Sequel to Silverberg’s “Gilgamesh the King”. I don’t own a copy of the first book, and hadn’t read either for over a decade, so my memory of the first is pretty hazy at this point. However, the all seeing eye of Google confirms my impression that this one is different in tone to the first. It’s set in a shared universe used by several writers, but I’ve never read any of the works by other authors, so from my perspective this is simply a sequel to a previous stand-alone.
The novel is set in the Afterworld, the dream-like place where everyone goes when they die. There is no escape from the Afterworld — one can be killed there, but only to be revived again, sometimes within minutes and sometimes not for decades. For some, the Afterworld is Hell; for others, it is simply the place where they are now, different to life, better in some ways and worse in others.
The novel is set in the present day, so Gilgamesh the Sumerian has been in the Afterworld for a very long time indeed. The novel follows his wanderings in his quest to be re-united with his friend Enkidu, a journey that turns out to be as much about self-discovery as anything he had intended to do. But there are rumours that there exists a way back to the Land of the Living, and Gilgamesh is gradually drawn into the attempts to find that way. Along the way he meets a good many other historical figures, and one of the themes of the novel is the way in which history distorts real people and turns them into myths they barely recognise as themselves.
There’s a lot of philosophy in this novel, but it’s by no means dry. Indeed, it’s often very funny. And it works well as a stand-alone, without knowledge of the first book. Definitely worth trying.