Darkover reread: Star of Danger

Star of Danger was written right after The Bloody Sun, but I read it much later. I remembered, when I did, thinking that for an early Darkover book, this was one of the better ones. What it set out to do, it did just fine. I recalled a straightforward and competent adventure story, an enjoyable read that did what it set out to do well.

I still think all of that is true, yet I actually found Star of Danger less compelling this time around. It’s a better written book than the ones before it, but also somehow a less interesting one: it doesn’t fail in the ways the earlier books do, but in part that’s because it doesn’t reach as high. It’s not a deeply ambitious book, and so it succeeds.

Larry Montray, a Terran teen living on Darkover with his father, longs to see the planet beyond the spaceport. He meets Kennard (who readers aready know as Lew Alton’s father and Jeff Kerwin’s mentor) when Kennard is still a teen. Danger and adventure ensues, and along the way Larry discovers his half-Darkovan heritage.

The gender issues in Star of Danger are minimal, mostly because it’s set in the sort of SF world where women just don’t exist, Larry’s mother having conveniently died in childhood and Kennard apparently having no female kin worth mentioning. There are a few problematic references: women are incapable of defending their homes and always get sent away with the children in times of danger; being expected to go anywhere with the women, or being told one is like the women, is a huge insult; and so on. (I can’t remember now if it’s this book or The Bloody Sun where it’s also explained that there are few women in the spaceport because married men don’t tend to be in the service–there being, apparently, no women who have careers of their own in the far future.) But that’s it. Mostly the most offensive thing Star of Danger does to its female characters is to ignore them. After the first three books, this is almost a relief.

Meanwhile, rereading Star of Danger clarified for me one of the things the Darkover series does very well, which I now see it did well from the very start: depict the tension between Terra (aka Earth) and Darkover in balanced and realistic ways. I’d been trying, only half realizing it, to figure out throughout my reading which culture MZB favored: Darkover with its determination to hang on to its traditional ways, or Terra, with its interest in Progress. I was instinctively trying to work out whether the Darkovans or Terrans were the “good guys.”

But even in these early books, it’s not that simple. The Darkovans are right about some things, and the Terrans are right about others, and that tension is fundamental to the stories. In Star of Danger, it’s the whole point: Both Larry and Kennard are entrenched in the attitudes of their own people; yet also intrigued by the other, alien-to-them culture they encounter; and ultimately it takes skills drawn from both worlds for the boys to survive.

That tension of two worlds in conflict, both flawed, both valued, will continue (if I remember the books at all well) to inform the entire series, and to give it life.

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