Feb 22, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

I've never tried to write a "proper" book review for a novel and I'm not going to start now. I do have the category "nonreview" for this blog, so this blog post could be called my non-review of Mythos by Vrinda Pendred. As is typical for my "nonreviews", don't expect me to stay on one topic. Further, as I have previously admitted, I find it hard to read most novels and I have no difficulty just abandoning a book in mid-sentence. Full disclosure: I was unable to finish reading Mythos and I've not made any attempt to read beyond the prologue of the second book in the series (The Descendants).

Fantasy and SciFi
Quetzalcoatl the ancient alien visitor.
I describe myself as being "fantasy blind", which means I can't really enjoy fantasy.

Vrinda Pendred has described her Descendants series as being young adult fantasy, which I feel is an accurate categorization. I tried reading the first novel in this series with the hope that doing so might help cure me of my fantasy blindness.

I'm fascinated by the idea that any fantasy story could be re-written as science fiction. Similarly, a science fiction story could be altered and turned into a fantasy story. Many people find it possible to read and enjoy both science fiction and fantasy, but fantasy sticks in my craw. However, I have an on-going project: my goal is to write a fantasy story.

fantasy blindness is a cognitive defect,
not a visual system problem
My affliction (fantasy blindness; think in analogy to color blindness) is frustrating for me, because Mythos has many story elements that appeal to me. Most attractive (for me) is that the basic premise of Mythos involves aliens who long ago visited Earth. As the story unfolds, Earthlings are trying to understand the hidden history of Earth and the role that aliens have played in creating the world as we know it. Further, Mythos is full of odd dreams and explorations of a mysterious cognitive boundary that can be navigated by its protagonist (the 17-year old Itzy): a boundary between the world of our everyday experience and some alternative domain that her alien genes allow her (and her human-alien hybrid friends) to penetrate.

Genetic Wisdom by John Pitre
For me, these story elements are irresistible fun, so I tried reading Mythos as part of my ongoing efforts to break down my resistance to fantasy.

What is this Wisdom thingy, anyway?
As Mythos unwinds, readers are introduced to the Wisdom. The alien visitors who came to Earth long ago lost the Wisdom, and now they are returning to claim it again for themselves, and, as Itzy herself completes the story: "blah blah blah".

The Director.
Charon of Nibiru
Will we ever learn what the Wisdom actually is or how aliens who fly gigantic spaceships could have "lost it" on Earth? Does it even matter, in the end, as long as readers are entertained?

I suppose my personal preference for science fiction over fantasy arises from the fact that when I read a science fiction novel, I expect the story to make sense. If there is logic and consistency within fiction writers' fantasy worlds, I'm unable to fathom it (I'm fantasy blind). In a story such as Mythos, when we reach the point where a character such as Itzy is "floating in the ether as pure energy", then we seem to have left behind any chance of connecting Mythos to the world as we know it. Of course, if you enjoy paranormal fantasy then you will probably find sufficient fun in reading such a story; you'll keep turning the pages and returning for the sequels.

It's not you, it's me
"Mayan god: Ixchel v2" by Andrés
Frustratingly, for me, Mythos teeters between the worlds of science and fantasy. We are introduced to an Energy Sensor and then it devolves into the "energy thingy". I suppose it detects "pure energy". When words like "gene pool" and "Energy Sensor" and "spaceship" pop up in a story then my hopes start to rise that something might soon make sense. In Mythos, such expectations are smashed, my frustrations rise and I find it impossible to keep waiting for answers that I suspect will never come....or if they do come, they won't make any sense (like when I turn a page and discover that "oxygenless air" is outside the spaceship, rather than vacuum). Oh, well. We have been warned: Itzy is guiding us through an adventure in a world of "magic and mythology", not some technology nerd's science fiction world.

My Rose Colored Glasses
soon on SyFy network:
Childhood's End TV series
Apparently Vrinda Pendred was born in the U.S.A., but she now lives in England and we get references to television shows like Doctor Who and Top Gear and characters who say things like: "I wish I’d known ye all along," he said. "Something tells me I might have been happier, like." I was left wondering if Vrinda ever read Childhood's End by Sir Arthur Clarke. The way that Vrinda erases adults from Mythos reminded me of Childhood's End. While reading, I started imagining Vrinda's The Descendants as Childhood's End transformed into a fantasy story. This is a danger of being an old science fiction fan: almost any new fiction that I read reminds me of old science fiction stories that have more meaning for me than the new story.

