|Cover artist||Robert Foster|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
Thorns is a science fiction novel by American author Robert Silverberg, published as a paperback original in 1967, and a Nebulaand Hugo Awards nominee.
Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that has been called the "literature of ideas". It typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, time travel, parallel universes, fictional worlds, space exploration, and extraterrestrial life. It often explores the potential consequences of scientific innovations.
Robert Silverberg is an American author and editor, best known for writing science fiction. He is a multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and a Grand Master of SF. He has attended every Hugo Awards ceremony since the inaugural event in 1953.
Humanity has colonized the solar system and moved outward to begin exploring the far reaches of the galaxy. An interplanetary audience follows real-life stories of triumph and tragedy presented to them by Duncan Chalk, a media mogul with apparently limitless resources. Chalk, unknown to all around him, is a kind of psychic vampire who draws sustenance from the emotions of others, particularly those of pain and trauma. Though he enjoys playing his inner circle of assistants against each other as a sort of daily snack, Chalk's true nourishment comes from the dramas he orchestrates for his audience.
Chalk's latest drama involves the pairing of Minner Burris, a space explorer who was captured and surgically altered by aliens on the planet Manipool, and Lona Kelvin, a 17-year-old girl who donated eggs for a fertility experiment that produced a hundred babies. Burris, whose freakish appearance draws attention whenever he ventures out in public, has withdrawn into seclusion and bitterness. Kelvin, whose brief fame as the virgin mother of an army of children has begun to fade, has twice attempted suicide because she has not been allowed to adopt or even see any of her offspring. Chalk promises Burris a full round of surgery and treatment to restore his human appearance, and offers Kelvin a chance to adopt one of her babies, if the two agree to come together for an all-expenses paid tour of the solar system.
At first the two wounded subjects enjoy each other's company and even become lovers. Kelvin's empathy and compassion are stirred by Burris's plight, and Burris enjoys playing masculine protector and guide to the naive teenager. The affection soon curdles into irritation, hostility and even hatred—all of which provide a psychic feast for Chalk. The two finally break off after a particularly vicious fight, which Chalk uses as a pretext to void the agreement. He does, however, try to keep them on the hook by dangling new offers: for example, he asks Kelvin to befriend David Melangio, a childlike man whose feats of memory and calculation are his only means of meeting a world that has already subjected him to overwhelming traumas. Kelvin erupts in rage and is carried off by Chalk's assistants.
Burris, meanwhile, has a sexual fling with Elise, the widow of an astronaut who accompanied Burris on the Manipool landing, and who died from the surgical alterations performed by the aliens. Elise is both aroused and repulsed by Burris' body, and the sadomasochistic nature of her attraction eventually alienates Burris. His withdrawal causes her to commit suicide in a particularly grisly fashion. Burris, deeply shaken, returns to Earth. He has realized that Chalk's promise was empty, and that such help may no longer even be possible—the changes wrought by the Manipool aliens appear irreversible. What's more, the surgery that turned him into a monster has also "improved" his body in unexpected ways that Burris has come to appreciate.
With the inadvertent help of Melangio, who during a typically bland chat lets slip some information that gives them clues into Chalk's true nature, Kelvin and Burris confront the media baron in his office. They expose the full, unfiltered core of their mutual pain to Chalk, who is overwhelmed and finally killed by the intensity of the emotional flood. As the novel ends, Burris has convinced Kelvin to join him in a trip back to Manipool, where they will confront the aliens and, presumably, undergo alterations that take them beyond humanity.
The line "Pain is instructive" opens and closes the story. It is first delivered by Chalk, and provides ominous foreshadowing; it is later uttered by Burris, who has accepted his condition and come to see the pain it causes as a means toward growth.
This theme is illustrated throughout the story in various ways. David Melangio, whose inner defenses have completely isolated him from memories of his terribly unhappy childhood, cannot face his pain and therefore will never become a fully realized adult. Burris appreciates cacti and thorny succulents, and when Kelvin complains about thorns on a cactus, Burris praises the thorn as an elegant evolutionary adaptation to a hostile environment.
The science behind Lona's fertility experiment was quite novel for the late 60s, but has since become commonplace, and is one of the few dated elements in the novel. By contrast, the idea of mass media serving as theater, and being used as a tool to manipulate and exploit vulnerable people, has only become more timely with the rise of reality shows and the like on television.
"The title describes the book: prickly, rough in texture, a sharp book," Silverberg writes in his memoir Other Spaces, Other Times. "I worked quickly, often managing twenty pages or more, yet making no concessions to conventions of standard science fiction." (p 116) His ambitions for the book were vindicated when Thorns was published in August 1967:
"All of Ballantine's science fiction titles were then automatically being distributed free to members of the two-year-old Science Fiction Writers of America, and so all my colleagues had copies in hand at the time of that year's sf convention. Many of them had read it, and -- as I hoped -- it shook their image of my work. At least a dozen of my friends told me, with the frankness of true friendship, that the book had amazed them: not that they thought me incapable of writing it, but rather that I would be willing to take the trouble. It seemed such a radical break from my formularized science fiction of the 1950s that they thought of it as the work of some entirely new Robert Silverberg." (p 117)
Algis Budrys wrote of his surprise that "Silverberg is now writing deeply detailed, highly educated, beautifully figured books like Thorns" despite still producing 10,000 words a day.Brian Stableford, writing in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction , called Thorns "a stylized novel of alienation and psychic vampirism," saying that together with Hawksbill Station it marked "a new phase of RS' career, in which he brought the full range of his artistic abilities to bear on writing sf." After an initial burst of competent but callow science fiction work, and a brief layover in which he researched and wrote demanding nonfiction books, Silverberg returned to the genre with a remarkable series of novels written to higher standards of characterization, themes and literary quality.
Algirdas Jonas "Algis" Budrys was a Lithuanian-American science fiction author, editor, and critic. He was also known under the pen names Frank Mason, Alger Rome, John A. Sentry, William Scarff, and Paul Janvier.
Brian Michael Stableford is a British science fiction writer who has published more than 70 novels. His earlier books were published under the name Brian M. Stableford, but more recent ones have dropped the middle initial and appeared under the name Brian Stableford. He has also used the pseudonym Brian Craig for a couple of very early works, and again for a few more recent works. The pseudonym derives from the first names of himself and of a school friend from the 1960s, Craig A. Mackintosh, with whom he jointly published some very early work.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (SFE) is an English language reference work on science fiction, first published in 1979. In October 2011, the third edition was made available for free online.
Thorns has several thematic parallels with Silverberg's contemporaneous novel The Man in the Maze. In both novels, the hero has been unwillingly altered by aliens (physically in Thorns, psychically in The Man in the Maze) and become an embittered outcast; the protagonists expose the full core of their inner torment in order to achieve victory over a seemingly invincible opponent; both stories conclude with the protagonists choosing to embrace an untenable, even inhuman way of life.
While working on Thorns, Silverberg came across an Italian science fiction magazine that criticized one of his early novels as badly done and wordy -- malcondotto e prolisse in the original Italian. Silverberg promptly named Minner Burris' fellow astronauts Malcondotto and Prolisse. (Other Spaces, Other Times, p 116)
Oliver Sacks name-checks Thorns in "The Twins", an essay included in his 1985 collection The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat . The twins of the title are a pair of autistic savants who enjoyed brief fame on television for performing feats of memory and calculation, though they themselves were incapable of living without close institutional care. Sacks compares their speech and behavior with that of David Melangio and speculates that Silverberg was familiar with them when he wrote Thorns. Silverberg makes no mention of them in his memoir.
