MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust
PO Box 193473
San Francisco, CA 94119
There are times when I have referred to the Darkover books as “the series that just growed” … like Topsy. Most of my problem with the Darkover series is that I never thought of it as a series at all until the fifth, or was it the sixth or seventh, book. I wrote each new book about Darkover with a certain surprise to find myself doing this again, and a firm resolve that next time I would get busy and write an original novel about a new and original world. I was always astonished and a little chagrined to discover myself back on Darkover again, with yet more to say about the world of the bloody sun.
A good part of the credit for encouraging the Darkover series to continue must go to Donald A. Wollheim, who, I am convinced, has done more to encourage fantasy and science-fantasy in this country during the lean years before “adult fantasy” became respectable, than any other single person. There were some years when I was doing the starving-writer bit, with a sick husband and two very small children to support, and now and then, having exhausted all other resources (because I didn’t want to abuse his kindness), I would go to Don and ask him, with as much persuasion as I thought proper, if he would buy another book from me.
On a surprising number of these occasions he actually suggested another Darkover book, and when I protested, rather diffidently, that I thought people must be getting awfully tired of them by now, he encouraged me to continue. But I never actually thought of them as a series. In the first place, I do not really like series books. The essence of a “series” to me is that the characters and background remain static, for the benefit of the reader who wants a safe, predictable reading experience just like the one he had last year. In the second place, I am simply not up to the kind of planning and long-range forethought that a “series” demands of its creator. My mind just does not work that way.
I am, for instance, incapable of thinking out anything of the nature of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Future History” series. I have another friend, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, who thinks only in terms of series … or should I say, serieses. I have never heard her speak of a “new novel”—only of a new novel in one of her established series, or occasionally of a “new series.” She has currently published two novels and, I think, two short stories in her major series, and told me once that she had it planned for about two thousand years into the future, and that she really thought of it as a single eight-million-word novel, with all the books in the series, written and unwritten, as episodes in a vast hyper-novel. For her, she said, no single episode may ever be allowed to interfere or conflict with anything in the vast Master Plan.
Personally, I think that’s horrible. I love Jacqueline’s books … but how any person can be willing to lock herself into a pattern that might last for years … I think I’d rather go to prison right away and be done with it. How can I know what I am going to be doing, or thinking, or wanting to write, even two years from now, let alone ten?
(“It’s a good thing,” the Scotsman said, “that we don’t all like the same thing. Think what an oatmeal shortage there would be!”)
I have a group of friendly but outraged fans who seem to enjoy picking holes in the Darkover books for the most minor inconsistencies. Oh, they enjoy the books, but when I ask them why they read the Darkover books, if the inconsistencies bother them so much, they say “But I love Darkover! The books are great! But—” (wistfully) “they’d be so much better if the author would just take the trouble to make them a little more consistent…”
There’s another problem I have. The fan who comes up to me, shiny-eyed and eager, and says “I’m really anxious to read the Darkover books, but I’ve promised myself I won’t read them until I have them all. Will you please tell me which one I ought to read first?”
As if it were a school assignment and he would be punished for reading them in the “wrong” order!
Admittedly the inconsistencies are many. Some are minor, and they occurred simply because I have a very faulty memory with a self-correcting mechanism. If I perpetuate anything in a Darkover book which I think could be altered for the better, I simply write it in the next book the way I think it ought to have been all along.
The system on nomenclature for the lords of the Domains, the seven Great Families of the Comyn, is like that. I was dissatisfied, in retrospect, with some of the forms of address I had invented for the lords and ladies of the Domains when I was young (I started writing the books when I was very young) and, not wishing to be bound by a juvenile concept, I simply allowed the forms of address to evolve in each book until now I have something that makes sense to me.
I can’t imagine why readers should be bothered by this kind of thing. If they are, they can go back to the earlier books, mark out with a pencil the offending inconsistent forms, and write in the ones that suit them better; after all, they own the books.
Then there are the major inconsistencies, and I admit that some of them are whoppers. About the worst one comes in the second, or maybe the first book of the series, depending on whether you are talking about order of writing or order of publication.
In the first published Darkover story, The Planet Savers, which was written for a magazine (Amazing Stories, I think) the four moons of Darkover were referred to as reaching a major conjunction every forty-eight years, and that forty-eight-year cycle was supposed to co-ordinate with a vector which spread an epidemic on Darkover, repeatedly decimating the human population. In the novel on the flip side of that in the original Ace Double, The Sword of Aldones, the four moons are spoken of as reaching a conjunction and multiple eclipse configuration every year at Midsummer-Festival.
That, of course, is no way to write a series. But when I wrote The Planet Savers, I hadn’t the slightest idea that The Sword of Aldones, or any other Darkover story, would ever be published; I was cannibalizing some unpublished stories in my masses of juvenilia, to write some hopefully salable commercial novelettes.
I did the same thing with the novelette Birds of Prey, which I sold to Venture science fiction sometime in the fifties, and which Don Wollheim picked up as half an Ace Double under the title of The Door Through Space; this is why the typical Dry-Town culture with some Darkovan names appears on a planet called Wolf, complete with the Terran Empire background structure.
This has caused questions ever since as to whether The Door Through Space is part of the Darkover series; the answer, of course, is both yes and no. Anyway, I have been trying to ignore these three stories ever since. The Darkover series, if it is a series, and I suppose I have to bow to the majority opinion, (though I prefer to call it a Human Comedy) began with The Bloody Sun, and that will be discussed in due time.
I never wanted, or intended, to write a series. The first hint I ever had that it was considered a series was years later, when Don changed the title of Summer of the Ghost Wind to the title under which it appeared in print. Darkover Landfall. He said that the Darkover series was a known series and a popular one, and “I want the fans to be able to identify it; also, the distributors ask for your Darkover books and say they can always sell them.”
I was, to put it mildly, startled and shocked. But I realized that I’d have to take it seriously. I had always thought that the special interest in the Darkover books was limited to a little circle of my family or close friends, and I wrote each new Darkover book rather guiltily, as if I were succumbing to two temptations; first, laziness, and second, the desire to write for my friends instead of aiming the book at a vast, faceless, impersonal “general audience.”
But one thing I was very definite about. I wasn’t going to make a “series” out of it, with one book beginning where the last had left off, predictable plot points and similar characters and situations. All along, I told myself, I would never be guilty of the arrogance of assuming that the reader had read the previous book, or, in fact, any single one of the previous books. Every book was to be absolutely complete in itself, without the need for the reader to refer back to any previous book.
To that stricture I still cling. Nor will I ever succumb to that temptation to leave a book half-finished, so that the reader has to wait, chewing his fingernails, for the next book to come out. I still remember the outrage and fury I felt at the end of one of the Roger Zelazny “Amber” books—I think it was The Guns of Avalon—where the heroes follow a mysterious girl all the way through the book for an explanation of her mysterious doings.
As I approached the end, I thought with relief “Oh, boy, only a few pages left, now it will have to be explained…” and then, just as they caught up with the mystery girl, she popped into the pattern and disappeared … presumably to reappear in the next book! I have forgotten everything about that book except the outrage and frustration I felt at the end. How dare the author torture his readers this way? Is he just trying to insure a good sale for the next book? I resolved, then and there that I would not read the next book. It wasn’t fair.
At the same time I re-resolved that I would never do that to any reader of mine! When my reader buys a book, I swore, he or she will get a complete novel … not a chunk of one with a cliff-hanger at the end. It reminded me of one of the Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” series, where at the very end of the book the heroine—was that Dejah Thoris? I’ve never been a Burroughs fan—was stolen away and popped into some kind of giant wheel with cubicles which moved at a fixed rate, so that the one in which she was imprisoned (hopefully in suspended animation) would not reappear for a whole year. John Carter and his sidekick were left staring at the giant wheel until the next book … no more frustrated than I was!
So these are the ground rules for the Darkover books, series or not; every one is complete in itself, and I do not assume that the reader has read, or will ever read, any other book in the series. Also, that whenever consistency from book to book threatens to impair the artistic unity of any single book as a unit in itself, inter-book consistency will be relentlessly sacrificed. Every game has its rules. These are the rules of the universe I call Darkover.
But there are people who not only regard the Darkover books as a series, but like them that way. And I am, every now and then, completely bemused by the phenomenon called “Darkover fandom.” Grateful, certainly. But puzzled.
I used to say that I never wanted or expected to be a writer. As a kid, I cherished dreams of becoming an opera singer, and began serious study; at the same time I knew that the chances of succeeding anywhere near the top in the performing arts were minimal; so I conscientiously trained for a job at which I could earn my living, attending a teacher’s college despite my distaste for the whole business. (Somewhere along the way I became a drop-out from three teacher’s colleges, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Poor health in my middle teens caused me to give up all thought of singing professionally. But all during my teens, whether my health was good or bad, all the time I was studying voice and singing in choirs and auditioning for solo parts, I was writing. Obsessively. Compulsively. I never stopped. And so I suppose that behind all the thoughts and daydreams of singing, the knowledge that I wanted to be a writer was slowly surfacing. Or rather, I never wanted to “be a writer” at all. I just couldn’t stop writing, no matter what else I did or didn’t do. It never occurred to me to stop.
Well, in my middle teens, about the time I was adjusting to the absolute knowledge that I would never sing Norma at the Metropolitan Opera, I discovered the science fiction pulp magazines and science fiction fandom. Immediately I plunged over my head into the world of fanzines and amateur fan publishing. About the same time I started to write fantasy novels with a framework of science fiction.
I’d always written voluminously. I believe me mother has a handful of poems I wrote before I was school age. When I was about eleven I started writing “historical” novels, scribbling them down in longhand in those black-and-white mottled notebooks with Compositions printed on the front. I remember doing one about Bonnie Prince Charlie, and one about Roman Britain, and an ambitious project called Ten Tales of the Ancients, which had a short story about a girl in ancient Rome, and one in ancient Greece, and one from an Arabian-nights kind of world, and then I ran out of ancient civilizations and gave up.
But, although I had read a great many fantasy novels, Rider Haggard, and Talbot Mundy, Robert W. Chambers, and Sax Rohmer, it never occurred to me to write fantasy until I discovered the science-fictional fantasy style of the novels of Moore and Kuttner. Suddenly all my novelistic energy exploded into a combination of Kuttner-style fantasy and Graustarkian romance; in the next two or three years I wrote two or three novels, and started or planned several others, all in a kind of imaginary country/parallel universe which I named Al-Merdin. Most of these fantasies were concerned with the doings of a ruling caste of telepaths which I named Seveners—who later became the Comyn.
Gradually, all of these narrowed down to a hugely sprawling novel which I called The King and the Sword. It took me about three years to get it into anything resembling recognizable shape, mostly because I had no notion of how to plot a story; I just started writing the adventures of my characters and wrote on and on, without anything one could call a plot structure. During this time I married and dropped out of college, but the book went on and on. It was full of echoes of all the fantasies I liked best: A. Merritt, Kuttner and Moore, Brackett and Hamilton, with a liberal splash of Graustark, the Prisoner of Zenda, Zorro, and the lost races of H. Rider Haggard.
During this time I also managed to read a few books on writing and began to get some foggy notions of what a plot was, and that a book should optimally have a beginning, a middle and an end. I would lay down my novel from time to time and try writing, and plotting, short stories and novelettes, and the experience carried over. One of these novelettes—the only one which actually sold, and I wish it hadn’t—was later called Falcons of Narabedla, which was really a shameless pastiche of a Kuttner story. It isn’t a Darkover story either, and I wrote the whole thing before my nineteenth birthday. The only excuse I have for the pastiche quality of this one is that when I was a teen-ager I honestly didn’t know any better.
There are some survivals from The King and the Sword even in the most recent of Darkover novels. The seven families of telepaths, each with its own distinctive Gift, has survived into the Comyn. In those days, the Hasturs, the Elhalyn, the Serrais, the Ardais and the exiled Aldarans were much as they are now. The Altons were then known as the Leyniers, and the Marceau of Valeron became the Aillards because, after seeing the title of Skylark of Valeron (a book I have never read) I feared that E. E. Smith, whom I admired for his “Lensmen” stories, might think I had copied it from him. Actually I suppose we both got it from the same place—the Valerii family of Imperial Rome.
Well, Sam Merwin of Startling Stories read chapters and outline of The King and the Sword (I knew enough by now to make an outline, though, I suppose, not a very coherent one) and rejected it with a few sharp and valuable comments. So I decided it was far too complicated to make a good book as it was, and started out with a much simpler episode, central to the story (cutting out beginning and end) dealing with the confrontation of the twin magical talismans or “matrixes” of Sharra and Aldones. I think it was in this version that I changed the name of Gwynn Leynier to Lew Alton, and located the whole thing on an imaginary planet with a red sun (shades, I suppose, of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, which I adored) called Darkover.
Instead of a fantasy parallel world, I laid the whole thing against a Galactic Empire of the kind now familiar to me from the enormous sprawling Edmond Hamilton novels such as The Star of Life, or the E. E. Smith “Lensmen” stories. So that instead of Ruritanian exile in faraway mountains, my scarred hero had returned from exile on alien worlds, other planets. I had cut the whole thing down drastically, and actually managed to finish it. It was still about 500 manuscript pages long.
This one was rejected too, as being much too long and discursive. This original version has long since been destroyed and I haven’t the faintest idea how I managed to get all that wordage into it. I remember that there were a couple of duels, and that Lew Alton had a couple of other romantic encounters somewhere in the book, but the rest has mercifully vanished from my memory. (I can’t of course vouch for my subconscious.)
So I stuck the whole thing into a drawer and forgot about it while I tried to learn my craft. I wrote a few novels, none of which got published, and a few novelettes, some of which were pretty damn good, or at least I thought so, anyhow they managed to get into the magazines. And then Ray Palmer, who had long since left the old Ziff-Davis Amazing to publish some flying-saucer magazines, and try to get his obsession published (a monumental monstrosity which he may have written himself, or merely discovered, rejoicing in the fearful title/concept of Tarzan on Mars) revived a fantasy magazine which he called Other Worlds, and actually bought Falcons of Narabedla. He published it in May, 1957; I didn’t get paid for it, but at that time I was pleased to have it in print.
Emboldened, I submitted The Sword of Aldones to him, and he accepted that too. From time to time during the next three of four years he would put out an advertising flyer about all the wonderful things he was going to do with Other Worlds, including Tarzan on Mars, and mentioning The Sword of Aldones, too. I paid about as much attention to this as I did—excuse me, Harlan—to the things Harlan said about what he was going to do with his fanzines. Namely, that it would be wonderful if he ever got around to it, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting. Anyway, by that time I had grown up enough to have a certain contempt for the stupid thing, and that contempt carried over to an editor who would actually consider printing it.
(Note that this is not the version of The Sword of Aldones which appeared from Ace Books in 1961 or thereabouts.)
[Transcriber’s note: The Darkover Retrospective was published as a bonus piece in an Ace Double feature published in April 1980. The copyright page includes the works and copyright dates as follows: The Planet Savers (1962, Ace Books, Inc.), “The Waterfall” (1976, Marion Zimmer Bradley), and The Sword of Aldones (1962, Ace Books, Inc.).]
Anyway, by this time I had outgrown, or thought I had outgrown, fantasy-adventure; I was interested in writing science fiction, and I did, having several short stories and novelettes printed in the lesser pulps. I hit F&SF [Transcriber’s note: F&SF is an acronym for the popular The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which remains a regular, esteemed publication to this day] twice in those three years, and one of Damon Knight’s magazines which lasted, sometimes, long enough to actually print the stories they bought!
Then I managed to do a lead novel for Amazing Stories, which was no longer the lead-selling magazine in the field, as it had been for years, but had not yet dropped to the depths of the Sol Cohen/Ted White days, either; it was still a completely respectable and professional magazine, with Cele Goldsmith at the helm. This novel was Seven from the Stars, which brought me, not money alone, but an agent, and a long and mutually profitable relationship with Ace Books.
Next, I wrote, and managed to sell, an early version of The Door Through Space, published by Venture as Birds of Prey; and for this one I cannibalized that drawerful of “Terran Empire/Darkover” stuff, which by now I considered hopelessly juvenile. There were times, in fact, where I actually considered throwing away the whole file of it; in fact, the complete manuscript of a novel called The Dark Flower actually did get thrown out, by mistake, in the course of the peripatetic wanderings of the Bradley family in the wake of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in West Texas. Portions of this novel were rewritten, from memory, years later, as part of The Heritage of Hastur.
In rewriting an expanded version of Birds of Prey for the paperback market, I also found myself cannibalizing some of the fantasy-science fiction elements of the “Terran Empire/Darkover” background I had created for The Sword of Aldones. I might very well have laid this story on Darkover, but I decided not to; I remembered reading somewhere that the star Wolf 354 had a visible planet, so I named the planet Wolf, and the hero, Race Cargill, became a far-too-blatant imitation of Northwest Smith; the whole thing read like a bad imitation Leigh Brackett, up to and including the pseudo-Chandler dialogue. Leigh, bless her, never held this against me. I also revived the character of Evarin, the Toymaker, from Falcons of Narabedla which had been read by—perhaps as many as a thousand readers in Palmer’s Other Worlds.
However, the villain/hero of The Door Through Space was borrowed directly from The Sword of Aldones as it was then; he was Rakhal Darriell, bastard son of the same father as Thyra and Marjorie … also known as Kadarin. And the hero, Race Cargill, had the terrible facial scars and the murderous hatred which characterized Gwynn Leynier/Lew Alton in Sword.
In short, The Door Through Space was a kind of replay of the old The King and the Sword—a replay of the basic situation—but the difference was that I was beginning to learn how to plot, and how to tell a story.
It became a fairly straightforward adventure story, using the catmen, the two deadly rivals, and a sort of Planet Stories-type plot with some slush about matter-transmitters. I regard it as my first wholly successful piece of commercial fiction. As I say, it came out like bad imitation Leigh Brackett, but it was the first time I’d managed to plot a solid adventure story, and I was proud of it.
During those years, while I was going bad with loneliness in West Texas, my then agent, Forry Ackerman, had loaned me a series of books and magazines, and to amuse me, he had included some fairly risqué stuff, very mild sado-masochistic fetish stuff: bondage, torture, etc.; not quite pornographic, but very definitely from the sexual underground. Since this kind of thing amused him, I wrote some of it into The Door Through Space—it seemed to go well with the tough-guy dialogue—and that was where the chained women of the Dry Towns had their origin.
I have since heard that this kind of thing by female writers is almost unheard-of. Believe me, I have no ambitions to be known as science fiction’s own Marquise de Sade! Well, Forry sold the expanded, novel-length version to a German publisher, still under the title Raubvogel der Sterne (The Falcon from the Stars). When I changed agents in 1960 or thereabout I had to re-translate this into English, probably improving it enormously in the process. Don Wollheim bought it, and displayed some interest in publishing another novel by me.
And that was the real beginning of what can now be called Darkover.
Shortly after I sold Seven from the Stars to Cele Goldsmith at Amazing Stories—I have long forgotten the precise date—Cele indicated that she would be receptive to another book-length novel (as book-lengths were in the magazines of that day). About that time I was reading The Three Faces of Eve, and was fascinated by the concept of multiple personality. When I read Clifford Simak’s Good Night, Mr. James, the two ideas seemed to blend and fuse into a single concept. The Simak story, for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is about a man who has an identical android duplicate of himself constructed to perform a special task—killing a dangerous monster—the duplicate being able to function with all the special skills of the original, but without risking the original. The android—today it would probably have been called a clone—was an identical duplicate of the man, and the story was concerned with his attempts to escape destruction, kill the original and take his place.
About that time, in an early issue of Galaxy, Wyman Guin’s Beyond Bedlam had hypothesized that every individual had two alternate personalities, “hypoalter” and “hyperalter,” who were, in this society, allowed equal access to consciousness in the body. In my new story, then, I postulated that a person might have suitable skills for a given task—but find that his ordinary personality was unfitted for it. Suppose that person had a buried alternate personality, and suppose that hypnotic and other techniques could draw forth that buried personality, to emerge when needed for a special task?
So that a deeply repressed Terran Medic, Jay Allison, discovered himself in the personality of his repressed alternate who calls himself Jason. (My original title for The Planet Savers was Project Jason.) I resurrected Darkover for this story; as I said above, I had by now lost hope that Ray Palmer would ever print the silly thing, and I felt that I would just as soon leave it decently buried.
But the planet I had invented for The Sword of Aldones struck me as a good location for this story, so I built an enormous spaceport at Thendara, and borrowed a fairly minor character, Regis Hastur, for a representative of the Hastur nobility. I didn’t feel, at this length, that I could justify explaining the entire Comyn nobility, or the Seven Domains, so I mentioned only the Hasturs.
A combination of a misprint and an attempt to be clever endowed Regis with five sons, three legitimate—which has led to many fans asking me who he married—whereas the original in my manuscript read that he had five sons, three legitimated—meaning that he had given them recognized status as nedestro Comyn sons; bastards, from casual love affairs.
I also, alas, for the purposes of the story, needing something to justify a cyclic fever, invented the fairly-unlikely mechanism of the forty-eight-year eclipse cycle. When I wrote it, I had not the foggiest notion that someday there would be thirteen Darkover novels. I was just hoping I could do well enough with this assignment that there would be one!
And people have been dragging it up ever since.
About the time Scott Meredith sold The Planet Savers to Ace for a reprint (I still think The Planet Savers is the most horrible title ever foisted on a helpless novel by a cruel editor…) Don Wollheim wrote to me, saying that he intended to buy The Planet Savers, and asking if I had another novel to back it up with. How different my life would have been if I had obeyed my first impulse and sent Don the short novel which had been on the cover of F&SF in 1954, The Climbing Wave!
Instead, I remembered the novel which was moldering away in Ray Palmer’s custody. His magazine had not had a single issue for more than two years. I decided that this was the moment of decision. The Sword of Aldones might be a bad novel—I didn’t know then quite how bad a novel that version was—but I didn’t think it was quite bad enough to rot away in Ray Palmer’s files for the next twenty years!
So I wrote to Ray with an ultimatum. I demanded that he publish it, or pay for it, or else return it to me. At that point I didn’t much care which he did; but I wanted him to do something. And what he did was to return it to me.
Well, I sat down and re-read the thing. It was even more awful than I remembered; it was completely hopeless. But I had grown a lot in the last three or four years, and now I should see just WHY it was hopeless. So I sat down to run it through the typewriter and try to tighten it up into something Don Wollheim could publish.
First I strengthened the conflict between Terran Empire and Darkovan, making this the basic conflict of the book—the clash of cultures. This was ultimately to become the theme of all the early Darkover novels. And because I had already used, in The Door Through Space, the theme of the terribly scarred and disfigured man, but Lew’s personality seemed to me essentially that of a maimed man, “with one cruel stroke of the typewriter I lopped off his hand,” as I once wrote flippantly in a fanzine. I consolidated three (yes, three) villains to make the figure of Dyan Ardais, which is why the Dyan of Sword seems to be so completely devoid of the slightest redeeming qualities—he had to portray the dastardly deeds of three separate and distinct villains! (I was to resurrect the Dyan of the original in Heritage, making him a complex man, with his own concept of honor.)
And I made what I now consider the greatest mistake I ever made in all the Darkover books; I killed Callina Aillard at the end of that book because a friend of mine identified very heavily with Dio Ridenow and wanted her to have Lew.
I ran the whole thing through the typewriter in ten days and sent it off to Don Wollheim.
And he bought it.
Nothing in my whole career has ever astonished me as much as the enthusiasm with which the book was received—enough to give it a push for the Hugo. Sword actually reached the voting finals and came in, I believe, second. I still don’t understand it. In the preface to the Gregg Press edition, Dick Lupoff commented that the book is hampered by a juvenile concept, and he’s certainly right; I can’t forget that the first draft of this book was written when I was about fifteen years old, and the many rewritings were not enough to eliminate some of the major flaws.
Even now, to me, the Darkover books still suffer from the need to maintain at least a basic consistency with that juvenile concept. When I finally decided to ignore—completely—absolutely everything I had established in The Sword of Aldones, (except for Marjorie’s death and the concept of Thyra’s child) only then did Heritage of Hastur become a good, mature novel.
And yet The Sword of Aldones, I suppose, has its virtues. To me, it is the hastily written, badly plotted, over-emotional, and much too rambling quickie I turned out in a rush for Don Wollheim; and yet it must have done something right, judging by the number of battered and dog-eared copies, read almost to disintegration, which are still shoved into my face to autograph at conventions.
Lengthy introspection turns up some interesting things to like about the book. It has immediacy; absurd as the plot elements may be, the people who keep turning up and giving Lew Alton guns or taking them away again, the pointless way in which the women shift bodies and identities, the action is so fast that nobody notices it’s all busy-work without meaning. The first-person narrative probably adds to this. I said, once, commenting on people who identified very strongly with the hero of Sword, “Well, yes, I guess the thing is that you believe it while it’s happening. You have to. There’s the poor guy bleeding all over the page.”
But mostly I don’t much like this one. I’m rather bemusedly grateful to my fans who like it, but when it is criticized, even very severely criticized, about all I can do is to hang my head and say “Uh huh. Uh huh. I was a lot younger when I wrote it. It’s a juvenile.” And when people tell me how much they like it, even—as some people do—rave about it, I’m completely at a loss for words. I can’t insult them by saying I think them very foolish for liking it. Maybe it hit something in them, something which I was feeling when I wrote it and they just happened to tune into when they read it. But I find it very difficult to understand.
And then I went back to writing hackwork for a living. Confessions. Magazine stories. During much of the early sixties, I was writing mildly risqué novels for Monarch books, on contract from Scott Meredith; I suspect Scott had a contract to supply Monarch with a set number of these junky things per month and farmed them out to any writer who was hungry enough, and facile enough, to turn them out by the yard.
I wrote these things under a variety of pen names, to put myself through college—I was still hedging my bets, not sure that all my markets wouldn’t dry up under me, so that I’d have to teach for a living. I didn’t want to teach, but without a college diploma, the alternative was slinging hash in a greasy spoon somewhere.
All the time my first marriage was slowly disintegrating. I was writing these things, and turning out yard-goods romances and confessions. I got to where I could turn out a two hundred page novel in three months and never miss a deadline.
In the winter of 1962-1963, Donald A. Wollheim, making a trip to Dallas to see some Western writers, came a couple of hundred miles to Abilene to see me (at the time I thought it a tremendous compliment and was flattered and excited), and asked if I had anything else on hand that he might use.
I had used, as an epigraph to The Sword of Aldones, a cryptic phrase which had struck my imagination in Franz Werfel’s Star of the Unborn: “The stranger who comes home does not make himself at home, but makes home strange.” The epigraph had been cut from the printed version, but I was still mulling over the phrase, and so I had written a two-or-three-chapter sketch about an exile returning to Darkover; I typed The Bloody Sun at the head of the fragments, and gave them to Don with a brief outline of the plot.
I never had much hope for it, but that summer, on a visit to my mother, I paid a brief visit to the old Ace offices and spent a few minutes with Wollheim. While he was telling me about some of the books he was going to publish in the next year, he said in passing, “And we have something by you—we’re going to buy it, of course—” and immediately went on to other things.
I don’t think any other moment in my writing career has ever held so much excitement and delight for me as that one. “We’re going to buy it—of course.” Of course! Something happened to me at that moment. I had always been thinking of my writing as a sort of small skill, which I managed to sell because I had no other talents, as long as I confined myself strictly to hackwork and formula stuff. Painstaking, skilled craftsmanship, for which I could claim no credit, since I felt this sort of thing could be turned out by the ream by any high-school graduate who could write a literate English sentence.
In that moment, when Wollheim said that to me, my whole self-image changed. I suddenly saw myself, not as a potential schoolteacher patiently turning out skilled hackwork to finance her education, but as a writer, and the writing itself as my real work, a knack of talent, or skill which was itself, and could be, and should be, a genuine lifework for which I should have no need to apologize. Suddenly, instead of saying hesitantly, “I write, because it’s the only thing I know how to do, and it’s better than working as a waitress somewhere,” I realized that the writing as itself was a respectable career, a vocation, not just a little hobby I could justify by selling enough to pay my husband back for spending so much on paper and typewriter ribbons and stamps.
Instead, that day—and from that day forth—I have said, I am a writer, a serious working professional, accepted as such. If I put my mind to it, there is no reason I cannot earn a decent living at it, and no reason I should feel compelled to do anything else. I have mastered my craft; now I can make it an art and a profession as well.
Maybe this is why The Bloody Sun has always been, and in a sense still is, my favorite of all my own books. Perhaps because, in this book, I tried to measure, consciously, my powers as a writer, a storyteller, an entertainer.
But the actual writing was a nightmare. My marriage, long shaky, and more nominal than anything else, suddenly and abruptly collapsed in a messy divorce. I was carrying the final semester of work on a Bachelor’s degree. I had three hackwork-novel contracts which I had to honor to pay the rent. The doctor put me on tranquilizers to try and ease the stress attendant on the disruption of my marriage.
And in the middle of the whole thing, I developed a horrifying “writer’s block”—the inability to sit down and write a single sentence. I would write a paragraph or two, laboriously, and then stare at the page and realize I hadn’t the faintest idea of what ought to come next. I would stare at the paragraph I had just written, cry a little, go away and iron a shirt, then painfully figure out what happened next and try to figure out a way to put it into words.
It was a nightmare. It lasted three weeks. It went away just as suddenly as it had come, but even that, in retrospect, was a boon; when the book appeared in print, even I could not distinguish the parts I had ground out with agonizing slowness and deliberation, feeling that every sentence was lifeless and dreadful, from the parts that had come in great flashing fast pagefuls as rapidly as I could type them out. And so I learned to trust my subconscious, to try and keep it in mind that I was a professional, a trained craftsman, and that I could not turn out anything very far below my current standard of competence.
The Bloody Sun was another first for me; it marked perhaps the first serious approach to sex in my books. Taniquel, in the original version of this book, written in 1963, is the first woman in science fiction to have an independent and autonomous sex life not dependent on some man in the story. Not the first such character written by a woman, just the first, as far as I can tell, in science fiction.
However, even in the delineation of the sexual mores of Darkover, The Bloody Sun made statements contrary to my later view of Darkover—and once again, this was because I had no notion that there were going to be further Darkover books. I allowed Kennard to say that monogamous marriage on Darkover was a fairly recent development … whereas later developments have proven to me (via the novel Stormqueen) that it dated back at least to the Ages of Chaos!
A serious part of my “permanent concept” of the social structure of Darkover is that monogamous marriage is not integral to the structure. Darkover Landfall, many years later, worked with the concept of a limited genetic pool where many traits could disappear simply by genetic drift, and others be reinforced by inbreeding; and, aware of the limited nature of this gene pool (all the original colonists from Darkover, for instance, were white Northern Europeans), it seemed to me natural that maximum randomization of the gene pool would be highly desirable, and one way to enforce this would be a form of group marriage where no woman would bear more than one child to the same man—this, of course, somewhat modified by individual preferences.
It also seemed to me—another of the “ground rules” for Darkover, and a part of my permanent concept of the Comyn—that they would tend to marry and reproduce among themselves, since for a telepathic caste, sex with nontelepaths would be as distasteful as mating with lower animals; sex, of course, enhancing communication via telepathy, and sex with a person who could not share in that sense, unsatisfying at best and perhaps impossible.
However, having laid out the ground rules for sex on Darkover, in the next Darkover book I abandoned any attempt to work with sexual mores and ethics, and wrote a juvenile.
During the period immediately following The Bloody Sun, I got my degree, and I came to Berkeley to do graduate work, and I married again, and I did commercial stuff to pay the rent, including three or four romances I can’t even remember the names of, or the pen names under which I wrote them. Scott Meredith got me to doing Gothics, too, which was a great improvement over even the relatively decorous “risqué” novels I was writing then for Monarch Books. I wrote a couple of Gothics, and when he suggested it was about time I try another science fiction book, my creative energies were at a fairly low ebb; so instead of inventing a whole new world, I decided to write another Darkover novel, a juvenile this time.
I had written one other juvenile, for Monarch, which had been killed off by poor distribution—Monarch’s reputation was for “adult romances”, so when people saw the Monarch name, they ignored it—and had had the final quietus put on it by a cover indicating that the book was intended for the 5-9 year-old audience instead of being, as it was, written for teenagers and young adults. But I had enjoyed writing a teenage novel, bearing always in mind the dictate of Robert Heinlein: “Make your hero seventeen years old, and write the story otherwise exactly as you would any other novel.”
Since I had mentioned that Lew Alton’s mother was a Montray, and related to the Aldaran family, in The Sword of Aldones, I decided that in Star of Danger, I would try to indicate when the Montray family had come to Darkover; whereupon my young hero became Larry Montray, born on Darkover.
I have always been a great believer in the Mary Roberts Rinehart method of telling a story on two levels; the outer story, known to the reader, and the inner story, known to the writer and revealed only slowly and by degrees to the reader. Somewhere in Star of Danger, I had Larry recall that his mother had died before he was old enough to remember her; but this, as I made apparent later (in Heritage of Hastur, to be exact), was simply what Larry believed; it is clear at the end of Star of Danger that his father had lied to him, at least once, about the circumstances of his birth and family background, which I felt was enough of a doorway left open so that I might indicate that Larry’s mother had been a kinswoman of the Aldarans and that she might even have survived the end of the marriage, without Larry’s knowledge; also that there might have been a sister whose very existence was unknown to Larry, if the separation was so early in his life that he did not remember her.
For a character contrasted to Larry, I chose a Darkovan youth, and because I had already established the existence of Kennard, in The Bloody Sun, I decided that Kennard as a boy might well have had contact with the Terrans.
One other element went into the plotting of Star of Danger, which needs a little explanation. By this time, The Planet Savers had appeared in one of those German reprint editions, in a magazine-pulp format. The Planed Savers is a very short novel, not long enough to fill up a book, although as the flip side of an Ace Double it was long enough; therefore the German pulp-writer hack who translated the thing for its German incarnation had blithely added an extra chapter! I read German very poorly, so for years I didn’t even bother going through the German edition, but one day when I did, several months before writing Star of Danger, I discovered an illustration which did not seem to fit into The Planet Savers at all; an illustration which showed Jason, Kyla, and the other members of the expedition to the trailmen all hung up in a giant net or bag of some sort. I couldn’t remember writing anything like that; a quick look through the printed version told me I hadn’t written anything like that.
I corresponded for a little while, most unsatisfactorily, with the German translator, who couldn’t imagine why I was incensed about it—he told me that he took it for granted that if a book wasn’t long enough, he would provide wordage in order to bring the story up to the “proper” length. It never occurred to him that I could have any reservations about this kind of unauthorized collaboration!
I don’t remember the translator’s name, and I finally decided that (a) he meant no harm, (b) translators were paid so little that he certainly hadn’t made enough money from this edition that I could justly accuse him of profiteering, and (c) the whole thing wasn’t worth worrying about anyhow. However, I decided when I wrote the next Darkover book—and already it was fairly obvious that all my books would be resold for German translation—I was going to mess up that translator very thoroughly by including the scene which he had written into The Planet Savers, in Star of Danger. My German wasn’t good enough to translate the episode, and Walter was too busy to read it to me, but I studied the illustration, and created the episode where Larry and Kennard are captured by the trailmen, by the method of using a big net!
Well, after Star of Danger, I decided I was through with Darkover. It didn’t sell very well, and I imagined that the readers were bored with the stories. I had had two children somewhat too close together—not entirely by choice—Walter had suffered a long illness, and we had gone broke and had to put our beautiful big Berkeley house on the market for sale as our last ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy. (It has since been cut up for a student rooming house and we have never again lived in a house which was really big enough to hold all our books and records—alas!)
We moved to New York on the promise of a job from an old employer of Walter’s, but the job did not materialize, and during the next few years Walter worked very irregularly, due to illness and a shortage of work in his specialized field, and I kept the whole shebang together with my typewriter. I wrote Gothics and mysteries and romances and astrology articles—including, during one dreadful year, daily horoscopes for an astrology monthly magazine—and reviewed books for underground newspapers, and did columns for them, and any other damn thing I could do to make something approaching a living for us and the little kids.
The only science fiction novel I wrote during that dreadful time was another teenage novel, called The Brass Dragon, for which my inspiration burned so low that during one long and terrible blank stretch, I even asked my 18-year-old son David to provide some scenes and chapter for it, in return for a small but definite percentage of possible royalties someday. The book was not, to put it mildly, a world-beater; in fact, The Brass Dragon got such poor reviews that I resolved to stop writing science fiction entirely and concentrate on Gothics.
During this time, I took a job as features editor of the aforesaid astrology magazine. The publisher was one of the old-time kind who bragged that he paid his writers less than any publisher in the business. In 1968, or was it, ‘69, he was still insisting that fifteen dollars a page was plenty to pay his writers; and then gave Walter and me somewhat less than a thousand dollars a month to produce the whole package.
This meant that we could not afford to buy material from reputable writers, and most agents laughed in our faces, so we were left with two choices; buy material from the slush pile and rewrite it, paying the incompetents almost nothing except the pleasure of seeing their names in print, or write the entire contents of the magazine ourselves. We needed the money so badly that we opted to write it all ourselves, under several pen names; so every month I wrote a women’s column, a teenage column, “Occultism for You,” “The Astrologer’s Bookshelf,” and a variety of informative articles and similar claptrap; not to mention the damn daily horoscopes!
In retrospect, this was an education in itself. It gave me some insight into the seamy underside of the publishing business; it made me realize that most editors were not tough hard-headed bastards, but the same sort of over-worked and hard-driven wage-slaves as the worst of us; it taught me to proofread, and last but certainly not least, it showed me how very much an editor depends on his writers, and what a delight it is to an editor to find something even halfway literate in the slush pile! It also gave me considerable confidence in my own abilities as a writer; if this was the level of the competition, why was I worrying?
But I had never believed that any supposedly creative job, like writing, could be so appallingly, soul-destroyingly boring. I was turning out, every month, the equivalent in wordage of a full-length novel; and not getting paid novel rates, or anything like that. My work wasn’t selling, and I had a pro desk man at Scott Meredith’s, for the first and last time, who didn’t seem able to sell anything I wrote. He convinced me that no editor would buy any of my work if I crawled to him on my knees.
I was just about resolved to quit writing and try to get a better editorial job somewhere in the city—I could hardly have had a worse one—but as a sort of last resort, I went up to the old Ace offices one day, drank a cup of coffee with Don Wollheim, and confided to him our circumstances and the shape I was in. He had quite a bit of good advice for me, but he was very firm in telling me that I should not consider giving up writing; and he put his money where his mouth was, offering to buy a novel; whereupon I sent off a presentation, and got back a contract, and a check, for what was to become The Winds of Darkover.
I was so utterly, absolutely sick of astrology that the idea of doing a good, serious, straightforward, action-packed science fantasy novel delighted me. In Star of Danger, I had postulated bandit raids; it struck me that this would make a good background for the story. I felt I had written too much about the Comyn and the Seven Domains, that everyone must be dreadfully sick of them; but The Brass Dragon had turned out such a failure that I didn’t quite dare abandon Darkover altogether. So I decided to write a Darkovan story about the far mountains. Also, having just read an Andre Norton novel that I liked—maybe it was Witch World, maybe it was Dread Companion, it might even have been Ice Crown—I resolved to try a female protagonist.
I had intended at first to make the heroine a Free Amazon, hired to fight bandits in the hills of Darkover. I played for some time with that idea, but somehow it never managed to jell. I was not to write successfully about the Free Amazons again for another seven or eight years. Being unable to manage a Free Amazon protagonist, I thought about the matter for a while, and decided that most sword-and-sorcery novels deal with the barbarian business of conquest; all too often that means the conquest of women as well as castles.
This is simply the seamy underside of heroic fiction; and having seen the seamy underside of something else about which I had illusions—the publishing business—I was in a mood to write a very disillusioned story. So my heroine became one of the women who suffered from a bandit attack. Actually, there were two women to start with; Melitta, the younger and more spirited, and Allira, the eldest, raped, and summarily married off to a bandit chief. Allira turned out to be a washout as a heroine.
Try as I might to infuse her with heroic spirit, all she did was cry, so the burden of rescue fell, willy-nilly, on Melitta, who turned out to be courageous enough to climb down the caste wall and escape through a tunnel of fungus and horrible little beasties. I wanted to contrast Melitta’s bravery with the ordinary life of women on Darkover, so in addition to her jelly-spined sister, I allowed her to go into the Dry Towns, where women are chained, lawful property of some man.
During this time, my major recreation was working with the local Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medievalist group given to researching ancient methods of sword play, ancient music and dancing; they also give tournaments, the winner being ceremoniously crowned as King, and installing his chosen Lady as Queen; and they hold Twelfth Night revels and musical events. For a time I served as Seneschal, and came into contact with many lovers of fantasy and science fiction who had never entered into fandom as such. I discovered, in this group, many people who really enjoyed my books, “especially the ones about Darkover.”
This was actually the first glimmering I had that there were people who read more than one of my books, even that the books could be read as a series, or regarded as a separate entity quite apart from my other fiction. There was one young girl, however, who insisted that her favorite was Falcons of Narabedla—the shameless Kuttner pastiche I referred to above—and kept teasing me to write a sequel!
I couldn’t figure out any way to do it—I still can’t—but for Karina’s sake I invented a rationale for the “falcons” and used them in Storn Castle as a way to spy on the bandits and the battles. I had actually envisioned the falcons after reaching an old Sax Rohmer thriller (the maker of Fu Manchu wrote some science fiction, sometimes, between chronicling the adventures of sinister Chinese doctors and dacoits) called The Day the World Ended, where mechanical flying-suits via radio beam allowed the would-be dictator’s men to fly in the guise of giant bats. I had used the “falcons” in Narabedla, and I brought them back in Winds of Darkover as a way for the blinded Storn to witness the battle; the original title of the story was supposed to be Wings of Darkover; but due to a misprint—and I still don’t know where it was mine or the Ace typist’s—the contract came to me as Winds of Darkover, and so I shrugged and wrote in a Ghost Wind sequence.
Because, years before, when I was writing Birds of Prey / The Door Through Space, I had tossed in a phrase, intended to sound colorful without meaning much of anything, about “the terrible Ya-Men, who turn cannibal when the Ghost Wind blows.” Now I had no idea what I meant by that. I just thought it sounded colorful and let the reader’s imagination do the rest. What the Ya-Men were, or what the Ghost Wind was, I couldn’t imagine; I suppose I picked up the phrase from looking at the masks of Ghost Dancers in the Iroquois Museum in the Education Department in Albany, New York. But when I discovered that willy-nilly I was writing a book called Winds of Darkover, I decided it was time for me to figure out what the Ghost Wind was and what it could do.
This was during the time when everybody was talking about psychedelics, so the notion of a psychedelic wind seemed a good idea; psychedelic winds—yes, but how? Perhaps a psychedelic pollen which blew around at certain seasons … and the Ghost Wind was born. In The Bloody Sun, I had mentioned a liqueur called kirian, psychoactive and psi-stimulating; perhaps it was made from this pollen? Later, I was to use this idea in Summer of the Ghost Wind, which was retitled Darkover Landfall. I kept the Ya-Men mercifully vague, because, to be absolutely truthful, I couldn’t imagine what they would be like, so I threw in a few phrases of description and let the reader imagine the rest.
Most of my readers give me credit for being far more profound than I am. I’m not profound; I simply let the reader figure out what is terrifying to him and visualize that in the blank spaces I leave in my book. Television spectaculars, with their silly monsters, have shown us that no one can possibly describe anything half as horrible as the reader with imagination will create for himself from your hints, if you stimulate his imagination. And nobody reads science fiction or fantasy unless his, or her, imagination is in good working order.
So I have no idea what the Ya-Men were—or are—like. I only know that they are very terrible indeed, with plumes and talons and shrill yelping cries—and I am sure that the picture in your mind seems more dreadful to you than it would if I described them with the care of an anatomist.
After all, at least to me, the final scene of “The Dunwich Horror”, where they describe Wilbur Whately lying dead and carefully count all the peculiar-looking tentacles and suckers around his waist and under the “abundant and tightly buttoned clothing” which had enabled him to pass as human—well, that scene destroys all the horror of the rest. Because I am not horrified, personally, by physiological abnormalities.
My apologies to H.P.L., but the idea of a fish-faced or “batrachian” humanoid reminds me of nothing more dreadful than the Tenniel illustrations of the fish-footman and frog-footmen in Alice in Wonderland. Comical, perhaps. Dreadful for the poor soul who suffers from disfigurement—but then, so is a hare-lip. But horrifying? Good heavens, no!
So I prefer to leave my monsters vague, allowing the reader’s imagination to create for himself, out of his own terrors, his very own nightmares. I have literary precedent for this. Oscar Wilde, when he was being attacked for writing of the “nameless sins” of Henry Wooton, in The Picture of Dorian Grey, commented that the “unspeakable sins” committed by that (un)worthy were simply those sins which the reader found most dreadful; that the reader, in his own mind, committed the sins and shuddered at them. Wilde himself had been careful not to particularize.
And I know that the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings, and the Balrog, are very terrible and very vague—but the recent Ralph Bakshi film has robbed the children who read The Lord of the Rings afterward of the shuddery pleasure of creating their own dreadful Balrogs. For I, at least, was not frightened by the Balrog at all, no more than by that charming construct of Japanese “horror” films, Godzilla, the friendly dinosaur. Indeed, who could be frightened by a monitor lizard with big wings? Certainly not anyone with the faintest knowledge of saurian physiology. I should, no doubt, be terrified to meet an angry monitor lizard, even without wings, in my back garden; or anywhere else where he was not securely caged. On the other hand, I have a young friend who keeps an immature specimen in her bathtub. De gustibus … there’s no arguing about tastes in monsters, or in pets. One man’s monster is another’s favorite zoological specimen.
Meanwhile, back on Darkover, I’d had a lot of fun in writing Winds, and it was a great relief after doing horoscopes, but I felt that enough was enough. I was fairly fed up with writing science fiction anyway. I felt that I hadn’t read anything in science fiction that really excited and delighted me, not for ages; not since Stranger in a Strange Land. And in writing Winds, I felt that I was not doing anything new and original, but re-combining old and familiar elements for a fairly routine piece of science-fantasy. And so I resolved I was through with Darkover. I still had a drawerful of unfinished ideas about Darkovan and quasi-Darkovan characters, but I had decided that everyone must be thoroughly bored with this by now. So I resolutely closed the door on Darkover and pledged to myself that I wouldn’t write any more Darkover stories; that chapter in my life was ended.
I resolved that I would think up some original ideas for a science fiction novel, or even a fantasy—fantasy was just barely beginning a respectable comeback via the Ballantine “adult fantasy” line. And if I couldn’t think up some good ideas, I’d throw it all up and write Gothics! I had actually written, about that time, a couple of fairly good Gothics, one of which wasn’t a Gothic at all but a horror story packaged as a Gothic, Dark Satanic, in which I made use of my experience as an editor, placing much of the novel in an editorial office.
Ever since 1948 or thereabout, even before Tolkien, and probably influenced by my purchase of a copy of Yeats’ Irish Fairy and Folk Tales and an odd volume or two of James Stephens, I had been thinking about a race of nonhumans who would be like the Irish faery folk of Gaelic legend. At one time I had started a science fiction novel about a colonist group who encountered these people, without being fully aware that they were the same as the faery folk who had supposedly landed somewhere in remote Ireland during the Pre-Christian era; forest-dwellers, post-technological, males indistinguishable from females.
After reading Tolkien, my faery people unavoidably took on something of the color of Tolkien’s elves. Nowhere in Tolkien does it speak of the elves as ambiguously sexed; I don’t know where I picked up that idea, perhaps from one of the Theodore Sturgeon stories in which he explored the notion of legendary people who could appear as men to a woman, or as women to a man. I always thought of them, not as Tolkien’s elves, warlike and magical, but more like the people who dwelt within the Norse mountains or the Irish “Faery Hills,” uncanny and spellbindingly beautiful. In my early teens, about the same time that I read The King in Yellow, I had come across Maeterlink’s Pelleas and Melisande, and without fully articulating it, I always thought of the mysterious Melisande as a “woman of the elf-mounds” who had strayed out of her faery homeland and could not find the way back.
I had used one of these chieri, as I called them, in Star of Danger; alien, beautiful, and stranger, with mysterious powers. And I had actually begun a short novel about the attempts of this lost and alien race to interbreed with humans. Influenced by Ted Sturgeon, I am sure, it had to do with an experiment, not dissimilar to that in the Vercors novel about a monkey-like half-human race, to test whether or not the monkey race was legally human, by seeing if it could crossbreed with mankind. Only in my story, it went the other way round; men, landed on an alien planet, were offered the opportunity to test their humanness by testing whether or not they were interfertile with the “old race.” Most of the book dealt with the emotional problems of a woman scientist pregnant by the alien, and how her husband reacted to this experiment. I wrote about six chapters of this garbage and finally put it whole into the wastebasket, before it even had a good working title. (I called it The Human Test, or Test For Humanity, which just goes to show.)
It finally came to me that the chieri were, of course, a unisex race, now male, now female, operating at different periods in time. However, I decided that the sexual element in such a story would make it difficult to handle at all, with the kind of taboos operating in science fiction at the time. I had no desire to write the kind of story which would have to be published as pornography; that seemed too high a price to pay for literary honesty. I have always tried to handle sex as frankly in my books as the standards of the marketplace would allow; but I had no desire to trespass those standards. So I hadn’t done anything at all about the chieri novel. And then, in 1970 or so, I went to Boskone; and while there I had one of those “What are you working on now—?” conversations with Anne McCaffrey, which all writers find valuable, and which are just about the only reason I ever go to conventions these days.
At that time Anne was Secretary of the SFWA—Science Fiction Writers of America—and to her, I confessed my disillusionment and disgust with science fiction. I’d let my SFWA membership lapse and had no intention of renewing it, or, for that matter, of writing any more science fiction. I was tired of writing the same novel over and over again. I was tired of reading the same novel over and over again. I was going to throw it all up and write Gothics. They were dumb, but then everybody expected them to be dumb. And so forth. Anne, bless her, listened patiently to this tirade, then asked if I had read Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which had just been published as an Ace Special. And this, poor Anne, brought on another tirade. No, I hadn’t and I didn’t intend to; I had just struggled through two super-avant-garde, formless and totally unreadable “Ace Specials,” The Jagged Orbit (I forget who wrote it—hardly John Brunner, I’d think?) [Editor’s note: It was John Brunner.] and Joanna Russ’s And Chaos Died, and I said if that was representative of really fine science fiction, I knew I was going to write Gothics, because the whole “New Wave” turned me off, off, off! Nobody wanted stories anymore, just political tracts and prose poems!
Anne said this one wasn’t like that, and urged me to read The Left Hand of Darkness; she’d bet me anything I liked that there were still some good science fiction novels around. I think she even put her own copy into my coat pocket, and I read it on the plane going home that night. I was spellbound; I shook Walter awake, at 2am, when I arrived home, squealing wild enthusiasms about the marvelous new book I’d just read. Maybe there was still some good science fiction after all! Maybe there was still some good science fiction after all! Walter read The Left Hand of Darkness, and his reaction was very strange; he said, “Now you can write that story about the chieri that you thought you couldn’t write.”
I let the idea simmer for a while, meanwhile reading some books on ecology, and finally I came up with a plot outline for a book to be called The World Wreckers. Many, many years ago, in the old pulps, Edmond Hamilton had been affectionately called “The ol’ world-wrecker,” because of his habit of destroying at least a planet, sometimes a solar system, and occasionally even a universe in his far-ranging space opera. So I wondered; what would a real world-wrecker be? Norman Spinrad had one good idea in The Doomsday Machine; I decided, though, that there were subtler ways to wreck a world, such as messing up a fragile ecology.
And it also struck me that this would be a good way to finish off the Darkover series; wrap the whole thing up, reconcile them for good and all with the Terran Empire, finish up everything I had to say about Darkover in one fell swoop—and incidentally tie off the loose ends of the series so tightly that nobody could ever resurrect it. This was my moral equivalent of tossing Sherlock Holmes off the cliff at the Reichenbach Falls. Finish. No more. Full stop.
There was only one snag in the writing. Editorial taboos about sex. Halfway through the writing, I called Don Wollheim up and said, “Hey, Don, I have to have at least one fairly explicit sex scene in this new book.”
He wasn’t pleased. But I explained to him that it was one thing to say that a human and an alien had sex—Burroughs managed it, and even wound up with John Carter and his Martian princess sentimentally regarding their unhatched egg—but quite another to make a sophisticated reader, in 1970, believe that such a thing was even anatomically possible. And I reminded him that Phil Farmer, in an old Startling Stories novelette in 1951, The Lovers, had managed to be quite graphic without offending anyone.
He extracted a promise from me that there would be no four-letter vulgarisms (unnecessary, for I dislike them quite as much as he does, if not more) and in turn I asked him for a promise that he would not cut the scene without consulting me. “If there’s anything in it that you simply can’t live with,” I urged, “call me, and I’ll cut it or change it to something you can live with. But please don’t whack away at it with a blue pencil. Promise?” And he promised.
This, of course, was the scene between Keral and David which shocked some people and pleased others. Homosexuality had always been a major taboo in science fiction. Theodore Sturgeon had attacked the phobia against homosexuality in his story The World Well Lost, and later in Affair with a Green Monkey, but the subject itself had never actually been dealt with in a science fiction story. However, this was necessary. In The World Wreckers, much of the story turns upon the desire of a young chieri, Keral, for a child to assure the continuation of his otherwise dying race. However, his emotional sympathy is attracted only by David Hamilton, a young, male doctor; and David has learned to love Keral in male phase. In order for the two to mate, David must first overcome his culturally-ingrained distaste for a love affair with a human being of the same sex.
This curious problem in alien emotions, and in cultural interchange, faced squarely, had a curious side effect; because I was the first person to attack this problem straight on, I became known as highly sympathetic; in fact, for a time, I managed to become something like science fiction’s token homosexual! I had no particular aversion for this position; but I am sure that it encouraged many other writers to stop being afraid of the subject, both in their writings and their private lives. I received a great deal of mail on the subject. And I am pleased with one side-effect of The World Wreckers. Having discovered, via the popularity of The World Wreckers, that the skies would not fall when he published a story which dealt honestly with even unconventional sexuality, Don Wollheim was encouraged to take a more straightforward view of sex in science fiction. His published objected to the implication of physical sex between David and Jonathan in a fantasy with a Biblical setting, called How Are the Mighty Fallen, by the excellent, and tragically short-lived, young writer, Thomas Burnett Swann. A few years before, I think, the publisher would have had the last word; but Don Wollheim went to bat for the artistic purpose of Swann’s work, and managed to force her to back down and allow the book to be published as Swann had written it. So I felt that my last look at Darkover had achieved a useful purpose. But I was also disconcerted. Because every time I stated that this was the end of the Darkover series, the answer was an outcry of, “Oh, don’t do that!” And this, not only from personal friends, but from virtual strangers and casual readers!
I think it was about a year after The World Wreckers when, discovering that Wollheim had left Ace, due to a quarrel with the people who had bought the company from A. A. Wyn (a period of eclipse for Ace, during the time when it belonged to Charter Communications). I paid him a courtesy call at his new offices, and found him angry and disgruntled. It seems that when he had started his own publishing company, so he told me, agents and authors took that as license to send him all kinds of old rejects and unpublishable junk. Specifically, he told me that he would like to publish something of mine, but that when he informed Scott Meredith of this, they had sent him a dreadfully old novelette which had obviously been making the rounds for upwards of fifteen years (I had believed Mission Camouflage, a real clunker about an interplanetary spy on Earth, had been lost or destroyed even before Planet Stories went out of business in the fifties) and chapters-and-outline of a dreary old end-of-the-world novel that I’d abandoned, and forgotten, after it was rejected ten years before! He told me that he’d be happy to look at something new; especially, he said, a Darkover novel. I told him I hadn’t intended to do any more of them, and he protested, saying that Darkover was a known series and a popular one.
I told him I didn’t think I had much more to say about Darkover, but I’d do what I could, and went home to write him something. A couple of weeks later, I came back with three presentations. One was a quasi-fantasy novel called House Between the Worlds, which he didn’t like; I didn’t sell it until six years later, and then to a hardcover publisher. One was a Brackettesque idea about a man escaping a prison planet to be betrayed and sold to the mysterious race of “Hunters” who make a fetish of trying to find bigger and better prey from all over the Galaxy. He said the prison planet idea had whiskers, it had been used so often. I’d never read it myself, but I deferred to his judgement. (A few years later, with the first scenes on the prison planet eliminated, he bought that one too, as Hunters of the Red Moon.)
The third was a story of the first landing of the Terran ship on a planet which would later be named Darkover; and the basic problem was something which had always vaguely intrigued me. What had changed a technologically oriented group of scientists and colonists into a vaguely feudal, sword-and-sorcery oriented world? And with this was another question which had stuck with me since my novelette, The Climbing Wave, published in F&SF in 1954; in this novel, a colonist ship returning to Earth commented that, “It had taken them three generations to repair the ship so that they could return home.” No sooner was that novelette in print than I began to contemplate a sequel, or rather a prequel, because it seemed to me that there would evidently be two parties, one wholly dedicated to repairing the ship and returning home; the other to abandoning the damaged ship and colonizing the new world; and that the clash between the two would be highly dramatic. I interjected into this story the “Ghost wind” which I had introduced in Winds of Darkover, as a disruptive force; and I called the book The Summer of the Ghost Wind. Darkover was nowhere mentioned in it; not until the very last line of the book. However, Don changed the title of the book to Darkover Landfall, because, as mentioned earlier in this article, Darkover was a known series, and a popular one, and the distributors wanted the readers to be able to identify it.
I didn’t know at that time how much influence the distributors had upon sales and marketing. But this forced me to think very seriously about continuing the Darkover books as a series—the knowledge than they had a following—and so, when he suggested another Darkover novel, I was receptive and willing.
Many, many years before—in 1948 or thereabout—I had read the now-classic Jack Vance collection of short stories called The Dying Earth, and there was a line in one story where Pandelume, the magician, remarks to a woman, “Your sword lives. It will kill your enemies with intelligence.”
Now that concept both intrigued and annoyed me. I am a great lover of fantasy, but when I grew up, fantasy was not—quite—respectable, and there always had to be some scientific rationale for how the things worked. (My very favorite example is in a Kuttner story where a werewolf was described as being composed of “Specialized osseous tissue—capable of almost instantaneous alteration.” That made a lot more sense to me than the curse which supposedly caused lycanthropy.)
So I simply could not imagine how this could be done. How would one cause a sword to act on its own initiative? Well, suppose the sword was linked—by matrix, of course, and telepathy—to the mind of a famous swordsman who could use it? Voila! Then all I had to do was devise somebody who needed rescuing—it turned out to be a Keeper, of course—and somebody who wasn’t very good at using a sword but needed to rescue the damsel in distress anyhow.
I had intended the Earthman Andrew Carr to do the rescuing, but Damon Ridenow walked into the story, and I allowed him to take it over. I have found out, during almost thirty years of writing, that the best characters are the ones who simply walk, unplanned, into a story, and take it over. I suppose the real explanation is that they represent the spontaneous creativity of the subconscious mind, which is less labored than the conscious mind which sits down and doggedly says, “I gotta get this damn story written or the rent won’t get paid.” I must be getting old. I am tired of logical explanations, as with the physiologically realistic Kuttner werewolf. I prefer to think that Damon exists somewhere and demanded to be written about.
Apart from Damon’s surprise appearance in Spell Sword, it was, and still is, a fairly routine damsel-in-distress story. However, I like it, first of all because of the catmen who appeared in it almost out of nowhere—I had used them, like the Dry Towns, in The Door Through Space—and because several of my friends, including my oldest son David (who is, in his twenties, both a friend and a fan of mine), have said that Spell Sword is a good book with which to start the reading of Darkover novels; it was the “flavor” of Darkover, and is a good, straight-forward action story, devoid of ethical problems or controversial issues.
It was the only non-controversial story I wrote for years. Darkover Landfall stirred up a furor because some outraged feminists objected to the stand I took in the book, that the survival of the human race on Darkover could, and should, be allowed to supersede the personal convenience of any single woman in the group. I have debated this subject ad nauseam in the fanzines, and I absolutely refuse to debate it again, but to those who refuse to accept the tenet that “Biology is Destiny,” I have begun to ask them to show me a vegetarian lion or tiger before they debate the issue further.
Not long after Spell Sword, I decided to attempt another Darkover novel. Many years before, while I was still writing Al-merdin fantasies, I had written a long and extended fragment about the early life of Regis Hastur, his career in the Guards, his quarrel with Dyan Ardais, his friendship with Danilo Syrtis, and so forth. Many of my friends and family had read this, under the working title of Insolence, and urged me to finish it and have it published, but I felt that it was not publishable as it stood. At the same time, I felt I should write about the events which had culminated in The Sword of Aldones—Lew Alton’s love affair with Marjorie, his part in the Sharra Rebellion, and his encounter with Kadarin. However, I didn’t think it could be done. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, with whom I was corresponding at that time, insisted that it could be done, and undertook to show me how it could be done; she actually wrote me a nine or ten page letter which contained a very lengthy chapter-by-chapter outline of the novel she thought I could make out of this book. I read the letter and exploded into screams of rage. No, no, no, a thousand times no. I cried (in a letter longer than her original). Regis Hastur could never behave like that, he’d have to do this instead. Lew Alton couldn’t possibly have done so-and-so because (lengthy analysis of Lew’s character and why he would have done otherwise). And after fifteen pages or so of this kind of stuff, I concluded by saying that now, if she had half a brain in whatever it was she was using for a head, she would see that I couldn’t possibly write the thing, and would she please write her own books and stop trying to tell me how to write mine? To which she replied that all she had proven was that she couldn’t write The Hastur Gift (which was what she was calling it then) but that I could—and had just proved it to her by telling her how I would have done it, so why didn’t I just stop fooling around and do it.
So I began what later came to be called The Heritage of Hastur.
About halfway through this book I had a really major policy decision to make. Was I going to be completely consistent with The Sword of Aldones, thus locking myself into my fifteen-year-old’s mind and my adolescent concept of Darkover? Or was I going to write The Heritage of Hastur as an adult, sacrificing consistency if I must, but writing the book the way I thought it should be written? I decided that I would be true to my adult self and to the best plotting and writing I could do now, in 1974. Out the window with consistency! I retained only the bare outlines of the story; the presence of Rafe Scott during the Sharra rebellion, the fact that Thyra later bore Lew’s child (I could write a saga about the difficulty I went to, bringing Lew and Thyra together … in fact, I once said, flippantly, that I went to far more trouble getting that child conceived than either of the parents!) and Marjorie’s tragic death, possessed by the ravening Sharra.
Well, the damned thing turned out nearly twice the length of anything I’d ever written before, and I was afraid Wollheim wouldn’t want it. But he had just begun experimenting with longer novels; Tanith Lee’s The Birthgrave was the first, and Heritage was the second. Despite a perfectly dreadful Gaughan cover on the first edition, it sold well; in spite of breaking every taboo in the business. Once again I had had to attack the subject of homosexuality head on; but, curiously enough, no one was upset by the picture of male homosexuals in Heritage, with a rather curious exception. I received a few nasty letters from confessed homosexuals in the Gay Activist movement, accusing me of prejudice because I, professing to be sympathetic toward homosexuality, had perpetrated the stereotype of the homosexual as brutal sadist, preying on young boys.
I didn’t pay too much attention to this criticism. It was overbalanced by the enormous amount of fan mail I received from young people who had been touched by the story of Danilo and Regis; one or two young people even confessed to me that they had become more willing to face it in themselves, without guild or suicidal impulses. My message, of course, had not been intended to give aid and comfort to Gay Liberation; the message, if any, had simply been that no one can live and be healthy without self-knowledge and self-acceptance, whatever form one’s own differences may take. I am not a crusader for anything except the right of everyone to be what he must be, without being brutalized by the opinions of others. I regard Dyan Ardais, not as evil, but as unhappy, a man desperately at the mercy of his own misery and his own obsessions; and Dyan’s tragedy, I have always felt, was that he did not come to know Regis well until he had destroyed himself irrevocably in the younger man’s eyes.
I have also discovered that there are two reactions to Heritage; those who identify, in the reading, with Regis, and those who identify with Lew. Personally, I identify with Lew, which is why I chose the Bleak House technique for writing it: alternate chapters in first person from the view point character, and third person for the adventures of the other characters, telling what the viewpoint character cannot know.
Heritage was my most popular novel to date. I received more fan mail about it than all my other novels put together, and I still get letters about it. It is also my favorite of my own books.
However, it lost the Hugo, missing out on the list of finalists. It did turn up on the list of Nebula nominees for that year, but that was only because there were 25 nominees and, that year, SFWA was experimenting with having no “short list” but with direct voting on all recommended novels. At the Nebula banquet, when C. L. Moore (my own childhood idol) was giving out the Nebulas, although I had no expectation (and no real desire) to win a Nebula, I still could not keep my mind from toying with the thought; just suppose I did win? Imagine getting a Nebula from C. L. Moore! (Childish attitude, hero-worship; she’d have to notice me then!) I also felt that while I didn’t really mind losing the Nebula (and I certainly wouldn’t burst into tears, as one loser did, to my chagrin, for I was sitting next to him), I would feel awfully damned angry if I were to lose it to Chip Delaney’s unwieldy Dhalgren, which was also on the Nebula nominee list that year, or to Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, which I admired but did not like, having a constitutional aversion to political tracts packaged as novels.
Well, the presentation came and went, and I don’t even remember who won the Nebula in question (which is why I have no great desire to win one—who, except the winner and his mother, ever remembers who won a Nebula four years later?), although I think it was Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, which probably pleased everybody. [Editor’s note: It was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.] However, later that night, a certain Silly Female who regarded me as a friend, God knows why, came up and cooed at me, “Mrs. Bradley—are you disappointed?” For a minute, I couldn’t even remember what she was talking about; when I finally figured out that she was asking if I was sad at not winning a Nebula, I was becroggled. I finally found my voice and told her that in twenty-five years of reading and writing science fiction, I had heard a hell of a lot of gauche questions, but that really took the cake—that I might have expected it of fourteen-year-old fan without any social savoir-faire, but that from a woman of my own age, who had enough sophistication to get invited to a Nebula banquet, I considered it unspeakable. Every time I have run into the woman since, I have cut her dead, which is probably cruel of me.
Years before, long before writing Winds of Darkover, I had mentioned that I would like to do a book about the Free Amazons. After Heritage, I asked Wollheim what he thought of the idea. I can’t say that he was enthusiastic; at that time, the science fiction audience was still mostly male, or at least the articulate branch of it was male. But there were more and more books with female protagonists, and he felt that if I wanted to do one, I might do it well, so he gave me the go-ahead, and signed a contract for a book to be called Free Amazons of Darkover. I started with a mental picture of Kindra, the Free Amazon, lurking outside the Great House of Jalak, tyrant of Shainsa, to rescue somebody … and then I couldn’t imagine why. What importance would the sister of a Free Amazon have on Darkover? Well, maybe Kindra was somehow kin to the Comyn. No, maybe she had been employed to lead a rescue, as Kyla, the Free Amazon in The Planet Savers, was employed to lead a mountain-climbing expedition. That, somehow, clicked; and with that, Rohana Ardais walked into the story, and, as Damon Ridenow had done with Spell Sword, decided to take it over.
When the book was finished, Wollheim called it The Shattered Chain. I didn’t understand why; the title didn’t seem to mean much to me. He explained that it was because of the women in the book, who were casting off their chains, physical and mental, real and imaginary … it’s a very good title, and probably a better title than mine, because after I had finished writing the book—which originally, I had hoped to make a straightforward adventure story like Spell Sword—I discovered that it wasn’t really about Free Amazons at all; it was about freedom in general. My thesis in the book was that most people think they are free and weight themselves with invisible chains; while Rohana, who refuses to remain with the Amazons, accepts her unwanted family responsibilities, and says at the end of the book that she has had “everything but freedom”, and has won a kind of freedom by accepting that she is not free, that nobody alive is ever completely free.
And just as in Heritage of Hastur, the only attack ever made on the book was from the people I believed would like it best. While some conservative male readers attacked it as “the obligatory radical feminist novel that every woman now feels compelled to write,” these were greatly in a minority. Most women liked the book, liked the mix of free women and women struggling to be free; and the Amazons have certainly affected the amateur writers. Some friends of mine, under the name of the Friends of Darkover, publish several fanzines, including one devoted to amateur Darkover fiction; and from the beginning, we have received more stories about Free Amazons than on all other subjects combined. I know at least four women who have legally had their names changed to the Amazon form on their checkbooks and driver’s licenses; the first was a young friend of my family who now calls herself Jaida n’ha Sandra.
But the radical feminists, one and all, attacked me, saying that by allowing Jaelle, the heroine, to fall in love with a man in the last chapter of the book, I sold out the feminist premise—that I gave the impression that Jaelle’s Amazon vows were just an adolescent stage, which vanished when she found a man she could love. I had, of course, no such theory—I only meant that any choice was likely to prove difficult, and that Jaelle’s belief in her own freedom was just as fallacious as Magda’s belief in her ability to defend herself, or her independence.
But the feminists raged. A whole issue of a feminist fanzine was devoted to “trashing” the Amazons as being phony feminists. I can only assume that these women had identified so deeply with the Amazons in the story that they felt I had no right to disappoint their daydreams of a feminist paradise … though how they ever managed to think of Darkover as a feminist paradise, even for Free Amazons (or, more accurately, Renunciates), I cannot imagine.
But by the time The Shattered Chain was being reviewed I didn’t really care all that much (though once again I allowed myself to be lured into debating the issue in the feminist press, as I had injudiciously done with Darkover Landfall). I had other fish to fry.
About the time I finished Spell Sword (way back there in 1973), my sister-in-law, Diana Paxson, had made an offhand remark about Andrew and Callista from that book, saying, “There’s a marriage that’s really got three strikes against it.” After a little thought, I realized that this was so. Twice, now, I had facilely used the marriage of a Keeper to an outsider, even a Terran, as a fictional device, in the best “Hero married the enchanted princess and lives happily ever after” tradition. But when I really stopped to think about it—no, really, it didn’t sound all that easy, did it? As a nice pat fictional device, a Happy Ending, it was just fine. But for real? Come on, now, I wondered, what would that marriage really be like? For that matter, what kind of weddings did they have on Darkover? So one night, even before I finished Heritage, when I wasn’t working on anything else, I rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter and started to write about the double wedding of Andrew and Callista, Damon and Ellemir, including the scene where Leonie gave Callista permission to leave the Tower and marry.
Damon and Ellemir would be all right. Ellemir wanted children, and probably would have them, and the only real problem they would have, would be the fact that she and her husband were such close relatives that they might be, probably would be, duplicating lethal recessives. But Andrew and Callista were quite another story. I went back into the files for an episode I had written way back before The Sword of Aldones was in print, or even finished; the one where the Keeper Callina Aillard (who was, in that version, called Cassandra Marceau-Valeron) was attacked with Lustful Intent by a villain whose name I had all but forgotten, but who later metamorphosed into one of the three villains who merged to become Dyan Ardais (Edric the Red Fox of Serrais? Valdrin Aldaran? I’ve forgotten his name, but he was definitely a Villain of the Blackest Dye, and Cassandra managed to protect herself by summoning up lightnings to strike him down!)
Well, if a Keeper could be conditioned to do that to any man who laid a rude hand on her (and I remembered that in The Bloody Sun, there was a distinct taboo against touching a Keeper), suppose she could not allow herself to be touched, even when she wished? How would this mechanism work? And above all, why? The answer to this led me into examination and research in Yoga, biofeedback, Kundalini, the imagined shock of the sex-force, Brahmacharya (the law of chastity for pious Hindus and Yogis, written about by Gandhi and others), and the tradition of virgin priestesses in pagan religions. I found myself writing about what happened when Andrew finally attempted to consummate his marriage. And what Damon and Ellemir thought about it, Callista and Ellemir being twins and in telepathic rapport. And would Callista continue to use her laran, and if not, why not? What were the laws of Arilinn about failed Keepers? Obviously, there had been many changes made in the laws of the Towers since the time of Cleindori, who was murdered by fanatics for abandoning her ritual virginity; Linnea of Arilinn, in The World Wreckers, made no bones about the fact that she was not a virgin.
By the time The Shattered Chain was in print, and Wollheim was asking about the new book, I was so deeply involved in Quadrille, which is what I called the thick mess of manuscript, that I didn’t have any wish to get involved with anything else, but I was fairly sure that it wasn’t professionally publishable. I told him this, saying that it was nothing but “a love story among a bunch of telepaths” and that he wouldn’t like it. But he asked to see it anyhow, so I sat down with it and tried to make it into a plotted story with some kind of purpose.
I did this by the fairly simple plot device of adding a story line which could take place around and through the love story; the desire of Dezi, illegitimate son of Dom Esteban, to be recognized as a son of the Alton line. To gain this, he tries first to put Andrew out of the way, then arranges the ingenious, accidental-seeming murder of the Heir to Alton, young Domenic. Like some of the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome, he attempted to inherit by killing off everyone who might stand in his way, and when Damon discovered it, he had to act firmly to remove the menace. This was the main action plot, as against the two other threads of the story; Damon’s decision to take up again the control of laran, which he feared, and had renounced, as Keeper of the Forbidden Tower, and Andrew and Callista’s attempt to achieve a happy marriage.
And it took me longer to finish this book than any previous one, because I was seriously worried about the taboos I was breaking. I had skirted lesbianism in The Shattered Chain, not out of squeamishness, but because I wished to write for all women, and knew that if I made any main character a lesbian, they would immediately say, “This story has nothing to say to me, it’s not about my kind of woman at all.” Also, because for some strange reason lesbianism is regarded as “sexy and exciting” by a certain kind of man, the voyeuristically inclined who is excited by the thought of lovemaking between two women, and the idea of writing that kind of thing for a male audience revolted me more than I could say. So, although in writing about Amazons I had to touch upon the matter (for in any feminist group, as NOW has also discovered, some women whose feminism is based upon separateness from men are attracted to the movement), I forced the “lovers of women”, to use the Darkovan phrase, into the background and required them to keep a low profile. I did not want to do this; but I preferred it to writing a sensational book for the audience that would say, “Oh, wow, lesbians, goody! Oooh!” and simper.
But in Forbidden Tower, there was no way to avoid the sexual implications of a four-way telepathic rapport between two couples, wide open to one another’s sexuality. It was very difficult to write without tipping over the scales into the pornographic. I had to face the sexual themes frankly without becoming tastelessly explicit; and I have never been very much interested in fiction which treats of sex in the manner of (as the limerick says) “Who did what, and with which, and to whom.”
Finally I had once again to call my editor and ask him just how far I could go. He surprised me by saying flatly that he believed that, since Dhalgren, there were really no more taboos in fiction, and that I could write anything I wished provided I handled it with good taste. I had been dawdling on Forbidden Tower for eight months. I finished, after that, within the month.
It was a long way from the argument I had over The World Wreckers! The world had changed, and I was very glad to see it happening in science fiction.
About the most adverse comment I had on Forbidden Tower was in a fanzine review which said, “Our attention is kept almost claustrophobically in the bedroom”. But most people liked it, and once again, it was nominated for a Hugo, although not for a Nebula; I had formally requested that none of my works be considered, under any circumstances, for a Nebula. This time it went up to the final voting, and perhaps, if the Hugo committee had managed to get all the ballots out in time for the postal service to return them, the final tally might have been different. I think, also, that some harm was done to the voting because, well in advance of the final balloting, the publishers of Fred Pohl’s Gateway were announcing in advance that Gateway was going to be the first novel ever to win all three of the awards—Nebula, John W. Campbell Award, and Hugo; and some voters like to be on the winning side, and will vote for a sure thing. But even so, I was told afterward that I lost the Hugo (or rather, Forbidden Tower lost it) by a scant handful of votes, fewer than ten. Unless one is a devotee of the Vince Lombardi thesis that winning is the “only thing” (and I am not), it is certainly no disgrace to come in narrowly close to a book of that kind of stature.
But losing the Hugo resulted in the same kind of amusing episode that happened at the Nebula Banquet, and makes me think that in the long run, Hugo losers have more fun than winners. The next day, a young Darkover fan with more enthusiasm than tact came up and informed me that it was unfair, dismal, horrible, dreadful. I thought she was commiserating with my loss—which had happened to me several times already, and was far worse than losing in the first place—but it seems that instead she felt it was a cruel and terrible injustice that Gordon Dickson’s Time Storm had lost. Well, I hadn’t (and haven’t yet) read Time Storm, but even so, I thought that I was the wrong target for this comment; it would have been better aimed at the Hugo committee, or better yet, at Gordy himself; he would have enjoyed hearing it, and I wasn’t, quite, yet able to appreciate it!
Later that night, I retailed this comment to Gordon Dickson, who complimented me on my forbearance—he said bluntly that if any of my fans had come up to him, and wept all over him (as this girl did on me) because Forbidden Tower had lost a Hugo, he would forthwith have dropped said fan out of a fourteenth story window!
But, of course, by the time Forbidden Tower was being voted on for a Hugo, I had already written Stormqueen. My fans had been badgering me to write a novel about the Ages of Chaos, and the heyday of the Towers, for years, and I had held off, feeling that without the conflict and culture shock of Terran and Darkovan, the Darkover novels would be no better than any other barbarian-sword-and-sorcery fantasy. But I finally decided to write it, thinking of Callista striking Andrew with lightning, and of the “anger that could kill,” and wondering what would happen if this power reposed in a child too young to exercise discretion in its use.
But Stormqueen is too recent a book for me to know what it is “about.” Books are never about what I think they are about. At the time I write them, I am interested only in the story line and narrative. I have no idea what their inner meaning may be, or even if they have any. Some day, five, or perhaps seven years from now, it may dawn on me what Stormqueen is “about”—aside from being a novel of an old man’s obsessive pride and his desire to leave his estate in the hands of his dearly loved foster-son rather than in the hands of relatives with whom he has quarreled. I see Stormqueen as a tragedy of hubris; and, once again, in the form of Allart Hastur who could see not one but all possible futures, I worked with the theme of the man who only wants to cultivate his own garden, a la Voltaire’s Candide, but who is drawn unwilling into the great events of his day. Also, I wanted to write about the heyday of the Towers, and about Darkover fighting wars before the Compact; and of the early days of Nevarsin monastery.
And then, after I had finished Stormqueen, Jim Baen took me out to lunch one day, talking about the reprints of the early Darkover novels, and asked me if I had ever thought of rewriting any of the earlier ones. I couldn’t honestly say that I had, but I told him that when I wrote The Bloody Sun, there had been less interest in Darkover and matrix mechanics, and that I had been hampered by length restrictions, back then in the sixties. And so, although I had written fairly fully of the techniques used for the forming of the Tower circles, and of the matrix technology of mining, and so forth, much of what I wrote had been cut out because of rigid ideas, in those days, that a science fiction novel should not run over 50,000 words or so.
And we ended by agreeing that I would rewrite The Bloody Sun for him, putting back what had been deleted, and writing somewhat more frankly about the formation of the Tower circle and Jeff’s integration into it.
I had been thinking for some time that I would like to write the story of Cleindori, the Keeper who ran away from Arilinn to work outside. After Forbidden Tower it was obvious to me that Damon’s work had spurred Cleindori’s rebellion; for it was transparently obvious to me that after Damon had discovered that, among other things, men could work as Keepers, or that Keepers could function without their ritual isolation and virginity, there would have to be changes at Arilinn.
But why, one of my young friends asked me, would they accept Cleindori at Arilinn? She was, said my friend, absolutely traife (the reverse, of course, of being kosher), having come out of the Forbidden Tower.
The answer, to me, became quickly fairly simple; she would go to Arilinn to prove that it could be done, that since a Keeper is responsible only to her own conscience, she, as Keeper of Arilinn, would be free to proclaim new laws for the Arilinn people. But Cleindori, in her innocent belief that people were reasonable, would not have counted on the fanaticism which thought of Keepers as sacred symbols; not just as matrix workers of a special kind.
And for this she fled from Arilinn, and was later killed.
I wanted to write this story. I even had a title for it; The Way of Arilinn. But it struck me that it would be altogether too grim, a story of innocent optimism brought to wreck, of betrayal and death and despair, fanaticism and murder.
And so I decided to incorporate this story into The Bloody Sun, to tell Cleindori’s story through her son’s eyes. In rewriting The Bloody Sun, I also added one character—Neyrissa, monitor at Arilinn, to emphasize Jeff’s growing awareness and his place in the forming circle—and made it very clear just where Bloody Sun belonged in the chronology of Darkover; immediately following Forbidden Tower.
I also tried to fill in some details left blank in the earlier version of the book; the main one being this: what was it that changed Kennard from the light-hearted youngster of Star of Danger into the embittered and cynical man of Heritage of Hastur?
I didn’t know, and now I do. It was his part in the rebellion during which Cleindori died. For he had believed in her, and believed in Arilinn, and believed in the honor of the Comyn and the reasonableness of most of the people on Darkover; and after Cleindori was murdered, he could no longer believe in any of those things, except with the gravest of reservations. He continued to work for the good of his world. But not with the same firm belief and optimism; only with a sort of dogged hanging-on. And so The Bloody Sun becomes a pivotal book in the two “sequences” of Darkover novels, which, offhandedly, I call the “Damon sequence” and the “Alton-Hastur sequence.”
Will there be other Darkover novels?
Oh, certainly, as long as editors keep buying them and fans keep wanting to read them. For instance, I am in the middle of another Ages of Chaos novel, called Two to Conquer, about a historical period which I call the “Time of a Hundred Kingdoms,” when what is now the Seven Domains was divided up into many, many little independent domains and kingdoms and principalities and dukedoms and shires. And I have been asked to write a post-world-wreckers novel about the child of David and Keral; and who inherited Regis Hastur’s throne in that beleaguered world? And I have been asked, by friends, if Lew Alton ever came back to Darkover; to which I can only say that I don’t know, but that I am sure his daughter Marja did.
And somewhere in my bureau drawers, I have several hundred pages of a story about what happened to Magda in the Free Amazon Guild-House; and certainly Jaelle could not have lived long with that turkey Peter Haldane! And so forth and so on…
But I don’t know what, or when, or how I will write all these things. I never know what a book is going to be about until I have written it, and sometimes even then I’m not very sure. I never know what a book is going to be about until it walks out of some darkness at the back of my brain and says, “Here I am; write me.”
Oh, I can say to myself, “Dammit, I’m going to write a book about so-and-so,” and force myself to write it.
But my best books force themselves upon me. And many, many of them appear in my mind in the light of the Bloody Sun, or of the four moons of Darkover. I don’t exactly “wait upon inspiration.” I quite agree that the best way to write a book is to apply the seat of the pants firmly to the seat of the chair, and remain there, ignoring all distractions. Genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, and “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”
But you need that ten per cent of inspiration.
Now let me see. Regis adopted a son…
Yes, there’s a book there. But don’t ask me where or when it will get written.
—Marion Zimmer Bradley
Copyright © 1980 Marion Zimmer Bradley. All rights reserved.
Darkover® is a registered trademark of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust
Some portions of “A Darkover Retrospective” were adapted from an article titled “My Life on Darkover” published in the amateur magazine Fantasiae, edited by Ian Miles Slater, c/o The Fantasy Association, Box 24560, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Copyright © 1974 by The Fantasy Association and used by permission of Ian Miles Slater.
I have taken minor liberties in a few spaces, primarily minor edits to break up overly long paragraphs and sentences, which are difficult to read on smartphones and tablet. Also, there are certain aspects of grammar and style that have evolved, and thus I have made minimal changes as needed for purposes of clarification.
Believe me, I thought about it deeply, because as an author myself, I know how important even a “mere” comma can sometimes be. In this case, I chose to make the alterations for reasons of accessibility, so that more people would have the opportunity to read this piece, which had a great deal of personal impact on me when I was but a wee glutton for punishment (professional, we’re called “writers”).