EP153: Schwartz Between the Galaxies

By Robert Silverberg.
Read by Stephen Eley.

This much is reality: Schwartz sits comfortably cocooned — passive, suspended — in a first-class passenger rack aboard a Japan Air Lines rocket, nine kilometers above the Coral Sea. And this much is fantasy: the same Schwartz has passage on a shining starship gliding silkily through the interstellar depths, en route at nine times the velocity of light from Betelgeuse IX to Rigel XXI, or maybe from Andromeda to the Lesser Magellanic.

Rated R. Contains some sex, some drug use. It’s a Silverberg story.

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Comments (49)

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  1. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Honest to gawd, if I wanted to hear some dweeb whine for an hour about how anthropology is a bad career choice, I’d just head down to a Starbucks near the local University and eavesdrop on the baristas.

    The “science” in most science fiction tends to be hard science. This story shows what happens when you use social science as a springboard (and you don’t have the word “Foundation” in the story’s title) instead: nothing good. Seriously, some guy whines for an hour about a homogenized future where all cultures are pretty much the same without ever justifying (apart from the fact that his job sucks now) why this is a bad thing. Then he turns into a giant space whale for no apparent reason.

    Hated it.

  2. Yicheng says:

    Yeah, I agree with Howie on the general lameness of Anthropological whining. Aren’t Anthropologists supposed to be objective or something? I see this story as pretty much the coin-opposite of a previous EP episode, the Sundial Brigade, where human beings are effectively forced into cultural uniqueness at the cost their own development. I seem to notice that it’s inevitably white american-europeans that arrogantly talk about “preserving cultures” (whatever that means) while most of the natives or 3rd-world people you’ll talk to want cellphones, antibiotics, purified water, and indoor plumbing as much as your or I. I mean, who’s to say that the Navajo working in a casino and driving a pick-up truck is any less “authentic” than someone that’s growing corn and hunting jackrabbits with a bow and arrow?

    Aside from that, the story wasn’t half-bad, although I found the ending rather confusing and anti-climactic.

  3. nex0s says:

    As a mixed race person, I found this story to be completely offensive.

  4. 3rdWorldVistor says:

    I live in one of those third-world countries: Hawaii. I feel the need add to what was said by Yicheng. The “natives” (they just got here first) are always up in arms about some perceived offensive their culture. They all too easily forget their once perfect history isn’t so perfect: filled with violence, cruelty, and even cannibalism. They are always complaining about how the Hoale (white people) is taking their land, culture, or women from them… They never are realizing that they are now gleefully selling their history, land, labor for their Nissan Titan, Xbox 360, or sugar snacks.

    My business employees a little over a dozen labors. The work I offer is hard, but I pay well. Its difficult to retain locals, they all have attitudes, and a sense of entitlement – all leave after a few weeks because they work is too, well too much work. They rather stay home collect unemployment, and get high. I have had to hire mainlanders, willing to work hard for good pay.

    The natives want roads, running hot and cold water, big screen TVs, and monster trucks, while at the same time completing about they white man.

  5. V says:

    As the daughter of an anthropologist, I found this story offensive and ridiculously ill-informed. Clearly Silverberg never knew a modern anthropologist, although admittedly anthropology was far different in the sixties and seventies than it is now, although not as different as it was in the nineteen twenties. The idea that cultures across the world would ever be homogenous is laughable, as is the idea that anthropology is the search for “the primitive.” The “bones through the nose” comment about Papua New Guinea was also racially insensitive and possibly culturally erroneous. This story shows both its age and what the regrettable cultural narrowness of its author must have been at the time it was written.
    The only folks who view anthropology as an exercise of going out into the field in a pith helmet looking for “the primitive”, looking to “discover” people and cultures are psuedo-anthropological colonialists and uninformed, immature, ethnocentric individuals…
    As for comments from other visitors: nobody can speak for folks from the “third world” except those folks themselves. Who are you to generalize about their lives, their desires, to agglomerate them into some artificial whole? This isn’t about political correctness. This isn’t about politics, period. This is about reality.

    The story also shows its age in its sexual mores, but I don’t even need to go there.

    I like this podcast for the fresh sg it serves up, not some shopworn crap from twenty years ago. I’m not saying there isn’t good old sf, but I’m not coming here for that. Others may think differently.

  6. Chris in Austin says:

    Do we give some Poetic License to the author and ascribe the illinformed/racist views of the protagonist to Robert Silverberg himself? I found the balance between tedious and dull reality and the narrator’s mad fantasy to be quite intriguing, and his views on humanity through anthropology to go along well with the rest of the story.

  7. Void Munashii says:

    I did not have the emotional reaction to this story that it seems a lot of people had. Maybe it’s because I viewed is as an old sci-fi story in the same way I would read any other old sci-fi; with a willingness to excuse things which are already laughable, never mind whether they are beleivable another hundred years down the road or not (a JAL rocket, for example).

