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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: 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 Rich Horton

The Last Song of Orpheus Robert Silverberg's career hardly needs much elaboration from me at this stage. He's been publishing for nearly 60 years now. He's an SFWA Grand Master. Besides exceptional fiction he has also been a major contributor to SF as an editor, and he has written plenty of significant non-fiction, mostly popular science and history. Novels like Dying Inside and A Time of Changes, and short works like "Passengers," "Nightwings," and "Schwartz Between the Galaxies" remain central to the field.

His career has had several distinct phases. He began as a facile and improbably prolific writer of mostly fairly ordinary -- but ever competent -- stuff. He left the field in the early 60s to concentrate on nonfiction, and on his return produced a striking series of intense short stories and novels -- during this period he had a remarkable six year stretch in which seven novels were shortlisted for the Nebula. (In the same period, a mere six novels made the Hugo shortlist.) Then, in the mid-70s, he retired from SF again, returning in a while with some of his most commercially successful work, such as Lord Valentine's Castle, and with a continued consistent output of enjoyable, often excellent, novels and short stories. Finally, over the past decade or so, his output has decreased -- no novels since 2003, for instance. But, in what might be called a graceful semi-retirement, he continues to regularly contribute enjoyable and elegant stories to magazines and anthologies, as well as a monthly column for Asimov's.

The Last Song of Orpheus, then, is as far as I can tell, his longest work since his 2003 novel Roma Eterna. It is a retelling of the life of the demigod Orpheus, in the first person. As such it recalls earlier Silverberg works such as Gilgamesh, and also stuff like Ursula K. Le Guin's remarkable recent novel Lavinia. Like those novels, this novella at the same time remains fairly faithful to its source material and yet adds much new, mostly due to the voice of the author.

This work isn't the equal of Lavinia, mind you, but very little is. Rather it is an enjoyable and very smoothly written recounting of Orpheus's life (or, as Orpheus would have it, one cycle of his ever-recurring life). The book tells most of the familiar stories about him, particularly his musical gifts (received from Apollo), his love for Eurydice (here spelled Euridice) and his doomed trip to the Underworld to retrieve her, his study in Egypt (this last a rather minor part of the Orpheus mythos, I think), his journey on the Argo with Jason (this part more a quick retelling of Jason's story than really much to do with Orpheus), and his final fate at the hands of the Maenads. The incidents portrayed are interesting in themselves, and Silverberg's telling is worthwhile too -- a consistent nearly but perhaps not quite cynical voice and a certain amount of philosophical musing. There are no real departures from the standard tales (granting of course that these tales take many divergent forms anyway). This isn't a masterwork, no, but it's solid work from a master.

Copyright © 2010 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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