Review: The Book of Skulls

The Book of Skulls
The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four American college books set out to discover the truth behind a manuscript that writes of a ‘cult’ that offer immortality. The only catch is to obtain it four must undertake the rituals, one must die and one must take his own life.

I found this a compelling read, if perhaps a little dated in some ways (would you have a gay man and a Jew as two of the characters today, maybe a contemporary politically correct author would chose others to be his awkward outsiders). It is written in alternating voices, moving between the four main students, a well chosen tool which allows you not only to get to know the four characters, but also to have different, even contradictory voices heard. The book raises many questions, as in my mind the best sci-fi should about the value of life and death.

As a Christian I found the concept of death demanded in order to bring life provoked interesting comparisons with my faith, even if there are vast differences between the group depicted here and my beliefs.

Another gem in the SF Masterworks series. Is it science fiction? It’s not set in the future, there are no spaceships or time travel involved, so perhaps not. But it does do what in my mind the best sci-fi is all about, it asks the question what would the effect be of changing something that we currently perceive to be normal. Often an other-world setting is used to help us explore, but here our world is used (although there is certainly something other-worldy about where the four students find themselves).

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