Darkover is the focus planet of the Darkover series of science fiction-fantasy novels and short stories by Marion Zimmer Bradley and others published since 1958. According to the novels, Darkover is the only human-habitable of seven planets orbiting a fictional red giant star called Cottman. The word "Darkover" is a registered trademark owned by the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust.
The Cottman stellar system
Bradley describes Cottman's Star as a red giant, around which seven planets orbit. Cottman IV, known to its inhabitants as Darkover, is the only habitable planet. The three inner planets and two outer planets are not habitable. Cottman V is an ice planet that while not toxic to humans, cannot naturally support a self-sustaining human population.
Like Cottman V, Darkover is a planet stuck in a permanent ice age. Only one small equatorial strip of its single smallish continent is warm enough to support limited agriculture, fishing, and livestock. Similar in size to Earth, Darkover has a lower gravity due to its relative lack of metals; it also has a higher percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. One Darkover year is roughly equal to fifteen Earth months.
Darkover weather and geography
Darkover's weather is affected by two major forces:
- A huge mountain range called "The Wall Around the World" which reaches a height of 9,000 meters above sea level. This mountain range has the cooling effect of a third pole and has set the angle of Darkover's axis of rotation to be more extreme than that of Earth's which causes an extreme fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures in its equatorial region.
- Unlike the Earth, which has only one natural satellite, Darkover has four moons, each a different color, which affect tidal forces and weather patterns. These are Liriel, Kyrrdis, Idriel, and Mormallor. It is thought that Mormallor may have been a passing asteroid that was captured by Darkover's gravity.
The planet is dominated by polar icecaps and glaciers that cover most of its surface. The sole continent, just a few degrees north of the equator, is linked to the northern icecap on the continental northern and eastern side where glaciers from The Wall Around the World mountain range about the cap. To the south and west of that mountain range is Darkover's nominally temperate continental zone which borders the open water of the planet's ocean.
The temperate portion of the continent is dominated by evergreen forests that grow in the mountain foothills. These trees contain a flammable resin which contributes to frequent forest fires during the warmer months. Further, southwest from the forests are Darkover's highlands, plains, salt marshes and arable river valleys. On the continent's far western side is another mountain range called "The Hellers" and a high elevation cold desert plateau called "The Dry Towns."
Multiple conflicting attempts have been made at producing a map of Darkover. Bradley provided a map in The Heritage of Hastur (1975) that should probably be considered canonical. It does not exactly match the Speakman map that illustrates this article. Thorsten Renk's attempt at mapping Darkover based on the descriptions of journeys provided in several of the books (starting with Darkover Landfall and ending with The Heritage of Hastur) produced a third map that does not match the others. Renk is probably correct when he says that Bradley appears to have a mental model when she writes, but not a map in the ordinary sense.
Native sapient Darkover species
Bradley's fictional world is populated with an intelligent species, the Chieri, already ancient and in decline when the human colonists arrive. As the series developed, she introduced three other sapient native species—the Trailmen, Forge-Folk, and Catmen—as well as two genetically engineered sapient species—the Cralmac and Kyrri. One additional species is also frequently mentioned, the Ya-men, but Bradley leaves ambiguous the question of whether these creatures are sapient or not.
The Catmen are the primary antagonists in The Spell Sword and feature in a number of the short stories. In The Spell Sword, Bradley describes them as carrying short, curved swords, capable of coordinating attacks against the humans, and able to use laran and starstones. The Catmen also featured prominently in several of the short stories, including David Heydt's I'm a Big Cat Now from Towers of Darkover; Linda Frankel and Paula Crunk's Blood Hunt from The Other Side of the Mirror; and Judith Sampson's To Serve Kihar from Domains of Darkover.
The Chieri are a race of six-fingered, tall, telepathic hermaphrodites. Extremely long-lived, with life-spans reaching into the tens of thousands of years, they are described as gray or golden-eyed and with long, silvery-white hair. They will change sexes as the situation warrants for mating purposes. The World Wreckers describes the Chieri as the last, dying remnants of a space-traveling people whose abilities have dwindled with their fertility and ambition.
Chieri and humans are similar biologically and are able to interbreed. These hybrids exhibit some of the Chieri characteristics of coloring and physiology. They also have psychic gifts, and their descendants become the Comyn. In Star of Danger, the Chieri who aids Kennard Alton and Larry Montray, tells them that the Chieri share common ancestors with the Trailmen and the Kyrri, though not with the Terrans.
The Cralmac are semi-intelligent beings, artificially bred by humans during the Ages of Chaos, from Trailmen altered with human DNA. They usually feature in the Darkovan novels as the servants of laranzu'in working in the towers, with the explanation that theirs is the only touch humans in the hyper-sensitive state of the matrix worker can bear.
The Cralmac feature prominently in Patricia B. Cirone's Victory's Cost from Towers of Darkover.
The Forge-Folk are not particularly well defined, though they are described as about the same height and build as the Trailmen. Walter Breen's The Darkover Concordance describes them as a cross between humans and non-humans, who speak an ancient variant of the Hellers dialect. They are Darkover's primary miners and metalworkers. The Forge Folk worship the Sharra matrix, and appear to be the only creatures on Darkover capable of handling Sharra without causing catastrophe.
The Forge-Folk feature prominently in the conclusion of The Winds of Darkover, and are mentioned in several of the Sharra stories.
The Kyrri are Humanoid-type bipeds with grey fur, simian faces and glowing green eyes, genetically engineered during the Ages of Chaos. Kyrri generate a bioelectric field and sometimes give painful but non-lethal electric shocks to unfamiliar humans. The Kyrri appear in The Bloody Sun, Star of Danger, and The Sword of Aldones, primarily as servants in the Towers and in the Alton townhouse in Thendara.
The Trailmen are described as social herbivores who dwell in arboreal communities and live in extended family clans. Unattached females form bands of ronin who wander the forests attacking travelers. These Trailmen-human cause the cross-species transmission of a 48-year cyclic illness known as Trailmen's Fever, which is mild in Trailmen and often fatal in humans.
The Ya-men are a mountain-dwelling bird-like race, of questionable intelligence, who are susceptible to the effects of "ghost winds". Though they are mentioned as a background element in many of the books, the Ya-men are a critical plot element in Two to Conquer, The Winds of Darkover, and Cynthia McQuillin's The Forest from The Keeper's Price.
- Darkover - Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust
- Unger, RK (2009). "Science Fictive Visions: A Feminist Psychologist's View". Feminism & Psychology 19: 113–117. doi:10.1177/0959353508098623.
- Rediscovery, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey, DAW Books, 1993, hardback
- Renk, Thorsten, Mapping Darkover, http://www.phy.duke.edu/~trenk/darkover/darkover_map.html#mental_map
- The Planet Savers, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ace Books, 1962, paperback
- The World Wreckers, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ace Books, 1971, paperback
- Star of Danger, Marion Zimmer Bradley, pgs 201-209, Ace Books, 1965, paperback
- Victory's Cost, Patricia B. Cirone, Towers of Darkover, pgs 103-106, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1993, paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance pg 49, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 74, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Vai Dom, Diana L. Paxson, The Keeper's Price, DAW Books, 1980, paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 139, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
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