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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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3541130,811 (3.59)8
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

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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 9 (next | show all)
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 |
Read a long time ago. I remember a dream like quality, as the former governor goes up country and learns about the people and planet he governed. ( )
  Traveller1 | Mar 30, 2013 |
Fantasy and Science Fiction are often kept in two separate sections of the bookstore. Silverberg marries the two masterfully in Downward to the Earth.

This book is essentially the sequel to Avatar. No, it's not set in the same world, but the themes remain. In fact, I'd be surprised to find out that the script writers of Avatar had not drawn inspiration from this book.

In Downward to the Earth, the humans recognized the error of mining a world with sentient creatures on it so they gave back ownership of the planet. Now, a few years later, a former player during the mining days returns for some unfinished business. The contrast between the science fiction of space travel and the fantastic elements of native creature's religion make a compelling story.

This is more than just another museum-piece science fiction novel. It's a story about spiritual discovery with a few unseen twists along the way. ( )
  StephenBarkley | May 29, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Silverbergprimary authorall 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
Dedication
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He had come back to Holman's World after all.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:54 -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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