Book of Skulls ([Gollancz fantasy & macabre]) Hardcover – 14 Sep 1978
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|Hardcover, 14 Sep 1978||
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From 1967 to 1972, Robert Silverberg had a burst of extraordinary creativity during which he wrote most of his finest novels. The Book of Skulls (1972) is one of these. Following the cryptic manuscript which provides the title, four young men cross America in search of a forgotten Shangri-La in the cactus-ridden desert north of Phoenix, Arizona--a monastery whose adepts hold the keys of immortality and supposedly follow a tradition handed down since Atlantis.
Candidates for eternal life must present themselves at the "Skullhouse" as a foursome. The brothers are happy to provide training in their secrets (including tantric sex)--but there's a price. The Ninth Mystery in the Book of Skulls states: "Two of thee we undertake to admit to our fold. Two must go into darkness". One of those four college students must willingly commit suicide. One is fated to be murdered by his own friends.
The narrative shuttles between their viewpoints, each distinct and sharply characterised. Rich, handsome, upper-class Timothy doesn't believe in immortality and is just going along with the gag. Eli the Jewish intellectual believes passionately. Ned, who is openly gay, has his own agenda involving Oliver, a Midwestern farm boy with tortured depths who says the Skullhouse is his only hope. Each in turn undergoes an ordeal of dreadful self-knowledge, after which the impossible choice of who wins and who loses seems natural, even inevitable.
Though only marginally SF, The Book of Skulls is a fine, scarifying novel of character. Unforgettable. --David Langford --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"[This] is Robert Silverberg at his very best, and when [he's] at his best, no one is better."
-George R.R. Martin
"This is, simply put, one of my favorite nightmare novels."
-Harlan Ellison, author of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
"Flawlessly written . . . as close to poetic beauty as any contemporary science fiction novel I've ever read."
-James Blish, Hugo Award--winning author of A Case of Conscience"
"The Book of Skulls is a revelation-it was a masterpiece when I first read it, and remains a masterpiece to this day."
-Greg Bear, New York Times bestselling author of Darwin's Radio
"Silverberg is a master writer in any genre-and now you're going to find out why they call them 'thrillers.' "
-John Shirley, author of Demons
"Where Silverberg goes today, science fiction will follow tomorrow."
[This] is Robert Silverberg at his very best, and when [he s] at his best, no one is better.
George R.R. Martin
This is, simply put, one of my favorite nightmare novels.
Harlan Ellison, author of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Flawlessly written . . . as close to poetic beauty as any contemporary science fiction novel I ve ever read.
James Blish, Hugo Award winning author of A Case of Conscience"
The Book of Skulls is a revelation it was a masterpiece when I first read it, and remains a masterpiece to this day.
Greg Bear, New York Times bestselling author of Darwin s Radio
Silverberg is a master writer in any genre and now you re going to find out why they call them thrillers.
John Shirley, author of Demons
Where Silverberg goes today, science fiction will follow tomorrow.
Isaac Asimov" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
With the right balance of wit, erudition, humour, and earnestness, Silverberg pulls it off. The House of Skulls exists: that is made plausible enough. And a proper dose of irony prevents this immortal-life-and-death mystery, with its Aztec and ancient symbology and mumbo jumbo, from ever veering into ridicule. Anyway, The Book of Skulls, though classified as science fiction, is actually a piece of social and private commentary. The point is in the relationship between the four students: an East Coast wasp scion, the overachieving son of poor Kansas farmers, a young Jewish New York philologist, and a flippant, gay, aspiring poet. Silverberg's desert classic is both extremely funny and penetrating, written with brio and truthfully told - and the trick of having all four main protagonists as narrators works especially well.
More than that, The Book of Skulls does not shrink from broader subjects: friendship, trust, mortality, atonement. In this sense, it belongs to a 1960s and 70s sci-fi tradition prepared to take on big themes. Think Stranger in a Strange Land, or some of Philip K Dick's novels. This is a metaphysical work. And it has a refreshing vitality, an optimism one fails to find in nowadays equivalents. It dares to be about something, unlike the shrivelled dystopias being churned out by more current authors, the meagre servings that are McCarthy's The Road, say. The Book of Skulls is not quite on a par with Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, but almost.
This is a short, well written novel at 220 pages and the story is told alternately from the point of view of each of the students. The most interesting part of the novel for me was when they had to confess something they'd done to each other as part of the initiation.
I did enjoy reading it even though there are no big twists in the story, not sure if true SF fans would enjoy it though.
Still, this is an amazing novel. Not much happens, so this isn't for you if you are looking for an all-out adventure novel. It's an introspective story about the search for immortality, and the price people are willing to pay for it. It's also a novel about hope, morals and regrets. You get right into the minds of the four characters. Great stuff.
Having provided an excellent insight into the characters personalities throughout their journey, I felt that it was then time for Silverberg to dig into the expected Sci-Fi element as they reach the house of skulls. Instead he continues to pile on the tabboo, which increasingly becomes the central aspect of the storline. This, along with the graphical descriptions which are already verging on unduely disturbing, become repetetive and implausible. At the same time the caracters move from being controversial to, in my opinion implausibly outlandish. I certainly have no problem with this being a book of contemplation rather than events, but it seemingly has no climax and just wanders to a relatively twistless end. Perhaps i miss the point, probably Silverberg's subtle brilliance is beyond me. But I was not left with the great sense of revelation or enigma that i had expected.
Although this is for the most part an excellent book that will have a lasting impression on me.
It is a sprawling "road movie" type of novel following four college boys on their quest to discover the truth about the book of skulls, and about the "Skullhouse", a monastery built in the deserts of Arizona where immortality awaits those who dare its challenges and trials.
The book is part psychological thriller, part male bonding tale, as we follow the four on their quest, see how their views and opinions differ, see how they interact and perceive what lies ahead.
What really turns the tension up a notch is the discovery that for every two who are accepted into the cult and granted immortality, then two must die. Certain assumptions seem to grow within the group as to who will perish, though this is never vocalised.
As they discover that the Skullhouse exists, then it becomes a macabre, gripping ride through to the end, to see who, if any, will survive the trials, and who will fall by the wayside. You will be gripped right through to the final resolution within the final few pages.
The characterisations are strong, and you will sympathise with each in turn. I was appalled that none of them gave a great deal of thought to what they were letting themselves in for, that although they had superficially thought about who might die in the quest, none of them had really thought through the repercussions. On one level then, it is a story about being careful what you wish for, as it may come true. It is about rushing into something without thinking about the consequences.
Buy this book now. An absolute gem.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Robert Silverberg is one of the best writers ever. This book is proof of that.Published 4 months ago by Simon Bartolo
Excellent tale of 4 college students on a long road-trip into the Arizona desert in search of a cult which offers immortality. There's a catch of course. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Callmerick
Written when Silverberg was at his most proficcient. Its a fascinating tale for the search for immortality and is rightly considered a SF masterworkPublished 22 months ago by Usul
The premise of this novel intrigued me, but I could not identify with any of the main characters and so I lost interest along the way.Published on 23 July 2014 by S. C. Flynn
Going through the S.F. Masterworks collection I expected to find a book or two I did not think much of and it just happens that this is the first bump in the road. Read morePublished on 22 Sept. 2013 by Markie
This book follows the journey of four college students seeking immortality. The narrative switches between the point of view of each of the boys seamlessly. Read morePublished on 23 Oct. 2010 by HeecheeRendezvous
This book is genuinely scary and very different from other sci-fi novels, almost a horror story. The ending leaves one wanting to know more...Published on 4 Dec. 2009 by Sherlock