Fortunately, in a nearby town, I found a brilliant little second-hand bookshop. The owner was extremely knowledgeable on her stock. I asked her about a couple of titles/authors, and she was able to tell me yes or no, and exactly where. I told her, as I left, what a fantastic shop it was and she seemed genuinely pleased.
There were a few shelves of SF books, and I found a few old paperbacks I hadn't read and looked promising. In the middle of all these, however, was an old favourite I haven't read for many, many years. Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg. I picked it up, then put it back as I have a copy at home. But that cover! It wasn't the cover I had, and the artwork was beautiful, and so I grabbed it.
I posted way back in 2009 that Silverberg was one of the people I would love to meet one day. This has come true - not once, but twice. The first time I met him, in 2010, I thanked him for his work and told him what it meant to me. I told him that the first two SF novels I read as a teen were by PKD and Silverberg. He asked me what they were, and while I remembered PKD's novel, my mind went blank with his. And so I stood there looking like a fool and feeling embarrassed.
In 2014 I met him again, and we managed to have a longer and more coherent conversation. And Cat Sparks was on hand to capture the moment - a photograph which still brings me joy.
But back to the present.
I absolutely tore through Downward to the Earth, and it was wonderful. The writing, the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding - all as brilliant as I remembered it. Since I last read it, (in the 90s, I think) I have been to University and studied Heart of Darkness, and so as I read Downward this time, I couldn't help but see the references to Conrad's work (and, in some ways, Apocalypse Now) Heck, there is even a character named Kurtz, a kind of dark reflection of the protagonist.
While firmly a product of its time (1970), there is a post-colonialist reading to this text which is, perhaps, more relevant than ever.
Once again, I am reminded why Robert Silverberg is amongst our greatest writers.
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