The Scholars of Night Critical Essays

John M. Ford


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Scholars of Night barely qualifies as science fiction, with minimally futuristic elements such as the computerized war-game system which is the story’s Maguffin. It more resembles the works of such high-tech thriller and spy writers as John le Carré and Tom Clancy.

A major source of the book’s interest is the way it tells a number of stories, with intriguing parallels. Nicholas reads Marlowe’s imagined The Assassin’s Tragedy and reconstructs Marlowe’s life from hints in the play and other newly discovered documents, found with the Skene Manuscript, that indicate parallels between the play and Marlowe’s life. Marlowe, for example, refers to people who Shakespeare called “The Scholars of Night,” a group of Elizabethan writers and other intellectuals, including Sir Walter Raleigh and John Dee, similar to the group of thinkers Allan gathered in his Diplomacy games. Based on the play and a letter also found with the Skene Manuscript, Nicholas concludes that Marlowe was killed because his multiple involvements made him dangerous to the English espionage establishment of his time, as Allan would be killed later. Even the Kingmaker game at the novel’s beginning has parallels to Nicholas’ situation as the plot unravels. His line “I die, I sink” echoes the sinking of the last agent of Allan and Ellen’s conspiracy.

John Ford’s literary career has been richly varied, with a disinclination to repeat himself. He began with the proto-cyberpunk Web of Angels (1980) and followed with the space opera The Princes of the Air (1982), the World Fantasy Award-winning alternate-world vampire novel The Dragon Waiting (1983), and the remarkably farcical Star Trek novel How Much for Just the Planet? (1987). Following The Scholars of Night, his main work was the science-fiction novel Growing Up Weightless (1993), something between a young adult story and a Bildungsroman.