Similar to China Mievilles New Crobuzon world building, Silverbergs Majipoor swells with life and vibrant history. Describing Majipoor as a galactic backwater, Silverberg only hints at the planets connection to the rest of humanity and goes on to illustrate the worlds political, social, cultural and economic group dynamics.
Lord Valentines Castle is, I believe, Robert Silverbergs first stab at something like an epic fantasy, though a more appropriate label would be science fantasy. Prior to writing Lord Valentines Castle Silverberg was known for several thought provoking standalone new wave sci-fi novels like Dying Inside, A Time of Changes, To Live Again, The World Inside etc. He wrote Lord Valentines Castle after a few years break from writing, and the change in style and pace from his previous books is noticeable. Lord Valentines Castle is something of a lighthearted romp, a straightforward adventure yarn. All events happen one at a time." (click on image for larger, and complete, picture) At the end of the day, I enjoyed Lord Valentines Castle very much, but I personally prefer his more thought provoking standalone books. Still, Lord Valentines Castle is very entertaining, without a dull moment, it is also his most commercially successful book and the beginning of a series he often returns to.
Valentine finds himself outside the city of Pidruid one afternoon, completely bereft of memory, as the city makes ready for the arrival of Lord Valentine - one of the four great Powers of the mega-world of Majipoor. travel a lot, meets lots of new people and see lots of new things, have a bunch of trippy dreams, and eventually reclaim a fabulous destiny. anyway, the odd senior told me to report back to her after reading this novel and let her know if the author got the story right. although it is ostensibly about Finding Your True Self and What Makes A Good Leader, i found the novel was equally concerned with two other things: World Building and Silverberg's Vision of a (Semi) Perfect World. haters of world building need to give this novel a pass. not intensely detailed like George RR Martin (you won't always know what color sash a person is wearing and if it matches their brocade jacket) but intensely detailed in that we visit so many different places across the grand world of Majipoor and they are all so beautifully described and so well-differentiated from each other. at times i was reminded of how easily Jack Vance rolls out cities & countries & worlds, one after the other, with such style and skill that he makes world-building look like a lark. this is world building in the classic sense in that the reader gets to enjoy sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph of gorgeous description. reading Lord Valentine's Castle made me realize that this was all the author's version of his own ideal world. Lord Valentine's Castle was a step in an entirely different direction: epic science fantasy. writing that makes you slow down and enjoy things instead of rushing forward to the next conflict.
I was in a period of upheaval about then (not an unusual situation in my past as it happens) so I sort of "lost" the book I suppose. He begins the book thinking he's just "Valentine" and has no memory of who he is, where he came from or anything about his past.
And I did, to my disappointment Trite and more or less predictable, the book is really no more than a tour of Majipoor Silverberg's made-up planet of far-away pseudo-magic and leftover bits of science. Then he spends a year of book time plodding across the planet to get to a city on a mountain in order to have a final fight. It's just that there are so many far better works to waste time on.
Robert Silverberg was a huge sensation in the 80s and his most famous works - outside of some exceptional short stories - were the Majipoor Chronicles, of which Lord Valentine's Castle is the first complete novel. Lord Valentine's Castle introduces us to Majipoor, and although peopled by a number of races who chiefly had origins from other planets, the genre leans towards fantasy more than sci-fi.
So for world building, Majipoor gets five big stars. I also thought The basic plot, though straight-forward and somewhat simple, was interesting and a great vehicle to explore the world of Majipoor.
"Valentine, a wanderer who knows nothing except his name, finds himself on the fringes of a great city, and joins a troupe of jugglers and acrobats; gradually, he remembers that he is the Coronal Valentine, executive ruler of the vast world of Majipoor, and all its peoples, human and otherwise..." This book may be 35 years old, but the political issues that it deals with still resonate strongly today. Majipoor is a very multicultural world, supporting many different races, including a persecuted aboriginal population largely confined to their own province. Leadership is the prime issue, as Lord Valentine has been bumped out of his body and migrated into a different form. How do we convince those people that they want to engage in the political process, when they are likely to have their reputations slagged, their motives questioned, their decisions second-guessed, and their private lives held up to the scrutiny of the chimpanzee-like political community?
"You may not pass!" the ugly, stupid guards thundered. How could he ascend to his rightful throne on Castle Mount (thirty miles tall, home to the Fifty Cities, but plausible because the planet of Majipoor is enormous but very low-density, you see, so the gravity is just about Old-Earth-normal; also some ancient machines left by the ancient settlers from ancient Old Earth keep the air at the top of the mountain breathable and mild of temperature) if he could not even get past some ugly, stupid guards? He stood tall, faced the guards, smiled, and said, "Would it change anything if I told you I was the Coronal? I mean, I know I don't look like the Coronal, but if you squint a bit" "My Lord!" the guards cried, falling to their knees and making the sign of the starburst with their ugly, stupid fingers.