on 17 October 2010
I seem to be spending a lot of time writing reviews of Robert Silverberg recently, something of a difficult thing to do, as most of his novels are real earworms of the mind; they invade your consciousness and your mind repeatedly returns to them, but for some reason, many of them fail to entirely satisfy. "Shadrach..." is highly entertaining, imaginative, and well-paced with plenty of dramatic tension ...yet somehow it isn't a 5-star book.
The story is based in a near-future and a world rocked by devastating global plague; the traditional superpowers have collapsed and been replaced by a stronger totalitarian regime that has conquered most of the globe. The supreme ruler of all Earth is Ghengis Mao III, an impossibly old man sustained by repeated organ transplant surgeries and constantly monitored by telemetric implants grafted into his personal physician, Shadrach Mordecai, who feels every heartbeat and breath drawn by his master. Mao's obsession with immortality also has Shadrach overseeing various crackpot schemes to carry the old man's consciousness after the chairman-khan's death, but Shadrach soon learns that he will play an even more personal role in Mao's immortality.
There are some Silverberg tropes here that will be very familiar to fans of his seventies "purple patch": the tortured megalomaniac, an old man with a fleshy vigour; the transference of human consciousness from one being to another; bizarre transcendent religions and drug use; lots of gratuitous sexuality and some plot-relevant, character-establishing sex, too; the hero's struggle with predestination; a controlling and masterful villain... It's all there, the hero is likeable and rounded and the story strikes the right balance between the believable and the utterly wierd, so why just the four stars? Well, inevitably, something just feels wrong with the gestalt. The ending is a little anticlimactic and the supernatural pastimes of the hoi oligoi are so bizarre that they begin to test the reader's patience. It's almost brilliant, and nevertheless highly recommended to Silverberg fans.