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conducted November 12, 1998

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Jim Freund:  Welcome to Flashpoint! I'm your host, Jim Freund, and our guest tonight is Robert Silverberg. Robert, you have just how many books coming out this month?

Robert Silverberg: Very quiet month. Ask me about August, though.

JF:  OK, ahem. How many books came out in August? 

RS:  Since you asked: August was THE ALIEN YEARS, a novel, and LEGENDS, the fantasy anthology. October was THE AVRAM DAVIDSON TREASURY. November very quiet. Although there probably was something in Bulgaria this month. Or China. 

JF:  Didn't SORCERERS OF MAJIPOOR just come out in paper? 

RS:  That was in August too. But it was last year's book. Not that people shouldn't buy it on that account. 

JF:    Right.:) Could you give us a brief precis of THE ALIEN YEARS?

RS:  The Earth is invaded by invincible aliens. They never tell us word one about what they want from us, and stay around a hundred years or so in complete dominance. Story is told through five generations of same family. Struggle for liberation against unthinkably superior masters.

JF:  What was the story upon which it was based? 

RS:  There were three of them, from the 1980s -- "Against Babylon," "The Pardoner's Tale," and something I did for Ellen at Omni about aliens in Central Park. "Hannibal's Elephants," it was. 

Ellen Datlow:  Yes, and "Against Babylon" was also in OMNI. 

RS:  Right. "Pardoner" was in Playboy. 

ED:  "Hannibal" was pretty funny all in all.

RS:  Yeah. I wish I could have used more of it in the novel, but it would have switched the mood around. 

JF:  Right. Did you have a novel in mind at all when you were working on the shorter pieces? 

RS:  No. But gradually I saw I was telling a story piecemeal about an alien invasion, and I decided to link the stories. They make up about ten percent of the book, tops. 

JF:  This was a bit different than many of your books . . . 

RS:  Different how? Sold better than some.

JF:  . . . insofar as there are military characters, invasion, etc. Yet the book has your imprint of characters. Were you experimenting with it? 

RS:  Joe Haldeman helped me with some of the military stuff. I'm your basic civilian, all right. But a writer is supposed to get into all sorts of heads.

JF:  What kind of research did you do for this book?  

RS:  Well, there was Joe. And I went to Prague, which I guess counts as research. Et cetera. For a writer everything is research, And deductible, I may add.

JF:  :-) Many writers find Prague to be an inspiration -- I think Davidson was among them. Did it do anything for you in that way?

RS:  Fascinating city. I used another piece of it in the Majipoor story in LEGENDS -- the Jewish cemetery wound up on Majipoor. 

JF:  Was there any specific model or inspiration for the Carmichael family? 

RS:  A lot of them were named "Anson." Does that tell anybody anything? 

JF:  Got it. :-) I hadn't noticed that. Any other Tuckerisms we should note?

RS:  No -- no other characters were meant to have Tuckerized names. 

JF:  This book read like it would be a great film. Were you thinking along those lines? 

RS:  Wasn't particularly thinking of it as a movie, but I've already been down to LA to discuss the possibilities with a producer. These days everything is a potential film. In fact I went out of my way to avoid a Hollywood ending for the book. The movie, if there is one, will probably stick one on. 

JF:  What work of yours would you like most to be made into a film?

RS:  The one I'd most like to see is SON OF MAN. Done by Fellini. 

JF:  Any others?

RS:  Others to be filmed? LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE would make a hell of a movie, if they can find four-armed actors.

JF:  Shall we discuss LEGENDS?

RS:  Sure.

JF:  It's one of your best anthologies, and that's a mouthful. Was it difficult to line up "sequels" to properties from all those different writers? It must be harder than completely new concepts. 

RS:  Nearly everybody I asked was eager to take part. They all had bits and pieces of their sagas that they hadn't been able to fit into the novels. 

JF:  Will there be an SF version? 

RS:  Of LEGENDS, you mean? Yes. Called FAR HORIZONS. Coming out in May. Similar concept. 

JF:  Who's in that?

RS:  Joe Haldeman, Greg Bear, Greg Benford. Le Guin. McCaffrey. Scott Card, new Ender story. Pohl, new Heechee story. Nancy Kress. Me. Eleven writers in all -- I may have left somebody out. Yes. Brin. And someone else. It'll come to me. 

poeYow, that sounds grand. 

RS:  And it will swallow us all up. 

poe:  Mr. S, are you still writing non-fiction books? 

RS:  No. Gave that up a long time ago. Too much homework to do.

Ante:  First of all I want to thank Mr. Silverberg for the most touching book I've ever read, DYING INSIDE

ED:  I agree, it's one of my favorites.

RS:  Thank you. Was a tough one to write.

Ante:  What I wonder is, are your writing now focused more at easier things or are there another DYING INSIDE waiting to be written? 

RS:  I'm not focused on easier things, no -- things don't get easier in this business -- but DYING INSIDE only needed to be written once.

chattus:  Is there ever any "homework" required for your fiction work? 

RS:  Yes, plenty of it. But it's not as comprehensive as the research for the archaeology books -- I can pick and choose among the facts to suit myself in fiction. 

DaveS:  I'm reading Disch's DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF which has a dim view of SF, and just heard Walter Moseley talk highly about the genre. Are you ever regretful of your decision to return to writing SF? What is your feeling about the genre?

RS:  The usual love-hate thing. Imagine going to work every day and your job is to save the world three times a week. Or destroy it. It's pretty weird to spend your whole adult life writing about
places that don't exist, and I often yearn to run screaming away from it all. But now and then I do, and after a while I come back, as I did in 1980 after a five-year absence. 

ED:  Thanks to Bob Sheckley, who got you to write somethign for OMNI. 

RS:  Yes, Sheckley (and Ben Bova, who was his boss then) made me an offer I couldn't refuse. 

JF:  Do you find such a respite refreshing? Would you characterize your work as being any different before/after? 

Robert Silverberg
RS:  It certainly was different after the 1975-80 break. I had been writing stuff like DYING INSIDE and BOOK OF SKULLS before, and I came back from my time off with LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE. But there's really no accounting for the changes we go through in our approach to the stuff. They just happen.

Calpurnius:  What do you enjoy writing more: short stories or novels? 

RS:  When I'm writing a novel I think longingly about doing short stories, where you can extricate yourself after a week or two. When I'm doing short stories, which are tense difficult things, I fantasize about sitting down day after day to the same lengthy project. 

Ante:  Did the New Wave influence your writing at all? 

RS:  It was a pretty wild time for all of us. I jumped right in. Exhilarating era, you betcha. Except that readers fled in droves.

ED:  Well, it was more experimental than most periods.

RS:  The whole world was experimental then.

ED:  I think the style sometimes scared readers away. 

chattus:  We all need a respite from our work. So, what do you do for leisure or recreation? 

RS:  For leisure? Recreation? I've got an elaborate garden here. I travel a lot. I read. (Not much SF.) I look for unusual restaurants.

The style in the new wave era often made the stories unintelligible, I guess. 

JF:  What do you enjoy reading the most outside SF? 

DaveS:  What SF ideas have you struck you as seeping into your day to day life? For example, I'm here in two places and could pretend to be two separate personalities if I wanted to -- a conceit I've seen in a zillion SF stories but can now live. 

ED:  I bet the internet. :> Bob never thought he could stand it. 

RS:  Things moving too fast. Let's take what I read outside SF. A lot of classical literature (in translation) -- Greeks, Romans. Contemporary fiction, Robt Stone, Updike, Le Carre. Biography.

And as for the internet, I took my sweet time getting there. A mistake. Fantastic thing. 

Ante:  Since you've written so much, do you often feel like you have to twist old ideas or do you get new one all the time? 

RS:  Whenever new ideas don't show up, I take an old one and twist it hard. Works every time. 

DaveS:  How hard are the Roma Eterna stories to write? Must be more than just research bring the past forward. 

RS:  Roma Eterna. I'm about to start another one, next week. I imagine there'll be four or five more. I've got a lot of pseudo-history to play with and I'm having fun with it. They're hard to do the way anything worth doing is hard to do. But I don't mind the research in that case. 

poe:  Have you written anything that could be described as "cyberpunk"? Do you enjoy that group of writers? 

RS:  I thought Neuromancer was a fascinating book, but the others of that school mostly make me yawn. Unless you count Snow Crash as cyberpunk, that is. Very funny book.

I've written plenty of cyberpunkish stuff myself, of course, but nearly all of it before the term or the school existed. 

poe:  Any titles in particular?

RS:  "Pardoner's Tale" would qualify. There's more, but I'm not coming up with the names. 

poe:  I'll seek it out. 

RS:  There's a Silverberg web site -- Jon Davis runs it -- that knows more about my work than I do. 

Ante:  How you feel about nanotech? I sometimes feel it's like a deus-ex-machina that good authors don't use. How do you feel? It's often just so magical. 

RS:  Zip, and we are on to nanotech. It's a nifty idea. And, yes, magical -- so much of SF is really fantasy, you know. Time travel, for example. Wish fulfillment done in techtalk. 

CalpurniusDo you have any projects which you've not been able to write for one reason or another, but still are holding onto for a "some day"? 

RS:  Yep. Half a dozen books waiting their turn. I suspect that for some, their turn will never come -- that I won't want to write them after all. 

poe:  How do you feel about human cloning? Should we or shouldn't we? 

RS:  I did a piece for Asimov's about cloning humans. The perils seem much overrated to me.

john-ex:  I'm a newbie. What is "nanotech"? 

RS:  Somebody else explain nanotech to him. I'm getting tired. 

poe:  Teeny tiny robots. 

RS:  Cute. Teeny tiny robots, right. That get inside your bloodstream and fix things. 

john-ex:  Thanks.

poe:  Lunar ice stations . . . a possibility? 

RS:  Moon seems to have a surprising amount of water. Ship it to Arizona. 

chattus:  I hear it often expressed that the short story is the strength of SF. Do you agree?

RS:  Interesting idea. A good short story is built around one single thing. States an idea, develops it. Perfect for SF. Novels often get clogged up with too much plot. My favorite form is the
novella, really. The lucidity of the short story but just enough room to develop character. 

Ante:  Do you feel science fiction to be special, or is it just literature comparable with e.g. Dostojevskij? 

RS:  Funny you'd mention Dostoievski. Was reading Brothers Karamazov last month, first time in forty years. Mentioned it to a correspondent in Spain and he started counting all the Dostoievski references in my stories. Surprised me, how many. Great writer. Should have won some Hugos. 

Ante:  A lot of writers think SF is just ideas, and not literature. 

RS:  Spelling of Dostoievski in Ante's question makes me wonder what country he's in right now. 

Ante:  Sweden, why?

RS:  Thought it was someplace exotic like that. J has a different sound in English. 

ED:  Wow, isn't it late in Sweden? 

Ante:  It's 05.05 am. 

chattus:  Ante....a real fan:)

Ante:  I'm sleepy! :) 

DaveS:  Can you talk a little about getting older? I remember you writing about looking at old pictures and realizing what a callous dope your younger self was. I'm starting to come to the same realization (about me, not you). 

RS:  Not sure I understand your distinction between ideas and literature, Ante. 

As for getting older, I'm not really in favor of it, but the choices aren't appealing. Odd thing about my current face is that I once was the youngest SF writer in the business. Won a Hugo when I
was 21. A mascot for the older writers. And now. . . . 

AnteI just remembered a old argument I had: If a SF writer should write good literature, or if he should develop a scientific idea. 

RS:  Ah. I see. Ideally, he should do both. HG Wells, for instance. Characters, style, and the fundamental SF idea that drives the plot. 

Ante:  OK. Thank you. 

RS:  Wells was the best writer we ever had. Reached our peak right at the beginning. 

JF:  Who takes 2nd and 3rd place? 

RS:  I decline to answer on the grounds that it would get me in big trouble. Anyway, Wells is far ahead of the pack. I have good feelings about Heinlein's role in developing the technique of shaping a science-fictional concept, though. Our very own Hemingway, he was. I mean, he developed the narrative form we use today, just as Hemingway did in general fiction. 

Ante:  If we're beginning to talk about ranking things, do you have any favorites of your own writing? 

RS:  DYING INSIDE. SON OF MAN. SAILING TO BYZANTIUM. BORN WITH THE DEAD. I like a lot of my own stuff, incidentally. 

ED:  Do you have any favorite of your short stories? 

Ante:  Isn't BORN WITH THE DEAD a novella? 

RS:  "Sundance." "Passengers." "Capricorn Games." Oh, I don't know. I've written nine million short stories. I like a lot of them. 

BORN WITH THE DEAD was a novella, yes. 25,000 words. 

ED:  Bob, I know you have lots of ideas for novels so how do you decide which is the next you want to write? 

RS:  It's what feels right to do. Do I want to go back to Majipoor? Do I want to write the Atlantis thing, finally? (Probably not.) Somehow I know what's next. 

Ante:  Do you do a lot of conventions as a GoH? Would you consider coming to Sweden? 

RS:  Sure I'd consider going to Sweden. Haven't been there since 1970. My wife has never seen Scandinavia at all. I go on and on about the herring. 

Ante:  Oh yes! Blue, green and red 

RS:  Or was it 1965? A long time ago. The lingonberries are calling to me. And the snaps. 

ED:  You mean ginger snaps? They're very good. 

Ante:  Snaps I like, lingonberries, no. 

RS:  Just as long as you don't mix the lingonberries and the snaps. Ellen, think schnapps. 

ED:  Ick.

RS:  Swedish snaps is clear and cold. Swell with herring. Wash it down with nice cold beer.

Ante:  Right! You ought to try it. 

DaveS:  I learned to juggle solely because of the Majipoor books. Did the image of 4-armed jugglers come early or late as you were thinking about LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, ie was it an add-on or a seed of crystallization? 

RS:  They were part of the initial idea -- a metaphor for Valentine's predicament and his agility. 

JF:  Were the Flying Karamozovs an inspiration? For the juggling -- not the schnapps. 

RS:  We could use a good Swedish restaurant in San Francisco. Found one in New York last summer. 

The Flying Karamazovs were not only an inspiration for the book, they taught me a little about juggling. 

ED:  Bob, which restaurant?

RS:  It's just west of 5th, on 53rd or 54th. I forget the name. Hidden away below street level. Terrific. Expensive. 

chattus:  Bob, come to florida and try gator tail and swamp cabbage! 

RS:  Gator tail and aquavit? Why not? 

JF:  Bob, how do you feel about the modern crop of writers? Who has emerged in the 90s who you respect? 

ED:  What's swamp cabbage? 

chattus:  From a palm that grows wild, Ellen.

RS:  Things getting a little manic now. All this talk of Swedish cuisine has made the new writers of science fiction very remote in my mind. 

ED:  Focus, Bob, focus. 

RS:  I'm sure there's somebody new who's caught my attention. But I haven't really been reading much SF lately. Varley? He's one of those new guys, isn't he? And Kim Stanley Robinson? Bound to get somewhere eventually. 

Ante:  What do you think about, e.g., Jeff Noon? 

RS:  The Vurt fellow, or something similar? Not my cup of tea. I'm getting very stodgy nowadays. Am I thinking of the right guy?

ED:  Yes.

RS:  I'm a retired revolutionary. Angry young men make me yawn.

DaveS:  "Pope of the Chimps" is one of my favorite stories, when I first learned to enjoy that sinking feeling of good tragedy. Where did that idea come from? (Besides the obvious sign language research.) 

RS:  Hey, I should have listed that one before. I don't know where the idea came from -- I was asked to write something on a religious theme and that one just popped out. I'm glad that such things happen. 

ED:  It's a wonderful story.

poe:  You mentioned the internet. What uses have you found for it?

RS:  E-mail, of course. Amazing to be shooting letters back and forth instantaneously to Spain and Bulgaria and Croatia and China. But I do a lot of surfing for research purposes -- reference

ED:  Any last questions? We're near the end of the show.

poe:  How's the weather? 

RS:  Cool and clear today, temperature in the sixties, sunny. Not exactly swimming weather. Might rain by Sat. 

JF:  What are you working on now? 

RS:  Working on the new Roma Eterna story. Set in Arabia in the time of Mohammed. Not writing it yet, just putting the background together. 

DaveS:  What would you do differently in your career if you had the chances again? 

RS:  It would take me the next hour and a half to tell you all that. But the quick answer is that I would have written a nice fat fantasy trilogy and lived happily ever after, instead of writing all those
singleton books that just happened to be what I wanted to write next. Majipoor, you know, wasn't a real trilogy. 

Ante:  How come you write so much historical-based fiction? (I'm a historian by profession.) 

RS:  Why not write historical-based fiction? How else can I derive the future but from contemplation of the past? 

Ante:  Odd, I've never seen it that way! good point. 

chattus:  What did you think of Glenn's flight in space recently? 

RS:  Mixed feelings. There were political angles I didn't like, and it was a sort of ego trip, et cetera, et cetera. And then he went up there and none of that mattered. An amazing stunt. More power to him. 

chattus:  Same here:) 

RS:  Let's send the rest of the Senate up there next.

chattus:  But not back down, Bob :)

ED:  And leave them there :>

RS:  You divined my meaning, chattus. 

Ante:  It's going to be crowded. 

DaveS:  We seem to always be in some phase of nostalgia - currently for the 60s and 70s. Does the past seem better because we don't have it around to see it's flaws? 

RS:  Well, of course, we only remember the good parts. And they get better and better. 

ED:  Jettison 'em all.

JF:  I think Congress is weightless already.

RS:  Running amok, the whole crowd of you. Can I go home now?

JF:  Yes, if you want. 

ED:  Yes you can, and we all thank you for coming for a chat. 

JF:  Thanks so much for being here, and more importantly, for your work.

RS:  Better yet, you go home. I'm there already. Go to sleep, Ante. Dawn is coming. The rest of you. Pam never came back. Poe remains, at least. 

DaveS:  It was good to talk with you. Thanks for your time. 

RS:  Good night to you all. Ad astra per aspera, et cetera. 

Ante:  I will! Thanks for your time! See you in Sweden! 

poe:  Adios.

RS:  I hope so. We'll lift a glass together.

ED:  And eat lingonberries. 

Ante:  We will.

JF:  And drink schnapps.

RS:  Going away now. Really. 

RS:  Really. 

ED:  Night all and thanks for coming. 

JF:  Night!

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