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The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued
Robert Silverberg
Subterranean Press, 392 pages

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued
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: 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 Paul Kincaid

There are several volumes already extant that purport to be part of the Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. There were problems with those earlier efforts, such as the fact that they tended to start in mid-career and ignored such pedantic issues as chronology. But their biggest problem was that none of them ever came close to completion, so Silverberg is starting again at the beginning. This, we are led to believe, is the definitive "Collected Stories."

Except, of course, it isn't.

If you pick up a volume of somebody's Collected Poems you would be entitled to expect every piece by that particular poet. Early examples of Collected Stories -- by Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon -- also followed that model. No longer. We have had several volumes of Collected Stories that fall noticeably short of such completeness; but none as dramatically so as that of Robert Silverberg. He was prolific; he began selling stories while still in college and when he left college he immediately became a full-time writer. That is an unusual career move to say the least, and it meant churning out stories at a phenomenal rate, several a week, mostly for low-paying magazines. It helped that in those days -- this volume takes us from his first short fiction sale, "Gorgon Planet," which appeared in Nebula Science Fiction in February 1954, up to 1958 when the American science fiction magazine market collapsed -- there were an awful lot of magazines, hungry for anything that came their way. The magazines weren't too fussy, and whatever his ambitions, the need to buy food and pay rent (throughout the book Silverberg talks repeatedly, indeed obsessively, about the rent on his rather classy Manhattan apartment) meant that the author was mostly giving them what they want, trashy, often pseudonymous pieces. Some of these pulp stories have already appeared in a volume from Subterranean Press (In The Beginning, February 2006, which should probably be considered a companion volume to this latest Collected Stories effort), still others have disappeared completely from ken. What remains, therefore, the 24 stories gathered here, is no more than a sample of the first five years of Silverberg's career, a Selected rather than a Collected Stories.

These are the pieces he has selected as representative of those years, certain milestones (the first published story, the first solo sale to John W. Campbell -- although the collaborative works with Randall Garrett which first saw him published by Campbell have been entirely omitted), but mainly the pieces that came closest to achieving his ambitions as a writer. He even makes the occasional claim, in the introductions that accompany these stories, that some of them might be published now. To be brutally honest, I doubt that: not only is the short fiction market considerably smaller than it was in the late-1950s, but the tropes and manners of science fiction have moved on considerably over the years. The repeated figure in which a spaceship carrying a small, troubled but resourceful crew sets down on an unknown or isolated world has virtually disappeared from the contemporary grammar of the genre.

This is, in other words, not a collection to be read for the thrills of the cutting edge, nor is it really an introduction to a writer at the peak of his form. But for anyone interested in the later work of Robert Silverberg, it is absolutely fascinating. In "Alaree," the familiar crew touch down for repairs on an uncharted planet and encounter a bright and attractive alien who refers always to himself as "we." Patiently the crew teach him to use "I," to become an individual, then watch helplessly as he dies having cut himself off from the misunderstood gestalt of his own world. In this slight, rather sentimental tale from 1956 we see the beginnings of what would grow into A Time of Changes. In "The Man Who Never Forgot" (1958) the title character finds that his infallible memory is more handicap than virtue out in the real world, and again it is possible to see here the first vague outlines of what would become Dying Inside. "There Was An Old Woman" (1958) tells of 30 clones, each raised from birth to follow a different career, and how they eventually rebel; and again there are ideas here that would surface again, in very different form, in one of the novels of Silverberg's golden period from the mid-60s to the early-70s, in this instance, Thorns. A couple of the stories here, "The Artifact Business" (1956) about a planet faking its archaeological heritage, and "Ozymandias" (1958, as by "Ivar Jorgenson") about a robot guide found on a planet dead for a million years, both display the interest in archaeology which would become such a feature of Silverberg's later work.

Again and again we find, overtly in these stories, less overtly in others, echoes of the better work that Silverberg would do later in his career. Persistently there is the interest in psychology which would underpin so many of the later fictions, often used crudely here, as in "One Way Journey" (1957) about an investigation into the childhood trauma which makes an Earthman want to remain with an ugly alien. It is salutary to realise that a story as unsubtle as this was rejected by some of the leading editors of the day because it was "too strong." Also here, among the stories consciously written in the style of science fiction's leading exponents of the day -- "World of a Thousand Colors" (1957) which is his version of Jack Vance, "The Silent Colony" (1954) written in the style of Robert Sheckley -- there are signs of his willingness to learn from non-genre writers. Notable here is "The Songs of Summer" (1956) which uses William Faulkner's technique of multiple narrators to tell the story of a manipulative urban go-getter from our modern world suddenly transported to a pastoral distant future. It is hard to realise now how unusual a device like multiple narrators was in the science fiction of only 50 years ago.

There is a willingness to look on the grim side of things, as in "The Road to Nightfall" (1958), one of the better stories in the collection even if its shocking use of cannibalism as a feature of this post-apocalyptic future is tame by modern standards. There is a willingness to experiment. And there is a consistent ambition which clearly drives most of the stories here. All of this is unusual in the pulp science fiction of the time, and while they would lead to bigger and better things for Silverberg they also mean that these early efforts still retain interest for the reader today. Though it has to be said that if this series continues, as previous attempts to produce the Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg signally failed to do, it is the later volumes that are going to be much more interesting.

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the recipient of the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. He is the co-editor of The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology.

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