I exist in an uneasy state of ignoring Robert Silverberg and the Majipoor stories. It’s not that I don’t want to read them—in fact, I am certain I have read at least one, but don’t ask me which one…. It’s just that I’ve never had the time or inclination to get into the series through any of its entry points. I always seem to have something else to read or do….
The Desert of Stolen Dreams is a fairly accessible entry into this universe. It isn’t necessary to grasp the dynamics of Majipoor or its interesting power structure. All you need to do is follow Dekkeret’s journey to Suvrael and into the dangerous desert. It is also a simple story in structure. There isn’t too much lurking beneath the surface—but Silverberg manages to demonstrate that this isn’t always a bad thing. In many respects, this is an example of short fiction done simply and well.
Dekkeret’s ambition is to be the best knight he can be. Nevertheless, he feels guilty and ashamed of losing his cool during an intense jungle hunt rather than behaving honourably. So his little adventure is by way of penance. Along the way, he hooks up, and he meets a scoundrel. It’s a romantic adventure in the grand ol’ school of men doing brave and masculine things and fighting against the elements and pernicious antagonists. If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I’ve probably avoided the Majipoor series now is its close resemblance to fantasy in all but certain trappings. I love science fiction, and I love fantasy. Combine them into science fantasy, though, I start getting wary. The Desert of Stolen Dreams seems to owe more to sword and sorcery than it does to hard, soft, or whatever flavours of science fiction you might expect to see in a purely SF anthology.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what else to say. As a work of short fiction, it works. It tells a story from beginning to middle to end. There’s conflict, Dekkeret changes a bit, and we get to see an interesting but isolated corner of Majipoor. Beyond that, I didn’t get much else from The Desert of Stolen Dreams. Longtime Silverberg fans will have likely read this in another collection. I’m not sure it would convince a reader to pick up any of the Majipoor books just on its merits alone. As for its inclusion in The Mammoth Book of Short Science Fiction Novels … I’m not convinced.
Solid but unremarkable, The Desert of Stolen Dreams establishes that even SF can have "conventions" of a sort and, consequently, "conventional" stories.
Reviewed as part of The Mammoth Book of Short Science Fiction Novels.