The Millennium Express: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine, p.1Robert Silverberg
The Millennium Express Copyright © 2014 by Agberg, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Interior design Copyright © 2014 by Desert Isle Design, LLC. All rights reserved.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
“Diana of the Hundred Breasts” and “The Church at Monte Saturno” first appeared in Realms of Fantasy.
“Beauty in the Night” and “The Tree that Grew from the Sky” first appeared in Science Fiction Age.
“Call Me Titan” first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
“Hanosz Prime Goes to Old Earth” first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
“The Millennium Express” first appeared in Playboy.
“Travelers” first appeared in Amazing Stories.
“The Colonel Returns to the Stars” first appeared in Between Worlds, edited by Robert Silverberg.
“The Eater of Dreams” first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
“A Piece of the Great World” first appeared in One Million A.D., edited by Gardner Dozois.
“Against the Current” first appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction.
“The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale” first appeared in Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
“Defenders of the Frontier” first appeared in Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
“The Prisoner” first appeared in The Book of Dreams, edited by Nick Gevers.
“Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar” first appeared in Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Nick Gevers and Jack Dann.
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Agberg, Ltd.
Introductory matter copyright © 2014 by Agberg, Ltd.
Martin H. Greenberg
John R. Fultz
Alice K. Turner
George R.R. Martin
Gordon van Gelder
Table of Contents
Diana of the Hundred Breasts
Beauty in the Night
Call Me Titan
The Tree That Grew From the Sky
The Church at Monte Saturno
Hanosz Prime Goes To Old Earth
The Millennium Express
The Colonel Returns to the Stars
The Eater of Dreams
A Piece of the Great World
Against the Current
The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale
Defenders of the Frontier
Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar
So we come now to the ninth and, I suspect, the last of these volumes, covering the sixth decade of my writing career. I’m still here, and I’m still reasonably healthy, but my eightieth birthday is not very far in the future as I write this, and I’ve become less and less active as a writer. I’ve done only a couple of stories since I wrote the ones collected here, and they were Majipoor stories that I have included in my book Tales of Majipoor. I’ve learned over the course of my long career that it’s a good idea never to say never, but I suspect that in the time remaining to me I’m not going to write enough new material to fill another volume of the size of these nine, so this is—probably—the final book of this nine-volume Subterranean Press series.
The stories in this book represent the short-story work I did between July of 1995 and December of 2009. Not a great quantity of fiction to show for the work of a decade and a half, I suppose, not by the Silverberg standards of an earlier day, but, as I note in the introduction to one of the stories here, every writer tends to slow down a bit with age, even one as prolific as I have been. A certain drying-up of inspiration sets in, I suppose, or, perhaps, a certain unwillingness to seize on a bit of inspiration and see where it will take one. There have been plenty of occasions in recent years when the edge of a story idea seemed to present itself to me, and I simply shrugged and let it go fading back into invisibility, because I didn’t feel much like writing anything just then. That wouldn’t have happened fifty or forty or even thirty years ago.
The inroads of age can’t be given all the blame, though. There’s also—and perhaps this is a side effect of aging, too—the dwindling of the drive to excel that propels one through the early years of one’s career. When I was twenty or so, I felt the need to sell as many stories as possible—to write as fast as I could, to fill every science-fiction magazine with my work. It was a gloriously sweaty time for me, when I banged away at the typewriter keys all day long, shipped two or three stories a week to my editors, and sold them all. A decade later, when I had proven whatever point I had set out to make with that lunatic prolificity, I wanted now to show that I was not only a greatly productive writer but that I was one who had something of his own to add to the body of literature that is science fiction; and then there came flying from me a host of novels—Thorns, The Masks of Time, The Man in the Maze, Downward to the Earth, and on and on to The Book of Skulls and Dying Inside, along with the dozens of short stories that fill the middle volumes of this series—that won me my reputation in the field and brought me the awards that sit on a shelf before me as I write this. But, having won that reputation and those awards, I began to feel, as the years went along, that I had no need of defending it by continuing to publish three or four novels and ten short stories a year, and so I slowed down, even stopped writing entirely for one four-year period in the 1970s. By the time the Science Fiction Writers of America, to my great delight, bestowed its Grand Master award on me in 2004, putting me in an exclusive club almost entirely made up of the writers (Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, Alfred Bester, A.E. van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Clifford Simak, L. Sprague de Camp, etc.) whose work I had read and admired when I was a youngster just starting out, I felt I had no worlds left to conquer.
