I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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. He must decide if he wants that life back and if so, how to go about the process.
I sincerely doubt that Silverberg had Canada in mind when he wrote this story, but it certainly could be seen to apply to today’s situation. What with Senate spending scandals, a lot of poo-slinging in the House of Commons, plus a lot of other rather undemocratic behaviour, the issue of good leadership is an important one. It is beginning to feel like all of our politicians are crooks, just some of them haven’t been exposed yet! What kind of leaders do we want? 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? [With apologies to chimpanzees, animals which I’m actually quite fond of].
Similarly, do we want our multi-cultural society to work and are we willing to admit our own prejudices? Does it matter that your employer has four arms and is covered in thick coarse hair? How will you deal with a displaced aboriginal population who resent the out-worlders who have taken over their planet/continent? [I could visualize the Metamorphs participating in the Idle No More movement, for example].
Silverberg doesn’t directly answer any of these questions, but he does, I think, make some gentle suggestions. Lord Valentine is a likeable protagonist—but his gentle ways and general good-naturedness make him a target for more brutal would-be rulers. Can you be a nice guy and still be tough enough to govern?
It was fun to explore the world of Majipoor—I enjoyed the variety of races described, the elaborate festivals, and especially the sea-dragon hunting! Not only Valentine, but most of the population seemed very much on the nicey-nice side, supposedly because of a long stretch of stable rule. It was a bracing change when Valentine had to start dealing with bureaucracy—I was relieved to see that there was typical red-tape and crankiness! Majipoor is not a Utopia.
A fun, light read, nice to intersperse with more difficult volumes.