The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Entries in Robert Silverberg (2)

Friday
Nov102017

The Emperor and the Maula by Robert Silverberg

Published by Subterranean on September 30, 2017

Robert Silverberg’s introduction to The Emperor and the Maula explains the book’s origin. It began as a 30,000-word unfinished third of a projected novel (a space opera starring Scheherazade) that would be joined by contributions of equal length from two other writers to be named later. The book was never finished, so Silverberg cut his contribution down to 15,000 words and sold it to an anthology as a stand-alone story. This version is the 30,000-word story with the shorter story’s ending engrafted.

Silverberg gave the Scheherazade role to Laylah Walis, who crosses from Territorial Space into Imperial Space, an offense punishable by death. Laylah, an Earthborn woman, is immediately detained when she disembarks from the passenger ship that carried her to Harrar, the seat of the Imperial Government and homeworld of the Ansaaran. The bureaucrats who detain her are surprised that an alien from a backward planet like Earth has learned to speak their language. As a maula (a barbarian, unclean and uncivilized, a member of an inferior race), Laylah has desecrated the sacred world of Harrar by setting foot on it.

The bureaucrats, true to their civilized nature, engage in jurisdictional squabbles that delay Laylah’s execution. While they debate who should kill her and how it should be done, the story of the maula makes its way to the Emperor. He is fascinated to hear that this seemingly intelligent creature has willingly traveled to her certain death. He wants to know why, so he delays the execution and orders that the maula be brought to him. And so Laylah explains herself, night after night, leaving the Emperor with a cliffhanger at daybreak.

In the grand tradition of science fiction, Laylah praises humans, albeit slyly, quoting poetry and telling tales of fellowship, so that the Emperor will come to understand that humans, while primitive, are worthy inhabitants of the empire he rules. But Laylah also praises aliens. I think Silverberg was making the point that diversity is enriching, whether that consists of interacting with diverse alien races or with diverse human races. It’s hard to argue with that.

Silverberg laced this short novel with noteworthy observations about Ansaaran behavior. For instance, Ansaaran aristocrats feel that they are above the rules that govern society (because rules are meant to regulate the masses), while the lower castes feel that social order will be destroyed if rules are not rigidly enforced, not realizing that inflexible law and order benefits the higher castes to the detriment of the lower castes. Sounds a lot like America, doesn’t it?

Those are the things that make The Emperor and the Maula worth reading. Pretty much anything by Silverberg is worth reading, but The Emperor and the Maula is engaging and clever and, if it isn’t as complex as the Tales of the Arabian Knights, it is a worthy tribute.

RECOMMENDED

Wednesday
Dec222010

Project Pendulum by Robert Silverberg

Published by Byron Preiss in 1987

Project Pendulum is one of the Millennium series of books published by Byron Preiss. Each book dealt with a different science fiction theme. The subject of Project Pendulum is time travel. The story (really more of a novella or long short story than a novel) is reprinted in Cronos along with two more of Silverberg's time travel stories.

Eric Gabrielson is sent 5 minutes into the past while his twin brother Sean simultaneously moves 5 minutes into the future. Then Eric moves 50 minutes into the future while Sean moves 50 minutes into the past. The next swing of the pendulum sends them each 500 minutes in opposite directions; the swing after that moves them 5000 minutes, and so on. If this first experiment in time travel is successful, the brothers will explore 95 million years in each direction. Silverberg explains the basis for this time displacement in language that sounds reasonable enough to those of us who don't know a singularity from a tachyon particle. Eric doesn't understand it either; he's a paleontologist who is more interested in the past than the mechanics of the journey. Sean, on the other hand, is a physicist.

Each time jump for each brother comprises a chapter. There isn't much of a plot; the book consists of snippets of the past and future. Silverberg's depictions of the unspoiled past are rich with detail. The future scenarios are vividly described and wildly imaginative, although they aren't always explained. This makes sense, since Eric and Sean don't hang around long enough to get explanations of what they see, but it's nonetheless a source of minor frustration. The more significant drawback to telling a story through vignettes is that Eric and Sean are observers more than actors. They don't spend enough time in any era to allow a story to develop beyond their ride on the pendulum: they see this, they see that, they plunge into a sticky situation but are rescued by the next swing of the pendulum. It's an interesting ride and while there's a certain sweetness to the ending, the story is far from absorbing.

Byron Preiss (1953-2005) was known for his efforts to marry the printed text with visual art. The Millennium series furthered that ambition by pairing stories with illustrations. The black and white drawings in Project Pendulum are by the artist Moebius. They didn't excite me but I'm no art critic; all I can say is that there aren't many of them. The hardcover is printed on bright white, heavy, probably acid-free paper, so if you can find a copy, it should last a long time.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS