The Man in the Maze in His Own Mind

by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

I was surprised by this novel, in several ways. At the beginning, I wondered how Silverberg intended to maintain a sense of narrative suspense based on the initial plot threads he offers us. We have, on the one hand, Muller in the maze and, on the other, the characters of Ned Rawlins and Charles Boardman on a ship that arrives near the planet Lemnos (on which the maze is located). It is always hard,in a way, to portray characters effectively when they are isolated: there is no dialogue to provide character insights, no interaction with other individuals that reveals the person's motivations, fears, etc. Yet Silverberg manages to get the reader "inside" Muller extremely well. Also, the relationship between Rawlins and Boardman, and the general sense of events to come, portrayed especially through Boardman and his aims, proves interesting. Somehow while reading I got the sense that, even though there was something I disliked about the main setting of the book, something not quite satisfying, the characters were interesting, events were beginning to happen of their own accord — the whole thing gained energy and momentum. I twasn't exactly "sense of wonder," but rather curiosity concerning the resolution of the basic scenario.

Why the tinge of negativity in my initial reaction? The maze, and Muller's situation, can readily be interpreted in metaphorical terms (although, for once, this might not be entirely necessary). The protagonist of this novel is an outcast: due to intervention on the part of aliens he ends up emanating an aura of all of his thoughts and feelings, which proves too poisonous for others to tolerate. The psychic revulsion he elicits in others is not the result of a particularly warped psyche, rather it is the natural condition of being human. Ironically, Muller is, from a certain perspective — as he himself says (p. 124) — more human than everyone else, because he cannot hide his humanity. But that, in itself, did not cause me any problems. Strangely enough, for me it was the physical manifestation of this isolation, the maze, that generated discomfort. As though the maze is a place inside all of us, a place chosen and entered by a few and completely ignored by a vast majority, an interior room left in the dark. We are all trapped inside our own minds (something which this novel, partially, and other stories by Silverberg, notably Dying Inside, almost make us thankful for); we are also, inescapably, alone. Yet this basic predicament is both a source of strength and weakness to humanity, something well explored in this book, and all too often treated from a single point of view.

And yet ... having said that, and despite the many strengths of this book, I thought there was something missing. Other important events notwithstanding, the book concentrates on the conversations between Rawlins and Muller, full of fascinating "classical" ideas (for instance, when Muller considers the alien's process a way of reminding him of his own mortality, a kind of hubris-induced retribution), the question of what it is like to be human, of what ends justify what means, etc. It is certainly a very enjoyable read, but the SF involved isn't overwhelmingly innovative, though well-treated.

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