The Book Of Skulls (1972) is a novel by an American author, Robert Silverberg. Despite appearing on the Sci Fi Masterworks imprint, and being authored by a writer who is widely associated with the genre, the book can be placed more firmly within the context of books that deal with horror and the occult, rather than science fiction.
The plot is a matter of four friends who have discovered a unique manuscript which contains knowledge of an ancient religious order. Its adherents are immortal – but the manuscript denotes that for two men to be become immortal, two others must die. Thusly intrigued, for different reasons, the four college-aged men journey to the order’s reported location in the Arizona desert.
Silverberg depicts their journey in the first person mode. By this, we see the thoughts, motivations and insecurities of a self-loathing Jew, a lapsed Catholic homosexual, a rich man, and a poor man, as the cult’s central dilemma is played out. Furthermore, the author looks at notions concerning rationality, mysticism, identity, and sex – the most prominent of these ideas being the suggestion that rationality has ultimately done man a disservice, by rendering religion into meaninglessness and materialism.
But this is not a po-faced philosophical novel, but a fluidly written account that is structured in a satisfying way within a compact 220 pages. It is also a fun novel for any reader who enjoys the schlocky trappings of forbidden knowledge and the occult in horror fiction: secret manuscripts, mysterious rites, and the memories of Atlantis, Mesopotamia, and the Aztecs. Overall, The Book Of Skulls is recommended to those who perk up at such invocations.