The Life of a Sci Fi Series

In my reading life, I’ve found that some series – particular sci fi written by women authors – have stayed with me, sometimes expanding and even redefining life. For that reason, it’s fascinating to spiral back through them and discover both that I still love much of it, but also that there are factors that don’t fit my picture of them.

In my 20s, I very much enjoyed the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley; it was one of my all time favorite series – for the mind skills, mainly, but also for tales well told. At some point, she started “giving new writers a chance” and let others write the later books in the series. I started to lose my taste for them and stopped reading them. The series purports to include 35 books. published from 1958 (The Planet Savers) – when MZB was 32 – to 2016, 17 years after MZBs death in 1999. The 14 books in the series published after her death still carry her name. Were they based on drafts? Notes?

I had always thought the series started with Darkover Landfall. In fact, there are five Darkover books published before Landfall. It’s amazing to me, and a little scary, to discover things were not the way I first perceived, and held in my mind over the years. To think that she had developed so much about the planet before writing the story of the earth ship landing there – that she wrote Landfall as the backstory – throws my world off!

MZB became most known for her Avalon series. The first, Mists of Avalon, came out in 1983, These are historical fantasy novels, giving the female side of the King Arthur tales. Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), who’s usually depicted as a wicked, conniving sorceress, is shown as a priestess fighting to save her Celtic religion. The tales focus on the women in Arthurian legends, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere). Viviane, Morgause, and Igraine.  Diana L. Paxson, who’s studied Celtic and Nordic mythologies extensively, later worked with MZB on expanding the story into a series.

I’m now reading the Darkover series again, starting at the beginning and trying to work my way clear through. I notice the first five books focus almost entirely on close male friendships. Fascinatingly, she progresses almost entirely toward women’s stories in later books, especially focusing on those who’ve been mistreated, outcast, and come to live as warriors. Those, like Oath of the Renunciates, were written right about the time of the Avalon series, when she began to pass the writing over to budding authors. Those who came to continue the two series after her death.


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