February 18, 2020

Dying Inside by Robert Silverburg

Dying Inside isn’t Robert Silverburg’s most well known novel. It also is does not fit into any of the standard themes.

It’s a very stripped down, yet elegant premise; the chief protagonist, David Selig, was born with the power to read minds. The tale follows Selig’s rapid decline through middle age as he transcends from near godlike abilities to mere mortal hood. All of his life, he has been able to read minds, and the ability he has relied on has both enabled and stunted him. Flashbacks to his earlier life provide insight, such as how his sister Judith discovered his abilities. His powers also suffer under his recreational drug use in the 60′s. The whole book might be seen as a metaphor for America’s decline in the latter half of the 20th century; as his power wanes, so does the nations. This book had a huge impact on me as a teenager; a loved it so much that I found myself seeking it out again at the used bookstore that I sold it at!
Selig also manages to keep his powers secret; along the way, he encounters others with the same ability. However, as he deteriorates, he finds himself blinded and utterly alone. He envies others who use their powers without inhibition or guilt over the evasiveness of mind reading. Dying Inside provides an alluring answer to a nagging question; if telepathy were possible, why haven’t we already evolved the capability? Surely, the ability to read minds would be overwelmingly beneficial to its possessors; the gene would swiftly take over and push out those without. Perhaps, as Silverberg suggests, would be telepaths are “guilted” out of existence. Still, the dark poetry of Dying Inside sings to the human condition. Although there are no rocket ships or ray guns here, this is classic sci-fi. This book also merits more than one read, a distinction I would give to only a handful of books. Especially memorable are Seligs’ re-writes of the term papers he ghosts for local college students (remember this was pre-internet!). Some of the humorous flashbacks are very telling, and there is a certain sensuousness to the book, a dimension mostly lacking in a majority of sci-fi. A reader may even forget they are reading sci-fi with this book, and that is a feat in itself, as I know of so many people who are turned off by the genre. Read Dying Inside to discover all that good sci-fi can be!


  1. [...] wrote Dying Inside a year later, and the style shows it. The breadth and depth of this book make’s me rethink my [...]

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