Lord Valentine's Castle (1979)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Robert Silverberg
Publication Date 1997
Format Leather-bound (240 x 160 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 444
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 29
Frontispiece/Illustrator Ron Walotsky
Original Details
Original Publication Year 1979
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... Lord Valentine's Castle was the first of Robert Silverberg's novels about Majipoor, in which he has for two decades explored the question of responsibility and authority; much SF and fantasy plays with constructed dreams of feudalism, but Silverberg asks the important questions of how a ruler can be a good person, and how can the person who rules all be free themselves. Inventively, Valentine's learned skills as a juggler become a fruitful metaphor for much of what he needs to know as he campaigns to reclaim his throne from a usurping imposter: Silverberg explores the implications of what might have been a mere narrative cliché. His portrayal of a huge light world where technology and magic have blended, and where different species and cultures have engineered a diverse harmony, is not the least attractive of SF's utopias; the sheer scale of the canvas gives Valentine's wanderings their own wild poetry. --Roz Kaveney

Like the rest of history, literature seems to move in cycles. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," Ecclesiastes tells us. Although fantasy is the oldest form of story-telling and never seems to go out of style, sometimes it has had to struggle for recognition, The romantic period in English literature lasted for almost a century, and since fantasy is romantic - that is, it asserts the dominance of human desire over nature and its processes - fantasy was in fashion. Even realism, which developed in the lat ter half of the 19th century in response to a growing reliance on science for explanations, rather than on the supernatural, left room for fantasy as a reaction.

But naturalism, with its emphasis on Darwin's theories, supplanted realism. Everything evolved, or changed by natural processes, over time - sometimes geologic time - and nothing was transformed. People who were dedicated to changing the world, or their own place in it, began looking to science and technology. Fantasy survived for a time in the early 20th century adventure pulp magazines such as Argosy and All-Sto but it, too, finally succumbed to the pragmatism of the times. When Hugo Gernsback created Amazing Stories, the first science-fic tion magazine, in 1926, it seemed as if the fantastic imagination had chosen nature. Science fiction was in; fantasy was out.

Not all the way out, of course. Fantasy survived here and there, sometimes revived, as in Fantastic Mysteries, which in 1939 began reprinting the old Munsey-magazine pulp stories, and sometimes disguised as something else - a mystery novel, for instance, or a thriller, or even as a kind of fantasy-based science fiction, as in Street & Smith's Unknown.

By the time a young Robert Silverberg began publishing stories and novels in the mid-1950s, he turned naturally to science fiction, He wanted "to experience the future," he said in a 1996 interview published in Locus. "There was no reason to write fantasy then - there was no place to publish it. Unknown had been gone for about ten years, and the only magazines that published anything like fantasy were the almost invisible Weird Tales and the very trashy Fantastic Adventures. . ."

Publishing wisdom of the time said that "fantasy doesn't sell," and the short life of several fantasy magazines, as well as the sales records of the few books that got published, seemed to bear that out. But in the 1960s everything changed again. What transformed publishing history was the unprecedented success of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which appeared from two different U.S. publishers in 1965-1966. That astonishing event was reinforced by the paperback popularity of Robert E. Howard's Conan books, edited and later supplemented by L. Sprague de Camp. As David Pringle pointed out in his Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels, other books came along in the late 1960s, such as Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby (1967) and Ursula K. Le Gum's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn (1968). All showed what fantasy was capable of, both artistically and commercially. Fantasy was back in; fantasy sold.

Today fantasy rivals science fiction in popularity and the numbers of books published. Locus reported that 224 original fantasy novels were published in 1996, as compared with 253 original science- fiction novels. Numbers, of course, are. no measure of artistic success, nor is popularity. And yet the opportunity to be published and the financial return that allows an author to continue writing in his or her chosen field determines what will be available to be read. As Silverberg remarked, "I still require an audience. I'm a professional writer, a commercial writer. I want people to read what I write. . ."

He also said, "Fantasy is the dominant commercial art form of our genre now, though you couldn't give fantasy books away in the '40s, '50s, and early '60s." Those were the years when Silverberg was making his mark, first as a fan, then as a published author at the age of 19 while still a student at Columbia University, and subsequently as the consummate writing professional, turning out publishable material first draft and upon editorial order, being named the most promising new writer of 1955. Only when the science-fiction market began to collapse in the late 1950s did he depart to become a prolific author in other fields, under a variety of pseudonyms and in a variety of areas, including some scientific popularizations.