    I think some people may be taking this story too much to heart. The main character is clearly a bit of an ass, and as such his views can be taken as offensive. Many stories contain characters who are offensive in the beleifs or actions though, and you generally don’t condemn the whole story for it. I found Schwartz to be verging on satire, but that may just be the age of the story, and my aforementioned willingness to accept that sort of silliness in old sci-fi. There is better old sci-fi out there than this though.

    This was a pretty dull story. I wasn’t bored to the point where I was thinking of turning it off, but I was hoping for something quite different. I wanted something more space opera-y; blasters, and space battles, and such.

    I did find the concept interesting, beleivable or not, but I found Schwartz to be a bit of a whiner. While, as others have already said, I do not see humanity ever becoming one homogenous race, I do see the early effects of the blurring of cultural lines.

    People all over the world know who Mulder and Scully, or Ross and Rachel are. You can get a Big Mac all over the planet. We are becoming one culture slowly (mostly an Americanized one, unfortunatley, but one culture all the same) as we pick and choose bits of culture from other countries.

    I don’t think a real cultural homogenization will occur anytime soon, and maybe not ever completely, but it is happening.

  8. DaveNJ says:

    I pretty much had the same reaction that the others posting had. This is a long, long story about an anthropologist whining that there’s little left to be studied. Aside from the really offensive stuff (mongrel races, for instance), and the really misinformed stuff (much of the theory of anthropology in the story), it just wasn’t that good. Schwartz isn’t interesting or engaging, nor are any of the characters, and the whole space opera jammed into this story is flat-out boring. There’s not much of any redeeming merit here. Usually I can find something I like about a story, even if I don’t like it on the whole, but here there’s really nothing I enjoyed. The story’s way too long, neither universe is painted except in the broadest of strokes, and it’s downright wrong and offensive in places.

    As for the message of the story, that’s the one thing I like least of all. Does globalization lead to a degree of homogeneity? Sure. However, we all incorporate new cultures into this mix as globalization spreads, and individual places have individual tastes that relate mostly to history and tradition. I mean, Mexican food is very popular in the US, where we share a border with Mexico, Indian food is big in London due to old colonialist policies, the list goes on. However, the idea that we can all experience cultures alien to our own is a joyous thing, one of the best parts of this new age of exchange.

    What Silverberg misses is that culture isn’t static, and it can’t be forced to be static. To try to harken back to more nostalgic times is to open up a nasty can of worms. Yicheng said it best when he said that this was the polar opposite of the great story “The Sundial Brigade”, which explained in clear detail exactly why Silverberg’s misplaced theories are wrong.

  9. Scooter says:

    It may be that it wasn’t suited for audio, but the plot seems far too predictable and the characterization just fell flat. It was one of the few EP stories that left me not caring about any of the characters. The only glimmer of hope was there in the character of Dawn, but she was reduced to a characture. Her actions in the second half of the story weren’t consistent with her introduction as a one-night stand that he just met.
    I think that this actually gets my vote for worst Escape Pod ever.
    The most redeeming portion of the story may have been the final 2:30, where we were left to ponder the emptiness of space, if life truly is futile and if anyone really can hear you scream in space.

  10. Brian Deacon says:

    Wow. I guess I’m in the minority here. I really enjoyed it. There is of course the kind of inevitable time gap where any story will show its age in the way the characters are portrayed. The stewardess character was a good example of that. Not exactly feminist.

    But as to everyone getting miffed about Schwartz’s attitude towards mongrelization — I think we were intended to find it distasteful. I think we were supposed to see his attitude as a pitiful nostalgia for an imagined past. Silverberg hinted at that with Schwartz’s own attitude about his own Judaism.

    So the message I thought we were supposed to take away from this was that “progress” is indeed going to lead towards a certain kind of homogenization that isn’t without its drawbacks, but that to try to cling to the past is to give up on the wonders of the future. Schwartz is so dissatisfied with himself and the world that he withdraws into a fantasy world (and to hallucinogens even within that fantasy).

    This didn’t ring any bells with you guys about the Starbuckification of our culture? I thought on that level it had a really strong pull.

  11. nex0s says:

    Can y’all please stop referring to interracial people and cultures as “mongrels”? It’s incredibly offensive. I am NOT a “mongrel”. That is a term you use to describe DOGS.

    I am offended by this story. There are 7.4 million Americans now who are not of a single race – I myself am a mixture of Russian Jew, African, Native American (Nanticoke) and Irish. The notion that my family history is “mongrelized” is obnoxious and offensive. As offensive as this story is.

    People and cultures move across borders and mingle. It is the way of the world. While elements of a culture may become normalized in other places, there is always an exchange – and there are always pockets of isolated culture. Cultures change but they always remain diverse. While you can get a Big Mac in Mexico City, and tacos in NYC, the two cities themselves still have their own vital cultures – cultures that are enhanced by mixing, not “mongrelized” or devalued.

