Which Darkover novel should I read first?

As a result heavy lobbying by two different friends with vastly different tastes, I read and enjoyed Mists of Avalon. One of my friends also suggested that I would like Bradley’s Darkover novels, as well, but I’m a bit overwhelmed. There are twenty-one books in the series!?! Is reading them in publication order wisest? I hear that this is not necessary because each novel is self-contained, but I’m a bit skeptical.

Did the quality improve as the author gained experience, or did the series suffer from series syndrome? Would there be anything to gain from reading them in “historical” order?

Given that I might only read one, which book should I start with?

Podkayne: This is actually a kinda tough question. But I’ll give it a shot :slight_smile: .

No. Definitely not.

Rightfully so. Some are, some aren’t :wink: .

The quality did improve and the consistency tightened up some. But it is, IMHO, rather scattershot. There are all sorts of weird permutations. So Sharra’s Exile is a much superior reworking of Sword of Aldones. But you shouldn’t really read that one, until you read Heritage of Hastur, which directly precedes Sword in story and chronolgy, but I think was written later ( I think - it gets confusing ).

Then there’s also the confusion resulting from the fact that the last few books were ghostwritten.

Not necessarily, no.

And this is the really tough one :smiley: . I’m just not sure what to recommend for a starting point. The general advice for the Darkover books is to “just dive in” and sort things out later. But it might take a few books before things start to sort out and really some of her stuff stank ( or more charitably, was inferior compared to her better work ).

After thinking about this for a few minutes and ruminating over a few possibilities, I’ll make a very tentative recommendation of Stormqueen. This is set quite early in her internal historical chronology and it is not set in the period that really interested MZB, herself. So there is none of the Terran/Darkovan conflict that is so near and dear to MZB and which permeate most of the Darkover novels. But it is a solid introduction to the Darkover “milieu” and it’s a stand alone. As an alternate, I’ll very tentatively recommend Bloody Sun, which is NOT her best, but is pretty decent, is sorta a stand alone, and is a pretty good ( with some in-character explanation ) introduction of the time period MZB preferred.

In fact maybe Bloody Sun is the better starting point. Hmmm…Well, hell I’m not sure :slight_smile: . There are a few other possibilities as start points ( including the one I started at ), but I won’t confuse you further. Try Bloody Sun** and Stormqueen - They will give a flavor. The rest of her books vary from a little better than those, to somewhat worse. If you have specific titles in mind, I ( and others, I’m sure ) will be happy to voice an opinion :wink: .

  • Tamerlane

Answer–none of them.

MZB is a depressing old fart.

The culture of Darkover are in decline, & there is nothing anybody can do to make the world a better place.

Or, so she’d have you believe.

But Ibelieve that despair is a poor message, & that a society can solve it’s problems.

So, don’t read Darkover, unless you’re really into defeatism.

Bosa Di’Chi of Tricor: Tsk. Such anti-negativity negativity :smiley: .

I argued a bit with Fenris about including MZB’s work on the list of books for the “well-read” sci-fi fan, since IMHO the Darkover stuff is not quite classic SF literature in either terms of quality or theme. I finally conceeded because her very significant historical importance as a seminal female voice in the field ( that didn’t obscure her gender ) and because she was one of the first to approach gender and sexual issues in an open way. But it was a reluctant relent :wink: .

That said, I enjoyed the Darkover books ( even some of the inferior ones ) for what they are. “Planetary Romances” as the ole’ Encyclopedia of SF call them. They’re heavy on a sort of romantic ( not necessarily romance ) tragedy, 'tis true. But she does intersperse enough happiness, hope, and the occasional happy ending in there to keep things floating along. And they’re generally fun reads, IMHO :slight_smile: .

Also, although I don’t know enough about MZB’s own philosophical views to know whether she was making a comment about society in general ( I do know somebody who did know her reasonably well, though - Maybe I should ask ), I myself never got that impression. I think she was just fascinated with the concept of a society in deep decline ( after a long, mostly unexplored by her, run of success ), trying to come to accomodation with a much more powerful, vigorous, remotely connected, but culturally distinct society. In the end, despite all the heartbreak, I think her vision was one of reluctant, but eventually harmonious, amalgamation. Not my preferred outcome if I had been writing these stories, either :wink: . But not an awful outcome.

And I have to say, I find that “culture-clash concept” that she thrived on, as interesting one for me. It’s much of the reason I like Cherryh’s work ( a superior writer to MZB - IMHO of course ). She explores similar themes in a lot of her novels. “Anthropological science-fiction”, as it were.

Podkayne: By the way, the reason MZB’s later books are often better, is that she literally started writing in her teens and her output spanned multiple decades. Her early stuff shows her inexperience.