Daveed the Luk'ie
Trying to attain the fantasy mood
I've previously tried to "get myself into a fantasy mood" by imagining that Thomas could write fantasy stories. So far, I've been unsuccessful while playing that game, so I need more powerful magic.

Fanfiction Disease
Maybe I could write fantasy if I discovered the best way to combine my "fantasy blindness" with my on-going case of fanfiction disease. Could I start from a science fiction story that was written by one of my favorite authors and create a fanfiction sequel that is a fantasy story?

I confess that I'm sickened by this idea of transforming a perfectly good science fiction story into fantasy. Still, Jack Vance moved between various fiction genres and some of his science fiction stories are not really all that far into the domain of science fiction. Really, it should not be hard to transform one of Vance's science fiction novels into a fantasy story, particularly if you are allowed to leave a few stray spaceships and other techno gizmos in the the story.

One of my favorite parts of Mythos is when Vrinda casually mentions that alien visitors to Earth "influenced whole religions". For the Exode Trilogy, I'm currently trying to figure out exactly how Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan could be responsible for founding a new religion. Vance, Asimov and Sagan all included religion in their science fiction.

For Exode, I've already brought John Vance (the imaginary twin brother of Jack) over into our Reality from the Ekcolir Reality. I'm intrigued by the possibility that John Vance might start with a Jack Vance science fiction story from our Reality and make a kind of sequel that becomes a fantasy story.

Ghyl Tarvoke, fantasy pirate?
A candidate for being taken through this kind of Sci Fi-to-Fantasy transformation is Vance's novel Emphyrio. Vrinda's story Mythos  reminds me of Emphyrio since Vance's story also involves the protagonist's father, who, having secretly kept alive ancient knowledge, dies early in the story, leaving the young hero to discover the secrets of his/her world's past. The protagonist of Emphyrio is Ghyl Tarvoke, a native of the planet Halma. Halma was long ago "conquered" by aliens (the Damarans), but the human residents of Halma are unaware that they live as slaves, toiling in the service of alien masters.

elements of fantasy
My cynical theory of fantasy genre stories is that a random number generator can be used to select the fantasy elements that crop up during the course of a fantasy story. Here are some random fantasy elements that John Vance can include in his Emphyrio sequel: 1) human characters with special (magical, supernatural) powers, 2) animals and/or inanimate objects with human-like abilities, 3) characters who are not restricted by the normal constraints of space and time, 4) characters who constantly battle fear and anxiety because events make no sense and EVIL lurks, 5) sudden plot twists, emotional outbursts and miracles are constantly needed in order to keep the attention of readers, 6) some characters search for something paranormal/mysterious while others are skeptics about the possible discovery of something new. Just for fun I want to add a 7th element: religion.

Religion and Fantasy
Last year an article about the influence of religion on how children think about fantasy stories was in the news (see "Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds"). I want to allow John Vance to explore a fantasy story that explicitly addresses the idea that some people are predisposed to accept supernatural events as real while others (the skeptics) always anticipate a mechanistic explanation for mysterious events.

Science Fantasy. In my current science fiction writing project (the Exode Trilogy) I'm exploring how human belief in Creators of the human species has a basis in reality. I want to take this a step further and devise a "story within a story" for Exode about how a new type of religious faith can come into existence and lead to discovery of an important scientific fact (specifically, a trick of bioengineering that can potentially solve Earth's global warming problem).

Fantasy sequel to Emphyrio
I want John Vance's fantasy story to create doubt about the true nature of reality, leaving unresolved a collection of plot elements from the 7 "fantasy element" categories listed above. However, when this "story within a story" ends, I'll be free to pop back into the larger science fiction story of the Exode Trilogy. I don't want the fantasy "story within a story" to solve the global warming problem, but, rather, to suggest that we need to be open to wonderful new discoveries if we are going to survive as a technology-wielding species of primate.

Next: The Dancing Earth 

Related Reading: 2016 Annual Change Challenge

New by John Vance, The Dancing Earth : a sequel to The Dying Earth

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