Son of Man
by Robert Silverberg
Cover Artist: John Picacio
Review by Andrew Brooks
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591026464
Date: 15 July 2008 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Son of Man, by Robert Silverberg is one of those books that you will either love or hate. A mish-mash of science fiction, philosophy, erotica and fantasy, this reprint of Silverberg's novel originally published in 1970 is sure to please some readers while turning others off. It's a deep book to be sure, and one that delivers fantastic images both strange and captivating, but there's little in the way of plot. It's one of those stories in which the main character is merely reacting to what happens to him, rather than actively pursuing any goals of his own. Son of Man is a journey through an alien future, and an examination of what it means to be human so it is not your typical science fiction novel, but there are some good things to be found here. The patience to absorb the good stuff, however, is up to the reader. This one is like nothing you've ever read before.
The protagonist is Clay. That's it, just Clay. We know nothing else about him when the novel opens except that he is in a place that's not the earth he knows, and that lots of trippy things are happening from the get go. You'll know within the first five or so pages whether you'll like this novel because there is a pattern that emerges early on and continues to the novel's close. Clay is escorted around by The Skimmers, shape-shifters, or perhaps gender-shifters is more appropriate, who take him on a tour of the time he has become stuck in. The entire narrative is Clay's exploration of this far future, his discovery of the rituals practiced by each phase of man (which make for fascinating narrative), and as much sex as one wayward time traveler can handle. That's it, that's the gist of the entire book. Of course this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Silverberg's prose is like poetry, and the entire book often times has a dreamy feel to it. But the story here is in discovery and, at times, that wore on me.
But I can still recognize that what Silverberg really accomplishes on an almost visual scale with Son of Man is close to genius. This despite the fact that I came to care less and less for the characters as the novel progressed. Vivid is too tame a word to describe the world he's come up with here. His prose really shines in the novel, and for those of you out there aspiring to be a better writer, you should consider picking up this novel for the images Silverberg evokes on every single page. It's true that this story is merely a travelogue of sorts, with descriptions of a fully fleshed out future where everything is alien and yet not. However, if you're a patient reader who enjoys taking your time with a novel crammed with ideas and searing images that I promise you then you won't be able to forget, then Son of Man is worth your time. Go in with an open mind and a patient eye, and you'll likely gain something from this considered cult classic from Robert Silverberg.
Recommended, but that recommendation comes with the above warning. It's all about reader expectations sometimes, and for me this one missed the mark.