WHEN THE BLUE SHIFT COMES
by Robert Silverberg & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The idea behind the Stellar Guild series published by Arc Manor is that an established author will write a novella and then mentor an up-and-coming author who will write a sequel or parallel story. While this model worked well for the first three books in the series, it falls apart with When the Blue Shift Comes, in which Robert Silverberg mentors Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. The problem isn't that Silverberg and Zinos-Amaro don't work as a team, they actually do quite well, but rather instead of being two related novellas, Silverberg provided Zinos-Amaro with an unfinished story and Zinos-Amaro had to provide an ending to Silverberg's tale.
In a future so distant that the time separating it from us isn't intelligible, Hanosz Prime of Prime learns of the pending destruction of Earth and spurred on by the reports of Zereshk Poloi, a traveler to his court, decides he should relinquish his crown to his younger brother and make a pilgrimage to Earth. On Earth, Hanosz plans to make the acquaintance of Kaivilda, about whose beauty Poloi has brought tales. Silverberg incorporates an all knowing narrator who directly addresses the reader in a manner which almost seems as if Silverberg is incorporating notes to be fleshed out as more standard exposition. He turns this introduction over to Zinos-Amaro to not only provide a conclusion, but to incorporate a plot.
Zinos-Amaro takes over Hanosz Prime's story shortly after his arrival on a strangely unpopulated Earth. He manages to mirror Silverberg's experimental narrative style quite well, beginning with the same type of rhetorical flourishes Silverberg engaged in. However, Zinos-Amaro builds on the foundation Silverberg has given him by introducing more of a plot. The universe is coming to an end and the Oracle says that Hanosz Prime will save it, and will also destroy it, a nice piece of self-contradictory prophecy. Along they way, he finds himself allied with Kaivilda and her father, as well as a few others, but also facing the threat of assassination. This is handled well, but ultimately, even with the fate of the universe at risk, When the Blue Shift Comes never quite engages the reader. It is possible that by trying to make the far distant future so alien, and the humans able to alter themselves at will, Silverberg and Zinos-Amaro make the characters somewhat unrelatable to a twentieth century human. Similarly, the lack of detectable population in this soon-to-be-destroyed universe also tends to lower the stakes.
In his afterward, Silverberg explains that he originally conceived When the Blue Shift Comes to be the opening gambit in a multi-volume series about the end of the universe. His attempts to complete the work were unsuccessful, although after a twenty year gestational period, a portion of it was published in Asimov's in 2006 as "Hanosz Prime Goes to Old Earth."1 When approached by the editors of the Stellar Guild series, Silverberg dusted off his manuscript and recruited Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, a fan with whom Silverberg had struck up a friendship, to finish the story. Silverberg's stylistic choices, along with the ambition of the topic, could not have been an easy puzzle for Zinos-Amaro to solve, but he manages to recreate Silverberg's voice, add a plot to Silverberg's more vague scene setting, and bring about a conclusion, which, if not as strong as one might wish, is better than the material may have expected.
1Asimov's, April 2006.
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