Sailing to Byzantium Audio CD – Audiobook, 1 Mar 2000
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"He remains one of the most imaginative and versatile writers ever to have been involved with sf. His productivity has seemed almost superhuman, and his abrupt metamorphosis...into a prose artist was an accomplishment unparalleled within the field..".-- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The two that stuck out the most admittedly were those with ties closest to my interests: ancient history and invertebrate zoology. The novella for which the book was named, "Sailing to Byzantium", sets the stage for what becomes a selection of wildly different and surprising stories. In "Sailing to Byzantium", Silverberg does a surprisingly good job of meshing ancient history and culture clash with classic science fiction concepts and plot twists. "Homefaring", on the other hand, lays out most of the plot surprises right off and spends a great deal of time exploring the implications of the setting: a civilization of intelligent lobsters. Aside from minor evolutionary-morphological quibbles, the story was a wondrously bizarre surprise. The other three stories were equally as deft in mixing plot and setting, but possibly through my own prejudices, they don't stick nearly as well in my brain.
Silverberg discusses in his introduction that he enjoys working in the novella format and it really shows. In all five stories, Silverberg really gets the chance to sit down and enjoy the worlds that he's working in. Each have their own impressively creative spark that really make you wonder how one can come up with such ideas.
If you're looking for good, classic science fiction, then Silverberg's work is one that you should definitely pick up. If you want a good example of what the genre has evolved from in the last twenty or thirty years, it is still well worht reading. Either way, I think anyone looking to broaden their field of science fiction reading should try this book.
"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.
Fans of Silverberg's work should purchase this attractive (the cover features a very nice painting) anthology; fans of SF and fantasy unacquainted with his work should remedy this oversight, and this collection is a good place to start.
Like many of the greats of science fiction, "Silverbob" started out more than half a century ago writing short stories, mostly for the pulps. He gradually worked his way up to longer works, including a startling number of novels now regarded as classics, but he never got away completely from the longer short form. And some of his best writing appears in works of that length.
I'll add, for those who don't know, that a "novella" is shorter than a novel but longer than a novelette -- 20,000 to 30,000 words, say -- while a "novelette" is shorter than a novella but longer than a short story. At least, that's how SF writers and their editors usually reckon it. A novella is long enough to allow for more extended development of character and theme than is possible in the highly-focused short-story form, but doesn't require all the subplots and what-not of a full-dress novel.
This volume brings together six stories that anyone who considers himself a serious science fiction reader, and is more than thirty years old, certainly ought to have read already. All have been anthologized multiple times and most have won awards -- sometimes more than one -- but there's no reason on earth you shouldn't read and enjoy them again. And if this is indeed your first encounter with Silverberg, I envy you the experience of discovery.
In the title story, a man of our own time (maybe) travels somewhat listlessly in the far future (maybe the end of time) from one urban simulacrum to another in the company of a never-aging woman as their companions attempt to return to their proper places (sort of). It's a lovely and very poetic piece of writing and there's some great imagery. Silverberg also has said that, out of the several million words he has written over a long career, this story probably is his favorite.
"Thomas the Proclaimer" was a product of the very early `70s, when Silverberg was at the peak of his creative energies (so he says himself), and was the culmination, sort of, of a series of longer and shorter pieces he had recently produced that had to do with religion and how it manifests itself in various circumstances. This one is a riff on Joshua's demand that God make the sun stand still so he could continue to beat up on the Philistines in the daylight. Thomas is a desert rat from Nevada and self-discovered prophet whose charisma builds a huge, worldwide, nondenominational following. And to convince the multitudes that God is real, and that He is concerned with mankind, Thomas gets millions of these believers to pray, all at the same time, for an unequivocal sign. And on a particular June 6th, God stops the Earth from rotating for a day and a night. Can't argue with that, eh? Atheism has instantly ceased to exist, right? If you expect such a clear-cut outcome from a miracle, then you really don't know much about people. This is a deeply pessimistic, and yet thoroughly realistic, examination of how the human mind deals with the Almighty. Or doesn't.
"Born with the Dead" is, I think, one of the best things this author has ever done. It was written in 1973 (shortly after the publication of _Dying Inside_) and partakes greatly of the strange world of California in the early `70s. And while it's about the dead returning to life, or something like it, it has nothing whatever to do with religion. And no -- no zombies. Jorge Klein is a scientist whose beautiful wife, Sybille, the focus of his life, dies long before her time. A process has recently come into vogue, however, by which the deceased can be "rekindled," brought back to a conscious existence. They're no longer dead but they aren't entirely alive, either. They lead a new existence, with different concerns and interests. But Jorge can't accept the idea that Sybille is out there walking around, sleeping with another (rekindled) man, and has no interest whatever in him. If only he could get her to talk to him for awhile, to explain things to him. In fact, he begins to make a bloody nuisance of himself. And the rekindled can think of only one way of dealing with his stubbornness. This one is guaranteed to give you the willies, and to keep you thinking about it long after you've finished.
"Homefaring," Silverberg says, is the result of his "sneaking desire to write the definitive giant-lobster story." And that's exactly what it is, in a slightly Kafkaesque sort of way. McCulloch, a scientist, wakes up in the mind and body of a very large crustacean with claws, antennae, a large, flat tail, and multiple legs. He's living on the dark bottom of an ocean, in a colony of similar creatures, which seem to have a sort of hive intelligence. Where and when is he and what is he doing there? And what happens now? This isn't one of my favorites, I admit, for all that it's very well written and will suck you right in.
"We Are for the Dark" is another variation on a religious theme, but this time the Order, a post-Christian organization, holds the monopoly on instantaneous matter-transmission to any point in the galaxy -- assuming there's already a receiver at the destination. This means a centuries-long program of robotic ships traveling at sub-light speeds that establish receiving stations in one star system after another, after which one can simply step through a Velde gate and be there. (Not a new idea, of course.) This process of colonization is meant to be gradual and controlled, but somewhere out there, previous groups of colonists on far distant worlds are deviating from the program in startling ways. Someone has to be to blame for this, and the Lord Magistrate, whose department actually selects the colonists from among Earth's starving billions, is on the hot seat. Now he has to go out there (never to return) and find out what's going on.
I had kind of a hard time with "The Secret Sharer," I have to admit. Perhaps because Silverberg is a great fan of Joseph Conrad and I'm absolutely not. Both the title and the basic plotline here are taken from Conrad's short story of the same name (often published with the novella "Heart of Darkness," which was the basis of Silberberg's novel _Downward to the Earth_), in which a young and uncertain captain, new to both his ship and his crew, rescues a mysterious swimmer one night (who is on the run, so to speak), whom he rescues and hides in his cabin, and later assists to escape. Silverberg follows the original story line closely, with the necessary transfers of setting and so on from the sea to space, and it was nominated for (but didn't win) both the Hugo and Nebula. But it just doesn't work for me.
Robert Silverberg is not as much read these days by younger readers as, say, Heinlein, but he certainly deserves to be. His novels often take some effort to understand and fully appreciate, but the six stories presented here would be an excellent place to start.