The novel “Tower of Glass”, also known as “The Tower of Glass”, by Robert Silverberg was published for the first in 1970 serialized in the magazine “Galaxy Science Fiction” and later as a book.
Simeon Krug made his fortune by creating androids, beings considered non-human even if they’re grown based on human DNA. The consequence is that they’re considered to be properties such as machines and sold to do jobs of any kind. At the beginning of the 23rd century, this made him one of the richest men in the world.
When a signal from the depths of space is received that is recognized as being of artificial origin, Simeon Krug wants to decipher it and respond at all costs. Because of the distance, he must build a device capable of emitting a tachyon beam, which is faster than light. The enormous energies needed require the construction of a 1,500-meter-high tower.
Robert Silverberg wrote “Tower of Glass” during a period when he published his most sophisticated novels. In this case, at the center of the plot is Simeon Krug’s obsession with an alien signal. It’s a central theme in several science fiction stories that is used by the author to develop other themes related to it more or less directly.
The workers who are building Simeon Krug’s gigantic tower are androids coordinated by one of them, Thor Watchman, a special assistant to the billionaire. He’s an Alpha, part of the main caste of androids, which can also be Betas and Gammas, echoes of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.
In a novel that is short by today’s standards, Robert Silverberg manages to develop a story with various ramifications concerning mainly the android society. There are different factions with different ideas and different yearnings. A faction led by Thor Watchman believes that Simeon Krug is literally a god and sees androids like the early Christians. Another faction sees androids like the Africans kidnapped by white people and sold as slaves. The novel was written at a time when civil rights were a hot topic, so the author’s choice is important.
The intertwining of the social and religious ramifications generates a series of consequences also showing the nuances of the important characters’ different positions. Even among humans, ideas regarding androids are very different, starting with those of Simeon Krug, who sees them only as biological machines, and those of his son Manuel, who is married but has an android mistress he loves more than his wife.
This is a novel that includes many themes, with technologies used by Robert Silverberg to tell their consequences on society that could be analyzed one by one. In some cases, these are elements that could be at the center of a novel such as the technology that allows two people to share their minds, which in “Tower of Glass” is minor and functional to the plot.
Around the erection – a term used not accidentally… – of the gigantic tower, intertwinings are developed that today would probably lead to the writing of at least a trilogy ten times longer than “Tower of Glass”. Robert Silverberg can skillfully develop the various elements of a plot that offers a lot of food for thought in a limited length. These are the reasons why it’s considered among this author’s masterpieces and in my opinion, it remains a must-read novel.