Book Review 2009 #41: The Compleat Traveller in Black

Let’s turn away from politics and back into F/SF eh?
My next book is an oldie but a goodie: The Compleat Traveller in Black, by John Brunner.


Although I’ve read some of Brunner’s SF, I had not heard of this book until I started playing the White Wolf RPG game Exalted. That book lists The Compleat Traveller in Black as an inspiration, and so, even though it is out of print, I was inspired to eventually find a copy of this book and read it.
It feels very much like some of Moorcock’s Melnibonean work. The world is young, and still in many ways in the grip of the elder era of Chaos. The laws of science, logic and reason are still not in full evidence, with the laws of magic and chaos still trying to hold their ground.
Enter into this realm the Traveller in Black. The Compleat Traveller in Black collects a number of stories Brunner wrote about a mysterious figure who works for Order and reason. In Moorcock terms, he is a definite champion for Law. The traveler encounters forces of elemental chaos, and by actions both subtle and gross, by himself and through sometimes unwitting accomplices,works to impose reason on the world. He often does this by granting wishes. One to a customer, but the results are not often what the wisher expects. Sometimes, not even the Traveler himself is fully aware of the consequences of the wishes…
The stories have a unity of voice and vision even though they were written over a period of twenty years. The traveler is a character difficult to get to know, but we get an interesting portrait of him and the world he is helping fashion. We see through the stories how his actions shape the world around him, diminishing its magic, increasing its stability. And indeed, in the end, he creates a world that not only does not need him, but is positively opposed to his further existence.
I found this an interesting counterpoint to Vance’s Dying Earth, set at the opposite end of time. I think the Dying Earth is a better realized milieu, overall, but certainly, many fantasy fans will enjoy this look at the morning of the world by Brunner.