Then, too, as a writer moving through his seventies, and getting rapidly toward the end of them, I feel a certain sense that I am no longer really a part of the contemporary world, from which all extrapolation must flow. My own success has isolated me from everyday mundane reality. I don’t have a day job and write after hours; writing has always been my day job, a full-time one, and I’ve spent my whole life as a self-employed man working at home. I’m not out there in the fast-moving flow of daily toil. Thus I have only a superficial acquaintance with the sort of life that most people accept as routine. Like everyone else, I use a computer, and I know enough about it to make it do the things I need it to do, but I have made no attempt to keep up with changes in computer technology, nor am I a master of computer jargon. You will not see me walking through the streets peering at the screen of my smartphone, either, because I don’t have one, and I have had no interest in entering what I have come to think of as the iPod/iPhone/YouTube/Facebook culture. I don’t scorn those things—far from it. They have reshaped our world into the fantastic glittering high-tech future that I used to write about. But, having lived on into that future myself, I find that at my age such things don
Wider cultural changes than the coming of new gadgetry have affected me as a writer, too. I had a classical education, nearly sixty years ago. It seems almost Victorian now. Hardly anyone studies the things I studied. Who would understand the buried references in my stories to Jacobean playwrights, Virgil, Dante, Monteverdi, Bach, even Mann and Kafka and Joyce? Nor are the cultural issues that seem to concern the modern-day academic world anything like the ones that concerned us in my college days; and the whole world of popular culture is a mystery to me. What do I know of the current pop-music stars and graphic-novel artists and television shows? My world is as alien to modern readers as theirs is to me. Even the language has changed radically in my lifetime. Most science-fiction readers are relatively young. My grammar is not their grammar. My vocabulary is not their vocabulary. If I’m not able to speak to them in an understandable way, how can I tell them stories?
There have been changes in the publishing of science fiction in the United States, also, that put a premium on repetitious sequels, formulaic themes, and lengthy, overstuffed plots full of ferocious melodramatic conflict. I thought we had outgrown all that fifty years ago. I was wrong. It has all come back, and come back with a vengeance, in shiny modern guise. Not that all science fiction published today is like that, of course; but I have the ineradicable conviction that the bang-bang multi-volume stuff is what the publishers really want, and that the quieter sort of fiction that I preferred to read and write is merely tolerated at best. At my age it’s easier not to go to the effort of writing than to try to fight against that kind of gentle toleration.
But, for all that, I went on writing short fiction all through the seventh and eighth decades of my life, and though I’m not very active these days, I would still pay attention if someone were to approach me with an interesting and challenging short-story project, or if some absolutely irresistible story idea were to come into my mind. I will not, at this point, try to claim that the stories that are collected here are the last short stories I will ever write. Surely some editor, in the years ahead, will tickle my imagination with a proposal I can’t resist. But I doubt that that will be happening very often; and, meanwhile, here’s the harvest of the fourteen years that began in 1995—not an enormous number of stories, no, but stories nevertheless that I think are worth reading and reprinting.
Diana of the Hundred Breasts
We visited Turkey in April, 1994—Turkey is a country that has exerted continued fascination on me since my first trip there in 1967, which produced my Byzantine time-travel novel Up the Line—and this time we went down the Aegean coast, which is rich in the ruins of the ancient Greek culture that formerly flourished there. Among our stops was Ephesus, once the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There’s nothing left of that glorious temple today—it was burned down by a disgruntled parishioner in 356 B.C., rebuilt by Alexander the Great, sacked by the Goths, and later stripped of its masonry to build the Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, so all that remains is an open field with a single column rising above a scattering of stonework. But in the small museum in the adjacent Turkish town of Seljuk are the two mysterious statues of Artemis that once were worshipped there: huge stone figures of a woman whose midsection is festooned with what seem to be dozens of breasts, though perhaps they are eggs. Breasts or eggs, no one is sure, but either way they are symbols of fertility, and it is apparent that the Artemis of Ephesus was a fertility goddess rather than the virginal huntress of classical Greek myth.
Artemis passed into Roman mythology as the goddess Diana, and continued to be worshipped there into the Christian era. We read in the Book of Acts, 19, that the Apostle Paul turned up there in the first century A.D. and denounced the cult of Diana and the famed statues thereof, saying, “They be no gods, which are made by hands.” He called for the destruction of her shrine. The citizens of Ephesus, full of wrath at this, gathered and cried out with one voice, the Bible tells us, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” Eventually things quieted down, though, and Paul got out of town with his skin intact, and ultimately neither Diana nor Jesus emerged victorious from the fray, because today Ephesus is a very picturesque ruin and Allah is the god of the region where it was located.
