March 31, 2020

Son of Man by Robert Silverberg.



(Editors’ Note: Thanks to all of you that braved the cold to report the Quadrantid meteor shower rates this past weekend; here at Astroguyz HQ in Hudson, Florida we saw maybe a couple dozen under semi hazy skies the morning of the 3rd, amounting to a very unofficial zenithal hourly rate of maybe 90-100. Not a bad final shower to wrap up the season.  Of course, unlike the rest of the country, we had the privilege to observe in shorts and t-shirts in January! Now, at long last, back to the classic Scifi reviews…):

Looking for a “trippy” novel? Son of Man, by Robert Silverberg, may be it. Set in the far (and we do mean far!) future, this classic novel is now back in print courtesy of Pyr books. In it, an average mortal of modern times is flung into a universe in which Man has evolved into a multitude of distinct species.

It’s always refreshing to see an old concept such as time travel presented in a new way. The exact mechanism of the fling isn’t stated, but is instead subordinate to the story. For a greater explanation of the “timeflux” in which Clay is caught, read Silverberg’s later work, Dancers in the Time Flux. A recent Escape Pod story comes to mind, as well as Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men and even H.G. Wells the Time Machine. In the storyline, we are introduced to such “alternate humans” as the Seekers, Awaiters, Destroyers, Skimmers and others. The protagonist Clay also is subjected to lands such as Heavy, Dark, and Wrong. Really, that’s how mind bending the book is! Silverberg is also given to some awesome poetic prose in this book, some of the best I’ve read in Scifi. (Now, that’s a complement!) Our favorite; Clay’s time with the Awaiters, watching the eons drift lazily by. The very thought boggles the mind!

But not all is benign in this remote world of the future; as always, evil awaits. The worlds of both Heavy and Dark are almost beyond comprehension, as any true distant future should be. The early venture through the deep cosmos is especially cool, and sensuality pervades through out. Robert Silverberg is one of the true poets of science fiction. First published in 1971, Son of Man catches Silverberg at his most prolific, and probably would have won a Nebula or Hugo if Larry Niven’s Ringworld hadn’t come out the same year! (Incidentally, Silverberg MC’d the Hugos the same year).

Silverberg wrote Dying Inside a year later, and the style shows it. The breadth and depth of this book make’s me rethink my entire Scifi reading history; maybe I should dig up some of those older Silverberg tomes. He was one of the first authors to introduce sexuality to Scifi (remember, it was the 60s!) before it became trite. Son of Man also poses the question of what it means to be human, by stretching our biological potentials to their limits. All too often, we are tempted to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of creation, a perfection that cannot be topped. But we are in fact the least of several evolutionary branches such as the Neanderthals that went extinct. And there undoubtedly will be others. We also just now have the emerging potential to tinker with our heritage; will we recognize humanity even a century from now?

Some of the imagery was especially captivating; I wonder what future Man had done with the Earth’s missing Moon? Such details are not spoon-fed to the reader, instead allowing one to decide what might have happened. Read Son of Man as an exercise in expansion of the ol’ brain cells; your intellect will love you for it. I bet it’ll still be timely if we’re not disembodied entities floating the ether, an eon from now!


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