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Book Review: The Bloody Sun

Book Name: The Bloody Sun
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
First Published: 1964/1979

Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley was an American author of fantasy novels such as The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series, often writing with a feminist outlook and even, under a pen name, gay and lesbian titles. She was born on a farm in Albany, New York, during the Great Depression, to a father who was a carpenter and farmer and a mother who was a historian. Bradley first attended New York State College for Teachers from which she dropped out after two years. She returned to college in the mid-sixties, where she graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas with a Bachelor of Arts. Bradley moved to California soon after and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, Berkely. She trained not only as a psychologist but also as a parapsychologist. In the end, she became a drop-out once more from not one, but three departments of education, “owing to deep disillusion”. Bradley also trained as a singer, and at one time, in her younger days, worked as a target for a knife thrower in a carnival.

Married twice, both of Bradley’s unions ended in divorce. Her first marriage to Robert Bradley in 1949 lasted fourteen years and they had one son together. Her second marriage to author Walter Breen in 1964 resulted in a son and a daughter, but ended badly in 1990. She had been separated from him for many years before the divorce was finalized.

During the 1950s, as a young wife with a small son, she became involved in the phenomenon known as science fiction fandom, writing for a variety of fanzines for nothing, but in time moved up to sell to professional science fiction digest magazines. It was here that she gained her writing chops and moved on to create novels of her own, becoming a professional full-time writer and editor by the early 1960s. Her main novel series featured a sword and sorcery themed world known as Darkover, but she also wrote short stories, articles and books in other subjects.

As an author, Bradley continued with an active role in science fiction and fantasy fandom. There were regular Darkover conventions in the 70s and 80s organized by the “Friends of Darkover” to which she was the star. Bradley was baffled by this popularity; she once made the observation: “I am perpetually surprised that I can make money at [writing], and people seem to like what I write.” She encouraged fan fiction based on her own popular Darkover novels and reprinted the stories in commercial anthologies. All this came to an end after a dispute with a fan. After the legal dust cleared, Bradley’s novel remained unpublished and she demanded the cessation of all Darkover fan fiction from that day forward.

Bradley also edited a Sword and Sorceress anthology series, which featured non-traditional heroines from new and up and coming female writers. It was here that she discovered her protegee Deborah J. Ross, who continues to write Darkover novels in the present day as well as her own creations. Bradley was editing the final Sword and Sorceress manuscript when she died in September of 1999. The year after her death, Marion Zimmer Bradley was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

As an author, her most popular novel is The Mists of Avalon which was later made into a major motion picture starring Angelica Houston. The book is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the viewpoint of the female characters, mainly Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar. As in her Darkover series, the later Avalon novels are written with or by other authors and have continued to appear after Bradley’s death.

Darkover is a planet that was colonized by people of the Terran Empire, but was lost to the Empire due to a crash landing. The survivors interbred with the native Chieri who have psychic powers and this merging of the two species create the future rulers of the world, known as the Comyn. This ruling class is known for their red hair and for possessing strong psychic talents that they call Laren. The Comyn create a magical appearing technology based on their laren talents, amplified by the use of starstones, and create a breeding program to promote those characteristics in their ruling class.

The Bloody Sun is not the first novel of this vast series chronologically, but it is the first novel set in what is known as The Second Age of the Terran/Darkovan contact. This is a time when the Terran Empire has rediscovered the lost colony they know as Cottman IV are are attempting to reintegrate it with the Empire. The Comyn rulers resist this and thus have restricted the empire to remain to the Terran Zone while on their world. This is to prevent Terran customs and technology from infiltrating their world and disrupting their people.

The story follows a young orphan named Jeff Kerwin who was born on Darkover, but sent to Terra at the age of twelve. He never forgot the planet of his birth and as he worked in the Terran Service, he finds an opportunity to transfer back to Cottman IV. Jeff attempts to learn more about his heritage on Darkover, but is surprised to learn that the orphanage that he remembers has no record of him having lived there. Jeff does not accept this information and follows a voice in his mind that eventually leads him out of the Terran Zone and into Darkovan culture. He suffers culture shock, and as Jeff learns more about Darkovan culture, we the readers are also introduced into this strange new world of what appears to be run by magic and the power of feudal swords. Due to his bright red hair, the mark of a Comyn telepath, he eventually finds his way to the Tower of Arilinn. A Tower is where the major telepathic work on Darkover is performed. Jeff finds a sense of home at Arilinn that he has never felt before. This is the first book of the series that introduces the inner workings of a Darkovan Tower and we get to see in full detail what the Tower Technicians do and what matrix work really is. In other Darkovan books, the workings of a Tower are hinted at and spoken of by characters, but this is the first time we see it in action. Jeff Kerwin learns that he is not a Terran as he thought as he grew up, but he is truly a Darkover Comyn with the full telephatic powers that this title and position conveys. He finds love, a sense of family, and that he has a major role to play in the shaping of the future of his planet, Darkover.

This was the first Marion Zimmer Bradley novel that I read and the first of her Darkover novels. I read the original 1964 version in the early 1970s, and later read the rewrite she did of the book in 1979. Will say that I liked both versions. While the rewrite is a more powerful novel with more detail, the original had a fresh pacing that drew me into this world and made me want to read the rest of the numerous books set in this universe. I don’t believe that the original version is readily available any longer, but I still consider The Bloody Sun to be the best introduction novel into the Darkover universe. It is also the best read of the series overall whichever version you happen to buy.

The Bloody Sun Book CoverAfter the Comyn (Against the Terrans: The Second Age) Series

The Bloody Sun (1979) rewrite of and replacement of The Bloody Sun (1964)
The Heritage of Hastur (1975)
The Planet Savers (1962)
Sharra’s Exile (1981) rewrite of and official replacement of The Sword of Aldones (1962)
The World Wreckers (1971)
Hastur Lord (2010 – written by Deborah J. Ross)
Exile’s Song (1996 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
The Shadow Matrix (1998 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
Traitor’s Sun (1999 – with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)