How far can you genetically alter someone before she becomes someone else? Before she loses her soul?
Leading genetic researcher Randolph Macklin wakes up in Malaysia to find a four month gap in his memory, his wife dead, and his daughter in a coma. As he and his psychiatrist Sanantha Mauwad unravel the mystery, they find nothing and no one are what they appear to be. Ancient cults collide with cutting edge science in this tale of too much power driven by too much passion.
When Ancient Cults Meet Cutting Edge Science
By Jay Hartlove
When I set out to write the Isis Rising Trilogy, I wanted to portray the world as complex enough to hide supernatural things in the folds of the details. At first glance they may only look like odd coincidences, but there is actual magic there right alongside the scientific facts.
Even without this added layer of magical realism, any good book has to give enough description and explore enough consequences for a reader to feel like there is a reality to explore in the book. I wanted to take this further and have my characters discover a deeper, hidden reality.
I also knew the stories were fast paced, with lots of danger, which required spare, efficient language. So how could I show the level of detail I needed but not use so much description that it slowed the pace?
My answer came in the person of my detective, Sanantha Mauwad. Sanantha was born and raised in a small village in Haiti. She was an active member of her church, which was Voodoo, rising to become a flag bearer in her oumphor temple. A great aunt who lived in the United States died and left Sanantha enough money to come to the States and go to college. She was always fascinated by why people believe what they do, so she studied Psychology, and then later Psychiatry, at Rush University in Chicago. She never abandoned her Voudon faith, and reconciled her spiritualism with her growing scientific understanding. To her, faith is part of how people place themselves in the big picture, it is part of how they define themselves in the world. She does not see faith conflicting with the facts uncovered by science.
So after spending her life learning why people believe what they do, she is tasked with caring for patients who come to her in the midst of dealing with the supernatural and the unspeakably evil. Lucky for her patients, she gets to use everything in her toolbox to unravel the mysteries, protect her patients’ sanities, and help them get out of trouble.
Sanantha is not the protagonist of either The Chosen or Daughter Cell. Her patients are the protagonists. They are far too embroiled in the plots of their enemies to figure out what’s going on, let alone deal with the apparent existence of objectively supernatural phenomena. On the other hand, coming in clinically observing, Sanantha is able to uncover the truth.
What she uncovers is a layer hidden from the casual observer. Angels walk the Earth in human form. Gods send messages to people in dreams. The chi force manipulated in acupuncture and kung fu is actually the soul described in Western mysticism. Secrets can be learned that seem to violate and replace the laws of Physics.
As a woman of science, she does not deal well with these discoveries at first. She has a hard time believing that Joseph is actually a demon in The Chosen, and she is shocked to find that chi can be manipulated as a weapon in Daughter Cell. She has to accept their existence so she can handle the human context that her patients, and by then she herself, are in danger from which they need to escape.
She also discovers the villains in these adventures justify their evil with faith that God and/or destiny is on their side. She comments toward the end of Daughter Cell that she is tired of dealing with madmen who think they have God’s favor.
Through all of this, she holds fast to her faith that her gods will not abandon her. The Voodoo goddess of mercy, Erzulie, is a particular source of strength for Sanantha. As it turns out, Erzulie is a much bigger character in the arc of all three books than even Sanantha expects.
The magic “system” of these books is based on a secret history that is explained by Silas Alverado, the bad guy from The Chosen. When Rome conquered ancient Egypt, the gods of Egypt were still worshiped by the other peoples of Africa who had not been assimilated by Rome. Various people worshipped them in different ways, and eventually they became the animus religion of West Africa. The rest of this evolution is factual history. When Europeans kidnapped these people and brought them to the Americas as slaves, Christian missionaries tried to convert them. The slaves adopted the Christian names to appease their captors, but they kept their old faith. This is how Voodoo was born. If you line up the gods of Voodoo with the gods of ancient Egypt, there is remarkable correlation. There is also ample evidence that the ancient Egyptians communicated with their gods in a similar impersonation as what modern practitioners of Voodoo perform in their “mounting” ceremonies. In these stories Erzulie is actually Isis.
In The Chosen, I also insert a demonic intrigue in the court of Pharaoh Ramses II. Sammael, one of the seven Hebrew archangels, the one credited with being the snake in the Garden of Eden, inserts himself to make sure the Egyptians fail when Moses takes the Jews out of Egypt. God was going to make sure Moses succeeded, but Sammael couldn’t pass up the chance to make Ramses fall hard. In doing so, Sammael temporarily revealed the power of creation in the form of magical symbols. These symbols are the key to Silas’ plans in The Chosen.
When Sammael’s deceit is first discovered, the goddess Isis, while possessing a high priestess, is shocked at the depth of his evil. When Silas goes after Sammael in modern times, Isis, now reconfigured as Erzulie, is ready to help Sananatha and Charles by giving them hints in their dreams.
In Daughter Cell, when it appears Desiree Macklin is not going to survive the cloning that has been forced on her, Isis/Erzulie steps in again to help Sanantha via dreams. Sanantha thinks it is her goddess helping her out of a tough spot, but it is actually Isis protecting Desiree, for whom the goddess has big plans. This becomes much more apparent at the end of Daughter Cell.
Yes, the title of the third book in Isis Rising. As a preview, I will tell you Sammael is back, and this time Isis will not just be helping from the sidelines with dream images.
All of the magic in these stories stems from the powers of the supernatural creatures who come to Earth. Even Silas’ magic is derived from the powers of the gods he summons and the symbols he gained from Sammael. Other than these influences, all laws of Physics remain intact.
The cloning science Sanantha encounters in Daughter Cell is only one science fiction step into the future. The bigger step is the ethical one, which is of course what the story hinges on. The story is more about the dangers of playing God rather than the mechanisms of how the characters accomplish it.
The patient and protagonist of Daughter Cell is Dr. Randolph Macklin, who is a leading geneticist. He takes a holistic approach to how medicine affects a body. In his study and practice of genetics and medicine, he has explored alternatives like acupuncture. When his mysterious scars appear to be related to meridians, he knows where the acupuncturist will need to work. When confronted with the intervention of the supernatural, he is willing to accept things beyond scientific explanation. He is an Episcopalian, and so he believes in the coexistence of religious beliefs and scientific facts even when they seem to disagree. He is in the same predicament as Sanantha, of having to accept the unexplainable before being able to cope with the present dangers.
The chi manipulation in Daughter Cell looks at first to be something someone just learned, but there is ample question left open as to whether the “god within” is actually the source of the power.
In the final analysis. I inserted my layer of magic into the real world by limiting its source to the angels and demons and gods who are interacting with my human characters. By putting faces on the sources of the magic, I gave Sanantha, and the reader, a handle for understanding how the magic works, why it is being used, and the effect it has on the world.
Jay Hartlove has been writing professionally for over 30 years, starting in the gaming industry with Supergame in 1980. He writes banking compliance procedures by day, he blogs about spirituality, and he teaches seminars on the craft of writing. Two of his short supernatural stories have appeared in the Hugo Award winning Drink Tank. He has posted the research he did for The Chosen at www.jaywrites.com. Like The Isis Rising Trilogy on Facebook.