An amusing note about Robert Silverberg’s The Alien Years

Back in December I read Robert Silverberg’s novella, “Beauty in the Night” and absolutely adored it. The novella was first published in the September 1997 issue of Science Fiction Age, and I may have read it then, too, but it seemed new to me when I read it in December. I knew it was part of Silverberg’s novel The Alien Years, which I’d never read but suddenly wanted to. Alas, the book was not available in e-book format, so I put it off for a while. Eventually, the desire to read it was too great and I ordered a paper copy which arrived last week.

I started reading the book over the weekend and made an amusing discovery. The first part of the novel takes place mostly in the skies above the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. Specifically, important scenes take place in Porter Ranch. And the main character of that part is a pilot who is flying airplanes out of Van Nuys airport. Why is this amusing?

Well, I lived for many years in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. In fact, for several of those years I lived in Porter Ranch and indeed, I worked at a local pharmacy not far from some of the events in the novel. Then, too, in late 1999, I started working on getting my private pilot’s license, which I eventually obtained in April 2000. And where did I fly out of? Van Nuys airport, just like Silverberg’s protagonist.

Naturally, this has made the book even more fun for me than I expected, especially since Silverberg seems to have taken great care to get the details of the San Fernando Valley just right. In one scene, he describes the pilot flying out toward Santa Susanna Pass, looking at all the houses below with the little blue swimming pools–a scenes so familiar to me back when I was flying that all I needed from Silverberg were those rough phrases and I found myself in the cockpit of a Cessna 172 heading northwest over Chatsworth with the plane jostling around in light turbulence as I came over the foothills of the pass. It was really very cool to see it in print and to see what a good job Silverberg did on those scenes.


  1. Not really having traveled in that area of Southern California, I never noticed one way or another if the details were right. They felt right, but you have more first hand experience, especially your aviation experience, to tell.

    1. It was a case of pure nostalgia. Except, of course, for the part about the Entities in the Walmart parking lot. That part didn’t really happen. At least, I’m not allowed to talk about it. 😉

  2. This is the one novel by Silverberg after 1976 that I really love – much for the same reason you do – I lived in Northridge at the time and loved the SF Valley stuff – but also loved his tribute to Heinlein in Anson McDonald and it was such a good read!

  3. I met Silverberg back in the late ’70s when he did a book reading at a Berkeley bookstore. Fascinating author, with great powers of observation who tracks with the reader.

    1. Bill, I’m jealous! I’ve swapped a few emails with him, but I am looking forward to finally meeting him in person at Worldcon in Chicago late this summer.


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