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Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg
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Downward to the Earth (original 1969; edition 1971)

by Robert Silverberg, Gene Szafran (Illustrator)

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4181425,386 (3.63)13
Member:Snowstorm14
Title:Downward to the Earth
Authors:Robert Silverberg
Other authors:Gene Szafran (Illustrator)
Info:Signet (New American Library) (1971), Edition: 1st, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:science fiction

Work details

Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg (1969)

  1. 00
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Silverberg was inspired by Conrad's story to write Downward to Earth and makes some interesting comments on the themes that Conrad explores.
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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I can't say that I didn't enjoy this book because I did, it was the ending that let it down for me. The main character feels like he has turned into a messiah!
Maybe he has but it felt so contrived that I was a little uncomfortable with it.

Overall the storyline was interesting with some nice plot twists along the way as we discover all about this world and it's creatures. I even bought into the fact that one of the intelligent species resembled elephants on our planet. I mean, who's to say what does exist out there on other worlds.
The author built a believable world in almost every respect apart from the final scene. ( )
  sundowneruk | Feb 2, 2016 |
You would think that religious themes in science fiction could not mix together. However, there is a long history of science fiction (and fantasy) writers that have included religious themes in their work. Gene Wolfe did with his Solar Cycle Series (Book of The New Sun, Long Sun, & Short Sun), Orson Scott Card did it with his Ender and Alvin Maker series, Octavia Butler did it with her Parable Series and there are numerous other SF authors who have incorporated religious themes into their works as well.

Well I found out over the last year that Robert Silverberg, one of the Genre’s Grandmasters, wrote several religiously themed science fiction novels during his most prolific period of 1967-1976. I have previously reviewed two of those novels: A Time for Changes and Tower of Glass. I enjoyed both of those books and decided to read Downward To The Earth for my latest review. It’s considered one of his finest works and more overtly religious than those aforementioned novels.

Downward To The Earth is the story of Edmund Gundersen, a former colonial governor of Holman’s World, who has returned to that land after a prolonged absence. He is seeking atonement for his treatment of the native races, the Nildoror and Sulidoror, during his time as the colonial governor. The Nildoror and Sulidoror are elephant-type anthropomorphic beings that live on Holman’s World. Gundersen decides to journey in order to seek atonement for his sins against the Nildoror and Sulidoror.

Silverberg tells a powerful story of Gundersen’s journey into the heart of Holman’s World. He provides direct allusions to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ. He deals with the concept of sin and atonement in a surprisingly honest fashion. However, I still believed that he fell a little short in regards from a Christian worldview perspective in dealing with the consequences of sin and repentance.

Downward To The Earth does a respectable job in trying to intertwine religious concepts into a secular science fiction novel written in the late 1960’s. Silverberg wrote a thought-provoking novel and would be recommended for science fiction enthusiasts who are looking for something outside of normal conventions of the genre. ( )
  Kammbia1 | Jan 31, 2016 |
the planet and the aliens are truly different than the human explorers - every character and culture is well-developed - one of the few Silverberg I liked ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

After being back on Earth for eight years, Edmund Gunderson returns to the formerly colonized planet Belzagor where he used to be one of the human rulers of the two intelligent species who live there — the nildoror, who look much like elephants, and the sulidoror, who look like apes. While Gunderson was on Belzagor, he considered these species to be soulless and stupid, but now that the humans have given up their control of the planet, he realizes that he sinned against the nildoror, and he wants to cleanse his conscience by undergoing their ritual of rebirth.

When Gunderson arrives, he finds that the planet is gradually reverting back to the wild (the nildoror don’t have opposable thumbs, after all) and he marvels that the nildoror and the sulidoror are now working and living together — a practice which they did not keep when the humans ruled the planet. After he gets the nildoror’s permission to travel freely, he sets out across the planet and travels to the place of rebirth. Along the way, he encounters the beauty and the terror of that wild planet, learns more about the species that inhabit it, and begins to fully realize the evil he committed there.

If this sounds a little familiar, that’s because Robert Silverberg’s Downward to the Earth (1970) is his tribute to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), which explored the Belgians’ cruel colonization of the Congo. Silverberg makes his homage transparent by naming one of his characters after Conrad’s Kurtz. Like Heart of Darkness, Downward to the Earth was first serialized and later published as a novel. Also, like Heart of Darkness, Silverberg’s descriptions of the coexisting beauty and horror of Belzagor are the best parts of the book.

The title Downward to the Earth, comes from Ecclesiastes 3:21 (“Who knows that the spirit of man ascends upward and the spirit of the beast descends downward to the earth?”). Not only does Silverberg consider the question of what happens to the souls of humans and beasts, but he also asks how we should distinguish a human from a beast. Are some “beasts” more human than we are?

Downward to the Earth could be considered as Christian allegory because it beautifully illustrates the pain of guilt and loneliness, the desire for redemption, the relief of forgiveness and liberation, and the pleasure of unity with like-minded souls. There is much Christian symbolism, too, including a serpent who offers a drug which promises the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Silverberg portrays the drinking of the serpent’s drug as a great sin, but the commission of this sin leads to the understanding of the need to be reborn (“through the law comes the knowledge of sin” ~Romans 3:20). The allegory eventually breaks down (as allegories usually do) when we see how the redemption is accomplished, but I enjoyed this thought-provoking aspect of the novel.

Blackstone Audio produced the version I listened to which was read by the magnificent Bronson Pinchot, one of my favorite readers. Downward to the Earth is a beautiful story and the audiobook is a great way to read it. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
A self-described homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Silverberg’s Gundersen has returned to the planet he once helped colonize. The planet is now controlled by the native species, and Gunderson wants to participate in the ritual of “rebirth,” as a way of making amends for his previous misdeeds while on the planet. I read this novel over twenty years ago, but I still think back on it as one of my favorite science-fiction novels. It’s nice to see in back in print, with a new preface by the author. ( )
  hayduke | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Silverbergprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maronski, TomaszCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szafran, GeneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Ecclesiastes iii,21
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He had come back to Holman's World after all.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0575075236, Paperback)

One man must make a journey across a once colonised alien planet. Abandoned by man when it was discovered that the species there were actually sentient, the planet is now a place of mystery. A mystery that obsesses the lone traveller Gundersen and takes him on a long trek to attempt to share the religious rebirthing of the aliens. A journey that offers redemption from guilt and sin. This is one of Silverbergs most intense novels and draws heavily on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It puts the reader at the heart of the experience and forces them to ask what they would do in the circumstances.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:11 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A lone man must make a journey across a once-colonized alien planet abandoned by mankind when it was discovered that the species there were actually sentient. Gundersen returns to Holman's World seeking atonement for his harsh years as colonial governor. But now this lush, exotic planet of mystery is called by its ancient name of Belzagor, and it belongs once again to its native alien races, the nildoror and the sulidoror. Drawn by its spell, Gundersen begins a harrowing pilgrimage to its mist-shrouded north to witness a strange ritual rebirth that will alter him forever. This is one of Silverberg's most intense novels and draws heavily on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It puts listeners at the heart of the experience and forces them to ask what they would do in the same circumstances.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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