Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword"
Once again we come to December and my annual rampage against The System. I refuse to review any books this month because I do not want to contribute to the Christmas Selling Season statistics.
So, this gives me the space to finish up some of the points I've touched on since the August column where I began the exploration of Art and Government. It also gives you a chance to read some of the books I've sent you out to buy. They must be piling up by now!
And . . . it is proper to pause and contemplate the True Spirit of the midwinter festivals. Whatever your tradition, this is a time for rebirth, the renewal of life, the rekindling of hope, and perhaps a bit of joy. The giving of gifts to mark this occasion is perfectly appropriate even essential. Being a bibliophile by nature, I consider a book the perfect gift for all occasions.
These last few months, we have been discussing how fiction is an artform that allows the reader access to the astral plane, and how useful and lasting social change starts as change on the astral plane and then manifests on the physical.
By reading a novel or watching a TV show, by imbibing fiction, one participates in a group mind exercise on the astral plane, molding, directing and nurturing the Foundation of Reality.
All the self-help books on transactional analysis, verbal self-defense, assertiveness training, how to fight fair in love and marriage, etc., etc., treat all forms of communication as variations on combat which in our society, it is. The best self-help books on communication try to teach you to set combat aside and negotiate peace and many teach you how to win at negotiating because it is a form of combat. The very best teach you to listen and understand how other people are feeling, so you can understand their motivations and thus defuse their hostility i.e., win the combat by disarming your opponent psychologically.
These are good books, and a very good approach, because they teach you how to cope with our society as it really is.
But, I submit that there is a bias so deeply ingrained in our way of parsing a problem, that we mistake the bias for objective reality. That bias is the assumption that the objective of communication, emotional and factual, is to determine who is right. This is done without reference to what is right.
For example, take the newest fad in politics, the televised debate. The concept "debate" holds within it the concept "determine what is right." In a debate, the central party throws down a proposition. The two participants then support or refute the proposition, matching fact to fact, until the onlookers can figure out whether the proposition is true or not based on the revealed facts and the precision tightness of the reasoning used to manipulate those facts.
I have never seen politicians do this on television. The televised political debate consists of one then the other expressing their opinion without reference to what the other party said. In a real debate, you are disqualified and lose by default if you fail to address the statements of the opposition. And you can't just say it's not true, you have to say why and prove it with facts.
Debating is the form developed in ancient times for determining what is right. We don't do it anymore.
Except in art.
Throughout this year, I have reviewed a large number of books grouped around central topics. I have pointed out the cases where I know that the authors are acquainted with each other and read each others' books. Because there is an active community of science fiction and fantasy writers, you should consider each novel you read as a statement in a dialogue a debate on the topic. If you do this, you will participate in the action on the astral plane where it really counts.
I pointed out last month that because you are buying your fiction from a retail market, you are getting it wrapped in the bundle of unconscious assumptions about reality specific to each market. This is why, for an science fiction/fantasy column, I occasionally review books published with labels other than sf/f . A book can be science fiction/fantasy and yet be wrapped in a different set of assumptions about Reality, and be published as something else.
Horror, romance, sf/f, mysteries, occult thrillers the list of genres is long and ever-growing. By reading carefully and noticing the label on the spine of the book, you can learn a lot about these invisible bundles of assumptions.
And they are most incredibly treacherous. The vast majority of commercially available fiction comes bundled inside assumptions already entrenched in our society. By reading without being aware of how these assumptions are woven into the fabric of the fiction, you participate in reinforcing those assumptions on the astral plane.
Much of the work done by the student of magick in the first twenty years of training is aimed at mastering the ability to focus the attention, being "mindful," "living in the now." It is by use of this focused magical attention that we are able to become effective on the astral plane, to learn to modify entrenched structured assumptions with grace and precision without causing chaos and damage.
It is at this dark of the year, this nadir of the year, that we begin such long-term endeavors.
I submit that this might be an appropriate year to launch a project to introduce interpersonal transactions to the astral-plane construct of our society, transactions designed to determine what is right, setting aside all consideration of who is right.
