Sunday, December 1, 2013
In Praise of Robert Silverberg
I feel like I have been pretty rough on Robert Silverberg on this blog, but if this is so, it is due to what I might call a sampling error or a statistical anomaly. In fact, I have enjoyed most of the Silverberg I have read, and I have the Amazon reviews from years past to prove it, five of which are pasted below.
The Second Trip
In this very readable novel Silverberg addresses issues somewhat similar to those he wrote about in "To Live Again," but whereas the plot of that novel was something of a soap opera, this one is more of a traditional adventure story.
In the future, serious criminals like rapists and murderers are punished by having their identities erased. An artificial personality is created and implanted in the criminal's empty mind, thus creating a productive member of society. In this novel, however, the personality of the criminal, a famous artist, has somehow survived the process, and the body's new and original personalities battle for control. Silverberg describes this battle for dominance and portrays the character of the combatants in an arresting fashion, and the supporting characters and the world they all inhabit are also pretty interesting.
"The Second Trip" merits a strong recommendation to Silverberg fans. Not as good or "literary" as the brilliant "Dying Inside," but definitely in the same league as "To Live Again," "The Glass Tower" or "Shadrach in the Furnace," and more "adventure"-oriented than those, like, say, "Man in the Maze."
In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era
Fans of Silverberg and anybody interested in the 1950s SF scene should definitely check this out. For the most part the stories are fun and move along briskly, and each is preceded by an epigraph or short essay in which Silverberg talks about his early career and sheds light on his writing techniques and his relationships with SF magazines, their editors, and other SF writers in the 1950s.
Kingdoms of the Wall
Silverberg tells a good, if somewhat traditional, adventure story here, the tale of a long and dangerous journey with Homeric overtones. His effective, and sometimes subtle, use of first person narration takes the novel to a higher, more literary level. A very good read.
The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg Volume 5
This volume of Silverberg's collected stories, the fifth in this series, is, like the others, full of good SF stories. I wouldn't say Silverberg is a spectacular writer, but he is a solid professional with a smooth style and these stories are all a pleasure to read. There is a lot of the standard SF stuff, like dinosaurs, time travel, scientists and strange alien creatures, but Silverberg also writes about people and their relationships and how they react to novel circumstances, and he does it well.
Each story has a pretty extensive preface in which Silverberg talks about his life, writing and editing career, his relationships with magazine editors and other SF writers, and the history of SF, all of which is quite interesting.
The World Inside
An examination of class and sexual morality on a future Earth with a population of 75 billion, most of whom live crammed into 3 kilometer tall skyscrapers housing 800,000 each, vertical cities they are forbidden to leave. The World Inside is more of a series of interrelated character studies than a true novel. While most of the vignettes are interesting enough (I can only complain about one, the tale of a rock musician's ecstatic concert performance and then ecstatic drug experience, the lengthy "psychedelic" portions of which grow tedious) the book suffers a little from its lack of an overarching plot. Silverberg gives the reader a good setting and some interesting characters, but World Inside is a bit light in the story department.