Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: The Majipoor Chronicles

© 1981 by Robert Silverberg

The best thing about being an avid book-o-phile is when your current read sneaks up on you unexpectedly, bangs you over the head, and shang-hais you to a wondrous and fantastical, fully-fleshed out new world. 

This happened to me reading Robert Silverberg’s The Majipoor Chronicles.

Quick background: sometime in the late 80s I used to spend my weeklong summer vacations from the job at my parents’ weekend home just outside Lake George, NY.  One trip I brought Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle to read.  Whoosh!  I was magically, mystically transported to the planet Majipoor, right from page one.  I finished the first part (of five, the whole book being around 450 pages) a firm fan.  Then, something odd happened.  When I returned home I set the book aside.  A day went by, then a week, then – well, life interrupted.

So in late 2011 I stumbled upon The Majipoor Chronicles in a used book bin and, hesitating, probably from both guilt and unease at the investment that may be required, I purchased it.  It sat on the On-Deck Circle behind me for nearly three years before I cracked it open.

And read its eleven tales in five days – morning, afternoon, evening, any time I could snatch fifteen or twenty minutes to explore its pages.

What an awesome read!

Majipoor truly comes alive – and it is a wonderful world.  Dangerous, yes, amoral, often, but so lifelike and real, more real to me than, say, Australia or China or the African continent.  I loved my five day trip so much I have picked up the long-lost Lord Valentine’s Castle and plan on reading that next.

The frame of the book is a boy, Hissune, at liberty in a vast catacomb of recorded images / thoughts / lives.  He samples one – literally becoming one with the subject – and quickly becomes addicted, sampling the lives of other Majipooreans from various epochs and eras, lands, and social classes.  After eleven such delvings into quite extraordinary lives, something special happens to him at the end.

Three tales stand out to me – “In the Fifth Year of the Voyage”, “The Desert of Stolen Dreams”, and “The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter.”  But all contain that essential nugget to any successful short story, that ratchet of conflict, conflict you can feel deep in your solar plexus between characters as lifelike as those you sat next to at your last family gathering.  “Crime and Punishment” and “The Thief of Ni-Moya” stand out especially in this regard.  Even the two bottom-rung stories (if I was to rank all eleven) still work as vehicles to pull you in to the vast history of this world.

There are some minor bits of discomfort in terms of sexual situations, but nothing worse than what you’d see on prime-time teevee.  Other than that, I really can’t find fault with the novel.  Silverberg’s a great writer who I’ve been reading since I was ten or so (Conquerors from the Darkness) and definitely need to investigate more fully.

My tally of grades for the eleven stories came to an A-minus.  So The Majipoor Chronicles is an example where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Grade: A+

PS – Major bonus points for the five maps at the beginning of the book – perfect!

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