Tales of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg
Published by Gollancz, February 2013 (Review copy received)
ISBN: 978 0 575 13006 7
Review by Mark Yon
Billed as ‘the last tales of Majipoor’, this slim volume returns the reader to Robert Silverberg’s enormous world of Majipoor, first met in Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980).
For those who don’t know the books, the Valentine’s Castle series is Silverberg’s take on a planetary romance, echoing a Jack Vance or a Gene Wolfe style, where the glory is in not so much the plot as the luxuriance of the nomenclature and the opulence of the varied environments. Whole dynasties are covered in a sentence, tales that could be the basis of a separate novel. As the book often reminds us, Majipoor is a big planet, which can lead to a variety of unusual things to be seen and places that are not visited very often.
It’s not a bad place to start if you’ve never read the series before. There’s enough backstory filled in to make it easy enough to follow, or to remind you if (like me) it’s been a while since you read the stories. The short Prologue sets up the stories for newcomers by giving a potted history of Majipoor, how the people got there and the different races therein.
Tales of Majipoor tells of the events of a protracted fantasy history, some now so long ago that they are forgotten apart from the odd name, or at least all that is left of them are relics left mouldering in some forgotten archive. If there is a linking theme here, it is that many of the tales deal with ancient secrets, and a rediscovery of Majipoor’s past, whether it is the archaeological uncovering of ancient relics (The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn and The Seventh Shrine) or the writing of a classic epic poem telling of past deeds (The Book of Changes). By telling such tales, the reader uncovers more glimpses of Majipoor’s lengthy history, its places and races.
Of the seven stories themselves, it must be said that there are no new ones, although there is a new introductory Prologue. The stories date from 1998 to 2011. Many will be pleased to hear that this volume includes the two Legends novellas first encountered in Silverberg’s anthology collections, Legends and Legends II, which will attract many a reader.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the slightest of the tales, about a romance between a novice and his tutor. It’s good, and sexy, but just as it seems to get going then it ends, leaving the reader with the feeling that there should be more, that this is an incomplete fragment. Rather like some of the artefacts mentioned in the earlier stories.
The best tale is the longest, oldest and last. The Seventh Shrine was originally the first novella from Legends (1998). It involves Lord Valentine, and is a tale of a Metamorph murder that Valentine is obliged to investigate. Set after Valentine Pontifex, it also links back to earlier tales in the book in that it involves the Metamorphs and the uncovering of a big secret. Having the space to sprawl, it is the most engaging and endearing, allowing the reader to examine aspects of the world that have only been briefly mentioned before. Perhaps the last, best word on these Majipoor Chronicles, it What the reader is left with at the end is a feeling of things having gone, life having moved on and changed within the enormous kaleidoscope of varied and unusual landscapes that make up Majipoor.
Silverberg has received some criticism for this series, with grumbles that it is not as cutting edge and ground-breaking as some of his other work in his lengthy career. In that I would agree, although it must be said that this is not a book meant to show dazzling displays of literary skill, nor deal with the big concepts, but instead telling a tale by looking at the people behind a lengthy and varied tapestry of a history now increasingly forgotten. It is, as already said, partly reminiscent of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth or even Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer series.
Whether it is true or not that Tales of Majipoor can be said to be the work of an author treading water, it must be said that, at the very least, it is entertaining. Ultimately, this is a collection that serves its purpose: it introduces potential new readers to the world of Majipoor and, for the long-term fan, collects the remaining shorter Majipoor fiction together from disparate (and these days some quite hard to get) sources. They vary in length and importance, but there’s not a total dud amongst them, although there’s more than one that seems to finish without a proper conclusion. If this is, as it would suggest, Silverberg’s last farewell to his best known exotic world, a place of Piurivar shapeshifters, Ghayrog reptiles, sea monsters and four-armed Skandars, then it’s not a bad way to celebrate its passing.
In summary, Tales of Majipoor made me quite mournful for its ending, but I was very pleased that I’d visited the place once again. It’s a planet with so much untapped potential. This collection is not the best Majipoor book out there, but there’s a lot to like.
Mark Yon, February 2013