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Asimov’s Jul 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jul 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s editorial1 discusses past and present winners of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 muses on Persons from Porlock and how he always took great care to allow no distractions when he was working but that Coleridge’s experience did provide him with the inspiration for his first ever sale (for $5) at the age of fifteen. Paul di Filippo’s “On Books” reviews retrospective collections from Nancy Kress and Gregory Benford, a contemporary one from Finnish writer Leena Krohn and novels by Christopher Fowler and Gene Wolfe.
In the fiction we have Suzanne Palmer’s Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man3 which is narrated by a poet set down alone on an alien planet where he discovers the nature of some of its alien life.
Both Filtered4 by Leah Cypess andMasked5 by Rich Larson are typical ‘push current trends to their logical conclusion’ SF stories. In the former a journalist tries to get his story about the manipulation of everyone’s communication feeds by filter programmes through the filters. The latter has teenagers constantly surrounded by a cloud of appearance created to enhance their real selves. One of them, Vera, has been affected by a virus which turned the “cover” off.
Project Entropy5, the latest of the series of stories in Asimov’s by Dominica Phetteplace, explores the ramifications of Angelina having had her Watcher chip removed and the implications of such AIs. Curiously flat in execution.
In Jack Skillingstead’s The Savior Virus6 a biologist who lost his legs in a terrorist bombing engineers a virus to remove the notion of God from people’s minds.
In Nobody Like Josh7 by Robert Thurston Josh is a town’s secret alien whose spaceship crashed before the narrator was born. This story is curiously similar in premise to I married a Monster from Outer Space which appeared in Asimov’s March 2016 issue, but isn’t anything like as affective or effective.
Webs by Mary Anne Mohanraj is set around the prejudice of ordinary humans on a colony world towards those with adaptations.
In Lost: Mind by Will McIntosh a man has to search for the missing parts of his wife’s downloaded mind after they are stolen. The story is marred by a continuity error in the last quarter page which totally undermines verisimilitude.

1 graduating with a duel major (dual,) Joan Sloncewski (the correct spelling, Slonczewski, is used later in the piece.) 2 Samuel Purchas’ (Purchas’s,) 3 beside (besides,) to not spend (not to spend,) “how good he has always been about putting off things” (about putting things off.) 4matrixes (matrices.) 5Lawless’ (Lawless’s.) 5 canvasses (canvases.) 6 symptoms would manifest in mild cold-like symptoms. 7 crashed-landed (crash-landed.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Jun 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Jun 2016 cover

The fourth issue of this year’s subscription. In the editorial Sheila Williams introduces the magazine’s background staff. Robert Silverberg’s column describes his discovery of the utility of a smartphone. (He still doesn’t own one though.) In On the NET James Patrick Kelly discusses the back and present catalogue of stories set on Mars in the light of encouraging real space missions. Norman Spinrad’s excellent Book Review essay reflects on the difficulties of representing quantum reality (his preferred term for quantum mechanics) in fictional form and the necessity to treat the reader fairly vis-à-vis recent developments in astronomy.

As for the fiction:-
Clearance by Sarah Pinsker sees a tooth gel saleswoman discover the delights of holidays in different realities.
In Unreeled by Mercurio D Rivera the husband of a streamer (people whose consciousnesses are beamed across the universe then brought back again) finds his wife’s behaviour has altered as a result of a trip to a black hole. The denouement seemed a trifle rushed.
Rambunctious by Rick Wilber is a tale of an overly-gifted young girl whose family harbours a secret. I was reminded (a bit) of Zenna Henderson’s stories of The People.
Project Symmetry by Dominica Phetteplace sees a woman’s Watcher chip help her to come to terms with her life. This story didn’t really add much to what we already knew about the author’s fictional universe.
In Rats Dream of the Future by Paul McAuley a researcher tries to get rats to predict the future in order to make stock market killings.
What We Hold Onto by Jay O’Connell is set in a climate changed world where some cities have been inundated. A woman enlists a Nomad (a group of stateless licensed helpers) to deal with her dying mother’s estate. In essence an extended love story.

Pedant’s corner:- phase (I prefer faze for this sense, though apparently phase is an acceptable US usage,) laying down with (lying down with,) flack (flak,) patinaed (patinated,) Chthulu (Cthulhu,) sat (sitting; or seated,) Nils Bor (Nils Bohr,) a “neither…. or” rather than neither … nor, “summarizing .. for or readers” (omit “or”,) daring-do (this is the first time I have seen this formulation but it is indeed the original which was mistaken as a noun in itself and so has long been rendered as derring-do,) charactarogical (characterogical, surely?)

