Son of Man by Silverberg, Robert, 1971

Son of Man by Silverberg, Robert - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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If you look through my reviews you will see that sometimes I say that I love New Wave stories, and other times I say that I do not care for them too much. I realized this over the last few weeks as I began proofing and redrafting all of my reviews for the new and improved book review page. I was a little shocked that I had said in the past that I don't care for New Wave stories, because for the most part it is not true. But after getting a hold of this week's book, I remembered that there are some that I personally don't think are worth the time. Son of Man is one of them. Though it looks like a novel in the hands, it is really nothing more than thirty separate chapters that completely fail to tell a cohesive story. Two out of five stars.

Silverberg is known for writing some of the best known and most important books in the genre. I've already put up a few of them here, so please, by all means have a look. But his average output over the last fifty years has been at least two novels and about ten short stories per year. A stinker or two have to creep in there, right? Well, in my opinion Silverberg has his fair share of stinkers. This particular story is a new one to me, but after one read I'm sure that is the category it belongs to. It is the story of Clay, a person from our time who is caught up in a "time-flux" and deposited in the far, far future with a group of six other post human and god-like creatures. The book is the tale of Clay's journey across the world as he meets several different versions of mankind, experiences different rituals of the time, and encounters many different kinds of terrain and spheres of different physics. As a matter of fact, vaguely related experiences are just about all this book is. Each chapter is dedicated to a different kind of experience, about half of which revolve around sex of some kind. The problem is that none of the experiences build to anything, and Silverberg really seems to go nowhere with the narrative. If I had to guess, I would say that the far future travelogue and cultural exploration that this book appears to be is actually a metaphor for birth, life and death, with a particular focus on procreation. Silverberg focused on sex quite a bit in this book. Most of it was quite sensual, none of it was really "dirty," or even "gritty," but until the end of the book very little of it came from a place of love. Much of it focused on the genitals rather than the brain or the heart, but there were plenty of child-carrying and birth metaphors too. Things such as running water, submersion, seeds in the Earth and different beings rising from clefts of the ground left very little question that was what Silverberg was talking about.

This one is also told in a dreamy and repetitive voice that frankly drove me a little crazy. Here is an example of the repetitiveness, the sexual content, and the birth metaphors all wrapped into one:

He staggers forth bloodied and finds her waiting for him beside a stubby, squat tree no taller than herself. The latches of her nostrils flutter; her eyelids open and close repeatedly; her little breasts heave. Briefly he sees her with flowing green hair and a dense black pubic mat, but the moment passes and she is as sleek as before. Five creatures call his name hoarsely from branches of the tree. The have huge mouths and scrawny necks and puffy wings, and, so far as he can tell, no bodies at all. "Clay! Clay! Clay! Clay! Clay!" Hanmer dismisses them; they hop to the ground and scurry away. She comes to him and kisses each scratch, and it heals. Austerely she examines the parts of his body, handling everything; learning his anatomy as though she may have to build something just like him one day. The intimacy of the inspection disturbs him. At length she is satisfied. She unzips the ground and draws a tuber from it, as the other Hanmer had done yesterday. Trustingly he takes it and sucks the juice. Blue fir sprouts on his skin. His genitals grow so monstrous that he sags to the ground under the pull of their weight. His toes unite. The moon, he thinks bitterly. Hanmer crouches over him and lowers herself, impaling herself on his rod. The moon. The moon. Mercury. The moon. He barely notices the orgasmic jolt.

Pretty much everything else in the book makes about as much logical sense as the preceding passage. Even if you read it in context, there is not too much there to inform the reader or help understand what is going on. The book is very experimental and avant-garde, and it is an early non-Farmer exploration of sexuality through SF's unique lens. If you like foreign art-house films, this one may be for you. I think it would fall somewhere between French and Swedish, so good luck.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)

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