Sailing to Byzantium by Silverberg, Robert, 1984

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In about the mid-phase of Robert Silverberg's very long and illustrious career he penned a series of novellas based on famous poems. Sailing to Byzantium and Tom O'Bedlam, both named directly after the poems that they referenced, won awards for the years in which they were published, 1984 and 1985 respectively. The title has since been added to a Silverberg anthology of original novellas, all five of which find the kernel of genesis in a classic English language poem. I like to say that they were produced during the high point in his career, but the thing is you need to go all the way back to 1968 to find the time of his first upswing.

This is an odd little novella that focus strongly at first on setting, then in the end on character. The novella is about a civilization of fiftieth century humans who spend their time traveling between one of five cities on Earth. The citizens are somewhat Eloi like, in that none of them really have a good idea what the purpose of their lives is. They are served by a large population of robots and "temporaries," who seem to be manufactured people of very limited intelligence. The five cities are taken down by the robots at infrequent intervals, and new cities from Earth's past are put up in its place. The male main character, Charles Phillips, is a twentieth century man who one day found himself in the future. He met and fell in love with a local, who unlike anyone else on the planet, is aging and will eventually die of old age.

The magic of this story really is in the prose though, and that is were Silverberg puts his best foot forward. His descriptions of scene and character are rich and amazing. The main character's stories are fascinating. Phillips exploration of the physical world and his own personal situation just pull the reader right through the work, and really leave you begging for more at the end. And actually that is really the only serious flaw that I can find with the novella: Its too short. Silverberg really doesn't leave any part of his story untold. Instead, I found myself just wanting more generally. If you get this book, go for the collection noted above. You wont be sorry.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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