Son of Man

Since I have a review of another Robert Silverberg collection coming up, I thought I’d talk about one of his novels.

Son of Man

Raw Feed (1993): Son of Man, Robert Silverberg, 1971.

I liked this strange, weird, surrealistic fantasy.

I liked the fact that the motives behind so many of the denizens of this far future, particularly the Skimmers and Destroyers (with their enigmatic project of spreading both ice and fire), were mysterious, unexplained like so many of the mysteries here.

I liked Clay, an enigmatic figure that we learn little about personally – he’s a stand in for our version of humanity – other than that he’s has the usual sexual fantasies and appetites, and his shock at finding nothing of our age surviving though the “humans” he meets vaguely remember hearing something about the moon being around once.

I liked how so many scenes could be delusions or reality, visions or descriptions — things like Clay’s body dissolving in a multi-chromatic, acidic river or the Earth being leveled to a smooth sphere, and the intriguing aspect of Clay being turned into a woman and having sex with male-form Skimmers (though Clay feels oddly violated).

I liked the Eaters hanging out in a subterranean city incomprehensibly described by a robot – the words are familiar mostly but the sentences make no sense.

I liked the Awaiters who sit in the ground like trees and spin nihilistic, acausual philosophies that seem beautiful to Clay when he’s in Awaiter form but pointless otherwise.

I liked the trek through the various Zones of Discomfort. It’s another example of Silverberg’s theme of loneliness and alienation.

I liked Silverberg’s style. It’s usually simple as far as word choice. He repeats the same sentence three times in many places, but the sentences often are complex compounds intermingled with simple sentences. It’s quite effective, hard to describe.

I like the many references to Clay’s sexuality – usually in a suffering context.

I liked the religious allusion of the title, and the end seems to be implying that Clay takes the pain of these sons of man. It’s curious that Clay readily accepts that humanity is defined by psychological and spiritual traits and not appearance. The burdens of the sons of man are taken by Clay after he is purified, sort of – at least the Skimmers say he’s learned much about himself, by a trek through the areas of discomfort (oddly, intriguingly, somehow appropriately long established for “the instruction of mankind”). In the end, he dies. The book says he sleeps, but I take that as a metaphor since it is clearly stated many times he needs no food or sleep in in this world. This is after he crawls from the Well of First Things which I took not only to be a literalization of man’s evolution past and future, but an allusion to Satan’s pit for Clay clearly acknowledges his vileness, that he is disturbing to the Skimmers. Yet, he says they must realize that “I am you”, imperfect but the potential form of the book’s many sons.

I don’t think this religious imagery and allusions works though. It seems tacked on at the end as if Silverberg realized he had to put some dramatic end to what is a series of intriguing, surrealistic vignettes. I’m not convinced Silverberg meant from the start to do anything more than a refreshingly strange tale. He has said elsewhere it’s the spirit of 1968 incarnated. (I’ve also heard this book compared to David Lindsay’s Son of Arcturus, but I’ve never read that.) Still, I liked it probably the best of any far future story I’ve read including Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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