My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I haven’t read as much of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s work as I’d like. I’ve read her most famous book Mists of Avalon more than once. And I also thoroughly enjoyed the last three Darkover novels that she wrote just before her death — Exile’s Song, The Shadow Matrix, and Traitor’s Sun (ones I wish I could reread, but unfortunately the books were donate to make space among my many moves *sigh*).
The Colors of Space was an enjoyable, imaginative young adult science fiction novel written by Marion Zimmer Bradley early on in her writing career (1963). This was a nice story about a boy forced to grow up fast and expand his understanding of the universe and the beings around him. After an adventurous search for his father, Young Bart Steele takes on the responsibility of proving that humans can survive the rigor of interstellar travel in a conscious state, in the process he begins to understand the alien Lhari, who have a monopoly on interstellar travel, and questions how mankind should go about becoming masters of interstellar travel themselves.
Ms. Bradley paints a vivid picture of what the future Earth and the many human occupied planets must be like and introduces the Lahari, an alien species very much like humans. She establishes the importance of interstellar travel and how it’s done. The story is packed with details about how humans and Lahari are similar and how they are different both physically and socially. Much of the story is about seeing deeper than one’s looks.
One of the things I enjoy about reading books from 20+ years ago is thinking about how the writing process has changed or not changed over the years. Now a days writers all over the internet tout ways you should start your novel: start with action, don’t give back story, start with the inciting incident, don’t bore your reader with too much description, make your reader care about your main character(s) and so forth. These are all great points and I agree with much of what is out there, but as I went through the first chapter of The Colors of Space I thought deeply about how Ms. Bradley weaved her story.
First off, the story begins with a flashback. *Gasp* This is done to introduce the reader to the fact that the story starts off on Earth, but not on any kind of Earth that we know. The flashback is short but is immediately followed by bits of character background information interwoven with setting and introduction to the alien Lahari. The purpose of the story is cleverly weaved into the introduction, mainly that the Lahari are the masters of space and there are those who feel that humans should share in that trade. The only problem is that you don’t really understand that this is the primary purpose until much later in the story and don’t immediately connect the story problem to the main character. In the end, the whole first chapter is primarily characterization and setting and the main character’s inciting incident (still not entirely clear to be the story problem) doesn’t really happen until the end of the chapter.
I was interested in the what was going on in the first chapter of this novel, but I question other people’s opinions about starting novels since much of the beginning of this one was all about learning who Bart Steele is, who his family is, who the Lahari are, and what the relationship between Lahari and humans are. Some of this information was told to the reader and some was shown through action or dialogue, but as a science fiction writer myself I often struggle with the balance of what is too much information and what’s enough for the reader at the beginning of a story. For me, The Colors of Space had a decent mixture of detail and action, though if you are an action oriented reader you will not be satisfied. Much of the excitement of the story happened after chapter 1 and Ms. Bradley ended every chapter with some form of cliff hander that urged you to continue the story.
What I liked best about this book was the way that Bart Steele’s character evolved through the story. I enjoyed the conflict that he faced when disguising himself as a Lahari and how being among them changed his perceptions. It was obvious that a lot of thought went into creating the Lahari people and how that culture influenced the story that was told. We learn just enough to grow along with Bart and realize that maybe the Lahari isn’t what we think at first.
Even though it was funny to hear many of the anachronisms of the 50s and 60s come out in the conversations and actions of many of the characters — reminding me not only of how writing has changed, but also in how people have changed over the last fifty to sixty years — The Colors of Space was still a great example of story telling. Hey, the beginning may have been a little slow, but the rest moved along quite nicely for a book of its time.