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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: August 2016

 

 

‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov

 

Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: ‘The Software of Magic’

Last year, in the column for the July 2015 issue [of Asimov’s, where this column first appears – ed.], I discussed Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft, a multi-volume nineteenth-century collection of thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon charms, spells, and medicinal recipes. The book, a quaint thing indeed, provides instructions for ways to avoid sterility, for aid in childbirth, for the interpretation of dreams, for gout, for curing the bite of a poisonous spider, and many another facet of life. (The original edition is rare, but it has been reprinted in a modern paperback by Cambridge University Press, and it’s available at no cost at all at archive.org on the Internet.)

None of these spells work. At least, I assume they don’t, because nobody today uses the remedies for gout or spiderbite prescribed in Leechdoms. What the book provides is software, of a sort – the codes and formulas for making things happen – but it is software for a computer that won’t boot up . . .

 

You can read the rest of the column here, and find Robert Silverberg’s eBooks here – including Reflections and Refractions, a collection of his non-fiction columns. Please note: each column will remain on the site for one month only.