BooksOfTheMoon

Far Horizons

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This is an interesting idea for an anthology, in which Robert Silverberg asked a number of authors to contribute a novella that adds something to a series that they’ve written. And he gets some impressive contributors. Unfortunately, I haven’t read a number of the series’ in question and I found the quality varied, although, of course, YMMV.

We kick off the collection with one of the strongest stories, Old Music and the Slave Women set in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Ekumen. This tells the story of Edsan, attached to the Ekumen embassy on a planet undergoing a full-scale uprising of its slave society against the masters. Le Guin’s characterisation is masterful and understated and her prose sharp and readable. A great opening story.

Next up is A Separate War by Joe Haldeman, set in his Forever War series, which tells the story of Marygay Potter after she was split up from William Mandella towards the end of the war, and her own adventures before they reunited. I don’t remember a huge about about The Forever War but this story is pretty self-contained and I got to like the character of Marygay quite well. I’m not the first to find the sexuality within the Forever War series very weird; the idea of heterosexuality being banned never entirely feels real. But other than that, I enjoyed this story quite a lot.

Orson Scott Card revisits his Ender universe with a fairly slight story called Investment Counselor which tells how Ender met the AI Jane, who is important from the second main book onwards. I don’t think this adds a huge amount to Ender’s story, but it’s fairly light and fun, as Ender comes of age and finds himself trying to untangle the set of trust fund investments set up on his behalf so that he can pay the appropriate amount of tax.

Next up, David Brin returns to his Uplift universe in Temptation, about a group of uplifted dolphins who had been left behind on a planet while their ship had to flee its pursuers. I have read the (first) Uplift trilogy but it was a very long time ago. I liked the idea that the uplifted dolphins are a very new sentient species though, and that under sustained stress, they’re liable to fall back to pre-sentient behaviours. Brin does a fairly good job of making these non-humans feel relatively alien, too.

Robert Silverberg then adds his own story in his Roma Eternal series, Getting to Know the Dragon, about an alternate history where Rome never fell. An historian living in the Renaissance gets his hands on the personal travel journal of an emperor from a few hundred years earlier, who was the first to circumnavigate the world. Looking back on that period nostalgically, he finds that the reality doesn’t match the rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a series that I’ve read but it’s perfectly readable, although alt histories aren’t really my favourite genre.

Dan Simmons’ contribution to his Hyperion universe is Orphans of the Helix, which is a story that I’ve read before, in Simmons’ own collection Worlds Enough & Time. Set after the end of the main series, it’s a story that I enjoyed a lot.

Nancy Kress contributes Sleeping Dogs from her Sleepless series, another one that I’m not familiar with. The idea of genetic engineering to remove the need for sleep is interesting, but the idea that it would turn the recipients into immortal supermen seems a bit far-fetched. And this story, about the terrible consequences of doing the same alteration to dogs, left me sort of cold.

The next story is The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Fred Pohl, set in his Heechee series. I’ve only read the first in that series, but this seems to take place somewhere after that, possibly at the same time as a number of the other books, as we see events from the point of view of the eponymous boy as he makes his way to Gateway and has various adventures while bigger things seem to be going on around him. This was really the first story that felt incomplete, like it was a small part of a larger story.

A Hunger for the Infinite by Gregory Benford is a disturbing piece set in an endless war of humans and machines across the galactic core. One of the AIs has been taking “harvested” humans who fell in battle and mutilating them, while keeping them in a sort of horrible half-life, in an attempt to create art. But it’s frustrated because it feels that there should be more to it. It’s an odd story, that I’m not entirely sure I followed, but it was hard to get past the body horror of the Hall of Humans for me.

I skipped Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship That Returned as I’ve read it before in a different collection and didn’t like it.

And finally, we have Greg Bear’s The Way of All Ghosts, set in The Way. I loved Eon but failed to really get into this story. It felt sort of dream-like, and there was a degree of body horror which I don’t like and I still have really no idea what happened at the end.

