Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review of Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series is an important if not underrated addition to the world of science fiction and fantasy literature.  The eponymous planet, an immense sphere settled by a wide variety of alien species, is a world fecund with the possibility of story.  Having published Lord Valentine’s Castle after a four year hiatus from writing, an overflow of creative effort revealed itself in the following year’s publication of Majipoor Chronicles.  Both breaking new ground and filling in gaps left by Lord Valentine’s Castle, Chronicles is an above average collection of shorts that leans more toward the literary than fantastic.

The collection is framed by the idea of the Registry of Souls.  Hissune, now a government administrator, is bored at his position.  Breaking into the Registry one day, he re-lives the life of a young woman named Thesme.  Not caught, he repeats the experience, and eventually re-lives the experiences of ten people in total, including Valentine himself.  But for all of his sneaking, Hissune is ill prepared for the gravity of the lessons contained in the individuals’ tales.  

“Thesme and the Ghayrog” – Somehow both a touching and bizarre story, a young woman who feels cast out of her small village leaves to live in the jungle alone.  The life she finds with a Ghayrog is not what she expected, but goes a long way toward giving her a new perspective on life. 

“The Time of the Burning” – More historical in context, the story describes how humans took control of Majipoor, for better or worse. 

“In the Fifth Year of the Voyage” – An ocean going vessel leaves port on a lengthy—if five years can thus be so simply denoted—voyage.  Not a typical story arc, the result is very personal for one of the voyagers.  

“Calintane Explains” – This is the story of Calintane, future coronal, and his slightly comedic story of the “Lady of the Isle”.

“The Desert of Stolen Dreams” – One of the best in the collection, Dekkeret heads on a perilous cross-desert trip with a rather shady group that test his trust every step of the way.  The strange dreams he experiences, don’t help.

“The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter” – Another great story, an artist living in semi-seclusion in the forest encounters one of the native shapeshifters.  The ethnic conflict which results is superb.

“Crime and Punishment” – A short homage to Dostoevsky, the story does more to explain how justice is done on Majipoor than tell a gripping or touching story.

“Among the Dream Speakers” – Another explanatory story, this time via the life of Tisana, readers learn of the value and function of dreamspeakers, not to mention the harrowing test they must pass to become one.

“A Thief in Ni-moya” – When a simple shopkeeper learns she has inherited wealth in the luxurious city of Ni-moya, her world is turned upside down. Decadence abound, she learns of the lives of the nobility and gains a new perspective on life.  

“Voriax and Valentine” – Largely filling in background to Lord Valentine’s Castle, this story is best appreciated having read the novel (unlike most of the other stories in the collection).  Featuring Valentine as a young man, the impossible prophecy that he and his brother Voriax will both become coronal must be decided.

In the end, Majipoor Chronicles is a good collection of short stories that shows Silverberg’s ability to dig at the softer, more subtle side of a fantasy setting.  Action and entertainment light, character development, emotional exploration, and poignant scenes are instead the calling cards to the collection.  Though the stories are best appreciated after having read Lord Valentine’s Castle, it’s not absolutely necessary.  Most stand alone and can be appreciated as such.  If fantastical, literary shorts are your thing, then by all means give the collection a try, but I do recommend Lord Valentine’s Castle first.

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