Wayward Musings

By Kim F. Holec

In Memoriam

Marion Zimmer Bradley (1930-1999)

While I was still in college, my best friend one day discovered that I had not read anything by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Knowing my tastes in science fiction and fantasy, she piled a number of novels into a paper bag and told me to go home and start reading. I took her advice, and haven't looked back since. Thus began my discovery of a great woman's works, both as writer and editor.

I read all the Darkover novels that had been given to me, returned them to their owner, and started haunting the used and new book shops for copies of her work. So what had brought me into the world of the Bloody Sun? Perhaps a brief history of the planet Darkover is in order.

In the not-too-distant future, give or take a few hundred years, FTL travel has been discovered, and man is settling other planets. A group of mostly people from the Celtic fringe nations of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales, along with other colonists, are traveling away from Earth, where everything is too easy; they want to return to the old ways and live in peace and harmony with the land, which they cannot do on a super-industrialized Earth. Shipwrecked, crew and colonists find themselves on an uncharted planet, far off the Terran Federation shipping lanes. They manage to survive a rather hostile land, with long cold winters and little metallic resources, by reverting to a form of feudalism, the noble cast of which is based amongst those who learn to develop the old mind powers. The planet Darkover develops its own non-Christian but somewhat Celtic culture over the centuries. Along the way, the rulers, having undergone a series of bloody wars and decades-old conflicts over petty quarrels, finally bring into being the Compact, which prevents long-range magical and mechanical warfare. The feudalistic nobles evolve into a Council ruled by a King (in name only), and the real ruler of the Seven Domains is the King's right-hand man, a Prime Minister, if you will, who works with the Comyn Council to govern Darkover. The psychic mind-gifts mentioned earlier, are fixed in the noble lines by a breeding program. How well all these changes in a culture serves the world of the Bloody Sun (yes the sun is a red giant, but the planet is far away), is a moral decision that MZB forces the reader to discover for themselves.

There is no Industrial Revolution as we knew it on Earth; Darkover is a Middle Ages-type culture that uses the mind-powers less and less. In fact to the people of Darkover, Terra is a long-forgotten myth; until centuries or thousands of years later the spaceships of the Terran Federation appear in the skies, and nothing is ever the same again, for Darkover or Terra. The conflicts between two ways of life, one wishing to take only what Darkover sees as good about Terra and ignore the rest, the other seeing only as big brother government always does, and wishing only to take the planet back under its wing and lead it away from its primitive culture (how typical of Earthmen!). The pre-and-post discovery stories in the Darkover worlds show forth man's conflict within and without rather nicely.

To say the least, I was fascinated by these novels. And one of the great things about the series is that it can be read in no particular order, unlike, say, the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. However, there are certain groupings within the series that ought to be read together, such as THE SPELL SWORD and THE FORBIDDEN TOWER. I liked the idea of people training themselves to use innate powers through the matrix crystals, or starstones. I really liked the idea of red-headed people being in the majority. I found the idea of the Free Amazons to be a wonderful escape for women who did not fit in the very conventional society that Darkover became. And I especially liked the exploration of of how a culture, separated from all others, can be seen as alien when it is rediscovered by its long-lost cousins. As it turned out, the post-discovery novels were among Ms. Bradley's favorites to write.

However, MZB, as she is called by her fans, was just not the creator of Darkover. She also wrote the best-selling THE MISTS OF AVALON, which was a first in the Arthurian field, with a woman's point of view towards the Matter of Britain. She edited a great anthology series about women fighters, priestesses, magic users, farmers, and more, titled SWORD & SORCERESS. She founded a fantasy magazine for new writers who wanted to write traditional fantasy, and were finding not much of a market. Marion Zimmer Bradley's FANTASY MAGAZINE will continue to be published. She spent a great deal of time nurturing all these beginning writers, and raised and supported a family. She would not have called herself a feminist, however, because she did what she thought was right for her to do, which was to help people, women especially. She taught me that the real plot of all fiction writing was that Joe or Jane had got his/hers butt in a sling, and was trying to get it out! And she was a devout Episcopalian, which might surprise the pagan readers of her works. She also helped found the SCA, when she and her sister-in-law Diana Paxon threw a medieval banquet back in the 1960's in the backyard, which grew into a non-profit organization for educating folk about the Middle Ages and is still growing. I myself was involved with the SCA long before I started attending SF cons.

I was honored to meet Ms. Bradley on two occasions.

Many years ago, she attended the Atlanta Fantasy Faire. AFF was mostly a comic book trade show, with a few SF&F writers and artists, and a few guests from the SF media thrown in to attract the non-comic book fan. I do not think that she would have attended, had she know these things, and also that it was a very large convention. However, she was polite if a little distant; she was staying on our floor in the hotel, and we respected her privacy. Only once, outside of a panel or a signing, did I get up the courage to speak to her, and told her that her work was very appreciated by myself and other fans I knew, and she thanked me for my kind words.

A few years back, she attended one of the last Magic Carpet Cons in the Chattanooga area. She became ill with the flu at the con, and was unable to meet her commitments to the con, which I am sure must have made her feel bad. However, a few of us were allowed to meet with her and speak for a few minutes. I did get one book autographed, as I did not want to tax her health. (Here I must say that so-called fans who bring boxes of books and comics to conventions to have their favorite author or artist sign them are plain and simple rude assholes, especially when they turn out to be a dealer who doesn't want the item personalized because they are going to sell it for a profit! I love it when con coms state explicitly that only a certain number of items can be brought to signings; this means that everyone who wants an autograph can usually get one.) Under the circumstances, Ms. Bradley was gracious to all.

Marion Zimmer Bradley will be missed by many in the SF&F field. She encouraged many people to express their talents in writing, and was a keen and demanding editor. She had no desire to publish dreck, or to let those writers she knew to get away with doing the least they could do. She was also kind enough to open up her world of Darkover to let others play in it; and it turned out to be a great training ground for beginning writers in fantasy.

For more information about Darkover, please go to this great web site: http://www.ceremade.dauphine.fr/~rossi/darkover/index.uk.html

For more information about Marion Zimmer Bradley's FANTASY MAGAZINE, please go here: http://www.mzbfm.com/

To read a good and brief biography, see this site: http://www.mzbfm.com/bio4funr.htm

For the homily spoken at her funeral, please view this: http://www.mzbfm.com/homily.htm

For a reflection on MZB, read at her funeral, please go here: http://www.mzbfm.com/reflect.htm

These last three sites have said much better than I can what Marion Zimmer Bradley meant to those of us who read her works. She will be missed.

© 1999 Kim F. Holec

Kim F. Holec is too many things to count. She was born under the sign of the Twins, so you figure it out. Even while she is at work, she is a part-time writer, editor and poet. She is owned by four cats, and some say she is herself a cat in disguise. She thinks of herself as a renaissance woman, because she is interested in many things, thus the changeable nature and topics of her writings.

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