some reason read hardly any of her work except for the two Janus stories. In particular, I was
familiar with the Witch World title so when this 1963 novel was suggested as one of the
monthly reads of the Classic SF discussion forum I decided it was time to catch up.
Simon Tregarth, an ex-soldier living on the fringes of the underworld and with a price on his
head, is offered a chance to escape through a gate connecting this world with another better
suited to him – which turns out to be the Witch World. This world has a fundamentally medieval
society (what is it about medieval societies which makes them so common on other worlds?)
with a few additions of strangely advanced technology. There is also socery, wielded by women
in just one place, the land of Estcarp. Tregarth finds himself involved with Estcarp – and one of
the witches in particular – in their struggle for survival against an inhuman enemy.
There is of course a long tradition of "lone man from the present day finds himself magically
transported to a strange world" stories in fantasy. Burroughs' Barsoom series is an early example
and there are countless others (probably dozens on my bookshelves alone). One of the best-
known of recent decades is Zelazny's Amber series (with the added twist that the hero wasn't
really a stranger, he had just forgotten that he was a prince in that realm – as one does), another
classic favourite being the comic take on this sub-genre in L Sprague de Camp's Enchanter
series. Why is this theme so popular? Possibly because it is ideally suited to escapist wish-fulfilment fantasies; how many people would not gladly leave behind their present lives to start
afresh in a new world, one in which they have some unique talents or high status?
So how does Witch World compare with the rest of the sub-genre? Rather well, actually,
especially since it was a relatively early example. I read the 220-page book in three sessions on
consecutive evenings, and after the first I found myself really looking forward to picking up the
book again to continue the story – a feeling I rarely get these days. Tregarth is an admirable
character despite his dark history, and I liked the fact that he isn't the usual skilled fighter in such
stories; while an excellent shot, he is hopeless with a sword – which is what you would expect
from someone who's never used one before.
I definitely want to read more of these stories and will be hunting down the next few novels in
the series. I was however somewhat daunted to discover that the itch orld series is huge, with
novels published over four decades (some of the later ones with other writers involved). I think
I'll just stick to the ones with the original characters to start with!