In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era

by Robert Silverberg

Published by Subterranean Press

335 pages, 2006




Looking Back at Silverberg's Dawn

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


I feel fairly confident when I state that no one else could have served up an anthology quite like this one. In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era collects some of the earliest stories science fiction grand master Robert Silverberg ever published. The stories, as Silverberg says in his introduction, from the "dawn" of his career. Written, he says, "partly for fun and partly for money."

I have to confess, right up front here, that you will not find a great deal in the way of poetic vision in these stories, or singing prose, or deep insight into character. Nor are these stories that will tell you that much about the human condition. These are stories in what is now pretty much a lost tradition in science fiction, the simple and unselfconsciously fast-paced adventure story of the pulp-magazine era.

Still. This is Silverberg and it should be noted that, despite his own protestations, one doesn't get to be a Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master for cranking out duds. That said, we're talking about stories from a different time, a different era. As well, as Silverberg said, he had a lot of things on his mind as he wrote: "Telephone bills, electricity, the cost of typewriter ribbons and typing paper, a haircut now and then, movie tickets, restaurants, subway fares... I had not chosen an ivory-tower sort of life for myself."

Written at the very end of the pulp era, the 16 stories collected here were written between 1955 and 1959 when Silverberg -- who was born in January of 1935 -- was still a green young writer. In this period, Silverberg has said he was writing a million words each year.

Each of the stories are prefaced by a brief section of recollection and explanation by the author. For many readers, this alone will make In the Beginning worth the price of admission as it provides a kind of intimate yet casual portrait of one of the great living authors of this genre.

The stories themselves are about what you'd expect, yet entirely different. That is they are sometimes naive, sometimes archaic but always fascinating. When reading, I found it interesting to realize that, in several of the stories collected here, we're often visiting the part of space that likely gave Gene Rodenberry at least some of his inspiration. It is, by and large, a hopeful place and -- even when the setting is far from our own in time and geography -- a lot of the really important aspects don't really look that startlingly different. Like all of the truly great writers in science fiction, it's apparent that Silverberg learned the most important lesson really early: Even if they're being fired at by Mercurians wielding zam-guns, or hiding in the jungle from a Llanar ship; even if you're employed by the Terran Security Agency and have to work too hard for your Interstellar Galactic Credits, humans are humans are humans. It's not about location or even vocation. It's about the things we feel in our gut; in our heart.

In his wonderful novels -- Roma Eterna, The Face of the Waters, Lord Valentine's Castle and so many more -- he's showed us again and again that he understands the human heart perfectly. The need for haircuts and electricity notwithstanding, with In the Beginning he gifts us with stories he wrote half a century ago and we're not surprised to see the embryo of the heart and talent we've come to love so well. | January 2006


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.