Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reviews 25: Assassin's Creed --- Underworld by Oliver Bowden

Reviews 25
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Assassin's Creed -- Underworld
Oliver Bowden

First an announcement about a FanFic documentary airing in France.
A few months ago, the producer of a documentary contracted by the French version of PBS (France 4 TV) came to my house from France and video'd about 3 hours of me explaining fanfic. Two short clips of that made it into the final video which will air April 13, 2016 (or thereafter Events permitting). It will be dubbed into French, but I got a version with me talking in subtitles -- seriously cool, Career First!
Now we come to a touchy subject, especially as a component of Romance: Violence and Weapons.  

In Assassin's Creed -- Underworld, Oliver Bowden has depicted a Relationship between two Assassins, where the fight-scenes and "blooding" (killing humans) ARE the Romance.

Oddly, and gorgeously, and miraculously, this book, Underworld, reads like a Heroic Novel, a novel of courage, determination, righteous choices, upholding social law and order.

Yes it is about "Assassins" -- (who kill) -- but it is based on the Game Assassin's Creed.  It's about following an Oath, making the free will choice every day to do the "right" thing according to that Oath.

After all the training a young child goes through to become an Assassin (training imposed before the age of choice) the adult Assassin has a great deal of "power" -- naked, with no weapons, such a person can escape and kill any captor.

As with the old TV Show Kung Fu

...or with Spiderman or most of today's Superheros, with Power comes great responsibility.

As I noted above, the Romance is coded into the fight scenes. It is not hot.  It is not steamy. It is barely recognizable as sexual attraction.  It is seen from the male point of view as a young woman master's the Assassin's trade.  He falls for her big time.  She falls for him big time.  He's not sure she has and we don't know really what she's thinking.  In the end, he proposes.

I wouldn't even call this book an Action Romance. I don't think it earns the title of Love Story.

It is an odd book -- perfectly comprehensible out of context of the Game and other books, yet not "like" any of the usual novels that carry the title Romance.

Yet it delivers a huge Romance punch at the end.  It sneaks up on you. It blindsides you.

The external conflict dominates the entire scene, and totally occupies the Characters.  There is no searching for true happiness or yearning for a Soul Mate.  There is this horrendous conflict against impossible odds, a conflict being handed down from generation to generation.

The Opponents of the Assassins is an organization gripping London in a stranglehold.  They are called the "Templars."  But they are not like the Historical Templars who were an order of Monks who dedicated themselves to martial arts and led many Crusades.

These Templars are after Ancient, magical artifacts that will give them (and nobody else) powers such as Eternal Life.  They want to Rule, and Control the behavior of others.

The Assassins, on the other hand, seem more or less amenable to letting people choose their own life paths.  The point of view Characters are looking at everything from the Assassin's perspective.

Neither Templars nor Assassins abjure Violence.  Both train in the use of weapons -- bladed and other sorts.

Underworld is the 8th Assassin's Creed novel by Oliver Bowden.  I had not read the previous 7 novels, and I haven't played Assassin's Creed -- but this novel read out of context made perfect sense to me.  The sense might be different in context, but I recommend this novel.

I particularly liked that there were not too many fight-scenes, and those that are included move the plot forward without wasting words.  This book is an example of excellent writing craftsmanship.

Violence, per se, is not "glorified" (as the Klingons would have it) or seen as a convenient way to solve problems caused by people not behaving the way you want them to (as the 2010-2015 TV Series Justified depicts violence).


On the #scifichat on Twitter, we were kicking around another Science Fiction Subject and someone asked what the Relationship between Sex and Violence was.  I gave my Tweet-sized Answer: Pluto, 8th House, Scorpio.

I've covered that extensively on this writing craft blog, both in the Tarot series of 20 posts (and the books compiled from them with added material) -- and in the posts on Astrology.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me.html  Index to Swords

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me_23.html  Index to Pentacles

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me_23.html  Index to Astrology posts.

The linchpin between "sex" (usually defined as an act of Love - a gentle and joyful bit of generosity) and "violence" (usually defined as an act of aggression, theft, overpowering, where the "joy" lies in the "taking" not in the "giving") is in one word, Pluto.

That "planet" is considered, in Astrology, the upper octave of Mars.

What does "upper octave" mean in that context?  It means it has the same general character, but has more energy.  Pluto magnifies.

You may write a sweet, cozy Romance with lots of once-in-a-lifetime Events, some heroic life-saving action, and melting hearts.  That's Neptune creating what many readers see as implausible.

On Television, we see "life" depicted as a series of implausible, rare, but horrendous Events happening not just to one person, but to everyone that person knows -- Life is depicted as immense hammer blow after grandiose hope for True Romance, to dashed and shattered destruction of all hope, to glorious moments of peak joy, shattered by another hammer blow.  That's Soap Opera.

Both Romance and Soap are considered implausible life patterns by those who have not lived through such a series of Events.  But Ancient Wisdom informs us that such patterns generally come in threes.

In Astrology, we see that planets that "go retrograde" (an optical illusion from Earth) can pass over a particular point in the Zodiac three times.

