In 2006, Robert Silverberg published In the Beginning, a generous selection of stories from the early, developmental stages of his distinguished sixty-year career. Fast-paced, energetic, and unabashedly pulp-like in their origins and ambitions, those stories proved to be an unexpected gift to Silverberg’s many readers. That gift continues with Early Days, a second volume of apprentice fiction as wide-ranging and enjoyable as the first.
Early Days collects seventeen impossible to find stories from the years 1956 to 1958, supplemented by a fascinating introduction and extensive notes on the creation and publication history of each story. Together, these non-fiction pieces constitute both an episodic memoir and an affectionate history of an era when pulp magazines still dominated the SF marketplace.
Without exception, each of the stories in Early Days offers honest, unpretentious entertainment. The astonishingly prolific Silverberg may have had a bit to learn back then, but he had an innate understanding of narrative that shines through every one of these tales. The stories range in tone from the grimly dystopian future of “The Inquisitor” to the playful “Space Is the Place,” in which a maintenance technician from Crawford IX experiences comic culture shock during a mandatory vacation on Earth. “Rescue Mission” revolves around the telepathic connection between two interplanetary intelligence agents. “Housemaid No. 103” provides a humorous glimpse into the romantic difficulties of a far future matinee idol. “Harwood’s Vortex” combines a mad scientist, alien invaders, and the possible end of life as we know it into a single colorful narrative.
Silverberg, of course, would evolve into one of the genuine masters of the genre, and this retrospective collection of early work offers invaluable insights into his development. Silverberg himself calls Early Days “an affectionate tribute to my hardworking self of more than half a century ago.” It is all of that and more. Anyone with an interest in Silverberg’s career, or in the history and evolution of modern science fiction, needs to read this book. They may not write ‘em like this anymore, but once upon a time they did. And looking back has never been so much fun.