The Best of Robert Silerberg: Stories of Six Decades: Phases of the Moon
by Robert Silverberg
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Press Limited Hardcover Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064720
Date: 24 July 2012
I am a big fan of retrospective anthologies; they provide a fascinating view on how a particular author has developed over time, and often show us something about the development of science fiction as a whole over that same period. The Best of Robert Silverberg is a perfect example of this, bringing us stories stretching over an astounding six decades, from the fifties up to today, along with short introductions to each story written by Silverberg in which he provides context for why, how, and when each story was written. These brief introductions are one of my favorite parts of the book, giving the reader insight into Silverberg's development as a writer and on the development of the genre. The stories highlight Silverberg's strengths in character development and use of language to convey powerful emotions, while also showcasing his flexibility, as he experiments with different techniques over the course of his career.
The stories are organized by decade. This can be off-putting if you begin to read the stories in order, since in his first decade as a writer Silverberg was an unabashed pulp author. These stories are interesting to the established Silverberg fan, to show where he began, but to the beginning reader they may be daunting since, truth to tell, they aren't especially good. However, from the sixties on Silverberg hits his stride, and develops a distinctive authorial voice. New reader should probably skip to the stories of the sixties, and come back to the first stories later.
Reading through this collection, certain recurring motifs become prominent. Many stories deal with time travel, or with people or cities of the past recreated in the future. Silverberg's extensive knowledge of history gives these stories verisimilitude, and one cannot help but be affected by his obvious reverence for the great achievements of the past. Another recurring theme is immortality. However, Silverberg’s interest is not in immortality per se, so much as in what it tells us about mortality, and the tragedy of our inevitable death.
Silverberg has a wide range, but most of his stories are at least tinged with sadness or tragedy. Time and again we see characters trapped by their society or their own limitations, who recognize their plight but cannot break free, or who struggle for human connection only to have it ripped away, or who must face up to their own mortality. No matter how distant in time or situation the characters may be, their humanity is undeniable, and the challenges they undergo are recognizable as the same challenges we all must face.
This is an excellent collection of a major talent. The stories are diverse and well written, with many of them deservedly recognized as classics. When the chance to hear Silverberg describe his career, and thus indirectly the entire field of Science Fiction, in his own words, is added to this, it becomes an opportunity too good to miss.