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The Compleat Traveller In Black (1986)

The Compleat Traveller in Black (1986)

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3.83 of 5 Votes: 1
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0312940602 (ISBN13: 9780312940607)
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About book The Compleat Traveller In Black (1986)

review of John Brunner's The Traveler in Black by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 20, 2014 I have a paper bag full of John Brunner bks on the floor of my bedroom, where I do most of my reading. When I need a break from whatever more challenging bks I'm reading (it's been William Gaddis's The Recognitions + others for quite some time now) I dip into the bag & pull one out. Two dips ago I pulled out Now Then, a collection of 3 novellas that include his earliest published story + a bit called "Imprint of Chaos". My review of Now Then is here: . The most recent Brunner dip produced The Traveler in Black. I noticed that a revised "Imprint of Chaos" began this & that 3 more tales developed the initial idea further. I almost put it back in the bag to pick another one b/c, while I liked "Imprint of Chaos" I didn't want to repeat read it & wallow in what I consider to be a somewhat minor Brunner work. In my review of "Imprint of Chaos" I postulate the Traveler in Black as Entropy Personified & quote the following to substantiate this: "The black-clad man chuckled. 'He to whom the task was given of bringing order out of chaos in the universe,' he replied." Now, according to , entropy is:"2 a : the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity" wch (ignoring the implications of the word "degradation") describes the Traveler in Black's purpose quite well. HOWEVER, the "b" part of the above definition:"2 b : a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder" - in particular the "trend to disorder" is the OPPOSITE of the Traveler in Black's goal. So wch is he? Entropy Personified? Or Anti-Entropy Personified? I think he's Entropy Personified w/ "entropy" meaning the bringing chaos into order: "["]I am he to whom was entrusted the task of bringing order forth from chaos. Hence the reason why I have but one nature."" - p 26 "["]what is the purpose of your task?"" [..]""Why! When all things have but one nature, they will be subsumed into the Original All. Time will stop. This conclusion is desirable." Manuus looked sourly at the brazier. "Desirable, perhaps—but appallingly dull.["]" - pp 26-27 I think I wd've asked: 'Why is it "desirable" & to what? Whom?" Also, I'm no sure I don't agree w/ Manuus's position: is order necessarily preferable to chaos? I'm sure many people in my lifetime have been preoccupied w/ that issue upon noticing that the 'order' imposed on them isn't one conducive to the flourishing of their natural strengths. Take the character Jorkas: "this was not a young man riding a horse, nor was there in fact a horse being ridden, but some sort of confusion of the two, in that the man's legs were not separated at all from his mount. They ended in fleshy stalks, uniting with the belly of that part of the composite animal resembling a horse." - p 33 ""Yes, he bears the imprint of chaos, does he not?" said the man in black. "He is left over, so to speak. He is fairly harmless; things have by-passed him, and his power grows small."" - p 35 ""He has rather endured from a period of absolute confusion["]" - p 35 Imagine what we now call mythological beings, such as the minotaur (ignoring that as a metaphor), as actual creatures from a time when natural diversity was much larger. The bringing of 'order' seems to all too often carry w/ it the stamping out of unusual. Jorkas, being a Rara Avis, disappears as possibilities become more narrow-minded. Whenever I'm confused, it's probably usually due to an insufficiency of knowledge or a lack of clarity of communication. I generally prefer to solve this problem thru increasing my understanding. Is an age of "absolute confusion" an age of 'insolvable misunderstanding'? Jorkas's power becomes so reduced that "the eldritch song Jorkas had been used to sing was turned a lullaby with nonsense words to soothe asleep happy babies in wicker cradles." (p 189) I suppose, as fates go, that's not such a nasty one. The Traveler in Black identifies himself thusly: ""I have many names, but one nature. You may call me Mazda, or anything you please." - p 12 Many readers may recognize "Mazda" as a brand of car (modest, aren't they?) but how many know this?: "Major Deities and Figures. The driving forces of Persian mythology were two powerful gods, sometimes presented as twin brothers. Ahura Mazda was the creator, a god of light, truth, and goodness. His enemy Ahriman, the spirit of darkness, lies, and evil, created only destructive things such as vermin, disease, and demons. The world was their battlefield. Although they were equally matched during this period of history, Ahura Mazda was fated to win the fight. For this reason, Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the supreme deity of Persian mythology. The Zoroastrians identified him with purifying fire and tended fires on towers as part of their worship." - "The Wager Lost by Winning" (the 3rd of 4 tales here) (almost) begins w/: "Leaning on his staff, the traveler in black stood in the shade of a chestnut-tree and contemplated them as they