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Authors: Robert Silverberg,Damien Broderick

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Beyond the Doors of Death

BOOK: Beyond the Doors of Death
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Phoenix Pick

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Born With the Dead
copyright © 1974 by Agberg, Ltd.
All rights reserved. This book may not be copied or reproduced, in whole or in part, by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without written permission from the publisher except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


“Born With the Dead” was originally published in the April 1974 issue of
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.


copyright © 2013 by Damien Broderick.
All rights reserved. This book may not be copied or reproduced, in whole or in part, by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without written permission from the publisher except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual persons, events or localities is purely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author and publisher.


Tarikian, TARK Classic Fiction, Arc Manor, Arc Manor Classic Reprints, Phoenix Pick, Phoenix Science Fiction Classics, Phoenix Rider, The Stellar Guild Series, Manor Thrift and logos associated with those imprints are trademarks or registered trademarks of Arc Manor, LLC, Rockville, Maryland. All other trademarks and trademarked names are properties of their respective owners.


This book is presented as is, without any warranties (implied or otherwise) as to the accuracy of the production, text or translation.



Digital Edition


ISBN (Digital Edition):  978-1-61242-108-7

ISBN (Paper Edition): 

Published by Phoenix Pick

an imprint of Arc Manor

P. O. Box 10339

Rockville, MD 20849-0339


by Robert Silverberg

For most of its half-century-plus of existence the magazine that is formally known as
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
but is more usually called
has been a bastion of civilized and cultivated writing. That was true under its founding editors, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas, and under such succeeding editors as Robert P. Mills and Avram Davidson. By the 1970s, editorial control had passed into the hands of Edward L. Ferman, who also happened to be the publisher of the magazine, and who functioned in admirable fashion in both capacities for many years thereafter.

My fiction had been appearing on and off in
since the days of the Boucher-McComas administration; but it was Ed Ferman who turned me into a steady contributor. He published a flock of my short stories in the magazine in the 1960s, of which the best known was the much-anthologized “Sundance,” and then, as I began to turn away from shorter fiction in favor of novellas and novels, Ferman let me know that he would be interested in publishing some of my longer work also.

In December, 1972, just after the publication of my novel
Dying Inside
, I got a note from Ferman that mentioned that he had just received a review copy of that book. “I simply wanted to tell you what a fine and moving and painful experience it was to read it,” he wrote, going on to compare the novel favorably to recent works by Bernard Malamud and Chaim Potok. And he added in a postscript, “The editor in me has just popped up, and I can’t help asking what I have to do to see your next novel. If it’s anything near the quality of
Dying Inside
, I’ll go higher than our top rate.”

I wasn’t planning to write another novel just then—1972 was a particularly turbulent year for me, involving, among other things, the reverberations involved in my recent transplantation from New York to California, and I was unwilling to commit myself to any very lengthy work until things had settled down a little in my life. And I was already working on a longish short story called “Trips” for an anthology Ferman was editing in collaboration with Barry Malzberg. But I did tell him that I had another long story in mind to write after that, one that would probably run to novella length, and it was his if he wanted it. Ferman replied at once that he did, and early in April of 1973 wrote me to say, “I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned length, but with the added pages I can take as much as 30,000 words. I don’t expect that long a story, but if it develops that way I’d be happy to have it.”

The story was “Born With the Dead,” and it did develop that way.

It had the feel of a major story from the moment I conceived it. I had played with the idea of the resuscitation of the dead in fiction since my 1957 novel
Recalled to Life
, and now, I felt, I was ready to return to it with a kind of culminating statement on the subject. I let Ferman know that I was already at work on it, and that it was going to be a big one. To which he replied on April 16, 1973 that he proposed to make the story the centerpiece of a special Robert Silverberg issue of the magazine.

That had real impact on me. Over the years
had done a handful of special issues honoring its favorite contributors—Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, James Blish, and one or two others. Each special issue featured a portrait of the writer on the cover, a major new story by him, several critical essays, and a bibliography. All of the writers chosen had been favorites of mine since my days as an avid adolescent reader; and now, suddenly, in my mid-thirties and just reaching the peak of my career, I found myself chosen to join their company. It gave me a nice shiver down the spine.

But of course I had to write a story
of that company—and this at a time when my private life was in chaos and the world about me, there in the apocalyptic days of the late Nixon era, was pretty chaotic too. So every day’s work was an ordeal. The ease and fervor with which I had written so many stories and novels just a few years ago had left me now, never to return. Sometimes I managed no more than a couple of paragraphs in an entire morning; sometimes, even less. The weeks dragged by; I entered the second month of the project with more than half the story still to tell. (By way of comparison:
Dying Inside
, also a difficult thing to write and three times as long, took me just nine weeks.) And now it was the middle of May; I had begun the story in late March. But somehow, finally, I regained my stride in early June, and the closing scenes, grim as their content was, were much easier to write than those that had gone before. One night in early June I was at the movies—Marlon Brando’s
Last Tango in Paris
, it was—when the closing paragraphs of the story began to form in my mind. I turned to my wife and asked her for the notebook she always carried, and began to scribble sentences in the dark during the final minutes of the film. The movie ended; the lights came on; the theater emptied; and there I sat, still writing. “Are you a movie critic?” an usher asked me. I shook my head and went on writing.

