Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lord Valentine's Castle - Robert Silverberg

1980; 447 pages. Laurels : 1981 Locus Award winner; 1981 Hugo Award nominee. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Fantasy; Sci-Fi. First book (out of 10) of the "Majipoor" series. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
It is a special day in Pidruid. The world's ruler (aka "the Coronal", aka "Lord Valentine") is paying the city an official visit; something that only happens once every 10 years or so.
Out in the crowd, a drifter (who is also named Valentine) watches the royal procession, even making eye contact with the Coronal. Something stirs in him - a bond of some sort. Something from his past. Although now that he thinks about it, there is very little that Valentine remembers of his past.
What's To Like...
Lord Valentine's Castle is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi. There is a whole planet to explore with Valentine, and it is filled with vividly detailed and fascinating flora, fauna, and alien races.
Valentine learns juggling and joins a wandering troupe - not your usual role for a hero. The troupe itself has some kewl personalities, and they gradually become the core of his "merry band" as he tries to figure out Who he is, and What happened to him.
The storyline is a bit prosaic and some of the deux ex machina devices are a tad too convenient. Valentine develops a Jedi-like mind-control gift ("These are not the droids you are looking for") and gets too many dreams ("sendings"). All too often, these are used to get him out of scrapes, and reveal things about his past.
But who cares? There's a world out there to explore. The aliens are kewl, original, and "gray" (no orcs, elves, dwarves, or hobbits here). There's a good ending which is also "gray", and which sets up the host of sequels and prequels that Robert Silverberg penned in this series.
Kewlest New Word...
Acidulously: in a slightly sour, harsh, or acidic manner. (Not to be confused with "assiduously").
"(W)hy would I want to be Coronal?"
"The power," said Shanamir, wide-eyed. "The fine clothes, the food, the wine, the jewels, the palaces, the women-"
"The responsibility," Valentine said somberly. "The burden. Do you think a Coronal does nothing but drink golden wine and march in grand processions? Do you think he's put there just to enjoy himself?"
The boy considered. "Perhaps not."
"He rules over billions upon billions of people, across territories so huge we can't comprehend them. Everything falls on his shoulders. To carry out the decrees of the Pontifex, to sustain order, to support justice in every land - it tires me to think of it, boy. He keeps the world from collapsing into chaos. Let him have the job." (pg. 4)
"There's a paradox in your dilemma, Valentine. You strive to renounce purpose; but your renunciation itself has a purpose. Do you see? Your speaker surely does."
"Of course I see. But what do I do? How do I pretend not to care whether I stay here forever?"
"Pretense is impossible. The moment you genuinely don't care, you'll move forward. Not until then."
Valentine shook his head. "That's like telling me that my salvation depends on never thinking of gihorna-birds. The harder I'd try not to think of them, the more flocks of gihornas would fly through my mind." (pg. 265)
Spare a royal, spare a crown,
Gentlefolk, come sit ye down.
Astonishment and levity-
Come and see our jugglery! (pg. 74)
In terms of the history of science fiction, this is a "tweener". It's deeper and more adult-themed than the 200-page 50's sci-fi classics that are geared toward teenage boy readers. OTOH, it's not as complex as today's epic sci-fi stories/series. Overall, Lord Valentine's Castle feels like a forerunner to Space Operas. So it's hard to say who the target audience is. It's too shallow for an adult; yet has too much sex for the kiddies.
But the plusses - the juggling, the ending, the characters, and the marvelous lands of planet Majipoor - more than compensate for the "tween-ness". I picked LVC up because I'm always interested in how Science Fiction evolved from the 1950's through the present. I ended up with an enjoyable journey through a brave, new, and original world. 7½ Stars.

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