“Science Fiction, more than any other form of literature, is a progress, and it comes with a sell-by date. Some old SF can become unreadable. Some reputations erode with time. What we respond to, once the sell-by date is past, is art and, perhaps, is also truth.” (Neil Gaiman)
The introduction by Neil Gaiman from the eBook version of Robert Silverberg’s The Man In the Maze is profound. I do not read a lot of older science fiction. However, I have read and connected with the work of Robert Silverberg from his most prolific period of 1967-1976. The Man In The Maze will be the fifth Silverberg novel I have reviewed and the sixth one read in the past two years. I must admit as a fan of the genre (mostly current authors), I had heard of Silverberg’s vast body of work but had not read him until the excellent A Time of Changes. Then I became interested in reading more of this genre grandmaster’s work. His ability to interweave philosophical and religious themes in a secular framework in his work has drawn me in.
The Man in The Maze continues in that vein. The story is built on a basic premise. Dick Mueller lives in a city built like a maze on Planet Lemnos. He has exiled himself from humanity and determined to live out his life without human connection. However, a former colleague, Charles Boardman and his protegé, Ned Rawlins travel to Lemnos from Earth to convince Mueller to return to humanity. Boardman believes Mueller is the only one who can save humanity and will use any means necessary to retrieve him. However, Ned Rawlins does not feel its right to retrieve Mueller in such fashion.
Silverberg draws out these characters well and reveals the philosophical and existential implications for this kind of mission. Also, he asks fundamental questions about humanity. Can man truly live alone? Or are we meant for community?
“Rawlins had felt that he was tuned to every discord in creation: the missed chances, the failed loves, the hasty words, the unfair griefs, the hungers, the greeds, the lusts, the knife of envy, the acid of frustration, the fang of time, the death of small insects in winter, the tears of things. He had known aging, loss, impotence, fury, helplessness, loneliness, desolation, self-contempt, and madness. It was a silent shriek of cosmic anger. Are we all like that?“
That paragraph comes late in the novel where Rawlins questions their mission of trying to convince Mueller to leave the city maze. Silverberg provides profound questions throughout the entire novel. Questions I will think about long after reading The Man in the Maze. But, I thought the female characters were nothing more than sex objects and had no depth to them. This book was published in 1969 and could have been a product of its time. I believe if you asking fundamental questions about humanity, it must include women in a multidimensional fashion and not just for pleasure. Also, I felt the ending was a little rushed and Silverberg could have added another twenty pages for a smoother conclusion to the story.
The Man In The Maze will be one of my favorite reads in 2018. Silverberg is a skilled, intelligent storyteller and has shown me through these books of his most prolific period of 1967-1976 they are worth rediscovering and engaging with as a reader. Highly recommended.