Monday, October 05, 2009

Other Spaces, Other Times - Robert Silverberg

I’ve probably never read as much of Robert Silverberg’s work as I should have: several of his early science-fiction novels from the Fifties, a couple of his pseudonymous sleaze novels published in the Sixties, and maybe a dozen short stories ranging throughout his career. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I really ought to expand on that and especially need to read some of his more recent novels.

What I’ve started with, though, isn’t fiction at all, but rather the new, somewhat autobiographical volume OTHER SPACES, OTHER TIMES, a beautiful book from the small press publisher Nonstop Press.

I say somewhat autobiographical because OTHER SPACES, OTHER TIMES isn’t a full-fledged autobiography and Silverberg makes it clear in his introduction that he doesn’t intend to write one of those. Instead, this is a collection of essays, magazine columns, and introductions written for short story collections that come together to give a picture of, as the book’s subtitle has it, “a life spent in the future”.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a sucker for authors writing about their careers. I can read that “and then I wrote” stuff all day. Not surprisingly, Silverberg isn’t content to do only that. These pieces really flesh out what it was like to be an aspiring science-fiction writer in the mid-Fifties, including a great anecdote about John W. Campbell and Murray Leinster, and the essays that talk about his life prior to that really resonate for me, too, especially when he writes about finding a magnificent stash of old SF pulps in a junk store in Brooklyn. I’ve made some finds like that myself, most notably the bags and bags of vintage paperbacks and digest magazines I carried out of an old junk store just down the street from the front gate of the General Dynamics plant on the west side of Fort Worth during several years in the early Eighties. General Dynamics is now Lockheed-Martin, and the store is gone, leveled for a city park that never was built. All the books and magazines I bought there are gone, too, lost in the fire, but I read many of them and will never forget how much fun it was to discover them.

But to get back to Silverberg, this book also goes into detail about his two voluntary retirements from writing and the way he was drawn back into it both times, as well as providing considerable material about the writing of LORD VALENTINE’S CASTLE and the other Majipoor books (I really want to read these), and the books he has written in recent years. His career as an author of non-fiction books is also covered, but his sleaze novels as Don Elliott, Loren Beauchamp, and other pseudonyms are only mentioned in passing a couple of times. To tell you the truth, I think Silverberg underrates his early work, both his SF and his sleaze novels, but who has a better right to an opinion than the guy who wrote the stuff?

OTHER SPACES, OTHER TIMES also includes an exhaustive bibliography of Silverberg’s science fiction, including some pen-name work I hadn’t heard of before, and a lot of photographs from throughout his life. This is an excellent book, one of the best I’ve read this year, and if you’re a Silverberg fan or just a fan of science fiction in general, I recommend it very highly.


Charles Gramlich said...

I bet I would like this too. I'm a sucker for the same kind of things, writers writing about writing. I still love best two of Silverberg's early novels, "Conquerors from the Darkness" and "The time of the great Freeze." I've read a couple of the Majipoor books and they are pretty good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Anyone who writes likes to hear about someone else's creative process, I think. Sounds like fun even if I'm not familiar with his work.