Book Review: Dimension Thirteen, Robert Silverberg (1969)

3.25/5 (Collated rating: Above Average)

Robert Silverberg (1935-) was one of the authors of the first decade of my site. I’ve reviewed twelve of his novels and thirty-two of his short stories. I also consumed with relish Tower of Glass (1970) and A Time of Changes (1971) as audiobooks and thus couldn’t review them. While an occasional story crops up here and there in an anthology, it’s about time I return to a Silverberg-specific volume. Dimension Thirteen (1969) collects six 50s stories and five from the 60s. The collection charts the moment when Silverberg’s career profoundly shifted from workman adventure to exemplary texts of the New Wave. They range from humorous commentaries on peccadillos and lusts to sinister ruminations on egotism and power.

Worthwhile in particular for “Warm Man” (1957), “By the Seawall” (1967), “Dark Companion” (1961), and “Journey’s End” (1958).

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” (1958), 1/5 (Bad): First appeared in Venture Science Fiction Magazine, ed. Robert P. Mills (March 1958). You can read it online here.

According to Mike Ashley in Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines From 1950 to 1970 (200, F&SF‘s companion magazine Venture sought to “run [stories with] stronger adult themes” (170). Ashley suggests that the editor’s intention to “titillate the reader with stories with a stronger sex slant” was “sensibly managed so that the stories […] did not insult” (171). Silverberg’s does. Venture‘s distribution problems led to the magazine’s demise (as with so many others in the late 50s) (171).”

I think it’s clear, as a commenter pointed out over at Galactic Journey, that Silverberg’s “Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” riffs on Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (1954). Rather than sacrificing a young woman who infiltrates a spaceship through secret means, make her a drugged sex slave (Crew Girl) of the crew to save everyone’s lives. Apparently, the male sexual drive must be satiated else errors will creep into their complex spaceship calculations… If this is the case maybe have some holograms? Sex robots? Just masturbate? Silverberg further muddles the murky waters by placing the blame on the woman herself who chose to apply (ulterior motives) for the position knowing she would not perform her role. The choice to drug her so she won’t remember the ordeal is presented as the alternative to tossing her out of the hatch. It’s plain awful.

“Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” fit Venture‘s billing yet proves a problematic representation of Silverberg’s central flaw — the objectification of female characters. In this case, the scenario is presented as a moral conundrum à la “The Cold Equations.” There are moments from all decades of Silverberg’s fiction I’ve read that demonstrate an awareness of how women are objectified: for example in “En Route to Earth” (1957) the main descriptor given to Terrans includes a bit about how pushy they are towards women and in the later controversial novel The Second Trip (1971) the main character wonders if his “archaic” and sexist views of women are programed by his creators in which they are only “see them only as extensions and pale reflections of the men they live with.” As I pointed out in my review of The Second Trip, despite moments of awareness Silverberg falls prey to what he warns against.

“Warm Man” (1957), 4/5 (Good): First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher (May 1957). You can read it online here.

I am fascinated by the mysterious stranger enters insular community trope. “Warm Man” explores the strange ways a suburban community of New Brewster reacts to Mr. Hallinan, who suddenly seems to appear in a recently unoccupied home. He’s pulled into the social events despite his lack of a wife. Those around him notice he exerts an “uncanny warmth” (22) and they feel their own tongues loosen, from which their terrors and desires and hidden traumas flow freely… Soon everyone desires his presence. Those that seek him out after a social evening find him bedraggled and exhausted, the quickly obscured view of his home’s interior appears empty and dusty.

Despite the fascinating set-up, “Warm Man” resorts to an unnecessary ending that weakens the message and impact. In the end, “Warm Man” emphasizes the deep importance of communication and resisting the urge to bottle all within. The simple act of talking about one’s life creates a cathartic tide that connects rather than divides. I found “Warm Man” one of Silverberg’s most successful short fictions of the 50s! But then again, I can’t keep away from the intersection of SF and the suburban experience.

“By the Seawall” (1967), 4.75/5 (Very Good): First appeared in If, ed. Frederik Pohl (January 1967). You can read it online here.

Micah-IV, a synthetic human, patrols a thousand-meter-long section of a massive seawall. The sea writhes with terrifying beasts (mutants?) kept at bay with poison vents and electrification. Humans stop by the visitor center to look out over the wild expanse. Before the construction of the wall, the sea beasts–able to breathe for a few hours above the surface–raided nearby settlements. Other than a few close calls, the seawall protected the “dwellers of the land” from the “nightmares in the sea” (39). But something has happened in the heart of humanity protected behind the wall. And Micah-IV cannot stop the first of many suicides.

Micah, too, feels something that he cannot explain. He yearns for excitement. And after the suicides he “felt a sense of excitement, for now his days were mottled by unpredictabilities” (43). The android wardens, on their few off hours, debate the reasoning behind the humans. “It’s a religious phenomenon” one declares as they must desire to “return to the great mother” (45). In one transformative moment, a woman attempting to commit suicide hammers home she views him as little more than a machine, unable to understand human motives (47). Micah’s decides to make the most human of choices.

This is a masterful story. It’s carefully constructed around a powerful metaphoric image (a world cut off from danger and terror) with a fascination rumination on what it means to be human. Silverberg hit his stride in the late 60s.

“Dark Companion” (1961), 4/5 (Good): First appeared in Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith (January 1961). You can read it online here. My third favorite in the collection!

What lengths would the ultra-wealthy go to make sure an heir doesn’t commit suicide? Pay for an extraordinarily expensive synthetic human companion! Rocklin awakes immobile in a “thermonutrient bath” after his most recent suicide attempt (49). As his skin regrows, he soon discovers his parents’ new plan to protect his life. He “seethed” with anger at their scheme, did they think he was a “child?” (53). After his initial reluctance, the imitation human android Companion becomes his friend. And the trauma underlying Rocklin’s attempts on his life comes to the surface.

Despite the rather forced ending, “Dark Companion” like “Warm Man” suggests the importance of communication and friendship. The Companion serves both as a friend and psychiatrist, who, despite his programmed task, also comes to enjoy his role. I enjoyed this one!

“The Four” (1958), 3/5 (Average): First appeared in Science Fiction Stories, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (August 1958). You can read it online here.

In a post-nuclear apocalypse world, the remains of humanity live deep underwater. The official records claim that the world above “lay blasted and shattered” (80). Those ensconce in New Baltimore deep below, including the powerful telepath Mary Foyle, imagine emerging above to a world transformed. Mary gains control over three other telepaths and hatches a plan to see whether the world above is really as described: “She wanted to see the sky in its blueness, and the golden terror of the naked sun” (83). In conjunction with the minds of her three disciples, she intended to “hurl a psionic signal through the sea to the surface” (83). And when she does, what they see shocks her: “Can the scars have healed so soon?” (85). But the authorities narrow in… and all is not what it seems.

There are good bones in this story–the underwater locale, the desire to escape the claustrophobic interiors, and a life controlled by the choices made in the past… But there really isn’t enough here to raise it above others of its ilk other than its unusually sad ending. I’m sure where our sympathies are supposed to lie as Silverberg describes Foyle in manipulative terms: “Mary had squashed that objected, welded the Four into One, cajoled and commanded and pleaded and manipulated” (84). I think we’d all want to escape such a world!

“Bride Ninety-One” (1967), 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in If, ed. Frederik Pohl (September 1967). You can read it online here.

On the surface “Bride Ninety-One” reads in light strokes, with humorous scenarios, coyly winking at sex and love… Beneath its silly surface, this story could (let me know your thoughts) be read as a call for love in all its forms–in this instance, between Terrans and vaguely humanoid aliens with strange teeth and radically different conceptions of gender roles. Silverberg also uses the story to comment on the double-standard human men have for women and the restrictive gender roles imposed by society. Unlike many in the collection that resonates with an undercurrent of doom, this one leaves a good feeling when the adventures of inter-alien love are renewed for another six-month contract. It makes sense that it appeared in the heyday of the 60s counterculture (The Summer of Love a few months before publication).

“World of a Thousand Colors” (1957), 3/5 (Average): First appeared in Super-Science Fiction, ed. W. W. Scott (June 1957). You can read it online here.

Jolvar Hollinrede finds himself face-to-face with the rarest of individuals, a man selected to journey to “the world of a Thousand Colors to undergo the test” (108). The nature of the test isn’t exactly known. No one member of the general public knows where the world it occurs in is located. The grifter Jolvar, with face-shifting technology (a chemotherm mask) and other high-tech gadgets, stages the perfect murder and takes the man’s place: “Within an hour the prime evidence to the crime would be nothing but so many protons, electrons, and neutrons–and there would be no way of telling which of the two men in the room had entered the chute, and which had remained alive” (111). But will his ploy pass the authorities? The entities on the planet’s surface?

A sinister, if forgettable, take on egotism and the overwhelming desire to change. I’ve always enjoyed Silverberg’s fascination with anti-heroes. As the editor of Super-Science Fiction accepted (virtually) anything from Ellison and Silverberg to fill his page quota, they probably sent this style of off-handed despair and violence without positive resolution knowing they’d receive a check. Check out Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” (1956) for a more extreme example.

“En Route to Earth” (1957), 2.75/5 (Below Average): First appeared in Science Fiction Quarterly, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (August 1957). You can read it online here.

This one is as silly as Ed Emshwiller’s cover illustration for it! Milissa, a blue-skinned Vegan who looks human in every other respect, serves as a stewardess on King Magnus on its three-day trip from Vega II to Earth. Her passenger notes indicate the vast array of alien travelers–“worms or not, they’re still customers” (128). The Terrans receive special mention: “Watch out for any Terrans aboard. They don’t have any color prejudices against pretty Vegans with blue skin” (128). Lo and behold, a Terran (conjoined triplets) immediately flirts with her. Milissa deals with a few humorous alien crises, including one concerning a rare issue of Science Fiction Stories (one of Lowndes’ other SF magazines) with a cover alien remarkably similar to its reader.

In the end, Silverberg uses the premise to tell a light-hearted lesson about taking the seemingly alien on their own terms. It’s fun. It’s slight. It’s forgettable.

“The King of the Golden River” (variant title: “The King of the Golden World”) (1967), 3.25/5 (Above Average): First appeared in Galaxy Magazine, ed. Frederik Pohl (December 1967). You can read it online here.

On an alien planet, the earthwoman Elena grows increasingly terrified at the signs of an approaching eruption of a massive volcano. The children of the three villages perched on its slopes seem unnaturally unconcerned by the prospect of destruction and death. Elena’s lover, “the chief of the three villages, the King of the Golden River” (139), likewise seems unbothered by her increasing terror. Elena realizes something is afoot as he spends his time away from her meeting with his advisors and passing around lists written on the bark. With the molten building underground, their lovemaking grows in intensity. She had long since ceased to regard his anatomical differences “as bizarre” (144). He seems aroused by her anatomical differences (in pure Silverberg fashion, these aliens have eight breasts due to their large litters of children): “up and down that expanse of breathless chest and belly, so miraculous to him, so provocative to him” (147). The violent pulse of the Earth throbs below.

Silverberg attempts to say something about the nature of relativistic and amorphous definition civilization with “The King of the Golden River.” Elena, who voluntarily allows herself to become enmeshed in the alien society, still finds herself “slipping into the role of the educated Earthwoman telling the native chieftain what the universe was all about” (145). Her tendency to project her own conception of the world upon others is the facet that she hated the most about herself (145).

This is a solid story.

“Prime Commandment” (1958), 3/5 (Average): First appeared in Science Fiction Stories, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (January 1958). You can read it online here.

Silverberg’s takedown of organized religion follows two groups of religious zealots who collide on an alien planet. A tattered group of space crash survivors worships the shattered remains of the spaceship that brought them to the alien world: “The Ship sat embedded in the side of the hill, exactly where it had first fallen upon World; open in its side was the hatch through which the people of World had come forth” (154). A blaze appears in the heavens and a new batch of religiously-motivated colonists arrive thinking the planet is abandoned. The eight hundred members of the Church of the New Resurrection who crew the New Galilee imagine themselves new martyrs for the cause. Of course, both groups cannot exist simultaneously — and both manipulate the tenants of their faith to justify the destruction of the other.

Despite the basic premise, I enjoyed the overall grungy feel of this futuristic conflict and the central image (conveyed to perfection by Emshwiller in the cover art for the issue) of the wrecked remains of the spaceship. It’s a rather brutish take on who might risk a journey across the stars. This isn’t a rebirth of an enlightened man but the replaying of all the old narratives. Solid.

“Halfway House” (1966), 3.25/5 (Above Average): First appeared in If, ed. Frederik Pohl (November 1966). You can read it online here.

Cancer afflicts Franco Alfieri’s throat. He comes to the Fold for aid. The mysterious nexus between the galaxy’s worlds requires the energy needed to “power a good-sized city” (167) and a heft chunk of change — of which Alfieri has plenty. The wealthy use the Fold to receive aid from alien experts. But someone has to judge those who enter and decide whether they deserve assistance. Alfieri argues that he deserves help because he designed the power source that powers the entire contraption. Vuor, who oversees the Fold, sees an opportunity and makes a deal that Alfieri is all too happy to accept: “Lend us your gift for organizing, for administration. Take a five-year term among us. Then you may return to your own world” (172).

Alien surgeons fix his cancer. But then the real suffering has yet to begin as Alfieri must play God and judge everyone who comes through the Fold…

“Journey’s End” (1958), 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in Super-Science Fiction, ed. W. W. Scott (April 1958). You can read it online here.

Reviewed originally here.

“Solitary” (1957), 3/5 (Average): First appeared in Future Science Fiction, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (Spring 1957). You can read it online here.

I originally reviewed the story in Silverberg’s collection Godling, Go Home! (1964). I decided not to reread it for this review.

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Dimension Thirteen, Robert Silverberg (1969)

  1. Hi,

    “The King of the Golden River” should be “The King of the Golden World”. “River” was a John Ruskin story.

    Interesting reviews, thanks. I don’t know any of the stories.

    Stephen Burridge

    On Sun, Apr 16, 2023 at 9:49 PM Science Fiction and Other Suspect

  2. Somehow I’ve not read any of these. I’ve read some early ’70s Silverberg and actually some ’80s stuff as well but I’ve mostly stayed away from the ’50s and ’60s. “Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” sounds… repulsive. Silverberg and Randall Garrett collaborated a fair bit in the ’50s, maybe some of “it” rubbed off on him. Misogyny is a thing of Silverberg’s that sometimes hampers his work. And you still have not read Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” FOR SHAME.

    • What are your favorite Silverberg novels? Short stories?

      Yeah, “Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” is really bad….

      But “By the Seawall” represents a lot of what makes Silverberg one of my favorite authors — the constructed/metaphoric landscape, the ruminative feel, and the synthetic human’s emotional realization and struggle that is the central focus of the story. It’s so good.

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