Sunday, May 26, 2024

SF Luminaries: Robert Silverberg

My PhD supervisor at the University of Edinburgh, Colin Manlove, a noted authority on Fantasy and SF, once told me that Robert Silverberg was his favourite writer in the genre, referring to him as 'the perfect Science Fiction machine.'

Robert Silverberg: Lord Valentine's Castle (1980)

Of course, that was back in the 1980s, shortly after Silverberg had staged a spectacular come-back, after a five year hiatus from fiction-writing, with Lord Valentine's Castle. But it was probably not such later works as the Majipoor series Colin had in mind so much as Silverberg's immense output as a Jack-of-all-trades pulp writer from the mid-1950s to roughly the mid-1970s.

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg: Pluto in the Morning Light (1: 1992)

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg: The Secret Sharer (2: 1993)

Recently I've been rereading all six volumes of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg issued by the HarperCollins UK imprint Voyager between 1992 and 2000. There's a couple of thousand pages of material in there, 106 stories in all - to which should be added another 16 collected in its immediate predecessor, The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party (1984). It ranges from a selection of his earliest magazine publications in the early 50s to his later work from the 80s and 90s.

Robert Silverberg: Collected Stories (9 vols: 2006-14)

Characteristically, though, Silverberg ultimately repudiated this series - which does, admittedly, range somewhat arbitrarily over time and space - in favour of an even more comprehensive assemblage, the 9-volume Collected Stories pictured above (you'll find further details in my somewhat SF-weighted attempt at a Silverberg bibliography below).

Even this 9-volume, 151-story version (supplemented by another couple of volumes - 33 stories - of "Tales from the Pulp Era") is a mere selection from his actual production over this period, though.

Robert Silverberg: Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era (2016)

So is "Robert Silverberg" just another version of Kurt Vonnegut's imaginary Kilgore Trout, a pulp-sci-fi-churning prodigy renowned for the quantity rather than the quality of his output? Readers who confined themselves solely to his early work might be forgiven for thinking so.

Reddit: Kilgore Trout Memorial (1907-1981)

I think what interested Colin Manlove most, though, were the insistent themes and motifs which recur throughout Silverberg's work, but particularly after the late 1960s: themes comparatively unusual for SF at the time, such as:
  1. the strong desire of so many of his protagonists to be subsumed in some sort of a cosmic all;
  2. a fascination with doubles and alternate selves;
  3. & a far greater preoccupation with sex (and gender politics generally) than previous SF writers had been allowed - or had allowed themselves - to explore.
One could easily protract the list, but each of the three above could easily generate enough material for a critical monograph or (shudder) a Doctoral thesis ...

Robert Silverberg: Gilgamesh the King (1984)

There is, however, another side to Robert Silverberg. From the early 1960s until roughly the mid-1970s he wrote an immense amount of non-fictional prose, focussing - for the most part - on subjects from archaeology and ancient history.

Many of these works remain worthwhile in themselves, but they also had the added advantage of opening up a new set of settings and ideas for his fictional work. His biographical novel Gilgamesh the King, for example, led directly to the afterlife story "Gilgamesh in the Outback", eventually collected in the novel-in-linked stories To the Land of the living (1990).

Roma Eterna, Sailing to Byzantium, Thebes of the Thousand Gates, and a number of his other novels and novellas are set either in ancient, or recreated alternative worlds of antiquity. His best-known and most popular series, the Majipoor books, are also heavily influenced by this atmosphere of antique immensity and imperial intrigue.

Robert Silverberg: Great Adventures in Archaeology (1964)

How, then, can we even start to sum up this most protean and prolific of SF writers? It's perhaps not so much that the sheer extent of his work defies categorisation and definition, as that that may not the most interesting way to read it.

These endless tallies of words published in a given year, fees earned from short-lived pulp magazines, emphases on his immense profligacy of invention are very much Silverberg's way of talking about himself.

It's better, then, to focus on the details: particular stories, particular visions - to give up trying to see him as a whole, but instead as a series of fractured parts. He is, after all, no Philip K. Dick. Unlike Dick, it's not in his overall themes he prevails but in the individual facets of his Balzacian overview of the human condition: past, present, and to come.

To start off with, you might try a couple of his later novels, the ones he published alongside the ongoing Majipoor Series about Lord Valentine and his successors (and predecessors). The Face of the Waters (1991) and Kingdoms of the Wall (1992) are two of my favourites: fascinating pieces of pure SF. However, if eco-fiction is more your thing, his 1994 novel Hot Sky at Midnight may seem startlingly prescient of our everyday climate woes right now.

One or other of his various assemblages of short stories is also a must-read. Only there can you get some sense of the prodigious energy and technical mastery which made him a legend among his peers - and, now, his successors.

Internet Fiction Spéculative Base de Données: Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg
(1935- )

Books I own are marked in bold:

  1. Revolt on Alpha C (1955)
  2. The 13th Immortal (1956)
  3. Master of Life and Death (1957)
  4. [with Randall Garrett, as Robert Randall] The Shrouded Planet (1957)
  5. Invaders from Earth (1958)
  6. [as Calvin M. Knox] Lest We Forget Thee, Earth (1958)
  7. Stepsons of Terra (1958)
    • Stepsons of Terra. 1958. An Ace Science Fiction Book. New York: Ace Books, Inc., 1983.
  8. [as David Osborne] Aliens from Space (1958)
  9. [as David Osborne] Invisible Barriers (1958)
  10. [as Ivar Jorgenson] Starhaven (1958)
  11. Starman's Quest (1958)
  12. [as Calvin M. Knox] The Plot Against Earth (1959)
  13. [with Randall Garrett, as Robert Randall] The Dawning Light (1959)
  14. The Planet Killers (1959)
  15. Lost Race of Mars (1960)
  16. Collision Course (1961)
  17. The Seed of Earth (1962)
  18. Recalled to Life (1962) [Rev. ed. 1972]
  19. Blood on the Mink [aka 'Too Much Blood on the Mink'] (1962)
  20. The Silent Invaders (1963)
  21. Time of the Great Freeze (1964)
  22. Regan's Planet (1964)
  23. [as Calvin M. Knox] One of Our Asteroids is Missing (1964)
  24. Conquerors from the Darkness (1965)
  25. The Gate of Worlds (1967)
  26. Planet of Death (1967)
  27. Thorns (1967)
    • Thorns. 1967. An Orbit Book. London: Futura Publications, 1987.
  28. Those Who Watch (1967)
  29. The Time Hoppers (1967)
  30. To Open the Sky (1967)
    • To Open the Sky. 1967. Sphere Science Fiction. London: Sphere Books Ltd., 1977.
  31. The Man in the Maze (1968)
    • The Man in the Maze. 1968. A Tandem Book. London: Tandem Publishing Ltd., 1977.
  32. Hawksbill Station (1968) [Best]
    • Hawksbill Station. 1968. A Star Book. London: W. H. Allen & Co., Ltd., 1982.
  33. The Masks of Time (1968)
  34. Nightwings (1969) [Best]
    • Nightwings. 1969. Sphere Science Fiction. London: Sphere Books Ltd., 1974.
  35. Across a Billion Years (1969)
  36. Three Survived (1969)
  37. To Live Again (1969)
    • To Live Again. 1969. Fontana Science Fiction. London: Fontana/Collins, 1977.
  38. Up the Line (1969)
  39. Downward to the Earth (1970)
    • Downward to the Earth. 1970. Pan Science Fiction. London: Pan Books, 1978.
  40. Tower of Glass (1970)
    • Tower of Glass. 1970. Panther Science Fiction. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1976.
  41. World's Fair 1992 (1970)
  42. Son of Man (1971)
    • Son of Man. 1971. Panther Science Fiction. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1979.
  43. The Second Trip (1971)
  44. The World Inside (1971)
  45. A Time of Changes (1971)
    • A Time of Changes. 1971. Gollancz Classic SF, 3. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1986.
  46. The Book of Skulls (1971)
    • The Book of Skulls. 1972. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, 1981.
  47. Dying Inside (1972)
    • Dying Inside. 1972. VGSF Classics, 31. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1989.
  48. The Stochastic Man (1975)
  49. Shadrach in the Furnace (1976)
  50. Homefaring (1982) [1: Pluto]
  51. Lord of Darkness (1983)
  52. Gilgamesh the King (1984)
    • Gilgamesh the King. New York: Arbor House, 1984.
  53. Sailing to Byzantium (1985) [1: Pluto]
  54. Tom O'Bedlam (1985)
    • Tom O'Bedlam. 1985. An Orbit Book. London: Futura Publications, 1987.
  55. Star of Gypsies (1986)
    • Star of Gypsies. 1986. An Orbit Book. London: Futura Publications, 1988.
  56. At Winter's End (1988)
    • At Winter's End. 1988. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books limited, 1990.
  57. Project Pendulum (1989)
  58. Letters From Atlantis (1990)
  59. The New Springtime [aka 'The Queen of Springtime'] (1990)
    • The Queen of Springtime. 1989. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books limited, 1991.
  60. To the Land of the Living (1990)
    • To the Land of the Living. 1990. VGSF. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1990.
  61. [with Isaac Asimov, based on his 1941 story] Nightfall (1990)
  62. Thebes of the Hundred Gates (1991)
    • Thebes of the Hundred Gates. 1991. HarperCollins Science Fiction and Fantasy. London: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 1994.
  63. The Face of the Waters (1991)
    • The Face of the Waters. 1991. A Bantam Spectra Book. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
  64. [with Isaac Asimov, based on his story 'Lastborn' (1958)] Child of Time [aka 'The Ugly Little Boy'] (1991)
  65. Kingdoms of the Wall (1992)
    • Kingdoms of the Wall. 1992. Grafton. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
  66. [with Isaac Asimov, based on his story 'The Bicentennial Man' (1976)] The Positronic Man (1992)
  67. Hot Sky at Midnight (1994)
    • Hot Sky at Midnight. 1994. A Bantam Spectra Book. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
  68. Starborne (1996)
    • Starborne. 1996. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.
  69. The Alien Years (1998)
  70. The Longest Way Home (2002)
    • The Longest Way Home. Gollancz. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2002.
  71. Roma Eterna (2003)
    • Roma Eterna. Gollancz. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2003.
  72. The Last Song of Orpheus (2010)

  73. Majipoor:

  74. Lord Valentine's Castle (1980)
    • Lord Valentine's Castle. 1980. London: Pan Books, 1981.
  75. Majipoor Chronicles (1982) [Majipoor]
    1. Thesme and the Ghayrog (1982)
    2. The Time of the Burning (1982)
    3. In the Fifth Year of the Voyage (1981)
    4. Calintane Explains (1982)
    5. The Desert of Stolen Dreams (1981)
    6. The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter (1981)
    7. Crime and Punishment (1982)
    8. Among the Dream Speakers (1982)
    9. A Thief in Ni-moya (1981)
    10. Voriax and Valentine (1982)
    11. Epilogue
    • Majipoor Chronicles. 1982. London: Pan Books, 1983.
  76. Valentine Pontifex (1983)
    • Valentine Pontifex. 1983. London: Pan Books, 1985.
  77. The Mountains of Majipoor (1995)
    • The Mountains of Majipoor. London: Pan Books, 1995.
  78. Sorcerers of Majipoor (1997)
    • Sorcerers of Majipoor. London: Pan Books, 1997.
  79. Lord Prestimion (1999)
    • Lord Prestimion. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
  80. King of Dreams (2001)
    • The King of Dreams. 2001. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
  81. Tales of Majipoor (2013)
    1. The End of the Line (2011)
    2. The Book of Changes (2003)
    3. The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn (2011)
    4. The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2004)
    5. Dark Times at the Midnight Market (2010)
    6. The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar (2009)
    7. The Seventh Shrine (1998)
    • Tales of Majipoor. Gollancz. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2013.

  82. Short Stories:

  83. Next Stop, the Stars (1962)
  84. Godling, Go Home (1964)
  85. Needle in a Timestack (1966)
  86. The Calibrated Alligator (1969)
  87. Dimension Thirteen (1969)
  88. The Cube Root of Uncertainty (1970)
  89. Parsecs and Parables (1973)
  90. Moonferns & Starsongs (1971)
  91. The Reality Trip and Other Implausibilities (1972)
  92. Valley Beyond Time (1973)
  93. Earth's Other Shadow (1973)
  94. Unfamiliar Territory (1973) [Unfamiliar]
    1. Caught in the Organ Draft (1972)
    2. {Now + n, Now - n} (1972)
    3. Some Notes on the Pre-Dynastic Epoch (1973)
    4. In the Group (1973)
    5. Caliban (1972)
    6. Many Mansions (1973)
    7. Good News from the Vatican (1971)
    8. Push No More (1972)
    9. The Mutant Season (1973)
    10. When We Went to See the End of the World (1972)
    11. What We Learned from This Morning's Newspaper (1972)
    12. In Entropy's Jaws (1971)
    13. The Wind and the Rain (1973)
    • Unfamiliar Territory. 1973. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, 1981.
  95. The Feast of St. Dionysus: Five Science Fiction Stories (1975)
  96. Sunrise on Mercury (1975)
  97. Capricorn Games (1976)
  98. The Best of Robert Silverberg (1976) [Best]
      Barry N. Malzberg: Thinking About Silverberg (1976)
      Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1976)
    1. Road to Nightfall (1958)
    2. Warm Man (1957)
    3. To See the Invisible Man (1963)
    4. The Sixth Palace (1965)
    5. Flies (1967)
    6. Hawksbill Station (1967)
    7. Passengers (1968)
    8. Nightwings (1968)
    9. Sundance (1969)
    10. Good News from the Vatican (1971)
    • The Best of Robert Silverberg. 1976. An Orbit Book. London: Futura Publications, 1978.
  99. The Shores of Tomorrow (1976)
  100. World of a Thousand Colors (1982)
  101. The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party (1984) [Conglomeroid]
      Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1984)
    1. The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve (1982)
    2. The Pope of the Chimps (1982)
    3. The Changeling (1982)
    4. The Man Who Floated in Time (1982)
    5. The Palace at Midnight (1981)
    6. A Thousand Paces Along the Via Dolorosa (1981)
    7. At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party (1982)
    8. Our Lady of the Sauropods (1980)
    9. Gianni (1982)
    10. The Trouble with Sempoanga (1982)
    11. How They Pass the Time in Pelpel (1981)
    12. Waiting for the Earthquake (1981)
    13. Not Our Brother (1982)
    14. The Regulars (1981)
    15. Jennifer's Lover (1982)
    16. Needle in a Timestack (1983)
    • The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party. 1984. VGSF. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1989.
  102. Beyond the Safe Zone (1986)
  103. The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. 6 vols (1992-2000):
    1. Pluto in the Morning Light (1992) [1: Pluto]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1992)
      1. Homefaring (1983)
      2. Basileus (1983)
      3. Dancers in the Time-Flux (1983)
      4. Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory (1984)
      5. Amanda and the Alien (1983)
      6. Snake and Ocean, Ocean and Snake [aka 'The Affair'] (1984)
      7. Tourist Trade (1984)
      8. Multiples (1983)
      9. Against Babylon (1986)
      10. Symbiont (1985)
      11. Sailing to Byzantium (1985)
      12. Sunrise on Pluto (1985)
      13. Hardware (1987)
      14. Hannibal's Elephants (1988)
      15. Blindsight (1986)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 1: Pluto in the Morning Light. Grafton. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
    2. The Secret Sharer (1993) [2: Secret]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1993)
      1. The Pardoner's Tale (1987)
      2. The Iron Star (1987)
      3. The Secret Sharer (1987)
      4. House of Bones (1988)
      5. The Dead Man's Eyes (1988)
      6. Chip Runner (1989)
      7. To the Promised Land (1989)
      8. The Asenion Solution (1989)
      9. A Sleep and a Forgetting (1989)
      10. Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another (1989)
      11. We Are for the Dark (1988)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 2: The Secret Sharer. Grafton. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
    3. Beyond the Safe Zone (1994) [3: Beyond]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1994)
      1. Capricorn Games (1974)
      2. The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV (1974)
      3. Trips (1974)
      4. Schwartz Between the Galaxies (1974)
      5. Many Mansions (1973)
      6. Good News from the Vatican (1971)
      7. In the Group (1973)
      8. The Feast of St. Dionysus (1973)
      9. Caught in the Organ Draft (1972)
      10. {Now + n, Now - n} (1972)
      11. Caliban (1972)
      12. Getting Across (1973)
      13. Breckenridge and the Continuum (1973)
      14. In the House of Double Minds (1974)
      15. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1973)
      16. The Wind and the Rain (1973)
      17. A Sea of Faces (1974)
      18. What We Learned from This Morning's Newspaper (1972)
      19. Ship-Sister, Star-Sister (1973)
      20. When We Went to See the End of the World (1972)
      21. Push No More (1972)
      22. Some Notes on the Pre-Dynastic Epoch (1973)
      23. In Entropy's Jaws (1971)
      24. Ms. Found in an Abandoned Time Machine (1973)
      25. The Mutant Season (1973)
      26. This Is the Road (1973)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 3: Beyond the Safe Zone. Science Fiction & Fantasy. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.
    4. The Road to Nightfall (1996) [4: Nightfall]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1996)
      1. Road to Nightfall (1958)
      2. Gorgon Planet (1954)
      3. The Silent Colony (1954)
      4. Absolutely Inflexible (1956)
      5. The Macauley Circuit (1956)
      6. The Songs of Summer (1956)
      7. Alaree (1958)
      8. The Artifact Business (1957)
      9. Collecting Team (1956)
      10. A Man of Talent (1966)
      11. One-Way Journey (1957)
      12. Sunrise on Mercury (1957)
      13. World of a Thousand Colours (1957)
      14. Warm Man (1957)
      15. Blaze of Glory (1957)
      16. Why? (1957)
      17. The Outbreeders (1959)
      18. The Man Who Never Forgot (1958)
      19. There Was an Old Woman (1958)
      20. The Iron Chancellor (1958)
      21. Ozymandias (1958)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 4: The Road to Nightfall. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
    5. Ringing the Changes (1997) [5: Ringing]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (1997)
      1. To See the Invisible Man (1963)
      2. The Pain Peddlers (1963)
      3. Neighbor (1964)
      4. The Sixth Palace (1965)
      5. Flies (1967)
      6. Halfway House (1966)
      7. To the Dark Star (1968)
      8. Passengers (1968)
      9. Bride 91 [aka 'Bride Ninety-One'] (1967)
      10. Going Down Smooth (1968)
      11. Fangs of the Trees (1968)
      12. Ishmael in Love (1970)
      13. Ringing the Changes (1970)
      14. Sundance (1969)
      15. How It Was When the Past Went Away (1969)
      16. After the Myths Went Home (1969)
      17. The Pleasure of Their Company (1970)
      18. We Know Who We Are (1970)
      19. Something Wild Is Loose (1971)
      20. The Reality Trip (1970)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 5: Ringing the Changes. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.
    6. Lion Time in Timbuctoo (2000) [6: Lion]
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2000)
      1. Lion Time in Timbuctoo (1990)
      2. A Tip on a Turtle (1991)
      3. In the Clone Zone (1991)
      4. Hunters in the Forest (1991)
      5. A Long Night's Vigil at the Temple (1992)
      6. It Comes and Goes (1992)
      7. Looking for the Fountain (1992)
      8. The Way to Spook City (1992)
      9. The Red Blaze Is the Morning (1995)
      10. Death Do Us Part (1996)
      11. The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James (1996)
      12. Crossing Into the Empire (1996)
      13. The Second Shield (1995)
      • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg. Volume 6: Lion Time in Timbuctoo. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
  104. Phases of the Moon (2004)
  105. Tales from the Pulp Era. 2 vols (2006-2016):
    1. In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era (2006)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2006)
      1. Yokel with Portfolio (1955)
      2. Long Live the Kejwa (1956)
      3. Guardian of the Crystal Gate (1956)
      4. Choke Chain (1956)
      5. Citadel of Darkness (1957)
      6. Cosmic Kill (1957)
      7. New Year's Eve — 2000 A.D.? (1957)
      8. The Android Kill (1957)
      9. The Hunters of Cutwold (1957)
      10. Come Into My Brain! (1958)
      11. Castaways of Space (1958)
      12. Exiled From Earth (1958)
      13. Second Start (1959)
      14. Mournful Monster (1959)
      15. Vampires from Outer Space (1959)
      16. The Insidious Invaders (1959)
    2. Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era (2016)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2016)
      1. The Inquisitor (1956)
      2. The Ultimate Weapon (1957)
      3. Harwood's Vortex (1957)
      4. Quick Freeze (1957)
      5. Six Frightened Men (1957)
      6. Puppets Without Strings [aka 'Call Me Zombie!'] (1957)
      7. A Time for Revenge (1957)
      8. Housemaid No. 103 (1957)
      9. Rescue Mission (1957)
      10. Planet of Parasites (1958)
      11. Slaves of the Tree (1958)
      12. Frontier Planet (1958)
      13. The Aliens Were Haters (1958)
      14. The Traders [aka 'The Unique and Terrible Compulsion'] (1958)
      15. Waters of Forgetfulness (1959)
      16. You Do Something to Me (1959)
      17. There's No Place Like Space! (1959)
  106. The Collected Stories. 9 vols (2006-2014):
    1. To Be Continued: 1954-59. The Collected Stories, 1 (2006)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2006)
      1. Gorgon Planet (1954) [4: Nightfall]
      2. The Road to Nightfall (1958) [Best] [4: Nightfall]
      3. The Silent Colony (1954) [4: Nightfall]
      4. Absolutely Inflexible (1956) [4: Nightfall]
      5. The Macauley Circuit (1956) [4: Nightfall]
      6. The Songs of Summer (1956) [4: Nightfall]
      7. To Be Continued (1956)
      8. Alaree (1958) [4: Nightfall]
      9. The Artifact Business (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      10. Collecting Team (1956) [4: Nightfall]
      11. A Man of Talent (1956/66) [4: Nightfall]
      12. One-Way Journey (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      13. Sunrise on Mercury (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      14. World of a Thousand Colors (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      15. Warm Man (1957) [Best] [4: Nightfall]
      16. Blaze of Glory (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      17. Why? (1957) [4: Nightfall]
      18. The Outbreeders (1959) [4: Nightfall]
      19. The Man Who Never Forgot (1958) [4: Nightfall]
      20. There Was an Old Woman (1958) [4: Nightfall]
      21. The Iron Chancellor (1958) [4: Nightfall]
      22. Ozymandias (1958) [4: Nightfall]
      23. Counterpart (1959)
      24. Delivery Guaranteed (1959)
    2. To the Dark Star: 1962-69. The Collected Stories, 2 (2007)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2007)
      1. To See the Invisible Man (1963) [Best] [5: Ringing]
      2. The Pain Peddlers (1963) [5: Ringing]
      3. Neighbor (1964) [5: Ringing]
      4. The Sixth Palace (1965) [Best] [5: Ringing]
      5. Flies (1967) [Best] [5: Ringing]
      6. Halfway House (1966) [5: Ringing]
      7. To the Dark Star (1968) [5: Ringing]
      8. Hawksbill Station (1967) [Best]
      9. Passengers (1968) [Best] [5: Ringing]
      10. Bride 91 (1967) [5: Ringing]
      11. Going Down Smooth (1968) [5: Ringing]
      12. The Fangs of the Trees (1968) [5: Ringing]
      13. Ishmael in Love (1970) [5: Ringing]
      14. Ringing the Changes (1970) [5: Ringing]
      15. Sundance (1969) [Best] [5: Ringing]
      16. How It Was When the Past Went Away (1969) [5: Ringing]
      17. A Happy Day in 2381 (1970)
      18. (Now + n, Now - n) (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      19. After the Myths Went Home (1969) [5: Ringing]
      20. The Pleasure of Their Company (1970) [5: Ringing]
      21. We Know Who We Are (1970) [5: Ringing]
    3. Something Wild Is Loose: 1969-72. The Collected Stories, 3 (2008)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2008)
      1. Something Wild Is Loose (1971) [5: Ringing]
      2. In Entropy's Jaws (1971) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      3. The Reality Trip (1970) [5: Ringing]
      4. Going (1971)
      5. Caliban (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      6. Good News from the Vatican (1971) [Unfamiliar] [Best] [3: Beyond]
      7. Thomas the Proclaimer (1972)
      8. When We Went to See the End of the World (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      9. Push No More (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      10. The Wind and the Rain (1973) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      11. Some Notes on the Pre-Dynastic Epoch (1973) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      12. The Feast of St. Dionysus (1973) [3: Beyond]
      13. What We Learned from This Morning's Newspaper (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      14. The Mutant Season (1973) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      15. Caught in the Organ Draft (1972) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      16. Many Mansions (1973) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
    4. Trips: 1972-73. The Collected Stories, 4 (2009)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2009)
      1. In the Group (1973) [Unfamiliar] [3: Beyond]
      2. Getting Across (1973) [3: Beyond]
      3. Ms. Found in an Abandoned Time Machine (1973) [3: Beyond]
      4. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1973) [3: Beyond]
      5. A Sea of Faces (1974) [3: Beyond]
      6. The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV (1974) [3: Beyond]
      7. Breckenridge and the Continuum (1973) [3: Beyond]
      8. Capricorn Games (1974) [3: Beyond]
      9. Ship-Sister, Star-Sister (1973) [3: Beyond]
      10. This Is the Road (1973) [3: Beyond]
      11. Trips (1974) [3: Beyond]
      12. Born with the Dead (1974)
      13. Schwartz Between the Galaxies (1974) [3: Beyond]
      14. In the House of Double Minds (1974) [3: Beyond]
    5. The Palace at Midnight: 1980-82. The Collected Stories, 5 (2010)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2010)
      1. Our Lady of the Sauropods (1980) [Conglomeroid]
      2. Waiting for the Earthquake (1981) [Conglomeroid]
      3. The Regulars (1981) [Conglomeroid]
      4. The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      5. A Thousand Paces Along the Via Dolorosa (1981) [Conglomeroid]
      6. How They Pass the Time in Pelpel (1981) [Conglomeroid]
      7. The Palace at Midnight (1981) [Conglomeroid]
      8. The Man Who Floated in Time (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      9. Gianni (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      10. The Pope of the Chimps (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      11. Thesme and the Ghayrog (1982) [Majipoor]
      12. At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      13. The Trouble with Sempoanga (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      14. Jennifer's Lover (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      15. Not Our Brother (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      16. Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory (1984) [1: Pluto]
      17. Dancers in the Time-Flux (1983) [1: Pluto]
      18. Needle in a Timestack (1983) [Conglomeroid]
      19. Amanda and the Alien (1983) [1: Pluto]
      20. Snake and Ocean, Ocean and Snake (1984) [1: Pluto]
      21. The Changeling (1982) [Conglomeroid]
      22. Basileus (1983) [1: Pluto]
      23. Homefaring (1983) [1: Pluto]
    6. Multiples: 1983-87. The Collected Stories, 6 (2011)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2011)
      1. Tourist Trade (1984) [1: Pluto]
      2. Multiples (1983) [1: Pluto]
      3. Against Babylon (1986) [1: Pluto]
      4. Symbiont (1985) [1: Pluto]
      5. Sailing to Byzantium (1985) [1: Pluto]
      6. Sunrise on Pluto (1985) [1: Pluto]
      7. Hardware (1987) [1: Pluto]
      8. Hannibal's Elephants (1988) [1: Pluto]
      9. Blindsight (1986) [1: Pluto]
      10. Gilgamesh in the Outback (1986)
      11. The Pardoner's Tale (1987) [2: Secret]
      12. The Iron Star (1987) [2: Secret]
      13. The Secret Sharer (1987) [2: Secret]
      14. House of Bones (1988) [2: Secret]
    7. We Are for the Dark: 1987-90. The Collected Stories, 7 (2012)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2012)
      1. The Dead Man's Eyes (1988) [2: Secret]
      2. Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another (1989) [2: Secret]
      3. To the Promised Land (1989) [2: Secret]
      4. Chip Runner (1989) [2: Secret]
      5. A Sleep and a Forgetting (1989) [2: Secret]
      6. In Another Country (1989)
      7. The Asenion Solution (1989) [2: Secret]
      8. We Are for the Dark (1988) [2: Secret]
      9. Lion Time in Timbuctoo (1990) [6: Lion]
      10. A Tip on a Turtle (1991) [6: Lion]
    8. Hot Times in Magma City: 1990-95. The Collected Stories, 8 (2013)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2013)
      1. In the Clone Zone (1991) [6: Lion]
      2. Hunters in the Forest (1991) [6: Lion]
      3. A Long Night's Vigil at the Temple (1992) [6: Lion]
      4. Thebes of the Hundred Gates (1992)
      5. It Comes and Goes (1992) [6: Lion]
      6. Looking for the Fountain (1992) [6: Lion]
      7. The Way to Spook City (1992) [6: Lion]
      8. The Red Blaze Is the Morning (1995) [6: Lion]
      9. Death Do Us Part (1996) [6: Lion]
      10. The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James (1996) [6: Lion]
      11. Crossing Into the Empire (1996) [6: Lion]
      12. The Second Shield (1995) [6: Lion]
      13. Hot Times in Magma City (1995)
    9. The Millennium Express: 1995-2009. The Collected Stories, 9 (2014)
        Robert Silverberg: Introduction (2014)
      1. Diana of the Hundred Breasts (1996)
      2. Beauty in the Night (1997)
      3. Call Me Titan (1997)
      4. The Tree That Grew from the Sky (1996)
      5. The Church at Monte Saturno (1997)
      6. Hanosz Prime Goes to Old Earth (2006)
      7. The Millennium Express (2000)
      8. Travelers (1999)
      9. The Colonel Returns to the Stars (2004)
      10. The Eater of Dreams (2007)
      11. A Piece of the Great World (2005)
      12. Against the Current (2007)
      13. The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale (2009)
      14. Defenders of the Frontier (2010)
      15. The Prisoner (2010)
      16. Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar (2011)
    10. [with Randall Garrett] A Little Intelligence (2009)

