Authors: Robert Silverberg
Tags: #Library Books, #Fiction, #Science Fiction
is Robert Silverberg at the top of his form, and when Silverberg is at the top of his form, no one is better. A haunting, evocative look at a crumbling Earth of the far future and a human race struggling to survive amidst the ruins, full of memorable characters and images that will long linger in your memory, this is one of the enduring classics of science fiction.” —George R. R. Martin
“No matter if Silverberg is dealing with material that is practically straight fiction, or going way into the future … his is the hand of a master of his craft and imagination.” —
Los Angeles Times
“The John Updike of science fiction.” —
The New York Times Book Review
“What wonders and adventures he has to tell us.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
“He is a master.” —Robert Jordan
“One of the very best.”
“In the field of science fiction, Silverberg occupies a place in the highest echelon. His work is distinguished by elegance of style, intellectual precision, and far-reaching imagination.” —Jack Vance
“When one contemplates Robert Silverberg it can only be with awe. In terms of excellence he has few peers, if any.” —
“Robert Silverberg is our best … Time and time again he has expanded the parameters of science fiction.” —
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
“Introduction,” copyright © 2013 by Agberg, Ltd.
“Sailing to Byzantium,” copyright © 1984, 1985 by Agberg, Ltd.
“Thomas the Proclaimer,” copyright © 1972, 2000 by Agberg, Ltd.
“Born with the Dead,” copyright © 1974 by Agberg, Ltd.
“Homefaring,” copyright © 1983 by Agberg, Ltd.
“We Are for the Dark,” copyright © 1988 by Agberg, Ltd.
“The Secret Sharer,” copyright © 1987 by Agberg, Ltd.
The short novel—or “novella,” as it is often called—is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms. Spanning twenty to thirty thousand words, usually, it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, delivering, to some degree, both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
Some of the greatest works of modern literature fall into the novella class. Consider Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice,” James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd,” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”or William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” or Carson McCullers’s “The Ballad of the Sad Café.”
In science fiction, too, the novella has been particularly fruitful, from H. G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” of the 1890s onward. The roster of classic science-fiction novellas includes such masterpieces as Robert A. Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” Wyman Guin’s “Beyond Bedlam,” Isaac Asimov’s “The Dead Past,” Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” James Blish’s “A Case of Conscience,” and James Tiptree Jr.’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”
I have long found the novella a valuable form. One of the prime tasks of the science-fiction writer is to create carefully detailed worlds of the imagination, and therefore the writer must have room for those details. The short story can give only a single vivid glimpse of the invented world; the full-length novel frequently becomes so enmeshed in the obligations of plot and counter-plot that the background recedes to a secondary position. But the short novel, leisurely without being discursive, is ideal for the sort of world-creation that is science fiction’s specialty. And so, from “Hawksbill Station” of 1966 and “Nightwings” of 1968, I have returned again and again to the novella length with special pleasure and rewarding results: I have won more Hugo and Nebula awards for novellas than for stories of any other lengths.
Here, in one volume, are six of my best novella-length stories, written over a period of seventeen years. They were exciting stories to write and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to bring them together in collected form.
It was the spring of 1984. I had just completed my historical/fantasy novel
Gilgamesh the King
, set in ancient Sumer, and antiquity was very much on my mind when Shawna McCarthy—who had just begun her brief and brilliant career as editor of
Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
—came to the San Francisco area, where I live, on holiday. I ran into her at a party and she asked me if I’d write a story for her. “I’d like to, yes.” And, since the novella is my favorite form, I added, “a long one.”
“Long,” I told her. “A novella.”
“Good,” she said. We did a little haggling over the price, and that was that. She went back to New York and I got going on “Sailing to Byzantium,” and by late summer it was done.
It wasn’t originally going to be called “Sailing to Byzantium.” The used manila envelope on which I had jotted the kernel of the idea out of which “Sailing to Byzantium” grew—I always jot down my story ideas on the backs of old envelopes—bears the title, “The Hundred-Gated City.” That’s a reference to ancient Thebes, in Egypt, and this was my original note:
Ancient Egypt has been recreated at the end of time, along with various other highlights of history—a sort of Disneyland. A twentieth-century man, through error, has been regenerated in Thebes, though he belongs in the replica of Los Angeles. The misplaced Egyptian has been sent to Troy, or maybe Knossos, and a Cretan has been displaced into a Brasilia-equivalent of the twenty-ninth century. They move about, attempting to return to their proper places.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s not quite the story I ultimately wrote, perhaps because I decided it might turn out to be nothing more than an updating of Murray Leinster’s classic novella “Sidewise in Time,” a story that was first published before I was born, but which is still well remembered in certain quarters. I
use the “Hundred-Gated” tag in an entirely different story many years later—“Thebes of the Hundred Gates.” (I’m thrifty with titles, as well as old envelopes.) But what emerged in the summer of 1984 is the story you are about to read, which quickly acquired the title it now bears as I came to understand the direction my original idea had begun to take.
From the earliest pages, I knew I was on to something special, and it remains one of my favorite stories, out of all the millions and millions of words of science fiction I’ve published in the past five decades. Shawna had one or two small editorial suggestions for clarifying the ending, which I accepted gladly, and a friend, Shay Barsabe, who read the story in manuscript, pointed out one subtle logical blunder in the plot that I hastily corrected; but otherwise the story came forth virtually in its final form as I wrote it.
It was published first as an elegant limited-edition book, now very hard to find, by the house of Underwood-Miller, and soon afterward, it appeared in
February 1985 issue. It met with immediate acclaim, and that year it was chosen, with wonderful editorial unanimity, for all three of the best science-fiction-of-the-year anthologies, those edited by Donald A. Wollheim, Terry Carr, and Gardner Dozois. “A possible classic,” is what Wollheim called it, praise that gave me great delight, because the crusty, sardonic Wollheim had been reading science fiction almost since the stuff was invented, and he was not one to throw around such words lightly.
“Sailing to Byzantium” won me a Nebula award in 1986, and was nominated for a Hugo, but finished in second place, losing by four votes out of eight hundred. Since then, the story has been reprinted many times and translated into a dozen languages or more, and even optioned for film production. Whenever I have one of those bleak four-in-the-morning moments when I ask myself whether I actually did ever accomplish anything worthwhile as a science-fiction writer, “Sailing to Byzantium” is one of the first pieces of evidence I offer myself to prove that I did. It’s a piece of which I’m extremely proud, and a virtually automatic choice to lead off this collection of my novellas.
T DAWN HE AROSE
and stepped out onto the patio for his first look at Alexandria, the one city he had not yet seen. That year the five cities were Chan-gan, Asgard, New Chicago, Timbuctoo, Alexandria: the usual mix of eras, cultures, realities. He and Gioia, making the long flight from Asgard in the distant north the night before, had arrived late, well after sundown, and had gone straight to bed. Now, by the gentle apricot-hued morning light, the fierce spires and battlements of Asgard seemed merely something he had dreamed.
The rumor was that Asgard’s moment was finished anyway. In a little while, he had heard, they were going to tear it down and replace it, elsewhere, with Mohenjo-daro. Though there were never more than five cities, they changed constantly. He could remember a time when they had had Rome of the Caesars instead of Chang-an, and Rio de Janeiro rather than Alexandria. These people saw no point in keeping anything very long.
It was not easy for him to adjust to the sultry intensity of Alexandria after the frozen splendors of Asgard. The wind, coming off the water, was brisk and torrid both at once. Soft turquoise wavelets lapped at the jetties. Strong presences assailed his senses: the hot heavy sky, the stinging scent of the red lowland sand borne on the breeze, the sullen swampy aroma of the nearby sea. Everything trembled and glimmered in the early light. Their hotel was beautifully situated, high on the northern slope of the huge artificial mound known as the Paneium that was sacred to the goat-footed god. From here they had a total view of the city: the wide noble boulevards, the soaring obelisks and monuments, the palace of Hadrian just below the hill, the stately and awesome Library, the temple of Poseidon, the teeming marketplace, the royal lodge that Marc Antony had built after his defeat at Actium. And of course the Lighthouse, the wondrous many-windowed Lighthouse, the seventh wonder of the world, that immense pile of marble and limestone and reddish-purple Aswan granite rising in majesty at the end of its mile-long causeway. Black smoke from the beacon fire at its summit curled lazily into the sky. The city was awakening. Some temporaries in short white kilts appeared and began to trim the dense dark hedges that bordered the great public buildings. A few citizens wearing loose robes of vaguely Grecian style were strolling in the streets.
There were ghosts and chimeras and phantasies everywhere about. Two slim elegant centaurs, a male and a female, grazed on the hillside. A burly thick-thighed swordsman appeared on the porch of the temple of Poseidon holding a Gorgon’s severed head and waved it in a wide arc, grinning broadly. In the street below the hotel gate three small pink sphinxes, no bigger than housecats, stretched and yawned and began to prowl the curbside. A larger one, lion-sized, watched warily from an alleyway: their mother, surely. Even at this distance he could hear her loud purring.