The Traveler in Black is a departure for John Brunner, who usually writes either science-fiction dystopias, such as Stand on Zanzibar (1968), or space operas, such as A Maze of Stars (1991). Nevertheless, The Traveler in Black is an interesting work. The volume’s fourth story, “Dread Empire,” received a Hugo Award nomination in 1972.
In The Traveler in Black, Brunner places the science-fiction theme that rationality is a vital attribute into the unusual context of fantasy novel. With its attacks on irrational, self-destructive behavior, its condemnation of the self-centered who seek power, and its praise of logic and endeavor, The Traveler in Black holds affinities with Brunner’s science-fiction masterpieces Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit (1969), and The Sheep Look Up (1972).
The Traveler in Black proposes that order and reason ultimately will triumph in the universe and in human society. This may be why Brunner chose the name Mazda for his magician. Ahura Mazda was the Zoroastrian god of light, the source of all good. His opposite, Angra Mainyu, was the source of darkness and evil. In the Zoroastrian myth, there will be nine thousand years of conflict between Mazda and Mainyu, resulting in a mingling of their good and evil essences. Ultimately, Mazda will triumph and all creation become light, inseparable from his being and nature.
At the end of the Zoroastrian universe, Mazda will absorb all beings. In The Traveler in Black, Mazda the magician heals the world’s chaos, and the Original All unites creation. The goddess who gave Mazda his power reveals that both order and chaos are aspects of her nature. Thus, in The Traveler in Black there lies beyond the combative Zoroastrian duality the unity of opposites and the continual dance of metamorphosis found in Buddhism.