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A World Divided by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Cover art by Romas

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this volume DAW has brought together three of the early Darkover books which had fallen out of print and become nearly impossible to find. At the time Marion Zimmer Bradley was writing them, the market for science fiction was geared primarily to the shorter forms, and even novels were rarely bought at lengths in excess of 80,000 words. However, the current market has shifted to thick novels, and the older novels by themselves would be considered too thin for most buyers to get their money's worth.

Another thing that must be understood about Marion Zimmer Bradley's writing, particularly at this early point in her career, is her adamant insistence that Darkover was not a series. By "series" she meant a sequence of stories that needed to be read in a particular order, and that might at times end in cliffhangers that would be resolved in the next volume, rather in the manner of the old-time serials at the movies. Rather, Darkover was a world in which she was telling a number of tales that occasionally intersected. Major characters of one novel might reappear as minor characters in another, perhaps decades older or younger. Different generations of the same family might appear in various books. However, she was adamant that each book would be complete in itself, and that if necessary she would sacrifice continuity with other novels in order to make the current novel work properly.

The three novels in this omnibus collection -- The Bloody Sun, Star of Danger, and The Winds of Darkover -- are a perfect example of this philosophy of writing at work. They sit in the "middle period" of the history of Darkover's interaction with the Terrans -- after the initial partnerships forged by the Free Amazons and the Forbidden Tower had gone sour in the Cleindori Rebellion, but before the age of Regis Hastur and Lew Alton about which she wrote so much both at the very beginning of her literary career and at the end. Darkover is alienated from the Terran Empire and intensely suspicious of Terrans, yet in each novel a Terran bridges the gap, crossing over into Darkovan culture and discovering aspects of himself he never imagined possible.

Star of Danger was originally written for the young adult market, but it is enjoyable for readers of any age. MZB wrote it at a time when she was covering her bills by cranking out large numbers of romance novels to a strict formula, and had become weary of the demand for sex scenes at given points in the plot. Writing for the YA market was a way of being free to write a story with no sexual content, but while the protagonists are teenage boys, she made the plot just as intellectually demanding as any adult novel and did not talk down to her audience.

Larry Montray has arrived with his father on Darkover, and decides to take a trip beyond the walls of the Terran Trade City. In the Old Quarter he encounters a gang of bullies and is rescued by a young scion of the Comyn, the ruling elite. This is Kennard Alton, and they soon become fast friends in spite of the reservations expressed by Larry's father about such things. Once the elder Montray is mollified, the two young men go on an expedition to Kennard's family estate, Armida.

There he gets to participate in Darkovan life, including fighting a forest fire shoulder to shoulder with aristocrat and commoner alike. But what started as an adventure turns frightening very quickly when they are kidnapped by bandits, and the two young men must work together to escape, particularly when their initial attempts to free themselves instead land them in the country of the trailmen, arboreal homonids who distrust humans and fear fire. But the two young men are able to prevail and the story ends happily, with the revelation that Larry's father had spent some time in his youth on Darkover. (Years later, MZB would write Wade Montray into The Shattered Chain as the culturally adept son of the bumble-footed Legate).

The version of The Bloody Sun included in this volume is in fact a later redaction, rather than the original one. When she originally wrote it, she had little sense of where exactly it belonged in the history of Darkover. She had been given an opportunity to write another Darkover book after the success of her first two novels, and she decided to go with the theme of a man returning at long last to the world of his childhood only to find it frustratingly strange, and ended up writing a story of the brave hero winning the hand of the beautiful space princess.

After she finished The Forbidden Tower, she wanted to write a sequel entitled The Way of Arilinn which would have told the story of Cleindori's efforts to demonstrate that the old strictures around the Keepers were unnecessary superstition, only to be crushed by the forces that saw a Keeper not just as another telepathic worker, but as a quasi-religious symbol of feminine purity. However, as she set out plans for it, she soon came to the conclusion that Robert A. Heinlein had also reached in regard to his planned stories of the rise of Nehemiah Scudder and the struggles of the early resistance -- it would be hopelessly grim.

When she was offered an opportunity to rewrite and expand The Bloody Sun, she realized that the story of Cleindori could be dovetailed into it as backstory to Jeff Kerwin's childhood trauma. Thus the novel that had previously been somewhat adrift had a firm place in the sequence of Darkovan history, and we could see some of the reasons why Kennard Alton would have turned from the hopeful young man of Star of Danger to the embittered Tower worker of The Bloody Sun. Furthermore, linking The Bloody Sun with the story of Cleindori helped to make clear just why Jeff Kerwin's budding romance with Elorie, the beautiful young Keeper of Arilinn Tower, should have provoked such extreme reactions in his colleagues. But it also explained how the office of Keeper should have become primarily a functional one by Lew Alton's time, as shown in her original novel The Sword of Aldones (later reworked as Sharra's Exile).

The final novel of this omnibus, Winds of Darkover, was another of the very early Darkover novels that she wrote on contract after her initial successes. She had originally intended it to be entitled Wings of Darkover, referring to the mechanical birds that play such an important part in the climax. However, a typist's error in the contract left her with the problem of working this unanticipated element into a novel she had pretty well planned out already. She recalled tossing off a mention of the "Ya-men who turn cannibal when the Ghost Winds blow" in one of her earlier novels, and decided to expand upon the concept in order to account for the "wind" element in the transformed title. And as it turned out, it actually worked better that way, since the psychedelic wind proved to be a perfect mechanism for Terran optician Dan Barron to be "possessed" by Storn of Storn, the blind Darkovan mountain lord whose duress vile at the hands of bandits had precipitated the story.

And while Dan Barron never reappeared in any future Darkover stories, when MZB was setting out to write the story of Lew Alton's youth and just what had happened with the Sharra matrix, she recalled Desideria and allowed her to make a brief appearance as an aged woman, just enough to hand over the Sharra matrix to that circle of young idealists who didn't realize it had been used for war and still harbored those destructive vibrations within it, yet another example of the cross-weaving of elements from various stories that adds to the richness of each individual novel.

Each of these three novels can be enjoyed on their own, but reading them together, and especially reading them along with the various other Darkover novels, creates an experience that is more than the sum of its parts. It is good to see these old Darkover stories back into print once again.

Review posted February 18, 2009.

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