The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party

There are many benefits to writing short stories. Writers do it to practice and develop their style of storytelling, and it also allows them to explore singular ideas, concepts and themes. The narratives are easy to control, the outcomes have less room for error, and you can get your story out quickly.

Readers benefit for the same reasons. They’re quick reads with a specific sci-fi message. They are the Tiktok of literature and the best way to experience them is via a short story collection or anthology. These give the reader a chance to explore an author and get to know their style before they invest time in reading one of their novels.

Robert Silverberg is one of these writers who has taken good advantage of the short story format, using it to explore ideas, world-building and the characters which inhabit them. These shorts helped him construct marvellous and unique works of long-form fiction.

His Majipoor series, which has captivated readers for decades, providing a unique blend of science and fantasy that few other authors have been able to match, creates a world that is vast and intricate, with characters who are as memorable as they are complex.

The first instalment in the Majipoor series was Lord Valentine’s Castle, released back in 1980. This book introduces us to Valentine himself – an exiled prince from another planet – who must fight against all odds to reclaim his rightful throne on Majipoor. With its detailed descriptions of alien worlds and cultures, this novel quickly became an instant classic among fans of sci-fi literature everywhere.

Before exploring Majipoor or many of his other works, I do recommend picking up one of Silverberg’s collections. The one that introduced me to his style and perspective of the universe was a collection of sixteen stories published in 1984. Cosmopolitan, exotic and atmospheric this collection is the perfect bridgehead to the worlds of Robert Silverberg.

The Collection

Silverberg has an obsession with the problems of love and time travel, investigating it in many of his stories. Here is a list of the sixteen and a brief synopsis of each. They are all pretty polished and worth the visit.

The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve.

The consequences of time tourism.

The Pope of the Chimps

If primates possessed a sophisticated language, how long before they develop a primitive religion?

The Changeling

Switch between alternative universes.

Have you ever felt like you don’t know how your life got to be how it is? Like it must have been someone else who got your job, married your wife? That you’re supposed to be living a very different life? By some unexplained occurrence at the ruins of Teotihuacan in Mexico, a man suddenly finds himself (apparently) in an alternate Earth, where he’s a market researcher, not an art gallery owner, where he’s married instead of single. Of course, he finds it hard to get anyone to believe him…

The Man Who Floated in Time

A unique form of time travel, being able to “spontaneously unhitch one’s self from the bonds of the continuum and drift back along the timeline”.

The Palace at Midnight

Politics, paganism and witches in an alternate vision of the United States of America.

A Thousand Paces along the Via Dolorosa.

Exploring religion and mushrooms, the connection psychedelics had to early Christianity,

At The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party

This is an early Eighties revisitation to the idea in Caliban: future humans are able to change their bodily appearance as the fancy takes them. In this case, the procedure is only available to a privileged class of the super-rich, while the standard underclass is left to their natural forms. The conglomeroid class prefer wildly imaginative shapes: geometric constructs, incongruous mixtures of different animal characteristics. The only constraint is that the body must house a human brain. Worldwide transportation is quick and easy to the overclass, and the favored style of housing seems to be egg-shaped and off the ground.


Our Lady of the Sauropods

A scientist is stranded in a research habitat with dinosaurs. This short deals with dino tourism and whether these reptiles were ever sentient.


An 18th-century composer, time-slipped into near-future Los Angeles, decides to join a pop band. It demonstrates what could happen if we reached back in time and grabbed a genius from a past century. How would we go about doing it without changing the past and how would this genius adjust to modern-day life?

The Trouble with Sempoanga

When Helmet Schweid decided to go to Sempoanga for his holiday he risk being infected with the dismal parasite its humanoid natives harboured. Quarantine lasts forever.

How They Pass the Time in Pelpel

Neither SF nor fantasy, it simply is a story about a strange event in a Mexican village.

Waiting for the Earthquake

A once-in-a-thousand-year earthquake will devastate a planet. Most of the Earth colonists have left, but one remains with the strange creatures who inhabit the planet.

Not Our Brother

A horror story that takes place during the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations.

The Regulars

A story set in a bar that is the platonic ideal of bars with a changing cast of regulars.

Jennifer’s Lover

A husband’s marital status is turned upside down when he discovers he has a romantic rival from the future.

Needle in a Timestack. 

What might happen if the ex-husband of your wife attempted to change the past so that he and she would never have separated?

At a science-fiction convention many years ago I heard a friend of mine say to an annoying young man who was trying to interrupt our conversation, “Go away, kid, or I’ll change your future.” Whereupon I said, without thinking much about it, “No, tell him that you’ll change his PAST,” and suddenly I realized that I had handed myself a very nice story idea.

I wrote it in January, 1982 – its intricate time-travel plot unfolded for me with marvelous clarity as I worked – and sent it off to PLAYBOY, which was publishing a lot of my science fiction back then. It ran in the July, 1983 issue, and a few years later Miramax bought it for filming, but I’m still waiting for them to make the movie. I do love writing time-travel stories, though, and this is a particular favourite of mine among all of that sort that I’ve done.

Robert Silverberg
Needle in a Timestack, Robert Silverberg

To conclude, this is a good collection, and anybody who wants a gateway into Robert Silverberg’s world of science fiction will find this a fascinating journey.

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