Asimov’s Science Fiction, Double Issue April-May 2016

Dell Magazines, 192 p.

Asimov's Apr-May 2016 cover

The third issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. In the guest editorial Charlie Jane Anders takes issue with the myth that novels and short stories can’t be written equally well by the same author. In his column Robert Silverberg muses on the possibility that there was not one Trojan War but several, not one Homer but many, writing down their accounts over centuries before it was all drawn into one after Greek script evolved from Phœnician. In the fiction:-
Matilda by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.1 Matilda is a single ship. She likes being piloted by Devi. The feeling is not mutual. Yet in conflict against the CeaWayLaVi they must act in concert.
Three Paintings by James van Pelt. An artist worried about going stale conceives a plan to be backed up, cut himself off from the world, paint and then kill himself, be restored, paint again, kill his new self, and repeat the cycle once more. His commercial partner gets greedy.
In The Days of Hamelin by Robert Reed2 children between the ages of five and eighteen start to die of ruptured arteries. For obvious reasons the virus responsible comes to be known as Hamelin. The few child survivors evolve a mordant philosophy.
The Return of Black Murray by Alexander Jablokov3 sees three former high school friends return to the scene of an incident from their senior year. Black Murray is a giant moray eel; or its simulation. The payoff here does not justify the story’s length.
Starless Night by Robert R Chase is a tale of the response of Earth colonies to invasion from Sagittarius.
Project Synergy by Dominica Phetteplace4 is another of the author’s stories featuring Watcher chips. Here the chip wants to acquire a body of its own, which is highly illegal.
Flame Trees by T R Napper.5 The titular trees are a nostalgic trigger for a war veteran whose memories are about to be wiped for committing an act of violence.
A Flight From the Ages by Derek Künsken6 spans the lifetime of the universe. In 3113 AD a weapon starts to dissolve space-time. Over succeeding multi-millennia efforts are made to escape its expanding wave-front and make the universe into a Klein bottle – all mediated through the experiences of AIs. Very dry indeed.
Of the Beast in the Belly by C W Johnson.7 The belly is that of an arcthant. Nawiz and, Janum, the man she is chasing for revenge purposes, have been swallowed by the huge sea creature. Inside its array of increasingly acidic stomachs exist a number of different societies, scraping a living from the (part) digested contents.
In Woman in the Reeds by Esther M Friesner8 the woman has been feigning madness to avoid the attentions of Pharaoh’s slave overseers and collecting the bones of dead children from the Nile in order to gain the power to restore her own dead son. She refuses the demands of the god Set to hand over a baby she finds floating in a bulrush basket.
Lazy Dog Out by Suzanne Palmer.9 The Lazy Dog is Khifi’s salvage ship. Khifi gets implicated in a plot to take over her habitat and uses the ship to frustrate it. There is an incident here of summary justice (which in my view is never acceptable – even for the supposed good guys. When you think clearly about it, summary justice is no justice at all.)

Pedant’s corner:- 1overlaying (overlying,) 2US spelling of practice and practicing for the verb practise (plus points though for “hanged himself”,) 3vortexes (vortices,) according the Pete (according to Pete,) “The girls squealed satisfyingly and moved closer to me and Myron” (? This would have been difficult. They were in separate boats,) 4terrariums (terraria,) “The long skirt of her skirt grazes the floor” (how about “her long skirt grazes the floor”??) “Often times” (oftentimes is USian I know but isn’t it usually one word?) 5bowls green (USian? we would say bowling green,) 6Poluphemos’ (Poluphemos’s,) Ulixes’ (Ulixes’s,) even less processing sources (even fewer,) 7a pack of sea-jackals were attacking (a pack was,) “with out of his large hands” (with one of his large hands,) Nawiz laid down (lay down,) maw was used here several times: fine; the story takes place inside stomachs, 8Osiris’ (Osiris’s,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) 9locii (loci, or even locuses,) Candles’ (x 3; Candles is one if the characters, so Candles’s – which was used once!) “cut the freighter’s main engines, flipped on the brakers.” (Space-ships have brakes? Which can work when the main engines have shut off?) maw (it’s a stomach; not a mouth,) “behind them in a semicircle was Redrum, Jonjon and Inchbug” (behind them were.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2016

Dell Magazines, 112 p.

