Monday, June 21, 2010

The Compleat Traveller in Black

The list challenge continues!

John Brunner is better known as a science fiction author than a fantasy one. I believe the Traveller in Black is his best known fantasy creation.

The stories in The Compleat Traveller in Black were published over a number of years in various science fiction and fantasy story magazines before collected and issued in this format. To tell the truth I think the entire concept may have worked better in its original format.

The stories have a sameness about them. The Traveller arrives in a town or city, usually after having had some sort of contact with a powerful elemental and like a malicious genie uses his staff of curdled light to grant unpleasant people rashly made wishes which usually result in their downfall. His 'work' done, he moves on.

Because of the extremely episodic nature of the stories and the fact that there isn't really a narrative it made it hard for me to warm to this collection. The only character that readers get to know is the Traveller (he is never named, if anyone asks he replies that he has many names, but only one nature) and you don't really even get to know much about him, other than he has many names and only one nature and that he appears to have godlike powers that he employs to imprison elementals and attempts to create order from chaos, usually with disastrous consequences for those that he judges causing the chaos. I didn't feel particularly sympathetic towards him.

There was a lack of coherence about most of it, at times it seems as if the author abandoned storylines partway through. It's almost as if he were playing with ideas and jotted something down and then published it incomplete. Brunner's descriptions of the cities and some of their wonders are very good and bring the scenes to life, however he also seemed to feel a need to demonstrate his command of language by filling paragraphs with a lot of large words that added little to the story and only took up space.

John Brunner is not an author that this work would encourage me to explore further.

Similar stories can be found in many of the Arabian Nights tales and fairy tales. One of the most enjoyable books about gods meddling in the affairs of humans is Margaret Weis' and Tracy Hickman's Rose of the Prophet series.

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