That is, not to obliterate the transactions having to do with who is right, but to add an alternative or to reinforce the shaky ghost-image of an alternative that once was available. And I suggest that novel-reading, participating in the group mind of the readers of a type of novel addressing this issue, is the most effective means of doing this. (It's a variant on sha-manistic storytelling.)
Since I started this column nearly two years ago, I have reviewed hundreds of novels. I've pointed out trends and identified a hidden genre developing inside other genres which I call Intimate Adventure. All the books I have recommended in all of these genres have something in common.
And no, it's not that they lack the pernicious assumptions of the social majority, such as "tyranny should be overthrown at all costs."
The hallmark of novels that I recommend here is that each one has a structure that I, personally, recognize as art. As I pointed out in the October column, for a work to be recognizable as art, it has to be congruent to the consumer's View of the Universe. Thus, people disagree on whether a given masterpiece is art, but the definition of what constitutes art is objective, equally true for everyone. I don't give bad reviews because my failure to recognize art in a masterpiece doesn't make it a bad masterpiece.
In the artform called a novel, the writer encodes View of the Universe information in the technical handling of point of view and conflict.
The writer is an artist whose medium is emotion and whose art is a performing art. The artist controls the reader's emotions by how deeply into the point of view character's emotions the narrative goes, how often point of view shifts, when it shifts, and to whom it shifts.
The writer can bring the reader into complete identification with the point of view character and let the reader live that character's initiatory experiences, emerging from the end of the novel older and wiser by that one karmic lesson. Or the writer can deny that access by constant and random shifts to other characters' points of view, by superficial contact with the point of view character's thoughts and feelings, and by cluttering the situation with so much immediate action that the characters never have time to think, feel or react thus, the reader doesn't either.
All of the novels I recommend are of the type which allow identification with the character and growth of that character by the end of the novel.
This type of novel says deep inside the art, that life makes sense, lessons can be learned, you are in command of your life, your choices matter, your feelings matter. Reading this type of novel is a validation of identity that makes you real to yourself. This kind of grounding is essential during any astral plane exercise because, as you all know, it is possible to become forever lost on the astral. I do not want to go on an astral plane ride with a driver who cannot validate my identity.
Disruptive and chaotic use of point of view shifts says that life doesn't make sense, learning lessons doesn't help, you are not in control, your choices don't matter, and your feelings are of no consequence. Your individuality is not valid.
Why then are floating point of view novels best sellers? Because "life is futile and pointless" is the prevailing philosophy of our society. If you immerse yourself constantly in this type of best seller, you are reinforcing the grip that that philosophy has on you and using your accrued magical power to reinforce that grip on everyone else.
We live our lives through one point of view, our own, and can only imagine what others think and feel except for the telepathic and empathic input that we open ourselves to when we begin magical studies. But even with telepathy and empathy fully enabled, we live our own singular life alone. We live one life at a time, even if we have conscious access to all our past life memories. When we make full empathic contact with someone, it happens because that person is living a similar or congruent lesson to the one we're living.
Thus, in a multi-point-of-view novel, I look for the thematic understructure that relates the story of one point of view character to another. Such a book can allow fuller access to the emotional reality of one character by illuminating him/her through the other. This is a much, much harder sort of book to write, believe me. If I don't find that thematic glue holding those characters together, I won't recommend the book in this column.
The commercial establishment is turning ever more strongly against this deep-identification type of novel. Recent scuttlebutt that's come down to me (agent/editor gossip) indicates publishers are almost unable to sell novels of this type. The vast majority of this type of novel are 75,000 to a 100,000 words long, single point of view, single problem and one clear climactic solution. Most of them are labeled in publisher's jargon, "mid-list."
Publishers say they ship them out and get them back as returns, selling very few. Now, editors aren't even reading this type of novel unless it's disguised as something else and they don't notice. (You won't see this type of novel disappear completely from the shelves for a year or two, and in the meantime, other sources may provide for us.)
The gossip I'm getting from readers is that they're starved to death for more of this kind of material. The system is broken.
