Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

November, 1993


"Where No One Has Gone Before"



No, this column isn't about STAR TREK, though I've gladly spent more than twenty years of my life in that universe and still avidly read fanzines based on it. At ConFrancisco this past Labor Day weekend, I found a wonderful Intimate Adventure novelette which is a love story told from Odo's point of view with the most gorgeous shapeshifter sex scene I've read in a long time. But it's too short. I was left wanting to know everything that happened next. I highly recommend this one. It's called "For There Is Much To Dare" by Susan Crites and it's from Chained to the Typewriter Press, 6109 Rd. HH..7 Lamar, CO 81052. It's a spiral bound, 71 page fanzine with no artwork but as many words as will fit a page, and every one of them a gem of a word. Don't send money, send a SASE for an order form and description, (it's likely to sell out fast) or look up the Poison Pen Press table at the next northeast regional you attend.

But this column is about space adventure, interstellar societies, nonhumans, and what can be learned of the esoteric arts where no one has gone before.

Damia by Anne McCaffrey, Ace/Putnam hc, 1992, Ace pb Feb. 1993.

Starbridge 4, Serpent's Gift, by A. C. Crispin and Deborah Marshall, Ace, May 1992.

Dancer of the Sixth by Michelle Shirey Crean, Del Rey March 1993.

Jaydium by Deborah Wheeler, DAW May 1993.

Chanur's Legacy by C. J. Cherryh, DAW Sept. 1992

Legend of the Duelist by Rutledge Etheridge, Ace July 1993

Forests of the Night by S. Andrew Swann, DAW July 1993

Hero by Daniel R. Kerns, Ace October 1993

As some of you may have noticed, I really love series. Anne McCaffrey is one of my favorite writers. I believe I mentioned her dragon riders of Pern while discussing Intimate Adventure in my first two columns here. Now I want to point you at another continuing series she has which is set in a universe where interstellar travel is dependent on the Talented who have telepathy and teleportation down pat.

The Talented man stations where they use their talent to go into gestalt with generators that supply the energy to throw ships from star system to star system. Earth Prime, the most powerful of the Talented, administers the system.

In Damia, the children of The Rowan -- one of the Talented -- must face invaders from outside the stars settled by humans from Earth. The first two contacts are hostile, and the third -- well -- read it and see.

I believe this series began with To Ride Pegasus and continued with Pegasus in Flight (Del Rey pb 1991), which tells of the early days when the Talented fought for a place among normal humans. The Rowan tells of a very talented woman called The Rowan who stirs up a storm while she matures and masters her talent. Damia is her daughter. And Damia's Children should be available now from Ace/Putnam.

While McCaffrey's version of ESP doesn't have the depth of reality for me that Marion Zimmer Bradley's does, McCaffrey here deals with integrating the fully developed Esper into human society. By implication, McCaffrey's universe challenges much of the vision that science paints of our universe -- what if ESP is the key to faster than light travel and communication?

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels discuss the uncrossable rift between esp and science/technology. I see that rift very clearly manifest in our 20th century world and so Darkover is a very believable fictional construct for me.

McCaffrey's Talented universe welds science to technology in inextricable cooperation. That, to me, is a wishfulfillment fantasy -- but I like it a lot because it closely resembles the real world I see when I look from the Qabalistic point of view.

McCaffrey's Talented universe is also sociological science fiction -- painting a very nice, comfortable picture of an interstellar society that relies on the Talented and thus accepts them -- sort of. Flip back into reality mode and ask yourself, "What if we -- the real world espers -- don't have any such reliable, reproducible, economically vital, contribution to make? What then is our place?"

Another vision of the economically and socially important contribution of the Sensitive or the Esper is painted for us in a shared universe invented by A. C. Crispin. Crispin's first novel was a Star Trek novel called Yesterday's Son about Spock's son by Zarabeth. She also did the novelization of V. Since then she's been working in her own universes and collaborating with Andre Norton.

Crispin wrote the first STARBRIDGE novel and went on to invite other authors to contribute novels. The premise is that a thinktank/university of oddly gifted, intelligent, offbeat and unusual people -- both human and not -- becomes an interstellar resource for solving problems with natives of just contacted worlds or with the uneasy alliance of worlds already in existence.

The organization exists to forge understanding and cooperation among the species of this union. Each contributing writer is free to invent their own problems, their own species, and their own protagonists. So far the series is thriving and successful, even though it deals with such delicate topics as the physically handicapped.

Again, though, this universe explores what would happen if the gifted, the different, the special, did find a vital contribution to make to the prevailing culture.

Another version of the unique contribution that could be made by unique people turns up in Dancer of the Sixth by Michelle Shirey Crean. I've never seen this byline before, but I will definitely be on the lookout for the next title by Crean.

The "Sixth" in question is a military intelligence service in an interstellar society. Dancer is the name of a woman who is an ace fighter pilot, and the story opens with her flying in an air show.

There's plenty of action, suspense and intrigue, but the story unfolds as Dancer must probe what actually happened to her during a period of her life she doesn't remember -- because the intelligence service had deliberately shrouded that time of her life with amnesia.

The psychological drama makes this a particularly interesting novel for the student of the occult. Ask yourself as you read whether any of this is really feasible.

But again notice in this novel, as in much of professionally published sf, the premise is that there does indeed exist a place in society for the unique, the different, the supremely talented, the exceptional. Ask yourself just how plausible is that -- in your own personal experience? How much of your energy is spent on "blending in" or "adjusting?"

Would the prevailing culture really accept differentness if it proved useful? Or would it just exploit that Talent and discard the husks?

