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Dying Inside (2002)

Dying Inside (2002)
3.86 of 5 Votes: 3
0743435087 (ISBN13: 9780743435086)
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Dying Inside (2002)
Dying Inside (2002)

About book: Although author Robert Silverberg had come out with no fewer than 21 major science-fiction novels between the years 1967 and '71, by 1972, his formerly unstoppable output was beginning to slow down. He released only two novels in '72, "The Book of Skulls," in which four young men seek the secret of immortality in the desert Southwest, and one of his most renowned, "Dying Inside." After this latter work, there would be no full-length works until 1975's "The Stochastic Man" and 1976's "Shadrach in the Furnace," which work put an end to Silverberg's famous "second phase"...till he came roaring back four years later with the commencement of his Majipoor cycle. The novel in question, "Dying Inside," finds Silverberg very much at the peak of his considerable powers; the book was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards for 1972, ultimately "losing" to Philip Jose Farmer's "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" and Isaac Asimov's "The Gods Themselves," respectively, in what was obviously a very tough voting year. The novel is largely told in the first person, and thus the reader gets to learn all about a 41-year-old New Yorker named David Selig. When we first meet him, Selig is at a major crossroads in his life. A telepath from birth, able to read the minds of others, his powers and abilities are now beginning to dwindle and fade. Earning a bare subsistence living by ghostwriting term papers for Columbia University students, he must now face a life devoid of mental eavesdropping; one in which he is the same (gasp!) as everyone else. As Selig ruminates over his past, we begin to see how his "gift" has affected not only his family life (he was an only child, but has an adopted sister), but his few friendships, relationships with women and day-to-day existence. And as his wonderful abilities approach the vanishing point, Selig's existence seems to grow increasingly bleak.... "Dying Inside" has often been referred to as an autobiography in disguise for Robert Silverberg, and it is not difficult to see why. Both the author and Selig were born in Brooklyn in 1935, both are Jewish, both graduated from Columbia in 1956, and both are voracious readers and intellectually oriented. To stretch a point, Selig had two great loves in his life (Kitty and Toni, who we learn much about), and Silverberg would go on to marry twice. And of course, at the time of this novel's writing, Silverberg purportedly was beginning to feel a diminution in his own great abilities, although no reader would ever suspect it, based on what's presented here. Simply stated, this is a brilliant book, and one might have to go all the way back to Alfred Bester's masterful "The Demolished Man" (1953) to find a more thorough and convincing novel regarding telepathy. Silverberg (no surprise) has thought his subject through thoroughly, and thus, we get to learn what it is like to enter the mind of a bee, a fish and a hen. In one surreal scene that might have made Philip K. Dick nod with approbation, Selig enters the mind of his girlfriend, who is tripping on LSD, and with disastrous results. In another, Selig and his telepathic friend share thoughts as they enter the minds of the women they are having sex with, for a kind of mental four-way! (As was the case with many of his other great works of this "second phase," Silverberg does not shy away from either sex scenes or sex talk in this novel.) And Silverberg gives us a remarkably well-rounded portrait of Selig, too; the reader really comes to know and understand him, despite the fact that he is not all that likable a person. In one sequence, Selig gives us a tour of his apartment, in which we get to see many of his books, learn of his favorite authors and poets (the man is intimidatingly well read, just like Silverberg), and examine his old letters to girlfriends and to famous news makers. It is a highly effective way of allowing us into the mind of this mind reader, as is the device of letting us read some of his brilliantly (ghost)written term papers. As for some of Selig's literary favorites and offhand references, better have your Interwebs handy to look up such names as Traherne, Crashaw, William Cartwright, Mallarme, and Samuel Miller Hageman...not to mention such men of science as Josiah Willard Gibbs and Norbert Wiener! Selig can't help being bitter, patronizing, haughty and something of a human parasite, and his intellect truly is off-putting--perhaps that is why British critic David Pringle has said that the book is "not designed to be popular fare"...although he does admit that it is "very powerful"--but somehow, the reader likes Selig, anyway. He can often be very funny--I love it when he tells his sister Judith, at one point, "I'm of two minds"--and even becomes quite touching, as he resigns himself to his ultimate fate. Indeed, the book's final scene, which finds Selig watching a snowfall from his sister's living room window and contemplating a quite unknowable future, is moving in the extreme. Interestingly, Selig does not use his power as his telepath friend Nyquist does--to make oodles of money on the Stock Market. Despite the ghostwriting, he is basically a decent man, a very sad and ironically lonely one, just trying to eke by and survive. It might have been interesting had Silverberg written a sequel, to allow us to see how Selig (hey, it just occurred to me that even their names are somewhat similar!) is getting along as a "normal person." Sadly, the author doesn't seem inclined to do so. Thus, "Dying Inside" stands alone, a rewarding novel, and one which no reader should easily forget....

This book is very good, it's depressing but it is an attempt to deal with fundamental issues in humanity in a way that is interesting, with just enough sci-fi/fantasy veneer as to keep you thoughtful but off the true subject matter, which is sex and aging. A more reasonable ending would have meant five stars.This book is about getting old, but more directly, it's about sex. It's all about sex. If you think of the book, and replace "mind reading ability" with "sexual potency and drive" you'll see it as it is.Selig is currently in his 40's and seeing an ongoing decline in himself, especially in his ability to read minds. Like a man entering middle age and seeing his sexual abilities and urges vanish, he's forced into introspection, wandering about if he'd made better use in the past. Not cursing the loss so much as cursing his own past in which he did not use his capacity to it's full and best use. He remembers when he was 25 and at his peak, happy thenwhe he met a woman whom he couldn't use his ability on. Now he is old and falling apart. His life hasn't amounted to much, despite having the ability to read minds. He's become neurotic generally and uses his ability to it's minimum practical use. His former also-gifted best friend became a sociopath, using the ability with freedom, but misusing it to an extreme, deciding that he is godlike and thus will not accept any of societies rules because he can easily ignore them. How does Selig discover this? It's when his friend takes his girl from him.During the story he mentions an ancient philosopher, who works his whole life, then as an old man has lost all his sexual aspects, becoming in essence a neuter, he mentions that this is freeing, because he has lost an aspect of his life and now is free to devote those energies elsewhere. At the end of the story Selig also follows this route, though it does seem to me (as a 25 year old feeling the starts of a depressing downward spiral) that this is the author making a grope in the dark for a positive ending. Selig most certainly would have made more of himself without the ability, he is clearly very very smart, but has entered into an aimless life. Even as a youth he led an aimless life, most directly due to his gift.Maybe this is a side effect of my own circumstances, but this story feels like it is written from a perspective that I hope I will have, but doubt it. The loss of much of what I feel make life worth living as I grow old will be ok, because I will accept that loss as simply an opportunity to grow more with the excess capacity I'm left with in my life. I hope that life is like this, that when I'm aging and seeing myself fail in all the main ways that I currently find happiness I will find different ways. But then again, this is just a hope. Until I get that perspective, I can see the allegory in this story, and fear that when I come to become more like this character, I will simply feel like the title states, Dying inside.
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Sandy Parsons
This is an excellent portrait of a middle aged man. The character development was spot on. David is a racist, self-aggrandizing, sleazy, unfulfilled man. Silverberg really made me feel like I was David Selig's head. Which is unfortunate, because I didn't enjoy being there.Maybe that was the point. We might make the assumption that being able to read minds would make someone more empathic, because we can have the intimate associations of what makes that person tick and have the ultimate understanding of another human being. We might think that the ability to read minds would make us better, because we would have some sense of what makes people tick. But maybe the truth is that a mind reader would find that underneath the shell of pretty altruisms everyone is really truly amoral with one clear cut agenda: the preservation of me. I think that would make a pretty interesting theme.But I don't think it was the theme, ultimately. It was more like the loss of of mind reading was a metaphor for the inevitable decline of male virility that accompanies middle age. You mean chicks dig you less when you lose your hair? You don't say.I did think the relationship between David and Judith was particularly interesting. I loved the scene when he tried to kill her with his thoughts when she was a baby and she gave him that look, the one that no baby should wear. Throughout the book her reactions to him, and the way her knowledge of his ability affected her was quite apt.
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.
One of the touchstone novels that seperates the true affectionado of science fiction from the more casual fan or the affectionado of pulp adventures with fantastic tropes.I like pulp adventurers with fantastic tropes, but that's hardly the sum of either science fiction or fantasy.Alot of people report being rather stunned by this book, as they didn't think science fiction was this broad or this well written. This is one of the books I turn to when pretentious literary snobs challenge my taste in books. Being Silverburg, it's very readable and approachable and you won't find the book to be quite the hard slog you'll find trying to read other ambitious works of science fiction.Silverburg is a soft science-fiction writer and that tends to make him seem to straddle the divide between fantasy science-fiction which raises the challenging (if perhaps unimportant) question of what makes something science-fiction and what makes something fantasy. My own personal definition of the divide is that fantasy is the branch of speculative fiction that addresses the question, "What is the nature of good and evil?" by representing abstract concepts as tangible things. Whereas, science fiction is the branch of speculative fiction that addresses the question, "What does it mean to be human?" generally by imagining things that are not human and comparing and contrasting humanity with these inventions.By this definition, Silverburg is rightly shelved in the science fiction section. As with almost all of Silverburg's works, the real theme of 'Dying Inside' is the nature of personal identity - how we define it, how shallow those definitions prove to be in a crisis, how a sense of self may be gained and how it may be lost.
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