There is apparently a marked difference in the novels that sci-fi great Robert Silverberg wrote before 1967 and the ones he penned from ’67 to eight or nine years after. Those two dozen novels of the 1954-’65 period, it has been said, are well-written, polished, plot-driven tales reminiscent of the pulp era of sci-fi’s Golden Age. But after author/editor Frederik Pohl gave Silverberg freedom to write as he chose in ’67, a new, more mature, more literate quality entered Silverberg’s work, and the two dozen novels that he wrote during this second phase of his career are often cited as his best. Having just completed seven books from this late ’60s/mid-’70s period, I was curious to check out one of the author’s earlier works, just for comparative purposes.
At random, I selected 1958’s Invaders From Earth, Silverberg’s ninth novel out of an eventual 75 or so… a most fortuitous choice, as it turns out. This is just one of seven novels and 80 (!) short stories that Silverberg released that year; surely, one of the most prolific 12-month periods that any author, in any genre, has ever experienced. Invaders From Earth was originally released as one half of one of those cute little “Ace doubles” — D-286, for all you collectors out there, backed with David Grinnell’s Across Time — and with a cover price of… 35 cents.
In the novel, which transpires over a nine-month period in 2044, we meet a 32-year-old public-relations man with the unlikely name of… Ted Kennedy! Ted’s complacent life — married to a pretty wife, with a nice home in the Connecticut suburbs and a rising position in his NYC-based firm — is given a sudden jolt when his agency is given a contract by the privately owned Extraterrestrial Development and Exploration Corporation. It seems that valuable mineral deposits have just been discovered on the Jovian moon Ganymede, but that the tiny world’s nonviolent, seemingly primitive inhabitants are not willing to allow the newly arrived Earthmen to make use of these resources. Kennedy comes up with the idea for a colossal hoax, in the first of the novel’s three discrete sections: to make it seem, via phony press releases, that an Earth colony has settled on Ganymede, and that it is being harassed and attacked by the “Gannys,” so that U.N. forces might be duped into ultimately eliminating the intransigent natives. In the book’s second section, Kennedy visits Ganymede, meets the peaceful natives and experiences a change of heart. And in the third, he returns to Earth, a hunted fugitive, wanted by both the Corporation and the U.N. forces, and works to head off this coldly calculated genocide of an innocent race….
As compared to those other seven Silverberg books that I recently read, I must admit that Invaders From Earth is certainly a less literate affair. It is written in a simpler, more straightforward style, and minus the literary and historical references — and sexual content, natch — found in the author’s more mature work. Still, the book is immensely enjoyable, a true page-turner, exciting and imaginative. Indeed, the book’s final 40 pages or so are quite suspenseful and thrilling, as the clock ticks down to the Corporation’s planned extermination of the Gannys and hunted-man Kennedy does what he can in his self-made, noirish, nightmare situation.
Silverberg generously peppers his novel with all sorts of imaginative touches. Thus, the deflector plates on automobiles; the “sober tabs” that partyers swallow before driving (what a wonderful idea, Pfizer!); the dust-eater to be found in Ted’s living room; the staggered rush hours for workers in Manhattan (another great idea); the struggling Bureau of Weather Adjustment; the violet traveling cloaks that businessmen wear over their suits; and, most presciently, the 48″ TV set in the wall of Ted’s living room. We are also given a look at the futuristic Joyland Amusement Park, residing on a floating island in Long Island Sound; Silverberg would go on to give us a look at a lunar amusement park in his 1967 novel Thorns, as well as an orbiting amusement park in 1968’s World’s Fair 1992.
In all, Invaders From Earth is a very pleasing book, and capped by a wonderful conclusion. Although writer/illustrator/critic James Cawthorn has called the novel “a slight, routine affair,” this reader was most impressed by it. Indeed, other than the surprising gaffe of using the word “contingent” instead of “concomitant” in one spot (this, from an author who has always seemed to have the remarkable facility for unfailingly choosing the perfect word), Silverberg has here created a perfect little sci-fi adventure, and one that makes me eager to check out many more of his earlier works. “You can’t make a living doing books,” Kennedy tells a coworker early on, but fortunately, for all of us, Silverberg persevered in the creation of many wonderful books, and his sci-fi work — even early on, apparently — is second to none.