A while back TomD gave me an SF&F book recommendation. He said that Silverberg’s Majipoor series was a combination of science fiction and fantasy. At the time I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that fell into that category. Well, my brain is old so I’ll plead that because after thinking about it awhile I remembered that Zelazny’s Lord of Light had aspects that fit both mythology and science fiction. So I sent away to Bezos’s megamonopoly and received the three volumes in the series. And of course it was interesting to see that on the cover of the first book (Lord Valentine’s Castle) that Zelazny had provided a positive blurb. He said it was a picaresque tale. And as it turned out, he was exactly right. I’ll cut to the chase with the verdict. I liked the story. Now you’ll get the ponderous literary review.
So how can it be both a fantasy and science fiction? The story takes place on a planet called Majipoor. It was a world colonized by humans via space travel more than ten thousand years before the story unfolds. So there’s the science fiction. And the humans seemed to have also brought along a number of sentient species to live on Majipoor from other planets. These various species and the humans interact as good neighbors, for the most part, in a civilization of twenty to thirty billion souls that comfortably fits on the giant world of Majipoor. Now here comes the fantasy. This world is ruled by four beings designated, the Coronal, the Pontifex, The Lady of the Isle of Sleep and the King of Dreams. The first two of these individuals performed much as the Augustus and Caesar of the later Roman Empire did, being a senior and junior king appointed to rule a gigantic state. But the second two, the Lady and the King intervened in Majipoor by sending dreams to the inhabitants. It is this dream life that lends a fantasy element to the story. And just to lend a fantasy aspect to the surroundings most of the technology is more or less of a pre-industrial vintage. But there are exceptions. Beasts of burden pull the carts and wagons of the inhabitants but the wagons are actually placed on anti-gravity modules. So, whatever power provides anti-gravity doesn’t also produce forward locomotion. Very odd.
So this is the background. The narrative follows a very engaging fellow named Valentine who ends up on a journey to discover his past and his destiny. He meets many interesting and amusing characters and even learns an interesting skill, juggling. It sounds odd and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either science fiction or fantasy but it makes for an interesting and entertaining read. And that is the definition of a picaresque story.
Silverberg has invested a substantial amount of effort building up the background and scenery of Majipoor. He has given us the canvas. There are several other volumes in the series and I like it enough to continue on to the next volume. But I want to clarify a couple of things. This isn’t the Lord of the Rings. There is no solemn morality play underlying Majipoor. It is a sunny world where the good guy gets the girl and the crown and juggling and wine are their own reward. Read it for the inventiveness and the story. No profundity impinged on my reading but it was fun. Recommended for folks who like their fiction fun.