Across a Billion Years depicts an advanced alien civilization.

Every science fiction fan must be familiar with Robert Silverberg. The man has written more than 300 books, most of them SF. He won the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFFWA) in 2003—a rare honor that goes only to the best in the business. If you read a lot of science fiction, you’ll probably recognize practically every name on the list of winners.

Silverberg’s 1969 novel, Across a Billion Years, is not regarded as one of his most ambitious efforts. But it’s a great introduction to the rare talent the man displays in all his work. His facility with the English language is remarkable. His ability to convey a new worldview through invented vocabulary is beyond impressive. And the sheer creativity of the futuristic vision he lays out in the novel is dazzling. Few other writers in the genre have succeeded in creating a uniquely advanced alien civilization that is as utterly alien. Read this novel, and you’re unlikely ever to forget the picture he paints of the civilization of the High Ones.

Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg (1969) 234 pages ★★★★★ 

Welcome to an advanced alien civilization that is brilliantly conceived

The suspense builds slowly in Across a Billion Years. At first, the narrator speaks about his ten shipmates on the starship bearing them to the distant planet Higby V. They’re a multispecies archaeological team on their way to dig into a site abandoned one billion years ago by the High Ones, an alien civilization that appears to have persisted with little or no change for hundreds of millions of years but have long since died out. The nonhuman members of the team are a motley crew that might have come out of a Star Wars bar scene (if the film had been released ten years earlier). The relationships among them, and the dialogue, are unremarkable, but reading on leads to a terrific payoff when the team finally solves the puzzle they encounter on Higby V.

For further reading

Recently, I also reviewed Hawksbill Station by Robert Silverberg—A science fiction Grand Master gets it wrong about the future. I enjoyed the book less.

I’ve also reviewed another classic SF novel set a billion years in the future: The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke—Far-future fantasy from Arthur C. Clarke.

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