The Chalice of Death is an e-book reissue of three of acclaimed sci-fi author Robert Silverberg’s early work. Published originally as pulp fiction in the 1950s, these three novellas showcase Silverberg’s ability to quickly produce action-driven science fiction with complex characters and believable worlds.
In ‘Chalice of Death,’ Hallam Navarre, the Earth advisor to an alien monarch, is sent to find and retrieve a fabled weapon that is thought to convey immortality upon he who possesses it. In order to find this mythical weapon, Navarre must find the planet Earth from which his ancestors sprang, and which once controlled a vast interstellar empire. What he finds when he finally does find Earth is that he must make a choice; the ‘chalice’ does exist, but it’s not what he thought. Instead, it is a capability that will determine the fate of two worlds, only one of which can survive, and he must choose which that will be.
‘Starhaven’ is an artificial world controlled by criminals. Johnny Mantel is a fugitive who has travelled there to find safe haven, but upon arrival he learns that even sanctuary comes with a price. Is it, however, one that he is willing to pay?
The final story in this series is ‘Shadow on the Stars.’ Band Ewing is on a mission to Earth to save his colony from marauding aliens. Upon arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a much wider war, one that spans time as well as space.
Silverberg is a multi-genre author who got his start writing for the sci-fi pulp magazines that were widespread during the 1950s. Each of the stories in this volume was originally published, sometimes under different titles, either in one of the pulp magazines or a pulp paperback. They demonstrate his ability to turn out highly entertaining stories almost on demand, while at the same time breaking with some of the traditions of the era, such as bug-eyed aliens and never-ending space battles. His characters have depth, and their situations are much more complex than the standard story of the period.
Sci-fi fans, especially those who are old enough to remember having read some of the popular magazines and paperbacks from sci-fi’s golden age, will thoroughly enjoy this collection.
Even though Silverberg is a Nebula Award winner, these are early stories, written while he was developing his craft. I give this book four stars.