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Authors: Robert Silverberg

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Tower of Glass

BOOK: Tower of Glass
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Tower of Glass

Robert Silverberg

 

 

INTRODUCTION

By

Robert Silverberg

 

 

The late 1960s were a crazy time in American life—Vietnam, Nixon, inflation, non-negotiable demands—and a heady, dizzying one in science-fiction publishing. Perhaps because our country, and in fact the whole world, had gone so weird, everybody seemed to want to read novels of fantasy and science fiction. The Tolkien books were on the best-seller list and so was Frank Herbert's
Dune
, and Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 novel
Stranger in a Strange Land
was enjoying new popularity in that suddenly psychedelic era. Readers couldn't get enough of the stuff, it seemed—the wilder the better. And publishers who would not have dreamed of publishing science fiction a few years before were eager now to add it to their lists.

One of those was the fine old publishing house of Harper & Row,which had done
Moby-Dick
back in the day, and had done many another distinguished book, too, by the likes of Washington Irving, Henry James, and George Eliot. In 1968 a a young and very serious-minded Harper editor named Norbert Slepyan with a background in literary fiction was given the task of assembling a science fiction list for them, and one of the first writers he contacted was Robert Silverberg. Norbert and I met for dinner on October 1, 1968. At his request I suggested a number of writers as possibilities for him—Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, R.A. Lafferty, and three or four others. And, of course, when he asked if I would do a book for him myself, I was not at all shy about accepting the offer.

I was then in the midst of a madly prolific phase of my career, experiencing a surge of irrepressible creativity that often left me exhausted and dazed, but which I knew was the sort of thing that comes to a writer only once in his life, and must not be denied. I was too prolific for any one publisher to cope with. Ballantine was my primary house—
Thorns
,
The Masks of Time
,
Up the Line
,
Son of Man
—but I did
Downward to the Earth
and
A Time of Changes
for New American Library,
To Live Again
and
The World Inside
for Doubleday,
The Man in the Maze
and
Nightwings
for Avon. Despite all that, I was confident that I could make room in my schedule for yet another publisher, especially such a notable one as Harper & Row.

After forty-plus years, I don't remember where the idea for the book came from. Probably, as has so often happened in my career, the title arrived first:
Tower of Glass
. I must have looked at it, wondered what kind of story a title like that might involve, and, piece by piece, a tale of megalomaniacal architectural hubris began to assemble itself in my mind. At any rate, I worked up an outline for Norbert Slepyan, Harper & Row offered me a contract, and in October, 1969 I began to write the book.

It wasn't easy. I was playing with style, trying to do all sorts of ambitious things with stream of consciousness, with changes of tense, with switches in viewpoint. Two or three weeks into the book, I became totally stuck—unable to move forward at all. In despair, I phone my friend Barry Malzberg, who offered me one of the most memorable bits of writing advice I have ever received:

"Literary it up, Bob."

I knew exactly what he meant. I returned to the manuscript at the point where I had hit the wall and began to write a spate of feverish quasi-Joycean prose, frenzied stuff, a sort of free-form mumbo-jumbo that carried me swiftly onward like a bit of flotsam swept along on a tide of words. Before I knew what was happening I was past the sticking point and into my story again at the place where I had been unable to move forward earlier. The next day I went back, deleted the arty couple of pages, made a smooth join to link pre-blocked pages with post-blocked pages, and continued from there without further difficulty.

Slepyan loved the book. "You have many things going for you," he wrote, "including various levels of significance that make for strong, mature, and far-seeing fiction." He had some editorial suggestions—he was that sort of editor—and they were good suggestions, because he was that sort of editor, too. ("The main need for doctoring lies in tightening the writing. I have bracketed words, phrases, etc., that I think disturb the effectiveness of the novel.") I did most of the revisions he requested. Some I resisted, explaining my reasons in a three-page single-spaced letter on January 10, 1970. He accepted my arguments and the book started on its way toward publication.

Meanwhile I arranged for magazine publication, selling the novel to GALAXY, at that time the top magazine in the field. GALAXY's editor, Ejler Jakobsson, had taken quite a fancy to my work; he was already serializing
Downward to the Earth
, and after
Tower of Glass
he would go on to do, more or less in consecutive issues,
The World Inside
,
A Time of Changes
, and
Dying Inside
—quite a run of serials in one magazine for one writer.

About the same time, Norbert Slepyan left Harper & Row for the equally venerable and prestigious house of Charles Scribner's Sons, best known as the home of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. Scribner's was also starting a science-fiction list, and, since Norbert had been so deeply involved in the editing of
Tower of Glass
, Harper & Row allowed him to take the book along with him to his new employer, which published it in October, 1970. (I went on to do
The Book of Skulls
and Dying Inside for Scribner's, too, before they decided to fold their s-f line, but, prolific devil that I was, I stayed with Harper & Row as well, with The Stochastic Man and, eventually,
Lord Valentine's Castle
.)

Tower of Glass
sold reasonably well for Scribner's, though what made them really happy was the reprint sale in 1971 to Bantam Books for a five-figure sum, something that was quite unusual for a science-fiction novel at that time. The book's readers seemed to like it very much: it was a finalist for the Hugo award in 1971, though it lost out to Larry Niven's invincible
Ringworld
, and the Science Fiction Writers of America put it on the final ballot for the Nebula trophy, where it also was trumped by Niven's hugely popular novel. It was the fourth year in a row that a book of mine came in as runner-up for the best-novel award—the others were
Thorns
,
The Masks of Time
, and
Up the Line
—and I was getting used to those second-place finishes, although SFWA finally let me have a Nebula in 1972 for
A Time of Changes
.

And here is Tower of Glass again, in a shiny new format for a shiny new century. I'm pleased to have survived into it, and that some of my books have, too.

 

—Robert Silverberg

April, 2011

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

Look, Simeon Krug wanted to say, a billion years ago there wasn’t even any man, there was only a fish. A slippery thing with gills and scales and little round eyes. He lived in the ocean, and the ocean was like a jail, and the air was like a roof on top of the jail. Nobody could go through the roof. You’ll die if you go through, everybody said, and there was this fish, he went through, and he died. And there was this other fish, and he went through, and he died. But there was another fish, and he went through, and it was like his brain was on fire, and his gills were blazing, and the air was drowning him, and the sun was a torch in his eyes, and he was lying there in the mud, waiting to die, and he didn’t die. He crawled back down the beach and went into the water and said, Look, there’s a whole other world up there. And he went up there again, and stayed for maybe two days, and then he died. And other fishes wondered about that world. And crawled up onto the muddy shore. And stayed. And taught themselves how to breathe the air. And taught themselves how to stand up, how to walk around, how to live with the sunlight in their eyes. And they turned into lizards, dinosaurs, whatever they became, and they walked around for millions of years, and they started to get up on their hind legs, and they used their hands to grab things, and they turned into apes, and the apes got smarter and became men. And all the time some of them, a few, anyway, kept looking for new worlds. You say to them, Let’s go back into the ocean, let’s be fishes again, it’s easier that way. And maybe half of them are ready to do it, more than half, maybe, but there are always some who say, Don’t be crazy. We can’t be fishes any more. We’re men. And so they don’t go back. They keep climbing up.

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

September 20, 2218.

 

Simeon Krug’s tower now rises 100 meters above the gray-brown tundra of the Canadian Arctic, west of Hudson Bay. At present the tower is merely a glassy stump, hollow, open-topped, sealed from the elements only by a repellor field hovering shieldlike just a few meters above the current work level. Around the unfinished structure cluster the android work crews, thousands of synthetic humans, crimson-skinned, who toil to affix glass blocks to scooprods and send the rods climbing to the summit, where other androids put the blocks in place. Krug has his androids working three shifts round the clock; when it gets dark, the construction site is lit by millions of reflector plates strung across the sky at a height of one kilometer and powered by the little million-kilowatt fusion generator at the north end of the site.

From the tower’s huge octagonal base radiate wide silvery strips of refrigeration tape, embedded fifty centimeters deep in the frozen carpet of soil, roots, moss, and lichens that is the tundra. The tapes stretch several kilometers in each direction. Their helium-II diffusion cells soak up the heat generated by the androids and vehicles used in building the tower. If the tapes were not there, the tundra would soon be transformed by the energy-output of construction into a lake of mud; the colossal tower’s foundation-caissons would lose their grip, and the great building would tilt and tumble like a felled titan. The tapes keep the tundra icy, firm, capable of bearing the immense burden that Simeon Krug is now imposing on it.

Around the tower, subsidiary buildings are centered on a thousand-meter radius. To the west of the site is the master control center. To the east is the laboratory where the tachyon-beam ultrawave communications equipment is being fabricated: a small pink dome which usually contains ten or a dozen technicians patiently assembling the devices with which Krug hopes to send messages to the stars. North of the site is a clutter of miscellaneous service buildings. On the south side is the bank of transmat cubicles that link this remote region to the civilized world. People and androids flow constantly in and out of the transmats, arriving from New York or Nairobi or Novosibirsk, departing for Sydney or San Francisco or Shanghai.

Krug himself invariably’ visits the site at least once a day—alone, or with his son Manuel, or with one of his women, or with some fellow industrialist. Customarily he confers with Thor Watchman, his android foreman; he rides a scooprod to the top of the tower and peers into it; he checks the progress in the tachyon-beam lab; he talks to a few of the workmen, by way of inspiring loftier effort. Generally Krug spends no more than fifteen minutes at the tower. Then he steps back into the transmat, and instantaneously is hurled to the business that awaits him elsewhere.

Today he has brought a fairly large party to celebrate the attainment of the 100-meter level. Krug stands near what will be the tower’s western entrance. He is a stocky man of sixty, deeply tanned, heavy-chested and short-legged, with narrow-set, glossy eyes and a seamed nose. There is a peasant strength about him. His contempt for all cosmetic editing of the body is shown by his coarse features, his shaggy brows, his thinning hair: he is practically bald, and will do nothing about it. Freckles show through the black strands that cross his scalp. He is worth several billion dollars fissionable, though he dresses plainly and wears no jewelry; only the infinite authority of his stance and expression indicates the extent of his wealth.

BOOK: Tower of Glass
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ads

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