Robert Silverberg: The Philip Roth of the science fiction world

Final front coverMichael Dirda at The Washington Post:

In the early 1950s a teenage Robert Silverberg began to submit stories to science fiction magazines. About this same time the Paris Review was inaugurating its celebrated “Writers at Work” interviews. In a properly run world, Silverberg would by now have been among the authors honored by that literary quarterly, since his has been one of the most prodigious careers in all American letters. Still, one can hardly imagine the result being better, or more sheerly enjoyable, than the seven long conversations conducted by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro in “Traveler of Worlds.”

That word “prodigious” captures two aspects of Silverberg’s professional life. First, he was a prodigy, publishing his first novel — the popular juvenile book “Revolt on Alpha C” — in 1955, when he was just 21. In 1956 he won a special Hugo award as the most promising young talent in science fiction. (The runner-up was Harlan Ellison.) Determined to earn his living with his typewriter, Silverberg then began to produce fiction and nonfiction at an astonishing rate, using both his own name and an unknown number of pseudonyms. One year he wrote 40 novels (though many of these were just quick-cash pornography). He worked much harder on popular introductions to archaeology and accounts of history’s byways, such as the still valuable “Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations.” By 1961 Silverberg had grown wealthy enough — largely through investments — to purchase a mansion that had once belonged to New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Money, as he says here, “makes for a quieter life, and I’m not interested in turbulence.”

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