You know, there have always been genres in books and authors that I just didn’t particularly care for – horror, mostly. I have a vivid imagination and a low-gross-out threshold. There are images that I just don’t want in my head, ever. Never really got into suspense, espionage, vampires, or ultra-violent adventure. But mystery, science fiction, historical fiction were all OK – perfectly my cup of tea, as long as there wasn’t explicit gore or mind-boggling graphic violence of any kind, including the sexual, or the sudden inexplicable random deaths of characters that I had gotten to be rather fond of. (Which puts GRR Martin right out. It’s not really good form to do this repeatedly and presumably with malice and an apparent need to kick your readers in the teeth. I have killed a couple of very appealing characters in two separate books, but it was planned so from the beginning and not casually or without regret over the necessity.)

There are other authors who had particularly rackety, disorganized and disreputable lives, with personal hobbies or vices not especially recommended. I could take their books or leave them alone on that basis. There are plenty of writers who apparently and for various reasons are or were eminently dislikable in their personal lives, but to each their own. I honestly didn’t care about private lives or political leanings of writers that I did enjoy reading but in all my reading life I have only personally banned one author from ever reading their books again. I went to the extent of collecting up all those books that I had by her and binning or donating them: Marion Zimmer Bradley, who wrote book after book of science fiction/adventure/fantasy set on a far distant dark world in the space-traveling future, as well some historical fiction. (A rundown of the whole child-abuse controversy is here,)

I picked up one of her books – Thendara House, if memory serves, at the Stars and Stripes bookstore at Hellenikon AB – and pretty much devoured that, and as many of the other Darkover series as I could find. I had enjoyed the heck out of the Darkover series, which I came into after serving a tour of duty in Greenland, at a forlorn, ice-bound air base thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle. After that year in Greenland, I could seriously relate to earth-accustomed service personnel sent to spend a tour on a cold, isolated planet with a red sun, four moons, and a dark sky. I had lived it, after all. So I read them all, buying by mail-order, or as they appeared at various bookstores. She wrote fearless, independent, and adventurous female protagonists, and by repute was quite the feminist among pop science fiction writers, as well as being extremely encouraging to other female writers. It was to the point where I even wrote a short story for one of her anthologies, during that period when MZB was inviting other writers to ‘romp in her Darkover playground’. Alas, by the time I submitted it, she or whoever was assembling those anthologies had second thoughts. All I got for the trouble taken was a rejection notice, accompanied by a vaguely threatening letter advising me not to violate her copyrights by publishing anything which impinged in any way, shape or form on the Darkover universe. Pity – it was a good story, too, and an interesting and kick-ass main character … I still have it someplace, that and the two follow-on sci-fi adventures that I started writing in longhand before being diverted by other concerns. Like having to earn a living, post Air Force.

When the whole sordid tale of MZB, the abuse of her children and her pedophile late husband came out – and it turned out that it all had been common knowledge in a circle of fans and intimates, it poisoned every shred of enjoyment I had taken in the books – especially in brief interludes where sexual violence came into the plot, most notably where children were involved in such violence.  My daughter confessed much later that she wished that I had forbidden her to read The Firebrand, as a young girl is raped to death after the fall of Troy. After reading about MZB’s treatment of her daughter, and the blind eye or enablement she provided her husband, I just couldn’t even look at her books on my shelf or read them without being reminded. So, into a box, and stashed under the bed. After one of the cats scratched a cozy nest for himself in the top layer, I wound up tossing the ruined books and dropping off the rest of them at Goodwill. I’ve never felt any urge to read them again. It probably was fortunate that the story I sent in for the Darkover anthology was just too late for the game.


  1. What an awful thing. I never read any of her books, as I was not a scifi/fantasy fan growing up. I had not heard about this until a few years ago, briefly referenced on a blog somewhere – no details. I will certainly never make any attempt to read her books.

    • Yes, it was awful to read about the treatment she meted out to her daughter – and the coverup of her husband’s nasty proclivities was even more horrifying. And it seems that a lot of people in science-fiction convention circles knew about it all, and were also quiet about it. I just couldn’t read some of the passages in her books without being reminded.
      On the up side, it cleared away about a shelf and a half of book-space!

      • I don’t think I ever met her, but it’s possible – I was active in the SCA Kingdom of the West during the late ’70s, though I made a point of *not* fanboying over folks like Poul Anderson when they were present.

        And I liked her books – in my teens and twenties, I’d automatically buy new titles as they came out, and I retained a nostalgic fondness for her Darkover books for years afterwards.

        It made me feel vaguely slimy when I realized what a piece of work she really was. I probably still have some of her books in the boxes I packed away for our last move, but I’ve absolutely no urge to actually read one again.