The Fathergod Experiment discussion

From the November 1999 issue of Mythprint (212).

I invite readers also to check Ruth Berman’s review in the June 1999 Mythprint.

Rivendell Discussion, October 16, 1999, REPORT
By Joan Marie Verba, used here by permisson.
Topic: The Fathergod Experiment by L. A. Taylor

Plot summary: Bondservant Lilz is suspected of murder when a member of the aristocracy dies under mysterious circumstances.

Attending: David Lenander, Deborah Jones, Margaret Howes, Ruth Berman, Eric Heideman, Joan Marie Verba

Margaret thought the book was splendid, though she found the opening segments a bit difficult, since they switched between current time and flashbacks. Nonetheless, she was able to get into the story fairly quickly. Without the fantastic or science fictional elements, Margaret thought it could be a Jacobean story–the social system was similar but not quite the same. She felt the story worked as a whole.

Eric thought that the electronic bugs (whizzers) flying around in a pre-industrial society was a memorable image. Deb enjoyed the whizzers, also, but felt they weren’t essential to the story. She thought it was ironic that the devices were for anthropological (scientific observation) purposes rather than political–the king was thought to be spying on his subjects, but he wasn’t. She felt the response to the technology was interesting. The characters knew the whizzers could be killed, but weren’t quite sure how much force to use. Margaret agreed that a superstitious reaction developed: the characters felt that not only were the whizzers observing them, but that even the birds and insects could be spying for the king.

Deb thought the cover art was well done. David thought the painting was wonderful, and captured the novel. He felt that it showed that the character shines through the events, and shows what is happening with her life. In addition, the cover illustrated a scene in the early part of the book, where Lilz, the protagonist, hits a whizzer with a broom. Deb added that at first glance, the book appears to be one of those books students have to read for a required class, such as The Scarlet Letter, or a book on the Salem witch trials.

Deb loved the names: Treadwell, Makeready, Greencrags. The first names also had a unique flavor to her. Joan observed that the titles–Iarl, Iarlena, Dych–also added flavor to the novel.

The consensus was that the setting was in a parallel universe to Earth, as opposed to an Earth settlement or Earth colony.

Dave asked whether the technology was explained. Joan said that the society providing the technology had changed the prevailing theology in Lilz’s culture from a Mothergod to a Fathergod (although Mothergod worship remained in the background) to see what might happen, and used the technological devices to observe the changes. Dave thought that this changeover was part of what precipitated the fall of Lilz’s family; otherwise, he felt the changeover was irrelevant to the story. He thought perhaps the experimenters introducing the change had had their funds cut off, since they didn’t seem to gain anything by making the changes, and were just left to observe. Deb felt that the author was using the Mothergod-Fathergod to reflect the Catholic-Protestant situation in the times of James I. She thought that by the end of the story, the protagonists had some idea of what was going on. Deb said she knew why the story was rejected by the major publishers–it would be a difficult book to market. Margaret added that it doesn’t fit into a regular category. The author had originally titled it The Fathergod Experiment, though she referred to it informally as “the Lilz book.” Eric agreed that the book might be intimidating, and felt that an endorsement on the cover might have helped, such as Eleanor Arnason’s statement (inside the front cover) which read, “A neat book, fun to read. I recommend it.”

Ruth said that she felt the book had a richness in several areas, including richness in characters, richness in language, and richness in structure. She felt there was a lot built into it. She said she found more in the book each time she reread it, though she found it terribly confusing at first. Once she did read it, she found it wonderful. Margaret added that it was probably too rich a book to fit neatly into a category, and said her favorite chapter was one introducing the new housemaid, who seemed to be completely lost in that culture (and who, in retrospect, seemed to be from the society sending the whizzers).

Ruth thought that the fact that L. A. Taylor was a good poet enhanced the book; as a result, the characters wrote good poetry. Deb felt that the book was further enhanced by the fact that the reader has Lilz’s perspective–the aristocrats are doing things to her, or things which affect her, that she has no power over. Ruth thought it was nice that the book has a happy ending (though Eric felt the book had an element of sadness that runs through Taylor’s works) without resorting to the cliche of making the character a member of the upper class aristocracy: here, Lilz rises from her status as bondservant, but does not become an Iarl or Iarlena. Deb thought it was refreshing that Lilz could have an intimate conversation with Greencrags about the sun coming up or about poetry without the two becoming lovers. Margaret felt the pre-industrial technology became real, particularly when it showed the difficulty of communication in that era. Deb agreed that the author did a wonderful job of conveying the technology, and added that the reactions of the characters to the events were realistic and believable. The consensus was that the book had a fantasy flavor and that we would highly recommend it.