First-Person Singularities

Any newly published compilation of short stories by science fiction Grand Master Robert Silverberg is cause for celebration. And FIRST-PERSON SINGULARITIES is no exception.

Following the structure of W. Somerset Maugham’s SIX STORIES WRITTEN IN THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR, Silverberg has selected 18 stories written over the last 40 years of his distinguished career, all told in the first person. But while the perspective format is the same, the stories are wonderfully different in tone and content.

In “Ishmael In Love,” the story that opens the collection, the narrator is a highly intelligent dolphin that expresses his love for the human female that works with him at a seawater recovery plant. This is followed by “Going Down Smooth,” where a computer built for psychoanalysis tries to convince us of its sanity and effectiveness, while experiencing strange, surrealistic visions and subjecting its patients to frightening forms of therapy.

At times there is more than one narrator in a single story. In “The Songs of Summer,” Silverberg uses William Faulkner’s technique of employing several narrators to relate the story of a man mysteriously transplanted to a post-apocalyptic, agrarian future who tries to reintroduce modernity to the habitants. But the man is unaware of a repressed ability the seemingly simple people of the future possess.

At other times the narration is that of other authors. In “The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James” Silverberg uses Henry James’s voice as James and fellow novelist H. G. Wells witness the terror of the Martians and their walking machines from WAR OF THE WORLDS. Then Silverberg assumes the stylistic persona of his friend, science fiction author Roger Zelazny, to tell the story of an ancient Greek god who survives his centuries-old imprisonment and searches modern-day Greece for his sworn enemy in “Call Me Titan.”

Other stories, like “The Reality Trip,” “Push No More,” and “House of Bones” use a more tradition first person narration to present stories of extraterrestrials, hidden mind powers, time travel, and various other familiar science fiction topics.

John Scalzi, author of the recent OLD MAN’S WAR series, provides an introduction where he recalls first meeting Silverberg, and expresses his appreciation for the various “I”s that Silverberg uses in the stories that follow. Silverberg himself adds a forward, and each story starts with a brief introduction where Silverberg recalls the time and influence of the story’s creation, as well as the various science fiction magazine or anthology editors he worked with.

FIRST-PERSON SINGULARITIES belongs on the reading table of every science fiction fan. If you somehow never experienced Silverberg’s work, or are only familiar with his novels, such as the LORD VALENTINE’S CASTLE/Majipoor cycle, this is a perfect introduction to Silverberg’s shorter fiction.

Longtime Silverberg readers will similarly enjoy either revisiting or discovering these various examples of science fiction singularity. —Alan Cranis

Get it at Amazon.

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