Review: “The Metamorphosis of Robert Silverberg”, Brian Stableford, 1976, 1995.
Written on the occasion of Silverberg returning to sf with the publication of Lord Valentine’s Castle, this looks at the phases of Silverberg’s career.
His work from 1954 to 1959 was “written very easily” (I’m not sure Silverberg would agree with that) and reads very easily. Stableford contends that many of these are puzzle stories often featuring alien and human interaction. (I’m not really accepting that. My count of the 23 stories in The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued, which has Silverberg’s stories from 1953 to 1959, shows only five fit that category.)
Whereas Robert Sheckley played this kind of thing for laughs, Stableford contends Silverberg’s stories from this period often end in “a slightly darker shade of comedy”.
Even these stories sometimes exhibited a characteristic fatalistic conviction that the universe was stacked against their characters. He singles out Silverberg’s “Road to Nightfall” from 1958 for considering, unlike many stories of the period, the serious implications of its setup.
Two Silverberg novels from this period standout for Stableford: Recalled to Life and Invaders from Earth.
Before 1963, Silverberg’s heroes were
usually either a Schlemihl, falling victim to the story’s hidden trap, or a hero, whose task was to conjure the solutions out of its problematic debris. After 1963, the heroes are often victims, and the victims are often heroes.
Stableford regards Thorns (Stableford’s criticism makes me want to re-read a novel I found puzzling) and Hawksbill Station, both from 1967, as Silverberg’s best novels from this period. They, along with “To See the Invisible Man”, define Silverberg’s theme of alienation.
Divorce and fire in 1967 completed Silverberg’s transformation to the high quality output of the late 1960s and early 1970s with Stableford citing Dying Inside and The Book of Skulls as the defining novels of this period.