Lord Valentine's Castle (Majipoor 1) - Robert Silverberg 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. what's a man to do in such a situation? why, join a traveling band of jugglers, of course. 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. that's what i'd do too.

i reread this due to a group read. i first read it when living in Virginia Beach, sometime in junior high. it is an often dense novel and certainly a surreal one at times, but there is a purity to it that made me realize i must have been able to fully grasp it when first reading it age 14 or so. it became one of my favorite things. rereading it, it remains one of my favorite things. maybe not 5 stars worth of gold, but it is still pretty precious.

when i first bought the book - and this whole paragraph will just be a rambly recollection that has nothing to do with the book whatsoever, so you may as well just skip this part and move on to the next paragraph - the demented old woman who sold it to me thought i was buying a biography of St. Valentine of Valentine's Day. she proceeded to tell me the "true story" of St. Valentine. apparently he was not simply a saint for lovers. according to the bookseller, St. Valentine was a fiery sort who was captured by malevolent anti-christian forces and tortured for his christian beliefs. nothing would break Valentine. finally, his torturers sent an evil harlot to tempt Valentine. since he was chained down, there was little he could do to stop this nasty temptress from laying her hands all over his precious christian body. so he bit off his own tongue and spat it at her. hello sainthood! i just want you all to remember this the next time you are celebrating Valentine's Day with your loved one. 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. i think i was too scared to return to that bookstore.

so this book has nothing to do with St. Valentine, whew.

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. but for those who appreciate the intensely detailed visions of otherworlds created by various scifi and fantasy authors, this is the book for you. "intensely detailed" is a good phrase for this but it should be qualified. 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. however Silverberg does not have Vance's economy of language or spartan stylishness. 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. boring for some; entrancing for me. reading this really made me feel like a romantic (also in the classic sense of the word) young nerd again. the language is beautiful and Majipoor really came alive.

this is also in many ways a near-perfect world. it does not know war or famine or cruel leaders or reality tv. its species and races live in relative harmony. personalities are either sunny & open or, if not, at least genuinely amusing in their grouchiness or arrogance. cold-eyed justice and professional emotional support are both given by far off dream-senders, so no need for pesky police or helpful therapists to get up in your face - they'll see you in your dreams, whether you've been good or bad or inbetween. Majipoor is a liberal, generous, and usually cheerful society. its people respect the natural wonders of the world and various preserves are specifically set aside for keeping those wonders sacrosanct. reading Lord Valentine's Castle made me realize that this was all the author's version of his own ideal world. good for you, Silverberg. your dreams are wonderful and i would like to live in them, please.

Silverberg is known to be a sometimes challenging and often provacative author of the New Wave Science Fiction genre. Lord Valentine's Castle was a step in an entirely different direction: epic science fantasy. but such a curious version of an epic! writing that makes you slow down and enjoy things instead of rushing forward to the next conflict. a narrative that is full of dreams and dream battles and dream epiphanies. characters who are mainly undramatic and often trying to do right. an emphasis on the environment as a precious thing. turning the other cheek and not automatically drawing your sword when someone gets in your way. and writing that is charming and sometimes eerie and brightened by a lacquer of pleasantly vivid psychedelia. splendid writing.

look, one sentence:
"He saw himself standing rooted at Zimroel's edge with the sea behind him and a continent unrolling before him, and the Inner Sea punctuated by the Isle of Sleep, and Alhanroel beyond, rising on its nether side to the great swollen bulge of Castle Mount, and the sun overhead, yellow with a bronze-green tint, sending blistering rays down on dusty Suvrael and into the tropics, and warming everything else, and the worlds from which the Skandars came and the Hjorts and the Liimen and all the rest, even the world from which his own folk had emigrated, Old Earth, fourteen thousand years ago, a small blue world absurdly tiny when compared to Majipoor, far away, half forgotten in some other corner of the universe, and he journeyed back down across the stars to this world, this continent, this city, this inn, this courtyard, this small plot of moist yielding soil in which his boots were rooted, and told Sleet he was ready."

a version of this review is a part of a longer article on Robert Silverberg posted on Shelf Inflicted.