Compleat Traveller in Black Paperback – 9 Apr 1987
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Top Customer Reviews
It's hard to convey the flavour of this book, it really is unlike anything else your likely to read in the genre. So then: a great book, one of the best fantasy books you're ever likely to read....and not a Dark Lord, elf or dwarf in sight.
In fact its a little difficult to put into words just how readable this book is, a deceptively simple tale of a order versus chaos in a world evolving away from the later, its immensely engaging and witty.
Characterisation is brilliant, pace perfect and all accomplished with a wonderful economy of words. There is just the right amount of elaboration, framing and scene setting, brief descriptions of character, landscape and setting are achieved without any feeling that anything is lacking in depth or feeling. I was surprised how when almost incidential characters met with darkly comic consequences or fate that it provoked sympathy or sentiment from me the reader.
The central character exhibits a kind of heart warming world weariness and stoicism, I was sorry when I reached the end of the book. I can heartily recommend this book to everyone, it deserves to reach a wide readership beyond the fans of the fantasy genre. I hunted this book out following my reading of Tales Of The Dying Earth (Fantasy Masterworks) and Three Hearts & Three Lions (Fantasy Masterworks), its a lot more like the second and if you liked that book you'll love this one.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Brunner explores Chaos's control and degradation of humankind in several of its ways. The first story tweaks mindless religion. It might even show how one can choose atheism, after encountering a god face to face and finding him unworthy of belief. Another of these gentle stories undermines magical thinking - again, not because it fails, but because its success is not worth having. And so with the faith in luck that makes Las Vegas the holy city of Chance, and so the unwarranted sense of entitlement that demands ever-richer result for ever-poorer effort at earning it, and so for blind pursuit of power irrespective of the cost or of who pays it. Since these stories are built around layers of paradox, Brunner's mechanism is itself a paradox, the smallest of magics to achieve the largest of consequences.
Brunner was one of the best SF writers of the 70s and 80s, author of "Shockwave Rider" and other stories of chilling prescience. Among all of his writings, though, "Traveller in Black" may be his finest and most under-stated, under-rated achievements. These stories have held up well over the thirty years since they were written; since they pass in a distant place and age, there is little in them that can look dated. I recommend these stories to any thinking reader.
.. but none of the recipients of the wishes get *exactly* what they want ...
In some ways, this book is a bookend to Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away" (and various sequels, etc.). The flavor and style is similar, although this book is very different. In any event, this is one of those touchstone books of fantasy: you'll see where other writers (including Niven's works cited above!) have "borrowed" some of the dazzling images in Brunner's classic. This gem is a great read and I recommend it highly.
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.
But his power is very limited.
He can grant wishes -- the wishes of other people, not his own. And he does, but usually not the way they expect. And he does it when they are not expecting it.
I am sure you have heard: "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it." The Traveler in Black is the personification of that statement.
Still, while he seems very impersonal, he also comes across as a GOOD person. The ones who suffer as a result of his granted wishes deserve it.
And as to leaving the world a better place -- he leaves the world a place with less magic. Every time he grants a wish, some great source of magic disappears. The final story helps explain his long journey.
The Traveler in Black has lived in my imagination for a long time now. He is a presence you cannot forget, unique in fantasy.
Ages ago I introduced him into my Dungeons and Dragons game. It was interesting to say how carefully players started making sure they did not phrase stupid things as wishes, and how often they still failed in doing so.