Somewhither and the Curse of Eve

SOMEWHITHER is currently a candidate for the Dragon Con Award, and I hope any reader wishing to support my work will consider voting for it. Sign up is here: http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_signup.php

To promote interest in the book, I thought I would find some excuse to discuss and describe it.

I read a review from a year ago from a reviewer who, after saying that he could read something written by a Christian with an open mind, based on the merit of the work alone, tried to read and review SOMEWHITHER.

He manfully attempted to overcome his loathing of me to see whether my work was worth reading. Or, at least, he said he would try.

Like Gaul, it is in three parts:

I am too reserved to proffer an opinion as to whether he succeeded in his venture.

Bigotry of any kind is difficult to uproot, and bigotry against Christians is more difficult than most. Not only does it caress and magnify one’s pride and hardheartedness, Christophobia is lauded and rewarded by every sign of honor modern society can bestow on the conformist mind. To express contempt and hatred toward Christians is regarded as the apex of good taste, civility and proper breeding.

Few men possess the exceptional character needed to overcome such seductive pressure. No one should be blamed for falling short of the exceptional.

I am grateful with profound gratitude that even one reviewer thinks my humble work worthy of being read. Many a would-be writer never enjoys the privilege. Even a bad review is a compliment for the same reason that even the worst knight on the field of battle is still a knight. Many works are not worth the time needed to dissect their errors and shortcomings. This reviewer held my was worth it. I thank him.

Be that as it may, in his review, he explains why three of my creations are in his eyes unbelievable, merely the author’s fiat rather than a well-thought out counterfactual speculation, hence failures as works of art: the Cainim, who are basically a paleolithic version of the immortals from Highlander, but creepier; the vampires, who are basically vampires, but Greek; and Foster Hidden, who basically has the gold ring of the Nibelung from Wagner’s opera, and learned the arts of Alberich the dark elf.

Let me explain what are my three make believe alternate worlds are before quoting the reviewer’s report as to why he found them unconvincing as literary devices.

The premise of SOMEWHITHER is that the Biblical account of history is literal, as well as certain pagan myths, but that there are a score or more of parallel timelines called aeons. Only a supernatural miracle has the energy needed to create a parallel timeline, so that the various miracles from the Bible and pagan mythology mark the division point between the branches of time.

Ours is the world where the miracles of Peter and Paul allowed the Church to be founded in the city that was the headquarters of anti-Christian paganism in the ancient world, namely Rome, and we developed exorcism, vampire-hunting and witch-hunting to such a perfect degree that all magic was obliterated beyond any reliable record: most people in this world do not believe magic exists. Technology was developed here instead, and exo-aeonic observers regard our tech as magic, called technomancy, just as we regard their arts as magic.

One aeon is one where the Tower of Babel never fell, the human race never divided into separate nations, and it perfected the art of astrology to the point where any event whatever could be predicted to any needed degree of accuracy. Armed with these advantages, these Ur-men were the first to discover parallel-in-time travel, but they could not tolerate even the idea that worlds of diverse nations, languages and races can found in parallel timelines: and so set about to conquer them all in the name of unity.

A second aeon, called Cainim, is one where Man was never expelled from the Garden in Eden after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He also put out his hand, ate of the tree of life, and cannot die.

Being sinful, he can feel pain, but no wounds and no amount of destruction, not even if his body is burned to ash, can prevent him from regenerating. Since the Cainim exist before the confusion of tongues at Babel, they have no need to learn languages, because all men innately can speak all tongues.

The story proposes the conceit that immortal yet hopelessly sinful beings would never develop families or civilization, since no one needs anyone for protection from any imaginable danger. They exist as vegetarians without the use of fire, at an early paleolithic level of technology. There is no diminution of population, but it does not grow very quickly, as the species perpetuates itself only by rape. There is no affection between male and female because they do not need each other.

There is no affection between mother and child, because the baby can be tossed in a bush or in a lake without harm to silence its cries whenever the mother tires of the creature. The baby cannot die, but it may have to wait a few years and teach itself how to walk before it can gather fruit to quell its hunger. None has any example of human family life to teach him any other behavior.

The text does not say, but it may be inferred that there is no curse on Adam or Eve. He does not have to till the soil and she suffers no pain in childbirth. Likewise, there is no curse on the snake, who is perhaps still around, still talking.

Along that line, the story also mentions in passing that the world is ruled by a dark and malign spirit who inflicts the immortality on each newborn as quickly as possible. This dark spirit seeks to keep men in this abject and degenerate condition: but this mention is spoken by one character under doubtful circumstances, and may be opinion, or even deception.

