Stepsons of Terra, by Robert Silverberg: Ace, 174 pages.
According to the introduction of this book by Silverberg, Stepsons of Terra was his 6th published novel, written in October of 1957. Silverberg indicated that he’d had plenty of shorter stuff published before this work, though, as well as the five other novels. The original title of the book was Shadow on the Stars, and it appeared in the April 1958 issue of Science Fiction Adventures, edited at the time by Larry T. Shaw, who requested a novel from Silverberg. Later that year it was picked up by Donald Wollheim for his Ace Doubles book line, where it appeared opposite of a book by British author Lan Wright.
In his introduction to “Stepsons,” which contains a wealth of good information, Silverberg says he’d written plenty of shorter “melodramas” for Science Fiction Adventures under various pseudonyms. By melodramas he means “blood-and-thunder,” and “blazing ray-guns” written “strictly for fun.” As is often the case when Silverberg talks about writing SF, he takes—at least to me—a slightly disparaging tone about the more pulpish aspects of the genre. This never fails to irritate me. Personally, his more pulpish tales are by far my favorites among his work. These include two that I read as a kid called Conquerors from the Darkness and Time of the Great Freeze.
As for Stepsons of Terra, Silverberg writes that since it was going to appear under his own name, he: “was a trifle less flamboyant about making use of the pulp-magazine clichés beloved by the magazine’s readers. There would be no hissing villains and basilisk-eyed princess in this one, no desperate duels with dagger and mace, no feudal overloads swaggering about the stars. Rather, I would write a straightforward science fiction novel strongly plotted but not unduly weighted toward breathless adventure.”
So, what was the result? In my opinion? Well, it was good but I think it would have been better with more of those pulp elements. It’s definitely a tale of intrigue rather than action and adventure. The adventure is certainly not “breathless.” Relatively little actually happens in the story, although the writing is good and the characters hold your attention. Too, Silverberg certainly does avoid the cliché descriptions of women often found in tales of the pulp era. And the epic space battle in the book is about as anti-climactic as you can get—certainly not cliché though.
According to Silverberg, the book was very well received by the readers of Science Fiction Adventures and the next issue of the magazine was full of “letters of praise.” I’m sure it was, and I did enjoy the book. Not my favorite of his, though. I guess I’d have to say: give me more pulp.