Vintage Sci-Fi Month has come and gone, but the fun continues! As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!
Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg
Considered Silverberg’s masterwork by many, I initially read this book at the beginning of my attempt to appreciate older science fiction and this is definitely not the book I would recommend to try to sell someone on vintage sci-fi. It’s dense. The prose is awkward at times. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that at lot of people tend to expect when they hear “science fiction.” My first read of this was a disaster. I didn’t catch any of its themes. I didn’t really understand it at all. In my review of it then, I wrote that I didn’t get how some people would put it in their top science fiction novels of all time.
Since then, I’ve read the book another time and listened to it (which does count as reading) another time. What I missed the first time and only picked up on a bit the second time is that the novel isn’t about some guy who has telepathy but is losing it. I mean, it is about that, but there’s a much broader idea happening behind the scenes. It is, at its core, a novel about loss. That’s a simple way to put it, but it is.
David Selig is not a very likable guy. His family doesn’t seem to like him. Nobody really seems to like him. You as a reader may not like him. But it becomes impossible not to empathize with him once one thinks about his loss of telepathy as any kind of loss we all experience as we age. Whether its the loss of a parent, of young love, of a pet, a friend; apply these notions to who Selig lives his life in this novel and it will shift your entire perspective on the force of the plot. Selig copes in many ways, some of which are destructive, and some of which offer hope. And you, along with him, can experience his journey of loss and self-discovery. It’s beautiful, and it’s evocative.
Even on my first reading of this novel, it bothered me. Something about it wriggled under my skin and wouldn’t let go. But I didn’t get it. Now, I think I finally do. Having experienced a significant loss within the year myself, re-reading this was helpful, as it made me think about my loss and how I’ve coped (and not) with it. Dying inside–it’s what we’re all doing at points in our life. Silverberg captures that through his somewhat unsympathetic character, forcing you as a reader to get in his shoes and think about how you’ve dealt with loss.
Dying Inside truly does deserve its place as among the best science fiction novels of all time. It’s not what you might expect on hearing the term “science fiction,” but it does what the best sci-fi does: it makes you think about the human condition in deeper ways than you’ve done before.
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