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Downward to the Earth

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  2,319 ratings  ·  189 reviews
Who knoweth the spirit of men that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? -Ecclesiastes 3:21

Okay, they did resemble elephants, it can't be denied. That led many people to underestimate the Nildoror and their obviously more fearsome commensals, the Sulidoror.

But aliens should never be judged by human standards, as the Company learned to
Paperback, #T4497, 176 pages
Published January 1971 by Roc (first published 1969)
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Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strange, powerful book.

Joseph Conrad first published his masterpiece Heart of Darkness in 1899. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant Vietnam War retelling of Conrad’s work was first released eighty years later in 1979.

Ten years before Coppola and seventy years after Conrad, Robert Silverberg published Downward to the Earth, his superlative tribute to Heart of Darkness.

Gunderson, akin to Marlowe and Coppola’s Willard, has returned to an alien planet “station” after that planet has bee
mark monday
gentle elephant things in the jungle; furry man-shaped things in the mist. our hero, former colonial station chief, returns to this strange planet much changed. the planet itself has changed: its residents no longer considered mere animals, beasts of burden to be used as humans see fit... they are people. a surprisingly liberal future-Earth now recognizes these beings as sentient, as does our hero. he returns to this place, full of regret for past actions, craving understanding and redemption, y ...more
This book is absolutely brilliant - it represents the best of late 1960s New Wave SF, and the best of Robert Silverberg, so what more do you need to know? Normally I would sit down and write a pretty gushing review of how well it is written and what aspects of the story really resonated with me. But since two of my colleagues at Fantasy Literature have already written stellar and comprehensive reviews covering all the points I would have made, I recommend you read their reviews instead:

Kat Hoope
Kat  Hooper
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Up until last week, I hadn't read Robert Silverberg's brilliant sci-fi novel "Downward to the Earth" in almost 27 years, but one scene remained as fresh in my memory as on my initial perusal: the one in which the book's protagonist, Edmund Gundersen, comes across a man and a woman lying on the floor of a deserted Company station on a distant world, their still-living bodies covered in alien fluid that is being dripped upon them by a basket-shaped organism, whilst they themselves act as gestating ...more
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, sf-masterworks
This edition came with a really interesting introduction by the author himself in which he explains how he thought this was not very good when it was first published and, at first, taken aback by how well it was received. He even withdrew it after it was nominated for a Nebula award to make way for, what he thought was the better book, Tower of Glass. I have to say that I think this is one of his better efforts and certainly better than "Tower of Glass".

Silverberg also tells us how it was inspir
Love of Hopeless Causes
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anybody
Recommended to Love of Hopeless Causes by: free box!
We are not separate from our environments, a point so often lost in the American personal-responsibility-self-help-bootstrap cultural cry for help. A powerful emotional experience in a setting that feels truly alien. Beware you who stare at the alien, the alien stares at you.

Ever think you pulled a turd from the free box, then you dust it off and find a gem? This slow boiler nearly got abandoned. Stick with it, you'll be glad you did.
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May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ah man, part of me really wants to give this 5 stars...i love Silverberg, he is unbelievably great. This was a beautifully conceived world, felt real, weirdly baroque, beautiful and horrible, and the ideas of redemption, pilgrimage and how we treat our fellow creatures totally gave this levels, a touch of the mystical and a bunch of stuff about human limits, arrogance, and general suckiness, but y'know how we can overcome that... ...more
Bryn Hammond
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: imagined-fiction
Elephant-people, misunderstood as beasts by the human empire; homages to colonialist fiction – Kipling & Conrad; an ex-oppressor’s journey out of darkness, into a slightly psychedelic light and the breakdown of species-barriers or perhaps the notion of species. Silverberg has an ear for music in his conjunction of words. Exactly why I read SF.
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Stephen Curran
First off: can there be any other book covers as ugly as those in the reissued SF Masterworks series? The highlighter-pen pallet, the literal depictions of scenes from the novels, all so very clumsily composed. Truly horrible. But anyway.

For a book that draws from such a wealth of literary influences, Downward to the Earth is a remarkably unique work. It's rough template is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, so we follow its protagonist on a voyage through a foreign land that has suffered durin
Megan Baxter
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Elephants are interesting creatures. They're intelligent, inventive, and so, so much bigger than we are. I guess I'm not totally surprised that when science fiction writers go looking for ways to conceptualize alien species, they might come up with something that is remarkably elephant-like. I'm just surprised that I can point to several different examples of elephant-like aliens. Maybe my SF/F book club will do a theme on that at some point.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to
This 1970 Robert Silverberg minor classic tells the story of a former colonial administrator returning to the now relinquished Holman's World. Now known as Belzagor, the predominantly jungle planet is governed by two intelligent native peoples: the elephantoid nildoror, and the bi-pedal sulidoror. In some ways, the prose reads like a precursor to China Mieville's Perido Street Station, with its nightmarish flora and fauna and sparse human inhabitants. But the real story is Gundersen's quest for ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interlibrary loan courtesy of Timberland Regional Library, Tumwater, WA

A very interesting book. Clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it puts the spiritual journey in an extraterrestrial light.

Silverberg's creation of another world and culture is excellent and makes you want to be a tourist (if only not like the tourists in the book). The epiphany that Gundersen has is only exceeded by the one the reader has, as if they have been travelling north with him.

Also, an excellent take
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Very nice. Much of it, in fact, is magical. So there is science fiction that I can like and admire! My hate-hate relationship with SF has ended.
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Strange tale of the human subjugation of an alien planet and one man's journey to redeem his soul, told with Silverberg's incomparable mastery for creating rich, imaginative other worlds. ...more
Matthew Lloyd
Things the book did that I liked:
There are some interesting ideas about how life works on other planets. The alien life was, in general, suitably alien. The resemblance of the Nildoror to elephants was perhaps a bit weak, but the plants, insects, fungi, and other presumably non-intelligent life were suitably alien in a way which is actually quite rare in SF - the only better example which immediately springs to mind from my "read" list is Embassytown.
Pretty much everything which we find out abou
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whoa, whoa.

At it's core, Downward to Earth is an interpretation and modern adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. There is much of the original still intact. There is much that is changed, and greatly expanded upon.

As in Ender's Game, I took issue with the conclusion's strangely religious tone... but I wasn't offended by it's slyness, as I was in Ender's Game. Sure, there's some strange missionary doctrine here, and the enlightenment of an unlikely protagonist - but the message, the spiritual
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
You really can't go wrong with Robert Silverberg. Look at Book of Skulls or Dying Inside; these are terrific stories with excellent character analysis at their cores.

I was in a minor reading slump, not feeling all that excited about recent books, when I saw a Reddit thread about stories with alien encounters with a horror bent to them and someone had mentioned this one with a few other posters enthusiastically backing him. So I immediately added it to my to-read list and began it as soon as I wa
Mark Strumke
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-again
This is an old sci-fi book by Robert Silverberg written in the 70’s. What I really about this book (and books of it’s period) is that Silverberg was able to write a short (200 pages or so) book that managed to tell a very engaging story in one self contained novel. It seems that nowadays you can’t find a sci-fi or fantasy book that’s less than 400 pages long or is not one book of a trilogy (or more). While I do like to read a well done series of books, I’m more impressed by writers like Silverbe ...more
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent SF rendition of "Heart of Darkness". I've read two of the other SF renditions of it, those being Stations of the Tide, and The Drowned World. This was definitely the better of the three. The world building was outstanding, especially considering how short the novel is. The world was totally believable, so we'll done it hardly seemed like it was a fictional planet. ...more
Reliving old sins
curiosity, remorse
it's all about you.
At some point in the last year it occurred to me that I'd not read any SF in close to five years... At school I'd always taken pride in defending the SF genre against sniffy English teachers that would have preferred me to be reading Jane Bloody Austen instead of something a 14 year old boy might actually enjoy. Even then though I did realise that a lot of the SF I read was lacking in some regards. The prose could be stiff... the characters had a tendency to the cardboard*... the resolutions to ...more
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Years ago, Edmund Gunderson worked for the Company on Holman’s World, a lush jungle planet with two sentient native species: the nildoror, large elephantine herbivores, and the sulidoror, a race of hairy simian-like creatures with powerful claws. Neither had the means to make or use technological devices or buildings, and so most of the Company employees considered them little more than talking animals, using them as beasts of burden for manual labor. Times, and opinions, change. After nearly a ...more
Alex Sarll
Postcolonialism and science fiction were always going to be a natural pairing, given two of the genre's basic stories are the aliens coming here, and us going there. And so it has proved, but this is one of the earlier examples, nearly half a century old now yet feeling much less dated than you might expect. The story follows Gundersen, a former colonial administrator on a planet now relinquished to its native inhabitants - an elephant-like race, and a simian species, whose relationship the huma ...more
Tom Britz
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Silverberg is a master at bringing alien worlds to life. This novel is no exception. The planet Belzagor is an ex colonialized planet, similar to what Africa and India had under England. Eight years after Earth has given control back to the nildoror, a species very much like elephants, an ex-colonial agent, Edmund Gunderson, goes back in order to expunge some deep feelings of remorse about some of the things he had done.

He learns more about the nildoror, on his quest, than he ever knew ab
Charles Dee Mitchell
Oct 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mid-century-sf
In his introduction to the edition I read, Silverberg says that as he wrote this book he worried that it was nothing more than a failed Conrad imitation. Conrad and Kipling are inspirations here, and he conceived the novel while in Africa in the late sixties, a time when almost all the old colonial holdings had gained liberation. His creation of a planet after "relinquishment" is convincing and entertaining. His sentient alien creatures, who remind earthlings of elephants, are sympathetic and fa ...more
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had read Downward to the Earth in the early 1970s when it came out from the Science Fiction Book Club, but I remembered very little. Actually, I don't think I was ready then to understand it because I hadn't read The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, nor had I much understanding of colonial rule around the world. Being 63 has given me the background to really appreciate this novel.

Silverberg works very hard to give the reader a sense of alien culture and succeeds to a wonderful degree. If yo
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the fourth of Robert Silverberg's novels that I have read to date, all of which were published from 1969 to 1972. He is becoming a favorite author. I've read reviews of Downward to the Earth comparing it to Heart of Darkness. I see that to a certain extent, though I like Silverberg's writing better than Joseph Conrad's. I can also imagine its similarities to an unwritten sequel to Ursula K Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest. It is certainly similar to Silverberg's own The Book of Sku ...more
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mild spoiler that doesn't affect the plot or story much:

There's a scene in this book that is pretty much exactly the same as in the movie Aliens. The protagonist in the novel, Gunderson, finds two people who have alien hosts in their chests and the one person wakes up and says "Kill me." There's no Ripley or Newt in this book though so it's 100% a coincidence.
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Robert Silverberg is one of science fiction’s most beloved writers, and the author of such contemporary classics as Dying Inside, Downward to the Earth and Lord Valentine’s Castle, as well as At Winter’s End, also available in a Bison Books edition. He is a past president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the winner of f

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