They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but you’ve got to start somewhere, and the cover is the first thing you see, if you look at a book in a bookshop. And the covers are often quite informative. So I do judge books by their covers. Especially when it comes to SF, where there are many more good books than I have time to read, and where covers can say a lot about the type of book. If the cover shows a half-naked woman + horse + sword, or spaceships in battle with beams of light, it’s generally safe to assume that it’s a traditional story with nothing particularly interesting to offer. Most of my recent purchases of SF books have either been based on the cover, or authors I already know.
The cover of “Tom O’Bedlam” is both beautiful and intriguing, and I had to look inside. The books by Robert Silverberg that I’ve read previously have been somewhat disappointing – not exactly dystopic, but rather grim – but this one seemed different.
It’s a post-disaster world, with half of America inhabitable due to radioactive dust. Civilization still exists, but society’s mood is one of dull hopelessness. Against this gloomy backdrop, people start having dreams of beautiful alien worlds – verdant, peaceful, cultured. Different people report having the same dreams, and the dreams get more and more intense. And for some reason, they’re most likely to happen, and most intense, near one man – the crazy, innocent Tom O’Bedlam. He himself has those dreams even while he is awake.
Calling this SF is a stretch, really – it is really a future fantasy, there’s barely any science there. It’s about how people react to and deal with the unknowable – mistrust, hope, mysticism, cynicism, adoration… But in the end, it’s mostly about belief. Above all, it’s a very beatiful book (the cover didn’t lie!) – beautiful descriptions of beautiful dreams and visions, vivid and detailed. In fact the whole mood of the book is beautiful – there is hope for people in a world of despair. An uplifting read, without getting mushy, and a gripping story. Left a good feeling after it for several days; best book I’ve read in several months.