filed by. Directly he clapped eyes on them, the banners had told him whence they hailed; no city but Teq employed those three special hues in its flag—gold, and silver, and the red of new-spilled blood. They symbolized the moral of a proverb which the traveler knew well, and held barbarous, to the effect that all treasure must be bought by expending life. "In accordance with that precept, the Lords of Teq, before they inherited their father's estates, must kill all challengers, and did so by any means to hand, whether cleanly by the sword or subtly by drugs and venom. Consequently some persons had come to rule in Teq who were less than fit—great only in their commitment to greed. ""That," said the traveler to the leaves on the chestnut-tree, "is a highly disturbing spectacle!"" - pp 121-122 If the Traveler in Black is Entropy, he's a moral judge form of entropy so I suppose having him be a religious/mythological figure is more apropos. One of the most entertaining aspects of this bk is the 'poetic justice' he metes out by giving the people he encounters 'what they ask for' in a form w/ highly undesirable results for them. ""This I pledge on my life!" the merchant fumed. "If my daughter carries on the way she's going, I shall never want to speak to her again—nor shall I let her in my house!" ""As you wish, so be it," said the traveler. From that moment forward the merchant uttered never a word; dumb, he stood by to watch the fine procession in which the girl went to claim her bridegroom, and before she returned home apoplexy killed him, so that the house was no longer his." - p 131 ""I must have been!" Viola moaned. "Would that hasty wish of mine come undone!" ""The second time a person calls upon me," said the traveler, "I may point out the consequences if I choose. Do you truly wish to find yourself once again on the green at Wantwich—alone?" "There was an awful silence, which she eventually broke with a sob. ""However," the traveler resumed, when he judged she had suffered long enough to imprint the moral permanently on her memory" - p 164 One way I cd 'justify' rereading "Imprint" was by looking for differences between the earlier version & the one printed here. In this version, an epigraph from Ovid begins it: "Ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum unus erat tota naturae vultus in orbe, quen dixere Chaos: rudis indigestaque moles. —Ovid: Metamorphoses, I 5" - p 7 Wch Google Translate (slightly edited by yrs truly here) transforms to: "Before the sea and the lands of all things of heaven, [there] was one which cover[ed] the whole face of Nature in the world, whom the men have spoken of [as] Chaos, rude and undeveloped mass." Another bit not in the original is this part: "Manuus hesitated. "Who," he resumed at length, "imposed—?" "And his tongue locked in his mouth, while the traveler looked on him with an expression blending cynicism and sympathy. When at last the enchanter was able to speak again, he muttered, "Your pardon. It was of the nature of a test. I had seen it stated that . . ." ""That there are certain questions which one literally and physically is forbidden to ask?" The traveler chuckled. "Why, then, your test has confirmed the fact. I, even I, could not answer the question I suspect you were intending to frame.["]" - p 26 What I'm reminded of here is the notion of YHWH as the unspeakable name of 'God'. "Yahweh is called the Divine Name and the Tetragrammaton, or four-letter word, because it has four letters in Hebrew. Most Jewish people won’t even say Yahweh. Instead, they say HASHEM—a Hebrew word that means “The Name”, or they say Adonai—the Hebrew word for Lord. Yahweh is also called the Ineffable Name, or the unspeakable Name, but God’s Name is not unspeakable." ( ) Until I decided to look up "the unspeakable name of god" online I didn't realize that there's a Christinane controversy over Yahweh's being actually sayable (apparently contrary to the Jewish position). When I've given any thought to it at all, wch isn't often, I've imagined the Jewish position as meaning that anything truly profound is, by definition, beyond human understanding. Imagine the full 189, 824 letter word for the chemical Titin as an attempt to logically describe the chemical in detail (you can witness 2 relevant works of mine online here: & here: ). Now imagine trying to describe the universe using the same method & inserting ____ (blanks) for everything encountered that you don't have a word for. The description wd hypothetically be infinite, the amt of _____s wd be infinite, the amt of words wd be finite. One might call that an unsayable name. W/o getting further into theological points that're ultimately just wanker bullshit to me, what I imagine in Brunner's scenario, & as an alternative to theological takes, is something being 'unaskable' by virtue of its utter existence outside of the state of mind in wch questions are asked. People awaking from dreams or coming down from expanded consciousness trips routinely find their memories of the experiences 'indescribable'. It may be that these people have too limited an ability TO describe &/OR that the experience is, in actuality, Indescribable - IE: outside of the parameters of what description is capable of b/c of the limits of description. If something is indescribable there's the possibility that no words exist to describe it &/OR that words, by their very nature, are in adequate. Cd the