Review: Two Obscure Early Novels by Robert Silverberg
by Rich Horton
I mentioned recently that I am very close to having read all of Robert Silverberg's early novels -- that is, the novels before his remarkable transformation, early in the 1960s, from a skilled but rather shallow, and very prolific, writer to a quite powerful and interesting writer (still prolific but less so than before.) There are two novels that are either unavailable (in the US) or too expensive used for my blood. These are Aliens from Space and Invisible Barriers. I had an idea for an end run around this problem -- Silverberg very often published shorter versions of his novels as novellas in the many magazines of the period. I found a couple of novellas cited as progenitors for these books. So, I went ahead and got copies of the novellas. These are "We, the Marauders" (Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1958) and "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down" (If, December 1957.) I fairly quickly figured out (and Silverberg confirmed) that "We, the Marauders" is a short version of yet another novel: Invaders From Earth, first published as half of an Ace Double in 1958. Naturally, I bought that full novel as well.
In this review, then, I consider "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down", "We, the Marauders", and the novel Invaders From Space
. Aliens from Space
will have to wait for later, as will the full version of Invisible Barriers
. (For those who wonder, the other early Silverberg novels I am missing are the very slight juvenile (really a middle grade book) Lost Race of Mars
; another 1958 Ace Double, Lest We Forget Thee, Earth
, that is a fixup of three novellas from Science Fiction Adventures
, and which was reprinted a decade or so ago by Paizo Press as The Chalice of Death
; and the 1964 novel Regan's Planet
. I have copies of all those, and I have an audio version of Aliens From Space
So -- first "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down". This novella (some 25,000 words long) is about John Amory, a successful television director in the year 2021 -- almost now! But he's a dissatisfied man -- the scenarios he directs are always heavily rewritten, with the object of pleasing the advertisers and suppressing any knowledge of places outside the US. For there are "Walls", as the novella has it; or "Invisible Barriers", as the novel's title puts it, between the countries of the world. Originally this was sold as a means of preserving peace.
Amory, with several of his friends, including some of the better writers in his circle, regularly attends parties at which smuggled foreign films are shown, and this night there is another. He attends and enjoys the film, amateurish as it is -- but suddenly he falls unconscious. Evidently he was drugged! When he wakes, he is in the presence of a very strange looking being. evidently an alien -- who puts a curious proposition to him: the aliens are visiting Earth to make copies of the great art humans have produced. This seems odd but interesting -- but by chance Amory sees a piece of paper that reveals the aliens' true goal -- the cultural harvest is simply prelude to eliminating humans. Amory is shocked, but almost resigned. Do humans really deserve to survive? But he realizes -- a unified Earth, instead of the enforced isolationist Earth of the "invisible barriers", might be able to resist the aliens, and also could throw off the censorship regime that reinforces the "barriers". But how to do this? The plan -- necessarily accomplished while seeming to cooperate with the aliens -- is to sneak some anti-isolationist messages into his TV shows. This can't last long -- but maybe he can reveal the presence and motives of the aliens before he's caught ...
The story continues as Amory develops his next program. But things don't go quite as he hopes -- and there is, in the end, a shocking twist, that probably won't surprised most readers. Still -- it's an effective enough story, readable throughout, with a decent message. That said, I think the story is about the right length -- or even a bit too long. I don't know how Silverberg padded it for the book version; but I don't quite see how that would have improved it.
"We, the Marauders" came next in my reading. (I read this in a 1965 reprint, from Belmont Books, an edition combined with a James Blish novella, "Giants in the Earth", as A Pair from Space
.) And I quickly realized it had some parallels with "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down". The first story is about a TV director, whose productions are essentially propaganda; and slanted to please the sponsors. "We, the Marauders" is about an advertising man, Tom Kennedy, who creates campaigns that are similarly propaganda, to please his clients. Also, "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down" is about aliens coming to Earth, and using their cultural campaign to excuse their eventual invasion. We soon learn that "We, the Marauders" is about humans visiting Ganymede, realizing that the natives resent their presence, and using an advertising campaign to convince Earth that the Ganymedeans are dangerous and need to be exterminated.
Tom Kennedy is in his 30s, rising in the firm of Steward and Dinoli. One day he is summoned to a top level meeting -- it seems the company's newest client is the corporation exploring Ganymede. They have learned that the Ganymedeans don't like humans, and certainly won't let them mine the valuable radioactives. Steward and Dinoli are charged with creating a campaign that will convince Earth people that a war is justified ... and it is Tom who has the key idea: invent a fake human colony on Ganymede, and eventually show the Ganymedeans slaughtering the (nonexistent) colony residents. The client is delighted, and the campaign goes into motion. But Kennedy's wife is appalled, as is one of Kennedy's deputies ...
Eventually Kennedy is sent to Ganymede, to gather some convincing local color. (I have to say this plot device doesn't convince.) While there, Kennedy, already a little uneasy because of his wife's resistance, illegally learns some of the Ganymedean language, and after meeting some of them, realizes what they are really like, and has a crisis of conscience. He manages to get one of the Corporation's staff to help him, and brings the Ganymedeans some arms ... but is inevitably arrested and sent back to Earth. The resolution involves an unconvincing escape, and an even more unconvincing return to New York, where he steals some damning documents, and manages to arrange a dramatic reveal at a UN meeting. In the end, he realizes the only right future for him is on Ganymede ...
As hinted, a pretty implausible story in many ways, but pretty effective in its way, with a resolutely anti-colonial message. I learned that the novel version, Invaders from Earth, is significantly longer (Silverberg states that he wrote that version originally, and cut it by some 10,000 words for the magazine, though by my estimate the novel is maybe 52,000 words, as against about 38,000 for the magazine version. He cannot remember at this date how much editorial suggestions from Science Fiction Quarterly's editor, Robert A. W. Lowndes, affected the shape and plot of the novella. He does credit Lowdes for the title "We, the Marauders".) I decided I needed to compare them.
To my surprise, the novel's changes are quite radical, and actually a significant improvement. (One change is the name of the main character: Ted Kennedy, instead of Tom. I realized that the change from Ted to Tom was actually made for the 1965 reprint of "We, the Marauders", and I assumed (and Silverberg confirmed) it was due to the newly prominent politician named Ted Kennedy.) Some are just a paragraph here and there -- a bit more fully developed, and more cynical, presentation of the life of the Kennedys -- such as the need to eat real meat, not synthetics, and also a slightly more finished indication of stresses in their marriage. But about halfway into the novel, the plot changes a good deal. Kennedy's involvement with the Ganymedeans is more complete, and they teach him their philosophy of life, which serves to change his views. He doesn't give them arms -- they wouldn't use them. His actions on the return to Earth are less implausible -- he's in more danger, his escapes, though still a bit of a stretch, are less absurd. And the final confrontation is better handled. The resolution of his personal issues is perhaps a bit too pat -- I think I believed his wife's character more in the novella than the novel -- and I won't say this is a particularly great novel. But it's not bad. And it is interesting to look at the way Silverberg rewrote the novel. The message of the two stories, I should add, is pretty much the same.