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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

ReReadable Books

November 2011

"Sociological Fantasy"


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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Hunt the Moon by Karen Chance, Signet Select, June 2011

Dark Passages by Kathryn Leigh Scott, Pomegranate Press Ltd. July 2011

Blackout by Rob Thurman, RoC Fantasy, March 2011

Shady Lady by Ann Aguirre, RoC Fantasy, April 2011

For Heaven’s Eyes Only by Simon R. Green, RoC, June 2011

Alien In The Family by Gini Koch, DAW, April 2011

In this column, I highlight books that emerge as part of fiction trends echoing themes and trends in “the world.” 

This new century seems to have ushered in a debate revisiting the great philosophical questions of the Middle Ages.  In the middle of the 1900’s, we saw the rise of atheism along with a solemn unquestioning “belief” in science.  And right alongside those huge trends, we felt the rising tide of New Age thought raising all human consciousness, revisiting old gods and seeking new understandings of why this Ancient Wisdom “worked.”

Caught among these trends, we saw the Churches and traditional religious institutions losing attendance and thus funding.  Our organized religions fragmented, spawned cults, and became disorganized.  As a result, the charitable networks that had always supported “the poor” (though not with splendid results) dissolved, leaving the government to pick up that task (though not with splendid results). 

In the 1950’s, science fiction debated in story after story, the issue of what happens to people with an IQ less than 100 (average IQ) when all the jobs that pay a living wage require IQ120 or above, a plight overtaking us today.  That debate fell silent without an answer.  We had films like Soylent Green , and many stories sounding the alarm at the growing population causing pollution of the world.  And we had many SF novels about exporting our excess population, or our troublesome low-IQ or “rugged individualist, outlaws and mavericks” people to pioneer on other planets.

Today we don’t see that frantic energy behind those issues in science fiction – or in fantasy. 

In the early 1900’s, there was a sense among people, even those who didn’t consider themselves highly intelligent, that “science” had solved the world, and we had only to figure out how to apply that solution.  The first step was to get rid of religious superstition. 

Now we have generations raised on the worldwide web, Web 2.0+ and texting, twitter, facebook, etc.  And they do not feel personally conflicted over the issue of ridding the world of religious superstition.  Their world has been cleaned up, except for a crackpot minority, for science to produce marvels that they take for granted.  Instant, personal, worldwide communications, flashmobs, Presidents elected by facebook campaigns. 

The 2000’s produced a trend away from Science Fiction and toward Fantasy.  Since 2010, that trend has intensified.  Worldbuilding (making up a universe with different rules of physics, where magic works as well or better than science) now routinely includes all the Elder gods, demons who are sometimes more moral than humans, angels, supernatural creatures and shapechangers.  

When you look beneath the flashy, sexy, action centered, filmable imagery, you find something else going on that may be the real debate in our current Group Mind.

The worldwide social media society seems tormented by the same age-old questions that were solved and tabled by Middle Ages religions.  Ragnarok, Armageddon and similar terms are tossed around as if everyone knows what they mean (which they think they do from Gaming).  The conflict is Good vs. Evil, ending in filmable action-warfare. 

Many novels are now wrestling with a fundamental trait of human life depicted in the essential opposition of the Astrological 1st House vs. the Astrological 7th House.  This is the opposition between the uniqueness of the Individual vs. the conformity of the Group.

That opposition is built into human personality and biology, but does not specify whether the Individual is the Good – or whether the Group is the Good. 

In the 1950’s, the young generation’s mantra was “Different Is Dead.”  It was a world of Individualists being pounded into uniformity by Mass Production.  Read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock .

So today it’s “Different Is OK If You’re Just Like The Group.”  The social debate seems to be about whether Individualism (the rugged pioneers) is the Good or whether the Group (family, society, corporation, Church) is the Good.  Good must win.  But which is which?

Remember, last month I wrote in this column:

“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" 3 of 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.”

So this month let’s look at some novels that parse the problem of 1st House/ 7th House in this new paradigm of reality that includes dimensions of Nature forbidden to the great thinkers of The Middle Ages whose grip on our Group Mind has (apparently) been broken leaving confusion.

Karen Chance brings us Cassie Palmer, a kickass heroine of a fantasy series.  Cassie has inherited a magical position called Pythia, but a number of ancient gods or their children are trying to kill her before she gains full control of the Power.  She has killed one of the gods.  She’s got a Master Vampire boyfriend on her side, plus a Warlock who is half-Incubus royalty.  The Cassie Palmer novel Hunt the Moon consists of long, involved, eye-popping action scenes where creatures try to kill her, interspersed with few sex scenes.  When she’s exhausted by her feats, she gets rescued.  It’s about how established power figures resist the upstart climbing the social ladder.  And it’s about how established power “uses” the talents of those “beneath” them. 

Kathryn Leigh Scott, an actress from the TV Vampire-soap Dark Shadows (yes, I’m a fan), gives us Dark Passages , an urban fantasy about an actress with supernatural power who lands a part on a daytime TV soap about a Vampire.  I love this novel.  It portrays the life of a powerful person who refuses to abuse power, and shows how she becomes accepted into a Group without compromising Individuality.  You must read this book.  It’s a tonic!

Rob Thurman has several bestselling fantasy series, all just a shade of gray on the “Dark” side.  Cal Leandros lives in a very ugly universe.  Cal is only half human, but his non-human ancestors are now extinct (partly his doing).  He has joined a Group that uses his talents for killing.  In this novel, he wakes up with amnesia, his main support in life, his brother Niko, gone from his mind.  He has to confront his own opinion of himself.  This action novel is psychologically deep, and all about power, class, and being different.

Ann Aguirre’s Corine Solomon Novel, Shady Lady sites a review of mine from this magazine in the front.  Look for the signature Lightworks.  And yes, I like Ann Aguirre’s writing that much!  Shady Lady does not let you down.  Corine Solomon is a psychometrist who, in spite of her best efforts, is entangled in a Mexican Cartel war.  These Cartels use the powers of shamans, warlocks, voodoo priests, anyone they can buy or bully into doing dirty work.  Corine just wants OUT.  Not happening.  It’s all politics. 

For Heaven’s Eyes Only , a Secret Histories Novel by Simon R. Green is about what is Good and what is Bad.  Green argues all sides of the issue with deadly accuracy, but keeps the action rolling and the story roaring.  Eddie Drood, aka Shamon Bond, is born and bred a member of the Drood family, fraught with hierarchy, a family that is an army defending the world against Evil.  But some of the things they do – well, it makes you think and rethink what you think.  And all the while, you can’t put these books down. 

Green writes with wild, sometimes campy, humor, and a bit of detachment from the human condition that spices his work nicely.  He creates consistent, if unbelievable, universes.  The characters make the universe real to you, while the universe makes the character real for you.  If you’re trying to learn to write, study these books.

In the same vein of graphic-novel wild action/humor, we have Alien In The Family , sequel to Alien Tango which I raved about here in August, 2011.  Gini Koch is creating a sub-genre of a sort.  Her main interest is comics and graphic novels, stories in pictures.  She captures those pictures in words.  Her wild humor infuses her characters’ attitudes as they defend Earth, even though they are alien refugees hiding on Earth.  In Alien In The Family , our kickass heroine has won the right, by political maneuvering against entrenched power, to marry her Alien Soul Mate (who’s a real hunk by human standards).  She has made herself indispensable to the Group of the aliens, and seeks acceptance.  This novel is about her wedding when the in-laws show up.  WARNING: tape your ribs before reading!   

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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