The third aeon is the home of the bloodquaffers. In this world, the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet remains in the Temple because there was no miracle of the Horsemen of the Maccabees, the Jew never repelled the Greek, and Christ has not yet visited this world, and so here was never crucified. Since Christ was not crucified here, there are no holy crucifixes.

It is a world where the empire of Alexander the Great never fell and Hellenic power never waned. Neoplatonic alchemists studied the Ark of the Covenant in the corrupted Temple, and the manna found therein, and brewed an elixir that can replace human blood in a willing victim to render him into unaging, blood-drinking superbeing at the expense of his humanity.

A fourth aeon is one where the miracle of Pope Leo V turning back Attila the Hun never happened, and so the Germanic tribes overran Europe, and their gods grew in strength and power. The events described by Wagner’s Ring Cycle happened, dark elves and light revealed themselves to mankind, and hilarity ensued.

Here is what the reviewer, manfully battling his Christophobia, wrote on these points. He starts by discussing Cainim:

The undying creatures of that aeon, whose world is a nightmare of perpetual immortal, rape, breeding,  war  etc – where the still living bodies of ones adversaries have to be buried so as to ‘make room, make room’ are the outcome both of eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil, and the fruit of the tree of life.  I was wrong in my theory it was just the later.

Unfortunately while the description of the world is graphic and effective – I can’t believe in it, either in or outside of a biblical perspective. [I could have believed in it if the entities had no intelligence, hence my theory, but with it I can’t accept the premise that there is no possible gain from co-operation.]

Non-biblically, I’m unconvinced by the author’s ‘given’ that there’s no reason for co-operation among immortals, and hence never an end to the every being for itself melee.

An obvious good resulting from mutual co-operation for instance is *not being raped* the most logical result I think would happen from an immortal set up ‘as given’, would be armies of women co-operating to bury the (rapist) men, and an immortal lesbian sisterhood ruling.  [I think it may be telling that immortal women have no ‘agency’ in the author’s Cainan aeon.]

Another obvious good – where offspring are immortal competitors for whom you feel no affection is, after several generations of working that out – is contraception.

Now Wright as a Catholic of course hates this and considers it sinful, but that’s not going to dissuade a race of sinful immortals, whose alternative is continual attempted murder/ enforced perpetual solitary confinement. [It’s not clear what happens to an immortal buried beyond the compression point of flesh, as their mass and structure doesn’t obey conservation of mass laws, but being crushed under the earth forever isn’t very nice either.]

In short, this bit of the book fails for me because the consequences of a set of given rules are what the author wants rather than what I think logically can be shown to evolve from the rules he has set in place. This impacts [sic] belief.

Biblically, my problem is – if you’re writing a book that takes as its premise that the biblical account is at least mainly true (although the book doesn’t imply a short geological age for the flood, nor explicitly does it have a worldwide flood- as it has chinese geomancers surviving it in their lands by deflecting it with dragon energies (reportedly)) – I think you have to cleave to the ‘fundementalist’/biblical as much as possible, so when God drives Adam and Eve from the garden in Genesis and sets the angels with swords there to defend it (He only does this in one aeon incidently, ours) – he leaves a humanity which is – if not immortal –  biblically very long lived.  Long before it would fill the world sufficiently to approach the continuous warfare conditions of the Cainen aeon, it’s discovered co-operation ‘making nice things’ (another obvious co-operative good, nice things > shelter and clothes) and set up the foundations of babel – so what stops that Cainen aeon running parallel to that only with immortals? [Co-operation being discovered long before the all vs all collapse point] Only so far as I can see authorial fiat.

This happens also as we head on, with the books’ use of vampires (Those Who Quaff Blood Like Wine).  Wright wants to set the rule that the cross works [automatically] as a dynamic symbol of christ’s power not of the belief of the wielder – this is let me stress absolutely fine as a given in a  vampire using novel, vampires are often glossed as having an origin in sin, and I can see why Wright doesn’t want to go down the ‘faith as energy’ route [which for instance in Doctor Who sees vampires defeated by faith in the Russian Revolution, or the Doctor’s faith in his companions] but there needs to be consistency both thematically for ‘vampires are like demons’ and for similar issues ‘what you believe vs it’s God’s power/action’ Wright’s vampires however aren’t vampires, they’re people from an alchemic aeon who have replaced their blood in part with alchemic silver (?) and lost the part of the soul that makes moral judgements – this in itself is nice invention, but as a backstory, how does it justify the automatic curse of the cross upon them?  Is alchemy or soul-lessness inherently cross invoking, if its not trad vampireism?  We don’t know.