Asimov's Mar 2016 cover

The second issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. Robert Silverberg describes how Walter de la Mare’s story The Three Mulla-Mulgars, read in his youth and many times since, inspired him and fed into his fiction. James Patrick Kelly’s internet overview discusses the pros and cons of reading and writing a series of books.1 In the fiction:-
The Bewilderness of Lions by Ted Kosmatka.2 A data cruncher who can predict scandals goes to work for a politician. Then she is contacted by the people who really run things. Another story which panders to the secret-conspiracy-that-rules-the-world tendency.
The Ship Whisperer by Julie Novakova. An expedition to a black dwarf (which shouldn’t exist) discovers a device that can alter the rate of change of time. The titular character can “talk” to quantum computers, enabling the story’s resolution.
A Partial List of Lists I Have Lost Over Time by Sunil Patel is a series of listicles. I believe it is supposed to be humorous. The author seems to have a particular thing about kale.
Project Empathy by Dominica Phetteplace is about trends, moving elsewhere then finding the norms are different, plus there are Watcher chips inside people’s heads.
Do Not Forget Me by Ray Nayler3 is a story in the Eastern tradition, of tales within the tale – four embedded narratives here – the central one being about a man who doesn’t age. There is nothing really noteworthy here though.
A Little Bigotry by R Neube.4 An ex-soldier down on her uppers is reduced to accepting a contract to be an escort to a former enemy. A fine enough story but reminiscent of Barry B Longyear’s Enemy Mine. Then again, I suppose the point about enemies being worthy of understanding always bears repeating.
New Earth by James Gunn.5 A colony ship from a more-or-less destroyed Erath has reached a new planetary home. Choices and dangers must be faced.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space by Dale Bailey6 is narrated by a woman who takes home an alien who came into the Walmart she works in. This at first unpromising – clichéd even – scenario is, though, only scaffolding over what eventually becomes an affecting tale of love, loss and redemption. I note the references by Bailey – via the narrator’s surname (Sheldon,) her dead daughter Alice and her comment on her status as an invisible woman – to the career of James Tiptree Jr.

Pedant’s corner:- In the editorial; definine (define,) chose (choose,) Lawrence Watt Evans tale (Evans’s,) 1 ambiance (ambience,) 2 she could feel it siding in her fingers (sliding makes more sense,) lobyists (lobbyists,) 3 lay about (lie about.) 4 license (licence,) maw used for mouth (maw means stomach,) accurst (accursed,) 5mentions trees that are not-quite-trees but one of the characters says multi-cellular life hasn’t evolved there. Trees are multi-cellular; the fern-like structures subsequently described would be also. 6Bug-Eyes’ (it’s singular; so Bug-Eyes’s,) Hastings’ (Hastings’s,) laying (lying; plus lay for lie,) breath in (breathe in.) In Paul di Filippo’s book reviews; stefnal to mean science-fictional, a usage I had not come across before, whereas sfnal I was familiar with.

Asimov’s Science Fiction, February 2016

Dell Magazines, 112 p.

Asimov's Feb 2016 cover

The first issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. In his column Robert Silverberg remembers the pulp days. As to the fiction:-
The Grocer’s Wife [enhanced transcription] by Michael Libling.1 Andrew Phillips works for a government agency overseeing the mental deterioration of various subjects. His latest, a grocer named Thomas Bonner, gets to him, or rather the devotion of Bonner’s wife does. The deterioration process mimics Alzheimer’s but is induced by the government to drain the brains of its victims. Waffle about JFK and President Bush aside quite how and why the government should feel the need to do this remains obscure.
Bringing Them Back by Bruce McAllister. A man tries to bring back all the creatures lost to environmental stress and targeted viral outbreaks by drawing them onto paper. The story is complete with illustrations purporting to be these drawings. The last of them (he cannot bring himself to draw his wife) are of his children and himself.
In Equity by Sarah Gallien.2 An orphaned child goes to his latest placement interview with little hope of acceptance. His prospective adopters want him to be subject to unfettered medical trials in exchange for the best education.
Passion Summer by Nick Wolven.3 A Passion can be bought but is usually fleeting. Fourteen year-old Jeffrey decides to ask for a Passion for Passion itself.
Exceptional Forces by Sean McMullen narrates the tale of a Russian scientist who detected carrier wave background noise in the Andromeda galaxy (evidence of alien radio transmissions) and the contract killer sent to silence him. The story panders to the secret-conspiracy-that-rules-the-world tendency.
The Monster of 1928 by Sandra McDonald is an unexceptional fantasy tale. The monster of the title is Tulu, the legend of the Everglades, encountered one night by narrator Louise.
The Charge and the Storm by An Owomoyela.4 On a colony formed by a starship community but dominated by the alien Su a group of humans seeks independence.

