The Man in the Maze

Robert Silverberg
The Man in the Maze Cover

His Magnum Opus


I'm extremenly happy to see The Man in the Maze (finally) added to the WWEnd database. It is probably my all-time favorite SF novel, and most certainly my favorite Silverberg. Many would argue that Thorns actually started off the decade in which Silverberg wrote his major masterpieces, but I see The Man in the Maze truly as his first magnus opus. The plotting is tight and moral message that typifies the polished brightness of Silverberg's best work combine Damon Knight's 'sense of wonder' of traditional SF with the literary qualities of the new age. It has one of the best last sentences I've read in any novel, showing brilliant command of character that bravely embraces the unsympathetic hero: "He held the girl tightly. But he left before dawn."

This is the story of Dick Muller, who lives alone on the planet Lemnos, in an old maze city abandoned millions of years before by an alien race. He is an exile by choice as Muller's first historic contact with the Hydrans ended in huge disaster when their alterations to his body changed him into a pariah, for all the dark aspects of his soul can be sensed by other people. No one can stand to be near him as his consciousness continually projects the equivalent of a foul stench. He learns to survive the myriads of dangers that still haunts the city. When Earth needs help to establish communication with a civilization of giant organisms that are expanding their colonies into Terran territories, Ned Rawlins is send into the maze to lure Muller out to take on the challenge of opening a dialogue with the alien menace. Rawlins will have to negotiate the numerous traps, endure the utter vileness of Muller's projections and trick the exile into leaving the maze. Because of his telepathic ability, Muller is the only man that can communicate with the aliens, who, as we learn from Rawlings, have already destroyed six human worlds, believing that humans are not rational beings (they turn captured humans into zombie slaves!).

Throughout the narrative Silverberg displays a mature understanding of human motivation. He conquers difficult themes such as power, guilt, alienation and redemption. The inspiration for the story comes from the ancient play "Philoctetes," by Sophocles, but rest assured, the novel is not a mere hodgepodge on it. This is a magnificent novel in its own right, near-perfect in my humble estimation, but a word of caution: there is more than obvious sexism and objectification of woman that was so typical of these earlier SF narratives, which many may find a dampening influence on the reading experience. I hope most can see beyond that and recognise this novel as an excellent scrutiny of morality, posing crucial questions on what morality means to each of us. And we may well agree with Silverberg's conclusion, that the struggle is irreconcilable between what is right for the individual versus what is the right for the group.