The Book Of Silverberg edited by Gardner Dozois and William Schafer (book review).

January 25, 2015 | By | Reply More

‘The Book Of Silverberg’ opens with ‘A Tribute’ by Greg Bear and ‘An Appreciation’ by Barry Malzberg to the man honoured by this collection, Robert Silverberg. In the stories that follow, individual writers have generally chosen one particular Silverberg setting or story and done a tale of their own in a similar mode. The results are quite interesting.

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Kage Baker was a fan of ‘Lord Valentine’s Castle’ and so gives us a yarn set ‘In Old Pidruid’ and so titled. There is an annual festival of self-propulsion in the great city of Pidruid and competition is keen for the top prize. The Pidruid Harbour District Phantasists have won it for the past three years but the Falkynkip Gate District Players Guild are anxious to win now. So anxious, they cheat, just so you know who the bad guys are. Despite the light subject matter, this is an entertaining piece and Kage Baker nicely captures the atmosphere of Majipoor.

‘Voyeuristic Tendencies’ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a follow up to ‘Dying Inside’, Silverberg’s novel about a miserable mind-reader which I have read but did not much enjoy. Too downbeat for my taste though, as with anything by that author, it was masterfully done. This episode, more cheerful in tone features a lady telepath who meets with David Selig, the protagonist of ‘Dying Inside’. Unlike him, Maggie enjoys her talent and makes use of it to amass money by blackmailing adulterers. (Rusch has a fondness for brackets that would get her a scolding from the editor of SFCrowsnest but the story was easy to read and I enjoyed it.)

How can you follow ‘Good News From The Vatican‘, Silverberg‘s classic short story about the first robot pope? Mike Resnick does so with ‘Bad News From The Vatican’. Cardinal Richard Moore is the first person narrator who tells us about the career of Pope Sisto Settimo, known as Cardinal Mechanismo before he became Pope. The robot Pope has a brilliant mind and is an expert in Catholic doctrine. There is conflict when he falls out with the President of the United States of America, a stubborn man. This story is almost like a Greek tragedy in that the central conflict is inevitable due to the character of the opponents. Silverberg studied Greek tragedy as part of learning to write Science Fiction so he might like it. I loved it and am also grateful that like Melville, Resnick gave us the narrator’s name early. Often with first person stories, it’s hardly mentioned and the poor reviewer has to scan the text again to find out what the ‘hero’ is called.

‘The Jetsam Of Disremembered Mechanics’ by Caitlín R. Kiernan is a ‘Nightwings’ tribute in which a flier makes a discovery. It’s set in that distant future Silverberg designed for the original story where humanity has been designed into sub-species for different tasks and the higher ranks are organised into guilds. Watchers, scanning the skies for an alien invasion, are generally regarded as fools. I found it a bit verbose and the plot was disappointing but the same is true of some later Silverberg stories. They are still very good but simply appeal to a different sensibility than mine.

Connie Willis, a writer who may have won even more awards than the man himself, does a story about a story with ‘Silverberg, Satan, And Me Or Where I Got The Idea For My Silverberg Story For This Anthology’. It’s an entertaining insiders look at the Science Fiction writing community and features conversations between Connie and our hero as well as perceptive comments on writing and writers. A pleasant mid-book break from the traditional tales.

‘The Hand Is Quicker’ by Elizabeth Bear is not based on any particular Silverberg story but simply on the general idea of reality being something of ‘unparsable complexity which we humans try to filter down into something small and tame enough to compass’. It’s set in a future where by a process called ‘skinning’ taxpayers can alter their perceptions so that everything seems rosy. Beer is tasty, pizza delicious, the environment scented and wonderful. They can also wear a ‘skin’ that looks better than that granted them by nature so the protagonist, Charlie, looks a bit taller and a bit fitter than in real life. Things change when Charlie gets into financial trouble and loses her taxpayer status. To say more would be to give away the best bits. A clever tale with a few twists along the way and an ending that fits Silverberg’s own ideal of being surprising yet also inevitable.

‘Eaters’ by Nancy Kress is a follow up to ‘Sundance’ but don’t worry if you haven’t read the original or can’t quite remember it. As with all these yarns, the writer gives a good summary of the essential details you need and then proceeds to take the plot forward. Ellen and Josie Two Ribbons set off to find Josie’s father, Tom, who has vanished somewhere in the bush on Janus 4, a planet they are terraforming for human colonisation. They had been exterminating the local wildlife, herds of grazing herbivores, until Tom proved they were sentient. This is another clever and logical follow up to Silverberg’s original.

Sadly, there are very few writers who can build a career on short stories these days – they just don‘t pay as well as three volume fantasy novels – but James Patrick Kelly is one of that band. For this volume, he has donated ‘The Chimp Of The Popes’ as a follow up to ‘The Pope Of The Chimps’ by you-know-who. That story was about chimps with boosted intelligence who seemed to be getting religion. Kelly’s story is set in a future when most of humanity has uploaded to the Cognisphere but left some behind, those who did not want to upload. Most of them are either eccentric or crazy. The intelligent chimps, aided and supervised by bots, have been charged with the care of the humans left behind and take their duties seriously. When a new arrival claims he is the Pope, things get interesting. This starts out as a cross between ‘Planet Of The Apes’ and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ but develops in an interesting way.

‘Ambassador To The Dinosaurs’ by Tobias S. Buckell is a follow-up to ‘Our Lady Of The Sauropods’ in which dinosaurs had been recreated from found DNA. I think Silverberg was the first with that idea. Our first person narrator is a Neanderthal woman, for now they, too, have been recreated. She is something of a rebel, works in construction and gets in trouble when she beats up the foreman. Offered a job as bodyguard for a lawyer with the Distributed Organisation for the Advancement of Neanderthals, she ends up mixing it with rebellious dinosaurs. Buckell’s slangy narration reminded me of Harlan Ellison’s work. A lively and entertaining conclusion to the book.

This is a truly wonderful anthology and I can think of no better tribute to the world’s greatest Science Fiction writer. The only thing that could improve it is a few words on each story by the man himself, an afterword or an introduction, perhaps. Maybe they can do that in the second edition. I certainly hope he reads this one.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2015

(pub: Subterranean Press. 288 page deluxe hardback. Price: $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-643-4)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

released: 30 April 2013

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel reviewer who lives in the south west of England. He's written a few stories too.

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