Jim Freund: For most, Robert Silverberg needs no introduction, but suffice it to say that he has written over 100 sf books, 60 non-fiction titles, and over 100 other novels under pseudonyms. His 60+ anthologies are the beginning of a definitive sf library. As of this writing, Bob Silverberg has won more Hugos and Nebulas than any other writer.
Well, it's 9:00 PM, so as soon as Bob gets here, we'll begin.
I guess we can call this the Waiting for Bob show. While doing so, I must say that his work has been a great influence on my way of thinking. Not that he gives answers, but that he poses questions. The story that affected me most was probably "Passengers"... That one story not only works for me as sf/horror, but I think it strikes at the male soul--the desire to palm off some bad sexual behavior on other 'uncontrollable' traits that we're unwilling to acknowledge exist within ourselves.
Other stories of Silverberg's that have similarly stayed with are "When We Went to See the End of the World", "To See the Invisible Man", and "The Pope of the Chimps". Has anyone else been similarly affected?
Ellen Datlow: My favorite novel of Silverberg's is Dying Inside, about a telepath slowly losing his powers. But I also like his series of "alien stories" that he wrote for OMNI in the mid-late 80s, "Amanda and the Alien," "Against Babylon," and "Hannibal's Elephants."
JF: That might well be my favorite novel of his. Most of his work at that time had deep psychological implications. I think I was still working for either Galaxy or If when that came out. I seem to recall it had a deep subtext, but not what that subtext was. Do you?
Mike McCoy: For me, it was a story called "Homefaring". Like many of his stories, I just couldn't put it down.
JF: I don't recall "Homefaring". Can you refresh my poor memory?
Ellen Datlow: Re Dying Inside, supposedly at the time Bob was having trouble writing, or at least was doubting what he was doing and some critics see it as a metaphor for his own situation at the time....I don't know how "true" this interpretation is.
Robert Silverberg: Silverberg here...I think
JF: Hi Bob! We were just talking about you! :)
Ellen Datlow: Hi Bob, We were worried about you. Welcome.
JF: Did you have trouble getting online?
RS: Well, it's a strange new world for me. But I found you.
Mike McCoy: Homefaring was about giant lobsters, time travel, and had a dreamlike quality to it. It was nominated for a Nebula in '83
JF: Mike, I recall it now. Since Bob is now here, I've sealed the doors to the room, and will reopen them in a bit. In the meantime, please observe radio silence for the beginning. I'll let you know when we'll be open for questions.
RS: Should have won, too.
JF: True, true--it should've won. :) To begin, could you give us a brief precis of Sorcerers of Majipoor?
RS: Takes place a thousand years before the first three Majipoor books. The emperor is dead; his son plans to make an unconstitutional grab for the throne. We get a civil war. And a lot of other stuff.
JF: When you began the Majipoor books, did you envision them as a cycle, or did the series grow as new ideas sprang forth?
RS: I knew that Lord Valentine's Castle needed a sequel to deal with the problem of the disgruntled Shapeshifters. Then I wrote Chronicles to fill in the rest of the planetary background -- such a damn big place. And then there was stuff to investigate back in Majipoor's past-- the golden age of Lord Prestimion, that I mentioned but never described. And so, suddenly, a new trilogy.
JF: I think I speak for all of us when I say we're glad for more. What influences are there in the Majipoor books, beside The Flying Karamazov Brothers? (I'm from Brooklyn nowadays.) Vance?
RS: Vance was an influence so far as the design of the planet was concerned -- I borrowed his Big Planet concept, though I designed my own. The novels of ER Eddison, such as The Worm Ouroboros, lurk in the background of the new one, Sorcerers. Otherwise no conscious influences involved.
JF: Was there a point when you determined to write more fantasy vs. sf?
RS: Yes. When all this cumbersome Internet stuff started happening, and I realized it was going to dominate the next century, I figured I'd rather turn toward the other direction -- the romantic and fantastic past.
JF: Aha! This may be the Anti-cyber movement... :) Asimov was quoted as saying something like "Where Silverberg goes, sf will follow". Where are you going nowadays, if that's not too broad a question?
RS: The next novel -- already written, out next summer -- is about the conquest of Earth by aliens who stay here for fifty years and don't bother saying Word One to us. It's called The Alien Years. Then back to Majipoor with Lord Prestimion, the sequel to Sorcerers. I start writing that one in a few weeks.
JF: As you begin to write, are the stories full-blown in you mind? That is for example, did you know how this new trilogy was to end when you began it?
RS: Yes, because the whole vast trilogy is an amplification of one paragraph at the end of the story "The Desert of Stolen Dreams" in Majipoor Chronicles. It will take three fat books to explain how the events of that paragraph came about.
JF: You have mastered both the short form and novels in fiction. How are those crafts different for you?
RS: The short story is a very much more demanding form, because every sentence has to contribute to the ultimate effect. You can wander off the track in a novel for whole chapters and do no harm, but a short story is a different matter. They are very tense projects for me as a result. I hate writing them. (But I do anyway.)
JF: I'm surprised to hear you say that--I love 'getting lost' in your novels, and I certainly take them with me (internally) through life, but your short stories have had the moist profound effect on me. Looking back what are your favorite works (of your own)?
RS: Oy. Which is your favorite finger? And I've got a lot of fingers. Why don't you tell me what YOUR favorites of my stories are?
JF: Of your various fingers, er, stories, my favorites include "Passengers", "When We Went to See the End of the World", "The Pope of the Chimps", "To See the Invisible Man", on and on. BTW, what did you think of the TV adaptation of "To See the Invisible Man"?
(Message to all: We have now re-opened the forum for audience participation.)
RS: I thought the adaptation of "Invisible Man" was terrific. Very faithful to the story. Guy named Steve Barnes wrote it.
JF: I liked it too. He got the essence in there. I was positing earlier that there is a subtext to "Passengers" about how men can try to pass off things they do--externalize them, rather than accept credit. Is it just me, or was there any such thought in your creation of that story?
RS: Well, sure. Except that it didn't occur to me while I was writing the story. What I had in mind is irrelevant, anyway... I write 'tem, you collaborate by reading 'em.
JF: I agree that that the writer/reader relationship is a collaborative one, but I always like to know whether the author is sending the signal I'm receiving. Much of your work seems deeply rooted in psychological relationships. Have you ever gotten some truly off-the-wall suggestions about the 'meaning' of your work?
RS: I wrote Dying Inside, which is about a telepath. After it came out a woman said to me at a convention, "I didn't know that you were one of US." I said, "If I really were one of you, you would have known it already."
JF: (hearty laugh) That had to be after you moved to California. Do you miss anything about the NY lifestyle?
RS: Minds work faster in New York. People hit the ball back with more spin on it. But the weather is a hell of a lot better out here.
Guest: Any reflective thoughts on changes in the publishing industry?
RS: Current publishing conditions are unwonderful so far as creative work goes -- everything very corporate, everything converging toward sure-thing conformity. But there are still a few corners available for people like me. The nice thing about not being young any more is that I don't have to contend with the collapse of western civilization for more than another thirty years or so.
JF: Do you think that collapse inevitable? (Talk about dark visions...)
RS: Well, collapses are always inevitable. But so is rebirth. The Romans had a terrible time around 500 AD but we've had some good shots at civilization in the past l500 years anyway. I hope for better days.
Mike McCoy: I really have enjoyed your work over the years. Two questions: 1) Has any of your work been made into a movie or TV program; 2) who is your favorite current author? Mike McCoy
RS: Are you there?
JF: Bob may be having a technical problem. As we wait, Mike, "To See the Invisible Man" was made into a 'New Twilight Zone' episode a few years back.
RS: My story "Amanda And The Alien" was filmed for SHOWTIME last year. Still turns up every few months. Book Of Skulls is somewhere in development at Universal. "Passengers" and "Needle in a Timestack" are also in various phases of the process. Et cetera. Plenty of smoke out of Hollywood and maybe a little fire.
JF: As an editor, where do you think the sf field is going? Are there positive trends?
RS: There are always positive trends. The trouble is they're buried in a vast pile of crappy trends. We are getting some wonderful science fiction/fantasy written and published these days -- but it's hard to find it because it's submerged amidst all the formula-driven and media-oriented glop that takes up most of the display space.
JF: As a final question, could you elaborate on what trends are positive, and which are not?
RS: The quality of writing, where it's high, is higher than it ever was even in the Golden Age. Writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Bruce Sterling, to take just the first two who come to mind, can write rings around Asimov and Heinlein just as WRITERS. But the great weight of idiot sci-fi conceals their work from view, whereas in the old days they would have stood out like beacons.
Ellen Datlow: Bob, I'd like to know what kind of books are _you_ reading these days? Fiction and nonfiction?
RS: I'm currently reading James Salter's BURNING THE DAYS -- a wonderfully eloquent memoir by a not very well known writer. And also THE TRAVELS OF SIR JOHN DE MANDEVILLE, fourteenth-century opus, wildly imaginative travel tales, from which I hope to pick up a little Majipoor background -- his medieval imagination kindling mine. I don't seem to be reading s-f right now.
JF: Bob, I can't thank you enough for being here, and more importantly, for your body of work. You will always be one of the greats of the field, and much of your work transcends the genre. As an editor, your insight , stewardship, (and continuation of the Universe series) helps to upscale the field's standards.
RS: What can I say? Thank YOU. I try to do my best. It's been fun talking to you. We should do all this again in twenty or thirty years, okay? Goodnight to all.
Ellen Datlow: Thank you Bob, Jim. And good night to all.