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Review: The Compleat Traveller in Black

The Compleat Traveller in Black
The Compleat Traveller in Black by John Brunner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow I expected a bit more of this one. It was enjoyable, yes, and the setting was something not seen too often (King later used a similar setting for his Dark Tower series), but all in all it was a bit too flowery in its’ prose and too skimpy on actual plot.
Well, technically it is a collection of short stories, although the way they are presented makes them appear more like an actual novel. There is a sense of continuity between different stories. One element from one story will for sure appear in the next, and stories harken back to earlier ones without explanation. Also there is a continuing exploration of the main character’s quest.
So, more of a novel then.
It follows the travels of the Traveller in Black who has many names but only one nature, as he travels through a surreal world that seems to be neither here nor there and definitely not really our past or future, trying to bring order to chaos.
His gimmick is that he grants wishes and will do so in the most unexpected and ironic ways possible, sometimes to his own deep regret
It might be interesting to note that this book, similar to The Lord of the Rings, is about the loss of magic. The continuing quest of the Traveller is one that causes the magic to go away and slowly transforms the brutish world he inhabits into something rational, but ultimately more survivable. Where the early stories are very much in the vein of Sword and Sorcery, with gory human sacrifices and questionable morals, later stories more and more evoke a more civilized society.

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5 responses to “Review: The Compleat Traveller in Black

  1. mikemonaco April 28, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I think I liked this more than you but I went in with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised to find what seemed to me to be cross between Vance (wild imaginings and florid prose) and John Gardner (straightforward plots but intricately complicated characters, especially the unreliable narrator). Not sure it’s much use for gaming fodder but I enjoyed it a lot.

  2. R. A. Whipple (@RA_Whipple) April 28, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I just finished reading one of John Brunner’s short stories last night from the Thieves’ World omnibus Sanctuary, Sentences of Death. I have to say, I was not impressed with the deathly sentences his writing contained … “Tents, pavilions, stone walls seemed all of a substance.” It is an example of bad writing even within its context, within which it just highlights a missing concept. “Without learning to read and write at least their own language they would be at the risk of cheating by every smart operator in the city.” (So true, I intoned reading the words authored by this operator.) In fact, the writing was such that I searched the author out on Wikipedia expecting to find some obscure reference if one at all. I was wondering how such a writer made it into a volume of work, popular when I was in my teens, containing the likes of Lynn Abbey, Poul Anderson and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I was surprised to find that he had won the 1969 Hugo for a Science Fiction novel.

    So I quite agree with your observation, Geoffrey, though we may obviously be in the minority.

  3. Geoffrey April 28, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I think the might have been more at home as a Science Fiction writer. I think he might have been unfamiliar with the genre as such and just tried his hand at writing some. As such the novel actually is interesting because it has a philosophy that fits Science Fiction more than Fantasy: the victory of rationality in the end.
    As such it’s not a bad novel, just one that could be better. He seems to labour under the impression that fantasy has to be flowery (which he might have gotten from Tolkien and Dunsany, who had actual reasons for their use of this language).
    It did remind me a bit of Jack Vance as well, but Vance feels like a superior writer. Vance was good with building atmosphere and his world through his florid prose, while Brunner tries this and comes up short.

  4. niks May 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for that :)

  5. ronnybud May 20, 2014 at 2:50 am

    i’m off “big games”, only play harmless flash puzzle games like Bubble Shooter at http://thebubbleshooter.net, they don’t take much time :) but this i’d love to try

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