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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (viii)

This week contribution to Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times started by Judith and taken up by Katrina.

This shelf is full of SF books by Robert Silverberg.

He is my second favourite SF writer. (Ursula le Guin is my favourite but due to the way my books are shelved hers are not to the fore.)

The photo is a crop of the one I featured on 16/8/20. As a result it’s a bit blurry.

Science Fiction Books, Robert Silverberg

There’s stuff here from Silverberg’s glory days; Thorns, Nightwings, The Man in the Maze – the one that persuaded me to persevere with SF when I was on the point of stopping reading in the genre – Tower of Glass, A Time of Changes – “My Name is Kinnall Darrival and I mean to tell you all about myself. Obscene! Obscene!” – Dying Inside. Then there’s the much later Kingdoms of the Wall (see my take on its first paragraph here.)

Looking at the photo I see the books aren’t quite shelved im my usual order system, probably due to them getting mixed up a bit in the house move – six and a half years ago now. Time flies.

Hey! A list!

I’ve just discovered through Ian Sales’s blog that the BBC has produced a list of “100 Books that Shaped our World.” It’s as idiosyncratic as any such list always is.

Ian has started a list of his own (with different criteria) of which you can see the first instalment via the link above. Nina Allan has also published her own list.

I doubt that I could go up to anything like 100 on the books that shaped me and my reading so I’m not even going to try except to say my love of Science Fiction was engendered by reading the SF of Captain W E Johns and Patrick Moore out of the children’s section of Dumbarton Library (in the basement, accessed via an outside door) and, once I’d graduated to the adult floor, the yellow covered Gollancz hardbacks.

Two exceptions.

I was about to give up reading SF when I read Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze. It’s not his best but it’s one from the 1960s, in the “revival” stage of his career after he came back to SF and wrote stories the way they ought to be done – as distinct from the less considered works he’d written in the 1950s. It made me realise that SF could be literature.

So too, in spades, did Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Of the BBC’s list the ones I’ve read are in bold (19.) If I’ve read one or part of a series it’s in italics (2.) Some others here are on my tbr pile.

Identity
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Small Island – Andrea Levy
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Love, Sex & Romance
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Forever – Judy Blume
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Riders – Jilly Cooper
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Far Pavilions – M. M. Kaye
The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
The Slaves of Solitude – Patrick Hamilton

Adventure
City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Mr Standfast – John Buchan
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

Life, Death & Other Worlds
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri
Dune – Frank Herbert
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis
The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman
The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Politics, Power & Protest
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman
Strumpet City – James Plunkett
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Unless – Carol Shields

Class & Society
A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
Poor Cow – Nell Dunn
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Coming of Age
Emily of New Moon – L. M. Montgomery
Golden Child – Claire Adam
Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell
Swami and Friends – R. K. Narayan
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling
The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
The Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer

Family & Friendship
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

Middlemarch – George Eliot
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
The Witches – Roald Dahl

Crime & Conflict
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
American War – Omar El Akkad
Ice Candy Man – Bapsi Sidhwa
Rebecca -Daphne du Maurier
Regeneration – Pat Barker
The Children of Men – P.D. James
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
The Quiet American – Graham Greene

Rule Breakers
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville
Habibi – Craig Thompson
How to be Both – Ali Smith
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse
The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

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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