Marion Zimmer Bradley's Influence on the Sime~Gen Universe


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Marion Zimmer Bradley:

MZB is one writer, and very Best Friend, Teacher, Initiator, and Influence who belongs to almost all of the above listed categories - possibly even Artist since her anatomical sketch of a tentacled arm appears in one of the S~G fanzines. Her landmark short stories in the '50s added whole dimensions to the field. And her first novel, Sword of Aldones, which I discovered in the '60s changed my life.

Today, she is best known for her tremendously entertaining, ground breaking best seller, Mists of Avalon, about the women who were the driving force behind King Arthur's legendary successes. She became my writing teacher more than twenty years ago through a strange coincidence related to STAR TREK.

It was in the mid-'70s. Two or three carloads of STAR TREK fans - including some members of The Committee who were putting on the 5 famous conventions in New York which kicked off the national phenomenon of Star Trek Conventions - had come to my house to collate the latest issue of Ambrov Zeor, the first of the Sime~Gen fanzines. At the end of the day, we all had dinner together. Afterwards, sitting around my kitchen table, Devra Langsam and Joyce Yasner were discussing sf novels and conventions and I was washing dishes and not listening.

Out of the general din (I also had two small children at the time - quite a din) floated the magic words, Marion Bradley. "Marion Who?" I screeched and pulled a chair up to the table.

"Marion Zimmer Bradley - a writer."

"Yeah, my all-time-favorite writer. What about her?"

"I ran across her in the dealer's room last - "


At this point in my life I was already a professionally published sf writer and a very famous Star Trek fan writer for my Kraith Series. I was used to signing autographs and having people gasp, "You're Jacqueline LICHTENBERG?"

Other people were used to seeing me get a big hug from Star Trek's stars whom I had met while interviewing for our book Star Trek Lives! and they were not used to seeing me collapse into worshipful paralysis at the mere mention of a writer's name. A relatively obscure writer at that - a long time fixture of sf conventions, and an active fan easily accessible by most fans. I, however, didn't kow that and went into a state of shock at the idea that a friend of mine had her home address.

Well, I extracted a promise to send me MZB's address so I could write her a fan letter about one of her Darkover novels, World Wreckers and tell her that my very popular ST fanzine series, Kraith, had been generated by adding Darkover to ST and shaking well. They did. I did. And MZB wrote me back and explained that she had written World Wreckers in answer to Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness because LHOD had omitted a crucial sex scene. It was such a glaring omission that MZB felt she had to answer with a book of her own, which was World Wreckers.

I had not read Left Hand of Darkness mostly because it had won both the Nebula and Hugo - a sure sign that it wasn't my kind of sf. I scrounged a copy and read it. I was wrong. It is my kind of sf - and MZB was right, there's a crucial scene missing.

It was the first of many writing lessons I got sitting at MZB's feet. That opened a discussion which led to a wide and deep friendship with MZB. At that time she was living on Staten Island and I was not quite 75 miles away. However, it wasn't until she moved to Berkeley California that we met at the JFK Airport (where I came to pick her up for a few days visit at my house).

Before long, MZB became interested in my writing and, upon reading my first professional novel House of Zeor in manuscript, liked it enough to submit it to Donald Wollheim who was then starting his publishing company DAW Books (now run by his daughter, Betsy). Don turned down House of Zeor, but years and years later, after the series had run as Doubleday Hardcovers, he published several Sime~Gen novels as paperback originals (a career landmark for me).

Meanwhile, his daughter Betsy Wollheim had remembered my name and included me in the first authors photographed for Faces of Science Fiction, a collection of photographs of famous sf authors. They came to my house to do this - and as a result my dog is in the picture. I had to put that dog down recently- but I'm still signing autographs on that picture.

When I was very young, Don Wollheim then an editor at Ace Books founded the Ace Doubles, two novels for the price of one, published back to back and one upside down relative to the other. They were my very first novel purchases with my own money and I still have them. The Doubles were some of the very best sf ever published. And that's another link to watch for, to trace the best books. Editors.

Find out the names of the editors who buy the books of your favorite authors and read the other authors they buy. DAW Books still has the highest "hit" rate for me of any sf publisher. Funny thing - MZB was one of Don's authors at ACE in the very old days, and he bought books from her when she desperately needed a contract to pay the bills. As a result, she was loyal to Don all his life, and went to DAW Books with him when he and his wife Elsie founded the company. When DAW needed a title that would be sure money maker, he often prevailed upon MZB to do another Darkover novel, and she always agreed out of loyalty even when she would have preferred to write something else for a change. As a result, we have a long list of Darkover novels - and some of my favorites are ones that wouldn't have been written had it not been for that loyalty.