  • Tamerlane

I second the idea of starting with Bloody Sun. That’s the one I started on, then read through the ones that followed in quasi-chronological order (she didn’t write them with a history in mind, so someone who’s middle aged in one book is younger in a book set a short while later; she never expected people to start charting things out).

I’ve met her. MZB, I mean.

Shes the only SF writer I know that doesn’t bother to try to clean up & dress better than a rumpled gunnysack for the convention dinner party & costume show.

She is a bummer in person, & very negative.

I do grant that she has, much to her credit, helped many young authors in getting published in her anthologies.

Alternatively, you can start off with THE SHATTERED CHAIN, which is more or less in the middle of everything, giving you little glimpses and fragments of the world of Darkover, and whatever you read after that will sort of link up with something you know.

Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor: Well no arguments from me on the personal front :slight_smile: . She apparently did get pretty odd towards the end ( she died a couple of years ago, by the way ). I’ve heard more than a few negative ( even pathetic ) stories about her.

But as you said, she was quite a help and inspiration for many folks ( perhaps too much - apparently the ranks of parasitic live-in sycophants grew to legion proportions by the end ). And ( before she got religion ) she was responsible for broaching topics like homosexuality in a sensitive fashion in SF, when few ( or no ) other people were doing so.

Personal quirks aside, I still find her stuff worth reading. But,as always, others mileage may differ :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane

I started with Heritage of Hastur, and that would still be my recommendation, as it sets up the setting nicely, introduces what are going to be major characters in some of the stories (the Hasturs, the Altons), and is, a mon avis, one of the better-written ones…or perhaps that should be “better-realised”?
Interesting Trivia: MZB wass responsible for naming what is now the world’s largest medieval recreation group, the Society for Creative Anachronism - she made the name up when filling out a form to book a SanFran City Park in the 60’s

I’d suggest starting with The Bloody Sun. It’s a stand-alone, will give you a good intro to the series.

Also, if you like her stuff and decide to start getting more of it, be aware that apparently her last couple of Darkover novels were written by someone else and not well-credited.

For example: Traitor’s Sun says “By MZB” on the cover, says “By MZB” on the title page but if you look at the copyright fine-print, it says “© 1998 by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Adrienne Martine-Barnes”

And it was like that for several earlier books. I don’t mind a collaboration, but this seemed to be deceptive.

From what I’ve heard, the collaborations aren’t bad, though.


*Originally posted by Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor *
**Answer–none of them.

MZB is a depressing old fart.

Bosda! I love you! None of them was my answer as well… the anti male tirades get pretty boring book after book after book after book… I have to admit I liked Heritage of Hastur… but since the main male characters were gay she couldn’t do much bashing!

Oh and Bloody Sun uh uh… I wouldn’t touch her stuff for years coz of it… I guess religious murder doesn’t qualify as high entertainment in my life…
oops I think that was a spoiler… oh well

If you liked Mists of Avalon then you might want to start with The Shattered Chain. Stormqueen and The Heritage of Hastur are also good starting points.

The series is unevenly written in part because it was written over so many years. Sword of Aldones was the first published and was written in MZB’s teens. Sharra’s Exile was written decades later, when she was much more mature and experienced as both a writer and a person. And it shows.

Books I would not start with are The Planet Savers or The Winds of Darkover which are mediocre at best and probably written to pay the rent more than anything else.

I used to know the entire series by heart, both in publication and internal chronology order but these last few years I have gone in different directions and don’t read so much science fiction as I used to.

I didn’t care much for Rediscovery, the collaboration with Mercedes Lackey - they two voices didn’t seem to harmonize well. The Shadow Matrix/Traitor’s Sun was written near the end of her life - I think it became a collaboration in part to make sure that it would be finished. As to how much credit her collaborator got - how much of the book(s) did she actually write? If it was 50/50 she got ripped but if it was 90/10 with MZB doing the bulk of it I’m more comfortable with the situation. It’s the MZB name that sells the book, after all.

The Fall of Neskaya is the latest installment and I enjoyed it. It’s clearly labeled as a collaboration. It does have a slightly different feel than the rest of the series, but it’s not a jarring difference. And, for once we get to see Darkovan women who aren’t writhing in internal rebellion and rage against society but who actually want to play their assigned role, marry, have children, and be conventional whatever they are. Of course, they don’t get to do that, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story.

Broomstick: Well, it’s just gossip ( if informed gossip ) - But I’ve heard that MZB had very little involvement with the last few books. Rather they were ghost-written under contract. shrug What the truth of the matter is, is best left to the principles, I guess. The quality of the work is the important issue and that seems to be fine :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane