The Darkover Dilemma: Problems of the Darkover Series

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Title: The Darkover Dilemma: Problems of the Darkover Series
Publisher: T-K Graphics
Editor(s): Sandra Wise
Date(s): 1976
Medium: print
Fandom: Darkover
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The Darkover Dilemma: Problems of the Darkover Series is a 28-page zine by Sandra Wise devoted to a critical overview of the first eight Darkover novels.

Chapter Titles

  • The Darkover Dilemma
  • The Compact
  • The Terran Empire: Ugly Americans in Space
  • Darkovan Culture
  • Darkovan Women
  • Brawn Before Brains
  • Darkover Religion
  • Non-Human Darkovans: The Chieri
  • The Trailmen
  • The Catmen
  • The Novels (Darkover Landfall, The Spell Sword, Star of Danger, The Winds of Darkover, The Bloody Sun, The Heritage of Hastur, The Planet Savers, The Sword of Aldones, The World Wreckers)


Now that the Darkover series has reached eight novels, with at least two more to come (THE SHATTERED CHAIN and THE FORBIDDEN TOWER), it is time to examine some of the problems raised by the series. First of all, there was never intended to be a "Darkover series" at all. MZB writes: "I wrote each new book, for years, with the firm resolve that this would be the last of the novels about Darkover; that next time I'd get busy and write an original novel, but this time I was too busy, or too lazy, to invent a new world, or a new planet." (FANTASIAE, Vol. 2,No. 11, p. 1)

Many of the minor inconsistencies in the series were caused by this lack of a Master Plan.

For instance, in SD Kennard Alton's full name is "Kennard N'Caldir Alton-Comyn" (SD p. 87), while in HH it is "Kennard-Gwyn Alton" (HH p. 84).

Since it is not my intention to catalogue every little thing, I will leave it to the nit-pickers to find further examples. But remember: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" (Emerson).

Now that the series is a series, MZB is attempting to explain (or explain away) some of these points.

Darkover is a patriarchal society in which women are second-class human beings.

Darkovan women are never taken on rough journeys, which means that they never go anywhere much, since there are no easy journeys on Darkover.

A virtuous Darkovan woman is modest and shamefaced; she does not look at men and is embarrassed if they look at her. In fact, to stare at a maiden of the Comyn is cause for her male relatives to kill you.

A woman who is unable to fulfill her "conjugal duties" will send her friend or servant to take her place in her hus band's bed. This is an Old Testament custom (see Abraham and Hagar in Genesis XVI or Jacob and his wive's maids in Genesis XXX)-and a nice bunch of swine they were! How ever, one never hears of a woman taking a "surrogate husband" if the regular husband is incapacitated. Why not?

The only independent Darkovan women, the Free Amazons, do "men's work" (as guides or mercenaries) and are generally assumed to be Lesbians.

At the end of DL, which takes place in the 21st century ("From the invention of the steamboat to man's landing on the moon was less than two hundred years. From there to the M-AM drives which landed us on Alpha Centauri, less than a hundred" (DL p. 118), we are told that "Earth knew nothing of them for two thousand years." (DL p. 160)

In SS, the (chronological) second novel, we learn that the Terran Empire discovered Darkover about a hundred years earlier. Therefore we may safely say that the Darkover books (except for DL) take place in the 42nd century AD, or 2200 years from now.

Yet the Terran Empire is the ultimate Plastic Society: the 20th century, with all its faults, transplanted to the stars. No one imagines that people are going to become perfect in the next two thousand years or so, (even if it is The Age of Aquarius), but surely by that time we will have eliminated pollution (if only because all the coal and oil will have been burned up before then). So why do Terran cities "stink"? Will we really still be kippering our lungs with tobacco? Or will they develop a cigarette that prevents lung cancer? Will the science of the mind have progressed so little that "Psychs" will still be dishing up such warmed-over Freudian-isms as this: '"You look for perfection in a woman to protect yourself against a real relationship. You take refuge in fantasies to avoid looking at the hard realities of life." And so forth and so on. Some of them even told him that he was unconsciously homosexual and found ordinary sexual affairs unsatisfactory because it wasn't really women he wanted at all. he just couldn't admit it to himself." (SS p. 11)

