Book Talk: 'Majipoor Chronicles' by Robert Silverberg - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Majipoor Chronicles' by Robert Silverberg

Alexander Wallace pays a visit to planet Majipoor.
Robert Silverberg is an author whose range never fails to impress me. He has done classic golden-age science fiction in Across a Billion Years, dystopia in Hawksbill Station, psychological science fiction in Dying Inside, and rewriting of ancient myths in Gilgamesh the King. Today, we shall discuss yet another accomplishment of the man, his 1982 collection Majipoor Chronicles.

This book is an example of that rare but noticeable sort of science fiction book: the collection of linked short stories. I’ve profiled two before, namely Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Changing Planes. It is an old and venerable form, the most prominent example doubtlessly being Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a book that defined how we think of sentient machines.

The stories of the book are set on the namesake planet, upon which humans settled millennia ago. The stories combine both science fiction and fantasy; the book feels very midcentury, and I mean that in a good way, as it represents aspects of the best of both traditions. Silverberg is primarily interested in how the human beings (and sometimes aliens) that are present respond to this particular environment. It is a planet divided into three continents, separated by a sea (it’s a rather earthlike planet, all things considered), ruled by a single monarch and host to a wide variety of cultures and peoples under that monarch’s rule.

That variety is one of the book’s great strengths; there is a vastness therein that makes you want to learn more about Majipoor. You meet rich and poor, young and old, religious and secular, human and nonhuman. You go through deserts and mountains and rivers and forests. The stories span thousands of years of the history of Majipoor (although he leaves unstated how long that year is vis-a-vis an Earth year), from not long after its colonization to well beyond that.

Much of the book is about inequality, in one way or another. One story is about the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous alien population by the human settlers; relations between the species, as well as the other species that the government of Majipoor brings in to settle lands that humans could not do so expediently. There are issues of cultural exchange and cultural conflict, with one story involving art. Perhaps the strangest of these is the first story, which discusses a romantic entanglement between a human and a lizard-like being.

Silverberg’s use of magic is phenomenal; my favorite of all was a government position, one of the four most powerful on the planet, that enforces public discipline by sending bad dreams to the evil. It’s the basis for one of the best stories in the collection.

Majipoor Chronicles may feel a bit dated, but its relevance remains to this day. It is a book that is at its core about human beings, as all great science fiction is. It is intensely moral and deeply historically informed; I loved it the whole way through.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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