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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Star of Gypsies by Robert Silverberg

Star of Gypsies by Robert Silverberg. Amherst, New York: PYR (an imprint of Prometheus Books), 2005 (originally published in 1986. ISBN: 1-59102-309-2

The milieu in which science fiction grandmaster Robert Silverberg sets this tale is an intriguing one. The Gypsies, Romany, “Rom” for short, in a secret history known only to themselves, came to earth millenia ago from a different planet where they evolved independently from human-kind on earth. They were the original founders of Atlantis, but when it was destroyed, they became the legendary wanderers, outcasts, that we know today.

However, in this story, many more millenia have passed, humankind has populated the stars, and only the Rom have the innate capability to pilot the starships that traverse the universe of settled planets. How the Rom lost their starfaring capabilties back on earth, and how these capabilities were regained is conveniently ignored.

Both the “Gaje,” (Rom word for non-Romany), and the Rom have their own rulers, who are elected, the position not being hereditary. Our tale involves the current Rom king, Yakoub by name, who gets caught up in a struggle over the Gaje emperorship which erupts, for the first time in centuries, into open warfare.

That's really about it for the plot. Include a subplot in which Yakoub pretends to abdicate, and his rascally wicked son attempts to take his place, and the hope of returning to the original Romany star, from which the book presumably takes its title, which is going through a cycle of expanding phases which have made the original Rom homeworld uninhabitable, it being the ultimate dream of all Rom to one day return there again, once the sun returns to normal activity.

Now that I've written all that down, it seems like a fairly elaborate plot. But it isn't really enough to sustain a 470-page book, at least in my opinion. Most of the tale is taken up by Yakoub's grandiose inner (and outer!) life, his thoughts, dreams and ambitions, and gradually, and only little by little, his life story unfolds, never, of course in any kind of normal sequence, but in a series of non-sequential flashbacks.

It's a rich, colorful tale, full of details of many bizarre, baroque and byzantine worlds, but the storyline is ultimately too thin to sustain the descriptive excesses. The problem is that none of these details ever really contribute to the plot line. They are just excess verbiage one has to get through, much like the excessive ornamentation on a Rococo palace or cathedral. For me, this book narrowly missed failing Nancy Pearl's 50/50 p[age] test.

Recommended for loyal Silverberg fans, and for those who don't mind wallowing in a wealth of wonderful words without a lot of story to show for it.

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