Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

November, 1994

"Secret Masters of the Universe"


Secret Masters of the Universe

Alien Heat by Lynn S. Hightower (Ace sf, 1994).

Sundowner by Chris Claremont (Ace sf, 1994).

Specters of the Dawn by S. Andrew Swann (DAW Books, 1994).

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen hc, 1994).

Dark Mirror, Dark Dreams by Sharon Green (Avonova, 1994).

Star Trek: Cacophony, J. J. Molloy, Simon & Schuster Audio Original tape. (No author's name on front of box!).

Eternity by Lori Herter (Berkley Romance, 1993).

The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton (Ace Fantasy, 1994).

Knights of the Blood: At Sword's Point, by Scott MacMillan (ROC Fantasy, 1994).

Mina by Marie Kiraly (Berkley, 1994).

In my August column, I dove fearlessly into the turgid waters swirling around the complex topics of Art and Government. In that issue, I focused on a set of books about who would be king, not how to be king. In the September column, I tackled Television, Power and Government, and focused on a number of "spin-off" books from TV and movies, looking for the evolution of the science fiction/fantasy artform in other media and I discussed the politics of violence on TV. I also opened the discussion for the October column, Might, Right, Art And Government, about the difference between how we determine "Who is right" and "What is right."

I discussed my personal occult definition of art at some length, and concluded that art is the effective tool for change in human society because it operates first on the astral plane, then manifests. If guided by an accomplished magician, such change manifests with a minimum of collateral damage. Art is the preferred tool for change, not force, not warfare, not negotiation, not violence.

In these columns, we discussed novels about the overthrow of tyranny, and the unconscious assumptions built into our social fabric that dictate that tyranny must always be overthrown. I concluded that to say that tyranny should not be overthrown is not to say that tyranny is good. It is to say that overthrowing is not how to get rid of tyranny. (We have overthrown tyranny millions of times over millions of years, and it hasn't worked yet. Don't we ever learn?)

We must invent another method.

Strangely enough, by the sheer random chance you and I solemnly believe in — ahem — well, I have just read five novels about one of the favorite and most successful methods tyrants from all ages have developed. Here are five authors who have used art to display one of the invidious methods by which tyrants jerk our chains — without our ever knowing we've been had.

Taken together, these five novels ask the kind of questions that should deeply disturb a dedicated student of magick.

I'm talking about a basic principle of human psychology: as long as the person doesn't notice they're being manipulated, the manipulator can get away with anything.

Since these five novels belong to the action/adventure genre of heroic fiction, they all have main viewpoint characters who discover they are being manipulated. In each novel, though, the reaction to the discovery is idiosyncratic. That is what validates these novels as art, though they are disguised as category trash for the purposes of publication and distribution.

Alien Heat is the third Elaki novel from Lynn S. Hightower, a police procedural sf novel set in the near future when Earth is beginning to join the interstellar community and aliens reside on Earth. A police team of an alien and a human are gradually uncovering the plots and conspiracies by anti-human Elaki and by anti-Elaki humans. In this book, they deal with an Elaki cult and a pattern of arson. This is an enjoyable "good read" with just the right touch of humor amid the realistic police work. Read this book when you need to kick back and chill out.

Chris Claremont's Sundowner is also third in a series and has the earmarks of a conclusion of a trilogy. (The first book, Firstflight, I reviewed some time ago. It's about a woman U. S. Air Force pilot in the days of first contact with an alien species. The second book is Grounded! ) All three books are about this woman and her career after being among the first to make contact.

In Sundowner, a conspiracy is revealed between the aliens and our own high command to keep her career on hold. She punches her way out of that box as soon as she discovers it exists. Then she challenges the aliens on their own turf and wins the day. In the process, she picks up an experimental cybernetic link to a space ship's systems — and the complications from that could form yet another book. This is a book to read when you've got problems with authority figures.

Specters of the Dawn by S. Andrew Swann is yet another third in a series. It's about the bioengineered animal species of earth, turned into "perfect soldiers" for a recently completed war. Now Earth has to accept these bioengineered animals as people, and it's not surprising that things aren't going too well. This third novel focuses on one of my least favorite characters, a female "rabbit". The main character in the first novel that I liked very much was a tiger who was a private detective, but he's now grown too old for the active life of adventure because these folks live very short lives.

S. Andrew Swann has created a complex human/nonhuman society on Earth for the background of these novels, but he's added one even more complicated bit to it. Nonhuman invaders from outer space have infiltrated Earth's society, politics, wars, and economics. Ensconced for decades, they've done a lot of damage. Earth's nonhumans uncover the alien manipulators and go to war to throw off that invisible yoke of tyranny. They do a good job of it, too, considering that humans despise them.

Speaking of complex backdrops for series, Lois McMaster Bujold has created a wondrously realistic complexity for her Miles Vorkosigan stories. The '94 hardcover release, Mirror Dance, is a sequel to Brothers in Arms, and involves the "twin clone" of Miles. This clone is a fully realized person in his own right, but his life's parameters have been dictated by the wheels within wheels of conspiracies. Miles-the-Original likewise is in a life dictated by conspiracies and assassination plots. Both of them decide to fight fire with fire, and counter-conspire on a grand scale. The interesting things happen when they conspire against each other. And then the original's parents get into the act.

Mirror Dance isn't quite the rollicking laugh-a-minute romp of the previous books, which are not comedies by any means. It takes up the very real question of identity for a clone, and works through those questions with integrity and honor. I loved this book because I loved these characters, but I recommend that you read some other Miles Vorkosigan books before tackling books with two Mileses in them.

