You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Robert Silverberg was the only chid of a solidly middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn. He was born in 1935, and his CPA father and school teacher mother both encouraged and indulged his precocious intellect. But he could, at times, be a trying child. His interest in ichthyology charmed a local fishmonger into securing for him a live eel. He kept it in the family bathtub only until his mother returned home from her daily teaching stint. Silverberg saw for himself a future in science, but then, at the age of fourteen, he discovered his first science fiction magazine at the local drugstore. These opened to him new visions of future worlds and changed his life. In writing Other Spaces Other Times he has a clear sense of his audience. 

You understand. You've had the same experience or you wouldn't be reading this book.

The book he is talking about is not Other Spaces Other Times., the book where I encountered the quote. The quote is dated 1987. and the compilation of autobiographical essays is copywright 2009. Silverberg says it is not his intention to write a formal autobiography, and he doesn't. This compilation of introductions to reprints of his work, columns he wrote for Galaxy magazine, and stray autobiographical fragments can be repetitive, but it gives an excellent and entertaining insight into how this successful and innovative science fiction author made a career as a freelance writer from the time he was 19 years old until the seventh decade of his life when he composed this anthology.

Silverberg was a self-professed writing machine for the SF magazine trade of the late 1950's. He began publishing shortly before getting his degree from Columbia University, and his partnership with the older, alcoholic Randall Garrett got him into the most lucrative magazine markets of the 1950's. With Garrety he would start a story in the morning and have Garrett finish it that afternoon. The could do a 40,000 word novel in two days. Garrett established them as contract writers whose work was guaranteed to appear in publications under either their own or a stock list of pseudonyms. As a teenager, one of Silverberg's favorite writers for Imaginative Tales was Alexander Blade, an author he did not realize until he wrote for the magazine himself a decade later was a fiction. His final story forImaginative Tales appeared under the Blade name, bringing to an end both Silverberg's involvement with such publication and coinciding with the death of the publications as well.

In 1958, the SF magazine market imploded, victim to over-saturation and the rise of paperback books. Silverberg took his first retirement from the field and started writing successful nonfiction for the young adult trade. It was Fredrick Pohl, an SF writer now editor of Galaxy magazine, who brought Silverberg back into the SF fold. From the mid 1960's until 1975. Silverberg wrote some of his best novels, but by his own account the literary ambitions of writers from this period alienated their readership. Star Warsand Tolkien influenced science fantasy dominated. It attempted to suffocate the field for the next decade. It's not surprising that old hands like Silverberg began to look elsewhere. He specialized in nonfiction on exotic topics for the YA market. When he returned to SF, it seems that he had absorbed the Star Wars/Tolkien lesson. He wrote the mammoth Majippoornovels and anthologies, creating a future world with all the accoutrements of a kind of fantasy he had previously abjured. (I confess I am offering this opinion without having actually read any of these novels, but the have what look like knights on the over and they can be 600 pages long.)

Other Spaces Other Time ends with Silverberg reminsicing about past WorldComs and other good times. This is not a high note, and ranks with the publishers packaging of the book as its least desirable traits. Non Stop Press has chosen an PLC presentation. This is a slick pictorial binding that makes the book look like a stray volume from a 1970's children's science encyclopedia. The interest here lies in what Silverberg has to offer as insights into what it meant to be a freelance SF writer for five last five decades of the 20th century.

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