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Robert Silverberg



411pp/$35.00/May 2009


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The fourth collection of Robert Silverberg's short fiction, Trips: 1972-1973 covers a period of time when, as a writer, Silverberg was undergoing a profound change, which he repeatedly refers to in his story introductions.  Not only had Silverberg recently abandoned his lifelong home in New York to move to California, but he found that the form of science fiction that had been emerging from the 1960s, and with which he had been experimenting, was no longer holding his own, or the readers' interest, a fact to which he attributes his own diminished writing output and a decrease in sales.

None of which is to say that Silverberg was not publishing worthwhile short fiction during the two years this volume covers.  These stories racked up two Hugo nominations and a Nebula Award for Silverberg, indicating that at least some of them struck a chord with their contemporaries.  They also weren't all experimental.  "The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV" takes on a traditional narrative format for the story of religious life, thereby blending traditional form with traditional society against a science fictional background.

Other stories, however, do stray from traditional story-telling, although that does not mean that are any less successful.  Notable among these are “Ms. Found in an Abandoned Time Machine” and “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.” Silverberg writing in both of these works tends to be a collection of images and scenes rather than stories in the normal sense of the word.  However, just as the New Wave authors were experimenting at the same time, Silverberg shows that he can experiment as well.  In some cases, his experiments didn’t work out as well, as indicated by Breckenridge and the Continuum”.”

The titular short story, "Trips" has its hero, Kit Cameron, traveling through a multitude of alternative San Franciscos in search of his wife's analogues. Although Cameron always remains, ostensibly, within a few miles of his home, he sees cultures ranging from Mongol to European to futuristic. When he does make contact with his wife's analogues, he sees both her natural similarities to his own wife as well as the cultural differences.

Trips does contains works which stand head and shoulders above the rest, most notably Silverberg’s Nebula Award winning “Born with the Dead,” which, like the best of award winners manages to stand the test of time. In this story, Silverberg looks at the idea of love and loss in a world in which death no more separates a couple than divorce would.  Silverberg not only deals with the themes of loss, but also looks at the way people around the world look at and treat death.

Robert Silverberg underwent a transition during the time the stories in Trips were originally published, and not one which would appear entirely voluntary.  This can be seen in some of these stories, especially those which don't  conform to the traditional manner in which Silverberg and the other members of the "old guard" wrote.  However, most of the stories, even the more experimental ones work on some level and some of the the stories rank with the best Silverberg has written in his long career.  While many of the stories, especially the better ones, are easily available elsewhere, collected in Trips, they offer a nice compact look at a brief period in Silverberg's career.

In the Group Capricorn Games
Getting Across Ship-Sister, Star-Sister
Ms. Found in an Abandoned Time Machine This is the Road
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Trips
A Sea of Faces Born with the Dead
The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV Schwartz Between the Galaxies
Breckenridge and the Continuum In the House of Double Minds

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