Vintage Treasures: To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

Vintage Treasures: To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

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To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg (Sphere, 1977). Cover by Peter Elson

I’m on something of a Robert Silverberg kick. It started when Mark Kelly reviewed Silverberg’s early novel Collision Course for us back in April, one of the first SF novels I ever read, and in a haze of nostalgia I ended up taking an extended look at all six Silverberg novels packaged up by Ace in that magical year of 1977. More recently I’ve been collecting some of his earlier books, and finding all kinds of interesting artifacts, like the 1969 anthology Dark Stars, and the 1967 fix-up novel To Open the Sky, assembled from five novelettes originally published in Galaxy magazine.

To Open the Sky is the saga of two religions that emerge in the 21st Century, both of which worship technology and atomic power. Over nearly a century the mysterious origins of both religions, and the secret ambitions of their founders, are gradually revealed. It’s the kind of epoch-spanning, tech-focused SF that isn’t written any more. Here’s an excerpt from my favorite review, a short but insightful piece by Thomas M. Wagner at sff180.

A fine example of pre-1970s Bob Silverberg, To Open the Sky is the absorbing story of an overpopulated and economically depressed world clinging to the outcome of a religious schism for its salvation. But is the schism itself a pure public relations ploy, a staged affair whose intricacies are known only to its elusive and enigmatic founder?…

Silverberg effectively constructs a narrative on an epic scale — nearly a century of time between 2077 and 2164 — within a taut 200 or so pages, demonstrating once again that the present-day tendency towards bloat in SF and fantasy publishing is not necessarily the only way to convey big ideas set against a big canvas. Noel Vorst is the founder of a new religious movement rooted squarely in science. Though there is plenty of spiritualist window dressing to appeal to the emotional needs of the disaffected, the promises of the Vorsters are materialist to a fault. There is the promise of potential immortality, as well as the ultimate colonization of the stars, both unfulfilled so far due to limitations of technology.

But interfering with the Vorsters’ plans are the Harmonists, a renegade sect founded by the apocryphally-named David Lazarus, martyred for his opposition to Vorst’s political and economic ambitions. The Harmonists have since emigrated to Venus, whose colonists have had to undergo dramatic physical alteration to adapt to the environment… When a surprising development — the discovery of Lazarus’ burial place on Mars — stands to change the balance of power in the schismatic struggle for humanity’s future, each side is brazenly honest (at least with themselves) about whether or not this will be good or bad for business.

To Open the Sky is episodic, having been assembled from earlier short works, but there is never a feeling of narrative disjointedness. And each of the book’s five parts offers compelling character development, following the fates of several key players as they fall into the clutches of either the Vorsters or Harmonists and each side’s hidden agendas. Most interesting the Faustian tale of Christopher Mondschein, who joins the Vorsters but is undone by his overweening ambition…. A most highly recommended read, and more proof, if any were needed, that used bookstores are your friend.

Read the complete review here.

[Click the images to embiggen.]

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To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg (Ballantine, May 1967). Cover by Richard Powers

The original five novelettes that comprised the novel were all sold to Frederik Pohl at Galaxy, and appeared in 1965 or ’66.

“Blue Fire” (Galaxy, June 1965)
“The Warriors of Light” (Galaxy, December 1965)
“Where the Changed Ones Go” (Galaxy, February 1966)
“Lazarus Come Forth!” (Galaxy, April 1966)
“Open the Sky” (Galaxy, June 1966)

To Open the Sky was popular enough remain in print for more than three decades. It was originally published as a paperback original by Ballantine Books in 1967, with a ho-hum cover by the ubiquitous Richard Powers (above).

It was reprinted by Sphere Books in the UK in 1970, by Ballantine (1970, with a new cover by Tom Adams), Gregg Press (1977), Berkley Books (1978), Bantam Books (1984), Pulpless.Com (1999), and others. Gateway/Orion issued the first digital edition in 2011.

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Ballantine Books (1970), Berkley Books (1978), Bantam Books (1984). Covers by Tom Adams, Paul Alexander, and Jim Burns

Our recent coverage of Robert Silverberg includes:

Vintage Treasures: The Stochastic Man
Vintage Treasures: Dark Stars edited by Robert Silverberg
A Sampling from an SF Grandmaster: The Silverberg Collections from Three Rooms Press
The Art of Author Branding: The Ace Robert Silverberg
A Fascinating, Ordinary 1950s SF Novel: Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course by Mark R. Kelly
The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 John W. Campbell Memorial Award: Beyond Apollo, by Barry N. Malzberg (plus Special Award to Robert Silverberg for Dying Inside) by Rich Horton
Vintage Treasures: Conquerors from the Darkness
Oz Reviews The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg by Nick Ozment
First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg’s Tales of Majipoor
Are the days of the full-time novelist numbered? by Robert Silverberg

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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FYI, the cover to the 1970 Ballantine edition was actually the back cover to the hardcover edition of Colonel Sun, the James Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis.

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