Short Book Reviews: Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972), Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972), and Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966)

Here are three short reviews.  Either I waited too long to review the work or in the case of the short story collection, the handful of poor stories (amongst the many gems) faded from memory and I couldn’t convince myself to reread them…

I apologize for the brevity and lack of analysis.  My longer reviews definitely try to get at the greater morass of things but hopefully these will still whet your palate if you haven’t read the works already.

1. Dying Inside, Richard Silverberg (1972)


(Jerry Thorp’s cover for the 1972 ediiton)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

Note: Nominated for the 1973 Nebula and Hugo Award for Best Novel but lost to Isaac Asimov’s far less adept The Gods Themselves (1972). In some ways Asimov’s novel reaffirmed what many voters thought was lost in the New Wave, while Silverberg’s Dying Inside pushed a radical non-genre take/style on its subject.  More likely, Asimov’s career achievements swayed voters rather than the novel itself—which, I must admit, is one of Asimov’s better post-50s efforts but not award-winning quality.

As I mentioned in my review of Silverberg’s The Second Trip (1971), his late 60s and early 70s science fiction novels were often well-wrought ruminations on acute social alienation. Dying Inside (1972) might be the most mature and articulate of these works–although, due to its seriousness, it might not be the most accessible.  David Selig, born with a telepathic gift, earns a living plagiarizing for students at the local university.  His ability allows him to become incredibly adept as his job.  However, he struggles with his relationship with his sister who views his telepathy as alienating and uncomfortable.  Over the course of the novel his telepathy begins to fade away and he struggles with the ramifications of the loss of a key component to his self.

The vast number of allusions are well integrated into the story.   New Wave SF at its most literary and powerful.

Here are three more substantial Robert Silverberg 1970s novel reviews from my archive: The Second Trip (1971), Downward to the Earth (1970), and The World Inside (1971).

1. The Enemy of My Enemy, Avram Davidson (1966)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)

2/5 (Bad)

Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966) is a derivative Jack Vance imitation without the precision of intellect and detail.  As we shift from locale (“pullulating Pemath Old Port,” 5) to locale (decadent and  ritualistic Tarnis), the ideas flit by without development or more than a passing thought.  Yes there’s wordplay, yes there’s world-building, but it all feels superficial and purposeless.

Jerrod Northi, pirate and rogue, becomes the target of unknown forces bent on his assassination.  He decides to escape once and for all via extreme measures: the transformation!  Inhabitants of Tarnis have seven signs that indicate membership, “Green eyes.  Long fingers.  Long ears, with tips.  Smooth and hairless bodies.  Full mouths.  Slender feet.  Melodious voices.” (40).  And Northi must become Tonorosant of Tarnis by means of extensive and expensive plastic surgery if he hopes to pass undetected in his new home…

If you’ve read all of Jack Vance’s catalogue and are desperate to get your hands on some phantasmal trailing eddy left by Big Planet (1952) and its ilk perhaps you’ll be able to delude yourself for a minute or two.  If a bland, and somewhat slow, pulp adventure pulls you in every time then perhaps you’ll brave the waters…  Otherwise, avoid.

For a more detailed (and equally negative) review via Tarbandu at The PorPor Books Blog — here.

3. Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972)


(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1972 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

While Universe (1971) contained few standout stories but an overall high level of quality, Universe 2 (1972) contains a handful of outright masterpieces: namely, Robert Silverberg’s “When We Went to See the End of the World” and Gerard F. Conway’s “Funeral Service”.  Gene Wolfe’s “The Headless Man” and Gordon Eklund’s surprisingly good “Stalking the Sun” are close on their heels.  I will discuss only the two best stories…

It is unsurprising that Robert Silverberg’s “When We Went to See the End of the World” was nominated for both the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Short Story.  The story is told as one might banter between suburban friends, eager to impress and gossip… “Nick and Jane were glad that they had gone to see the end of the world, because it gave them something special to talk about at Mike and Ruby’s party” (41).  The experience of the end of the world (that shifts for each group that views it via a time travel device) transposed into an idealized portrait of American life allows the haunting elements of the the spectacle of the end to be thrown into relief.  And of course, the shallowness of aimless lives and superficial conversation hits home.  Uncomfortable in its whimsical take on existential crisis, devastating in its implications…  Highly Recommended.

Gerard F. Conway’s “Mindship” (1971) was the surprise of Universe 1 and he delivers the second best story in Universe 2“Funeral Service”.  Jack picks up his father, or rather, his dead father’s memories inserted into a robot.  Reminds me of Dying Inside, a character study of a man struggling with a decayed relationship, in this case his dead father.  Jack struggles to come to grips with the robot simulacra, “No, not a memory, something more, he thought.  That was his father; somewhere inside that body, his father lived” (60).  Of course, the dead are dead, and a simulacra that regurgitates memories alone cannot make reconciliation possible, if it was possible at all.  Conway’s minimalistic telling tackles loss and memory without all the saccharine frosting of Ellison’s “On the Downhill Side” in the same collection.  Fantastic.

I am not going to review the entire collection as the few duds have since faded from my memory and I do not want to reread them!  The following fall into this category: Harlan Ellison’s saccharine and awkwardly melancholic “On the Downhill Side” with unicorn familiars and the undead and Grania Davis’ zany and forgettable head trip “My Head’s in a Different Place, Now.”  Lafferty, Pangborn, Dozois, Shaw, and Russ all put in good, if lesser than what they are capable of, shifts.  Even Pamela Sargent, whose Cloned Lives (1976) was the most disappointing novel I read in 2013, manages to write one of her best short stories (about alien experimentation) for Carr.

I highly recommend Universe 2 as it provides a nice slice of early 70s SF—from New Wave literary experiments to more straightforward socially inclined SF adventure.  And snag a copy of Universe 1 as well.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

48 thoughts on “Short Book Reviews: Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972), Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972), and Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966)

  1. Bob Silverberg had already been involved in the later part of the “new wave” in the late 1960s.”Dying Inside” emerged during the post “new wave” period of the early ’70s.”Dying Inside” was among the fruit of the new,innovative works appearing at this time,that had benefitted from the shifting movement of which he had been an exponent during the last decade.

    What had been learned,was obviously the importance,not of the future and it’s technological marvels such as space travel,but the immanent present.The social effects of the modern world upon the human mind,were far stranger than invading aliens and superhuman children!What makes DI so remarkable,is that it takes place in the “present”,with no other obvious science fiction trope than telepathy.Even this is presented as something flawed and the cause of angst.It is just as exciting and ingenious as his “Nightwings” and “Downwards to the Earth”.

    Gerald Conway proved himself to be a capable scripter at Marvel Comics in the 1970s,but there were far better,more innovatve writers there who I thought could have written very good science fiction.What you described here though,sounds different to the standard stuff,even if the standard Marvel stuff,he did there.

    I read “On the Downward Side” in Ellison’s “TIme of the Eye”.It didn’t make any real impression on me.

    • I am aware of Silverberg’s place in the New Wave and his oeuvre… I stated a bit about it in my [albeit short] review. Unsure who you are talking to?

      As for your Conway comment, I was DEFINITELY surprised by the quality of the two stories I read. “Funeral Service” was almost a little Dying Inside clone contemporary with Dying Inside! hah. In the general sense that it focused on repairing a relationship and was “realistically” (as much as possible considering the topic) written.

      Not Ellison’s best for sure.

  2. Hi Joachim

    Thanks for this I have been meaning to read more Davidson and picked up The Enemy of My Enemy this summer. I had already tried his Masters of the Maze and got blogged down so I will put them both on the back burner for now, I have lots of Vance to read first as you suggest. The only thing I have read by him and liked was his short story Or All the Seas with Oysters which won a Hugo. I have Universe 2 and Dying Inside so I might as well move them higher up on the TBR pile.

    Happy Reading

    • Maybe you got bogged down in Masters of the Maze for the same reason I disliked The Enemy of My Enemy?

      I have read quite a few reviews which indicate that his short stories were superior. I do have a collection somewhere, it might be a better place to start.

      Thank you for the comment.

  3. Shame about the Davidson—I always liked his editorial run on F&SF, and some of his short fiction isn’t bad, but the novels of his I’ve read do fit your assessment as second-rate Vance. I think I’ll pass on this one. That said, Dying Inside is indeed a masterpiece (I’m surprised you hadn’t read it yet!). And I’m glad to hear Universe 2 is worth reading, since I have a copy on my shelf… So it sounds like you’ve read at least some good books this year 🙂

    FYI, you mis-attributed Dying Inside to Richard Powers, though I actually understand the crazed logic which may have caused this.

    • Which novels of his have you read?

      (I actually read Dying Inside three years ago but decided to review it now. I couldn’t review it then but it refused to dislodge itself from my memory!)

      Thanks for catching the error — it is a humorous one for sure!

      • I read the two Rogue Dragon books; did you love Vance’s “Dragon Masters” and wish there was more of it at a lesser quality? Well…

        I’m having similar issues reviewing books that are months old in memory… Working on a Simak collection review and spending more time rereading the stories to remember what they were about.

      • Exactly why I wrote the Universe 2 review only about my two favorite stories! I could have written reviews for all but two or three, but, one was the Bob Shaw story which I had completely forgotten.

        I look forward to your Simak review!

  4. I’m a big Avram Davidson fan, but that applies almost exclusively to his short stories (with the exception of his glorious The Phoenix and the Mirror, which is a fantasy, so I suspect you will probably never read it.) All of his 60’s novels have a rushed quality like they were cranked out in a hurry to pay some bills.

    Grania Davis was married to Davidson for a time, and the only other Davidson novel I really enjoyed was a collaboration between the two called Marco Pol and the Sleeping Beauty. But again, it’s a fantasy.

    I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club when the Universe anthologies were coming out and i remember the third one being really strong, although the only one I can remember is Gene Wolfe’s The Death of Dr. Island. The fact that that story has stayed with me ever since is proof of how powerful it is. I’m curious to see what you think of it if you get around to reading it.

  5. I’ve read most of Davidson’s novels and I thought his best was Joyleg, written with Ward Moore. It’s more of a fantasy than science fiction, though, but if I was to recommend one to read, this would be it, followed by Rogue Dragon. I agree that his shorter fiction was on the whole more enjoyable than his novels.

      • I tend to think from your various reviews that you would you would like his best known work, Bring the Jubilee. I reread it last year, about 40 years after the first time, and it’s one of those for me that didn’t fare so well simply because I can no longer identify with Hodge Backmaker. I do highly recommend it because it was very well done and is one of the best examples of alternate history.

        • I must confess, I don’t read to emphasize or identify with characters. I want to read about people who are different than me 😉 Same thing goes with authors… haha

          If only I could find a cheap copy. They are pricey online.

            • I was definitely talking about different perspectives. I never said nor meant to imply I didn’t want them believable. And, obviously, humanity is capable of profoundly irrational and unbelievable acts (“believable” is a tricky word).

            • Yes,you want them to be less than perfect,so that they have more concrete,fascinating and exciting personalities.Often the more ambiguous they are though,the greater the sense of their humanity will be.

              Believable is indeed a tricky word within written science fiction.It often depends upon the powerful vision of the authors,including others who have written fantastic fiction such as Jorge Lois Borges and Anna Kavan,to render it concrete and acceptable.The fact they are grounded in realistic concerns,makes the amazing fiction they create,all the more exciting of course.

  6. Well done characters are more believable and Hodge Backmaker falls into this category for me. It’s because he was done with such conviction that that I found him unlikable. My perspective has definitely changed as the years disappear into the rear view mirror. I’ve reread a few Brunner and Zelazny lately and found them extremely tedious while Silverberg’s 60s-70s have aged very well. And I don’t have to like or identify with characters to enjoy a book, such as Karan’s Ice and Mannes Them.

  7. Yes, I read it because of your recent procurement post and it sounded intriguing. I’m not really much into elaborate criticism, nor do I want to spoil it so bear with me: The content doesn’t live up to the cover blurb’s shallow/titillating sensationalism, but that’s not a problem because the writing is typical of non-genre incursions in that it’s better than average. In lieu of action the intelligent conversation between the well realized characters (for me) is thought provoking and full of ideas, though some might call it pretentious, somewhat dark and perhaps unfulfilling because of the ending. I look forward to your assessment when you read it!

      • OK, Joachim. This is my first book review since night school in the 80s for what it’s worth.

        The youth of the sixties, represented as the title of Marya Mannes’ They, has taken over America resulting in the forced separation of people over 50, who are ultimately waiting for the grim choice of self disposal or compulsory liquidation at age 65 by the Age Administration in this dystopia. This is related during rambling conversations of five people in their early sixties who are allowed to share their isolation in an old, isolated beach house with a few pets, as recorded in the journal of the narrator.

        The narrator is Kate, a former writer/editor, who is clearly the author from the autobiographical details. The others are also associated with various arts. Lev, a major conductor; Joey, popular song writer for Broadway musiscals; Barney, a painter; and Annie, his model/mistress.

        After the initial shock of isolation the group tries to strengthen and heighten their remaining functions by periodically depriving themselves of various faculties such as One Leg Dy, Deaf Day or Blind Day, but that is abandoned. They end up spending the majority of their time griping about the values of the youth and their generation, as well as in introspection, with Kate detailing their conversations. The group ulitmately lays the blame for their situation on themselves: “After all, age was never the object of veneration or admiration in America, even though we still remembered a time when respect in manners if not in mind was accorded it. And how could we seriously claim that our generation as a whole deserved it? Affluent as it was for the majority, the society we had produced was not admirable. It might be better than others, but it was nowhere near what is should have been. It was, in fact, going rotten.” This overwhelming indifferent acceptance of their situation becomes fearful as they continue to age and are required to get quarterly computer checkups.

        Toward the end of the novel Mannes introduces a deaf character Michael,who is never fully realized or has meaningful interaction with the group and becomes a loose end.

        In summary this foray into science fiction by a non-genre writer is insightful into the 60s youth, but may be disappointing to those expecting it to live up to the cover blurb, “More terrifying than Orwell’s 1984- five outcasts in a future world where all that matters is sensation.” Perhaps the contents may be best summed up by the self criticism appearing in the prologue that this work is “…a clinical document testifying to… In spite of its occasional deceptive lucidity it is clearly the product of a disordered… mind.”

      • Andrew, I’m glad you felt inspired! Seems like a fascinating read (if flawed but I expected as much). I was in contact with Ian Sales (he too wanted to find a copy of the book) and he said he’d love to post it on his SF Mistressworks site (long + shorter reviews: if you are willing. I send my reviews of women authors his way as well.

  8. Joachim,
    Thanks for the kind words! You can send it to Ian with my blessings. He can contact me if desired.
    I have to admit I pared some supporting details that corroborated the author was the narrator. The one thing I couldn’t figure was what the addition of Michael represented, so I left it for those more versed in criticism. Perhaps I will write another review some day…

    • Joachim: I submitted the revised review to sfmistressworks. If you want to delete what I posted and replace it with the improved version, especially in spelling and some awkward wording, please let me know and I will forward it to you.

  9. The worth of any anthology is just how many of the stories ended up being reprinted, and not in a translation of that anthology. This is the anthology that turned me into a Terry Carr fan, I read it way back in ’72. Check out his New Worlds of Fantasy anthologies. Back to the point, seven of these stories have been reprinted in the various author’s collections, while eight of the stories have ended up in various other editor’s anthologies. A good record, I think, for an original anthology. I also fell in love with the apocalyptic cover, one of Ellis’s best. Makes you want to put on the heat just having the book in the same room that you are,

    By-the-way, Conway went on to do thousands of comic stories for everybody, then went to Hollywood as a writer for such shows as Law & Order. Not a bad career for a Clarion graduate. Too bad some print-on-demand publisher doesn’t put together an omnibus of all of best in print fiction.

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