Robert Silverberg is one of science fiction all time greats, there is no doubt about that in my mind. He belongs up there with Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein etc. If you have never heard of him it would be because he is the most criminally underrated sf authors ever. I have said virtually the same thing in my previous review of his book Nightwings
, and I will probably be saying the same damn thing again next time I review one of his books simply because it bears repeating.
Among long time avid sf readers Silverberg is in fact quite well known and Dying Inside
is often regarded as one of his very best books. I just reread it today for discussion at Reddit SF Book Club
where it is the selected title for October 2012."He who peeps through a hole may see what will vex him."
This old proverb is quoted a couple of times in the book and sums up the basic plot about the life of David Selig, the protagonist of the book, quite well. David Selig is a telepath who is slowly losing his telepathic powers. He regards his telepathic gift/curse as a separate entity residing within himself, the gradual loss of this power is like a part of him is dying inside. Dying Inside
puts the reader inside Selig's head much like his probing into other's people's mind. Silverberg puts in a lot of attention to details of a telepath's life, and reading this book is a visceral experience.
I used to imagine having telepathic power is bound to be a lot of fun and come in very handy. This novel shows how it can lead to a very miserable existence depending on the personality and outlook of the person with the power. Selig feels guilty about using his power to spy on other people but is addicted to doing it.This results in a severely conflicted individual, and the deterioration of his power only compounds his misery. In contrast his friend Nyquist who has the same ability is well adjusted and is having a whale of a time using it. While the general tone of the book tend to be rather melancholy there are humorous comments and witticisms scattered trough out the book which saves it from being too leaden. Selig's attempt at jive style Greek tragedy is particularly hilarious.
What makes Silverberg special among sf authors is his prose style, it is eloquent and lyrical yet it is not like the style of other lyrical sf authors such as Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe. Silverberg has his own unique voice which can veer from elegant to hip and sarcastic as the narrative demands. The novel has a non linear timeline but it is easy to follow even without any indication of the date at the beginning of each chapter due to the clarity of his narrative. Unlike Silverberg's other sf novels there is no mind blowing sci-fi technology in this book, no aliens, space travel, no world building to speak of etc. The setting is "contemporary America" in the 60s/70s and there is no climax in the conventional sense. I believe this book is essentially about how people relate to each other, especially those who are (or should be) near and dear to us. The end result is one of the most beautiful, exquisitely written sf novels I have ever read.