So the thing was done, and I knew that I had hooked me a big fish. The next day I typed out what I had written in the theater, and set about preparing a final draft for Ed Ferman, and on June 16, 1973 I sent it to him with a note that said, “Here It Is. I feel exhausted, drained, relieved, pleased, proud, etc. I hope the thing is worthy of all the sweat that went into it. What I’m going to do tomorrow is don my backpack and head for the Sierra for a week in the back country at 10,000 feet, a kind of rite of purification after all these months of crazy intense typing.”

“I could not be more pleased with ‘Born With the Dead,’” Ferman replied four days later. (E-mail was mere science fiction in those days.) “It seems to me that it brings to a peak the kind of thing you’ve been doing with
Book of Skulls
Dying Inside
.” (I had not noticed until that moment the string of death-images running through the titles of those three practically consecutive works of mine.) “I don’t think there is a wrong move in this story, and it comes together beautifully in the ending, which I found perfect and quite moving.”

The story appeared in the April, 1974
, which was indeed the special Robert Silverberg issue, with an Ed Emshwiller portrait of me on the cover in my best long-haired 1970s psychedelic mode, and essays about me within by Barry Malzberg and Tom Clareson, along with a Silverberg bibliography in very small type (so it didn’t fill half the issue). “Born With the Dead” went on to win the Nebula award in 1975 and the Locus award as well, and finished a close second in the Hugo voting. Since then it has been reprinted in innumerable anthologies, translated into a dozen foreign languages, and several times has been optioned for motion picture production.

And now it comes around once more, in a startlingly new guise. The original story is still here. But now the splendid Australian-born writer Damien Broderick has taken it as the starting point for a brilliant new novella that carries the afterlife adventures of Jorge Klein far into the future, a novella that widens and widens to an almost Stapledonian conceptual breadth; and, along the way, Broderick has also taken a second look at some of the unwritten implications of my own story, filling in elements of the background that I did not pause to explore. It pleases me very much that my story of forty years ago has given rise to such a dazzling new companion.

I said above that “the original story is still here,” and so it is, but I also point out that it is a story of forty years ago. “Oh, sir, things change,” says one of the characters in “Born with the Dead” at the end of the third chapter; and indeed they do. Time marches along and even the most visionary of science fiction gets out of date. The science fiction of Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) is supreme in our field for its soaring vision of the billions of years to come, as his great novels
Last and First Men
Star Maker
demonstrate, but even he, though he could tell us all about the dizzyingly far future, got almost everything wrong at shorter range. Writing in 1930, Stapledon completely failed to foresee the rise of Adolf Hitler just three years later, and spoke of the Germany of his day as “the most pacific [of nations], a stronghold of enlightenment.” Instead he singled out Mussolini, who was already in power, as the strongest figure in Europe (“a man whose genius in action combined with his rhetoric and crudity of thought to make him a very successful dictator”). Most—not all—of Stapledon’s portrait of the world of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is equally wrongheaded—“awkward and naive,” as Gregory Benford said in his introduction to a 1988 edition of the book, and even “ludicrous,” as Brian Aldiss once observed. Stapledon’s account of the near future was so far off the mark that in a 1953 American edition of
Last and First Men
the publisher simply deleted most of the first three chapters of the sixteen-chapter book.

I did not intend “Born with the Dead” as a work of prophecy—I never seriously believed that by 1993, when the story takes place, a process would exist by which the dead could be brought back to life. I was writing a parable, a strange love story, a speculative view of a new kind of society that could arise provided one big assumption (that of the possibility of rekindling the dead) were granted, but not any sort of literal prediction. And time has left the story behind to the extent that 1993 did not see any such rebirth process as I depict. So I have made two small emendations in the original text. It takes place in 2033, now, instead of 1993, so that readers who are new to the story will not find themselves stumbling over what seems to them an annoying anachronism. And at one point a character boards a plane belonging to an airline that was long out of business by the time the 1993 of my story arrived; I have changed the airline’s name to something more contemporary. Otherwise the text is as I wrote it in 1973.

I have rarely had as much difficulty writing a story as I had with this one; but all that hard work lies decades behind me, the story is still here, and I am delighted to see it returning to print now accompanied by Damien Broderick’s extraordinary expansion and extension of my original concept.

—Robert Silverberg

BOOK: Beyond the Doors of Death
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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