on June 23, 2014
The title of this review was a really difficult realisation to come to for me, since I have regarded myself as a sci-fi fan for as long as I can remember. But on the other hand, it’s a liberating realisation too: I like adventure stories, things blowing up, things dropping dead, stuff like that. The format in which that is set is sort of irrelevant: fantasy, space opera, sci-fi, James Bond, historical military fiction…its all there. Sure, there is some stuff I like that makes you think and wonder what if - and I find some of Henry Kuttner and CL Moore's stuff in that regard excellent, as well as Jack Vance, of course - but in general, works on themes, "isms" and anything slightly experimental only succeeds in boring me to the point I put the book down and walk away quickly.
I cant doubt that Silverberg is a master, and that this Sub Press series of collected works is a fantastic 8-or 9-or 10- volume set (especially at the kindle price). But when I am enjoying the introductions more than the stories, even now when Silverberg is not just writing at a penny a word for a juvenile pulp - well, that means he's writing real sci-fi of the mind, and I just cant get into it. That’s a fault in me, not in Silverberg: I did enjoy his Lord Valentine's Castle and most of his subsequent Majipoor stuff.
So ultimately, if you do like sci-fi - in all its senses, not just space opera, or robots and rayguns, but the whole mind-expanding genre, asking questions about the human condition - then this may be for you. It’s a work of ideas, and the personal history here is a fantastic resource in showing how it all was, back in the day. I'm still reading it for that alone, although I am stuck in volume 4 at present.
on January 12, 2014
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).
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)
TRIPS, volume 4, would warrant the original price of entry alone for the Nebula-Award-winning novella, "Born With the Dead". But along with that story, the reader gets "The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV", "Trips", "In the House of Double Minds" and "Schwartz Between Galaxies". Almost makes me wonder if Silverberg did mind-altering drugs. As with the previous four volumes, Silverberg includes forewords that provide insight into the craft and art of writing fiction -- not to mention this business side of things -- as well as a bit of a window onto the era know as the '60s (mid 1960s to early '70s).
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)