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review 2016-02-01 04:22
Downward To The Earth by Robert Silverberg
Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg

You would think that religious themes in science fiction could not mix together.  However, there is a long history of science fiction (and fantasy) writers that have included religious themes in their work.  Gene Wolfe did with his Solar Cycle Series (Book of The New Sun, Long Sun, & Short Sun), Orson Scott Card did it with his Ender and Alvin Maker series, Octavia Butler did it with her Parable Series and there are numerous other SF authors who have incorporated religious themes into their works as well.

 

Well I found out over the last year that Robert Silverberg, one of the Genre’s Grandmasters, wrote several religiously themed science fiction novels during his most prolific period of 1967-1976. I have previously reviewed two of those novels: A Time for Changes and Tower of Glass.  I enjoyed both of those books and decided to read Downward To The Earth for my latest review.  It’s considered one of his finest works and more overtly religious than those aforementioned novels.

 

Downward To The Earth is the story of Edmund Gundersen, a former colonial governor of Holman’s World, who has returned to that land after a prolonged absence.  He is seeking atonement for his treatment of the native races, the Nildoror and Sulidoror, during his time as the colonial governor.  The Nildoror and Sulidoror are elephant-type anthropomorphic beings that live on Holman’s World.  Gundersen decides to journey in order to seek atonement for his sins against the Nildoror and Sulidoror.

 

Silverberg tells a powerful story of Gundersen’s journey into the heart of Holman’s World.  He provides direct allusions to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ.  He deals with the concept of sin and atonement in a surprisingly honest fashion.  However, I still believed that he fell a little short in regards from a Christian worldview perspective in dealing with the consequences of sin and repentance.

 

Downward To The Earth does a respectable job in trying to intertwine religious concepts into a secular science fiction novel written in the late 1960’s.  Silverberg wrote a thought-provoking novel and would be recommended for science fiction enthusiasts who are looking for something outside of the normal conventions of the genre.

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review 2013-05-06 00:00
Downward to the Earth (S.F.Masterworks S.) - Robert Silverberg gentle elephant things in the jungle; furry man-shaped things in the mist. our hero, former colonial station chief, returns to this strange planet much changed. the planet itself has changed: its residents no longer considered mere "animals", beasts of burden to be used as humans see fit... they are "people". a surprisingly liberal future-Earth now recognizes these beings as sentient, as does our hero. he returns to this place, full of regret for past actions, craving understanding and redemption, yearning for the intangible. he will seek to provide recompense and he will know change, a great and terrible change.

this marvelous little classic gets everything right: a beautifully detailed yet still mysterious world... a flawed protagonist striving to accomplish ambiguous yet still understandable goals... intriguing mysteries and a strange quest... aliens that feel genuinely alien... and a powerful theme running through it all: to truly understand others is to truly understand yourself; one cannot be accomplished without the other.

there are shades of Heart of Darkness here (even including a character named "Kurtz"), except turned inside-out: the darkness within man made almost inconsequential; darkness made light. i was also reminded of tales of colonial India (even including an alien character named "Srin'gahar"), the misdeeds and the culture clash and the ugliness and the beauty. looking forward, i was also reminded of Tepper's [b:Grass|104342|Grass|Sheri S. Tepper|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348772895s/104342.jpg|14066792], a book published many years after this one that takes one of this novel's central ideas and runs with it, in a much more horrific direction.

Silverberg usually writes about the need to understand ourselves and the yearning to transcend who we are or who we are supposed to be. physical travel that parallels inner change. and such is Downward to the Earth.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

ECCLESIASTES 3:21
__________

this review is a part of a longer article on Robert Silverberg posted on Shelf Inflicted.
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review 1986-07-24 00:00
Downward to the Earth
Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg A self-described homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Silverberg’s Gundersen has returned to the planet he once helped colonize. The planet is now controlled by the native species, and Gunderson wants to participate in the ritual of “rebirth,” as a way of making amends for his previous misdeeds while on the planet. I read this novel over twenty years ago, but I still think back on it as one of my favorite science-fiction novels. It’s nice to see in back in print, with a new preface by the author.
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