He made a sizable fortune at it, so that when he returned to science fiction in the later 1960s he could afford to do so as the consummate artist, polishing and re-polishing his prose until it met his own difficult standards. During the next dozen years he published one artistic success after another, winning two Hugo Awards and three Nebulas; later he would win several more. In 1972 he moved to California and a couple of years later announced his retirement, exhausted by the strain of his production and his agonizing writing discipline, and disillusioned by the publishing situation that saw most of his books out of print.

In 1980 he made a triumphal return with a novel that earned him the largest advance in the field up to that time and was a significant departure from his previous publications and from his writing methods. The result was the long, colorful science-fantasy, Lord Valentine's Castle. As if a dam had been broken, a great pool of imagination was released and words poured out. In a 1996 SFWA Bulletin, he recalled how, in 1978, he set down on the back of an envelope the following words:

1979 NOVEL
The scene is a giant planet-sized city - an urban Big Planet, population of billions, a grand gaudy romantic canvas. The city is divided into vast subcities, each with its own characteristic tone. The novel is joyous and huge - no sense of dystopia. The form is that of a pilgrimage across the entire sphere. (For what purpose?) A colossal odyssey through bizarre bazaars. Parks & wonders...
Deliver a positive commodity. The book must be fun. Picaresque characters. Strange places - but all light, delightful, raffish. Comic novel. Magical mystery tour.

And then:

Young man journeying to claim an inheritance that has been usurped - his own identity has been stolen & he now wears another body.

The genre that Silverberg had turned to was science-fantasy - not quite science fiction because it involved strange powers and hierarchical, even mythical concerns such as the usurpation of authority, rightful succession, and personal development; not quite fantasy be cause it presumed a natural origin for all its background, including the nature of a giant planet colonized by humans some thousands of years earlier and the shapechangers who were once its dominant species. It was a kind of imaginative fiction that had once been more popular in the days of Planet Stories or Startling Stories (in which Jack Vance's Big Planet had been serialized in 1952) or even Fantastic Adventures. Much of A. E. van Vogt's science fiction in Astounding was science-fantasy.

Sometimes science-fantasy seems more like science fiction, sometimes more like fantasy depending on the amount of explanation provided and the plausibility of the explanation. Lord Valentine's Castle leaned toward science fiction as did its sequels, Majipoor Chronicles (1982), Valentine Pontifex (1983), and The Mountains of Majipoor (1995). The next in the series, Sorcerers of Majipoor (1997), explores the magical side to which Silverberg has announced he now intends to devote most of his efforts. He thinks there may be another two or three novels yet to be told about Majipoor.

In his interview, he said, "I am very interested in writing fantasy, and not the occasional short story but novels or even, lord help me, series of novels. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is obviously commercial, and one is artistic. It's been my attempt for the last 30 years or so, to manage this trick of being commercial and artistic at the same time, and I've had occasional success with it, occasional catastrophe with it. But I've done pretty well at both of them."

"Pretty well" is an understatement. Born in 1935 in New York City, Silverberg fulfilled his ambition to write science fiction, and to become a full-time writer, at an early age, and he has not only written innumerable stories collected in more volumes than most authors have novels, but hundreds of novels. They have been honored by Silverberg's readers and by his fellow writers. He served as the second president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, edited its first Science Fiction Hall of Fame volume (and dozens of other anthologies), has been guest of honor (and frequent toastmaster) at the World Science Fiction Convention, and he has become, in his mature years, one of science fiction's master craftsmen and elder statesmen.

In an autobiographical essay for Hell's Cartographers (1975), he wrote "I am a man who is living his own adolescent fantasies . . ." Who better than Silverberg to turn to writing fantasies for others? Few are more colorful than the adventures of Valentine, cast adrift in a fantastic world to find his own way through incredible difficulties and over incredible distances back to Castle Mount, whose 30 mile height, surrounded by 50 spectacular cities, is no more intimidating than Valentine's task of regaining himself - and his lost throne.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas