I was a bit hesitant to jump into the middle of Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series, but Majipoor Chronicles made the perfect landing spot and I liked it a lot. Akin to Arabian Nights, it is a set of short stories that are linked together by the novel’s plot and Majipoor so it’s also a good stand-alone. As Hissune discovers the planet-world’s history spanning thousands of years and its diverse lands and people so does the reader.
In Majipoor Chronicles, 14-year old Hissune is a clerk in the House of Records located in the Labyrinth. Feeling forgotten by Coronal Valentine, who had given him the position, and trapped in his subterranean station, Hissune seeks consolation by forging his way into the Register of Souls. With the push of a button he is free to explore the memories and “the minds of folk long dead, explorers, pioneers, warriors”, and even Majipoor’s leading officials, the Coronals and Pontifexes.
“Hissune’s mind is opening now in all directions, and the Register of Souls is the key to an infinite world of new understanding. When one dwells in the Labyrinth one develops a peculiar sense of the world as vague and unreal, mere names rather than concrete places: only the dark and hermetic Labyrinth has substance, and all else is vapor. But Hissune has journeyed by proxy to every continent now, he has tasted strange foods and seen weird landscapes, he has experienced extremes of heat and cold, and in all that he has come to acquire a comprehension of the complexity of the world that, he suspects, very few others have had” (213).
The sci-fi/fantasy series is set in the distant future when Old Earth is no longer inhabitable due to overpopulation, crime, and other forms of destruction. Human colonists have since settled on the large planet-world of Majipoor, fighting with the aboriginal Metamorphs and forcing them onto reservations. Along with tension between the natives, other alien races have also come to settle. Majipoor is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. Aside from legalized theiving, if one is a guildmember, crime of any kind is practically non-existant.
“He had never seen violence before. He had never heard of an instance in his lifetime of the deliberate slaying of one human by another. That it should have happened on his ship, by one of his officers upon another, in the midst of this crisis, was intolerable, a mortal wound” (112).
“‘We do not kill,’ Lavon said. ‘Our barbarian ancestors took each other’s lives, on Old Earth long ago, but we do not kill. I do not kill. We were beasts once, but that was in another era, on a different planet'” (113).
Should one perform an atrocious crime, the King of Dreams will eke out punishment through their unconscious mind. The government is unique in that the man assuming the position of Coronal is chosen by the Pontifex. When the Pontifex passes away, the Coronal takes up the role of Pontifex, chooses a new Coronal, and moves from his mountain castle down into the inner depths of the Labyrinth, where he remains until his passing. It’s a duty that is occasionally seen as a prison sentence.
My first glimpse of the three dimensional world was “the Seventh Shrine” in Legends, an anthology of novellas edited by Silverberg. It interested me enough that I later purchased Majipoor Chronicles when I came across it. Now I look forward to reading the rest of the series before the next book is added and more by Silverberg aka David Osborne, Robert Randall, Calvin Knox, etc. in general and having written since the fifties there’s a long list to choose from. The man of many pseudonyms said in August that he needed to read Chronicles again before he could start writing so there’s some time yet.
Majipoor series chronologically:
- “The Book of Changes” (2003, in Legends II)
- Sorcerers of Majipoor (1997)
- Lord Prestimion (1999)
- King of Dreams (2000)
- Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980)
- Majipoor Chronicles (1982)
- Valentine Pontifex (1983)
- “The Seventh Shrine” (1998, in Legends)
- The Mountains of Majipoor (1995)
- “The Sorcerer’s Apprenctice” (2004, in Flights)
That’s #2 for the Sci-fi Challenge.