Avram Davidson wrote a clever, charming, complex little story (did he ever write any other kind?) in 1958 called “Great is Diana,” which makes oblique reference to the famed many-breasted statues of Ephesus. The Davidson story is mostly about breasts, rather than the cult of Diana/Artemis, but in any case I had long forgotten it in July of 1995, when, brimming with images from the previous year’s Turkish trip, I set about to write a fantasy story that would explain what those strange statues were doing in Ephesus.
The immediate precipitating factor was a plaintive phone-call from Alice K. Turner, the fiction editor of Playboy, for whom I had written a great many stories over many years and with whom I had a remarkable editor-writer relationship that was for two decades a fascinating creative challenge for me. Alice called up to complain that her inventory of science-fiction stories had dwindled to zero, and wondered if I would mind writing one for her. I have attempted, since 1970 or so, to do no writing at all in the summer months, and here we were in the splendid California June of unending sunshine, and yet, and yet, how could I ignore such a request from Alice Turner? So I wrote her, on June 30, 1995, that I was halfway through the six-month holiday from writing that I had bestowed upon myself after a particularly grueling winter of work, but I was getting a bit restless with a daily life of swimming, gardening, and sitting on the porch reading, so perhaps I might just interrupt my dolce far niente and do a story for her.
And so I did, although things didn’t work out quite as planned. Within ten days I had written “Diana of the Hundred Breasts,” which I sent to her with a note saying, “Herewith is a report for you on What I Did On My Summer Vacation In Turkey Last Year. The scenery is rendered reliably; I did make up a few of the details of the events, I have to confess.”
But Alice didn’t like the story. It was what she called an “IRS Story”, she said—stories that I would set in exotic places merely to prove, so she said, that my travel expenses were legitimately tax-deductible. Alice had rejected two or three of my foreign-based stories over the years, always with that same reason and always to my bewilderment, because I couldn’t understand her objection to foreign-based stories, whether they were IRS-connected or not. Also she didn’t care much for the plot and she didn’t think one of the characters was realistically rendered. And I think she was bothered by the fact that I had given her a fantasy story rather than the pure science-fiction tale that she had asked me for. (Though something in my excessively rational mind seems to recoil at the irrationality that lies at the heart of most fantasy themes, so that when I set out to write fantasy it usually turns out to have a science-fictional explanation, as can be seen here.)
Well, rejections happen. Playboy under Alice Turner was not only the highest-paying fiction market around, but also one of the toughest, and though I sold her plenty of stories over the years, I had to expect that once in a while she would turn one down. I replied to her rejection note on July 31: “Well, of course I disagree, but what the hell. I’ll sell it somewhere else and sell you something else next year.”
Which I did. I shipped the story off to the new fantasy magazine Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy, for whom I had written one of my favorite stories, “Sailing to Byzantium,” when she had been editor of Isaac Asimov’
The two famous marble statues stand facing each other in a front room of the little museum in the scruffy Turkish town of Seljuk, which lies just north of the ruins of the once-great Greek and Roman city of Ephesus. There was a photograph of the bigger one in my guidebook, of course. But it hadn’t prepared me—photos never really do—for the full bizarre impact of the actuality.
The larger of the statues is about nine feet tall, the other one about six. Archaeologists found both of them in the courtyard of a building of this ancient city where the goddess Diana was revered. They show—you must have seen a picture of one, some time or other—a serene, slender woman wearing an ornamental headdress that is all that remains of an huge, intricate crown. Her arms are outstretched and the lower half of her body is swathed in a tight cylindrical gown. From waist to ankles, that gown is decorated with rows of vividly carved images of bees and of cattle. But that’s not where your eyes travel first, because the entire midsection of Diana of Ephesus is festooned with a grotesque triple ring of bulging pendulous breasts. Dozens of them, or several dozens. A great many.
“Perhaps they’re actually eggs,” said my brother Charlie the professor, standing just behind me. For the past eighteen months Charlie had been one of the leaders of the team of University of Pennsylvania archaeologists that has been digging lately at Ephesus. “Or fruits of some kind, apples, pears. Nobody’s really sure. Globular fertility symbols, that’s all we can say. But I think they’re tits, myself. The tits of the Great Mother, with an abundance of milk for all. Enough tits to satisfy anybody’s oral cravings, and then some.”
The Millennium Express: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine by Robert Silverberg / Science Fiction / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes