To Live Again: Silverberg in the full flush of his considerable power

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTo Live Again by Robert Silverberg science fiction book reviewsTo Live Again by Robert Silverberg

By the time Robert Silverberg released To Live Again in 1969, he had already come out with no less than three dozen science-fiction novels and several hundred short stories, all in a period of only 15 years! The amazingly prolific author had entered a more mature and literate phase in his writing career in 1967, starting with his remarkable novel Thorns, and by 1969 was on some kind of a genuine roll. Just one of six sci-fi novels that Silverberg came out with that year (including the Nebula-winning Nightwings and my personal favorite of this author so far, Downward to the Earth), To Live Again initially appeared as a Doubleday hardcover and, surprisingly, was NOT nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award. To this day, the book does not seem to be as highly regarded as many of Silverberg’s others, and yet a recent perusal has suggested to this reader that the book might well be overdue for a critical reassessment.

In the novel (which, from internal evidence, transpires a few hundred years from now), a means has been found of recording and preserving the personae of the living. These “soul tapes” can later be imprinted on the brains of others after the taped individuals have passed on; a way of preserving their identity after death, and cohabitating in the mind of a suitable host. Against this remarkable backdrop, Silverberg introduces us to two of the wealthiest men on Earth. Mark Kaufmann, the nephew of the late, great banker/industrialist Paul Kaufmann, and John Roditis, a self-made upstart who cannot claim the same kind of upper-crust pedigree as the Kaufmann clan. Both men are desirous of receiving the persona of Uncle Paul, to add to their own already-sharp business minds, and so, the scheming and plotting begins. Silverberg also introduces us to a number of other interesting characters: Risa Kaufmann, Mark’s 16-year-old daughter, who receives her first persona transplant and travels to Europe to find out why her new brainmate had been murdered; Elena Volterra, Mark’s bosomy mistress; Charles Noyes, a depressed and suicidal associate of Roditis who does all the billionaire’s dirty work; and Francesco Santoliquido (a great name, isn’t it?), head of the 140-story Scheffing Institute in downtown Manhattan, where the recorded personae of Earth’s wealthiest (only the 1 percenters, it seems, can afford this persona transplant process) are stored for future use. And before Silverberg’s story draws to a close, persona theft, murder and dybbuks (personae that take over their host) are thrown into the mix, in this constantly mind-blowing, ceaselessly imaginative tale.

To Live Again, as mentioned up top, is a novel that has not received much in the way of critical acclaim. The author’s “Quasi-Official Web Site” says that the book is “not one of [the author’s] great works of the sixties,” while British critic David Pringle, who I’ve long respected, calls it “over-complex” and “not one of Silverberg’s better books.” Well, this reader would have to respectfully disagree. I suppose that it is the curse of a supremely gifted genius such as Silverberg that one of his books, good as it might be, attracts denigration simply for being not his best; even middling Silverberg, I would argue, is better than just about any other sci-fi out there, and To Live Again is far from middling. It is a fast-moving (the story is set in such diverse locales as NYC, Dominica, Arizona, Indiana, Stockholm, Monaco and London), constantly surprising book, and one that is more than generously detailed with imaginative touches; hence, the ultrasonic injectable cocktail drinks, the living-crustacean jewelry that Santoliquido wears, the gambling game based on the particles emitted by a chunk of polonium, the gymnasium with an adjustable gravity field (what a wonderful idea!) and on and on. As in Thorns and The Masks of Time (1968), both of which had featured a Tivoli amusement park on the moon, Silverberg here shows us a colossal pleasure arcade of the future: Jubilisle, a multibillion-dollar gambling/sex/drug/entertainment complex that Roditis has constructed on an artificial island in NY Harbor; one that can accommodate a million visitors at a time, and to which Noyes escorts Elena in one phantasmagoric interlude.

Silverberg’s book also features some prescient predictions; for example, an automatic toll collector that instantly deducts money from a driver’s account! To Live Again has been accused of being misogynistic and, as Pringle claims, “over-sexy,” and I suppose it is true that Risa DOES appear to be something of a randy sex kitten — and seems to be deliberately naked half the time — at least before her persona transplant, after which she matures and settles down. But her blatant and forceful sexuality is explained by the author as the young woman’s efforts to assert her budding adulthood to the world, while Elena is a creature who deliberately uses her body to attract powerful men. Thus, the sex in the novel is well integrated with the characters themselves and helps to drive the plot forward.

To Live Again, need I even mention, is beautifully, even elegantly written by its author, is intricately plotted, and is a work that grows wilder and wilder as it proceeds, even culminating with a surprise ending of sorts. Somehow, it brought to mind a scenario that Philip K. Dick might have approved of, what with its frequent references to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, its precocious teenaged woman character, and its increasingly loopy plot complications, but Silverberg, of course, is a much better, much more controlled writer than Dick, technically speaking. To Live Again may not be Silverberg’s best — of the ’60s or of any other decade — but it is a book that demonstrates the author in the full flush of his considerable powers, and modern sci-fi doesn’t get too much better than that. Personally speaking, I could not put the darn thing down….


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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