East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

“A bland book most suitable for female readers”


The Tar-Aiym Krang was a great way to spend a couple of afternoons reading old science fiction: adventure, intrigue, strange aliens, mysterious technology, a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist that manages not to be irritating despite being so damn good at everything… great. Also, it was like making an acquaintance again with an old friend. Two, actually, both Pip and Flinx.
The idea at this point was to go through another Alan Dean Foster book recovered from one of my emergency stacks, but then something interesting happened.
Well, interesting…

When I picked a few books from my box, together with three Alan Dean Foster books I also picked a terribly second hand copy of Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle. The book was not just “well loved”, as second-hand books dealers say. It’s been loved in a very rough, physical way. The spine is cracked and bent, the pages are yellowed and the (beautiful) cover by Jim Burns is creased and bumped.
I cannot complain: I bought it for 1 cent, and it’s been waiting in its box forever.
I actually read the novel back in the ’80s when it came out in Italian, and then lent my copy to a high-school friend that lost it or misplaced it. So when I bought it I was in no particular hurry to re-read it in English.
It was one of those “one of these days…” things.

Lord Valentine’s Castle won a Locus Fantasy Award in 1981 and was nominated for a Hugo that same year, and it is the first book in the somewhat sprawling Majipoor series – a science-fantasy book that’s nicely different from a lot of stuff you might have read.
It’s a tale of betrayal and exploration, full of strange vistas, bizarre creatures, and with an interesting take on some elements that date back to the Arabian Nights (or the Prisoner of Zenda), not to mention more than a nod to Jack Vance.

Jim Burns – Lord Valentine’s Castle

I took it out of its box because I said to myself enough time went by, and now I can read it in English with a fresh mind – and then maybe look for loved-to-death, used 1 cent copies of the follow-up volumes.

Then, just as I was checking the web in search of such cheap volumes, I chanced upon a lengthy and spoilers-filled review on a website that purports to cover fantasy, and my jaw fell resoundingly to the floor.

Silverberg’s award-winning book was described as bland, as “a let down” because its mixture of science fiction and fantasy, but most of all for its lack of violence, gore and brutality, that “manly readers” are likely to look for in a fantasy book. Damn, the main character is not even a fighter but a charismatic leader! The reviewer therefore suggested the book “especially to female readers” interested in trying some safe and non-violent fantasy.

This is so wrong and stupid on so many levels, it instantly bumped Lord Valentine’s Castle to the top of my to-read list. I consider reading it an act of resistance against the rise of such brain-dead morons, that are making an horrid comeback, and are contributing to give fantastic fiction a bad name, while dragging it back sixty years, to a place in which, actually, fantastic fiction never was.
There’s no other way to keep them at bay than to keep reading the books they are so criminally misreading and mis-representing.

No matter what your chromosomes are, Lord Valentine’s Castle is a highly recommended book.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on ““A bland book most suitable for female readers”

  1. I just now took a peek at reviews for this book. There are many more positive than negative reviews, and both men and women like the book, and both men and women didn’t care for the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And that’s perfectly fine.
      I remember I liked it but now I’m curious to see how things look like thirty years on.
      Right off the bat, I found the start a lot slower than I remembered, but let’s wait and see…
      What I find insufferable is that, after ages spent being told fantasy literature is basically porn for losers, and after decades spent trying to show it’s not so, now some self-styled “experts” are popularizing exactly that cliché and the “manly” nonsense about stories filled with violence and gore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I own that same copy of LORD VALENTINE’S CASTLE and have read and enjoyed it several times although I think it’s been about ten years since I last read it. I remember the kerfuffle that erupted in the Science Fiction Community/Fandom when it was published as most of Silverberg’s fans considered him to be turning his back of SF and betraying the genre by writing what essentially was a Fantasy novel.

    Back then, in the 1970s and 1980s Science Fiction and Fantasy were split into two distinct warring tribes much like DCEU and MCU fans are now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, sometimes is still like that here where I live. I know “true SF fans” that would not get caught dead with a fantasy novel, and I know a guy that acts like that but would only read horror. They tell me that “discovering” Clive Barker sort of messed up his neat categories 😀
      It’s pretty childish and really, shouldn’t there only be good books vs bad books?
      My, I feel old!

      Liked by 1 person

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