Last month I finished reading an anthology of science fiction short stories called Infinite Stars. One of the best was a story by Robert Silverberg. He’s widely regarded as one of the greats of the genre, yet I’d never read any of his work. It seems like he doesn’t have any single work that really gained any pop culture notoriety or even kind of a “super hit” in the world of SF. Most readers of SF can easily rattle off a list of books by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, etc. I certainly could. But until now Silverberg was not on my radar at all.
Soooooooo…after a bit of research I decided to read his novel Downward to the Earth. It appeared to be of the same bent as the short story I’d read. I must say it was quite good. I work as a librarian. I keep track of the new science fiction that comes in. It’s rare to find a new SF novel that is less than about 400 pages. It seems that everyone ones to get some of that Game of Thrones TV series type money, so nearly everything is a series as well. So it was really cool to read a novel with big ideas, communicated with style and efficiency, that was only about 250 pages long. For me that’s a 2-day read (if I’m sick, which I am right now, so I’m just laying around all day reading, suffering, or both).
Now, Downward to the Earth is very much of a book of its time. Published in 1970, you are not going to find much in the way of female characters with much to say. I’ve noticed that in more recent SF, that female part of the human race is much better represented. When you go back and read this old science fiction it’s hard not to notice this. This isn’t really a criticism of the work. Just something I thought I’d mention. Having read a bit of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and the others, I would almost say the male characters are usually kind of secondary as well. The ideas presented in these old SF novels always seem like the stars of the show. The characters are just their to explore them.
Strangely, I find that the more inclusive recent SF seems a bit devoid of interesting ideas. But maybe I’m just looking at the flashy books that show up in the library. I think that Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang, might prove me wrong. A general rule might be “if there are spaceships on the cover, don’t expect your mind to be blown, but you might enjoy it anyway.”
Anyway, back to Silverberg. I’ll probably read a bit more of his work after researching it a bit and deciding what to read.