October. Think about where these characters live and what constitutes life.
That's where the vampire novel excels as a metaphor for our current era.
In the August issue of The Monthly Aspectarian, the Breakthrough Books column by Eric Ferguson focuses on a book titled Paradigm Wars: Worldviews for a New Age by Mark Woodhouse, Frog Ltd., North Atlantic Press. On page 12 of TMA there is a boxed quote from this book, making the point that while we are in the middle of a "paradigm change," we can't see how it will come out. Only historians of the next century will be able to distinguish the important threads from the trivial ones.
Woodhouse's point is true as far as it goes. I wonder: would Woodhouse have been so sure if he were a dedicated aficionado of science fiction? Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, two of the founders of modern science fiction and sf fandom and the Lunarians, not only foresaw much of what is happening today, but also provided causative input for the process. People who grew up on their novels, shared their dreams, then made those dreams come true just as many who grew up on Gene Roddenberry's vision in Star Trek, have made some of that vision come true.
In the Kabbalistic paradigm, the 9th sepherah is called Yesod, Foundation. Many authorities associate Yesod with the Moon and the astral plane and the astral is where we go when we imagine. It is the foundation of material reality the "place" where ectoplasm exists, where the true shape of the body is intact. If you wish to change your weight, for example, you must change the shape of your astral body in your imagination before you can succeed in creating permanent change in physical reality. Those who have access to the astral plane via the Guardian at the Gate can return with memory of what they've seen intact. The astral is "above" (at a higher potential energy) the Material.
To those who do not have access to the astral, events on the material plane (Malkuth in the Kabbalistic paradigm), which are the result of change wrought on the astral, seem chaotic, unpredictable, bewildering. Things which have already been determined seem to them to be as yet undetermined. They may work hard to create something other than what has already been determined by imagination of a majority Group Mind on the astral, and find that their efforts are to no avail. They will then conclude that nobody can predict which way things will move.
And of course, they are correct. When you're in the middle of a hand-to-hand combat among several armies, it is chaos, and nothing is determined. That's why the Generals command from a hilltop (or orbital satellite view) where they can see what's happening. And that's why we've been discussing how to get past the Guardian at the Gate and enter the astral plane, to get up high enough to see what's happening.
In the forties and fifties, fans and pros in the sf field (I remember this because I was an active member of fandom in the fifties) largely believed that first someone must imagine, then someone else can build. Mankind could not create anything that had not first been imagined. And sf fans and pros alike were in the business of imagining the unimaginable challenging the limits, shaping the stuff of the astral plane.
Those with a magickal view of the universe will be able to read the history of space travel, NASA, and the Internet, the computer and everything that has come from it and with it, and see it all as a direct result of the imagination of these people organized and focused by a small but intense Group Mind fandom. That Group Mind is much larger and far more intense today and functioning in cyberspace at a far faster pace. And it's not the only Group Mind functioning in this manner. There are many such groups, and some are at cross-purposes with others. The cyberscape is complex.
So, while I can understand Woodhouse's view on the matter of not being able to see what the new paradigm will be as a professional futurologist, I don't accept his view. I recognized what Star Trek was the very first time I saw it I wrote my predictions down in a book titled Star Trek Lives! from Bantam books in 1976. I wasn't guessing. I wasn't predicting. I was simply reading the astral the way you read the newspaper.
"Recognizing" hinges on knowing where you live and thus where humanity is living. Change will manifest where we're living. It's as simple and as complex as that.
So, let's examine that question Where do you live?
Let's start with the concept "live." How do we tell what "life" and "living" really are how do we recognize "living"? I have in past columns noted that reading novels about immortals (or the long-lived), vampires in particular, can jar you out of your mundane perspective and give you an overview of history that can cast your current, present life into a different frame (especially if you have some residual memory of past lives). Of all the writers of vampire fiction, Yarbro has best captured that definition of life and put it right into the foreground of her novel series about Saint-Germain.
This year's offering, Mansions of Darkness is just the same as all the others but also different. As in the other novels, Saint-Germain (known here as San Germano because this is South America in the mid-1600's, under Spanish/Portuguese domination) arrives in Cuzco, establishes himself in the moneyed upper classes, is presented with a crisis (an earthquake) in which he must (as a priest of long dead civilizations) exercise his healing craft to help his neighbors. Eventually, this gets him into trouble with the Church. (He is, after all, a better healer than anything Europe could produce at that time for he was trained in Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs.) His welcome comes crashing down around his head.
The difference is that this novel continues beyond the point where he must flee his newly established home, and it has a different ending than usual. However, one sentence at the end brings us up sharp, knowing there is much more about to happen that Saint-Germain can't even anticipate.
In the course of this novel, Saint-Germain acquires and loses two loves and gets himself literally crucified in the sun. Ordinarily, if he finds a love at all in the space of a novel there is only one. So the scope and length of this novel is more than the usual and so is the price for the hardcover: $24.95. And what can we learn from this novel about what life is?
From this novel alone, maybe not much but taken in the context of all the Saint-Germain novels listed in chronological order (Ariosto, Better in the Dark, Blood Games, A Candle for D'Artagnan, Crusader's Torch, Darker Jewels, A Flame in Byzantium, Hotel Transylvania, Mansions of Darkness, Out of the House of Life, The Palace, Path of the Eclipse), perhaps something unique.
These novels, more than any vampire novels I've yet encountered, including the TV series I love so much, Forever Knight, define the concept "undead" as different from living and dead. In Mansions of Darkness, Yarbro gives us two quick, connected cycles in Saint-Germain's existence to study back to back. And we experience these cycles through his eyes and mind, being part of his thoughts about how these things have occurred in his existence before, over and over. If you've already read the previous novels, you can see the pattern that is only just barely there for Saint-Germain.
Here we observe an existence in which living isn't happening, and by its absence we can know exactly what it is that we have that Saint-Germain doesn't. It is an intangible and can't really be put into a single English word. To communicate, language must use mutually agreed upon referents, and this intangible called Life is not the same for any two people. Just check out my catalogue of activities above and compare it with your own to see what I mean. Life and Living are unique, idiosyncratic experiences. They can't be defined by their presence. Yarbro's genius has defined them for us by their absence. Only in the vampire novel (or some other immortal who requires a living being's love for sustenance) could this be done.
Now, I said that this intangible couldn't be put into a single English word. But if there exists such a word in the OED, Yarbro will find it and use it for us in a sentence. It's a game she plays in addition to telling a rip-roaring good story against a historical background upon which she comments without passing value judgments. In each novel, Yarbro inserts one word that will send most people to the dictionary. The word for this novel is on page 404 that's always assuming you looked up the words in the previous novels and memorized them.
Personally, I prefer to think of life as inextricably coupled to growth and change. I "live" where I do my growing and changing. But that isn't necessarily true for everyone. I do my living where I do my growing and changing and I meet and embrace that process with joy and zest, and considerable pleasure. Some people might live only where they are safe. Others might live only where they are in control. The possibilities are as varied as are the people who live.
Which brings us to Full Moon Dreams which suffers from many of the problems the new fantasy-romance genre is prone to. The relationship depicted here is a "love at first sight" type. The novel spans months of time spent in a traveling circus of the 1870s; in that whole time, nothing happens to reveal each lover's inner makeup and deeper strengths. Nothing that happens "onstage" in this novel, before our eyes, allows us to understand why these two people are deeply, karmically, destined for each other.
However, I suspect that if the author had turned her talents to depicting the deeper details of the relationship, it would never have been published. Readers of "first sight" stories want to identify with the characters, and the more the author reveals of the internal details of the characters, the fewer readers will be able to identify with them. If the characters are embedded in a heroic situation, and are doing heroic things (like killing werewolves in a spooky forest or worse yet, becoming a werewolf whose only hope for a cure is to be killed by the woman who loves him!) then the typical readers of "first sight" stories won't be able to identify with these characters at all.
Heroes think heroically and solve problems differently than those who have low self-esteem and have never "gone to the mat" for a principle, never mind for a lover.
Heroes "do their living" somewhere other than where non-heroes live.
To sell this novel, the author had to provide a template-character for the readers to identify with not admire from afar, but identify with. And the male lead character had to be recognizable to the female readers as someone they might have a crush on. The author has done a fair job of that by disallowing a real individual identity for both lead characters. Those of you seriously struggling with the question Who Are You? might read this novel for a definition of identity by its absence.
Now here is where this novel stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Lori Handeland has a craftsmanship beyond the usual Romance Genre she bears the signature of a literary talent of the first order. She has here demonstrated that with a smooth and unerring integration of the fantasy premise of the werewolf (well researched) with the weary but undying romance formula. And it's simple and elegant, a conflict addressed directly and resolved meticulously.
In sf/f the formula requires the relationship to be the complication to the action; in romance formula, the action is the complication to the romance. And that's what Handeland has done. The werewolf threatens the relationship and the action is focused on vanquishing the threat to the relationship.
To accomplish this, she had to stretch the process of becoming a werewolf over a number of months. I believe this book was rewritten in order to get the premise and story-logic to "compile" properly (as they say in computerese). The scars show in the calendar of months and new moons and references to elapsed time. Romance Genre is a low-margin business, and one can't expect meticulous copyediting here. I think they all did a superlative job of making this unique novel "work," and it is a page-turner. It also says something about "where we all live." The werewolf has the prospect of being very long lived indeed, but he's an 1870s contemporary a physician, and a war veteran. The perspective on the ancient world that Saint-Germain gives us is lacking here, but that perspective is replaced by a threat to life. The response called forth from the characters defends life, and by that, defines it.
The characters undergo a change in the "where" that they live in, and that defines the "where" to a certain extent. A worthy entry into the exploration of difficult questions. But there's a lot more to be said on this question.
Waiting for the Moon by Kristin Hannah is another peculiar entry into this discussion. I must confess I cried all the way through this thing and often wasn't sure exactly why. It hit a nerve and that's what good books should do, get under your skin and target parts of your psyche you didn't know were there.
