Home > Recommendations > _Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

_Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

Shadrach In The Furnace is a 1976 science-fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 1977 and the 1976 Nebula Award.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Robert Silverberg was one of my favorite authors, at the time that I read this–about 1983.  He had an immense body of work that I was tearing through, much of which I still value.  Among those, Shadrach is one of the few I’ve been back to in the past twenty-five years.  The obvious question of whether the work holds up is nullified by the fact that I seem to have been too young to grasp what the book was about, the first time through, and may as well have been reading it for the first time now.

Oddly enough, this reread suffered from what Jina Chan brilliantly called Skynet Syndrome: I was reading the book during its supposed “far future” timeframe.  In other words, during November 2012 when I was reading it, I was reading words written sometime in 1975 about November of 2012.

Shadrach Mordecai is the personal physician to Genghis II Mao IV Khan, the ruler of the world.  He is implanted with subdermal activators that allow him to perceive Genghis Mao’s health at any time and from a distance.  And he is the overall head of the three projects that are in place to make sure that Genghis Mao, already old, lives long enough to complete the work of his Permanent Revolution.  That is to say, these projects are intended to assure that Genghis Mao lives forever.

Why should you read it?

As a child, I thought this book was about the relationship of a man and his physician, when that physician is a very tight part of the health care feedback cycle.  I completely missed the story of Genghis Mao’s loss of his own humanity, of the horror of his acceptance–championship!–of the three immortality projects, and of Shadrach’s walk about the world while he contemplates his place in Genghis Mao’s plans.

Virtually nothing happens in this book–Genghis Mao has a kidney transplant, the immortality projects are introduced, Shadrach goes walkabout, and then returns home to resume his duties as physician.  But the story isn’t about what happens.  Several times, Shadrach and various friends or lovers go to several different styles of temple, to meditate, work, or have drug experiences.  The book is actually _about_ Shadrach’s states during these meditations, as much as it is about his peregrinations.

Overall, I would call the book dated, but far from obsolete–it still addresses ideas in ways that have either never been done better or have never been done before or since at all.

Where to find Shadrach in The Furnace

Unfortunately, the book is not available freely.  It is trivially but not inexpensively available for the Kindle, and well-stocked libraries still have it.  I have not seen a copy available in used book stores in several years.

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