Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, November 16, 2015

1973: Earth's Other Shadow (Silverberg, Robert)

Some with significance, some significantly lacking (3/5)

After disliking, to some degree, all of the Silverberg novels I’ve read (3 stars for Hawksbill Station and 0 stars to The World Inside, among others), I decided to stick to his short fiction, which I haven’t received very warmly either (2 stars for all the stories in Next Stop the Stars and 2 stars for “Hot Times in Magma City”); I’ve only enjoyed two stories: “Good News from the Vatican” (1971) and “Flies” (1967), the latter included in this collection.

Four of the nine stories are either amusing (“Ishmael in Love”), poignant (“Flies”), amusing and poignant (“To See the Invisible Man”), or relevant to me (“The Song the Zombie Sang”). The remaining five stories feel like half-efforts (“How It Was When the Past Went Away”) or whims (“Something Loose is Wild” and “Hidden Talent”). The least striking of the nine stories are “To the Dark Star” that features a pointlessly bickering pair of humans and “The Fangs of the Trees” that compares a fifteen-year-old to being a ripe fruit ready to be picked and even compares her breasts to apples twice… she’s the fruit in the family tree.

Something Wild is Loose (1971, novelette) – 3/5
When six men leave an alien planet with their cargo heading for Earth, they unknowingly take an invisible alien stowaway. Invisible and displaced, the alien tries to psychically make contact but their minds are unreceptive while awake. When it contacts a human in sleep, the telepathic touch triggers horrible nightmares and sleeplessness. Once on Earth, it continues trying to contact telepathically, only to scare, maim, or kill each contact. One hospital notices a pattern with the hospital, link it with the flight from the planet, and simply want to help. 34 pages

To See the Invisible Man (1963, shortstory) – 4/5
Having given the cold shoulder to his fellow urbanites once too often, the same man is dealt the sentence of invisibility for one year. This invisibility is not physical in nature, however; it is a legal/social taboo in which he is forbidden by others to simple be recognized. At first, he relishes in the naughty tricks and common misdemeanors can he get away with, but he slowly realizes that eye-to-eye and flesh-to-flesh contact makes a human what they are. The lesson of invisibility strikes deep, ever after the release from his sentence. 12 pages

Ishmael in Love (1970, shortstory) – 4/5
The dolphin with the unit-structural designation of TT-66 previously didn’t have a formal “name” until the ravishing Miss Lisabeth Calkins gave him his new name: Ishmael. Ishmael, however, isn’t just any dolphin; he’s also very handsome for his species, the foreman of the Intake Maintenance Squad for a Seawater Recovery Station, and happens to have a very large vocabulary—his interest soon turns to love. While still naïve about matter of the heart and a different species, his quick thinking saves the station, yet still can’t find a way to Lisa’s heart. 13 pages

How It Was When the Past Went Away (1969, novella) – 3/5
Paul Mueller is a sonic artist whose budding financial venture left him deeply in debt and contemplating foreign sanctuary. The Amazing Montini has the remarkable and marketable talent of total recall, namely from books and conversations. Nate Haldersen lost his entire family in an air disaster eleven years ago during an extra-marital affair; now, his guild-ridden self sits in a psych ward. These citizens, and almost all, of San Francisco are about to partially lose their memory from drinking the drugged tap water… for better or for worse. 62 pages

To the Dark Star (1968, shortstory) – 2/5
On the cusp of death in its billion-year life, a dark star smolders within the darkness of its external shell. Going to watch its collapse are a small-headed alien, a strapping woman from a heavy planet, and a standard Earth male. Inevitably, the opposing sexes are at each other’s throats and trading verbal spars while the alien is calm and acts as a mediator. When the times comes to choose someone to navigate the probe to land on the dark star, the two troublemakers choose each other; a stalemate is born, then things begin to escalate. 12 pages

The Fangs of the Trees (1968, novelette) – 2/5
Holbrook’s orchard of trees—they’re trees, just trees he tells himself—are close to bearing their fruit; Holbrook’s female relative—she’s his niece, jus his niece, he reminds himself—is also bearing the fruit of her body at the ripe age of fifteen. When his thoughts aren’t on his niece’s breasts, his concern for his orchard opens to the plague of “rust”, a disease that is spread among animals, plants, and among planets. When he finds the rust on his carnivorous, tentacled trees, his niece’s love for their nature has Holbrook at an impasse. 23 pages

Hidden Talent (1957, novelette) – 3/5
Having been trained in telekinesis and having been found that his powers were exceptional, Davidson was made to take a flight to a psi-less planet where he can learn to control his powers rather than use his powers for everyday tasks. On Mondarran IV, his motivation for not using his telekinesis is simple: If he is seen using it, the people will thing he is a witch and kill him by burning him at the stake like a witch. He takes a job as a farmhand yet loathes the hard work. Later, outside the farm and roaming the forest, he discovers a pyrotic who knows how to adapt to a psi-less world. 21 pages

The Song the Zombie Sang (1970, shortstory) with Harlan Ellison – 4/5
A great pianist dies and, with him, his spark for creativity and life itself. But capitalism and science know a way to maintain his body and most functions even after death, so much in fact that the same dead pianist is able to perform his great music. Before each performance, he is switched on and after each performance, he is just switched off—so this has continued for fifteen years. One fan/fellow artist is demoralized by his zombie-like performances that lack of that old spark, so she seeks him out to lash out. 14 pages

Flies (1967, shortstory) – 4/5

After an implosion in space, all are decimated inside but only the one person outside—Cassidy—is simply killed. His skull and strands of flesh occupy space until the golden ones—of unknown origin—rebuild Cassidy, awaken him, tell him they’ve made him more sensitive to his fellow humans, and sent him back to Earth. Once there, he visits his three ex-wives: the first, a bed-ridden recovering addict; the second, a well-to-do housewife with an exotic pet; and the last in her seventh month of pregnancy. Acting on each ex-wife, Cassidy transmits each emotion back to the golden ones. 10 pages

1 comment:

  1. "How It Was When the Past Went Away" felt half-hearted? I thought it was a rather well-wrought SF fable. I did read it years ago....

    (I'm glad you continue to give Silverberg a shot!)