Another version of sf's favorite wish-fulfillment-fantasy comes from Rutledge Etheridge -- Legend of the Duelist. In this interstellar society -- which is also facing alien invasion -- humankind has invented a special category for the irretrievably violent natured humans. Such people are trained as duelists and allowed to kill each other provided no bystanders or noncombatants get hurt. They also put on exhibitions of the martial arts for eager audiences. With the violent natured humans thus exploited, the rest of society is completely peaceful.

I'm not normally so cynical. Actually, I've truly enjoyed reading all of the books mentioned here, and I'm guilty of writing this type of wish-fulfillment fantasy. I'm the primary author of Star Trek Lives! the Bantam paperback about why people like Star Trek. Star Trek Lives! is about why it is a valuable, respectable, and urgently necessary exercise to plunge into a world where intelligent, imaginative, and telepathic people are accepted as friends.

One of the most important reasons to indulge in tons and tons of books which are "nothing but" wish-fulfillment fantasy is to define and identify your own personal wishes. The fulfillment, of course, must come from your own actions in your mundane existence -- the magic must be grounded. But before the operation can be designed, nevermind executed, the domain of the operation must be defined.

For those of us who have unusual talents or abilities which cause us to look at the universe differently, reading science fiction -- especially space-adventure sf -- can be the key to defining what our differentness is and how it can be used to fulfill our wishes without hurting others.

There's another type of space-adventure I also love. C. J. Cherryh has perfected the art of writing socio-political action adventure from a nonhuman point of view. There's no wish fulfillment fantasy involved in The Chanur Novels -- The Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecoming, and now, Chanur's Legacy.

Chanur is a clan of felinoid aliens, and the main characters of these novels come from that clan. I'm not going to try to summarize the 5 large books. The intimate and compelling adventure takes place against an interstellar society that does not (yet) include Earth. One lone earthman gets caught up in that society, and the balances of political power begin to shift irrevocably. Caught in the avalanche of cascading effects, Pyanfar Chanur and her sisters have to make decisions and act on the basis of incomplete information. And these felinoids aren't any better at understanding other species motivations than humans are.

Unlike the simple, wish fulfillment fantasy novel, nothing in this universe is clear-cut, no outcome is all good or all bad, and resolutions are fraught with unknowable consequences. This is a universe that has more of the "feel" of reality to it, and for me it is a more satisfying read than the simplistic views.

Any student of magic must be a student of culture. There is no way to perceive that you have a culture -- nevermind what that culture prevents you from thinking about -- until you step outside of it and look back. True, C. J. Cherryh's aliens aren't really nonhuman -- they are constructs of her very human imagination. But she is a dedicated student of culture and especially language. She uses her entertaining aliens to speak to us of our own quirks and foibles in a particularly penetrating way. The Chanur books are worth rereading many times. Don't miss them. Study them.

Remember The Word is the most powerful tool a magician has, and thus the understanding of the blinders that language imposes upon our thought processes is crucial to the formulation of effective magic. Fictional depictions of nonhuman thought processes can help the dedicated student transcend those limits.

Be warned that this is a dangerous journey, though. The one eyed man in the country of the blind is not always believed or welcomed.

Before I get too cynical again, let me point you to a time travel story: Jaydium by Deborah Wheeler. Jaydium is a rare substance used to power interstellar space ships. It's found on only one planet. During the course of this novel we discover that it has time-travel properties -- after all, you can't have a useful faster than light drive without also displacing in time. The two principle characters are flung deep into the planet's past and discover the source of the rare substance. An alien society self-destructed and their building substance became this rare and precious interstellar fuel.

The problem comes when the principle characters have a chance to stop that alien society from self-destructing.

But this is not a deep, philosophical novel -- it's a fast paced action/adventure about one tough woman and a man she is linked to via a mechanical means of inducing telepathic contact. It has every element that an sf novel needs to have to succeed. I hope I run into another Deborah Wheeler title soon!

For a change of pace, I have a nice little classic detective novel by S. Andrew Swann called Forests of the Night -- and no, it's not a vampire novel.

This one is set on Earth of the somewhat far future. Humans have been cross-engineered with various animal species to produce soldiers and other special talents. Culturally, these animal-human crossbreeds are human, but because they are different they are outcasts of a sort. One tiger-human is the main character, a struggling detective who is brilliant but unsung. He gets involved in a case and ends up with a lot of different people trying to kill him. It's a good thing he's the descendent of a famous breed of commandos.

This is a can't-put-it-down read that delivers as promised. I also loved the cover -- a man-tiger holding a rifle and a woman behind him -- you can't tell if she is about to try to kill him or kiss him.

But you can't tell a book by its cover, at least not these days. Honorable mention this month goes to Hero by Daniel R. Kerns. The cover is a closeup of a human wearing wrap around sunglasses and pointing a deadly, futuristic looking weapon. But the story is told from a nonhuman's point of view. This poor soul gets involved in flying a space combat mission with a human battle wing and is made a hero complete with medal to prove it -- but to his people, hero is a dirty word.

In my last column, I mentioned the vampire fanzine I had ordered called GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS. It's good. However, except for the two entries by professional writers, most of the stories suffer from the same problem found in so much fanzine fiction -- flawed conflict and suspense. Don't laugh -- conflict and suspense are very hard skills to master, and doing them both at the same time is much harder than walking and chewing gum.

Unfortunately, the vampire form requires both suspense and conflict cranked up to the highest pitch, and many of these stories fail for the lack of it. However, there is relish and delight in introducing favorite media characters such as Columbo and Starsky and Hutch to a "real" vampire. GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS is a very tame pg-13 rated 'zine. For more info. SASE Bill Hupe, Footrot Flats, 916 Lamb Rd., Mason, Mi. 48854-9445. Also ask for The Good Guy Vampire Letterzine. A Letterzine is a little magazine consisting of letters people write to each other, an open forum for discussion of vampires. Even you could contribute a letter

Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, New York, 10952.



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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg