When you pick up a book written in 1958, especially by a 19-year-old writer, you expect it to be out of date and perhaps even a little weak. But I loved this book. It’s short and tight, but masterful as Robert Silverberg always is.
I may be biased. Silverberg, without a doubt, is my favorite speculative fiction author (Orson Scott Card is second). But this story resonated with me and it holds up even sixty years after it was written.
The story of 18-year-old Alan Donnell, a spacer who serves on his dad’s ship, Starman’s Quest introduces us to a future Earth very different from our own. When the ship returns to Earth after a journey which passed like months for its crew but equalled nine years on Earth, Alan leaves to search for his missing twin brother Steve. Anxious for adventure, Steve had jumped ship the last time they ported on Earth, and Alan is anxious to see his now 26-year-old brother, forever altered by the differences of time on Earth vs. time in space.
It is Alan’s first time in an Earther city, and he finds it fascinating. When his spacer outfit and cultural ignorance bring unwanted attention from locals and the Police, he only manages to escape with the help of a gambler named Max. Max seems to be eying his as a protegé, and ends up tutoring Alan in the culture and resources needed to find Steve.
After Max and Alan return Steve to their father’s ship, Alan decides it’s his turn for adventure. Alan has long dreamed of building a faster than light drive based on the drawings of long lost (and ridiculed) scientist and hopes to one day track down his lost diaries and continue his work.
Silverberg’s work is no doubt aided by his own proximity in age to his main character. Alan’s point of view as a teen discovering Earth and its culture for the first time comes off as very authentic, and we experience everything along with him. For science fiction, this is a great way to introduce the futuristic elements unfamiliar to us, and it’s amazing how many of those resonate even today as future possibilities well within our imagination.
Silverberg comments in a brief note at the beginning that the book is not his best work but will be of interest to those curious about his early career. I think the writing style his fans have experienced in his later works is clearly recognizable here and readers, fans or not, will enjoy the book. It’s size makes it a fast read, so it’s a good introduction to Silverberg for any who haven’t discovered him before.
I highly recommend Starman’s Quest and know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.