Review: Robert Silverberg looks back on a life spent in the future

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

There is a strong case to be made that SFWA Grand Master Robert Silverberg is the living, beating heart at the center of science fiction, and no document marshals the powerful arguments for this assertion more strongly than Silverberg's latest project: a captivating quasi-autobiography titled Other Spaces, Other Times (NonStop Press, $29.95). (Let me stipulate that I myself am asserting that this book substantiates Silverberg's pervasive, central role in our field, and that he himself makes no such claim, being an essentially modest, un-arrogant, yet quietly proud fellow.)

It might be true that in the media-dominated landscape that currently constitutes the public perception of SF, with printed books occupying their dwindling little niche far off in one corner, the Silverberg name does not command the stature it does in the huddling place of textual SF. Oh, true, some of his work has been turned into TV shows and graphic novels, and a French cinematic production of his masterpiece Dying Inside (1972) is currently underway. But his oeuvre is generally under-represented on small or large screens.

Yet all media SF ultimately stems from prose SF, and in that kingdom Silverberg rules supreme.

This new book is assembled from various revelatory essays and afterwords he has published over the past three decades, cunningly and seamlessly woven together into a reading experience that has all the allure of any of his novels. We begin with several charming essays that reveal Silverberg as the quintessential archetype of the bright adolescent and teen during the 1940s and 1950s, glomming onto SF as a life-enhancing gateway drug. We follow his fannish career and his first tentative, stumbling forays into professional writing.

The next section uses discussion of individual stories and novels as a means of leapfrogging across the most productive four decades of his career, right up until 1994. It's this part that illustrates how intimately and creatively Silverberg's life has been bound up with nearly every major figure and intellectual thread and style trend of science fiction. He's linked backward to Golden Agers like editor John W. Campbell and Murray Leinster; onward through his pulp and New Wave contemporaries such as Randall Garrett and Harlan Ellison; and forward into a new generation of young'uns that he nurtured through editing such anthologies as the Universe series and through providing inspiration with his columns in Asimov's magazine.

The subsequent pages (including a generous bibliography, and full of cool pertinent artwork and photos arranged with graphical excellence by publisher Luis Ortiz) feature Silverberg's famously revelatory essay, "Sounding Brass, Tinkling Cymbal," and a host of other diversions.

To read this volume is to acquire both an insight into the whole living history of our genre and into Silverberg the man and creator, replete with honest descriptions of all his triumphs and disappointments. As he says early on, "You live long enough and the strangest things happen to you."

SF is lucky Silverberg happened to it.