Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg

I’ve entered the sort of territory MPorcius Fiction Log occasionally covers: disreputable and little known works by famous science fiction writers. Here it’s not Barry Malzberg but his friend Robert Silverberg.

Review: Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg, eds. Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, 2021.

Since at least the mid-1990s, Playboy’s fiction editor Alice Turner would turn down Silverberg stories set in contemporary times but foreign lands. They were “IRS stories”, she said, merely written to justify taking a vacation as a business expense.

But, in 1957, there were those who wanted that sort of thing from Silverberg.

In “Adventurous Beginnings”, editors Deis and Doyle tell us how Silverberg came to write for several different magazines when the market for Silverberg’s short story science fiction rapidy dried up when several magazines lost their national distributors. (The back story is the distributors were bought up because they owned valueable real estate they were using as warehouses, and the land was worth a lot more developed for something else.) Silverberg was a staff writer under various pseudonyms for William Hamling’s science fiction magazines.  When Hamling decided to publish Exotic Adventures, he sought Silverberg out since he was already placing stuff in other men’s magazines.

In between tales of treasure hunting, man vs. nature, encounters with Nazis and Commies, and sex (lots of sex though not very explicit), the so-called men’s adventure magazines were quite popular. I myself lived in their tail end in the 1970s. (As a young lad, I bought a copy of Saga – not for the half nudes of some actress named Dyan Cannon but because it was a special Bermuda Triangle issue.)

Silverberg was the ideal writer to write tales of sex with some glib but credible references to exotic lands and recent politics. He only had material in the first four issues of the magazine, and it only lasted another two. His stories were all published in 1958.

Silverberg went on to a very lucrative career with the same publisher when he introduced several soft core porn paperback publishing imprints. From 1959 to 1964, Silverberg wrote 150 porn novels, and eventually was making the princely sum, in today’s dollars, of $400,000 a year. (My inflation calculator gives me over $508,000 a year converted from 1964 dollars.)

The formula is the stories are always told in the first person. The protagonist is almost always a man, and he’ll almost always have sex with at least one woman. Usually, it’s a short term fling, and sometimes the  woman ends up dead despite being fought for by the narrator. In one story, the narrator’s marriage survives his fling.

I read the deluxe hardcover edition which has additional stories. It reprints the original art for each story which, in Exotic Adventures’ case, was inferior to most of its competitors. There’s some sociological interest in the reproduced ads. Besides the expected ads for nude photos and 8 mm porno movies, there are ads for small caliber pistols, hernia belts, royal jelly from bees, and how to double the mileage on your car by adding a wire to the spark plugs. (I think that ad lasted into the 1970s.) For the men interested in self-improvement, there are correspondence courses for auto mechanics, electrical appliance repair, and for becoming a game warden. Men are reminded it might be a good idea to get some accidental death and disability insurance too.

For those few collecting Silverberg’s many pseudonyms, I’ll list them. And, since you really can’t beat the magazine’s own blurbs for summary, I’ll quote them with a few comments.

Of the tales, Silverberg, in the introduction, wryly says they are “Absolutely autobiographical.”

Campus Hellcat” (Daniel Challon) – “There’s one like her on every campus in the country. They’ll do anything, anywhere, anytime. It’s a great way to get an education.” Silverberg’s first piece for the magazine isn’t set anywhere more exotic than an American college campus. (Though, while I took a lot of geology classes, I remember nothing this “exotic” coming from them.) It also ends on a bitter note.

Safari of Death” (Leon Kaiser) – “She wanted her fat, ugly husband out of the way. She also wanted his money. But most of all … she wanted her lover to help her.”

I Was a Tangier’s Smuggler” (Donald Gorman) – “There was plenty of money to be made by black-marketing cigarettes from Tangiers to Italy. There was also death and imprisonment for those who didn’t make it.” Luckily, there’s the beautiful Moroccan woman on board who saves the day.

Attacked by Monster Crabs” (Dave Callahan) – “Can you think of a more horrible way to die, than to be torn to shreds by a horde of monster crabs? I can’t! because it almost happened to me.” Those monster crabs lend a bit of a science fictional air to a tale set in British Honduras

Trapped by Mau Mau Terror” (Norman Reynolds) – “They almost paid for their illicit love with their lives the night her husband stayed away and the dreaded Mau Mau decided to attack”.

Bride of the Jaguar God” (Malcolm Hunt) – “The native girl was not only pretty she was also greedy for the American dollar. That’s when the roof fell in and she found herself Bride of the Jaguar God”. Silverberg’s love of archaeology shows up.

