Friday, September 23, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Longest Way Home - Robert Silverberg

Normally I wouldn't consider a Robert Silverberg novel published less than ten years ago to be a Forgotten Book, but other than an e-book version, THE LONGEST WAY HOME appears to be out of print, you don't hear much about it, even among Silverberg fans, and I really enjoyed it. So I'm going to make a few comments about it.

The plot is fairly simple. Set in the far future, this novel takes place on a planet called Homeworld where a feudal society has developed among the human colonists from Earth, which has come to be regarded as a somewhat mythical place. There are three main groups on the planet: the Indigenes, aliens who were there when the first humans arrived from space; the Folk, those first colonists who set up a simple farming society; and the Masters, who came in later and conquered the Folk, establishing a system of ruling Houses that spread across the planet. So you have the Masters, running everything as fairly benevolent dictators, the Folk who work for them, and the Indigenes who pretty much ignore both of the other factions.

The protagonist is Joseph Master Keilloran of House Keilloran, one of the ruling houses in the southern hemisphere of Homeworld. He's visiting his cousins at House Getfen in the northern hemisphere when the Folk there rise up in a violent rebellion. Joseph manages to escape being slaughtered along with the other Masters in the house, but now he's on his own and decides that he has no choice but to walk back to his home, even though it's thousands of miles away, he has no training in how to survive, and the countryside is caught up in a civil war.

This novel is partially travelogue SF, one of the oldest science-fictional subgenres, in which fate drops the hero down in unfamiliar surroundings and he discovers wondrous things involving geography, flora and fauna, and the sentient inhabitants of the world in which he finds himself. Ray Cummings did the exact same thing more than ninety years ago in THE GIRL IN THE GOLDEN ATOM, which I wrote about a year or so ago.

But Silverberg mixes this travelogue with a very well done coming-of-age story that elevates THE LONGEST WAY HOME considerably above Cummings' yarn, entertaining though it was in its old-fashioned way. During Joseph's travels he interacts with the alien Indigenes, the rebellious Folk, and some other Masters. He nearly dies a few times, he learns a lot, and he loses his virginity. The pace is a little more leisurely than you'll find in most of the books I read, and there are long stretches without much dialogue, which is something else I don't usually care for, but those things go hand-in-hand with Silverberg's plot and he makes the whole thing work very well. His prose is extremely smooth and easy to read, as you'd expect from somebody who's been at this writing business as long as he has.

I'm on record as loving Silverberg's early SF. THE LONGEST WAY HOME is the most recent work of his that I've read it, and I liked it just as much, although it holds a different sort of appeal than his slam-bang Fifties yarns. I have a feeling that wherever I dip into his career, I'm going to find something to like. This one gets a high recommendation from me.


Cullen Gallagher said...

I hadn't heard of this Silverberg before. Thanks for calling to my attention!

George said...

I'll have to find this Silverberg novel. Sounds intriguing!

Anonymous said...

Nice review. I'm a fan of this novel too. It's a good one, from a master who has written a lot of them.