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Monday, August 04, 2008

cover of A World Divided

This volume collects three different Darkover novels, all of which deal with the clash of cultures when Darkover is once more connected to the Terran space empire. All three books focus on young men of mixed or confused ancestry (whether they know it or not-- mostly not) who come to Darkover and are drawn by the strangeness of Darkover. Darkover society is still feudal and hierarchical, and their technology is based on psi-powers augmented by matrix crystals, but only the elite and gifted upper class tend to be powerfully gifted. It's interesting to see the conflicts in culture and the differences in attitude; in one case, a young Terran and Darkovan must join forces to cross wild territory together, and it takes both of their cleverness and different education to get them through-- tracking and hunting on one side, and basic knowledge of compasses and geography on the other. In another case, a Terran who had played with lenses as a hobby is brought in to teach the Darkovans (to help them battle forest fires) and is shocked that the intelligent, quick-learning man he is teaching doesn't know how to read. They explain to him that Darkovans don't make a "fetish" of literacy like the Terrans do-- they leave that to specialists and prefer to learn directly, with direct human contact.

All three of the stories were engaging, although I think they got better as they went on, since I found it much harder to put the book down when I was in the middle of the second two stories. They are also set in roughly the same time period, so there are some common characters and even some of the main characters show up in other books as minor characters (and sometimes at different points in their lives).

In Star of Danger, teenage Larry comes to Darkover with his dad (who comes there to work). Larry is immediately taken with the new world and longs to see more of the place and the culture. He explores the city, even parts of it that aren't safe for most Terrans, and ends up making friends with Kennard, the son of Lord Alton. Larry gets the chance to spend time in real Darkovan culture, and ends up getting tangled up in the politics and warring groups. Eventually, Larry discovers what the reader probably figured out long ago-- his mother was Darkovan, and he belongs to both worlds.

Jeff Kerwin is the main character in The Bloody Sun, and like Larry, he has ties to Darkover and returns there by means of the Terran space empire. He was raised in an orphanage there, but when he inquires as an adult there is no record of him, and when he wanders the Darkovan parts of the city he is mistaken as one of the Comyn, the gifted, red-haired lords of Darkover. Eventually he finds his way to the Tower of Arilinn and is trained in his psi powers to join them in a "circle", powerful enough to accomplish feats that would rival Terran technology, such as locating oreand mining it (this is done with the aim of proving that they can retain the Darkovan way of life and keep the landscape unspoiled, while still moving forward in technology). This book verges much more on the politics of Darkover-- there are no longer enough Keepers and matrix mechanics for the towers because the discipline required is so great and the old traditions are causing problems-- most notably the virgin-worship of the young Keepers and insistence that she remain a virgin lest she lose her power. Like Larry, Kerwin isn't all that he seems-- in fact, he turns out to be full-blooded Darkovan and the child of an earlier Keeper who attempted to change the traditions of virginity associated with the post, but failed to convince people. Through his experiences as a Terran and discovering his psi abilities, Kerwin recognizes that the psi powers aren't limited to the upper-caste Darkovans, as had been long thought, which opens new possibilities for the interchange of technology and knowledge between Terra and Darkover, as equals.

In Winds of Darkover, Dan Barron is the space-port equivalent of an air-traffic controller, but one day when he is caught up in an incredibly vivid daydream and almost crashes the landing spaceship, he is suddenly stripped of his position, and packed off to teach the Darkovans how to make lenses so they can build telescopes for fighting forest fires. On his trip to the forest outpost, he meets Lord Alton and is accompanied by Alton's foster-son Larry. They both notice some kind of psi-sensitivity, but they don't know quite what is going on. Meanwhile, bandits have beseiged and taken over the lonely outpost of High Windward-- the head of the family is blind Loran, who cannot save his family but instead decides to break ancient Darkovan law and uses his laran powers to take over Barron's mind and use him as a body to come aid his enslaved people and sisters. It works, but it changes several lives in the process and also brings up issues of Darkovan traditions with regard to who can be trained in the use of their laran gifts.

Title:A World Divided - compilation of The Bloody Sun (1965), Star of Danger (1965), and The Winds of Darkover (1970)
Author:Marion Zimmer Bradley
Date published:2003
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:688


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