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The War on Boredom!

Moonscatter  (Duel of Sorcery, volume 2)

By Jo Clayton 

2 Feb, 2016

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1983’s Moonscatter is the second volume of Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery.

Immortal, powerful, the grandest of his kind, Ser Noris [1] faces a nearly insurmountable challenge: he’s bored. A thrilling conflict might be just the ticket … but the only possible rival worthy of a man of his power is She, the phoenix-like embodiment of the cycle of life. Victory for Ser Noris might mean the end of all life — but at least he won’t be bored.

But Ser Noris isn’t the protagonist of this adventure. His former acolyte/lever to change the world Serroi is. Cast aside when she did not suit Ser Noris, Serroi built a new life for herself, a life now threatened by her old master’s efforts to escape boredom.

Elsewhere, a young girl named Tuli provides a peasant’s-eye view of what living in a secondary fantasy world prone to world-saving quests looks like. 

Ser Noris and She are hardly the only great powers in this world. Coyote, for example, is an enigmatic character: it is gender-fluid and as powerful as a god(dess). Coyote is also capricious and unpredictable. Coyote might choose to stop Ser Noris’ current scheme dead in its tracks. It might also stand aside and let things happen as they will. If Ser Noris is to be stopped, Coyote must be persuaded to do it. First step finding the elusive Coyote.

Serroi and her lover Hern are dispatched to find Coyote and convince him to intercede on the side of life. Their task takes them across on long, dangerous journeys across the world. Whether they will find Coyote is an open question. There is an excellent chance that they will both be killed long before they can even get close to their quarry.

Meanwhile, young Tuli is also coping with upheavals caused by the struggle between Ser Noris and She. Her village falls prey to a brutal authoritarian cult. Tuli must choose between de facto slavery, doomed rebellion, or flight. By the time she chooses flight, she has been raped and is pregnant. And like Serroi and Hern, her goal lies on the other side of dangerous territory. 


One more data point towards the hypothesis that any DAW book of this vintage is going to feature at least one rape. However, it is impossible to predict just how the author will deal with the mandatory rape. Clayton doesn’t aim at titillation, nor does she use the rape to motivate some male character. Instead, Her focus is on how Tuli will deal with the assault and resulting pregnancy. Tuli’s options and choices illuminate the world that Clayton is creating.

I found this book a rather frustrating experience. I enjoyed reading about Serroi and Hern, but I wasn’t crazy about their meandering quest to visit every cell on the Random Encounter Table. Wandering Quests to Save the World were popular in the 1980s, but I find them kind of boring (because there is never any real chance that Team Doomsday will win). I thought that there were better uses for these characters. I found myself more interested in what might happen to Tuli; her problems were more personal.

An even bigger problem with this book was that it was really two separate novels set in the same world at the same time. Both plots are driven by Ser Noris’ War on Boredom, but aside from that, the characters and plots are completely unconnected. Perhaps Tuli and Serroi cross paths in the next volume. I guess the only way to find out is to read it.

As far as I know, Moonscatter is very much out of print. 

1: It is just too bad that repeated exposure to a particular British TV show makes me picture Ser Noris as Malcolm Hedben’s Norris Cole. If you wonder what I am talking about, sample these.