|Photo by Modern Arts Studio, Oakland, California. From the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust website.|
Marion Zimmer Bradley, best known for her Darkover novels and a series of Arthurian fantasies beginning with The Mists of Avalon, was born on this day in 1930. She died in 1999.
Bradley’s Darkover novels broke new ground in the SF and fantasy genres, blending the two in their portrayal of a lost colony, technologically at a medieval/Renaissance level but with advanced psychic capabilities, and its rediscovery by a technologically superior but corrupt and bloated Empire. The ensuing culture clash, as well as Bradley’s exploration of the effects telepathy and other psi talents would have on a society and on individuals, made for gripping reading. The Darkover novels, which Bradley wrote over nearly four decades beginning in 1958 (and which are now being continued by collaborator Deborah J. Ross), became and have remained extremely popular among fans of both science fiction and fantasy.
The Avalon series began with the publication of The Mists of Avalon in 1979. The Avalon novels both fed and benefited from a wave of popular interest in the Arthurian legends in the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps generated by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Camelot in the 1960s. (Mary Stewart wrote her Arthurian saga during the same period.) The Mists of Avalon was made into a television movie in 2001.
Bradley wrote a number of other novels, and collaborated in her later years with writers such as Mercedes Lackey, Julian May, Andre Norton, and Diana L. Paxson. She enjoyed encouraging new authors, and edited 11 Darkover anthologies featuring short stories set in that world by new and established authors. Bradley also began the Sword and Sorceress series of short-story anthologies, which she edited almost until her death. (The series has continued, first under the editorship of Diana L. Paxson, and later under that of Elisabeth Waters.)
On a personal note, I discovered the Darkover novels while still in high school, and continue to reread some of them to this day. If you’ve never tried them and are looking for a good place to start, I recommend The Bloody Sun. (Make sure you get the expanded version, which is better and more consistent with later books in the canon.) Exile’s Song (image above) is also excellent, but requires more background and understanding of the series and of Darkover itself.
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