In Astrology, Pluto signifies the ebb and flow of Power between Self and Other.

Pluto is the ruler of the Natural 8th House - other people's values, other people's money, other people's property, or in general other people's resources.

The Second House  (Natural Second House is Taurus, ruled by Venus) signifies your personal Values, Money, etc. Opposite it on the wheel of 12 is Other People's Values, Money etc.

The adage is that Money is Power.  Or that Power can be Monetized.

Venus and Pluto are the same, but different.  They are opposites, yet can't do without each other.

Quick thumbnail definitions: First House is your Self.  In the "Natural" chart (not a person's natal chart which is a snapshot of the heavens at time and place of birth) the First House is Ares, ruled by Mars, male sexuality (yes, even for women). The Second House is Taurus ruled by Venus (yes, even for men).

When your values interact with the values of Others (parents, siblings, classmates, fellow workers, society in general), you change, or the Other changes, or most likely both change.

Sound familiar?  Romance is all about the forming of Couples wherein each individual CHANGES -- is transformed -- one out of two, bonded.  Two hearts beat as one.

Neptune (Romance) changes by dissolving barriers between people, but Pluto transforms by churning and winnowing the depths of Identity.

Transformation is what happens when you marry and form a Household.  There is no more "yours" vs. "mine" as when you are just living together.  Suddenly, everything is "ours."  "Ours" is 8th House/2nd House resolution of tension by establishing a steady-state balance.

And that describes the sex act, too.  Think about how that goes.  There is you.  There is me.  There is giving. There is recieving. And then, if it all works right, there is SHARING a moment of divine glory.

So where's the supremecy, the violence, the TAKING despite the OBJECTIONS?

When sex works well, there is no savage dominance leaving the Other diminised or victimized.

But to be honest, sex doesn't always work all that well.

Nor does Society work all that well all the time.  The blending of "yours" and "mine" into "ours" (e.g. taxes) does not always work so smoothly.

When the balanced harmony of a transaction between opposites is disrupted, the human animal slips out of its spiritual harness and behaves like any other animal on this planet -- dominating all others in order to achieve the ascendency of me and mine at the center of things.

Reasserting that Harmony does not usually work until after an explosion of violence.

Pluto's slow-slow transits (it takes 247 odd Earth years for Pluto to complete one orbit of the Sun) can be viewed as slowly increasing potential energy, and then releasing that energy either all at once (in violence) or a little at a time (in passionate, sweaty sex).

Sex (not love; sex) and violence can be viewed as two manifestations of the same thing -- the human will to LIVE.  (or at least to not be killed).

We want to survive, and if that means someone else has to die, then so be it, however much sad regret that may bring.  Being alive to be sad is better than being dead.

So human society, since Cain and Abel, has been rooted in the dynamic of "If it's you or me, then it's you who dies."

That's the either/or choice inherent in the confrontation of opposites -- depicting the world and life as a zero-sum-game.

The Astrological Natal Chart  is depicted as a circle divided into 12 compartments, slices, or "Houses."  Each House that represents something inside you has an exact opposite that represents the same thing in your outside world.

This very Ancient paradigm is the root of the "story/plot" structure of the modern novel, Screenplay, TV Series, and now Video-games.

In fiction, we look to depict, reflect or mirror "reality" well enough for the reader to believe our Characters are real, so the reader can feel the emotions the Characters are going through.

One of the salient aspects of reality we use in storytelling is that division into "inside me" vs. "outside me" -- the inner dialogue your Character is thinking as they assess the Lover's intentions, and the outer actions the Lover takes.

The internal conflict generates the external conflict for your Character.

Now most people don't go through real life aware that what is happening in their life is actually caused by or governed by their subconscious emotional state.

In fact, most people strenuously resist noticing any hint of a connection between what is inside them and what other people do to them (violent or otherwise).

But likewise most of your readers do know people who sabotage their own lives, "You are your own worst enemy."  -- and they know people who win one occasionally by "following your heart."

So there is both a treasuring of our private inner life, and a determination to be the conqueror in our outer-life.

In other words, your market, our current social culture, is bound and determined to solve the problem of their inner pain by controlling other people and the world outside themselves.

Many Ancient Wisdom theories indicate the Happily Ever After "ending" can not be achieved without recognizing some connection between one's inner pain/joy and the happenstances of external life (working for a nasty boss, losing your driver's license for too many "accidents," serial marriages to different versions of the same man.)


So, to avoid changing our minds, to avoid recognizing the relationship between our inner emotions and the Events that beset us in the outside world, we have a new social norm codified as "don't blame the victim."

That lesson is hammered home so hard that it has become unthinkable to examine one's own inner Self for the origin of Events that happen TO the Self.

Keep in mind as you read novels published long-long ago, that we came out of a culture that always and only blamed the victim and never blamed the victimizer.  Always-and-only one way vs always-and-only the other is not how Astrology depicts human life.

Ancient Wisdom says don't point your finger outward at the miscreant you just noticed messing up your life.  Point that finger inward at your own heart when looking to finger the "blame."

That Ancient Wisdom has been discarded, with an absolute, adamant, intensity. It has been stomped out of existence with violent, grim, very Pluto-style, war against anything Ancient.  Victims are always innocent by definition.

Read older novels, and you will why we have stomped out the idea that the victim is ever complicit in crimes that target them.

We have gone from one extreme to the other, and may soon turn back and head for blaming only the victim.

This issue -- victim vs. perpetrator -- is one of the core themes of Assassin's Creed: Underworld by Oliver Bowden.

These Assassins defend the innocent, whether the innocent are victims or not.  These Assassins don't victimize the guilty - they vanquish them.

In the novel Assassins Creed: Underworld, Oliver Bowden shows us with the bare hint of a sketch how the things that happen to these Characters originate within the Character or the Character's ancestor.  This illustrates how you are what you were "raised to be." You had no choice in the matter.

This works with the theory that children are blank slates, clay to be molded by their parents.  But clay has characteristics that can't be changed by molding -- thus we have an Assassin who can't find it in himself to kill in cold blood.  By this internal resistance to the role he was raised to fill, this Character confronts an inner misery all too familiar to the modern reader.

There is a resonance with the reader because the thematic statement  in UNDERWORLD is clear -- you don't have a choice.  You are what you were taught to be, what you were raised and trained to be -- you are the helpless victim of your parents and teachers.

Therefore, nothing that happens TO you is your "fault."  You are a victim and all you can do is make the best of a bad situation.   You have been shaped by Others -- you can't help it, so don't try.

And there's a corollary to this.  The things you believe or the things you do because of what you believe are not your "fault" or "responsibility" either.

The theme in UNDERWORLD is that you, the reader, are a misfit, miserable in life through no choice of your own.

The reader can wallow in the Assassin's Creed world and come away feeling the weight of personal guilt lifted.  You don't ever have to point that accusatory finger at your own heart.  All your misery is someone else's doing.

In 2015 we saw a court case of a Teen drunk driver let out on probation despite having killed "innocent victims" with his car -- because he's a "victim" of "affluenza" (being too rich).  In April, 2016, he was sentenced to 2 years in jail.

But he was let out in 2015 because, being rich is proof positive that you are Evil beyond the pale and must be robbed until you have the same amount of money as everybody else, or you'll drive drunk.

The theory is that given Power (money, guns, land ownership, any rights not regulated by government) - any human being's humanity will cause them to behave in an asocial manner.

There is an inner need to control the behavior of Others.

When we accept the child's view that all misery comes from outside, (parents deprive us of ice cream before dinner, curtail playtime to force us to read books), our whole problem-solving attention is riveted on "controlling" the behavior of others, especially those who have what we do not have.

Whether either quote in the image above is really a quote from the named people in that image, the writer in you should be finding how Love can Conquer that particular All.

This need to control others, or to appoint a third party to control "them" for you is currently highlighted in the arguments over what the proper role of government in the electronic age must be.

In UNDERWORLD, the Templars represent "government" (that seeks total power over citizens) and the Assassins represent personal freedom under self-control, kept orderly by pledging to uphold a Creed.  Assassins are fighting (and murdering) to "free" London from control of the Templars.

Of course, London has a government in place -- but the Templars have "infiltrated" it and control that government without the knowledge of the people.  If you've been paying attention to politics recently, that paradigm must sound familiar.  UNDERWORLD puts our headline conflicts as a nation into an oddball setting, giving us a look at ourselves from another perspective -- that is an attribute that makes for best sellers, and for classics.

UNDERWORLD is just one book in a huge, sprawling and complex World.

Thematically, we can see that since we are all helpless victims of our upbringing, we can't be trusted with Power of any sort, certainly not the power to inflict harm on others (which is why Assassins kill Templars).  So government has to become the parent and keep power out of the hands of other people -- because we're all helpless victims and everyone knows the biggest  bully in the class is the helpless victim given Power.  So again, that's the reason Assassins kill Templars.

In UNDERWORLD, the ones with the Power (magical) are the Templars.  The Templars goal is to control everybody.

In fiction, those who want to control are 'villains' and those who resist being controlled are 'heroes.'

In our Reality, in our current politics, it seems the opposite is the case. Government exists to prevent people from misbehaving in a way that inconveniences you, which used to be the job of the parents in a large family.  Today families are small and government is large.  Parents kept the family safe. Today parents get divorced and it is the government's job to keep the children safe (Child Protective Services is called that for a reason!)

How many great Romances have you read where one of the principles grew up in Foster Care?  Consider that most of your readers know someone who did, or who went to visit their father on alternate weekends.

Look again at the long-running Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh.

There, the Aliens control the honesty of government officials via the Assassin's Guild, which is also the "Secret Service" protecting the government rulers.  But those folks are not human.  The humans on that world have worked out a representative democracy of sorts, without Assassins.

So the Theme comes down to, "How Do We Assure Humans Behave Well?"  The Romance Genre answer is, "Love Conquers All."  Those who are loved acquire self-control.

Read UNDERWORLD, and re-cast its theme into Love Conquers All Which Creates Happily Ever After.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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