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.
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.
Narrators are great.
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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.
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What did you love best about Majipoor Chronicles?
It's starts where the last book ends.I learned more of the background of Majipor and how it begins with Hissune had discovering the library in the depth of Labyrinth, and learns the history of Majipoor from the memory cubes.
What other book might you compare Majipoor Chronicles to and why?
I cant' recall any, because the Lord Valentines's Castle was the first book I willingly picked to read without it being require.
Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favorite?
Inyanna is my favorite charactor. The young shop keeper inherit her store from her mother and grandmother, wanting more of her life than operating a store in a small town.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
Come and see the through the eyes of the people who lived in the history of Majipor's legends.
Any additional comments?
I would listen to it again.
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Robert Silverberg's big science fiction novel Lord Valentine's Castle (1980) depicts the attempts of the unlawfully deposed Valentine to regain his rightful position as Coronal of Majipoor, one of the four "powers" of the planet, journeying and juggling across the exotic landscapes and through the sprawling cities and among the 20-30 billion human and alien inhabitants of the huge world. The conceit of Silverberg's second Majipoor novel, Majipoor Chronicles (1982), is that Hissune, the street boy who first recognized Valentine, has been working for four years in the vast bureaucratic Labyrinth doing things like preparing "an inventory of the archives of the tax-collectors" when, itching to experience new places and people, he bluffs his way into the Register of Souls, which stores millions of memory-readings made by millions of Majipoorans from millions of places and times. Each time Hissune experiences a memory, Silverberg writes a short story from the point of view of the person in question. The Hissune framing passages work with the stories to demonstrate how the various experiences (only a glimpse of a millionth millionth part of Majipooran life) give the bright and sensitive lad an education in human nature ("the geography of the soul") and hence help him to mature. Silverberg is also demonstrating the entertaining, transporting, mind and heart expanding nature of science fiction.
The ten stories in the collection come from different points in Majipoor's 14,000 year human history and represent different modes and moods: romance, war, exploration, bildungsroman, origin, crime, comedy, tragedy, etc.
"Thesme and the Ghayrog" is an affecting story about a self-absorbed young woman who falls awkwardly in love with a reptilian alien Ghayrog.
"The Time of the Burning" grimly channels US history (e.g., the Vietnam War and Native American genocide) as it demonstrates that heroes do not always match the images made by time and adoration.
"In the Fifth Year of the Voyage" is an absorbing tale of a ship of adventurers trying to cross the great ocean of Majipoor when they encounter a colony of metal-eating algae.
"Calintane Explains" details the nature of three of the four powers of Majipoor (the Pontifex, the Coronal, and the Lady) and almost does something daring regarding gender, though Silverberg winks too much.
"The Desert of Stolen Dreams" recounts the origin of the fourth power of Majipoor, the King of Dreams, who flays the souls of criminals with nightmares.
In "The Soul Painter and the Shapeshifter" Silverberg again poignantly explores cross-species love, as a famous artist realizes that perfection is stagnation, heads for the jungle, and meets an indigenous Metamorph.
"Crime and Punishment" presents the attempts of an impromptu murderer to escape the punishments of the King of Dreams by changing locales and identities.
"Among the Dream-Speakers" features the self-doubt before the last test of a dream-speaker in training.
"A Thief in Ni-Moya" is an amusing Cinderella tale detailing the benefits of being conned out of your life savings and family shop.
"Voriax and Valentine," the last story and the closest in time to the events in Lord Valentine's Castle, explores a loving but fraught relationship between two brothers.
Silverberg writes vivid, often finely defamiliarizing SF:
-"Dulorn was far more beautiful and strange than she had been able to imagine. It seemed to shine with an inner light of its own, while the sunlight, refracted and shattered and deflected by the myriad angles and facets of the lofty baroque buildings, fell in gleaming showers to the streets."
-"He reached for her hand. It had six fingers, very long and narrow, without fingernails or visible joints."
-“Without warning the sun was in the sky like a trumpet blast, roasting the surrounding hills with shafts of hot light.”
-"Several moons were out."
He also writes many scenes revelatory of human nature:
-Thesme feeling upset when she fails to freak out her people with her alien lover;
-Eremoil briefly imagining telling the Coronal a different solution to the Metamorph problem;
-Captain Lavon realizing he's had enough exploration;
-Therion saying about his turbulent, strange paintings, "all my work is an attempt to recapture the happiest time in my life";
-Dekkeret questioning whether he needs to sear his guilt away in the desert sun;
-Haglione trying to understand that he's being forgiven;
-Inyanna laughing outside the estate of her "inheritance";
-Valentine trying to dismiss a disturbing prophecy.
The readers for the male protagonist stories are men, for the female ones women. All of them are fine. Stefan Rudneki reads two stories well with his deep, rich voice. Gabrielle de Cuir nearly over-reads her story, elongating long vowels for effect ("She became aWAAAARE of soft brEEEATHing beHIIIIND her"). Overall the readers enhance the stories.
From here in 2017, some flaws or creaky points appear in the 1982 book. In none of the stories does Silverberg depict a homosexual or alien memory; it seems a little tame to depict the Other always from the point of view of heterosexual humans. And although the conceit of memory-readings is neat, the stories are so well-crafted that it beggars belief that messy human beings could record their memories so literately. And why are none of them narrated in the first person? Finally, considering its 14,000+ year history, a remarkably small number of figures recur.
Silverberg's story telling is almost free of the cinematic page-turning violent action scenes so common in sf/fantasy these days. Instead, he maps "the geography of the soul": psychology, relationships, dreams, insights, love, transformation, culture, and the like. If you'd like a detailed, well-written, slow-paced trek through a well-realized exotic world full of exotic denizens (who essentially resemble us here and now), you'd probably like this book, though it'd be best to start with Lord Valentine's Castle.
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I have been reading, re-reading, and now listening to this series of books since they were first published, and haven't ever gotten over how well written they are.
Character portraits, plot development, and story line continue to please again, and again.
Well worth your enjoyment!
This exceeds my memory of how good these stories are. Wonderful read. A classic for future generations.
I read this book when it was first released and I was still a teenager. More than thirty years later it's still just as enjoyable , perhaps even more so. A clever way to give an insight into the history and political set up of Majipoor. bring on the next installment.