Whose Castle?: Speculations as to the Parameters of Science Fiction

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,706 words

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[(essay date August 1980) In the following essay, Clareson speculates on various generic distinctions of Lord Valentine's Castle.]

Those who have seen the June, 1980, issue of Extrapolation already know how much I welcomed the appearance of Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle (Harper, 1980) serialized first, in somewhat briefer form, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I should like to return to a consideration of that narrative, because it raises serious questions for anyone interested in the field of science fiction.1

I imagine that many of us have recently returned from Majipoor, and I will wager that few of us will quickly forget the rich diversity of landscapes and cultures of that immense planet which Silverberg created in what has been called, variously, his epic novel and his tour-de-force. Nor, I'm sure, am I alone in being highly pleased that Silverberg has ended his five-year silence, although there may be fewer who enjoy the manner in which he ended it: that is, with a novel like Lord Valentine's Castle. It is almost certain to be a Nebula Award nominee, and although a part of me hopes that Fred Pohl will make it three out of four in terms of his last novels, that desire retreats before my wish that Silverberg receive the Nebula. Undoubtedly it will also be nominated for various other awards by academe and by fandom. But one question bothers me at this point: will it win as the finest science fiction of its year--or the finest fantasy?

Whose castle stands beyond the Labyrinth of Glayge Valley on the stratospheric heights of Castle Mount? One of the accomplishments that Silverberg has achieved in this major work is that he forces us once more to question all our definitions as well as our criteria for sharply distinguishing science fiction from fantasy. Much of the science fiction paraphernalia is there. Some 14,000 years ago colonists came from old Earth (p. 292) to find the Metamorphs, the so-called Shapechangers, who are now "archaeological relicts, survivors from the era when there were no humans here, nor Skandars nor Vroons nor Ghayrogs ..." (p. 161). To this vast world came many races as settlers, "intruders, ultimately conquerors." But inasmuch as Majipoor lies in the backwaters of its galaxy rather than upon main trade routes, it has been left to itself. In fact, one may regard it as a barbaric world whose inhabitants have fallen from the heights of civilization (a theme which calls up echoes of Silverberg's Nightwings). Only in the final struggle for Castle Mount...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100038649