Since 2006 Subterranean Press has been publishing all of the SFF stories that Robert Silverberg wants in his “definitive” collection in chronological order. I’m a fan of Silverberg’s stories, so I think this series is wonderful — it’s a sure way to get one copy of each of his most important stories in eight tidy volumes. Volume six, titled Multiples, contains fourteen stories and novellas published in the mid-1980s.
In a general introduction to Multiples, Silverberg talks about the state of the short story market in the mid 1980s — how most of the pulps had gone under and been replaced by original anthologies in the 1970s and then by slick magazines in the 1980s. The biggest and best-paying venues were Playboy and Omni, so several of the stories in this collection were first printed in those magazines.
Each story in Multiples also has its own introduction in which Silverberg talks about the writing and publication process of that particular piece and reports any awards or significant acknowledgments it received. For example, the first of these explains how the invention of word processing affected Silverberg’s writing process and how nice it was to not have to re-type all the drafts he had to produce to satisfy Alice K. Turner, fiction editor for Playboy. (By the way, after reading Multiples, I have come to respect Ms. Turner’s literary taste, and next time some man tells me he reads Playboy for the stories, I will believe him!)
Here are the stories in Multiples:
- “Tourist Trade” — (1983, Playboy) Eitel is an art dealer who is selling a Renaissance painting to collectors from Centauras. His price was four million, but he offers a special deal when he sees the lady Centauran.
- “Multiples” — (1983, Omni) A scary but fascinating look at Multiple Personality Disorder. Multiple Personality Disorder is a controversial diagnosis, but after reading “Multiples” you won’t think about it the same way again.
- “Against Babylon” — (1986, Omni) Aliens visit and inadvertently set fire to Los Angeles. As explained in his introduction, this story highlights Robert Silverberg’s love/hate relationship with L.A.
- “Symbiont” — (1985, Playboy) The fascinating idea for this story was supplied by a woman whom Silverberg met on a speaking tour. He wrote the story and married her. This is an excellent almost-horror story about cowardice and mercy.
- “Sailing to Byzantium” — (1985, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine). I was delighted that this popular novella was included in the collection! “Sailing to Byzantium” won the Nebula Award in 1986 and earned second place for the Hugo that year. It’s about a future 50th century youthful alien culture which enjoys temporarily recreating and touring ancient Earth cities. For some reason, they enjoy pulling a few human visitors out of time to share their creations with them. This story makes us think about aging and consider what it means to be human.
- “Sunrise on Pluto” — (1985, The Planets) The first explorers on Pluto find a life form. Or is a machine? How do we know the difference?
- “Hardware” — (1985, Omni) The theme of “Hardware” is very similar to the previous story’s theme. Scientists from Earth discover a computer embedded in an asteroid. When they bring it back to the lab, it begins to rally the computers on Earth. Very funny, but frightening, too.
- “Hannibal’s Elephants” — (1988, Omni) This humorous story is about aliens landing in Central Park.
- “Blindsight” — (1986, Playboy) A twist on the familiar revenge story.
- “Gilgamesh in the Outback” — (1986, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine) This Hugo-winning novella is an afterlife fantasy in the style of Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld and John Kendrick Bangs’ Houseboat on the Styx. In Silverberg’s version, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft meet Gilgamesh in Hell. When Howard sees Gilgamesh, he thinks he’s found Conan and he becomes disturbed by his feelings toward his hero. This novella is especially well-written, funny and, though I learned a bit about Robert E. Howard, not as teachy as Farmer’s and Bangs’ works tend to be.
- “The Pardoner’s Tale” — (1987, Playboy) A fun and fast-moving cyberpunk story which was later used in Silverberg’s novel The Alien Years.
- “The Iron Star” — (1987, The Universe anthology) This story about the fear of first contact with an alien civilization felt like something Ray Bradbury would write, probably because it was so pessimistic. I liked it.
- “The Secret Sharer” — (1988, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine) This beautiful and unsettling tribute to Joseph Conrad’s novella “The Secret Sharer” is about loneliness, companionship, the difference between mind and body, and the quiet beauty of space.
- “House of Bones” — (1988, Terry’s Universe) I never tire of stories about modern people going back to prehistoric times. This is a warm-hearted version published in a memorial anthology for editor Terry Carr.
Usually a story collection is a chancy thing unless it was compiled as a “best of” compendium. It’s remarkable, then, that I enjoyed every story in this collection. When I tried to narrow the list down to my favorites, it was hard to do, so I’ll pick the three that will stick with me the longest for different reasons: “Symbiont” (made me feel horror), “Sailing to Byzantium” (such a unique concept), and “Hardware” (just plain fun).
I highly recommend The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg Volume Six: Multiples 1983-1987 to all Silverberg fans and to any reader who’d like an excellent introduction to the work of this prolific Science Fiction Grand Master. I am looking forward to Volume Seven!
The Collected Works of Robert Silverberg — (2006-2013) Publisher: A projected eight volumes collecting all of the short stories and novellas SF Grandmaster Silverberg wants to take their place on the permanent shelf. Each volume will be roughly 150,000-200,000 words, with classics and lesser known gems alike. Mr. Silverberg has also graced us with a lengthy introduction and extensive story notes for each tale. The Subterranean Collected Silverberg will vary greatly from the UK trade paperback series published in the 1990s. Due to the publisher’s desire to limit the series to eight volumes, many stories and, especially, novellas, could not be included. The Subterranean Collected Silverberg will be the definitive set.