A few weeks ago I wrote a post about science fiction writers and just a few days ago I organized a few of the book shelves in my office. While I was doing that I thought a bit about some of the authors that I’ve enjoyed over the years and some of the ones whose recent books I’ve liked.
I’ve decided to start a series of posts on speculative fiction authors that I’ve read and what I found engaging in their books. Like most readers, I have specific tastes, so I’m sure that many admired and well liked authors will be missing. In anticipation of the complaints about why I left your favorite out, I apologize in advance.
I also want to mention that this won’t be a solid stream of one post after another about my favorites; I’ll be mixing other subjects in as the mood hits. At my age, my mind wanders hither and yon with very little restraint and I really don’t know from one day to the next where that will lead. That’s one of the perks of getting older—folks have a tendency to excuse minor eccentricities. In no particular order, here we go. First up on the list is Marion Zimmer Bradley.
I’ve always thought that MZB was unique in that she cultivated the ability to tread equally well on both sides of the science fiction/fantasy line. I came to her books long after I was an adult and had been reading hard science fiction for years. A friend gave me Two to Conquer, one of the later “Darkover” books, to read when I mentioned that I had never read many fantasy books. By the time I finished, it I was hooked. Bradley had a marvelous talent for developing her characters and a singular ability to weave a story. Her plots were often convoluted as they twisted and turned their way through the book, but in the end everything fell together in a way that made the reader yearn for the next book. I finished that book in two evenings and spent the next two months getting caught up on the entire series. To this day, the Darkover books hold a special place on my bookshelf.
The Darkover series, for those of you who may not have read it, was about a lost Earth colony that developed on a world where psi abilities that were native to the planet’s population eventually ported over to the human colonists. The story line had a strong medieval bent which gave the books the fantasy flavor. Despite that, there was also a hard science fiction edge to many of them and Bradley was adept at stepping on either side of the line as needed.
Darkover wasn’t the only series that MZB wrote. In 1983 she published The Mists of Avalon, a retelling of the Arthurian legend that over time, with the able assistance of Diana L. Paxson, morphed into a series of books. Later the book was developed into a television mini-series with a stellar cast including Anjelica Huston and Joan Allen. For whatever reason, I was never drawn to that series in the same way I was to Darkover, but that’s just personal taste. They were and are fine examples of the fantasy genre.
Ms. Bradley wrote several other fantasy series, including the Atlantean series in the mid eighties. In between she wrote a stable of stand alone novels, mostly fantasy, but also including two of my favorite books, the hard sci-fi novel Survey Ship and the scifi/fantasy blend of The House Between the Worlds.
Her personal writing aside, perhaps her most important legacy was the way she mentored budding writers. One was the above mentioned Diana L. Paxson. Four others that come to mind are Mercedes Lackey, Holly Lisle, Elisabeth Waters and Deborah J. Ross. Each of them is a well known and talented author who would probably been successful without MZB, but whose path was made easier by her guidance.
Marion Zimmer Bradley died in 1999 at the age of sixty-nine after several years of declining health. The sun in the world of fantasy shone just a bit dimmer in tribute when she passed.