The best-selling fantasy saga that began with Lord Valentine's Castle continues in Majipoor Chronicles, as the young street urchin Hissune gets his due for helping Lord Valentine regain his throne. As a reward, he is sent into the depths of the Labyrinth, a massive library of memory cubes in which the entire history of Majipoor is preserved.As Hissune prepares for a summons to return to Castle Mount, he relives the lives of Majipoor's most famous and notorious inhabitants, learning more about the people and his new land than anyone else in the kingdom. As he becomes one with its many peoples - dukes and generals, thieves and murderers, Ghayrogs and Metamorphs - he discovers wonder, terror, longing, and love and learns wisdom that will shape his destiny.
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DID THEY HAVE SEX. I read this years ago and liked it. Today, not so much. If you are a big Silverberg or Majipoor fan than this is a must, but if you are not, I believe it will seem boring. If you want to check out this series, I suggest you start with Lord Valentine's Castle. Silverberg was probably the most prolific Science Fiction writer in the 60's and 70's. Most of his writing is a bit laid back for today's reader.
This is nominally the sequel to Lord Valentine's Castle (LVC from here forward) and book 2 of a series, but it can be read on it's own.
Hisune, a minor, street urchin character from LVC is now a young man in the Labyrinth, Majipoor's massive, underground, bureaucratic structure. Tasked with very dry work, Hisune forges papers that allow him access to the Labyrinth's vast library of 'memory cubes,' which every citizen on the planet may record periodically during their lives. Dipping into various places and times, Hisune experiences Majipoor's history through the eyes of its citizens.
I read this once before as a teen and, having just read it, I can safely say I think I will read it again in the future. (I can't say the same for LVC, which I read many times when I was young and only once as an adult.) I actually remembered all of the Majipoor Chronicles stories from my first reading decades ago, so that tells you something right off.
Let me get the minor flaws out of the way first.
1. Though the planet has many races, and those races are explored in several of the stories, they are always explored through the eyes of a human character. (Can only humans make memory cubes?) I feel like Silverberg missed the boat there. One good story from a Skandar or Vroon would have made a lot of difference.
2. Sex. I don't mind the sexual content; hell I kind of dig it. But Silverberg is a little obsessed and other readers have complained about it. I will say it is not generally "traditional" in its thinking (woman with reptilian male, man with a shapeshifter, two brothers with an older woman), though it never really broaches gay sex. I'm kind of surprised that most of the complaints I've read are from women who say those passages make them feel slightly icky. None of the passages are very explicit - at least not in my opinion. So this is just a heads up.
3. Majipoor itself feels a little naively utopian at times. Like it is only a utopia because the author discounts a lot of human nature. But that can be easily overlooked, I think.
The good stuff.
Most of these stories (they vary of course) are haunting and poignant. They also do an amazing job of building up your view and understanding of the very interesting world of Majipoor. Here is a quick teaser for each tale, with comments. I've tried not to spoil things.
• Thesme & the Ghayrog. A woman seeking isolation in the jungle finds a wounded Ghayrog and nurses it back to health, finding a friend and herself along the way. I like this story, but the plot is a kind of interior one. It's about a woman's personal journey and not much happens in a plot sense.
• The Time of the Burning. A general involved in a drastic move to round up the last metamorphs on Majipoor (setting a great forest on fire) encounters a homesteader who won't move. I thought this was going to be a Leinengen vs. the Ants story, but it wasn't a rehash of that classic, thankfully. The ending sequence is suitably disturbing for a story that is essentially about genocide.
• In the Fifth Year of the Voyage. A captain of an ocean expedition encounters a dangerous phenomenon that gives rise to a life-defining moment of crisis. This one was good. It reminds me of classic expedition/survival stories.
• Calintane Explains. An official in the court of Pontifex Arioch witnesses a non-violent government upheaval. Ok. That's accurate, but the story is really about a Pontifex who is weary of his underground life and is desperate to find a way out. It was good. I really empathized with the main characters of this one.
• The Desert of Stolen Dreams. Dekkeret, a rising star in the court, journeys to the brutal continent of Suvrael as a kind of penance for a secret guilt. This is a straightforward but interesting, and a little disturbing, tale. I can't say much more because it would be spoilery. NOTE, If you "reading" the audiobook, all the voices are great except the person who reads this story. He has an exceptionally low, slow, and "dry" voice. I recommend putting him on x2.5 speed. He sounds almost normal at that rate. He'd probably be a good bass singer in a doo-wop band, but as an audiobook narrator ...
• The Soul Painter and the Shapeshifter. An artist becomes disgusted with his own talent and sets up a hermitage in the wilderness; there he encounters metamorphs. Interesting. It's a nice little story of alien contact.
• Crime and Punishment. A murderer is tormented by the King of Dreams, Majipoor's failsafe system for punishing criminals. This story and the next are more vignettes than complete stories. It seems written to explain a different side of the dream-based reward/punishment system of Majipoor.
• Among the Dream-Speakers. Hisune eaves-drops on a famous dream-speaker's graduation ceremony. This is probably the thinnest of the stories. The "plot" is a woman worrying about whether or not she will pass an upcoming test.
• A Thief in Ni-Moya. A shopkeep in a backwater town is swindled with the old "inheritance" con and it transforms her life. This one was kind of fun. I'm not sure I buy the whole system of condoned thievery that Silverberg puts forward here or the shopkeep's reactions to events, but it's fun. It's a decent rags-to-riches story.
• Voriax and Valentine. Two future Coronals (Kings of Majipoor) encounter a woman who helps them heal their relationship and yet speaks a strange fortune to them. This is sort of the "outro" story that ties Hissune's narrative frame to the series of tales. It's fine. Nothing amazing and, I imagine, pretty disinteresting to someone who didn't read LVC.