The Traveller in Black
The Traveller in Black is a collection of short stories, written in a fantasy vein, by John Brunner. The first edition, titled The Traveler in Black, had four stories ("Imprint of Chaos", "Break the Door of Hell", "The Wager Lost by Winning", and "The Dread Empire") and was issued in 1971 in the Ace Science Fiction Specials line. Some stories were rewritten for this book. Later editions of the collection, with the additional story "The Things That Are Gods", are included in The Compleat Traveller in Black.
The series deals with an unnamed protagonist, who "has many names but only one nature" and who bears a staff of curdled light, held together by interesting forces, travelling through a landscape in which Order and Chaos are in conflict. With this, and with the powers invested in him by "the One for whom all things are neither possible or impossible", he is enabled to counter Chaos, although he must do so in answer to the spoken wishes of the people around him, always with consequences they had not intended and often to their detriment. As an example, the Traveller hears the wish of a skilled assassin that he could get the fame to which his expertise should entitle him. Are not all great artists admired and respected? Is he not the cunningest hand with dagger, garotte, and subtle poison? The Traveller replies, as usual: "As you wish, so be it." The following morning, the Traveller finds the assassin's body on a dunghill: his crimes have been discovered and properly attributed to him, and he has received the execution the law prescribes.
Among the Traveller's powers are the ability to bind and free Elementals, which in these tales are varied and more than five in number. The Traveller's ultimate purpose is to reduce the power of Chaos, and thus the utility of magic, until everything should have a single nature. As he works, person after person, city after city move from the realm of Chaos into the realm of Order, and thus from Eternity into Time.
- "Imprint of Chaos"
- Originally in Science Fantasy, issue 42 (1960), in which the enchanter Manuus is manifest, and then is not. The city Acromel suffers under the rule of its Quadruple God; the city Ryovora finds that it can do better with common sense than with gods
- "Break the Door of Hell".
- Originally in Impulse, issue 2 (1966), in which the fools of the city of Ys (led by Lord Vengis) learn from where their folly originated.
- "The Wager Lost by Winning"
- Originally in Fantastic (magazine), April 1970, in which the gamesters of Teq learn both meanings of "hazard", and ale is drunk.
- "Dread Empire"
- Originally in Fantastic (magazine), April 1971, in which the Four Great Ones are summoned and depart, and mighty nobles and humble peasants each get their wishes.
- "The Things That Are Gods" (not in the original Ace edition, included in Compleat)
- Originally in Isaac Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine, (Fall 1979), in which Lake Taxhling suffers a sea-change.