Trips 1972-73: 4 (Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg) Hardcover – 30 May 2009
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Personally, I would recommend potential buyers interested in the Short Fiction of Robert Silverberg pick up a copy of
THE BEST OF ROBERT SILVERBERG -- available in trade paperback from Subterranean, which updated the volume after the hardcovers sold out -- and a copy of MULTIPLES, volume six of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg.
You won't go wrong with those two, five and half star, books!
THE REST OF THE VOLUMES
TO BE CONTINUED, the first volume of THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ROBERT SILVERBERG is essential not only for handful of stories that were far above average ("The Road to Nightfall", "Warm Man", etc.) -- above average as goes the stories of a 20-something writer -- but also because of the insightful notes on the art of fiction and on the craft of being a writer, from his give and take with editors to how he sometimes had to hustle. (5 STARS)
TO THE DARK STAR, volume two, is likewise invaluable because of the insightful forewords (insightful to future writers and to historians and biographers), and even MORE essential when it comes to the quality of the stories (classics like "Hawksbill Station", "To See the Invisible Man", "Sundance", "Flies" and the Nebula Award-winning "Passengers"). The stories in volume two are the first in Silverberg's early oeuvre to be filled with serious moral questions, complex characters and bizzare plot twists. And his writing is all the better for it, of course. It's as if -- for the first time --Silverberg decided to invest his emotions as well as his intellect. And the quality shows. The notes about writing -- forewords before each story -- are equally revelatory. Excellent stuff. (5 STARS)
While SOMETHING WILD IS LOOSE, volume 3, "only" contains one classic story ("Good News From the Vatican", a Nebula Award winner) -- unlike volume 2 -- but it IS filled with the unbridled inventiveness of a writer "reinventing himself" (before the stories in volume 2, Silverberg was -- admittedly -- churning out stories purely for cash. Nothing wrong with that; but it doesn't make for fiction worth revisiting or fiction that will actually change the outlook of reader and/or win awards and recognition from one's peers). So most of the stories herein deal with political and social upheaval, as well as personal demons ("In Entropy's Jaws", "The Feast of St. Dionysus", "Caught in the Organ Draft", etc.). But I'd have to say this one looses one star because of the lack of an extra classic story. It is one that supposedly was left out on purpose -- because it was a novella, which is incredibly dumb of both the editor publisher of Subterranean and the author: The story, a novella, is "Nightwings", and it is not only one of Silverberg's best, it is a classic SF story (and like the best of Silverberg, filled with emotional, not just intellectual, depth). Leaving the 1969 story "Nightwings" out of either a best of collection -- the editor and the author weren't silly enough to do that with Silverberg's best of collection; but as other "best of" collections from Subterranean prove (those of Lucius Shepard and, especially, Kage Baker -- which left out Baker's award winners, "The Women of Nell Gywne's and "The Empress of Mars", likely for financial reasons since both had been produced as smaller, stand-alone books). (4 Stars)
THE PALACE AT MIDNIGHT, volume 5, covers only two years (1980-82), a time when Silverberg -- fresh off the success of LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE (which would become both a cash cow and source of semi-creativity in future sequels, in the 1990s), began to write stories nearly as quickly as he did in his early days as a pulp fiction writer. The stories during that period ranged from excellent ("Waiting for the Earthquake", "Amanda and the Alien", "Homefaring", "The Pope of the Chimps", "The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve", "Needle in a Timestack", etc.) to solidly average (average for Silverberg, but above average as goes the rest of the crowd). Not award winners here, but plenty of stories that were nominated. And the tenor of the tales runs from crazily inventive (as with "Pope") to solid SF that far outstrips the rest of the field ("Amanda..."). As before, the forewords to each story are a big bonus as well. (4 Stars)
MULTIPLES, volume 6, is -- thus far --the slowest selling of Silverberg's latter volumes, which puzzles the frack out of me, because -- alongside with volume 2 and the almost-five star volume four -- I would rate this as one of the essential volumes of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. In fact, if you buy THE BEST OF ROBERT SILVERBERG -- instead of investing in each of these volumes -- I'd say that to have the best, most complete, collection of great Silverberg short fiction, you need this volume -- volume six (which covers 1983-1987). Not only do you get "Tourist Trade", "Sunrise on Pluto", "Against Babylon" and "House of Bones" (some of the best SF/fantsy written in the 1980s), you ALSO get the "The Pardoner's Tale" (a clever retelling of the old Chaucer bit), "Gilgamesh in the Outback", a Hugo-award-winning novella set in the afterlife (the underworld, naturally), "Sailing to Byzantium" the Yeats-inspired novella that was and is both a crowd favorite and multiple nominee for awards, as well as "The Secret Sharer", a novella that takes Conrad's classic story sets in deep space. It was up for Hugo and Nebula awards but (in my opinion) was robbed (it is one of the finest, most moving, stories Silverberg ever published). "The Secret Sharer" is worth the price of entry alone, but for some reason -- even with all of the classic, award-winning stories, and five-star storytelling, buyers and knuckle-brained aficionados have avoided this one. Go figure. Their loss (as always, the forewords are lagniappe).
While WE ARE FOR THE DARK, volume 7, continues to include a lot of solid short fiction (the title story, "Lion Time in Timbuctoo", "A Tip on a Turtle"), as well as an award winner (the Hugo Award-winning, "Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another") as well as the last of Silverberg's truly great (intellectual AND emotional) pieces of fiction ("Another Country", a riff on C.L. Moore's "Vintage Season". One of Silverberg's more brilliant writerly traits is his ability to reworks ideas or themes, or to find an entire story of his own in a "throwaway" line by another writer. He does as much with this story).
As with the other volumes, although they are starting to become more about the business side of things and less about the writing process, the notes/forewords for each of the stories are still quite invaluable. (4/12 stars)
HOT TIMES IN MAGMA CITY, volume 8, seems to betray both a bit of lackluster in "the Silverberg of the '90s" and in the mostly retired writer now putting together this multivolume collection of short fiction. The stories are still head and shoulders above what the majority of writers were publishing in the '90s (many of them --"Thebes of a Hundred Gates", "The Way to Spook City", etc. -- more so), but they are beginning to take on a make-work quality. The 1990s was a time when Silverberg was attempting to co-write books with his friend Isaac Asimov (who was dying) and to jump-start a series of novel sequels, a trilogy that takes off from where LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE (and it's two subsequent sequels, a novel and a collection of stories in the mid 80s), left off. Only the last book in the second trilogy fared well with reivewers and readers. So it's no wonder that Silverberg's attention, and likely energy, was on the wane. As for the usually insightful forewords: those in this volume are largely about payments, wordage and other business-related subjects.
Although there were other volumes planned, volume eight, for this reader, signals a sea change in SIlverberg's writing that will be more evident in later stories. They are _intellectually_ spot-on, but they have lost a great deal of heart. Sounds corny, but without emotional impact, stories don't connect with readers. Silverberg started off as a bright, intellectual -- and energetic -- writer who knew how to craft stories for a large variety of markets, which ensured him a way to make a better than-average living as a writer. Not something most writers ever accomplish. But his early stories (SF, crime, horror, etc.) lacked heart, and therefore depth and gravitas. When he changed up his thinking, in the mid-to late 1960s, he suddenly became the owner of just a lot of writing awards, and the writer of a LOT of classic stories that won the minds and the HEARTS of readers. Somewhere along the way, be it due to needing to write furiously (again) to pay the bills and/or because of the waning energy that hits everyone as we get older, Silverberg's fiction lost its heart.
Sadly, this volume is when it starts to happen. (3 stars)
There's no casting of a jaundiced eye by Silverberg on the chaos of his world, but there's a fair amount of wry satire.
Its techno-orgy time "In the Group". Its members use electricity and chemicals to share all the sensations of whichever of its two members happen to be having sex in all the old meaty configurations. Its pervy protagonist has monogamous intent towards a fellow member. As Silverberg says, it's a glossy, fast, inventive, and bleak story.
The idea that doesn't pass Silverberg's muster in "Ms. Found in an Abandoned Machine" is the idea that science fiction can change the world. There are Amerindian tribes fomenting revolution, a time traveler out to "de-assassinate Lincoln" in the cause of race relations, and a covert appearance by Richard Nixon. Silverberg was and is thoroughly unconvinced about putting science fiction to missionary ends.
