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The Last Song of Orpheus
Robert Silverberg
Subterranean Press, 136 pages

Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg was born in New York City in 1935. In 1949 he started a science fiction fanzine called Spaceship and made his first professional sale to Science Fiction Adventures, a non-fiction piece called "Fanmag," in the December 1953 issue. His first professional fiction publication was "Gorgon Planet," in the February 1954 issue of the British magazine Nebula Science Fiction. His first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, was published in 1955.

In 1956 he graduated from Columbia University, with a major in Comparative Literature, and married Barbara Brown. After many sales, he earned a Hugo Award for his promise (the youngest person ever to do so). In the summer of 1955, he had moved into an apartment in New York where Randall Garrett, an established science fiction writer, lived next door; Harlan Ellison, another promising young novice, also lived in the building. Garrett introduced Silverberg to many of the prominent editors of the day, and the two collaborated on many projects, often using the name Robert Randall. He divorced his first wife in 1986 and married writer Karen Haber the following year. He now lives in the San Francisco area.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dangerous Dimensions
SF Site Review: The Last Song of Orpheus
SF Site Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 4: Trips 1972-73
SF Site Review: Son of Man
SF Site Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued
SF Site Review: Phases of the Moon
SF Site Review: Roma Eterna
SF Site Review: The Longest Way Home
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2001
SF Site Review: The Book Of Skulls
SF Site Review: Lord Prestimion
SF Site Review: Sorcerers of Majipoor
SF Site Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame
SF Site Review: The Alien Years
SF Site Review: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy
SF Site Review: The Avram Davidson Treasury
SF Site Review: Sorcerers of Majipoor

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

The Last Song of Orpheus Orpheus returns to tell his story in Robert Silverberg's The Last Song of Orpheus. This is Silverberg tuning into his melodic voice to retell the myths surrounding this character. Those familiar with Greek myth can anticipate Orpheus' dive into Hades to retrieve his beautiful Eurydice, as well as his part in the story of Jason and the Argonauts.

The story opens with the typical Greek bard's calling upon the Muse. Also, it establishes some of the themes to be visited throughout: namely, the never-ending beginning-end cycle of existence, especially for a poet bard like Orpheus. Also, Orpheus is resigned to whatever fates are laid out for him: what the gods ordained his destiny to be, he is resigned to follow. Even his journey into Hades -- however forbidden -- is preordained, just as Charon had to row him across the Styx though his inner self rebelled, and just as Orpheus had to lose Eurydice.

  "[W]e are none of us allowed the option of deviating from the track that has been laid down for us by the gods. I had to turn back for that fatal glance, just as Oedipus had to slay the old man he encountered at the crossroads and thereby set in motion the relentless machinery that the gods had devised for him."  

Being born of a god and of a mortal has split his understanding of even himself: "All that was new to me, I who had never experienced anything for the first time, for my love of Eurydice was an aspect of the mortal part of myself, which does not see things the way the divine part does."

Here, Silverberg has Orpheus anticipate/paraphrase Walt Whitman's encompassment of all of America (and humanity) in Song of Myself although he works with and against Whitman's purposes: "Do I seem to contradict myself? Yes, I do; but I embody in myself all the contradictory things that men have believed of me. I confirm nothing; I deny nothing. I am Orpheus the demigod, and you must be a demigod to comprehend what that is like to be. I will help you as much as I can; but it will not be enough."

Though Orpheus is content as a ruler, the gods send him off on an adventure with Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the great serpent. They trick the rocks that smash ships, the sirens who lure sailors to their shores, and Medea's father through Medea herself. Finally, Orpheus must meet his death. The followers of Dionysius stone him. But this end is not his ending.

The Last Song of Orpheus is very contemplative in both mood and posture. One reads stories revisiting other writers' works by seeing what was added, what taken away, what is scrawled in the margins. Any reader familiar with Silverberg's work should be curious to read this one: where is the writer going? What new themes does he tease out of these well-known Greek myths? Even deeper, what does this mean both for our contemporary society and perhaps even for the author himself, for are not this and other tales a kind of immortality, leaving and returning for new generations?

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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