Robert Silverberg is an author who shouldn’t need an introduction. But, for those who aren’t regular readers of science fiction, I’ll give you a very brief rundown. All you need to know is that he’s been writing professionally for over sixty years, he’s won the Hugo Award four times, the Locus award three times, and the Nebula six times. He’s also considered one of the Grand Masters of science fiction.
Now that we have that out of the way, I want to tell you about this short story collection. The full title is The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg: Volume 1, Secret Sharers. It was published in 1992, and I picked up a used paperback version a few years ago. I was wandering in a now-defunct used book store here in town when I pulled it off a crowded and dusty shelf, along with several other finds.
I must have put it on the wrong shelf when I go it home because I promptly forgot about it and didn’t rediscover it until a short time ago. Realizing I hadn’t read it yet, I decided to dive in and catch up on some solid science fiction.
It’s a comprehensive collection, clocking in at 546 pages, and contains stories ranging from the late 1960s up until the late 1980s. Silverberg was also thoughtful enough to include an introduction to each story, providing the reasons the stories came to be along with anecdotes about the process and the business of writing. His ability to come up with fantastic ideas and immediately turn out a story reminds me of Ray Bradbury, who would write a story a week in his prime.
One of the things I like about this particular copy is that one of the previous owners left their mark in the table of contents by placing check marks and/or stars (in pencil, no less) next to each story title. I found that made the collection feel down to earth, as if this previous reader wanted to share their opinions in a subtle way. And for what it’s worth, I more or less agreed with their ratings.
Silverberg is adept at coming up with interesting story ideas. One of the standouts is the first story, “Homefaring”. The story follows a time traveler who is sent into a far future Earth and finds himself sharing a mind with one of the dominant lifeforms on the planet. Apparently, several extinction events have occurred over the centuries and in this particular timeframe the oceans have covered most of the planet and our protagonist’s arrival sparks a migration. What starts as a strange story later becomes something touching and poignant.
There are other gems in here, as well. There are stories of alien abductions, alien arrivals, time travel, and artificial intelligence. Some of them are sad, some are funny, and a few will make you pause and consider the implications of our actions. A few of the stories were weak, in my opinion, and felt more like filler even though they were included in previous “best of” collections. That may be due to my personal tastes or the fact the stories were written over thirty years ago.
Oddly enough, most of the stories hold up to the passage of time. The ones that suffer from it are the ones that refer to things like computer memory. One of the stories that was written in the early 1980s and takes place in 2013 (if I remember correctly) mentions how a self-driving car has several megabytes of memory. Since this was written in the early days of home computers, I know that several megabytes were considered a massive about of memory.
Conversely, the last story in the book, “Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another”, handles AI extremely well and isn’t too far removed from where we are today. That’s one of the things I truly love about science fiction, how so much of it seems to foretell the future. Sure, there are bits and pieces that don’t age well, but so much of it does.
I haven’t read much of Silverberg’s work over the years, but I’ve previously read enough to know who he was and appreciate his writing. I think the first time I read one of his stories was in the old Omni magazine. It was one of the best science fiction and speculative fiction publications ever printed. If you’re interested in a fun trip to the past, you can find old issues on the Internet Archive.
Silverberg doesn’t write much any longer. He’s on the far side of 80 now and he deserves a comfortable retirement, but his work shouldn’t be overlooked. Be sure to pick up one of the many collections of his short stories or one of his novels. I guarantee he’ll take you on a memorable journey.