"The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" (not to be confused with the similarly titled anthologies Silverberg edited) is ambivalent about science fiction itself. Terry Carr, who asked for the story from his friend Silverberg, said it's a story for people who hate science fiction. I agree with Silverberg that it's ambivalent towards science fiction, but I can understand Carr's reaction. I liked it, though. It is about a man who loves science fiction but wonders why he likes it. Is it the gaudy surface wonders that will never happen while the wonders of his own time do nothing for him? There is a memorable scene where he has sex with a woman while watching the first Apollo landing - and feels no thrill at either experience.
"Schwartz Between the Galaxies" is another look at the strange fascination science fiction holds for some of us. Schwartz is a big time, world famous anthropologist who travels about giving speeches, but finds himself escaping from his glitzy, rich, but homogenized, future into day dreams of travel aboard an alien-packed interstellar liner.
Another Jewish hero shows up in the shockingly traditional, in terms of plot and structure, story "The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV". The settlers of Mazel Tov IV have to decide if the soul of a dead Jew really has come back to possess the body of one of the intelligent, but primitive, local aliens.
Silverberg's view of 1960s politics was ambivalent: sympathy for some of the diagnosis of social ills but suspicious of the offered solution. Combine that with his concern about overpopulation and you get "Getting Across". The earth is covered by a giant megapolis. But it's not a state of harmony or efficiency. Every little section of this huge city is its own polity, and the hero goes on a quest to find the one remaining backup copy of a computer program that manages his section of the city. He encounters marauders and cannibals, thuggish street preachers, and police `bots. To top it off, it's his ex-wife that has the backup. As hellish as his future city is, Silverberg says he would rather live in it than his birthplace, New York City.
Silverberg set out to do the ultimate alternate history story with "Trips". It has a man, with no real mechanism given, traveling to twelve versions of the area around San Francisco. Those versions include the favorite "Hitler Wins" variant and the Mongols coming to North America.
One of those fragmentary and elliptical stories Silverberg was writing around this time was "A Sea of Faces". It, like Roger Zelazny's "The Dream Master" (which Silverberg acknowledges was first and better), is a tale of psychotherapist entering into the dreamscape of a patient, and, by manipulating the landscape of symbols, effect a cure. It was my least favorite story. I indeed thought it too elliptic and too long.
"Breckenridge and the Continuum" is another elliptical effort, but one I liked much better. Its hero is a bored young stockbroker who has bouts where his consciousness slips into another dimension, seemingly in the far future. There he is on a pilgrimage through a desert, with four other men, to find a lost city. At night, he tells them greatly reworked and often conflated myths of Earth. The whole story is built around the structuralist theory of myth developed by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss.
"Ship-Sister, Star-Sister" is also sort of an experimental effort. The bored Silverberg of those years has a lot about the game of Go in the story, a story he describes as Stapledonian. It involves a starship in contact with Earth via the telepathy of twin women ... and then the telepathic channel starts to go dead. Another Silverberg story of social isolation. This one eventually was expanded into Starborne.
"Capricorn Games" is one of Silverberg's favorite stories because he met his future wife Karen Haber through it. This story, set during the night of January 7, 1999 (the future, of course, when the story was written), has a fantasy feel to it and the smell and glitter of an expensive 1960s party with drugs, astrology, sex, telepathy, and an immortal. It's another of Silverberg story about the dangers of getting what you wished for.
"This Is the Road" is one of my favorite Silverberg stories. It's hard not to see this tale of a motley band of future human subspecies, fleeing before the barbarian invasion of yet another, as a metaphor for life and the chaos in Silverberg's own life at the time. Some adopt to the new circumstances. Some refuse to.
"Born with the Dead" is Silverberg's nova story, Silverberg at the height of his power. It is justly regarded a masterpiece. In a near future where the dead are "rekindled" and form a separate society of their own, a man obsessively seeks to understand and know his dead wife's new existence. A story of such precisely controlled tone and so lacking in rationalizing technology or science babble that it has as much the flavor of a weird story as of science fiction.
"In the House of the Double Mind" looks at the consequences of the then trendy notion of split-brain research. (This is also the basis of Philip K. Dick's masterpiece, A Scanner Darkly, from about the same time.) The charges of its heroines are all potential oracles. The promising ones will have the tissues connecting the hemispheres of their brains severed. The ones who don't make the cut will get "culled".
All stories worth reading except "A Sea of Faces".
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