Charles Phillips, the 1980's New Yorker, finds himself on the 50th century Earth. But not 50th in our sense. The continents have changed their locations, so have the star constellations. Only five cities in the world are allowed to exist at the same time. Great cities of history are constantly demolished and re-created by robots. The technology has reached the level of magic. Everything is an illusion; history is reconstructed for the amusement of the small 4 million androgynous population of Earth. They are the tourists. They do whatever they want to please themselves. Death is not a factor in these people's lives. But how did Charles come to be? And who is this perfect Girl, Gioia, he is travelling with from City to City, from party to party?
"Sailing to Byzantium" is a poem by Yeats. It depicts a journey to Constantinople. Through this journey, the travellers thoughts and musings on how immortality, art, and the human spirit may converge, are explored. The plot's elderly humans are thin and frail. But there is this short-timer -- due to some genetic deviation -- a Girl named Gioia, slender-bodied, with dark and glossy eyes, wide mouth, and olive-colored skin, who ages, who is on constant move. She is a firecracker because she knows that there will be no time for him to consume. Silverberg has taken the Yeats poem to study aging and love. Only here it is the Charles who is not aging. Her belowed one, Gioia, need to learn how to sing and separate his soul from his body. But the fate of the singer is never confirmed. Her soul may never reach into eternity. At the end, they sail to Byzantium to find out.
Five (5) stars. Written in 1984, the novella won Nebula Award for Best Novella in the following year. The poem, a spiritual sailing, asks questions about what we leave behind and what we could do, if we had the choice and the means to overcome transience: the soul must sing louder than any fiber in oneself. How is Silverberg -- an elder statesman of the science fiction -- able to capture these philosophical journeys again and again? We ask, and read with great satisfaction.