Equally in the final battle of the book, Foster Hidden who it is revealed is a worshipper of Odin invokes Odin, and is seemingly as a result empowered in combat. Is that his faith?  Is that God choosing to empower a believer in a false god, because even though Odin is not a real God, the cause and the faith are good (but if so how is that not ‘the faith’ of the user).  Or is it Odin, but if so what does this do for the ‘biblically true’ backstory.  If X happens because God ? chooses that it should, how can you tell that your belief that God ? is God Y(the one you’ve been taught of) is true rather than God Z (Odin)? If a ‘real’ in the book God can empower an Odin worshipper, how do we know the only ‘real’ God in the book isn’t Odin?  ’empowering the Christ worshipper with the cross’.  Once opened this can of worms wiggles both ways.

My comment: my sense of honor forbids me to disagree with any reviewer, or argue any point the text does not make clear, because if the text is not clear, the blame is mine, not his.

However, I hold myself allowed to clarify simple misstatements of fact: For example, there simply no scene in the book where Foster Hidden is empowered in combat by Odin. I honestly have no idea what even the reviewer has in mind when he writes the final of his three critiques.

It is a criticism I could not argue even if I would (and I would not) because I cannot fathom his meaning.

The text explicitly holds that fallen angels mimic pagan gods and can grant them superhuman powers. The point is far too obvious to miss. The star-gods worshiped by the Ur-Man are clearly demons. Whether Odin is a being like this, whether he is real or not, is not stated openly in the text. But it is clear that Foster Hidden has magic powers which he says he learned from Dark Elfs from Norse mythology. So the reader is on notice that some form or another of some magic powers come from some supernatural beings.

Likewise, there is nothing in the book, not a word, to the effect that the immortal women of Cainim have no agency.

The world is not onstage, it is described in passing third-hand just before a fight scene. The reviewer’s speculation that women there could but have not formed bands to fend off or retaliate against rapists is not confirmed but neither is it denied because the topic is not brought up at all. Again, I do not know where he got the idea that there were or were not such bands.

The existence of temporary bands for short term mutual alliance in the war of all against all is not ruled out. On the other hand, the idea is not implied that such bands could form the basis of a civilization, or even a tribal unity, where there is no natural affection between allies, and no need to raise the next generation because the first generation never passes away.

The Cainim neither hunt nor toil, sow or reap. They gather wild fruit, but this requires no cooperative effort, any more than grazing on clover by rabbits. Even that effort is only for their delectation, not out of necessity: After a few days of fasting hunger pangs would not afflict them. They cannot starve. Cannot. I had a very long and pointed scene that clobbered the reader over the head as if by a two by four to emphasize this point.

They have no arts, no letters, no machinery for moving weights, no commerce, no travel, no fixed abodes.

Indeed, since the curse of Eve never fell on the womenfolk in this aeon, logically they are free from the following:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee…”

This implies the menfolk do not rule over the womenfolk in the aeon of Cainim, and that the women do not desire husbands.

How the reviewer leaps to the conclusion that the women have no ‘agency’ in such a context is almost beyond my speculation.

Almost. Let me speculate: Perhaps he assumes that in a world of no marriage, no romantic love, and no families, women have no power. If so, then the reviewer believes a woman’s power comes only from their adherence to traditional roles.

It is something of a surprise that a presumably progressive reviewer would level that as a criticism of the story.

I should also mention that one might assume that the curse of enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent has not fallen in his world. Presumably (the text does not say) the serpent walks upright, and still speaks and gives advice. Whether this would hinder the formation of civilization is an open question.

It may not be clear that your humble writers has matter in his notes which did not make it into the first volume. Whether it was necessary to include them or not is also an open question: but that is not a question we need reach. As best I can tell, the reviewer here seems to have merely a philosophical objection as to what is the source of human cooperation.

The text says that without death, immortals have no need to form families and clans. The reviewer implies that any intelligent creatures would cooperate to avoid unpleasant matters, as being raped or buried alive.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to debate how such a cooperate effort would begin among uncivilized savages who have no reason to restrict any natural passion or appetite. Thomas Hobbes would point out that none of them, not one, has any fear of violent death at the hands of others.