Oliver Wolf Sacks, was a British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. Born in Britain, and mostly educated there, he spent his career in the United States. He believed that the brain is the "most incredible thing in the universe." He became widely known for writing best-selling case histories about both his patients' and his own disorders and unusual experiences, with some of his books adapted for plays by major playwrights, feature films, animated short films, opera, dance, fine art, and musical works in the classical genre.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales is a 1985 book by neurologist Oliver Sacks describing the case histories of some of his patients. Sacks chose the title of the book from the case study of one of his patients which he names "Dr. P" that has visual agnosia, a neurological condition that leaves him unable to recognize even familiar faces and objects. Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat became the basis of an opera of the same name by Michael Nyman, which premiered in 1986.
Savant syndrome is a condition in which someone with significant mental disabilities demonstrates certain abilities far in excess of average. The skills at which savants excel are generally related to memory. This may include rapid calculation, artistic ability, map making, or musical ability. Usually just one special skill is present.
Thorns has some interesting thematic parallels with The Man in the Maze, published two years later. Both novels center on an embittered man altered by contact with an alien race, and who is coaxed out of hiding by a morally ambiguous character with a hidden agenda. The threat in each novel is nullified when the protagonist exposes the unfiltered core of his being to a telepathic receptor.
Many of Silverberg's best-known stories explore the darker aspects of telepathy and psychic powers. In Thorns, Duncan Chalk's telepathic abilities have turned him into an emotional vampire leeching off the pain of others. In the novels Dying Inside and The Second Trip, telepathy blights lives and turns characters into self-hating voyeurs. Silverberg's celebrated short story "Flies" centers on a spacefarer who commits terrible acts against former loved ones so that their anguish may be studied by distant aliens. In another famous story, "Passengers," disembodied aliens enter the minds of unwilling human hosts and distort their behavior, bringing civilization to the brink of collapse.
Laurence van Cott Niven is an American science fiction writer. His best-known works are Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, Nebula awards, and The Mote in God's Eye (1974). The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him the 2015 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. It also often includes elements of detective fiction and adventure stories. His fantasy includes the series The Magic Goes Away, rational fantasy dealing with magic as a non-renewable resource.
The New Wave is a movement in science fiction produced in the 1960s and 1970s and characterized by a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, a "literary" or artistic sensibility, and a focus on "soft" as opposed to hard science. New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist tradition and sometimes mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction, which some of them regarded as stodgy, adolescent and poorly written.
Glen David Brin is an American scientist and author of science fiction. He has received the Hugo, Locus, Campbell and Nebula Awards. His novel The Postman was adapted as a feature film and starred Kevin Costner in 1997. Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association and the McGannon Communication Award.
Unknown was an American pulp fantasy fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1943 by Street & Smith, and edited by John W. Campbell. Unknown was a companion to Street & Smith's science fiction pulp, Astounding Science Fiction, which was also edited by Campbell at the time; many authors and illustrators contributed to both magazines. The leading fantasy magazine in the 1930s was Weird Tales, which focused on shock and horror. Campbell wanted to publish a fantasy magazine with more finesse and humor than Weird Tales, and put his plans into action when Eric Frank Russell sent him the manuscript of his novel Sinister Barrier, about aliens who own the human race. Unknown's first issue appeared in March 1939; in addition to Sinister Barrier, it included H. L. Gold's "Trouble With Water", a humorous fantasy about a New Yorker who meets a water gnome. Gold's story was the first of many in Unknown to combine commonplace reality with the fantastic.
Hawksbill Station is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert Silverberg. The novel is an expanded version of a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction in August 1967. The novel was published in 1968 and was released in the United Kingdom under the title The Anvil of Time.
A Time of Changes is a 1971 science fiction novel by American writer Robert Silverberg. It won the Nebula Award for that year, and was also nominated for the 1972 Hugo and Locus Awards.
The Man in the Maze is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert Silverberg, originally serialized in the magazine, Worlds of If April in May 1968, and published in bookstores the following year. It tells the tale of a man rendered incapable of interacting normally with other human beings by his uncontrollable psychic abilities. The novel is inspired by Sophocles' play Philoctetes, with the roles of Odysseus, Neoptolemus and Philoctetes played by Boardman, Rawlins, and Muller, respectively.
