Robert Silverberg

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Author: Malcolm Edwards
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,765 words

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[(essay date 1982) In the following essay, Edwards provides an overview of Silverberg's life and career.]

Robert Silverberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 15 January 1935, an only child. He was an introverted and precocious boy, who discovered science fiction at an early age and was already submitting stories (without success) to science fiction magazines by the age of thirteen. (This part of his life is discussed in greater detail in his autobiographical essay "Sounding Brass, Tinkling Cymbal," 1975.) He studied English at Columbia University and, while still a student, began to sell stories with some regularity; his first sales, in January 1954, were the short story "Gorgon Planet" (1954) and the juvenile novel Revolt on Alpha C (1955), although the latter had to be extensively rewritten before it was published.

Silverberg's career moved into high gear in the summer of 1955 when Randall Garrett--already well established as a magazine writer--moved into the residential hotel near Columbia University where he lived. They began to collaborate, and in the last five months of the year Silverberg (still a third-year student) sold no less than twenty-six stories, written alone and in collaboration.

During the mid-1950's there was a great boom in science fiction magazine publishing. Many new titles appeared, and although most of them were destined to be short lived, for a few years there was considerable demand for material to fill their pages. A fast and efficient writer could obtain as much work as he or she liked, and Silverberg soon became the fastest and most efficient worker of all. As he puts it in "Sounding Brass, Tinkling Cymbal":

I developed a deadly facility; if an editor needed a 7500-word story of alien conquest in three days to balance an issue, he need only phone me and I would produce it. ... By the summer of 1956--by which time I had graduated from college and had married--I was the complete writing machine, turning out stories in all lengths at whatever quality the editor desired, from slam-bang adventure to cerebral pseudo-philosophy. (page 20)

Silverberg became a full-time writer immediately upon graduation and has remained one ever since. By the end of 1956 he had already published more than a million words, and he and his wife Barbara were able to live in some comfort in New York.

The stories Silverberg wrote during these astonishingly prolific early years were, for the most part, utterly forgettable. He would from time to time attempt more ambitious stories, but he found these difficult to sell; from this fact he drew the rather cynical conclusion that there was no demand for quality in the science fiction magazines, although it is perhaps more likely that the twenty-one-year-old Silverberg, despite his precocious technical facility, was not yet capable of producing work of the quality to which he occasionally aspired.

His best early work is to be found in some of his early novels, notably Master of Life and Death (1957), Invaders from Earth (1958), and Recalled to Life (serialized in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100038653