Previously I reviewed the first book of this series Lord Valentine’s Castle. And since I liked that volume I went ahead and bought the other two volumes. Majipoor Chronicles is constructed as a bridge between the first and third volumes and also serves to fill in as much of the backstory of Majipoor as it can. One of the minor characters from the first book uses a machine that can record and replay the experiences of a person’s life so that another can virtually relive them as if it were his own life unfolding. Using this plot device, we are served up a series of short stories varying between twenty and fifty pages in length. Themes and characters vary. Some are personal accounts of ordinary people living through the history of this planet. All the primary characters are humans but the stories sometimes are primarily concerning human/non-human interaction. Some of the stories involve characters who are major historical figures in the Majipoor world. And some of the stories shed a light on the unusual place that dreams play in Majipoor life. And finally, the last story is directly about the hero of the first book, Lord Valentine.
My first comment on the book is that it absolutely cannot be read with first reading Lord Valentine’s Castle. Without first walking through Majipoor with Valentine on his journey of discovery I think the details and logic of Majipoor life would seem random and confusing. Without some grounding in the structure of their ruling system and the relations between the sentient species some of the stories would be especially confusing.
The second thing that I want to discuss is the vintage of these books. They were written at the end of the nineteen seventies and into the nineteen eighties. During that period science fiction authors were heavily invested in introducing sex as a major component of their stories. Silverberg was no exception. So, in addition to normal sexual matters he highlights the oddity of the male protagonist who experiences these mind recordings experiencing sex from the point of view of one of his female subjects. And in one story at an all woman’s school the fact that two of the women were in an intimate setting has one character wondering if it was an attempted sexual advance. I think the character more or less says the “Seinfeldian” line, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” And later on, there is a sex scene involving a woman and two brothers. Of course, by today’s standards these are extremely tame but at the time these were boundary testing. The more bizarre sexual situation involves two human characters in separate stories that engage in sex with non-humans. In fact, the really odd one has a young woman actually initiating sex with an unemotional, fairly uninterested but polite lizard man who the female character is nursing back to health from a leg injury. This one was a bit much for me. I have to admit that my tolerance human woman / lizard man sex is extremely limited. So that facet of the stories is not entirely to my satisfaction. As far as his description of normal male female sexuality I thought that was fairly done. And of course, the adult nature of the books would exclude recommending them to very young people.
Putting aside this second point, which is restricted to a small part of the overall book, I enjoyed the writing and I found several of the stories very original. Silverberg has a fertile imagination and writes his characters in an interesting and sympathetic manner. I especially liked the stories that advanced the historical knowledge of Majipoor. My favorite was the war story, “The Time of the Burning.” It directly addresses the human colonization of Majipoor and the impact this had on the aboriginal population. But overall I see Majipoor Chronicles as an interlude between Lord Valentine’s Castle and Valentine Pontifex, the third book of the series. It’s merely a snack between the main courses. If you’re reading the series then you must read it because there are a few plot points that would be missed with out it but overall it is more of a background enhancer for the Majipoor world building effort. Now on to Valentine Pontifex!