“Sailing to Byzantium” & “Seven American Nights”

More Silverberg and some Gene Wolfe.

Sailing to Byzantium

Raw Feed (1989): “Sailing to Byzantium”, Robert Silverberg/”Seven American Nights”, Gene Wolfe, 1989.

Gene Wolfe’s “Seven American Nights” — This story started out with promise but eventually ended with no resolution. Gene Wolfe leaves us with tantalizing bits of story involving mutation, obsessive love, secrets beneath Mount Rushmore, and the unreliability of perception and its shaping by desire. In the end, Wolfe leaves us with a largely unresolved mystery that sputters to a murky anticlimax. Initially, I thought I was in for a treat along the lines of Norman Spinrad’s “The Lost Continent”, a future sf story from the standpoint of a blighted United States. This story had some of that charm and power but only dimly.

Robert Silverberg’s “Sailing to Byzantium” — Like his “Born With the Dead” this is another of Silverberg’s technical exercises in translating a classical work of literature, here W. B. Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”. Like “Born With the Dead”, this story has an eerie, fantastical, airy feel about which contrasts weirdly with Silverberg’s lush descriptions (which show his expertise in archaeology — he wrote several non-fiction books on the subject). Like “Born with the Dead”, one never has the sf wonders explained. We only see the idle, immortal travelers not the planners (who seem oblivious to their mythological and anachronistic mistakes) though they may be the robots we see. We also never find out how the research for the building of the five cities is done, but it is an imaginative, baroque concept disturbingly accented by strange, seemingly shallow future jetsetters who flit from city to city. Once again, Silverberg does a good job showing the emotional effect of immortality. The reasoning Charlie Phillips uses to say his robot self is as human as any human is well-stated but nothing special.


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