The Longest Way Home
(US edition: Eos, $25.95, 294 pages, hardback; 9 July 2002. UK edition:
Gollancz, £10.99, 213 pages, trade paperback; also available as
hardback at £16.99; published 16 May 2002. Gollancz, £6.99, 262
pages, paperback, first published 2002, this edition published 10 July
latest novel is a strange one.
I always think of this writer's work as falling into three distinct
'periods'. There was the early, Ace Double period, dating roughly from
the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties when Silverberg churned out novel
after short adventure novel for the paperback market, as well as hundreds
of short stories. For the most part the novels were hackwork, with exceptions
like Master of Life and Death and The Seed of Earth--unambitious
skiffy stuff written at speed for an insatiable market. Then Silverberg
matured, became the urbane wordsmith who turned in such ground-breaking
and sophisticated novels as Thorns, Tower of Glass, The
World Inside, A Time of Changes, Son of Man, Dying
Inside--I could go on, citing novel after excellent novel from this
writer's halcyon middle-period. Then, from the mid-seventies to the
present, Silverberg throttled back, producing a steady stream of perfectly
mediocre novels that combined the facility of his middle period with
the adventure content of his first--Lord Valentine's Castle,
The Queen of Springtime, Hot Sky at Midnight, among many
The Longest Way Home is something of a curiosity. It's the
rites of passage, coming of age story of Joseph Master Keilloran, scion
of an aristocratic ruling family on the colony planet of Homeworld.
The planet is ruled by the benign Masters, a second wave of humans who
invaded Homeworld and enslaved the first wave of settlers, the Folk,
thousands of years before the novel opens. For generations, a peaceable
master-servant relationship has maintained, until the rebellion of the
Folk in the northern continent of Manza. Joseph, the first person narrator,
is holidaying in the House of a Master cousin in the north, thousands
of miles away from his own home in the southern continent of Helikis.
In a single, brutal night of bloodshed, the ruling family of the area
is butchered. Joseph manages to escape and begin his long journey south
in an attempt to reach the family home.
The reader is all set, then, for a rollicking adventure story, a picaresque
tale of conceptual breakthrough as Joseph's assumptions of cultural
superiority are subverted by the experience of his mammoth trek through
a strange and alien landscape.
But it would appear that this was not the kind of novel that Silverberg
wanted to write--at least not an adventure story. For one thing, there
is precious little adventure, or even conflict. The tone is curiously
flat throughout, both in terms of prose and the depiction of the story's
action. Silverberg's dismissal of chapter breaks, and even page breaks,
gives the novel an odd sameness of rhythm from beginning to end, almost
as if the author is stressing the fact of the unimportance of such novelistic
conventions as climax, revelations, denouement--subverting, in fact,
We watch Joseph flee Getfen House, begin his journey south, fall in
with the native aliens, the Indigenes, and later the Folk, leave them
and happen upon a band of rebels two years into his trek... He is not
so much an active antagonist as a passive recorder of his wanderings.
The planet and its inhabitants never really come to life. The story
is told in a tone often--to borrow from Clute--androidal, and told
rather than shown. I did begin to wonder if this was Silverberg
being subversive again: not even giving the reader the prose that was
to be expected from a rites of passage novel. Then, less charitably,
I wondered if this was the author on auto-pilot, especially when I came
across patches of lazy realisation and over-writing (the second full
paragraph on page 110, for example).
I am deeply puzzled by The Longest Way Home. A long time Silverberg
fan, finding much to enjoy from all his periods of productivity, I was
left wondering quite what this novel represented and where it stood
in the author's overall canon.
While thoroughly readable, as one has come to expect from Silverberg,
The Longest Way Home is curiously lacking. It reads almost like
a Young Adult novel, yet without the drama inherent in that type of
book. It is something of an amalgam, then--written with the facility
of his later period, allied to the impersonal detachment of his second
period--but lacking the rigorous heart and commitment his best work.
Interesting, but perhaps one for the Silverberg completist only.
Review by Eric Brown.
See also John Grant's review
of The Longest Way Home.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: