Sunday, February 18, 2007

The cream of his earliest crop

kw: book reviews, science fiction, space opera, anthologies, golden age

Robert Silverberg reckons (he can't determine exactly) that he has written about a thousand stories. At some 25 per volume, should he anthologize them all, it'll take forty volumes. In the introduction to To Be Continued: Volume One (The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg), he makes it clear that isn't in the cards.

Unspokenly following Theodore Sturgeon's dictum that "90% of everything is junk", Silverberg presents the stories from the formative period of his career, 1953-1958, that best represent his growth as a writer. Should he succeed in his endeavor, we can expect two or three more volumes.

The 24 stories in To Be Continued display his explorations as he deliberately pushed the envelope of his growing talent. His writing paid the rent during his college years, and for two or three years after. He rapidly became known as a reliable "stable" writer, able to crank out a gut-buster space adventure in a day or two, to order, or to write a story to fit a painter's cover artwork. He'd gained the knack early of writing a readable story line and characterization, balancing action with background. He tried out various formulas, experimented with other authors' styles. He wrote for all markets, low (pulp), middle and high.
He didn't place many stories in the higher-paying glossies, but they didn't ignore him, either. Silverberg took tremendous advantage of the many outlets a SciFi writer had in the 1950s. It reminds me of the early Auto market. At one time, you could drive a Studebaker, a Reo, a De Soto, or a Stanley. There are fewer automakers worldwide today than there were just in America prior to about 1960. The popular magazine markets followed a similar trajectory.

The author prefaces each story with some autobiographical material. He was one of a lucky handful that had talent to spare in a decade that had hungry readers galore.

Legendary editor John Campbell used to say, "Present a problem, then solve it." That's still the best formula for storytelling, of any genre. Silverberg is still a master of the craft, and I appreciate a look into the roots from which the past fifty years of his work has sprung.

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