  107. Non-fiction:

  108. Treasures Beneath the Sea. Illustrated by Norman Kenyon (1960)
  109. [as Edgar Black] Sir Winston Churchill: The Compelling Life Story of one of the Towering Figures of the 20th Century (1961)
  110. First American into Space (1961)
  111. Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations (1962)
  112. [as Walter Drummond] Philosopher of Evil (1962)
  113. The Fabulous Rockefellers (1963)
  114. Sunken History: The Story of Underwater Archaeology (1963)
  115. [as Walter Drummond] How to Spend Money (1963)
  116. Fifteen Battles that Changed the World (1963)
  117. Empires in the Dust: Ancient Civilizations Brought to Light (1963)
  118. Home of the Red Man: Indian North America before Columbus (1963)
  119. [as L. T. Woodward] The History of Surgery (1963)
  120. The Great Doctors (1964)
  121. Man Before Adam: The Story of Man in Search of His Origins (1964)
  122. Akhnaten: The Rebel Pharaoh (1964)
  123. [as Franklin Hamilton] 1066 (1964)
  124. [as Walker Chapman] The Loneliest Continent: The Story of Antarctic Discovery (1964)
  125. The Man Who Found Nineveh: The Story of Austen Henry Layard (1964)
  126. Great Adventures in Archaeology: From Belzoni to Woolley. 1964. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  127. Socrates (1965)
  128. Scientists And Scoundrels: A Book of Hoaxes (1965)
  129. Men Who Mastered the Atom (1965)
  130. Niels Bohr: The Man Who Mapped the Atom (1965)
  131. The Old Ones: Indians of the American Southwest (1965)
  132. The Great Wall of China (1965)
  133. The World of Coral (1965)
  134. [as Franklin Hamilton] The Crusades (1965, )
  135. [as Walker Chapman] Antarctic Conquest: The Great Explorers in Their Own Words (1966)
  136. The Long Rampart: The Story of the Great Wall of China (1966)
  137. [as Lee Sebastian] Rivers: A Book to Begin On (1966)
  138. Forgotten by Time: A Book of Living Fossils (1966)
  139. Frontiers in Archeology (1966)
  140. [as Walker Chapman] Kublai Khan: Lord of Xanadu (1966)
  141. [as Roy Cook] Leaders Of Labor (1966)
  142. Bridges (1966)
  143. To the Rock of Darius: The Story of Henry Rawlinson (1966)
  144. [as Lloyd Robinson] The Hopefuls: Ten Presidential Campaigns (1966)
  145. The Morning of Mankind: Prehistoric Man in Europe (1967)
  146. [as Walker Chapman] The Golden Dream: Seekers of El Dorado (1967)
  147. The Auk, the Dodo and the Oryx (1967)
  148. The World of the Rain Forests (1967)
  149. The Dawn of Medicine (1967)
  150. The Adventures of Nat Palmer (1967)
  151. [as Franklin Hamilton] Challenge for a Throne: The Wars of the Roses (1967)
  152. Men Against Time: Salvage Archeology in the United States (1967)
  153. Light for the World: Edison and the Power Industry (1967)
  154. [as Walker Chapman] The Search for Eldorado (1967)
  155. [as L. T. Woodward] Sophisticated Sex Techniques in Marriage (1967)
  156. Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archeology of a Myth (1968)
  157. The World of the Ocean Depths (1968)
  158. [as Lloyd Robinson] The Stolen Election: Hayes vs. Tilden, 1876 (1968)
  159. Four Men Who Changed the Universe (1968)
  160. [as Paul Hollander] Sam Houston (1968)
  161. [as Lee Sebastian] The South Pole: A Book to Begin On (1968)
  162. Stormy Voyager (1968)
  163. Ghost Towns of the American West (1968)
  164. Vanishing Giants: The Story of the Sequoias (1969)
  165. Wonders of Ancient Chinese Science (1969)
  166. The Challenge of Climate: Man and His Environment (1969)
  167. Bruce of the Blue Nile (1969)
  168. The World of Space (1969)
  169. If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem (1970)
  170. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1970)
  171. Mammoths, Mastodons and Man (1970)
  172. The Mound Builders (1970)
  173. The Pueblo Revolt (1970)
  174. Clocks for the Ages: How Scientists Date the Past (1971)
  175. To The Western Shore: Growth of the United States 1776-1853 (1971)
  176. Before The Sphinx: Early Egypt (1971)
  177. [with Arthur C. Clarke] Into Space: A Young Person's Guide to Space (1971)
  178. The Realm of Prester John (1972)
  179. The Longest Voyage: Circumnavigation in the Age Of Discovery (1972)
  180. John Muir, Prophet Among the Glaciers (1972)
  181. The World Within the Ocean Wave (1972)
  182. The World Within the Tide Pool (1972)
  183. Drug Themes in Science Fiction (1974)
  184. Reflections and Refractions: Thoughts on Science Fiction, Science and Other Matters (1997) [Rev. ed. 2016]
  185. Musings and Meditations (2011)

  186. Edited:

  187. Earthmen & Strangers (1966)
  188. Voyagers in Time (1967)
  189. Alpha
    1. Alpha 1 (1970)
    2. Alpha 2 (1971)
    3. Alpha 3 (1972)
    4. Alpha 4 (1973)
    5. Alpha 5 (1974)
    6. Alpha 6 (1976)
    7. Alpha 7 (1977)
    8. Alpha 8 (1977)
    9. Alpha 9 (1978)
  190. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame
    1. Volume One, 1929–1964 (1970)
    2. Volume Two (1973)
  191. [with Roger Zelazny & James Blish] Three For Tomorrow. Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke (1970)
  192. New Dimensions
    1. New Dimensions 1 (1971)
    2. New Dimensions II (1972)
    3. New Dimensions 3 (1973)
    4. New Dimensions IV (1974)
    5. New Dimensions Science Fiction 5 (1975)
    6. New Dimensions Science Fiction 6 (1976)
    7. New Dimensions Science Fiction 7 (1977)
    8. New Dimensions Science Fiction 8 (1978)
    9. New Dimensions Science Fiction 9 (1979)
    10. New Dimensions Science Fiction 10 (1980)
    11. [with Marta Randall] New Dimensions 11 (1980)
    12. [with Marta Randall] New Dimensions 12 (1981)
  193. Deep Space: Eight Stories of Science Fiction (1973)
  194. Infinite Jests: The Lighter Side of Science Fiction (1974)
  195. Mutants (1974)
  196. [with Roger Elwood] Epoch (1975)
  197. Strange Gifts (1975)
  198. [with Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph Olander] Dawn of Time (1979)
  199. The Edge of Space (1979)
  200. The Best of Randall Garrett (1982)
  201. The Fantasy Hall of Fame
    1. [with Martin H. Greenberg] The Fantasy Hall of Fame (1983)
    2. The Fantasy Hall of Fame (1998)
  202. Nebula Award anthologies
    1. The Nebula Awards #18 (1983)
    2. Nebula Awards Showcase 2001 (2001)
  203. [with Karen Haber] Universe Anthologies
    1. Universe 1 (1990)
    2. Universe 2 (1992)
    3. Universe 3 (1994)
  204. Murasaki: A Novel in Six Parts. By Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Nancy Kress, & Frederick Pohl. 1992. Grafton. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
  205. Legends
    1. Legends. Voyager. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
    2. Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy. A Del Rey Book. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
  206. Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown & Company (UK), 1999.
  207. [with Martin H. Greenberg] Robert Silverberg Presents the Great SF Stories: 1964 (2001)
  208. Tales from Super-Science Fiction (2011)
  209. Times Three (2011)

Robert Silverberg: The Last Song of Orpheus (2010)

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Other Side

Alfred Kubin: Illustration for Die andere Seite (1908)

I picked up a hardback copy of this fascinating novel in a Hospice Shop the other day:

Alfred Kubin: The Other Side (1969)

To be perfectly honest, I didn't really need it, as I've owned a copy of the Penguin Modern Classics edition for a number of years:

Alfred Kubin: The Other Side (1973)

The book holds a strange appeal for me, I'm not quite sure why.

I first noticed it on my eldest brother's shelves, when he was still living at home before leaving for university. A bit later I found a copy of my own to read (he was a stickler for not allowing anyone else to crease the spines or covers of his books by opening them more than a crack).

One day I mentioned to him that I'd been reading it. "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied. So that was that.

I presumed from his response that he must have forgotten all about the book shortly after buying it, and had no idea that it was still in his collection. Or perhaps he was just in a bad mood that day, and couldn't be bothered discussing it.

It did seem a curious omen, though.

Alfred Kubin: The Other Side (1967)

Die andere Seite was Kubin's only novel. He wrote it in 1908, after finishing a long series of drawings. Feeling exhausted and unable to create anything new in that medium:
Instead, in order to do something, no matter what, to unburden myself, I now began to compose and write down an adventure story. The ideas came flooding into my mind in superabundance; they forced me to work day and night so that in twelve weeks' time my fantastic novel 'Die andere Seite' [The Other Side] was finished. During the next four weeks I provided it with illustrations. Afterwards, to be sure, I was exhausted and irritable, and I entertained serious misgivings about my daring enterprise. I possessed no reliable judgment in literary matters ...

Nicola Perscheid: Alfred Leopold Isidor Kubin (1877–1959)

It's been compared to Kafka's Castle, to Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East, to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. It isn't really very like any of them, though.

Gustav Meyrink: Der Golem: Frontispiece (1915)

What it does resemble more than a little is Gustav Meyrink's The Golem.

Gustav Meyrink: Der Golem (1915)

That isn't entirely surprising:
The illustrations for the book were originally intended for The Golem by Gustav Meyrink, but as that book was delayed, Kubin instead worked his illustrations into his own novel.
- Wikipedia: Alfred Kubin
It's hard to know how literally to take this statement - quoted from Siegfried Schödel's Studien zu den phantastischen Erzählungen Gustav Meyrinks (Nuremberg: Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1965): 27. If The Golem was written "between 1907 and 1914", then "first published in serial form from December 1913 to August 1914 in the periodical Die Weißen Blätter", before being published in book form in 1915, it's a bit difficult to see how Kubin could have been working on illustrations for it as early as 1907-8.

Certainly there's no mention of the fact in the short autobiography appended to the successive editions of Die andere Seite published in Kubin's lifetime (and finally printed in full in the 1967 English translation of The Other Side). What he does say is that it coincided with a period of aimlessness and depression after the death of his very controlling - and emotionally distant - father in November 1907.

The atmosphere of Prague's tangled old streets, omnipresent in Meyrink's somewhat plotless novel, may well have contributed something to Kubin's creation of his Central Asian Dream Kingdom, constructed by the narrator's old schoolfriend Patera with the intention of preserving only broken-down, abandoned relics of the Europe he's left behind. Nor is it difficult to see in the name "Patera" an echo of Kubin's recent paternal loss.

Joseph Karl Stieler: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

The life-and-death struggle between the paternalistic ruler Patera - at one point explicitly equated with the mad "Dream King" Ludwig II of Bavaria [223-24] - and his upstart nemesis Hercules Bell, the American tycoon, who turns up in the Dream Kingdom fresh from "poking about in the islands of New Zealand" [172], tempts one to posit an elaborate satire on Goethe's famous vision of America and the New World as offering a fresh, clean slate for mankind to write upon:
Amerika, du hast es besser
Als unser Kontinent, der alte,
Hast keine verfallenen Schlösser
Und keine Basalte.
Dich stört nicht im Innern,
Zu lebendiger Zeit,
Unnützes Erinnern
Und vergeblicher Streit.

Benutzt die Gegenwart mit Glück!
Und wenn nun Eure Kinder dichten,
Bewahre sie ein gut Geschick
Vor Ritter-, Räuber- und Gespenstergeschichten.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Den Vereinigten Staaten" (1831)

America you're better off
than our continentthe old one
you've got no fallen castles
no ruins to build on
your inner life
is free
of futile strife
and fruitless memory

live in the momentgood luck to you
and when your kids write poetry
try to keep them well away
from robbers ghosts and chivalry

[trans. JR]

Nicholas Roerich: Svyatogor (1942)

Kubin's Dream Kingdom, by contrast, is made up nothing but old ruins, old grudges, and all the detritus of the Old World. It is, admittedly, set on the opposite side of the globe from the United States, in the ageless steppes of Central Asia, inhabited by a strange blue-eyed race of mystics, who appear to have leased the land he builds on to the absurdly rich - and equally enigmatic - Patera.

It seems unlikely that Kubin was familiar with the work of his near contemporary Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) at the time he wrote Die andere Seite - Roerich's Symbolist designs did not really become famous in the West until he created the sets for Borodin's Prince Igor (1909) and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (1913) for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

One can see in him something of the same fascination with this ancient, mystic land of Nomad empires and esoteric religions, however. Certainly H. P. Lovecraft, whose fabled plateau of Leng was avowedly inspired by Roerich's paintings, must have thought so.

Marvel Comics: Conan the Savage #4 (1995)

Max Ernst: Europe after the Rain (1940-42)

But all this is taking us quite a way from Kubin's novel, composed in 1908, long before World War I - let alone the even more Apocalyptic World War II - had convulsed his native Austria in blood and flame.

He describes his rather dismal experiences of privation and want in both wars in the Autobiography at the end of his novel, but nowhere makes the explicit connection between the cataclysmic fall of Patera's Dream Kingdom with those of the Hapsburg Empire and Hitler's thousand-year Reich.

Might we then read Die andere Seite as a premonitory vision?
... not nonsense, but the confused fragments of a dream: a dream that no sane man could bear to dream: a waking memory of what was to be.
- Alan Garner, Elidor (1965): 48.
Certainly many of the descriptions Kubin gives of himself would scarcely qualify as sane - perhaps "highly strung" would be the most diplomatic formula for some of the behaviour he confesses to at this particular time.

Max Ernst: Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

In any case, he wouldn't be the only one to report having had strange dreams and visions before the advent of the "War to end all Wars":
In October [1913], while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision last about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness.

Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasized. An inner voice spoke. "Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it." That winter someone asked me what I thought were the political prospects of the world in the near future. I replied that I had no thoughts on the matter, but that I saw rivers of blood.

I asked myself whether these visions pointed to a revolution, but could not really imagine anything of the sort. And so I drew the conclusion that they had to do with me myself, and decided that I was menaced by a psychosis. The idea of war did not occur to me at all.

Soon afterward, in the spring and early summer of 1914, I had a thrice-repeated dream that in the middle of summer an Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice. I saw, for example, the whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings. All living green things were killed by frost. This dream came in April and May, and for the last time in June, 1914.

In the third dream frightful cold had again descended from out of the cosmos. This dream, however, had an unexpected end. There stood a leaf-bearing tree, but without fruit (my tree of life, I thought), whose leaves had been transformed by the effects of the frost into sweet grapes full of healing juices. I plucked the grapes and gave them to a large, waiting crowd ...

On August 1 the world war broke out.

- Carl Gustav Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffé. Trans. Richard & Clara Winston. 1965. Revised edition (New York: Vintage, 1973): 175-76.

Alfred Kubin: Der Staat (1901)

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Idle Days

Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau: Idle Days (2018)
Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau. Idle Days. Art by Simon Leclerc. First Second. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2018.

A long time ago now - has it really been fifteen years? - I wrote a post called "Unpacking my Comics Library". I see that, to date, it's received 11,671 views, and attracted 15 comments. That's pretty good going - for my blog, at any rate.

I don't propose to write another survey post like that one, but a number of graphic novels have found their way into my collection since then. One of the strangest I've run into would have to be Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau's Idle Days, a family saga set in the Canadian woods, where a deserter is living with his grandfather during the last days of the Second World War.

Simon Leclerc: Art for Idle Days (2018)

Simon Leclerc's art for the comic is almost equally obsessive and internalised. As he himself puts it in a joint interview with Paste Magazine (February 2, 2016):
Jerome, being a deserter, finds himself forced to live in his grandfather’s house, isolated in the woods nearby. The story then unfolds around that house; the forced reclusiveness gets Jerome interested in the previous generations of the house owners and their mysterious and tragic fates that weirdly relate to his. Along the way, the forest unveils its haunting characters: a dead woman, alcohol smugglers, a witch, a black cat, all while Jerome has to deal with his grumpy grandfather!
The interview as a whole confirms the strongly personal nature of the story's background. Author Desaulniers-Brousseau explains:
My father’s father, whom I never knew, deserted just before his regiment was deployed in Vancouver, worried that he would eventually be sent to fight in Europe. He apparently regretted it because the regiment never left British Columbia, and his friends otherwise “enjoyed a nice trip.” I hope I’m not being insensitive towards our veterans right now, that’s not my intention. But anyway, he hid with his uncle, a doctor in the village, and his experience has inspired the character of Jerome and some of the events of the story. Maybe it was a desire to know more about his life that led me to write this story. But Jerome is also me in a lot of ways, and the relationship that develops between him and his grandfather is a sort of imaginary dialogue with pretty much all the male authority figures in my life, of which Maurice is the melting pot.

Simon Leclerc: Art for Idle Days (2018)

Leclerc seems more focussed on the technical challenges of the comics medium:
A book like Idle Days (and graphic novels in general) is great because it gives me the opportunity to art-direct my project entirely.
Personal projects demand that you raise your level of creativity, that you level up your inventiveness, because the thing you are making is your own. In my opinion, comics is one of the last mediums where the editors as well as the audience expect the authors to push and play with its boundaries as much as they do.
I choose the level of stylization I want to inject, the amount of time I decide to put drawing these tiny leaves on that weirdly shaped tree, or whether I want to leave that scribbly line that doesn’t really make sense on the nose of my character, but that I find oddly beautiful and satisfying.
In the end, whereas Desaulniers-Brousseau admits that 'it certainly has a meaning and a message for me.'
it’s basically a ghost story. I hope people have an enjoyable time reading it, and if they can find echoes in their own lives, well that’s just tops.
Leclerc, by contrast, just wants people to 'look at it and go: “Cool! That drawing of a tree looks gnarly!”'

I guess I have a soft spot for this oddly formless, intensely atmospheric graphic novel for a number of reasons. I found it lurking in a pile of other comics in a Hospice shop, and it always gives me a warm feeling to rescue interesting books which have been abandoned there.

More than that, though, it was probably the title that attracted me most. I do have a taste for intense, autobiographical Canadian comics - I used to read all I could find in the days when they were constantly on display on the ground floor racks in the Auckland Central Library.

But Idle Days ... what an evocative concept!

W. H. Hudson: Idle Days in Patagonia (1893)

Far away and long ago I lived in an east-windy, West-Endy city called Edinburgh, which prided itself on being the 'Athens of the North' (though Tom Stoppard referred to it 'the Reykjavik of the South'). One of the things I did there was collect and read the works of W. H. Hudson, an Anglo-Argentinian naturalist, who specialised in dreamy books about birds and the romance of the plains and jungles of South America.

Idle Days in Patagonia is one of his most celebrated works, perhaps the first in which he achieves fusion between the scientific classification of bird species and the belletristic fine writing about nature for which he became famous. Years later it would inspire Bruce Chatwin to make his own visit to Argentina, the subject of his first travel book, In Patagonia.

Bruce Chatwin: In Patagonia (1977)

Bruce Chatwin was a born liar. When his book became famous, many of the people he'd interviewed (or claimed to interview) came forward to denounce him for putting words in their mouths. This is a not uncommon dilemma for travel writers, who inhabit a curious no-man's-land between truth and fiction, and who therefore tend to regard themselves as entitled to distort chronologies, ginger up otherwise flat narratives into something more exciting, and generally confuse things in the hopes of confounding any subsequent attempts to check up on them.

Chatwin did take this trait further than most, however, and it's therefore best to regard all of his books as either directly or indirectly fictional, whether or not he (or his publishers) described them as "novels" or "travel books". Perhaps it's true that the devil finds work for idle hands ...

So I came down through the wood to the bank of Yann and found, as had been prophesied, the ship Bird of the River about to loose her cable.
There doesn't seem much doubt that Lord Dunsany's long fantasy story "Idle Days on the Yann" (from A Dreamer's Tales, 1910) was inspired by W. H. Hudson's Idle Days in Patagonia - or at any rate by its title.
The captain sate cross-legged upon the white deck with his scimitar lying beside him in its jewelled scabbard, and the sailors toiled to spread the nimble sails to bring the ship into the central stream of Yann, and all the while sang ancient soothing songs. And the wind of the evening descending cool from the snowfields of some mountainous abode of distant gods came suddenly, like glad tidings to an anxious city, into the wing-like sails.
This story had a deep influence on H. P. Lovecraft, particularly on his early novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926-27). According to Wikipedia, Dunsany's story was written "in anticipation for a trip down the Nile."
And so we came into the central stream, whereat the sailors lowered the greater sails. But I had gone to bow before the captain, and to inquire concerning the miracles, and appearances among men, of the most holy gods of whatever land he had come from. And the captain answered that he came from fair Belzoond, and worshipped gods that were the least and humblest, who seldom sent the famine or the thunder, and were easily appeased with little battles. And I told how I came from Ireland, which is of Europe, whereat the captain and all the sailors laughed, for they said, 'There are no such places in all the land of dreams.' When they had ceased to mock me, I explained that my fancy mostly dwelt in the desert of Cuppar-Nombo, about a beautiful blue city called Golthoth the Damned, which was sentinelled all round by wolves and their shadows, and had been utterly desolate for years and years because of a curse which the gods once spoke in anger and could never since recall. And sometimes my dreams took me as far as Pungar Vees, the red-walled city where the fountains are, which trades with the Isles and Thul. When I said this they complimented me upon the abode of my fancy, saying that, though they had never seen these cities, such places might well be imagined. For the rest of that evening I bargained with the captain over the sum that I should pay him for my fare if God and the tide of Yann should bring us safely as far as the cliffs by the sea, which are named Bar-Wul-Yann, the Gate of Yann.
The story itself bears a certain resemblance to C. P. Cavafy's most famous poem, "Ithaka" (1911), which gives a similarly meandering account of a journey whose true purpose is not its destination so much as the incidents along the way.
And now the sun had set, and all the colours of the world and heaven had held a festival with him, and slipped one by one away before the imminent approach of night. The parrots had all flown home to the jungle on either bank, the monkeys in rows in safety on high branches of the trees were silent and asleep, the fireflies in the deeps of the forest were going up and down, and the great stars came gleaming out to look on the face of Yann. Then the sailors lighted lanterns and hung them round the ship, and the light flashed out on a sudden and dazzled Yann, and the ducks that fed along his marshy banks all suddenly arose, and made wide circles in the upper air, and saw the distant reaches of the Yann and the white mist that softly cloaked the jungle, before they returned again into their marshes.
I wrote a version of Cavafy's poem once - not a direct translation, since I speak no Greek, but a beefed-up version of a literal, word-for-word version I located somewhere. You can find it here.
And then the sailors knelt on the decks and prayed, not all together, but five or six at a time. Side by side there kneeled down together five or six, for there only prayed at the same time men of different faiths, so that no god should hear two men praying to him at once. As soon as any one had finished his prayer, another of the same faith took his place. Thus knelt the row of five or six with bended heads under the fluttering sail, while the central stream of the River Yann took them on towards the sea, and their prayers rose up from among the lanterns and went towards the stars. And behind them in the after end of the ship the helmsman prayed aloud the helmsman's prayer, which is prayed by all who follow his trade upon the River Yann, of whatever faith they be. And the captain prayed to his little lesser gods, to the gods that bless Belzoond.
There is something irresistibly attractive in the idea of long river cruises, drifting past temples and villages, with fishermen plying their trade, and pilgrims coming down to the shore to wash away their sins. I've only experienced it once or twice, and then only for a brief time, but it's an agreeable thing to think about.
And I too felt that I would pray. Yet I liked not to pray to a jealous God there where the frail affectionate gods whom the heathen love were being humbly invoked; so I bethought me, instead, of Sheol Nugganoth, whom the men of the jungle have long since deserted, who is now unworshipped and alone; and to him I prayed.
Dunsany was once a writer who was spoken of in the same breath as Yeats: a playwright, a poet, a fantasist whose works are now only read for their "influence" on such colossi as Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. And perhaps that's appropriate. But there's no denying the charm of such stories as "Idle Days on the Yann."
And upon us praying the night came suddenly down, as it comes upon all men who pray at evening and upon all men who do not; yet our prayers comforted our own souls when we thought of the Great Night to come.
The story is not entirely episodic, mind you - like so many of Dunsany's works, it hinges on a central terrifying fact which his dreamer protagonist is unwilling to accept, lest it destroy the whole fabric of the world as he knows it. In this case the unassimilable truth is a cyclopean city gate carved out of a single tusk. And his fear is that the owner of the tusk may still be looking for it, up in the hills that look down on the town of Perdóndaris.
And so Yann bore us magnificently onwards, for he was elate with molten snow that the Poltiades had brought him from the Hills of Hap, and the Marn and Migris were swollen full with floods; and he bore us in his might past Kyph and Pir, and we saw the lights of Goolunza.
Perhaps the clearest analogue to all this is Italo Calvino's classic novel Invisible Cities, where the peripatetic Marco Polo describes the cities of his empire to the invincibly static Kublai Khan, who will never otherwise be able to experience them at all.
Soon we all slept except the helmsman, who kept the ship in the mid-stream of Yann.
The truth of Marco Polo's account has (of course) been under question since it was first written - and the same has to be said of Calvino's fictional Marco's tales told to his master. Do any of these cities actually exist? They sound allegorical rather than real, but then the same might be said of any traveller's tale.
... And the time was come when the captain and I must part, he to go back again to his fair Belzoond in sight of the distant peaks of the Hian Min, and I to find my way by strange means back to those hazy fields that all poets know, wherein stand small mysterious cottages through whose windows, looking westwards, you may see the fields of men, and looking eastwards see glittering elfin mountains, tipped with snow, going range on range into the region of Myth, and beyond it into the kingdom of Fantasy, which pertain to the Lands of Dream.
I used to teach a course on Travel Writing, where we explored such questions. In particular, we spent a good deal of time discussing the distinction between Marco Polo's true experiences of the East, and their transmission through the medium of a manuscript written by Rustichello of Pisa, who shared a cell with him in Genoa, and beguiled his leisure by taking notes on his garrulous fellow-prisoner's travel stories. Rustichello had previously made his living as a composer of chivalrous romances.
Long we regarded one another, knowing that we should meet no more, for my fancy is weakening as the years slip by, and I go ever more seldom into the Lands of Dream. Then we clasped hands, uncouthly on his part, for it is not the method of greeting in his country, and he commended my soul to the care of his own gods, to his little lesser gods, the humble ones, to the gods that bless Belzoond.

Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities (1972)

Saul Bellow: Dangling Man (1944)

It isn't actually called "Idle Days", but Saul Bellow's debut novel certainly unpacks the concept with mordant precision. Published in 1944, the same year that Desaulniers-Brousseau's graphic novel is set in, Dangling Man is the diary of a young draftee, waiting to be called up for the army, and thus unable to settle to any other task.

It's the perfect situation for a prototypical existentialist novel of self-doubt. And, like Camus's Meursault, Bellow's Joseph duly proceeds to get up to didoes, interfering in his neighbours' lives, and generally making a bit of a mess of his last days of freedom. The war intervenes to save him from himself, though, just as execution for murder does for Camus's unfortunate protagonist.

Dangling Man bears little resemblance to the later, more sprawling American sagas we associate with Saul Bellow, and seems, still, to have a quite separate audience.

I suppose that the general message that an idle man is a menace in the making rings through all of these diverse narratives. Bellow's book has been compared to the superfluous man tradition in Russian literature: anti-heroes such as Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Lermontov's Pechorin, and Turgenev's Tchulkaturin fritter away their inane lives with pointless love affairs and other self-destructive acts.

Perhaps the most famous of them all is Goncharov's Oblomov, whose slothful and indecisive nature makes him incapable even of getting out of bed in the morning.

The model for all these angsty idlers is not hard to find. Byron's first book of poems, Hours of Idleness, set the tone for his future work, though it made little impression at the time it first appeared.

The Byronic hero, glamorous, heroic, misanthropic, and (dare I say it?) intensely romantic was, however, to dominate European literature for decades after the appearance of Byron's breakthrough work Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Doing a lot while seeming to do nothing seems to be the essence of the character. In this he resembles Hamlet, but there was something new there, too.

What T. S. Eliot once described in Burnt Norton as being:
Distracted from distraction by distraction
is implied by these exemplars - Byron, Marco Polo, W. H. Hudson, Lord Dunsany - to be the ideal state for poets and creative artists generally.

If Art is what takes place when you're looking elsewhere, then perhaps - like thought - it can only happen if you've allowed yourself (or been permitted by fate) to explore the perilous pleasures of idleness:
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
- Ash-Wednesday

Lord Byron: Hours of Idleness (1807)