Book Review: Godling, Go Home!, Robert Silverberg (1964)

(Uncredited cover for the 1964 edition)

3.25/5 (Average)

Before Robert Silverberg wrote his late 60s and early 70s New Wave masterpieces (A Time of Changes, Dying Inside, The World Inside, etc), he produced a vast quantity of pulp science fiction novels and short stories.  Godling, Go Home! (1964) is a surprisingly solid collection of 50s shorts that can, at times, be surprisingly meditative (on death, exploration, civilization).  That said, expect rather naive messages — à la “we travel in space because we can!” or “Alien contact requires out-of-the-box thinking” — grafted onto a by the numbers pulp plot.

A fun collection — recommended for fans of slightly more intelligent than normal pulp SF, Silverberg completes, and 50s SF.  “Godling, Go Home!” (1957), “Why?” (1957), and “The Man With Talent” (1956) are the best of the collection…

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (*spoilers*)

“Godling, Go Home!” (1957) 4.25/5 (Good):  A memorable story…  Human explorers land on a planet and are perceived as Gods — a standard SF trope.  But, Silverberg turns it on its head in delightful fashion.  Lieutenant Cartisser takes on the younger Noble in order to teach him all the ropes of contact with primitive species.  Due to time dilation, Cartisser and Noble head to one of the planets that Cartisser had previously visited — 1000 years later!  As expected, the people acknowledge him as their God who finally returned to bless His people.  But, the leaders of the society are rather more reluctant.  They consider the presence of a God as a violation of the tenets Cartisser taught when he originally visited.

“Why?” (1957) 4/5 (Good):  Almost a brilliant story that ultimately resorts to overly simplistic/naive analysis of a thought-provoking question — why do we have the urge to explore?  For eleven years Brock and Hammond, members of the Exploratory Corps, investigated planet after planet and never explicitly asked the other why they were doing so.  Perhaps they could no longer tolerate the society and environment of an increasingly overpopulated and frenetic Earth.  Or, perhaps because they are fearful of self-analysis.  When a planet tries to literally keep them on its surface, Brock and Hammond attempt to provide an answer.

“The Silent Colony” (1954) 3/5 (Average):  An odd little story… Skrid, Emerak, and Ullowa are immortal inhabitants of the planet of Pluto.  Their settlements have stretched closer and closer to the Sun — and soon they arrive on Earth.  On Earth, piles of dead greet their arrival.  And soon their immortality is threatened.  Earth, a planet of death?

“Force of Mortality” (1957) 3.5/5 (Good):  Quantrell, and his young protegee Kendrick, are Extraterrestrial Archeaologists (what a job!).  Quantrell has discovered little of any importance in his long career — a few mishaps prevented him from returning with big finds.  Quantrell, in his old age, laments his lack of success and waining abilities.  But, soon his luck changes when they discover alien bodies and ruins… The ending is incredibly contrived in order for the message to be conveyed.  All in all a rather forced read, but, the meditation on aging is highly unusual for pulp SF.

“There’s No Place Like Space” (1959) 2.75/5 (Average):  One of the weakest in the collection…. Ed Reese had worked for twelve years on remote space colonies operating a transmat device (a transportation portal that links other planets with Earth).  Due to computer error, he’s not notified of his accumulated vacation time — more than half a year of vacation on Earth.  But the problem is Ed loves his easy life on Crawford IX and doesn’t want to take a vacation on Earth.

“Neutral Planet” (1957) 3.25/5 (Good):  Simultaneously a Cold-War allegory and a “let’s turn first contact on its head story.”  Fafnir is inhabited by a primitive spear throwing race of aliens, but, due to the location of the planet, both humans and Rigellians (who are engaged in a protracted “war”) want Fafnir as an ally.  Unfortunately, both the standard human and Rigellian techniques of dumping large pile of cool gadgets into the lap of the primitives does not yield positive results.  But the more intelligent humans come up with an ingenious plan…

“The Lonely One” (1956) 3.25/5 (Average):  Earth is wrecked by cataclysmic climate change.  The few remaining inhabitants shelter themselves the best they can from the endless snows.  Soon, a group of aliens arrive on Earth promising warm weather on their home world.  But the humans do not want to, and more importantly, do not seem able to leave.  Sinister undercurrents about — what exactly the aliens would do with the humans on their home world isn’t entirely clear — one gets the feeling that they would be “exhibited” as Native Americans and African Bushmen were in our own colonial period.  Instead of exploring this further, Silverberg resorts to a mysterious forces are afoot type plot device.

“Solitary” (1957) 3/5 (Average):  In an increasingly computerized future, even crime prevention is handed over to computers.  Crime solving is no longer some idealistic searching for clues work….  Rather, crime solving means taking care of the machines while they do all the work. As a kid Geourge Braeuer dreamed of being a Sherlock Holmnes type investigator — all the classic novels of crime solving line his shelves.  He is dismayed that the computer that does all his work.  On a whim he asks the computer for all the unsolved crimes.  And takes up a case of his own.  Again, the fantastic premise is defeated by an all too obvious where the computer went wrong moment.  A slightly intelligent criminal would be able to get away with the most horrific crimes if this futuristic computer was running the show!

“The Man with Talent” (variant title: “A Man of Talent”) (1956) 4/5 (Good):  Emil Vilar thinks that he’s the last poet on Earth.  Emil Vilar thinks that he’s a genius.  Emil Vilar thinks that Earth is simply too stupid to understand his genius.  So, his wealthy friends (whose actual intentions are probably more negative than Emil thinks) assist him in paying the transport fees off Earth.  When he arrives on Rigel Seven, the first visiter since the original families settled on the planet, he is immediately pleased that he’ll have a place to work in quiet.  But the inhabitants seem to be artistic polymaths….  And expect something from him.

“The Desiccator” (1956) 3/5 (Average):  A short comedic story about an tentacled alien on the incredibly dry planet of Mars…  This inventor accidentally invents the most useful device ever for a planet that is too dry — a desiccator.  So, his promotor takes the invention to Earth in an attempt to sell it.  Unfortunately, whenever the desiccator is turned on it doesn’t simply dry what is inside of it but pulls moisture from entire city blocks.  Humorous, silly, fleeting…

“The World He Left Behind” (variant title: “The World He Left Behind Him”) (1959) 2.5/5 (Bad):  Perhaps should be retitled, “What an Unsatisfactory Way to Leave the Collection Behind.”  A portal to a parallel world….  A parallel world of gorgeous tanned bodies, endless beach life, a nice woman named Corilee….  But there’s also time dilation the further you journey from the portal.  And the Beach dwellers don’t want their world ruined.  But Matthews wants to get his hands on Corilee…

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28 thoughts on “Book Review: Godling, Go Home!, Robert Silverberg (1964)”

  1. Joachim, Silverberg is a one-man history of his time`s SF. Studying his progression from routine writer to artist of the American New Wave 70s is a real education in the growth of the field.

      1. Could we also say his post-1980 career mirrors the field’s decline into fantasy / fantasy tropes, world-building for world-building’s sake, length for length’s sake, and series and franchises?

  2. Tom Hering has a point – Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980) is pretty bad; long and tedious, lacking in style and including lots of events and details that have no emotional impact on the reader. It was very popular, however, and has spawned many sequels, and we have to keep in mind that Silverberg is a professional writer, that for him writing is a business and his main (only?) source of income; unlike many SF writers, he is not a college professor or an engineer or whatever, who writes SF on the side.

    I also want to note that I quite enjoyed Kingdoms of the Wall (1992) and thought The Face of the Waters (1991) was OK, though they are definitely long questy narratives in medievalish settings.

    Reading Lord Valentine’s Castle in particular, but also The Face of the Waters, I got the feeling that Silverberg was writing under the influence of Jack Vance, especially the Big Planet books and The Blue World. Unfortunately he had embraced Vance plots and settings and left behind Vance’s economy, humor, style and cynicism, leaving us with a bloated and lifeless caricature of Vance’s picaresques.

    1. Reading through plot summaries of Silverberg’s post-1980 novels today, I got the impression he returned to mining the pulps. Even with Kingdoms of the Wall. I mean, is there an SF concept that’s hoarier than “explorers from Earth become the gods of a primitive alien race”?

      1. It sounds like Silverberg was more inventive with that theme in the titular story of this collection “Godling, Go Home!” — at least he turned the standard trope on its head…. A “successful” return to a planet where you were acknowledged as a god is to be rejected by the people who NOW (after your original teachings) believe in liberty, self-determination, etc — i.e. no dictatorial prophets telling them what to do.

  3. We need Mr. Silverberg himself to come here and comment on all this. Let’s see if I can tempt him by employing a proven tactic:

    “Silverberg is a brilliant writer, but his stories can be kind of preachy. Plus, as a person, he’s nothing if not abrasive, litigious, cantankerous, etc. And I hear he groped a female author at an award ceremony, just to make the point that sexual harassment is wrong.”

    There. Now let’s sit back and wait for “Yr. Pal, Bob” to respond. :-D

    1. Hahaha, James Gunn (one of my favorites!) visited my generally positive review of one of his collections, Station in Space (1959) — but, just to comment that it was his favorite piece of cover art that appeared on any of his publications…

    2. :)

      I actually thought Ellison’s post here was interesting and worthwhile, even though he called me (I assume it was me) “callow.” I also just read “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and thought it not bad, so Ellison’s stock, in my book, is higher than it was a month or so ago.

      And I get the impression that Silverberg is a guy everybody in SF likes and gets along with, so maybe we need to put different bait on the hook this time around.

      1. Despite the ups and downs of his artistry (and what artist doesn’t have ups and downs), I will always think highly of Mr. Silverberg for Nightwings alone.

      2. I think highly of Silverberg for The World Inside, Hawksbill Station, Downward to the Earth, Thorns, The Man in the Maze, The Second Trip, Dying Inside… I’m a major fan! haha

        Haven’t watched Nightwings yet — it’s on my shelf.

      3. I enjoyed his response as well… What I didn’t enjoy were the comments people made about you all (some guy claimed you were ignorant people who didn’t know anything about the context or SF in general) on Ellison’s webpage…

  4. I think highly of Hawksbill Station and The World Inside as well (Hawksbill being one of the first dozen SF novels I ever read). Some of the titles you mentioned, Joachim, from Silverberg’s best period, I have yet to read. Lucky me!

    Heck, I’m ignorant about a whole lot of things, and I certainly don’t claim to be an SF scholar. So “some guy” isn’t exactly hitting me where it hurts. Sheesh, but Mr. Ellison and some of his fans sure make it hard to judge Ellison’s stories on their merits alone.

    1. Well, if you haven’t read Downward to the Earth I highly recommend it…. It’s damn brilliant — one of the best SF novels about Post-colonialism I’ve ever read. I adored The Man in the Maze as well. All of the above I mentioned (as well as others) have reviews on this site :)

  5. Joachim, I`m confused as to how Ellison got involved in this, but I can say both Ellison and Silverberg have been nothing but gracious to me in person [Ellison] and on his Yahoo group [Silverberg]. I think Silverberg`s post- retirement novels [he retired before coming back with LORD VALENTINE`S CASTLE] do indeed prove my little theory about Silverberg being a gauge of the SF of his time. He saw the marketplace post-STAR WARS and tailored his qualities to the market. There is a philosophy that portrays this as hackwork or somehow beneath all those artists who never worked for money, only for The Glory of Art, like Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Welles… ;) I think there are writers like Poul Anderson who are consistent, but who never reach the heights of Silverberg`s best, which for me are some of the finest SF novels ever written. I don`t begrudge him making a living in exchange for THE BOOK OF SKULLS, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH, DYING INSIDE, NIGHTWINGS, THE WORLD INSIDE…

    1. Ellison himself commented on my review of his collection Approaching Oblivion a week or so ago. He rebutted each of the criticisms leveled by commentators who critiqued his “preachiness” (Tom Hering, Admiral Ironbombs, mporcius, etc).

      1. “I think there are writers like Poul Anderson who are consistent, but who never reach the heights of Silverberg`s best, which for me are some of the finest SF novels ever written.” — I completely agree with you here!

      2. Correction: you mean he tried to rebut our criticisms. :-D Another correction: I wasn’t one of those who spoke of preachiness. My comment on his stories was that back in the early ’70s, when I last read them, they failed to impress me.

  6. Joachim, I will have to check that out. Ellison was the first sf writer for me–the one whose career and books I followed. BTW, I have Silverberg`s SON OF MAN going, and it is pretty wild. I can`t decide if I like it yet, but how many current sf writers are writing books that create such conflict in a reader due to content and style? [None in my experience: My responses to contemporary sf novels have consisted of bailing out due to boredom and asking `What am I missing?`]

    1. I think Son of Man is the Silverberg I have liked least, a failed (in my opinion) literary experiment, lacking in plot, feeling, and characters, just lots of philosophical blah blah blah.

  7. Shame I missed the whole Ellison episode. Oh well. So it goes.

    Silverberg is never really less than entertaining, so a 3 and a bit for a collection of his slighter pieces sounds pretty fair. He has been very prolific, though unlike most truly prolific authors has never (as far as I know anyway) produced absolute dreck (one has to be very careful which Moorcock’s to read, and I like Moorcock).

    1. I felt privileged that he stopped by and said a few nice things about my review.

      Yes, the collection certainly was a entertaining read :)

      Yeah, Moorcock…. What I’ve read of his has not been too enjoyable but I haven’t got to his supposed classics yet.

    1. It was nominated for a Hugo and Locus awards and won the 1972 Nebula — and the autobiographical set-up seems intriguing. I shall see…. I’m currently reading Crowley’s The Deep and Bradley’s Darkover Landfall (not my favorite at all)… And after that Kit Reed’s Armed Camps (loved her short story collection I recently reviewed). But, I suspect I’ll get to A Time of Changes relatively soon — if I’m in the Silverberg mood. I can’t believe he didn’t win a Hugo Award for best novel (he won in other categories). Dying Inside deserved one, as did Downward to the Earth which didn’t even garner a nomination…. argh.

      Still haven’t read his most famous work (well, one of them) — Tower of Glass.

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