Rediscovery (co-written by MZB and Mercedes Lackey, pub. 1993) tells the story of the rediscovery of the planet Darkover by the Terran Empire, more than 2,000 years after the original colonists crashed there. The crew of the survey ship that finds the planet try to follow basic First Contact rules, but when the flyer they send down to make an exploratory visit crashes during a storm in the Hellers, and the powerful young leronis Leonie Hastur senses their plight and sends a telepathic warning to the nearby Aldaran Comyn, that intention evaporates. Fortunately for the Terrans, crew members Elizabeth Macintosh and David Lorne have some telepathic ability, which enables Kermiac Aldaran to communicate with them. Before long, it's been verified that the Darkovans are descended from the colonists of a Lost Ship, the planet has been assigned Restricted Status - meaning a spaceport can be build if local government agrees, and limited trade may be permitted - and Lord Kermiac has granted the Terrans land to build their port near the village of Caer Donn. Lorill Hastur, Leonie's twin brother, is sent by the comyn of the other domains to investigate the situation.
There are, of course, many complications, including a secondary plotline involving Lorill Hastur, Leonie's twin brother, another Terran telepath, Ysaye Barnett, and Leonie, who is in telepathic contact with both of them during much of the novel. This ends in death for Ysaye and complete withdrawal from outside telepathic contact for Leonie after Lorill and Ysaye are inadvertently exposed to kiresith pollen intended as a trap for Elizabeth.
Meanwhile Elizabeth and David, now married and planning to remain on Darkover as Spaceport personnel, are captured for ransom by bandits while on a field trip. When the Terrans rescue them using aerial weapons that violate the Compact banning weapons that operate at more than an arm's length distance, setting off a dangerous forest fire in the process, only the Aldarans - who do not follow the Compact - remain interested in contact with humans. And so the first Terran spaceport on Darkover is built in the Hellers, at Caer Donn, and the pattern of relations between the Empire and the six Domains of the Comyn is set.
With respect to sexual politics, we see clearly the patriarchal family structure that has developed on Darkover, with occasional references to the exceptions (or escapes) to the restricted place of women in Darkovan society - life in the Towers, or life as a Renunciate (Free Amazon). Leonie lives in a secluded world where women have power as Keepers, and the Keeper of Arilinn has power at the highest levels as the representative of the Towers. But all other women must have a man to acknowledge their legitimacy or they are without any place in society. All the Darkovan women we see at Aldaran are in some way connected to, legitimated and protected by men - Lady Aldaran, Mariel, Felicia, Thyra. Indeed, the worst thing one can say of a child is that her father is unknown. And as women under the protection of a man, they cannot function as equals. Kermiac tells Elizabeth: "to tell the truth, I am not accustomed to discussing serious business with women."
Terran society, however, appears relatively egalitarian. Because the novels were not written in chronological order, in Rediscovery (written in 1993) which takes place several generations earlier than The Bloody Sun (written in 1964), the Terran Space Service is more integrated, with more women in positions of authority (Ysaye Barrett is the senior computer analyst, Aurora Lakshman is the Chief Medical Officer).
Contraception is freely available, as is abortion, at least within the Service. While sexuality in the Service seems to be a matter of personal choice, it's clear that the various planets in the Empire have varied cultural norms with respect to sexual behaviour. Ysaye comes from a culture that values monogamous marriage and frowns on contraception and abortion. On the other hand, various references are made to planets like Vainwal, where sex work is legal and attitudes seem very permissive.
One of the particularly enjoyable aspects of this novel for me is that many characters who play major roles in the saga of Darkover are shown here as they were before the events that made them crucial characters in the history of Darkover - Leonie and Lorill, but also Kadarin, and Thyra. Jeb Scott will eventually marry Felicia Darriel, and father Rafe and Marjorie Scott. Kermiac's younger sister Mariel will marry Wade Montray; their daughter Elaine will marry Kennard Alton. Elizabeth and David will stay on Darkover and raise their child Magda Lorne. In this book, written well after many of the novels dealing with the generations of contact with the Terrans, Lackey and Bradley have worked into the narrative a host of references to things to come. The narrative itself is rather on the thin side, but for the devoted fan of Darkover, the joy of seeing how it was in the beginning makes Rediscovery a book worth reading.