Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
Dying Inside appeared relatively late in Robert Silverberg’s voluminous literary career. He has written and edited scores of books. In at least one way, Dying Inside typifies his writing. Unlike Isaac Asimov, who is more concerned with the technical science aspects of science fiction, Silverberg seems especially interested in character; he shows how human personalities are affected by scientific phenomena and reflects on the political and social implications of such phenomena. For example, there is little explanation of how and why Selig has his special powers: They simply exist. Silverberg attempts to establish some scientific plausibility by explaining that Selig’s receptive ability is greater during a high pressure system when the humidity is low. Readers discover that he is losing his powers, but neither they nor Selig knows why.
These details seem secondary to Silverberg’s main interest, which is to present an extraordinary fictional situation and explore its metaphorical possibilities. At one point in the text, for example, Selig’s sister asks him whether his loss of his power is like a loss of sexual potency. This level is further developed by some of the diction and imagery Silverberg uses to describe Selig delving into others consciousness: He enters and he penetrates. This analogy underscores the theme of alienation, for Selig is unable to establish true intimacy in either a sexual or a platonic relationship. The point of view of the narrative, which alternates between first and third person, further suggests Selig’s alienation, not only from others but also from himself.
Selig also describes himself as a voyeur, a type of soul vampire, feeding off the lives of others in a destructive fashion. In this sense, perhaps some good results from the loss of Selig’s power, because he must gain the ability to interact with society.
One reviewer pointed out that the diminishing of the middle-aged Selig’s powers resembles the waning of passion and intensity so often associated with middle age. In this way Selig’s unusual situation may be somewhat universalized. This apparent strength of the novel has been viewed as a weakness by at least one reviewer, who wrote that the novel has more to do with growing older than it does with science fiction and that it is more about alienation than aliens.
Silverberg attempts to develop his hero’s situation by associating it with those of many other alienated literary heroes of the twentieth century. There are allusions to T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies (1956), James Joyce’s “The Dead” (1914), and E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924). As part of his job as a ghostwriter, Selig writes an essay about Kafka’s The Trial (1937) and The Castle (1930). Finally, an essay called “Entropy as a Factor in Everyday Life” uses physics second law of thermodynamics as an analogy to Selig’s view of his own life and the world around him.
Despite being nominated for a Nebula Award in 1972, Dying Inside received some unfavorable reviews. Several critics thought that the main character was unlikable, full of spite and self-pity, and others generally found the novel depressing. The novel remains interesting for its descriptions of telepathic experience and, perhaps less important, for its relationship to other twentieth century works.