This is a novel about a woman who doesn't remember who she is. She stumbles into an isolated mansion where a man, a brilliant physician, is hiding from the world because of a painful telepathic gift. Turns out she's immune to his psychic power. The back cover says that he begins to believe in life again which is why I picked it up and why it belongs in this column with Mansions of Darkness. When you lose something, the hole it leaves behind defines it. When you regain it, it usually doesn't fit back into its hole anymore and adjustments must be made. Both of those processes define the thing that's been lost and regained. Think about that.
And now we come to A Vampire in the Theatre. It's not really fair of me to review this here since you can't buy it in stores but must order it. Yet when has that ever stopped me? I think this is an important novel, though it's "rated" PG-13 and is aimed at the high school age reader, a readership where the vampire is a very popular figure. This has a contemporary setting and flashbacks to the 1800s, and is told by a young girl who falls in love with a mysterious stranger she suspects is a vampire (and who is).
If you manage to get a copy of this, read my August column again on the rules of evidence, for this novel fits into that column as well as this one.
Here we have a unique theory of vampirism and the story of a vampire who's dying of old age after barely a century. This one also includes shape-changing as Saint-Germain doesn't. Casad's vampire also lives mostly on animal blood and human love. But Casad uses an old theater for her setting, and a young girl who has a full blown aspiration to dedicate her whole life to the theater arts.
No, she's not star-struck and doesn't dream of being a superstar, being "discovered" without any effort on her own part, or solving all the world's problems while she's still a child. She has a true vocation for the art of the theater, and the truth of that vocation is made clear in all her attitudes. She runs the lights in a little theater group's productions when they rent an old building and she discovers, high above the stage, a secret room with a vampire walled inside.
The entire first half of the novel is straight formula adolescent fantasy romance, and I read it with rapt absorption. I couldn't understand why it had been published as a fanzine. The center section revealed the flaw nothing serious that another rewrite couldn't have cured had any editor known how to explain it to this writer and the final section of the novel returned to solidly conforming formula and ends properly with a dose of reality.
The elements which lift this fanzine above the dross and make it worth studying reside in the theme and the art behind the cranked-out formula. The vampire is a fantasy element, and the woman who falls in love with him has a vocation for fantasy creation. She falls in love with the man, not the vampire (as does the female hero of Full Moon Dreams who falls in love with the man, not the werewolf). Most of Saint-Germain's lovers also fall in love with Fancisco himself, not the vampire. But Saint-Germain is so old, and chose his condition as part of his warrior-priesthood, that the person and the vampire are fused totally into one. His is a proud and sacred condition, not a curse.
In this theatre novel, the young woman who falls in love with the vampire is just a bit too heroic, too well drawn, too detailed and fleshed out. Handeland is a best-selling author, much celebrated and with a fast growing list of titles to her credit. Her lead characters are not revealed in enough depth for us to see what attracts them to one another. It is just love at first sight, and no question at all but that correct action requires the pursuit of such a thrilling experience at all costs.
Casad questions all those assumptions, gives us good solid personality traits that clearly are responsible for the karmic lock the vampire and the girl have on each other. It is love at first sight, rationalized and then re-ignited, irresistible, inevitable, and perfectly proper and worth every sacrifice. Her characters have a dimensional reality that the best-selling author lacks. This could be another reason that the novel is available as a fanzine. The professional market wants ciphers in the lead characters in juvenile romance genre.
Yarbro can get away with fully realized characters because she's marketing to the general readership the best-seller readership of literary historicals. The Saint-Germain novels have a vampire in them, but are not vampire novels. They have romance in them, but are not romance novels. They have a ghoul in them, but are not horror. She has edged as close to literature as you can get and have genre elements embedded.
When push comes to shove, I much prefer Casad's writing to Handeland's or Hannah's. Casad has a chance to succeed Yarbro and Rice at the top of the field. Handeland's genius might remain buried unless she's doing other things in other fields under other names. Yet the only place I've seen the Casad byline is in a fanzine.
And there's your answer to the question of where Jacqueline Lichtenberg lives. In fandom. That's where I grew up. That's where I still grow. That's where I find change happening. That's where zest and joy and whoops of glee happen for me. That's where "Aha!" happens. That's where the Important Things are going on. That's where it's possible to see the new paradigms emerging and get your hands on them and participate in shaping them. In fandom, you find the leading-indicators. On the professional fiction shelves you find the trailing-indicators (to borrow from economic statistics parlance).
They're both important, to be sure. But I'm an Aries, like Captain Kirk, an explorer with an eye on the horizon.
The change, the experimentation, the innovations, the explorations of the unknown, the journeys in consciousness and the formulations of new realities, the growth, are happening in sf/f and media fandom and those fandoms have moved from snail-mail to the Internet/Web and e-mail and are thus more accessible to everyone than they have ever been before. Along with them are the other "interest groups" such as students of the occult a thriving and complex world accessible through the Monthly Aspectarian Website ( http://www.lightworks.com/MonthlyAspectarian ).
Come join us in creating the Paradigm for the New Age. Remember that there are always those who think that something cannot be seen if they can't see it or if it violates their rules of evidence.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
Until I get the direct links installed here, you can 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.
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg