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04 January 2013 @ 08:37 am
Darkover reread: The Planet Savers  
I've started rereading of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books, in chronological order (the order they were written, not the order in which they take place, which would be a different but also-interesting exercise).

That meant I started with The Planet Savers, written in the late 50s. I could say that this is the worst Darkover book ever written, but I'm not sure that's really true.

I'm not sure this is really a Darkover book.

This book was written in the 50s, first appeared in Amazing Stories, and the edition that was published there is available via project Gutenberg. Which is how I know the editor of the magazine dubbed this story MZB's "triumphant return" to the magazine, and her best story yet.

What I remember from my first read (when I think this was one of the last Darkover books I read, after having already inhaled everything else I could find) was that I hated the prose and the story in equal part, but took heart from the fact that the author over a couple decades, got from this book to some books I genuinely loved, because that gave me hope my early writing would turn into something more, too. (My first story sale was to a Darkover anthology, so Darkover has always been a little tied up in my own journey as a writer.)

The story--it's more of a novella or novelette than novel--is about Jay Allison, a Terran physician working on Darkover who, because he spent his childhood among the planet's tree-dwelling trailmen, who incubate a mild form of a virus that turns deadly among humans, is the planet's only hope for mounting an expedition to convince the trailmen to come back to Terran HQ where they can donate their blood so Allison can develop a vaccine.

The problem is, Jay Allison has grown up into an arrogant jerk who hates all Darkovans and can't possibly lead an expedition of them into the mountains where the trailmen are. So the obvious solution is ... to bring out his repressed, nicer, younger, more impulsive personality, and let it go on the mission for him!

Angst ensues! Our protagonist's two personalities have no memory of each others' actions, but they hate each other anyway! But the mission is the thing, and they'll both do anything to make it succeed!

This doesn't feel like Darkover (not that Darkover has ever been opposed to angst of its own), but like a more generic work of pulp fiction. Whatever it was that made Darkover feel alive and real and like itself isn't here yet.

Yet things that will turn into the trappings of Darkover later are all over the place: the matrices, the telepaths, the compact against distance weapons, the free amazons, the impenetrable Wall Around the World. Many of the character names are familiar too: Lerrys Ridenow, Rafe Scott, Regis Hastur ... but these aren't actually the characters we'll meet and come to care about in later books, but other, more generic characters who happen to have the same names.

There were also some once-standard SF trappings that my teen and 20-something Darkover-loving self didn't notice at all but that my current self is much more attuned to, because conventions and expectations have not only changed over the past half century, but also over the past couple decades:

- Fair-skinned aristocracy: Check. (Maybe redheads weren't considered as anglo then as now?)
- Homo sapiens, aka humans, as the pinnacle of evolution on all worlds, everywhere: Check.
- "But you're a woman!" Check.

My recollection is that the first of these things remains true for the entire series, while the second and third sort of remain true and sort of get revisited.

Anyway, Jay Allison's mission succeeds of course, the trailmen agree to help our party after our white human protagonist gives them a good talking to, and said protagonist wins the girl, who wasn't really on the mission because we needed her awesome free-amazon mountain-climbing skills, but to give him someone to fall in love with.

Also, the protagonist's two personalities are re-integrated into one, because apparently all he really needed to do to bring the disparate pieces of his true self together was to punch out Regis Hastur.

But it's okay. It isn't really Regis Hastur.

What this feels like to me is a seed novel, a sort of 0th draft for the Darkover books, filled with rough ideas and concepts that would later be mined to create actual Darkover novels. Not a triumphant return--not even close--but a beginning place from which things would later grow.

Manually crossposted from Desert Dispatches: Wordpress Edition. Because lj is sort-of-down. Again.
Malkin Greymalkingrey on January 4th, 2013 04:03 pm (UTC)
I always figured that The Planet Savers had roughly the same relationship to, say, The World Wreckers as Georgette Heyer's The Black Moth had to These Old Shades.
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 4th, 2013 10:30 pm (UTC)
Haven't read Heyer yet (I know!) but it makes sense ... first we get concepts and ideas on the page, then we refine them into something stronger.

Sometimes the earlier idea drafts wind up published, sometimes they don't, is all. Because it takes time to see the roughness clearly.

And, you know, along the way probably some readers got a good read out of those rough drafts.
Deborah J. Rossdeborahjross on January 4th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
I think you've put your finger on what happens when a series grows over a long period of time. Early Darkover stories certainly reflect the prevailing publishing expectations. The Door Through Space (1961) and The Falcons of Narabedla (1957) are also very early explorations.

For me, the turning point was The World Wreckers (1971), where Marion started pushing the boundaries of gender and polyamory, albeit still within the conventional plot framework. Some would argue with me and say the real transformation of Darkover came later. By the time she wrote The Heritage of Hastur (1975), the times they were a-changing and she had a supportive editor willing to take a chance on a sympathetic and heroic gay protagonist. The Shattered Chain came out the next year.

Marion did introduce people of color much later as Terrans (City of Sorcery).
Rachel M Brown: Sakurarachelmanija on January 4th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
There was a very sympathetic black woman (Cholayna, an off-worlder) in Thendara House -- IIRC, she was the only person in the Terran quarters who wasn't a total jerk.

Wasn't part of the premise that the original colony ship consisted entirely of Spanish (as in Spain) and British people? And the psychic powers were partly via the chieri, and partly Scottish and Irish "second sight?" I realize that in real life, British does not necessarily mean "white," but I think the redheads must have been the result of Bradley thinking that they were all from that line of descent.
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 4th, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
In Darkover Landfall the colony ship was set up as having made up of a racially limited group, yeah ... I don't know (but maybe Deborah does) if that was always canon or decided on after the fact. (I don't consider deciding after the fact a bad thing at all--as far as I'm concerned nothing is really canon and the reasons for everything can change until they're actually put into published words, and so retrofitting, done well, is just fine.)
(Deleted comment)
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 6th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)
This. Explains. So. Much.

I don't think I'll be able to read the books without the very possibility in mind.

So thank you for that. :-)
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 4th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC)
I remember the World Wreckers as not being up to the prose of later books, but having some really, really interesting ideas going on, enough that I did enjoy it.

Interesting that a supportive editor was part of Heritage ... when I looked at the publication-order list, I saw that and wondered about the craft leap between The Spell Sword and Heritage of Hastur. It's easy for me to forget how radical the latter book must have been at the time, too.

I was trying to remember if there were PoC characters among the Terrans in some of the later books--been long enough I wasn't sure.

And yes--one of the fascinating things about Darkover is how much it has grown and deepened!

Edited at 2013-01-04 11:13 pm (UTC)
Rachel M Brown: Sakurarachelmanija on January 4th, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
I love that you are re-reading these. I recently re-read The Heritage of the Hasturs. Please keep reporting on them!

I agree about this one. My favorite part of it was the truly hilarious anti-Ockham's Razor solution to the problem of "the only person who can help doesn't want to help."

A. Bribe him.

B. Threaten him.

C. Logically convince him.

D. Give him a helpful alternate personality.
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 4th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
And the funny thing is, we need to use C to convince said person to go in for the release of his alternate personality anyway.
Debbie N.wild_irises on January 4th, 2013 11:07 pm (UTC)
I think some of the most recent ones may be the worst ones (and I haven't read any that are not by MZB). But I do remember this as forgettable (how's that for an oxymoron?).
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 4th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)
I remember this as the weakest one, but it's been ages and ages. And of course, this sort of thing is hugely subjective too.

Just started Sword of Aldones, and interestingly, there's already so much more there to pull me in than in Planet Savers, for all that I know MZB herself chose to rewrite Aldones later.
Debbie N.wild_irises on January 4th, 2013 11:29 pm (UTC)
After I posted my comment, I remembered Darkover Landfall, which again is kind of "not a Darkover book," but is almost certainly the worst, if you count it.

When you re-read it in sequence, think about re-reading We Who Are About To..., Joanna Russ's novel-in-response.
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 6th, 2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
I actually read Darkover Landfall first, as it was loaned to me by the friend who got me hooked on Darkovwr because it came ffirst ... fortunately, she shoved The Bloody Sun into my hands right after, and so managed to hook me after all.

I actually remember disliking The Planet Savers far more. But of course, when I read Landfall I didn't yet have a basis for compariso. Will be very interesting to see what I make of it now.
Peni GriffinPeni Griffin on January 5th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
And that "triumphant return" reminds us that we have no idea where we are in our careers at any given point. The writer of that copy seems to think she's established; but we know she hasn't yet begun.
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 6th, 2013 11:28 pm (UTC)
I was thinking about this, too.

We spend so much of our careers thinking, craft-wise at least, that we've finally gotten it together, having no idea what we have yet to learn.

It's humbling, really.

(That the editor also thought MZB had arrived is also interesting, in different ways.)
Mary Osmanski: purpfleurmaryosmanski on January 5th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
I have always thought that MZB's writing became much better and the stories far more interesting when she was able to write at greater length... with the proviso that the novels with "contemporary" Darkovans and Terrans always seemed to be more enjoyable to me than the ones--like Two to Conquer and Heirs of Hammerfell-- from the pre-rediscovery of Darkover era.

I will also note that the past two years at Darkovercon have seeen a return to having at least one Darkover-related panel at the con, and there in every intention of continuing this practice. We just need to come up with good topics!

Edited at 2013-01-05 04:10 pm (UTC)
Janni Lee Simner: bookshelfjanni on January 6th, 2013 11:30 pm (UTC)
Was she specifically told she could go longer at some point? That would make a lot of sense--the novels did get deeper as they got longer. (Reading Sword of Aldones now, and feeling like there was a whole other novel's worth of story she wanted to include but didn't ... which, of course, given Heritage of Hastur, there sort of was.)

I do remember liking Stormqueen and (especially) Hawkmistress from the pre-discovery era.

You know, I've never been to a Darkovercon! Really do need to go one day.

There are definitely plenty of subjects for discussion still out there!
Peni GriffinPeni Griffin on January 7th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
Hawkmistress is of personal significance to me, because I read it, enjoyed it more than I had other Darkover books (I was never as into it as the people around me), and had the epiphany: "That's because it reads like a juvenile book."

Up to that time, I'd expected myself to write fantasy for adults, and assumed that the reason I haunted the juvenile room at the library was that fantasy was assumed by librarians to be a juvenile genre, so that all the adult stuff wound up there. Hawkmistress was the point at which I realized that no, I prefer books written for young people.

I still assumed, at that point, that I would write for adults; but now the reason was that I didn't think I could write well enough for children. Until I needed to write a story in which, I realized, all the interesting things would happen to the children. Which is the point at which I realized that my being able to do something had no bearing on what I should choose to do.
Janni Lee Simner: clayweblogjanni on January 10th, 2013 10:23 pm (UTC)
Heh. It was only after I figured out I was writing YA/MG that I looked back and saw clearly that so many of the books I liked, even though they were published as adult books, were telling YA sorts of stories.

Many wound up later being re-issued as YA, too (if they hadn't been issued in both genres from the start), as the YA genre grew.