Robert Silverberg has been one of the pillars of the SF community for many decades, producing many fine stories and novels and doing important work as an editor of a multitude of anthologies. But nobody is perfect, right?
SF blogger extraordinaire Joachim Boaz yesterday pointed out a great review of Silverberg's Stochastic Man by Max Cairnduff at Pechorin's Journal. Mr. Cairnduff hits the nail on the head when he says that Silverberg writes about people, and that is why we like his work. Cairnduff levels several valid criticisms at the book, but in the end admits he still loves it. This is where we disagree; when I read Stochastic Man in 2007, after reading several really good Silverberg books, I was quite disappointed, as my November 8, 2007 review on Amazon.com pasted below, suggests. Interestingly, while both Cairnduff and I find Stochastic Man to be below par for Silverberg, we focus on different deficiencies.
I like Silverberg's writing style, and it doesn't fail him here, but I have to say this book is in the inferior 50%, maybe even 25%, of the Silverberg I have read. For one thing, too much of the narrative concerns U.S. electoral politics; I don't read science fiction looking for a fictional version of the real life stuff I can read everyday on blogs or in the newspaper, and Silverberg just gives us boring horserace stuff, almost nothing about political philosophy or theory.
There is also a problem with the plot. Again and again the man who can see the future tells the main character that the future cannot be changed, that there is only one possible future, and again and again he is proven right. But, for some reason, the main character keeps thinking that his knowledge of the future can help the politician win elections, which, if the future is immutable, obviously makes no sense. Maybe Silverberg is just pointing out that, even though we have every reason to think the universe is deterministic, we all insist on acting as if it isn't. Even if that is the case, it is still a little frustrating for the reader.
(Maybe the novel is just too long, and would benefit if some of the political race stuff and a few of the examples of the predicted future coming true were eliminated.)
I wouldn't advise people to avoid Stochastic Man, but would let them know that Silverberg has numerous superior books.