Sundance And Other Science Fiction Stories by Robert Silverberg (book review).

As I was saying earlier in the month, I enjoyed Robert Silverberg’s short story ‘Sundance’ and was curious about his other short stories. Hence, my picking up of his 9 story anthology ‘Sundance And Other Science Fiction Stories’. ‘Sundance’ (1969) I’ve already noted. Other highlights to note.

‘Neighbor’ (1964) could have worked on Earth except for the SF trappings of extended age but no body preservation. Michael Holt and Andrew McDermott are two feuding men on adjoining estates on an alien planet suddenly come to a parley of sorts as the former will reduce his protective barriers to see the former asking him to end his life as its supported wholly by machines. A startling ending showing vendettas can be missed.

‘Passport To Sirius’ (1958) is set in a future where war in other star systems is a continual problem for Earth. Bored passport clerk David Carmen tries to enlist for the latest war and keeps being deterred. He connives his way out there only to find something more political going on. The rest is spoiler. They say good SF doesn’t age. This story works as well today as when it was first written and surprised no one’s said this could make a good film.

The same could also be said for ‘Caught In The Organ Draft’ (1972) where if you want to become a recipient for donor organs then you have to give up at least one yourself to get in for conscriptive surgery. Objectively, the story narrator wonders how there can be enough organs to go around, even when there are some people who donate all their organs as a form of suicide. Silverberg makes some neat observations here that will make you think.

‘Neutral Planet’ (1957) had humans and the bear-like Rigellians competing to get a friendship deal with the Fafnir. Both offer trinkets of varying value and get turned down and the Rigellians even lose some of the crew in a fight. There’s a novel twist spoiler which would make this story a must read when finding out what is acceptable to an alien species.

‘The Pain Peddlers’ shows a futuristic TV show where families can get large sums of money if they allow sick relatives to have amputations without anaesthetic. Sounds like something that might happen today and then checking the date this story was released and find it was 1963. Now that is really seeing the future although I doubt if we’d go that far just yet. The twist ending I saw coming but just as satisfying.

‘The Overlord’s Thumb’ (1957) has a dilemma for a military science team on an alien planet when one of the team takes leaves from a holy plant and kills its native protector. What isn’t known is he’s also the nephew of the commanding officer who has to decide about handing him over to the local natives for trail. As with other off-world stories that Silverberg wrote at the time, there is a touch of colonialism in his depiction. It would be interesting to know if this decision was to give something relatable to the reader or if he saw this would be the future.

‘The Outbreeders’ (1959) hits on two rival groups keeping away from each other after their spacecraft crashed and discovering that they aren’t that far from each other after all. There are elements of ‘Neighbor’ here but with racism more than dislike.

The final story, ‘Something Wild Is Loose’ (1971) is more novella-length. An alien Vsiir comes to Earth after accidentally being picked up. Its attempts to telepathically communicate to the spaceship crew and then to some people on Earth gives them nightmares instead. I should point out that the Vsiir is an innocent and the story is tactfully done.

As you can tell from my comments, I’m impressed with the early Silverberg short stories and they are a masterclass to be learnt from.

GF Willmetts

June 2022

(pub: Corgi Science Fiction, 1976. 174 page paperback. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 2.00 (UK). ISBN: 0-532-10140-0)

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