There’s a number of strong and interesting stories here, but also a number that failed to grab me, whether that’s because I wasn’t familiar with the series they came from or something to do with the writing. A mixed bag, but the strong stories make it worth it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857239683
Year of publication: 1999

A Time of Changes

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

I think it may be time to give up on Robert Silverberg. I didn’t dislike this book. It’s just that I didn’t hugely enjoy it either. Glancing back other the other Silverberg books that I’ve read and reviewed on GoodReads, it seems that for me, he’s a solid three-star author.

The idea behind this one (and, indeed, most other Silverberg books that I’ve read) has been interesting: a society where sharing, self and ego are so reviled that even using the first person (“I”, “me” etc) is one of the strongest cultural taboos they have. It was this that drew me in, and in some ways, Silverberg takes a good stab and describing such a society. But the loneliness of the society is told rather than shown, which I felt let the book down.

I also think the first portion of the book, spent describing the early life of Kinnall, our narrator, was too long. The book starts with Kinnall in exile in a harsh desert, waiting to be found and punished for his crime of “self-baring” (exploring self, ego and love), and introducing others to the same. What follows is a classic riches to rags story as Kinnall must flee for his life from his privileged childhood, endure hardships, build a new life for himself, and lose that in pursuit of his new awareness.

Some of the religious conversations were interesting, especially the motivation of the Earthman Schweiz (who tempts Kinnall down this path to begin with), who is searching for faith but can’t find it in his rationalist mind. Interesting, and could have been explored further.

Towards the end, I could see what was happening and got a bit bored. I did skip a few pages here and there, and skim others. So, like other Silverberg that I’ve read, a solid set of ideas, but the execution didn’t entirely work for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586039953
Publisher: Panther
Year of publication: 1971

Godling, Go Home!

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This is a rather good Silverberg collection from the mid ’60s. The title story is pretty memorable and takes a different view of the old ‘humans worshipped as gods on a primitive alien planet’ theme which I found interesting. The stories are generally pretty inventive, although, as with a lot of the SF of that period, the ideas are more interesting than the characters.

Book details

Publisher: Belmont
Year of publication: 1964

Hawksbill Station

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This was a fairly enjoyable story about a group of political activists who were considered so dangerous by their government that there were exiled to the far past and left to survive or not. While I don’t know enough about the geology of the world ~2 billion years ago to know if there was an oxygen atmosphere yet or whether survival at this era was remotely possible, the story itself was pretty engaging, although it did have Silverberg’s usual problem with women. The only female character was only described by her physical appearance and never given any depth. Although, to be fair, this was from the point of view of a 16 year old boy, so it’s sort of excusable.

The main problem with the book is its very rushed conclusion — even a couple of pages from the end I was wondering if this was part of a trilogy or something and I hadn’t noticed. He did actually wrap it up in one book but it felt rather unnatural, as if he’d just got bored and wanted to finish the story, leaving me feeling somewhat cheated.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425036792
Publisher: Berkley (NYC)
Year of publication: 1967

Unfamiliar Territory

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This is an enjoyable collection of short stories. The earlier stories seem to have a distinct sexual theme about them, going from electronically-assisted group sex to the consequences of teenage frustration. Later, the other theme of the book seemed to take over, that of time travel. The stories themselves were fairly eclectic, ending with the melancholy but humorous The Wind and the Rain. I enjoyed this, but don’t think it’s vintage Silverberg.

Book details

ISBN: 9780684134321
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Year of publication: 1973

Deep Space

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short stories tied together by the theme of the universe, it’s size and the Stuff that could be out there. The quality was good overall, with some of the stories being excellent. In particular, Noise by Jack Vance about a guy whose liferaft lands on a planet with ethereal life forms and Lulungomeena by Gordon R Dickson about a bet on the frontier of explored space. Worth reading if you’re after some perspective on the scale of things.

Book details

ISBN: 9780525662648
Publisher: Dutton Books
Year of publication: 1973

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