Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Review: Dying Inside

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg (1972)

This is the book that I keep pointing to after a disappointing half hour skimming the new sci fi books down the local book shops.  This is the sort of book that is just not written today; a small story focusing on an individual caught up in a fantastic situation.  There aren't any vampire armies here or invading alien fleets facing those of Earth.  There aren't any parallel societies or huge societal changes.  No galactic dynasties or... look at the shelves yourself and you'll see what I mean.

This is the story of David Selig; a middle-aged man in New York who makes his meagre living ghost writing term papers for students at Columbia University.  He is down and out, lonely, disaffected–and he's telepathic.  He's used his powers since childhood as a substitute for human contact.  Why bother to connect with people when you can read their psyche like a railway timetable?  He can touch people's minds and enjoy the heady ecstasy of seeing their souls.  Unfortunately, as he hits his forties, Selig is starting to lose his powers.  He is dying inside.

This is not a slam-bang adventure novel, nor is it filled with the sort of tropes that science fiction has been lumbered with since the genre started dying in the 1970s.  This is a sort of Rake's Progress or mid-life crisis novel about what happens to a man whose gift has also been his curse who finds that gift starting to go away.  It's also an interesting take on the idea of the superman where this particular superman discovers that his power is ruining his life because it utterly alienates him from his fellow man.  Even when he learns that there are other telepaths in the world, he soon realises that even the most successful have shrivelled souls.

My recommendation put away your inch-thick "first volume of the ____ saga" where "Ensign ____ of the Family _____, who have protected the ______ Federation for eleventy generations must _____ her ______ as the feared _____ invade______ space" and pick up a book that actually has something that it wants to say.  It's not the best sci fi ever written, but even forty years later, it is damned refreshing.

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