In a recent review at his blog Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton tackles the thorny subject of Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the top-selling fantasy writers of the 20th Century (The Mists of Avalon, Darkover) head on.
In 1964… Marion married Walter Breen, a fellow SF fan and a noted numismatist, within a month. Breen was already well known as an advocate of pederasty, and MZB certainly knew of his proclivities, and indeed Breen had been banned from at least one SF convention in that time period. Breen had been convicted of pederasty-related crimes as early as 1954, and continued to have trouble with the law, finally going to jail after another conviction in 1990. MZB managed to dodge serious consequences of her husband’s activities throughout her life, and she died in 1999. In 2014 her daughter, by Breen, Moira Greyland, accused her of sexual abuse, and in retrospect it seems to me that it should have been clear all along that Bradley was at least negligently complicit in her husband’s crimes, certainly aware of them, and now it appears more likely than not that she was a participant herself. (Though I suppose I must add that damning and convincing as the accusations seem, Bradley never did have a chance to defend herself against those that came after her death, though some of her own testimony given during Breen’s legal troubles is chilling enough.) This has understandably had a devastating effect on her reputation — and she was not really a good enough writer to make it likely that her work will long survive the posthumous stain. Jim Hines briefly discusses this, with links to more direct information, in a good blog post here.
With that preamble, he has another look at Bradley’s 1964 Ace Double, the novel Falcons of Narabedla paired with the collection The Dark Intruder.
Falcons of Narabedla is on the one hand a very pulpy short novel, with a hackneyed basic premise (man snatched out of time into another world), and such standard features as anachronistic sword-fighting, aristocratic societies and rebellion, and an overly rapid conclusion. On the other hand, there are some pretty intriguing ideas that could have stood further development, and the book as a whole reads rapidly and excitingly… It opens with Mike Kenscott camping in the Sierra Madres with his younger brother. Mike is an electrical engineer who has been acting strangely since he had an accident with some equipment he was working, and he has had occasional odd “memories” of strange birds and the like. Suddenly he finds himself waking in a strange tower, looking over a much changed Sierra skyline, with two suns in the sky. The people with him call him “Adric”, and he has no idea who they are. And a look in the mirror shows a much different man…
Ultimately a pretty minor book, but it does hint at some of what made the best of Bradley’s Darkover novels pretty good stuff.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s short fiction career has a slightly odd shape. She first made her name as a fan, writing colorful letters to magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories, using pseudonyms like Astara. In 1953 she sold two stories to the very low end and short-lived magazine Vortex, and beginning in 1954 she started selling more regularly to better magazines… The Dark Intruder and Other Stories, then, appearing after her first run of short fiction had ceased, serves as a documentation of that phase of her career. Except for the title story, these are fairly short pieces, definitely SF and not Fantasy, turning on cute and sometimes mordant ideas.
“The Dark Intruder” (15,000 words) (Amazing, December 1962, as “Measureless to Man,” a far better title) — Under its original title, this story appears on my list of stories with titles from “Kubla Khan.” It’s set on Mars. Andrew Slayton is part of the third archaeological expedition to the deserted ancient Martian city called Xanadu. The members of the previous two expeditions died violently. Andrew stumbles into the desert near the city and finds himself possessed by the mind of an ancient Martian. Somehow, due to his own strength and the restraint of his possessor, he retains his sanity. He learns a secret about the dying Martian race, and must try to find a solution for their unique problem. Not a bad story…
“Black and White” (3,900 words) (Amazing, November 1962) — After the holocaust, the last man on Earth is black, and the last woman on Earth is white. Can they possibly marry and further the species? That would be too silly for words, but MZB is a little better than that — the real conflict is that the black man is also a Catholic priest, struggling with his celibacy vows, and using race as an excuse. Then they encounter one more man — unfortunately he’s a moronic Southerner, and the results are bitter. Not too bad of a story, especially for the time.
Falcons of Narabedla/The Dark Intruder was published by Ace Books in 1964. It is 127+124 pages, priced at 40 cents. Both covers were by Jack Gaughan.
It was reprinted in December 1972 with a new set of covers (below) by Mitchell Hooks and Kelly Freas. This version was priced at 95 cents.
Read Rich’s complete review here.
Our recent coverage of Ace Doubles includes:
King of the Fourth Planet/Cosmic Checkmate by Robert Moore Williams and Charles V. De Vet & Katherine MacLean
Our Man in Space/Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. by by Bruce Ronald and Jack Sharkey
Rocannon’s World/The Kar-Chee Reign by Ursula K. LeGuin and Avram Davidson.
The Plot Against Earth/Recruit for Andromeda by Calvin M. Knox and Milton Lesser
Warlord of Kor/The Star Wasps by Terry Carr and Robert Moore Williams
The Sun Saboteurs/The Light of Lilith by Damon Knight and G. McDonald Wallis
Wandl the Invader/I Speak For Earth by Ray Cummings and Keith Woodcott (John Brunner)
The Sioux Spaceman/ And Then the Town Took Off by Andre Norton and Richard Wilson
Secret of the Lost Race/ One Against Herculum by Andre Norton and Jerry Sohl
Clockwork’s Pirates/Ghost Breaker by Ron Goulart
ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster
The Ship from Atlantis/ The Stolen Sun by H. Warner Munn and Emil Petaja
Vulcan’s Hammer / The Skynappers by Philip K. Dick and John Brunner
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G.C. Edmondson
Bow Down to Nul / The Dark Destroyers by Brian W. Aldiss and Manly Wade Wellman
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.