While trying to teach me characterization and plotting, MZB introduced me to Astrology and esoteric studies via the author Dion Fortune. Astrology was the only model of human psychology that made any sense to me - probably because of my mathematical training. Now I do astrology from a more karmic level.

Astrology led to Tarot through another friend, Judy Thomasses (now a locally famous teacher of Astrology and Tarot). I met Judy through Star Trek fandom and the conventions. She helped my buy my first Tarot deck - at a STAR TREK convention dealer's room. We're still friends.

During the years when I was working on Star Trek Lives! and writing Kraith and also trying to launch the Sime~Gen novel series, MZB taught me the writer's craft. We would exchange "dailies" - a carbon (this was the day of the typewriter) copy of whatever we'd written that day. She'd send me a chapter of her current novel and I'd send her a chapter of my current novel. I'd comment one what I thought needed work in her chapter, and she'd comment on what needed more work in my chapter. Thus I learned more by example than articulation, and over the years since then have developed my own ways of explaining what I learned to others in various writing workshops at conventions, by mail and now by email.

Most of the friends I've made through Trek are or were MZB fans as well, though MZB herself disliked the original or "classic" Trek (which I call Kirk-Trek). It was only after she read some Kraith (which is Darkover + Star Trek) that she began to understand what we see in Trek on television.

Today, the fans of my Sime~Gen universe gather annually at the convention called Darkover Grand Council Meeting.

I won the contest to name that convention. At the time, I was running Keeper's Tower, "keeping" the list of names of the clubs of Darkover fans that had sprung up around the country so there would not be two of the same name. Katie Filipowicz, one of the more active Sime~Gen fans, and Judy Gerjuoy who sometimes came to collate Ambrov Zeor, had decided it was time to hold a Darkover convention. Katie and Anne Pinzow provided seed money and the three of them worked up a flyer and a program, and decided to hold a contest to name the convention. And they desperately needed at least one confirmed professional Guest before they could announce the con. At the time, they weren't sure if they could get MZB, so they twisted my arm and I said yes. In the end, MZB did come and there were almost a hundred people at that first convention held in an unair-conditioned hall in Brooklyn, N.Y. in July. We suffered dehydration, particularly Katie who needed medical treatment for it, but we had a great time! I particularly remember doing a panel on runes and soothsaying with Jane Sibley where I learned a lot.

And Darkover Grand Council became an annual event which continued to attract a number of Sime~Gen fans, which is why it's now our annual gathering spot. Through Darkover I met Roberta Mendelson, who came up with the idea for Esotericon - the first of the sf-style conventions specifically for students and practioners of the occult arts. I was the GoH at the first Esotericon and contined to be a Guest thereafter - meeting some of those who spun off other esoterically oriented conventions from that group.

For me the line between fan and pro in sf/f has always been a blurred one, and as time continues I find it becoming more blurred. The professionals I most admired while growing up, Hal Clement, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl, Edward E. Smith, Poul Anderson, and on and on and on, were fans - and in the beginning there were no pros in the sense of people who made a living from writing sf. There were fans who occassionally sold a story. And people like MZB who continued to be active in fandom while selling sf/f were my role models.

Today, some people I met before they'd sold any fiction became fan-friends and now have become professionals too. from those days have become professional SF authors in their own right. Elizabeth Waters (whom we called Lisa) is one such. She and MZB met in my living room. Some Ambrov Zeor collating parties were held at Lisa's house in Connecticut and for a while she published the fanzine and often ended up collating the whole thing by herself. Try some of her novels and stories - it won't be wasted money or reading time.

Ann Crispin is another. I met her at a Star Trek convention where she diffidently and eagerly offered me her STAR TREK novel manuscript to read. It needed some work, and after she mulled over my suggestions, she sent me a revised copy. I liked it so much I agented it for her and it became the first New York Times Bestseller of the Trek novels - Yesterday's Son. Now Ann has a career writing novelizations, collaborations with Andre Norton, and original novels of her own.

Another association that came to me through MZB and who is a perennial Guest at Darkover Grand Council is Katherine Kurtz, creator of the Deryni novels.