I've mentioned before how much I like Robert Silverberg's early science fiction stories. It's not that I don't like his later work. I just haven't read a lot of it yet. But I intend to, soon.
In the meantime, I came across this massive collection of short stories, novelettes, and novellas by Silverberg that were originally published in the SF digests during the 1950s. These are stories he considers lesser work, pure pulp-influenced science fiction adventure yarns (just my meat, in other words). But as he makes clear in the usual fascinating introduction, he certainly doesn't disavow them and still finds things to like in them. I found a lot to like in them, myself, including some intriguing science fictional ideas and plenty of excellent writing.
All the stories are good, but two stood out for me. "Cosmic Kill" (AMAZING STORIES, April and May 1957) is a 20,000 word novella Silverberg wrote in two days to order for the editor of AMAZING, Paul Fairman. It's a sequel to a novella written by Fairman that appeared in the magazine several years earlier. (Both stories appeared under the pseudonym Robert Arnette, the only time Silverberg used that name.) It's as full of breathless action as you'd expect from a story written like that, but it's also very interesting in that events in the story, which concerns efforts to bring an interplanetary terrorist to justice, seem very similar to things that have gone on in reality during the past ten years, and I'm speaking, of course, of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Mostly, though, "Cosmic Kill" is an extremely entertaining action yarn. Another favorite is "The Hunters of Cutwold" (SUPER-SCIENCE FICTION, December 1957, under the pseudonym Calvin M. Knox), which takes a pulp adventure plot of the sort that would have appeared in JUNGLE STORIES ten years earlier and transplants it to a science fictional setting. In fact, Silverberg's original title for the story was "Five Against the Jungle", a very pulpish title. Silverberg was a master at this sort of thing (a lot of his early SF strikes me as being transplanted crime stories), but "The Hunters of Cutwold" has a very effective sting in its tail making it a story that could only work as science fiction, and pretty thoughtful SF, at that.
As always, Silverberg's introduction and story notes make for fascinating reading, and overall, IN THE BEGINNING is one of the best books I've read this year. Originally published several years ago as a limited edition hardcover, it's now available as a very affordable e-book, which is how I read it. I picked up several other Silverberg collections at the same time and will be getting to them soon, I hope. If you want to sample some of the best adventure SF that the Fifties digests had to offer, I highly recommend this one.
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