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The Alien Years
Robert Silverberg
HarperPrism Books, 428 pages


Michael Herring
The Alien Years
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
Robert Silverberg Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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There are times when an author disguises the intent or purpose of his or her work. Other times, they come right out and tell you. Early in The Alien Years, Anson Carmichael III, a retired Colonel and expert in foreign psychologies, is watching television as the news that alien spacecraft are landing in all the major cities of Earth arrives. Stunned, he recalls that the only science fiction novel he ever read was H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and that he had enjoyed everything about the book except the ending. The War of the Worlds had posed the question "What do you do when you find yourself up against an utterly unbeatable enemy?", and then, in the Colonel's opinion, had supplied no useful answer. For a writer as prolific, respected, and experienced as Robert Silverberg, the Colonel's musings amount to flaming letters in the sky. What exactly do you do against an utterly unbeatable enemy?

And it quickly becomes apparent that that is exactly what the Entities are. Refusing all attempts by human beings to communicate with them, they simply take over, and humans are quickly relegated to the status of a second rate species on our own planet.

There is, of course, a resistance. That is where the Carmichael family comes in. Situated on their ranch in the mountains of eastern California, they are able to maintain a somewhat independent existence, and quickly become leaders of the resistance movement. It is a frustrating occupation.

The various efforts to fight against the Entities can be read in part as a parody of standard SF ideas of high tech warfare. Orbiting laser beams, assassins with unusual mental abilities, and borderline criminal computer hackers are all enlisted in the cause, with results that vary from totally ineffective to disastrous. The Carmichaels are involved either peripherally or directly in all these actions.

Indeed, The Alien Years is as much a multi-generation family epic as it is a novel of alien invasion. Instead of taking the wide-screen cinematic approach common to most disaster novels, and other invasion stories like Niven and Pournelle's Footfall, Silverberg focuses our attention on the activities of the Carmichael family. Scattered and splintered along generational lines at the beginning, the family is forced to pull together in the face of the new reality. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Instead of stereotyped characters meant to give us an impression of what is happening in many different places, we get to know the characters as real people with talents and faults. The disadvantage is that much of what we learn about what is happening in the rest of the world comes at us second-hand, as news filters through to the Carmichael ranch. The exceptions are interludes that tell the story of Khalid Burke, a half-Pakistani child in England, and Karl-Heinrich Borgmann, a computer genius from Prague, who sells his services to the Entities.

Many readers will find sections of The Alien Years to be familiar. Parts of the novel have previously been published as short stories, most recently "Beauty in the Night", collected in David Hartwell's Year's Best SF 3. This is fitting, though, in that The Alien Years is very much the work of an old master re-examining one of the classic themes of science fiction. The result is a novel that doesn't so much break new ground as it asks us to take another look at the assumptions that lie behind many stories of encounters between humans and whatever waits for us out there in the rest of the universe. Silverberg narrates an entertaining and compelling story, while at the same time taking obvious delight in standing several science fiction conventions on their heads. Readers of The Alien Years will find plenty to enjoy in the story, with just enough commentary on the human condition to keep them thinking after the story ends.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson thinks that many science fiction fans will be discussing the meaning and effectiveness of the ending of The Alien Years over the coming months. He believes that the biggest clue to what happens can be found in the initials TTD.


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