The fifth novel of my current group, set in a universe where magic is more useful than science, is even more complex than Mirror Dance and perhaps more delightful because of that. Sharon Green's Dark Mirror, Dark Dreams is also a third in a series. (Do you suppose there's some mystical significance to the number three and the concepts behind covert manipulation?)

The other two in this trilogy are Silver Princess, Golden Knight and The Hidden Realms, which I've reviewed previously, both from Avonova. The first is about a man and woman who go on an adventure across parallel universes. The second is about a different man and a different woman who meet and go on an adventure across parallel universes. In both books, the man/woman teams discover they are being manipulated by a secret society of sorcerers hidden within the society of sorcerers they know about and belong to.

In this third book, Dark Mirror, Dark Dreams the two pairs meet and face a challenge which the secret society of sorcerers tells them "only they" can conquer. This challenge, too, requires a trip across parallel universes. Since the main weapons are magic that acts at a distance, the four of them have a hard time telling which sets of enemies are sending what spells at them. In order to outfox their manipulators, they have to change marital partners. The emotional flak flies thick and fast, and the ending of these three books where "all is revealed" is magickly satisfying and perfect. These four characters prevail because of the strength of their honor, integrity and emotional bonding, not because of strength of arms or skill at violence.

These five books (more if you read the connected prequels) explore various aspects of the use and abuse of power to get other people to do what you want them to do. In most instances, the power that's used is human psychology — using the individual's personal traits against them. It's a form of martial art that reaches its perfection in judo and akido.

As Dion Fortune has written, magic is applied psychology. Studying these books can reveal to you not only how others manipulate you, but how many different honorable and dishonorable ways there are to respond. Many schools of magic conduct students on a series of initiations designed to empower. The first five steps up these initiatory paths are usually "about" various forms of psychological power — the knowledge of your own psyche and that of others. Knowledge is power. How you use it will determine your fate — your karma — your destiny.

When you have the knowledge of your own psyche firmly in hand, the secret masters of the universe can manipulate away with all their might and not deflect you from your personal agenda. Imbibing art of the type represented by these five novels can, if you study intensely enough, reveal to you your own method of deciding what is right. When you can see yourself deciding what is right, you then have the power to get rid of tyranny in your life without overthrowing it. Overthrowing tyranny is akin to a fisherman trying to rid a fishing ground of starfish by cutting them up.

Keep in mind, though, that you are buying this art from a retail market that is dedicated to serving the majority. Therefore, even the best art that you can lay hands on from commercial sources will come wrapped in assumptions that, as I discussed last month, support the

propositions that Tyranny Must Be Overthrown Because It's Evil and that The Underdog Should Win.

Starfleet is not exactly an underdog in most Star Trek adventures. However, the writers do come up with very tricky and sometimes formidable foes for our intrepid adventurers. The latest entry I draw to your attention is just a fun thing for the dedicated ecology nuts like me. One of the best kinds of sf I have always loved is the first-contact story, and I especially love the ones where a new planet throws an ecological twist at the hapless human intruder. In this case, it's Captain Sulu who runs into a civilization with a strange interdependence between psychological stability and a type of tree growing on the planet.

This is another "original audio" — a tape that was never a book. One cassette, 70 minutes, $12.00. Not cost effective unless you have a lot of people who want to hear this tape. But it's delightful, and the production values are top notch. It's read mainly by George Takei, and he does a grand job.

Now, my honorable mentions for this month. Lori Herter's Eternity is the fourth in the series, Obsession, Possession, Confession, that I've mentioned before. It's a romance between a mortal woman and a vampire. The vampire becomes mortal by reversing the curse in the third book. But it's made clear that the reversal may not last. In Eternity, I expected him to revert. He didn't. The dramatic punch was pulled and I was very disappointed. Then I began to think. Dramatically, one needs a false alarm or two to drive one to utter complacency before the real disaster strikes. Maybe there's more to this story. If so, then this book will become a very important entry in the series. If not, the series ends with a whimper, not a bang. So I'm withholding judgement on this one.

The Laughing Corpse by Laurel K. Hamilton is the sequel to the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel I reviewed some months ago, Guilty Pleasures. In this universe, vampires have been legally enfranchised in the U.S. and are multiplying rapidly. In the first novel, our intrepid vampire hunter helps to put a very ancient vampire on the throne of Master of the City. Her problem is that this very powerful vampire has fallen in love with her. Worse yet, now in the second book, we discover that to maintain his position and keep control of the thirsty hordes, he must demonstrate his control over her. He conspires to do so. She discovers the covert manipulations and resists. I'm dying to read the next one. These are good.

Knights of the Blood: At Sword's Point. This is the second Knights of the Blood novel. The first was called Knights of the Blood. The knights in question are vampires who fought in the crusades, and live in a remote castle today. Some of them are decent folks. Some not. Our hero is a mortal cop from Los Angeles. If you dislike Intimate Adventure, this is a book you'll like. The storyteller stays outside the emotional realities of the characters. But there's enough for the rest of us to imagine our way inside.

Lastly, Mina by Marie Kiraly. Check the copyright line inside for a name you've seen raved about in this column before. This is a story about the Mina from Dracula and it's good. It explores the addiction Mina must have suffered to Dracula's blood. If you really love the novel Dracula, then this is for you. But it somehow avoids being genuine Intimate Adventure.

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



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