Robert Silverberg began writing pulp fiction in the 1950s, but was apparently given freer rein in the mid-60s and his output from the late-60s through to the early-70s was fertile and literate. Dying Inside (1972) was among the novels he wrote during this time, and it is ostensibly the story of a lonesome telepath whose powers have begun to fade, but can be read as a metaphor for middle age, or a writer’s anxiety as he senses his talents beginning to diminish.
The author did a wonderful job of characterizing the protagonist, David Selig, a telepath.
David’s story is revealed from his own point of view and he doesn’t particularly like himself; his talent is a blessing and a curse, and even in his early forties he has still not come to grips with his ability to read minds. His talent is a wonderful — though wasted — gift, but it is also an obstacle to forming connections with others: he feels like a voyeur, and his ability to know how others truly perceive him can be disheartening. As his ability begins to fade, he wonders what life will be like if and when the talent leaves him completely.
While reading the novel I wondered how much of David Selig was actually Robert Silverberg, who was the same age as Selig when he wrote the book (Mr. Silverberg also shares a Jewish heritage, a predilection for writing, and a degree from Columbia with the novel’s protagonist). Silverberg’s editor/publisher, Betty Ballentine, also wondered and communicated her concern: “…while I admire the book,” she wrote to him, “I am also worried about you” (from the Preface, p. 13). Silverberg assured her that the work was pure fiction, with a sprinkling of real-life experiences for realism; but still, I wonder. Robert Silverberg was nearing the end of an extremely fertile period of writing, and soon afterward he declared himself burned-out (in 1975 he officially retired from writing, though he re-launched his career in 1980 with Lord Valentine’s Castle).
Dying Inside is a mature, literate work, but the protagonist is overly morose and the novel treads a delicate balance between cleverness and monotony. Even the happy periods in David Selig’s life are presented with foreboding, and there is no counterpoint to his sullen mood until the end, when he finally finds some comfort in life.
The novel was not what I expected and didn’t go where I would have liked; however, it was a satisfying reading experience.
(I’ve read three other Robert Silverberg novels written during the same time-frame as Dying Inside that I’d also recommend (with caveats I’ll share if anybody is curious): Downward to the Earth (1970: a science fiction version of Heart of Darkness), Son of Man (1971: trippy, experimental science fiction), and A Time of Changes (1971: socio-philosophical science fiction)).