Thursday, September 24, 2009

Other Spaces, Other Times by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg has never before written a formal autobiography, and he's hasn't actually written one now; Other Spaces, Other Times gathers a variety of pre-existing essays with some autobiographical content into a rough organization based on chronology and theme. It doesn't consistently explain where those essays come from -- though a few declare themselves to have come from Amazing Stories in the early '90s, and some others are obvious story notes from Silverberg's 2005 retrospective In the Beginning.

Other Spaces is divided into four main sections, plus a new introduction and a decent bibliography, and is also extensively illustrated with photos of Silverberg in his younger days and the covers of various publications featuring his work. That art, like the prose, is slightly haphazardly chosen and placed, but it's all excellent and worth being in the book somewhere, even if there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for it to be on that particular page. The layout is solidly professional as well -- and that only looks like a small thing when it's done right, particularly where there's so much art for the text to run around.

The first section of the book, "Beginnings," shows Silverberg running through the events of his early life -- primarily those parts of it that took place after he discovered science fiction stories, of course. Since it's made up of about a dozen separate essays, there's some repetition as well as plenty of things that Silverberg never gets around to writing about. But we've all see this kind of thing before, from various writers and fans, so we can always fill in those gaps ourselves.

The second part of Other Spaces is a collection of story head-notes from mostly the early part of his career -- though it does also encompass most of the most renowned and famous stories from the '60s through the early '90s. This section is also repetitious, particularly in the notes on those early stories -- Silverberg essentially traces his development, story by story, for two years, and then speeds up to hit only the high points of the next forty years. This is an artifact of the essays that existed to be collected into this book, obviously, but it would have been nice to see Silverberg talking about his career and writing at greater length and with a more coherent focus.

Next is a section called "Autobiography," the bulk of which is the essay "Sounding Brass, Tinkling Cymbal," originally published in Hell's Cartographers, a collection of similar autobiographical essays by SF writers and edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison. (The '70s really was a time when any anthology idea could get published.) That essay covers, again, some of the same years and thoughts and ideas and the previous essays, and it is followed by an update, a year later, and then some more miscellaneous pieces from later in Silverberg's career, mostly focusing on his popular world of Majipoor.

And then last is "Miscellany of a Life," which collects more essays, still mostly on SFnal topics, but not always as close to Silverberg's own career.

I'm generally dubious about books that pretend to be something that they aren't, and Other Spaces, Other Times is very much an essay collection masquerading as autobiography. However, since the veil isn't very thick to begin with, and since Silverberg is a wonderful storyteller collecting interesting stories of a long and fruitful career, I'm prepared to overlook the blot this time. But I do hope that neither Silverberg nor Nonstop Press, which published this book, makes a habit of it.
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Listening to: The Mountain Goats - Sax Rohmer #1
via FoxyTunes

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would have also preferred a straightforward autobiography, but Silverberg has said that he has no intention of writing one. The book is meant to collect as much autobiographical writings together as possible and give newer fans some background on the very prolific and under-the-radar (outside science fiction) author. I think the book works well as the quasi- autobiography that it is. Harlan Ellison is another genre writer who is not likely to write autobiography, and Ellison’s many fans may appreciate a well-designed book like OSOT collecting his many life stories. -- Martos

Gary Farber said...

"(The '70s really was a time when any anthology idea could get published.)"

Two words: Roger Elwood.

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