Monday, May 04, 2009

A Little Intelligence

Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett were collaborators as far back as 1955 when Silverberg was still an undergraduate at Columbia. They worked together on dozens of stories under many different names. They wrote science fiction, fantasy, mystery, anything that paid. Frequently the pay was one cent a word.

In his introduction to A Little Intelligence, the new Silverberg-Garrett collection from Crippen & Landru, Silverberg refers to their joint efforts as a "fiction factory." This was early Silverberg. The greatness was a few years off. Silverberg tells us that while he was by far the better stylist it was Garrett who taught him story construction. Silverberg learned his lessons well.

One product the factory produced was a set of science fiction mystery stories that involved Father Riley, who is a scientist and military officer as well as a Catholic priest. Father Brown was never like this. Nor was The Flying nun like Sister Mary Magdalen, who is forced to solve the mystery of a murder among aliens.

There was a reason for religious angle. Silverberg and Garrett wanted to sell a story to Anthony Boucher, editor The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He was a serious Catholic and, c'mon, how could it miss. Well, miss it did, and as Silverberg relates their careful slanting could only find home in lesser publications. Making a living writing was never easy.

The the stories here are sturdy simple pulp and two of them are a particular hoot. The Father Riley tales are the most accomplished but the ones I enjoyed most were "The Slow And The Dead," which is a blueprint for Michael Crichton''s Westworld, and "The Mummy Takes A Wife," a romp that has enough plot for the kind of paperback action suspense novel being published in those days. This is a very entertaining collection for readers of both mystery and science fiction.

Silverberg's look back at the early days of his career that will stay with you. His autobiography will soon be published. The introduction here is likely a fine taste of that book.

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