Pedant’s corner:- 1 skullduggery (skulduggery,) 2 sprung (sprang,) unpixilated (pixilated means bemused or intoxicated, context suggests unpixelated,) 3 gladiolas (gladioli,) Diedre (Deirdre,) 4 missing comma before a speech quote, to not die (not to die.)

Shadow on the Stars by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 98 p.

Shadow on the Stars cover
 Shadow on the Stars cover

This novel originally appeared as Stepsons of Terra in 1958 (see cover left – though that looks like a 1970s printing.) It was republished as Shadow on the Stars in 2000 (cover on right.)

It is typical early Silverberg, a potboiler with little in the way of characterisation. Baird Ewing has been sent from the former Earth colony world of Corwin, under threat from the Klodni, who have stormed into the Milky Way from the Andromeda Galaxy, to seek help from the mother world against the invaders. When he arrives he finds Earth is no longer a vibrant planet. It has no military and is itself about to be subjugated by humans from another ex-colony round Sirius. Very soon he is accused of spying on the Sirians and made captive but is strangely rescued when about to be mind-probed. There follows a tale of time travel and paradox wherein lies the solution to all his problems.

For Silverberg completists only.

Pedant’s corner:- “I’m a stabilized orbit” (I’m in a stabilized orbit,) sprung (sprang is used later!!) “showed seemingly, genuine confusion” (no comma, or an extra one before seemingly,) Mellis’ (Mellis’s,) “the past three of four days” (three or four,) a missing full stop, “felt the transition from now minus three microseconds (as I understood it, it would have been now plus three microseconds,) insure (ensure.) A “time interval later” count of 8.
At one point Baird goes back in time and looks at his watch; which now shows a time earlier than when he left. A mechanical or electrically driven watch could not possibly do this. The only way it could happen would be if the watch were set (and updated) remotely, say by microwave. There was no mention of the watch working via such an external signal.

David Mitchell and Ursula Le Guin

David Mitchell (for my reviews of whose Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet click on the links) has written an article very appreciative of Ursula Le Guin and published in Saturday’s Guardian. It seems it was Le Guin who inspired Mitchell to become a writer.

Well, there’s always someone to blame. In my case it was Robert Silverberg; but Le Guin came a close second – and that only because I came to her later.

Mitchell puts Le Guin’s Earthsea in the Fantasy world’s super league along with Tolkein and now George RR Martin. He argues Earthsea is a superior creation to Middle Earth. Since I never managed to get past book one of Lord of the Rings (probably because I came to it in my late rather than early teens) I would have to concur.

Though Mitchell doesn’t actually rank them against each other I would also place Earthsea above Martin’s Westeros since that world is too focused on violence and its source material is more obvious. Le Guin’s seems to have sprung out of her own imagination and experiences.

The first book in Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence has apparently now been given a Folio Society edition.

Asimov’s Science Fiction Jun 2015

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Jun 2015 cover

This magazine is more weighted to fiction than Analog though there are non-fiction pieces. Kathleen Ann Goonan’s guest editorial describes SF as a literature that asks Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? – thus adding two additional questions to the one most literature addresses – Robert Silverberg’s Reflections goes over the history of predictions of the end of the world and of apocalyptic SF while James Patrick Kelly’s On The Net: an Optimist’s Tale argues that modern day SF is not as pessimistic as some in Project Hieroglyph present.
As to the fiction, there is less cleaving of the paper light years in Asimov’s than there was in Analog, notwithstanding the first story The End of the War by Django Wexler, wherein two remnants of humanity called Minoans and Circeans fight a proxy war on derelict spaceships left over from the main battles by means of pilot-controlled salvage/manufactory devices. The opposing pilots have conversations as they fight over the remains.1 Henry Lien’s The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society has two society ladies in what seems the nineteenth century trying to find the favour of Mrs Ava Vanderbilt by means of elaborate gardens. They take it too far.2 Mutability by Ray Nayler sees a couple meet for the first time in a café – four hundred years after being photographed together. Indrapramit Das’s The Muses of Shuyedan-18 features two human women who are witnessed having sex by the huge alien of the title which reproduces them in a carving on its back.3 The titular characters in M Bennardo’s Ghosts of the Savannah are two prehistoric women hunters who don’t want to settle to a life of domesticity and child-bearing. Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker is the tour bus for the band Cassis Fire, who are rare hold-outs still playing real gigs in a world where entertainment has been cornered by the corporate might of StageHolo.4

Pedant’s corner:-
1 the compute power (twice!! “computing power” is so much less ugly,) to go to particular place (a particular place,) “slingshot” as the preterite of the verb (slungshot? slingshotted? But then I suppose USians use fit as a past tense,) the maze of room and corridors (this ship had corridors but only one room?)
2 hostess’ (hostess’s,) the USianism “dove” for “dived”, plus the story jumps from Chapter VII to IX with no sign of VIII.
3 chord (cord,) in a way the human brain will remind of our own architectures (will be reminded of.)
4 in the cards (on the cards.)

