Robert Silverberg’s career as a science fiction writer spans over six decades. His first short story, “Gorgon Planet,” appeared in the February 1954 issue of Nebula Science Fiction, when he was 19 years old, and his first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, was published in 1955. He won a Hugo in 1956 for “Best New Writer,” and for the next few years — until the market for SF magazines collapsed in 1959 — he was extraordinarily prolific, routinely publishing five stories a month, and producing roughly a million words a year.
He published over 80 stories in 1958 alone, in magazines like Imaginative Tales, Fantastic, Amazing Stories, Imagination, and many others. His story “Re-Conditioned Human” appeared in the February 1959 issue of Super-Science Fiction (see the cover below left), and he had two novelettes in the April issue (below right): “Vampires from Outer Space” (under the name Richard F. Watson) and “Mournful Monster” (as Don Malcolm).
Those magazines are almost impossible to find now (unless you’re Rich Horton, of course), but Subterranean Press has done a favor for Silverberg fans — and pulp fans — everywhere by assembling two handsome volumes of his early work. In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era was published in hardcover in February 2006, and Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era will arrive on August 31, 2016.
[Click on the images for bigger versions.]
Here’s the description for In the Beginning.
The sf Grandmaster’s follow up to the career retrospective Phases of the Moon is a glance back to the earliest days of his career. Included with pulp stories not reprinted in decades will be more of the commentary that made Phases so much more than just a collection.
“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 much that is new to you 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. They are stories from the dawn of my career, which began in the closing years of that era, and are straightforward tales of action, in the main, that were written partly for fun and partly for money.”
–Robert Silverberg, from the Introduction
And here’s the description for Early Days.
In 2006, Robert Silverberg published In the Beginning, a generous selection of stories from the early, developmental stages of his distinguished sixty-year career. Fast-paced, energetic, and unabashedly pulp-like in their origins and ambitions, those stories proved to be an unexpected gift to Silverberg’s many readers. That gift continues with Early Days, a second volume of apprentice fiction as wide-ranging and enjoyable as the first.
Early Days collects seventeen impossible to find stories from the years 1956 to 1958, supplemented by a fascinating introduction and extensive notes on the creation and publication history of each story. Together, these non-fiction pieces constitute both an episodic memoir and an affectionate history of an era when pulp magazines still dominated the SF marketplace.
Without exception, each of the stories in Early Days offers honest, unpretentious entertainment. The astonishingly prolific Silverberg may have had a bit to learn back then, but he had an innate understanding of narrative that shines through every one of these tales. The stories range in tone from the grimly dystopian future of “The Inquisitor” to the playful “Space Is the Place,” in which a maintenance technician from Crawford IX experiences comic culture shock during a mandatory vacation on Earth. “Rescue Mission” revolves around the telepathic connection between two interplanetary intelligence agents. “Housemaid No. 103” provides a humorous glimpse into the romantic difficulties of a far future matinee idol. “Harwood’s Vortex” combines a mad scientist, alien invaders, and the possible end of life as we know it into a single colorful narrative.
Silverberg, of course, would evolve into one of the genuine masters of the genre, and this retrospective collection of early work offers invaluable insights into his development. Silverberg himself calls Early Days “an affectionate tribute to my hardworking self of more than half a century ago.” It is all of that and more. Anyone with an interest in Silverberg’s career, or in the history and evolution of modern science fiction, needs to read this book. They may not write ‘em like this anymore, but once upon a time they did. And looking back has never been so much fun.
Here’s s snippet from Kirkus Reviews on Early Days:
A collection of pulp-style science-fiction stories from the days when men were men and aliens were green, scaly, and up to no good… Reading this collection is akin to watching the B-movies Quentin Tarantino has spent his career riffing off — fun for superfans and students of the genre…
Our previous coverage of Robert Silverberg includes:
Robert Silverberg on “Are the days of the full-time novelist numbered?”
Tales From Super-Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg
How Galaxy Magazine Saved Robert Silverberg from a Life of Smoking
Robert Silverberg’s Tales of Majipoor
Oz Reviews The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford, Dave Truesdale and Others Sign Petition Calling for Changes to SFWA
Robert Silverberg on Cannon Propulsion in Space
Robert Silverberg on the Tragic Death of John Brunner
Robert Silverberg on the First Year of Galaxy Science Fiction
Great Short Novels of Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg
Worlds Imagined: 14 Short Science Fiction Novels, compiled by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg
Sample the Finest Short Stories of a Science Fiction Great: The Best of Robert Silverberg: Stories of Six Decades
In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era was published by Subterranean Press in February 2006. It is 337 pages, priced at $40 for a signed, limited edition hardcover. It was reprinted in paperback on May 27, 2015, priced at $18.95.
Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era will be published by Subterranean Press on August 31, 2016. It is 344 pages pages, priced at $40 for a signed, limited edition hardcover.
The cover of both books is by Bob Eggleton.
See all of our Pulp coverage here.