I did attempt to make it clear to the reader that I am using the express Biblical account as the foundation for the timelines. (Whether I was successful or not the readers decide, not I). Hence, a world where Abel rose from being assaulted and revenged himself, and buried Cain alive is one where the lineage of Cain never gets started. Hence, no Tubalcaine, who invented smithcraft, no Jabal, who invented herding, no Jubal, who invented music, no Enoch, who built the first city.

Also, in this world, no covenant with Abraham has never been made, nor any covenant with Noah. Theologically, the inhabitants have no method to free themselves from sin, and no hope and no expectation that such a thing can be done.

Since cold cannot kill them, and they do not cook or eat meat (the text assumes no one ate meat before Noah), there is no need for the Prometheus of that world to show the Cainim the use of fire, and no reason to bother with the trouble of learning how to use friction to start one.

There is no need to bother with the trouble of learning anything. And they find that all pleasures fail them after a few hundred years, except for sadism, which they continue to enjoy.

As a matter of logic, if there were such creatures, the pill would not work to prevent fertility. Hormonal contraceptives would not work on the females of this race for the same reason decapitation would not work: their bodies reject any wounds or poison or other interference with nature.

The idea that the rapist would use sheep bladder skin as a condom style prophylactic is doubtful to the point of being comical, if for no other reason than this race has no hunters and no herdsmen.

So, no, there are sufficient reasons given in the text aside from the Catholic sentiments of the author to explain why the paleolithic Cainim do not employ prophylactics, or, for that matter, moonrockets.

Now, some readers find some ideas easier to accept as a matter of suspension of disbelief than others. Your mileage may vary.

The reviewer next mentions that the text does not distinguish the world of Cainim from the world of the antediluvian Nephilim. The Nephilim are satanic giants who were very long lived, and half-breeds of fallen angels and human women. The human line of Seth is also very long lived. This world is one where the exile from Eden did happen, hence man is mortal, but the deluge to sweep the world clear of the violence and evil done by early man never took place.

Of course, the antediluvian world has not come onstage, and, indeed, is not mentioned in the text. Again, I am not sure how the reviewer knows I made up such a world in my background, or whether he is perhaps saying I should have made up such a a world and did not.

So his next complaint is that I failed to convince him that there would be a difference between immortal being and long-lived but mortal beings laboring under the curses of Adam and Eve, where the men toil and the women give birth in pain.

According to Jewish tradition, a race called the Watchers, a group of fallen angels, taught early mankind the various civilized arts and sciences: that is the conceit used in my invention. These Watchers visited the aeon of the exile from Eden, but not the aeon of Cainim.

Again, honor forbids me from speaking up in my defense, because if he finds it unbelievable, so be it. But I am allowed to say that, as a matter of fact, the two worlds are different, and one has not come on stage yet, so the reviewer’s ability to say just how convincing is the portrayal of the world of antediluvians is premature.

As to what differentiates them, toil, childbirth, the mastery of husbands over wives, the enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent, and various other aspects of the human condition are present in the one case and not in the other.

And again, the text does not say that the eternal warfare of the Cainim is caused by population pressure. In this background, Cain kills Abel, or tries to, in that aeon as in ours when the world population was less than a handful of humans. While the theory that primitive men lived in harmony until population pressure forced them to war is one I have heard sober men enunciate (I should say, men grossly unfamiliar with human nature, that is, intellectuals) the opposite is explicitly posited in the text in this case.

The idea that population pressure causes civilization to breakdown into universal anarchy is explicitly denied to be the explanation of the anarchy of the Cainim: they never developed any civilization to begin with, because they are creatures unlike mortal men.

The text says and implies that they have no need to even to begin to imagine any benefit would result therefrom, aside from the cessation of what the text says is their only joy and pastime, which is inflicting pain on each other. Whether the reader find that conceit unconvincing is his decision:  whether or not the text says population growth caused the anarchy of the world is a matter of fact and therefore not his decision.

As I said, I can only report the facts of what is in the text. It would be foolish and dishonorable to argue that a reader should be convinced to like a fiction story he find unconvincing. I will not stoop to the level of the recent Ghostbuster movie makers: no one is obligated to like my make-believe or to laugh at my jokes.

Indeed, I would be offended deeply, and weep tears of bitter salt, and know myself a failure as an artist, were anyone to express admiration for my work out of a sense of duty, or due to my race or party or religion. That is not the way it works.

The reviewer in this case can imagine a world of undying antediluvian savages who live without death, but cannot imagine a world of immortal antediluvian savages who live without condoms. That is his privilege. I lay my hand over my mouth.

I comment on the reviewer’s next criticism in my next column.

 

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