But do not despair. Under the surface, and outside the commercial arena, things are happening. The small presses are flourishing. And outside of that is a non-commercial arena otherwise known as fanzines where writers are exploring all kinds of new forms of fiction and actually communicating with one another about what is right rather than who is right.
A fanzine is a magazine written and published by "fans" devotees and experts. The difference between a magazine and a fanzine is that the editors and writers for a magazine (even a nonprofit one) get paid in money. In a fanzine, all the labor is donated, and usually much of the material is also donated (such as printer ribbons and computer time to do word processing). People who buy fanzines pay only for printing and postage and the one free copy that each contributor gets. Fanzines are not "non-profit" labors of love done by volunteers.
One of the fanzines, Ambrov Zeor, devoted to one of my science fiction universes (the Sime/Gen Universe in which eight novels were published in the '70s and '80s) August '94 issue published (along with some wonderful new Sime/Gen stories by new authors) a Round Robin discussion on how to criticize a story in a fanzine.
A Round Robin is a discussion that occurs by mail (or sometimes e-mail). Someone writes a letter raising a topic, and a Robin Master sends that letter out in a circle to others known to have something to contribute. When it gets back with a bundle of other letters attached, the group is published at once, and the reader of the irregular publication that may come out once a year gets to sit in on a roundtable discussion, each person commenting on what the previous writers said not just expressing themselves, but discussing.
In this case, the initial letter was from someone who reads eclectically across many genres of fanzines but does not write fiction, articles or poetry, and doesn't draw. He is a fiction consumer, not a participating creator. He said he was turning to the best 'zine he reads for help with the dilemma he faces trying to comment on amateur stories. (In fanzine etiquette, if you buy a fanzine but don't contribute, you must write a letter of comment on the fanzine because the writers don't get paid in money). So this fiction consumer wanted advice on how critical one may be in a letter of comment to a writer when the writer isn't a professional. This is especially important because such letters of comment are published in the next issue of the fanzine for other readers of the story to see. Being criticized in public is very hard on a new writer.
Note that I rarely criticize the books I review here. I discuss books worth your time to read. A fanzine letter of comment is to tell the writer how to entertain you better.
This fiction consumer's letter went out on robin to the editorial staff and writer-contributors to the fanzine mostly non-professional writers.
I had not seen this robin before publication (my only contribution to these 'zines is as a writing teacher for the contributing fiction writers). I was especially gratified that these people all of whom I have taught had learned the value of criticism, and the difference between criticism and complaint, or criticism and accusation.
The robin was a strong, information- dense, emotionally honest example of total communication between fiction consumer and fiction producers. It was a perfect example of communication done for the purpose of determining what is right, rather than who is right.
I mention it here in closing because, at this season of all seasons, we need a glimpse of hope. The world is not dead. Life has retreated to the roots. It seethes beneath the surface. It will burst forth afresh.
We may have communications problems in this world, and a dearth of consumer-nondurable fiction, but under the surface, outside the commercial arena, there's a seething, relentless vitality. This very small group is tidying up the temple on the astral plane and getting ready to create a new construct.
I know this is an astral plane phenomenon because I have been part of it for many years. Over the twenty years or so that Sime/Gen fanzines have been published, I have gotten manuscripts in the mail for Sime/Gen stories I had written in my head but never mentioned to anyone, never put on paper or disk. Readers of the published novels who never wrote a story before in their lives find themselves compelled to write my stories and send them to me. Sometimes I make them rewrite them three or four times to bring them up to technical standard for Ambrov Zeor, and then we publish them. And others write in and comment about how that story was in their head, too.
This is not a phenomenon unique to the Sime/Gen universe stories. It is such a pervasive phenomenon that TV studios hire lawyers to intercept unagented manuscripts and send them back to the writers "unopened" because they could be sued for plagiarism by a new writer who thought they had an original idea but really just grabbed it off the astral.
So at this time of year, we should invest some time thinking about art, government, and how we determine who is right as opposed to how we determine what is right." Think about art as the conduit between the astral and the material planes. Participate in the development of that art which validates your identity.
And have a happy new year.
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg