Time Travel, Compliments of Robert Silverberg


hippiesSo to turn this back to writing, I wanted to share a short passage from a book I’m currently reading. I finally got around to starting The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg, which I bought awhile back. Although it’s classified as science fiction, it seems like it would fit better in the horror category. Apparently there was some dissension in the ranks when it was first published in 1972, when it was nominated for a Nebula award, and then in 1973 when it was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus awards.

Be that as it may, I wanted to share a short passage from the book that really grabbed me. To set the scene a little, the characters are four college roommates: Eli, Ned, Oliver, and Timothy. They’ve set off on what for most of them is a lark, a spring vacation road trip to the Arizona desert, in search of a mythical group that they hope will grant eternal life to two of them. Only two. After a whirlwind tour of Chicago en route, a strange depression seems to overcome them all, except Eli, who tries to rekindle his friends’ interest in continuing their journey.

“God’s been so polluted by the evangelists and the archaeologists and the theologists and the fake-devout that it’s no wonder He’s dead. Suicide. But where does that leave us? Are we all going to be scientists and explain everything in terms of neutrons and protons and DNA? Where’s mystery? Where’s depth? We have to do it all ourselves,” Eli said. “There’s a lack of mystery in modern life. All right, then, it becomes the intelligent man’s task to create an atmosphere in which surrender to the implausible is possible. A closed mind is a dead mind.” He was warming up, now. Fervor taking hold of him. The Billy Graham of the Stoned Age. “For the last eight, ten years, we’ve all been trying to stumble toward some kind of workable synthesis, some structural correlative that’ll hold the world together for us in the middle of all the chaos. The pot, the acid, the communes, the rock, the whole transcendentalist thing, the astrology, the macrobiotics, the Zen — we’re searching, right, we’re always searching? And sometimes finding. Not often. We look in a lot of dumb places, becauseĀ  basically we’re mostly dumb, even the best of us, and also because we can’t know the answers until we’ve worked out more of the questions. So we chase flying saucers. We put on Scuba suits and look for Atlantis. We’re into mythology, fantasy, paranoia, Middle Earth, freakiness, a thousand kinds of irrationality. Whatever they’ve rejected, we buy, often for no better reason than that they turned it down. The flight from reason.”

1972. Hippies and flower-children still roamed the streets, although already endangered. The search for meaning was on in a big way. Fringe science was given serious treatment by the media. “In Search Of…,” hosted by Leonard Nimoy, was only three years away, exploring all the things Eli just talked about and more: Atlantis, flying saucers, Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster. People wanted to believe. Something. The counterculture revolution left a lot of people looking for more from life than the house with the picket fence and a comfortable suburban existence. Have we forgotten that? We seem content now to measure our lives with our 401k, our IRAs, the three-car garages. Pity. I have to say, I miss the atmosphere and attitude of the 1960s and early 70s. Ok, the ’70s went downhill fast, which lead to the horror of the ’80s greed and the Big Hair bands, but still. I’m only sorry the ’60s didn’t leave us with a more lasting legacy. Anybody feeling nostalgic besides me? Ah, the power of the written word.

You can tell I’m tripping on this book. Four guys on a road trip would not normally be the kind of thing I’d want to read, with the notable exception of the ultimate road trip book, On the Road, but Silverberg’s writing stuns me. This is good stuff.

27 thoughts on “Time Travel, Compliments of Robert Silverberg

  1. You know what I bet you’d like? Over the weekend I went to our little indie bookstore/coffee shop in the Catskills, and I started flipping through Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon – it is sort of a metaphysical stoner murder mystery that takes place in California at the tail end of the counter culture. Odd and funny and very,very articulate – they only had the full price hardcover (I love to support this place, but that was a little pricey. I did buy a cup of their nice custom-blended tea) but I’m definitely going to stop by the library and/or snoop around for a used copy.

  2. That does sound good! I just read the blurb over at Amazon, too, and it sounds like fun. They also have a bunch of used copies for around $5. The ’60s were such a weird, unique time. I don’t want to overromanticize the decade, ’cause god knows it was not all peace and love, but something in me misses those days.

  3. Oh Mad Men’s the BAD ’60’s – repression, sexism, and no access to birth control. Didge and I are dreaming of the Summer of Love/Woodstock/Haight-Ashbury ’60’s, when people at least tried to tolerate a little nonconformity. I did my part last night by ordering a copy of the Thomas Pynchon book, along with Tinkers and some odd little stories by Lydia Millet.

    • Yes, flower children! I keep flashing back to the hippy van that used to drive past my house all the time. It was one of those old VW buses, with flowers painted all over it. My sisters and I would sit on the grass on the front lawn and wave to them all the time :) (MJ, this was in MA, before I knew you).

  4. I love mad men, there is a lot of love gone into writing those very flawed characters and it seems the people playing the roles have a lot of love for them too. Sure it was bad because of all the repression, sexism, etc. but it made me want to start wearing suits everywhere and using brylcreem. :D

  5. Sure fine, you be the Establishment. MJ and I will be over with the hippy contingent, wearing our tie-dye t-shirts and flowers in our hair ;)

    I have to move to a new cube at work, and to give myself a little privacy I’m thinking about putting up one of those bead curtain things, if I can find one. Surely someone on the ‘net sells those things.

  6. Heh :) I think I found something that might work. I was wondering if the beads might be a little noisy (the new area is REALLY quiet), but I found some string curtains that might work. The creepy little nebbish I think I’ve mentioned to you sits right across from my new cube, and the way the cubes are aligned he’ll have a nice view into mine. :( And vice versa, of course. Bleah.

    The capiz shell curtain would have been more fun, though ;)

  7. I like the Champagne Bubbles Rainbow Irisdescent, myself: it’s sorta Liberace meets Lawrence Welk meets the Flower Children

  8. Oh, those are fabulous! If I worked at your office I’d constantly be looking for excuses to stop by your cubicle. (Are you sure you don’t want to pick up a spare pair, in case you need to set up a tarot booth on the weekends? ;) )

  9. Hey! That’s not a half bad idea! :)

    I’m counting on my co-workers in my dept. coming by to visit me. Often. Basically it’s going to be me, my direct manager, and the Nebbish down there. The rest of the dept. is a 5-min walk to the other side of the building. The whole thing is absurd.

  10. My husband was similarly re-located at his place of employment last month – he sez it’s remote and dull as paste where he is now. Maybe I should get him a beaded curtain to liven things up.

  11. Over my summer break I’m going to fly out there and sit around DD’s cubicle, barefoot in a lotus posture, and hand a flower to everyone who walks in.

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