Starhaven by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 90 p. First published as Starhaven, 1958, as by Ivar Jorgensen.

Starhaven cover

Another of Silverberg’s early potboilers. Here Johnny Mantell, former researcher at Klingsan Defence Systems but for seven years a beachcomber on the planet Mulciber, has to flee justice when a tourist picks a fight with him and dies. He steals a spaceship and heads for Starhaven, “a sanctuary for people like us, who couldn’t make the grade or fit in with organised society. Drifters and crooks and has-beens can go to Starhaven.” This criminal’s planet was built and is ruled with an iron hand by Ben Thurdan. The premise is that all the criminal tendencies cancel each other out and so a sort of law prevails. Starhaven’s constitution is simple, “Expect the same treatment that you hand out to others,” and “ You’ll do whatever Ben Thurdan tells you to do without, argument, question, or hesitation.”

On arrival Mantell is subjected to a psychprobe, which reveals him to have an unusual level of will but also to be guilty of the murder of which he remembers himself innocent. Soon after, Mantell begins to be struck by episodes in which he is not quite himself. Thurdan employs him to build a personal defence screen to prevent assassination. Meanwhile Mantell is much taken by Thurdan’s assistant Myra and also gradually finds himself drawn into a plot to remove Thurdan from power.

Of its time and far from Silverberg’s 60s heights. I only read it for completist reasons.

Pedant’s corner:- one count of Thurban for Thurdan, several of quotation marks missing, “Only there was a pink blur waiting for him in this one.” ???? “He ducked, swept it under his mighty fumbling paws,” – I have no idea what the antecedent of that “it” might have been. I note here that Silverberg, too, could employ “time interval” later.

The Chalice of Death by Robert Silverberg

In “The Chalice of Death,” Planet Stories, 2012, 91 p. First published as Lest We Forget Thee, Earth, 1958, as by Calvin M Knox.

Lest We Forget Thee Earth cover
 The Chalice of Death cover

This book is (dis)graced by one of the most execrable covers (right) it is possible to imagine. I felt ashamed buying it. Still, I suppose it reflects the times in which the story was first published – though the original Ace Double cover (left) is more restrained. Silverberg is of course one of my SF immortals and the book contains two other early works of his which I shall get round to later. Not that his early stuff is necessarily of great quality; he fairly churned it out. It was only when he came back to the field in the late 1960s that his genius shone through. It is to him, specifically his The Man in the Maze, that my continuing reading of SF beyond that date is due.

In The Chalice of Death, Earth, once the centre of a great galactic empire, has been lost in the mists of time but nevertheless Earthmen act as advisors to the rulers on many of the planets. Hallam Navarre acts as one such to Joroiran VII on the planet Jorus. His rival advisor, the Lyrellan Kausirn, takes advantage of a minor slip to lever Navarre away from influence. As a result Navarre is sent by Joroirdan to locate the eponymous chalice, in the hope it will grant eternal life to the ruler. Since it doesn’t exist that represents a problem. Navarre and his companions, one a half-breed Earthman, the other, Helna Wistin a (female) advisor to the ruler of Kariad, nevertheless find Earth within a chapter or so and a vault there where survivors from the time of supremacy have been kept in suspended animation over the millenia. They hatch a plot to revive Earth’s fortunes and the remainder of the story follows that process.

On even the most cursory examination most of this falls apart. Since we only meet two actual full blood Earthmen (which is the generic term adopted throughout) it is difficult to see how the race has managed to propagate itself over the years – still less for individuals to accede to their positions as advisors. The slightly unsavoury assumption that Earthmen (it’s got me at it now) are intrinsically better than the universe’s other inhabitants was also unexceptional back in the 1950s. And it was amusing to find Navarre using a slide rule for a calculation. But none of this is the point. This is pulp adventure stuff and can only be read as such. No pretentions to characterisation need apply; nor any consideration of literary merit. I read it as a would-be Silverberg completist, without high expectation. I wasn’t disappointed. Nothing could dim my memories of Silverberg’s glory period.

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