Review: The Traveler In Black

Title: The Traveler In Black (1971) (222 pages)

Author: John Brunner

Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction Anthology

Summary: The adventures of a near omnipotent being capable of altering reality, this book is a collection of separate stories that end in a cohesive narrative. The Traveler exists in a world shifting from primordial Chaos to rational Order as a bringer of Time and Light, an equally cosmic and karmic power; the Traveler’s purpose is to aid in the transition by fulfilling the wishes of humans he encounters along the way. The majority of the stories detail the Traveler’s associations with enchanters who, because of their mortality based ambition, are too short sighted to understand the implications of their attempts to manipulate and control Chaos. I treasured every second I spent experiencing this world though, from a writing standpoint, the execution was a mixed bag.

The stories get a bit formulaic but the set-up, that the Traveler is a being of singular purpose and therefore has to do what he does over and over again, means things have to be that way. A benefit of the singular nature is that, though the Traveler experiences a change in understanding he does not change as a being; this is a refreshing take on character development, and was the most fun I ever had playing with a stick in the mud. Brunner’s writing, at times flowery and esoteric, is nonetheless a perfect match for such a complex concept; his willingness to spend time on the intricacies is a lifeline to readers who’d otherwise be drowned in the dangerous and delightful waters of his unrestrained imagination. Aside from the Traveler there are no characters in these stories, only archetypes, but given the moralistic nature of many of the tales that works out to a positive. The vagueness of the victims is space for a reader to insert impressions of people they know.

What kept me interested: While being modeled after the masters of ironic wish-fulfillment (Genies/Djinn), the Traveler is developed past their usual boundaries through the constant attention of the narrator. Because the Traveler is the protagonist instead of a side character the readers are treated to thoughts and perspectives on situations there’s no reason to think of in everyday life. This book is a journey into unexplored territory.

Rating: 8.7/10

Recommended for: Dedicated readers with downtime

Fun Fact: I read the first edition for this review; there is another publication with the subtitle ‘The Compleat Edition’ which has an additional story.

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