The first Golden Age of Science Fiction, often recognized in the United States as the period from 1938 to 1946, was an era during which the science fiction genre gained wide public attention and many classic science fiction stories were published. In the history of science fiction, the Golden Age follows the "pulp era" of the 1920s and 1930s, and precedes New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1950s are a transitional period in this scheme; however, Robert Silverberg, who came of age in the 1950s, saw that decade as the true Golden Age.
Rogue Moon is a short science fiction novel by American writer Algis Budrys, published in 1960. It was a 1961 Hugo Award nominee. A substantially cut version of the novel was originally published in F&SF; this novella-length story was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two, edited by Ben Bova. It was adapted into a radio drama by Yuri Rasovsky in 1979.
Lionel Percy Wright, known professionally as Lan Wright (1923–2010) was a British science fiction writer. All of his fiction has been published under the pen name "Lan Wright".
A fix-up is a novel created from several short fiction stories that may or may not have been initially related or previously published. The stories may be edited for consistency, and sometimes new connecting material, such as a frame story or other interstitial narration, is written for the new work. The term was coined by the science fiction writer A. E. van Vogt, who published several fix-ups of his own, including The Voyage of the Space Beagle, but the practice exists outside of science fiction. The use of the term in science fiction criticism was popularised by the first (1979) edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls, which credited van Vogt with the creation of the term. The name comes from the modifications that the author needs to make in the original texts to make them fit together as though they were a novel. Foreshadowing of events from the later stories may be jammed into an early chapter of the fix-up, and character development may be interleaved throughout the book. Contradictions and inconsistencies between episodes are usually worked out.
Fantastic Universe was a U.S. science fiction magazine which began publishing in the 1950s. It ran for 69 issues, from June 1953 to March 1960, under two different publishers. It was part of the explosion of science fiction magazine publishing in the 1950s in the United States, and was moderately successful, outlasting almost all of its competitors. The main editors were Leo Margulies (1954–1956) and Hans Stefan Santesson (1956–1960); under Santesson's tenure the quality declined somewhat, and the magazine became known for printing much UFO-related material. A collection of stories from the magazine, edited by Santesson, appeared in 1960 from Prentice-Hall, titled The Fantastic Universe Omnibus.
Dan Morgan was an English science fiction writer and a professional guitarist, mainly active as a writer from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s. In addition to his fiction, he wrote two manuals relating to his musical profession.
Masters of the Maze is a science fiction novel by American writer Avram Davidson, originally published in 1965 by Pyramid Books with a cover by John Schoenherr. The first UK edition, the only hardcover to date, was issued by White Lion in 1974. An American paperback reprint followed from Manor Books in 1976. Ebook editions appeared in 2012, from both Prologue Books and SF Gateway.
For other uses, see Message from Space (disambiguation).
Brightness Falls from the Air is a science fiction novel by American writer James Tiptree Jr., set in the same fictional universe as the stories in her 1986 collection The Starry Rift.
John Frederick Clute is a Canadian-born author and critic specializing in science fiction and fantasy literature who has lived in both England and the United States since 1969. He has been described as "an integral part of science fiction's history" and "perhaps the foremost reader-critic of sf in our time, and one of the best the genre has ever known."
Peter Douglas Nicholls was an Australian literary scholar and critic. He was the creator and a co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction with John Clute.
The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) is a database of bibliographic information on genres considered speculative fiction, including science fiction and related genres such as fantasy fiction and horror fiction. The ISFDB is a volunteer effort, with both the database and wiki being open for editing and user contributions. The ISFDB database and code are available under Creative Commons licensing and there is support within both Wikipedia and ISFDB for interlinking. The data are reused by other organizations, such as Freebase, under the creative commons license.