It’s interesting, The Planet Savers feels, first and foremost, like a story about a man torn between two worlds—with Darkover being a setting created to have the necessary a priori conditions for the struggle between the two aspects of Jay/Jason Allison to take place and achieve resolution. This is not a criticism of the book, merely a surprised observation—in the introductory novel of a fantasy or science fiction series it can often feel like the characters and plot exist for the purpose of building the world and giving us a tour of it. Here, it felts a bit like the reverse.
That being said, an awful lot of the Darkover we will come to know is already in place in this novel: social structures, stratifications and tensions; the Comyn with their telepathic abilities and matrix mechanics technology; place names (Thendara, Carthon, the Hellers) and family names (Hastur, Alton). Even the Renunciates, or Free Amazons, are present here at the very beginning—fitting considering their importance both in the series as a whole and to the fans of the series.
It also struck me that the first “alien” race of Darkover that MZB writes into being are the trailmen—not the chieri. Maybe I’m not remembering some important roles played by the People of the Sky in later books; or over-prioritizing the role of the chieri in the larger Darkovan tapestry. I guess we’ll see. It also seems quite possible that, being the first book and all, MZB thought this native race of Darkover would play a more important role than they ended up doing. They certainly never captured my own imagination the way the chieri did—though I always did have a penchant for the tall, graceful elf-beings in my fantasy worlds, over the dwarf / gnome / halfling-types.
It’s not mentioned at all in this first novel that the humans of Darkover are the descendants of a lost Terran colony ship. That isn’t even suggested as a theory, even though the book does address the fact that Darkovans are so very human:
Nature seems to have a sameness on all inhabited worlds, tending toward the economy and simplicity of the human form. The upright carriage, freeing the hands, the opposable thumb, the color-sensitivity of retinal rods and cones, the development of language and lengthy parental nurture—these things seem to be indispensable to the growth of civilization, and in the end they spell human. Except for minor variations depending on climate and foodstuffs, the inhabitants of Megaera or Darkover is indistinguishable from the Terran or Sirian…
I can only assume that MZB had the actual origins of the human race of Darkovans already in mind (if not fully fleshed out) when she wrote this; so many of the details she includes regarding names and languages only really make sense with that kind of explanation. Even if the basics of human biology, physiology of social interactions are somehow the most efficient forms and thus likely to arise independently on different planets across the galaxy, there’s no reason why they would develop similar-sounding languages, with words and proper names in common—much less ones derived largely from the Spanish and Celtic languages and cultures.
As world-building goes, The Planet Savers drops us straight into the central conceit and conflict of Darkover—”Against the Terrans” as this era of Darkovan history is dubbed. Actually, let me correct that: it drops us straight into a central conceit and conflict, though I think that as MZB develops her ideas about Darkover and her interests in what might she can use this world to explore, that “central conceit” will expand, change, and deepen. And while the main story of Jay/Jason Allison and the trailmen’s fever is neatly wrapped up by the end, in terms of the larger world and characters within it, Bradley has left a lot of incomplete sketchy-bits around the edges. I read this as the intentional act of someone who knows she has more stories to tell, sowing the seeds to be taken up later.
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