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Author Spotlight: Robert Silverberg

In this Author Spotlight, we take a look at Robert Silverberg’s career and life leading up to his story “Travelers,” which first appeared in Amazing Stories.

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In “Travelers,” Robert Silverberg has created a future where travel between planets is the entirety of many people’s lives, people no more rooted in place than a zephyr or tornado. Without restrictions like health issues, life span or economics, the humans in this future can enjoy jaunting across galaxies the way twenty-first century oil barons enjoy island-hopping in the Caribbean. It can be a hedonistic lifestyle—or it can be a way to expand one’s horizons, ever-deepening one’s understanding of humanity through exposure to The Other: other people, other cultures, other worlds.

As a boy, Robert Silverberg did his traveling via armchair, soaking up the otherly, the wondrous and the exotic from the pages of National Geographic. A smart and curious child, Earth-bound adventures soon became too prosaic, and the wonders of science fiction captured his interest. Science fiction offered his restless mind the chance to explore new worlds that not even the heartiest of geographical surveyors could reach. He became an avid collector of pulp magazines, poring over the stories and studying their depths.

It was just a matter of time before he started writing the stuff himself.

Silverberg began mailing out science fiction short stories when he was fourteen years old. He’d never even left New York state, but his mind had roved across galaxies and he was more than ready to try his hand creating new worlds. It took about three years of practice, but he made his first professional sale in 1954. He was barely eighteen.

Now, close to sixty years later, Robert Silverberg has had a chance to visit many of the places he read about in those National Geographics, and he has sold thousands of stories. He’s written many novels, edited more than twenty anthologies and written a vast quantity of nonfiction, from books about history to his well-respected column in Asimov’s. He has created more worlds than most people have even read about.

Even in “Travelers,” just a single story of his vast oeuvre, Robert Silverberg has created many memorable locales. There’s Galgala, a world made gilt by strange microorganisms; Marajo, famed for its Seven Pyramids; Megalo Kastro with its living sea; and of course the rough world of Sidri Akrak, where people and monsters live side-by-side. For a story that’s only about seven thousand words long, that’s a lot of exploration to serve up.

But for Robert Silverberg, that’s part of the job. As he said in his book, Reflections and Refractions: “Is it not true that one of the primary things we science-fiction writers try to accomplish is to bring a note of, well, enwonderment to our readers’ minds—to startle and delight and astonish them with miraculous and magical visions of wondrous things?”1

For those readers lucky enough to pick up one of Robert Silverberg’s works and give themselves over to that enwonderment, they will find themselves transported to magical and delightful places indeed. His remarkable worldbuilding is perhaps at the heart of his successful and long-lived career as one of the greatest writers of science fiction. He is a master of place and setting.

The protagonist of “Travelers” says that he and his friends are “travelers by nature and destiny.” But he might well be speaking for Robert Silverberg himself—that traveler of the imagination and creator of countless wondrous worlds.

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1 Robert Silverberg, Reflections & Refractions, (Grass Valley, CA: Underwood Books, 1997), p2.

See also: Robert Silverberg, Other Spaces, Other Times, (New York: Nonstop Press, 2009).

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Wendy N. Wagner

Wendy-N.-Wagner

Wendy N. Wagner is the author of more than forty short stories and has also written two novels for the Pathfinder role-playing game. Her third novel, An Oath of Dogs, is a sci-fi thriller from Angry Robot Books. She serves as the managing/associate editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines. She is also the non-fiction editor of Women Destroy Science Fiction!, which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, and the guest editor of Queers Destroy Horror! She lives in Oregon with her very understanding family.