Leigh Brackett, by the way, once demolished this kind of twaddle in a story called PURPLE- PRIESTESS OF THE MAD MOON: Seldon tells his analyst about seeing Something Nasty In the Woodshed on Mars. The shrink explains: "The whole affair had been a sex fantasy induced by drugs, with the Priestess a mother-image. The Eye which had looked at him then and which still peered unwinking out of his dreams was symbolic of the female generative principle, and the feeling of horror it aroused in him was due to the guilt complex he had because he was a latent homosexual. Seldon was enormously comforted." (THE COMING OF THE TERRANS, Ace 1967, p. 120)

MZB denies, very indignantly, that DL is anti-Women's Lib. Deny it as she may, her anti-feminist bias betrays itself in such statements as the one that Women's Lib is "a pathological reaction to overpopulation and overcrowding" (p. 113), or that a woman who objects to becoming a "thing used for breeding" is "selfish" (p. 114) and lacks "normal hormones" (p. 113). Granted, the necessity for non-stop breeding, if the colony is to survive, is a valid dramatic point, and one that had to be faced. There is, however, no dramatic necessity for such remarks. The situation could have been handled less gloatingly. "Take that, you uppity bitch, and that, and that as well!" is what it amounts to. Unnecessary and most offensive.

Camilla Del Rey, the emancipated woman, is a cold, hostile, highly-strung neurotic, until she gets some "sense" (p. 114) and starts fulfilling her anatomical destiny (sic). She, by the way, seems to be the only woman in the colony "unfeminine" enough to object to being a brood-sow.

MZB, of course, cherishes the quaint notion that femininity equals timidity (WW p. 54) and passivity (WW p. 148).

MZB says, in a letter to Witch & Chamelon (No. 3?), that her favorite character in DL is Captain Leicester, and adds, "I attempted deliberately to give the book some counterweight by having the nicer people in the book committed to a view I repugnant, and to have the survival-oriented anti-technology group headed by the loud-mouthed, obnoxious, and highly dislikeable Moray."

Personally, I find this utterly astonishing. In my copy of the book, Leicester is what M*A*S*H calls a "regular army clown": loud-mouthed, obnoxious and highly dislikeable.

Moray, on the other hand, is the closest thing to a hero in the book: a man who doesn't let the fear of being unpopular keep him from saying and doing what he must; in short, the voice of sweet reason. He is more intelligent than anyone else, as well as being gutsier. For instance, (p. 14) Moray is the first one to face the possibility that they may be stuck on Darkover forever — while Leicester is still clinging to the illusion that they can repair the spaceship.

Far and away the most difficult of the Darkover novels is SA. It seems to be set on an entirely different Darkover from the one we know and love; it has an extremely complex plot, with more loose ends than you can shake a stick at;and the narrator, Lew Alton, is a blundering idiot who cannot do anything right. No matter how angst-ridden he may be, such a fool is not likely to sustain audience sympathy for long.

MZB herself does not have a high opinion of SA, which she calls "the hastily rewritten, badly plotted and much too rambling quickie I turned out as a backup for Planet Savers." (FANTASIAE, Vol. 2, No. 12)

Sample Interior

Bradley Didn't Like This Zine

MZB and Walter Breen mentioned this publication in March 1976:

[A] Darkover fan, Sandra Wise, has written an essay on Darkover (I believe the title is Some Considerations about Darkover, but the letter in which she referred to it was written to Walter, and I read it only once) pointing out — I paraphrase — some inconsistencies and problems in the Darkover series, will be published some time soon by T-K Graphics, and will presumably be listed in their next catalogue. [1]

MZB and Breen commented again in August 1976. Their jab at "trivia games" is a jab at the author as Sandra Wise had been a contributor to the Darkover Newsletter as the creator of a trivia game published in it:

BRICKBATS AND SCALLIONS: The essay by Sandra Wise has finally appeared; it's called The Darkover Dilemma: Problems of the Darkover Series and published by T-K Graphics, Inc..

About the best that can be said for it is that it has fingered a few of the problems (not all, and not even — oddly — the most important ones), largely inconsistencies and a few occasional lapses of memory owing to MZB's not having even thought of the Darkover books originally as a series. However, it must be said at once that many of the questions raised by Ms. Wise are in fact answered within the books, and if she had asked us, we could have furnished the answers, or cited their page numbers.

Some of them would make quite passable items for a Darkover Trivia Game, and accordingly we are including these here; answers are overleaf. Those she raises about Cyrillon lean too heavily on Kennard's boyish unsupported guess that he trained banshees. Most others are answered in the Concordance. [2]


  1. ^ from Darkover Newsletter #1, March 1976
  2. ^ from Darkover Newsletter #2, August 1976