There’s a reason I absolutely slaughter my opponents in trivia games. I read a lot of genre fiction. Most genre fiction writers are fanatics about their interests and meticulous researchers. I don’t know how many times a novel has triggered my interest in history or mythology or science or weaponry, sending me trotting to the library or the bookstore to find out more. I love talking to writers about their interests. So when I read the paranormal romance, Incorporeal, by J. R. Barrett, and then its sequel, In The Flesh, I had to ask Julia, “Why ghosts? Why the recycling souls?” Not only did she have a ton of ghost stories to share, but she knows a lot about Jewish mysticism. Well, well, well, tell me more. So she did:
Eastern and Western philosophy collide when it comes to the mystical Jewish notion of the transmigration of souls and the Buddhist philosophy of the wheel of karma. Both philosophical systems assume a rebirth, or a reincarnation, until the soul reaches perfection. In both systems, a soul can be reincarnated into either an animal or human form.
In Jewish mysticism, a soul can be corrupted here on earth. The soul must then return until it, at last, reaches purity or perfection, at which time it can be reunited with the Primordial Cause, or, in other words, God. Sound familiar? Seems remarkably similar to karma, the Buddhist wheel of reincarnation and Nirvana, or the final obliteration of the self in the Primordial Cause, doesn’t it?
From Cabala (not pop-Cabala): Hence if the soul, on its first assumption of a human body and sojourn on earth, fails to acquire that experience for which it descended from heaven, and becomes contaminated by that which is polluting, it must re-inhabit a body till it is able to ascend in a purified state through repeated trials. This is the theory of the Zohar, which says: “All souls are subject to transmigration; and men do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He! They do not know that they are brought before the tribunal both before they enter into this world and after they leave it; they are ignorant of the many transmigrations and secret probations which they have to undergo, and of the number of souls and spirits which enter into this world and which do not return to the palace of the Heavenly King. Men do not know how the souls revolve like a stone which is thrown from a sling. But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed” (Zohar, ii. 99b).
Like Origen and other Church Fathers, the cabalists used as their main argument in favor of the doctrine of metempsychosis the justice of God. But for the belief in metempsychosis, they maintained, the question why God often permits the wicked to lead a happy life while many righteous are miserable, would be unanswerable. Then, too, the infliction of pain upon children would be an act of cruelty unless it is imposed in punishment for sin committed by the soul in a previous state.
The striking similarity in these two schools of mysticism has fascinated me for years. This concept of reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls, is a running theme through both of my paranormal works, Incorporeal and In the Flesh. In both books, I also draw upon the Cabalistic notion that there are multiple heavens, or levels of heaven, angels of different standing and power, and various attributes of God – some of which take on an actual persona of their own.
I won’t pretend to a scholar of Jewish mysticism, but I did want to include a little of what I’ve learned over the years. I think a well-written, thoughtful romance contains far more elements than just hard, hot boy meets soft, yielding girl. There are deeper themes underlying a good romance novel, even if we don’t recognize them as we read a story.
Wow, thanks, Julia. There’s definitely a trip to the library in store for me.
Lightning in the middle of a blizzard? Dr. Sydney Blake has read about it, but this is the first time in all her life she’s experienced it. Has her truck been struck? Blinded by the flash, she slams on the brakes and dives from the driver’s seat, right into a snow drift. As a shivering Syd gropes to her feet, she keeps her eyes shut tight, praying she didn’t actually see what she thinks she saw in that flash of light… a golden giant standing smack dab in the middle of the road. No way. Not possible. Or is it?
The very first Dan Simmons book I read was Carrion Comfort. That novel, quite frankly, scared the piss out of me. Not only was it scary and disturbing and menacing, right in the middle of it Simmons killed off a character I loved. I was shocked. Outraged. And hooked. I mean, if he could do that, then he’s capable of anything and I have to keep turning pages to find out how truly bad it can get. I became a Simmons fan. Now whenever somebody is looking for a scary vampire novel, I tell them to read Carrion Comfort.
You could call Simmons a horror writer, but he’s tough to pigeonhole. Most of his stories deal with the supernatural. Ghosts are an element in many stories. Even Black Hills, which is historical, is also a ghost story. Simmons tells the stories Simmons needs to tell. If there’s a common thread, it’s that all his novel are big, meaty, sprawling, well-researched and disturbing on some level. Simmons pulls no punches.
(click here to check out the book)
Flashback is like that. Set in a grim, not-too-distant future, the global economy has collapsed, societies have fallen apart. The Japanese, embracing a feudal model, have risen as a world power. Israel has been nuked out of existence. A caliphate has taken over the Middle East, Europe and Canada. Mexico is reclaiming parts of the United States it feels were stolen. America, destroyed by debt, entitlements and an overreaching but weak political system, has given up its freedom for what little security it can find. The majority of Americans are addicted to a drug called flashback that allows them to relive fully happier moments of their lives. It’s a grim scenario Simmons paints. It’s a cautionary tale, too, because it uses events happening today to show how they can lead to the events happening in the story.
Flashback is also a murder mystery and a thriller, and also a story of redemption and acceptance. And yes, it’s a ghost story, too. Or should I say, the characters long for ghosts and use ghosts to find relief from their miserable existences.
Simmons sums up the philosophy of the tale in this passage:
It happens to every race and group and nation, Henry Big Horse Begay says, still laughing. The days of greatness roll in like some great, undeserved tide, are smugly celebrated by the lucky peoples– even as mine once did– as if they had earned it, which they had not, and then the tide ebbs and the nations and tribes and peoples find themselves standing there dumb and dumbfounded on the dry and garbage-strewn beach.
So yeah, it’s a powerful story.
I haven’t read every novel Simmons has written, though eventually I hope to. He’s just not an author to glom willy nilly. It takes a measure of commitment to get into his work. No gobbling his words like M&Ms, or reading them in dibs and drabs, a page here, another page later. His novels are big (Flashback is 550 pages) and take time to read and time to digest. Quite often I will find myself stopping, thinking, What? What did he just say? Then I have to go back and reread, more slowly, more carefully. His aren’t the type of genre novels where a reader can think, Gee, I’m in the mood for a ghost story. Yeah, Simmons will give you ghosts, but he’ll give you a whole lot more at the same time. It’s that whole lot more that put him on my favorites list.