The Conglomeriod Cocktail Party – Review

Fantasy Review, #70, August 1984, p. 26

Major Collection of Downbeat Tales

Silverberg, Robert. The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party. Arbor House, New York, June 1984. 284 p. $14.95. ISBN 0-87795-577-8. SF Book Club, Garden City, New York, August 1984. $6.98. No ISBN.

Without question, Silverberg is a gifted writer. Also without question, the sixteen stories in this anthology, originally published 1980-1983, are superb examples of writing. Objectivity having been addressed, I must confess l didn’t like the collection as a whole or the majority of the stories in particular.

In the excellent introduction Silverberg explains how difficult it is for him to write short stories. Every word must contribute to the whole, yet the rewards for this painstaking craftsmanship cannot compare with those for slapdash novels. In “A Thousand Paces Along the Via Dolorosa,” Silverberg uses this skill to paint a depressing picture of a middle-aged, directionless, unappealing man seeking a dubious path to enlightenment. The finished portrait is perfect–but was it worth painting?

These tortured, imperfect, passive males are at the center of almost all the stories. Just one, “Our Lady of the Sauropods,” centers around a woman, and it is also noteworthy for being a far more dynamic tale. “How They Pass the Time in Pelpel” bucks the trend as well but it is straight fiction, without even a hint of science fiction or fantasy. Several of the time travel stories deal with genuinely new twists, concepts, and ideas, but “new” always turns out to be “unpleasant.” Only an occasional well-concealed pun helps relieve the general tone of defeat and resignation.

Praise with faint damns should not deter you from getting this major collection by a major writer. If you want stories guaranteed to darken your day, look no farther.

— Lawrence I. Charters

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