Robert Silverberg Silverberg, Robert (Vol. 140)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Silverberg 1935-

(Has also written under the pseudonyms Walker Chapman, Don Elliott, Dan Eliot, Walter Drummond, Ivar Jorgenson, and over twenty others) American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Silverberg's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 7.

Silverberg is one of the most notable and prolific twentieth-century science fiction writers. Silverberg is widely acclaimed by science fiction scholars and aficionados, but has generally received a lukewarm reception with the literary establishment. Nevertheless, several of his works have merited critical examination in a range of forums and contexts, science fiction and otherwise. He has helped transform the literary status of a traditionally marginalized genre. In dozens of novels and scores of short stories he has combined conventional elements of science fiction with the sophisticated techniques of postmodern literature. Silverberg has demonstrated both technical virtuosity with the genre's forms and dexterous mastery of science fiction themes and motifs, ranging from alienation, anxiety, and transcendence to time travel, alternative worlds, and disembodied consciousness. The novels Downward to the Earth (1970), The World Inside (1971), and Dying Inside (1972) are among Silverberg's most successful books.

Biographical Information

Born in 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, Silverberg was an only child. The shy and exceptionally bright boy first encountered science fiction through the words of masters Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, and A. E. van Vogt. By the age of thirteen he had penned his own stories. Silverberg attended Columbia University, where he began contributing stories to numerous science fiction magazines that flourished during the mid-1950s. His first short story, “Gorgon Planet,” appeared in 1954, and his first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, followed the next year. After graduation Silverberg launched his career as a full-time science fiction writer, earning his first Hugo award as the “most promising new author” of 1956. By the late-1950s he was more than one hundred stories and two novels into his career when an oversaturated market for science fiction magazines forced him to look elsewhere for paid work. At this time Silverberg focused on writing historical and scientific nonfiction for children. With the 1963 publication of “To See the Invisible Man” he returned to professional science fiction writing, and at the same time began to write nonfiction for adult readers. By the time the novel Thorns (1967) and the novella Hawksbill Station (1968) appeared, Silverberg was recognized as a significant writer of well-crafted stories about high-minded themes. Following a 1968 fire which partially destroyed his New York City mansion and slowed down his literary output, Silverberg published a number of works, among them “Nightwings” (1968), “Sundance” (1969), and Downward to the Earth and culminating with The World Inside, Dying Inside, and The Book of Skulls (1972). Between 1972 and 1976 Silverberg wrote almost exclusively short stories, many award-winning, in which he experimented with various narrative techniques; notable collections of this period include The Feast of St. Dionysus (1975) and The Best of Robert Silverberg (1976). In 1976, disillusioned with the genre's traditions, Silverberg publicly announced his “retirement” from writing science fiction. Except for an opinion column on science-fiction themes that he still writes, he published nothing else until 1980, when he began writing science fiction again. Since then he has added many books and stories to his list of publications, and has edited the influential New Dimensions short story anthology a number of times.

Major Works

As one of the most prolific writers of the second half of the twentieth century, Silverberg has produced an extensive catalog of books published under both his own name and...

(The entire section is 55,413 words.)