The one thing that occurs to me about the great, classic science fiction stories is how the writers could tell such complex, thoughtful, exciting stories, and do it in fewer than 200 pages. The Man in the Maze does that to perfection.
It is a story of isolation and social alienation. I know that sounds strange; exciting and social alienation in the same description. The story is about a diplomat named Richard Muller. He is picked to go represent the human race to an Alien race, the first intelligent life humans had discovered. Something happens to him that opens a psychic ability and broadcasts his emotions, and feelings. Unfortunately humans can’t tolerate it and he becomes an outcast amongst his own people. He decides to put himself in isolation on an abandoned planet within a dangerous maze.
The maze is deadly to all who try to get through it, but Muller makes it through to the center where he can live in peace without any interaction with anyone. He sets up shop with supplies he brought as well as the local animals for sustenance. He believes he will live out the rest of his days there in his misery.
This is an extreme look at isolation and can hit a nerve with anyone. We all at one time or another feel isolated and want to be alone. It is strange how we hate the isolated feeling but contrive to be alone at the same time. This book highlights this part of the human condition beautifully.
After nine years Muller’s isolation is interrupted by earth coming a calling. Earth needs him for one more diplomatic mission. Another alien race has discovered them and is trying to enslave them, not knowing humans are thinking, feeling, people. Muller would be proof of that for these new aliens. The drama involved with the decision Muller has to make, coupled with the action of his fellow humans having to run the deadly maze to get to him, makes for a deep, yet action packed ride of a story.
Now I always have loved a good big book. I was excited when I got my last Harry Potter book and it was as monstrous as the previous one. Yet there is a stark beauty to a story with just a few named characters, a relatively simple premise, and galaxy spanning implications, told in a short amount of time. Silverberg manages to pack these weighty themes into an action packed tale with no feeling of rushing the pace. The Man in the Maze is a great piece of art to be enjoyed and cherished.
That’s not Silverberg to the right, just me.