The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Three: Something Wild Is Loose, 1969-72

The usual story. I’m off preparing new material so you get old stuff.

I’m going to continue with a streak of stuff on some of my favorites.

Since Robert Silverberg falls in that category, it’s time for a retro review from June 9, 2012.

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Three: Something Wild Is Loose, 1969-72, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2008.Something WIld Is Loose

What was loose in those times were cults and demonstrations and bombers and the certainty of doom from civilization’s effluvia. They were times of change for America, science fiction, and one of its up and coming masters, Robert Silverberg.
As usual with the volumes of this series, the payoff is not just Silverberg’s almost always serviceable, sometimes brilliant, stories, but his notes on his life and work and science fiction. Here he not only speaks of famous science fiction personalities, most especially the many editors he worked with, but his cynicism for the “save-our-disintegrating-society-through-science-fiction” theme anthologies for which some of these stories were composed, his general distaste for some modern science fiction authors (no names are mentioned) who think they must raise awareness about some issue or other. And, though the problems of our time are different than those of the early 1970s, he thinks the “disturbing, fragmented” and forgotten science fiction of that time has something to offer our world that’s not provided in the “bland, comforting, predictable” fantasy novels popular today.
There is a number of famous titles here, many dealing with religious themes:
  • Good News from the Vatican” – an amusing, detailed, and ironical look at the first robot Pope.
  • Thomas the Proclaimer” – When the sun stands still in the sky, it should be proof of a divine miracle and unify the world in faith. But the many viewpoint characters here wonder which god and which faith, and there is no unity in interpreting the Sign.
  • When We Went to See the End of the World” – A flip, ironical, nihilistic tale from Silverberg’s “dangerous midlife years” in which the many ways the world ends simply provide cocktail party fodder and a tool for social one-upmanship.
  • The Feast of St. Dionysius” – When I was 12, I first read this story. I didn’t understand it then. I’m not sure I fully understand it now, but the image of a cult in the California desert in their labyrinthine city has never left me. Into it, a 40 year old astronaut, veteran of a Mars expedition with casualties, wanders.
  • The Mutant Season” – Something of a competent, quickly produced, but nothing special story that unexpectedly, 15 years later, provided the seed for a four novel series written by Silverberg’s wife, Karen Haber.
  • Caught in the Organ Draft” – Perhaps the best example in the collection of a story that still speaks to our time. Though its plot of young people drafted to provide organs for oldsters originally had something of a Vietnam War subtext, it now, in an age of demographic crash where fewer young people support more old people via taxes, serves as a metaphor for a contemporary problem.
  • Many Mansions” – Yet another Silverberg exploration, in bewildering complexity, of the time travel theme, here mixed with a sex and marital farce. Its short, sometimes contradictory, fragments were inspired by Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter”.
The rest of the stories:
  • Something Wild Is Loose” – Straightforward action plot with a small, invisible alien trying to communicate with the humans who have accidentally carried it to Earth.
  • In Entropy’s Jaws” – Experimental effort about time travel with a strange story of a burned out telepath who must confront the reality of how time and causality really work.
  • The Reality Trip” – An alien spy on Earth, disguised as a human, must confront his loneliness and failing professional dedication in this sardonic tale.
  • Going” – Novella about a man making the decision to end his life in a world where suicide has become ritualized and the center of a new social movement.
  • Caliban” – Written in 1970, the peak year of production in Silverberg’s career, this has an ugly man from the past (either cloned or brought via time travel) into a world of universally pretty people. Silverberg says he was trying to be humorous – but most readers didn’t agree.
  • Push No More” – Something of a dress rehearsal for Silverberg’s classic novel Dying Inside in that it also features a smart, randy Jewish protagonist with psychic powers in a contemporary setting.
  • The Wind and the Rain” – The opening line, “The planet cleanses itself”, expresses Silverberg’s disdain for environmental extremists and those who think conservationism is to save nature and not man. Silverberg’s notes are the most interesting aspect of a story whose main point of interest is the idea that a fatally polluted Earth might be regarded as sort of an artwork.
  • Some Notes on the Pre-Dynastic Epoch” – Not really so much a story as a poetic expression of Silverberg’s knowledge and love of archaeology. This is one of those archaeologist-from-the-future-looks-at-the-ruins-of-our-world stories – but the archaeologist’s identity is not that certain.
  • What We Learned from This Morning’s Newspaper” – One of those newspapers-from-the-future stories. Once again Silverberg, son of an accountant, shows a knowledge of and interest in the stock market.
This is an essential volume for those interested in Silverberg and a good, if expensive in hardcover, introduction to some of his best work and most productive years.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

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