Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Light rereading

It was my pleasure this week to reread what is surely one of the very best of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels, Thendara House.

I must have read it at least half a dozen times before, including several times in adulthood. I picked this copy up a few years ago; it's the original 1984 DAW paperback, surely the same edition I read it in as a young teenager; even at the time, I think it was clear to me the extent to which it is a novel about gender relations in the United States in the late 1970s!

I do rather love this book - I group it in memory with two others that I must have also read around age 12 or 13 (I am having a fit of nostalgia for those public-library wire carousels stuffed with fat mass-market paperbacks!), Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue and Zoe Fairbairns' chilling Benefits, a book I have not reread since I was a teenager but that haunted me much more than Margaret Atwood's better-known Handmaid's Tale.

In an alternate universe I am going to science-fiction conventions and writing feminist science fiction myself! Oh, I am so nostalgic for the magical world-building fantasies of the 1970s: the best of Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley really are pretty much unbeatable as far as light reading goes, though they have both published some books that are so much less good than their best ones that you have to wonder how much of a hand they even had in them. The thing that is distinctive about this kind of imagination is that the world-building combines so fruitfully, in these cases, with a strong interest in character and a feel for the traditional forms of narrative - they have the pleasures of a novel by George Eliot or Anthony Trollope, only in a quite wonderfully debased form!

Hmmm, there must be at least half a dozen Darkover novels that I have never read; my habits have biased me against obtaining them, they are just the sort of thing one cannot request through a university library. Might be I will purchase 'em from used booksellers on Amazon and get home in mid-January to find an amazing selection of little boxes of musty but magical books....


  1. Thendara House is so much the best of MZB. I dilligently read the whole lot, but nothing came close. But then, I have always had a fondness for books about enclosed communitities of girls/women, hence my interest in girl's school stories...

    Which leads me to ask a question about The Explosionist. I was just on the panel that shortlisted The Explosionist for the Cybils Awards (congratulations!), and I really enjoyed it. As I think I am going to say in the review I think I am going to write later today, one thing I especially like is that this book is in many ways a continuation of the 20th century British tradition of plucky school girls foiling enemy plots. I was wondering if you yourself were a fan of such stories...