same thing that's postulated here for description also be possibly 'true' of questions? I'm always thankful to writers who expose me to words I don't already know. "Geas" was the main one here: "geas [..] Pronunciation: /geSH [..] (In Irish folklore) an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person." ( ) The Traveler in Black's rooting in various mythologies reminds me of Brunner's 1968 Bedlam Planet wch is prefaced by this Author's Note: "In writing this novel I have made extensive use of the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology" (the interested reader can see my review of that here: ) Brunner creates some fictional etymology too: ""And do not lament excessively for Ys. For cities, as for men, there comes a Time . . . Besides, there is a prophecy: a prince shall seek a name for his new capital, and he'll be told of Ys, and out of envy for its greatness he will say, 'I name my city Parys, equal to Ys.'"" (p 117) Wch I counter w/ this quote from the Online Etymology Dictionary: "Paris [,] capital of France, from Gallo-Latin Lutetia Parisorum (in Late Latin also Parisii), name of a fortified town of the Gaulish tribe of the Parisii, who had a capital there; literally "Parisian swamps" (compare Old Irish loth "dirt," Welsh lludedic "muddy, slimy")."The tribal name is of unknown origin, but traditionally derived from a Celtic par "boat" (perhaps related to Greek baris; see barge (n.)), hence the ship on the city's coat of arms." - Of course, Brunner's version of Paris's etymology is one way of setting the story in a mythical past. Another tactic for the same purpose is to occasionally use slightly archaic language: "Garch's trusted counselors were three, as aforesaid." (p 193)All 4 of the stories begin w/ a conjunction of planets: "Accordingly, on the day after the conjunction of four significant planets in that vicinity, he set forth" (p 9) "this season followed the conjunction of four significant planets hereabout" (p 71) "or perhaps if they were learned in curious arts and aware of the significance of the conjunction of the four planets presently ornamenting the southern sky in a highly ornamented pattern." (p 122) "leaving the shop lit only—through a skylight—by the far-off gleam of four crucial conjunct planets wheeling downward from the zenithal line." (p 183) A conjunction of planets representing a sort of form-out-of-chaos, perhaps? What I think of is the March 9, 1982 Party for People from the Future during a conjunction of the planets - organized by the Krononautic Organism (a project founded by the fertile imagination of Richard Ellsberry in BalTimOre). In the 2nd part, "Break the Door of Hell", there's this: "Women, too, passed: high-wimpled dames attended by maids and dandling curious unnamable pets; harlots in diaphanous cloaks through which it was not quite possible if they were diseased" (p 80) wch reminds me of this in Jacob Aranza's 1983 Backward Masking Unmasked - Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed: "Allen Parsons Project also has an album entitled Eve. The album's front cover reveals two ladies' faces behind veils. If you take a close look you can see that both ladies have sores and warts on their faces. "One state's venereal disease investigator looked at the warts and sores on the faces in the picture and concluded that the ladies in the picture were suffering from secondary syphilis. "How many young people listening to Eve realize that the theme of the album is VD?" - p 65 I'll bet Allen Parsons wd be surprised that that's the theme of his record (esp since he spells his name "Alan")! Not all of the Elementals left over from the time of chaos & defeated by the Traveler are harmful to the more orderly world of the humans: "At one side of this green was a pond of sweet water which the traveler in black had consigned to the charge of the being Horimos, for whom he had conceived a peculiar affection on discovering that this one alone among all the elementals was too lazy to be harmful, desiring mainly to be left in peace." (p 132) Did you ever wonder about the Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"?: "authorizing the mansion's master smith to forge the silver hammer-head." (p 195) "that mirror was cracked across, and the traveler knew with what hammer the blow would have been struck: silver-headed, hafted with a portion of his anatomy that some man—albeit briefly—would have lived to regret the loss of." (209) According to Wikipedia, "Linda McCartney reports that Paul had become interested in avant-garde theatre and had immersed himself in the writings of Alfred Jarry. This influence is reflected in the story and tone of the song, and also explains how Paul came across Jarry's word “pataphysical”, which occurs in the lyrics." Furthermore, "In 1994, McCartney said that the song merely epitomises the downfalls of life, being "my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell's hammer." ( ) Now, I love Jarry's work, so this unexpected reference to it delights me. When I started researching the silver hammer for this review, I expected to find some common mythological reference, not Jarry. However, the only hammer I know of in myth is Thor's & I don't recall it being silver. U still think Brunner took the image from myth but it may just be a variant on familiar imagery. All in all, for people interested in mythology, Brunner's spin-off will probably be a delight.