Nudist Paradise on the French Riviera” (Martin Davidson) – “Want to really get away from it all? Well then here’s just the spot for you. It’s five miles off the coast of France and you live there in nude harmony for only $5 admission.” This one is actually an unsavory story.

Tahiti, Lust Island of Untamed Women” (Leonard Colman) – “One of the few outposts of happiness left on this earth is rapidly disappearing under the heavy hand of commercialism. This may well be the last account we shall ever hear of . . . “ This one is actually something of a meditation on how a life of easy sex and no work may not be the best thing for you and ends on a consoling note on the quotidian lives of the readers.

Egypt’s City of Prostitutes” (Daniel F. Killian) – “Even though fatso Farouk is out of the way, the new Egyptian government has done nothing to improve the old quarter of the ancient city known around the world for its filth, violence and women.” The whole thing is framed as a report done on the request of Exotic Adventures’ editor.

Radiant Jade: The Chinese Mata Hari” (Sam Mallory) – “To ensure the extraction of information from her prisoners; she used her most infamous toture: The Death of a Thousand Delights”. A tale of espionage and lots of sex and sadism (sexual and otherwise).

Saba, Land of Love-Starved Women” (Len Patterson) – “Undoubtedly the most fantastic island in the Caribbean Ocean is Saba. A Dutch possession loaded down with women without men . . . the loved-starved women of Saba”.

Opium Den in Vietnam” (Lawrence F. Watkins) – “The French Deputy Inspector led his American visitor into the interior of the dark and murky opium den. There, in the smoky gloom of the unreal world, he saw the half-naked girl reclining on the small wooden bench.” Another alleged report commissioned  by the magazine’s editor. The author tells us it takes at least six months to get addicted to opium.

Island of Exiled Women” (Lin Charles) – “Would you be interested in being shipwrecked on a tropical island whose only inhabitants are 150 nude girls? Before you answer yes, read this terrifying tale of the South Pacific.” It’s an island of sex criminals (at least by the notions of the Gilbert Islanders).

The Arabian Slave Girl Racket” (Jim Hollister) – “I couldn’t take my eyes off the ravishingly beautiful slave girl who was undressing in front of me at the command of her owner. Yet, I knew the whole idea of buying this voluptous woman was utterly fantastic.” But possible! Because it’s Saudi Arabia

A Temporary Husband in Ladkh” (Karl-Heinz Kirschner) – “It’s truly unfortunate that the Chinese Communists have taken over Tibet if only for the reason that the generous natives of that primitive land will certainly not be as hospitable to visitors as they were before.” Silverberg makes use of one of the only polyandrous cultures in the world.

Wolf Children of India” (Ronald Bradman) – “Amazed, the youthful American stood transfixed, as if in a dream, while the doctor showed him the wild and snarling wolf-girl of India” Silverberg goes into the history of feral children, particularly in India, after the narrator sees one recently found in India. She is beautiful if beastly. The narrator doesn’t have sex with her, but the hospital orderlies do.

I Watched the Secret Sex Rites of Uganda” (Richard Banham) – “They were about to witness what few white men had ever seen in their lives. And the only question in his mind was: ‘Is it worth the risk?’”

A Drinking Man’s Guide to Europe” (Mal Ford) – “Here’s the inside story on how to have enough money on your European drinking spree to bring back a delicious assortment of liquid cheer at a fantastically low price.” Given that I believe Silverberg had already made several trips to Europe, this probably is based on his personal experience.

Love Hungry Girls of Japan” (Nick Thomas) – “In the murky gloom of the ocean’s depths I saw the girls starting to swim in my direction.” Similar to “Island of Exiled Women”, except, instead of sex criminals, we have Japanese women protecting the territory they get pearls out of.

Juarez, Sin City Across the Border” (Martin C. Burkhalter) – “The most amazing city this side of the Atlantic Ocean which can provide you almost any sort of entertainment you can think of . . . for a price”.

I Escaped From the Soviet Slave Camp” (Anna Lukacs) – No blurb on this one and, unusually, the narrator is a woman. She was a Hungarian revolutionary whose husband was killed by the Soviets. She is taken to a labor camp where she is, of course, sexually abused, but she connives to become the beloved mistress of the commandant who, when he is promoted, takes her to East Germany.

3 thoughts on “Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg

  1. Bookstooge May 18, 2023 / 5:53 am

    I always like looking at old ads in comics/magazines. It’s a very clear snap shot of the time.

    • marzaat May 18, 2023 / 5:06 pm

      Yes, the stories are formulaic, but Silverberg is such a talented craftsman that they’re skillfully done with just an air of sophistication with the topical political references.

      I’m currently reading volume 9 of Silverberg’s collected stories. Even in the minor stories, he’s very skillful at doing exposition.

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