Robert Silverberg was one of the most important writers of science fiction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the so-called new wave, when a number of innovators attempted to eschew the genre’s pulp origins and create more literary work. His beginning as an author, though, was as a prolific hack, churning out novels and stories at an astonishing rate. In this book he says that in one year he wrote in excess of two million words, the equivalent of about forty genre novels.
By the time I became involved in the science fiction scene, Silverberg was producing first-class work and appearing regularly on awards nomination lists. His sophisticated prose impressed me deeply. Some of my favorites were the novels Dying Inside and Book of Skulls and novellas and short stories such as “Nightwings,” “Sundance,” “Good News From the Vatican,” and “Passengers.” In a field where writers generally have their ups and downs, Silverberg, in the early 70s at least, was consistently excellent. As a young writer struggling to put viable words on paper, I envied his ability to turn out high quality prose at such a prolific rate.
Although I have encountered a number of the field’s luminaries as my teachers at Clarion West and in more casual settings at conventions and local writers’ gatherings, I have never met Robert Silverberg. This book allows an intimate glimpse into the man’s career, thoughts, and lifestyle. It is composed of a series of conversations about various topics held at Silverberg’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area. It covers a vast array of subjects such as Silverberg’s career, reading interests, library, travel, research, education, political beliefs, opinions on other authors, and reflections on aging.
This book may not be for everyone, as Silverberg is known and read mainly in the science fiction field. I found it fascinating. I have always appreciated Silverberg mainly as a short story writer, and in my opinion, he is one of the best there is. He never broke out into the mainstream the same way that Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein did, but within the genre he is considered a master of the craft. These conversations are casual but lucid, and never dull. Although each chapter has a particular emphasis, Silverberg and his interviewer glide smoothly from one topic to another, obviously enjoying themselves, and the reader is carried along for the ride.
At the time of the interviews, Silverberg was eighty years old and had retired from writing about ten years previously. He claims he’d done what he’d set out to do and had no inclination to do more. It’s the literary world’s loss. He talks of the retirement of writers, although that has always been a concept that I have been unable to grasp. Why would anyone want to cease performing such a fascinating task as writing? But then, I have only written and published about twenty books, while he has written uncounted hundreds. I suppose there is a point where weariness might set in. He claims that writers do their best work roughly from the ages of thirty-five to fifty. If so, I am past my prime, but I don’t feel that way. At sixty-three, I feel I am just getting started.
Be that as it may, for someone with an interest in the science fiction field, this is a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. There are far too few books like this available. I would like to see more such books of interviews with other famous authors. I hope that this is the beginning of a series.