"As you wish. So be it." The traveller in black utters these words countless times on his journeys.The Traveller in Black is the agent of the One Who, a man with many names but one nature, tasked with making order from chaos, primarily by granting people's wishes in a literal sense. He gives a god to a nation without one; he unites a girl with her lost love by making her join him as a slave.The writing is definitely denser than I thought it would be, reminding me of Gene Wolfe at times and Michael Moorcock at others. The book is divided into five shorter selections, each from the traveller's wanderings in a different era. Some of them read almost like parables.To sum up, I highly recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy with a philosophical bend.

Do You like book The Compleat Traveller In Black (1986)?

This is, without question, the most pungent, steaming pile of dreck I've ever tried to read. I haven't seen self-impressed tripe like this since I waded through "The Darkness that Comes Before". I'm tempted to keep reading it, just to marvel at the sheer jarring spectacle of it all. This might be the worst thing I've read from a major author - and I've read Terry Goodkind! Normally I would suggest avoiding this like the plague... but I may simply recommend it if you're intrigued by literary shipwrecks... try to make it through the first chapter... I dare you...
—Dave Wagner

The stories in this volume deal with a nameless 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 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 did not intended and often to their detriment. As an example, the Traveler 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 credited to him; and he has received the execution the law prescribes.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. When he reaches his goal in the last page of the final story, his role reverses and he becomes the actor that will change Order back to Chaos, implying that the cycle is eternal.
—Nesa Sivagnanam

The traveller in black has many names but a single nature, and carries a staff of curdled light. Whenever four planets are in a certain conjunction he is bound to walk the lands on the borders of order and chaos. The task that has been entrusted to him is to working towards banishing chaos, so that the cities of the borderlands can move form the land of chaos and eternity into the real world of order and time. As well as being able to bind elementals and limit their powers, one of the other ways he carries out his task is by granting the wishes of the people he meets, although not usually in the way they would have hoped. As the centuries pass and common sense gradually replaces a belief in magic, ever fewer of the people he meets on his travels have heard of him, and he realises that his age long task may be coming to an end.The five stories in this book were originally published separately, and it reads more like mythology than fantasy. I hadn't realised that John Brunner wrote fantasy as well as science fiction, but I found "The Compleat Traveller in Black" very interesting indeed.
—Isabel (kittiwake)

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