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The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg:
Volume 6, Multiples, 1983-1987

Robert Silverberg
Subterranean Press, 432 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: The Last Song of Orpheus
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 D. Douglas Fratz

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The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg: Volume 6, Multiples, 1983-1987 It is easy to argue that over the past five decades, Robert Silverberg has been the field's most prolific author of superior science fiction of all lengths, especially short fiction. Although Silverberg's short fiction has been featured in a number of previous collections -- some of which have been retrospective volumes with titles that include "best of" or "collected stories" -- this new Subterranean Press series of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg is a welcome and necessary addition to the library of any science fiction reader.

This sixth volume covers the mid-1980s, a very productive period in Silverberg's career. These works show a mature science fiction writer at the top of his craft. It is important to understand that this series is not the complete stories of Robert Silverberg -- which would have been of unmanageable size -- but most of his short fiction work from this five-year period is included here, and all fourteen stories are of amazingly high quality. In this post-initial-Lord-Valentine-novels period, Silverberg was not an innovator per se, but these stories demonstrate his mastery of using the existing themes and tropes of science fiction to invoke profound emotion and intellectual effects. Although the stories vary greatly in their length, setting and tone, there are many themes and tropes recurring across stories.

One of the tropes seen in several stories is tourism -- being a stranger in a strange land. "Tourists" is an evocative story set in a near-future Morocco about alien tourists who visit Earth to obtain unique human art and antiquities. "Sailing to Byzantium" is a brilliant novella about far-future tourists (and one 20th-century man accompanying them) visiting fully recreated cities of the ancient world. "Blindsight" -- which was later incorporated into the novel Hot Sky at Midnight -- is set on a future independent L5 colony that serves as a haven for various legal refugees, and involves a local guide (called a courier) hired by a strange visitor who has no eyes but can see nonetheless, and is seeking someone hiding there. "Gilgamesh in the Outback" is another brilliant novella written in homage to Robert E. Howard's fantasy adventure fiction, with a setting similar to Philip José Farmer's Riverworld, and protagonists that include REH himself, as well as H.P. Lovecraft, and a variety of other reborn characters, including Gilgamesh, Prestor John, Kubla Khan and Albert Schweitzer.

Another recurring trope is minds sharing a single body. In the thoughtful and emotionally evocative title story, "Multiples", multiple personality "disorder" is normal, and indeed a desired state, creating an effective metaphor for the loneliness experienced by socially isolated individuals. In "Symbiont" the experience of having another being -- in this case an amoral alien one -- inhabiting one's mind and body is far less copacetic in this dark future of interplanetary war that reminds of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. But perhaps the best of the sharing-minds stories is the brilliant novella "The Secret Sharer" -- written in homage to the classic tale of nautical intrigue by Joseph Conrad -- which concerns the rogue-stored mind of a young teenage passenger seeking refuge within the mind of the young male starship captain. The characters face moral choices similar to those seen in the classic 50s science fiction story, "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin.

Another common trope is inexplicable aliens. In addition to "Tourist Trade" and "Symbiont" noted above, "Against Babylon" (also later included in The Alien Years) is a story about aliens hovering above Los Angeles where they inadvertently are creating brush fires, told from the viewpoint of one of the pilots involved in fighting the fires, and the desire of his young wife to accompany the aliens. "Sunrise on Pluto" is a short story on the discovery of apparent life on that planet, used as a springboard for considering the nature and implications of life. In "Hardware" the alien is an ancient artificial intelligence found in the asteroid belt that is left over from the destruction of Sol's ancient fifth planet. "Hannibal's Elephants" (again later incorporated into the underappreciated novel The Alien Years) tells the dark, sardonic story of aliens landing in Manhattan's Central Park, and the strange reactions it causes on residents of that city. In "The Pardoner's Tale" (again part of The Alien Years), Silverberg's self-described "cyberpunk" story, the aliens in Los Angeles (and other cities) have forced humans to build literal walls around the city and a clever human hacker is in the illegal business of selling "pardons" so individuals can escape.

A final common theme in this period is morality and difficult moral choices. In addition to several stories noted above, "The Iron Star" involves two human starships investigating the site of recent supernovae that have formed a neutron star orbiting a black hole, and the revealing story learned from an alien ship that also arrives that evokes difficult moral issues. The final story in the volume is the brilliant "House of Bones" about a time-traveling anthropologist marooned among a prehistoric ice age tribe in which he must be accepted to survive while awaiting rescue.

Virtually all of the stories included in this volume were amongst the best science fiction written in the mid-1980s, and many were indeed nominated and/or won various awards. Robert Silverberg has created here tales of emotional impact and intellectual depth that should be avidly perused by every serious science fiction reader. I look forward to future volumes in the series.

Copyright © 2012 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.


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