    At least in the criticism of this story – a little more sensitivity in terms of your language would be appreciated.

  12. kolibri says:

    I don’t mind older stories as I think they often a reminder of the evolution of not only sci-fi, but evolution of stories and storytelling too. As such I can forgive sexists characters etc, and like Brian I thought we were supposed to find Schwartz’s views laughable/offensive.

    Having said that, I didn’t like it. I thought it was confusing, boring and overly long. I didn’t care for any characters, except maybe Pittkin who I found spirited and amusing… Ending was lame and abrupt…

    Yes to old sci-fi (that Asimov story for example was hair-raisingly good) but also yes to good sci-fi.

    Sorry Steve, this one was a miss for me.

  13. Norm says:

    I do give Steve credit for offering up some vintage sci-fi. I also found the story dull, but not offensive. Predictable as well. The author should have edited this a bit. Was the woman neccessary. It seems like the alien girl/guy was the catalyst for change. If I posted this on my workshop I’d get shredded. Maybe it was easier to get published in the 7o’s.

  14. The Office Troll says:

    There were some interesting points to the way this story was written and what it may be trying to say, but I did not enjoy it. This is the only story on Escape Pod yet which I have considered skipping to the outro.

    I won’t re-hash the points which were brought up above, but I am curious why Steve brought this particular piece to the table. It does fit into some niches which aren’t filled often and gave and I appreciate that. I personally wasn’t thrilled with this specific story.

  15. Rachel says:

    I was with this story until the word “primitives” was used in relation to “cultural anthropology.” It makes me want to bang my head on the keyboard and ask what was the last 100 years of cultural anthropology study for, but to prove this very word wrong to use in relation to cultures and people. And the fact it was tied to cultures that are still in existence today makes me very, very sad. I got the lecture in Cultural anthropology 101 about how no peoples are primitive and how cultural anthropology has moved on to study industrialism and out US society.

    My cultural anthropology teacher spent a whole class period debunking this word. No people of the world are “primative” and if the character believes so in 2084, I really, really have to question how he became a creditable lecturer at all!

    As a budding cultural anthropologist major, I really, really felt sick over the use of this word to a profession that is trying so hard to debunk the idea that any civilization is more advanced than another! If humans can breed with each other and produce an off-spring, no given people are more evolved or more “primitive” to another.

    Cultural Anthro covers lots and lots of ground. The fact that the writer doesn’t know this shows they never even took a basic Cultural Anthro 101 class. Even a class in sociology in this current age would have been enough. The story is out of date by several years, then crammed in with cultural references they have no basic grasp of from an academic stand point.

    The use of primitive in the way it was used here, in the thought pattern it was used here, is from the 50-early 60’s. Historically it faded by the late 80’s. And in the 90’s was debunked entirely. Current dictionaries, courtesy of dictionary.com also discourage the usage of “Primitive” in this way.

    The lack of research really appalls me
    is the first Escape Pod I had to stop early at 16:39 because I couldn’t stand word usage…

    I would love more well-researched stories that have cultural anthro in them like Ej-es… but please no more like this.

    I’m skipping to the outro…

  16. Hannes Engelbrecht says:

    Maybe it was because I was busy doing database diagrams while listening to this story, but I was completely put off by the depressive soapbox rambling of the main character. I stopped listening to the story about 50% into it as I couldn’t reach into the computer to give the guy a few “pull yourself together” slaps.
    Which means I missed the outtro, and that’s the only regret I have.

  17. Leif Hansen says:

    Sounds like I’m one of the minority who actually enjoyed the story.

    What did I like about it? Hmmm….

    1. I too am saddened by the monoculturism I meet when abroad and I find it not too unbelievable that things could get worse. In addition, while the net is surely connecting and exposing us to many diverse people-groups at an astounding rate, I can see this process also accelerating McWorld.

    2. Like many sci-fi and fantasy enthusiasts, I long for something different, something ‘other’…for the ‘ great unknown’ I guess. And what is more unknown than what lies ‘outside the ship’, what lies beyond death?

    Personally, I think that this story is primarily about a reconciliation with death -the irresistibly attractive and yet simultaneously repulsive effect of seeing its mysterious dance.

    I’m quite surprised nobody has so far mentioned this, even with the recent bonus podcastle show with its similar theme (of the surprising beauty of death.) Is it because the other themes distracted you? Is it because I was reading my own, perhaps podcastle-influenced, themes into it? Is it because sci-fi fans have become totally dominated by a scientific reductionistic worldview that makes questions, feelings and thoughts that wander beyond mortality impossible, embarrassing or painful? Not sure.

    Death is such a great theme. The ultimate theme perhaps. It bridges sci-fi and fantasy in its total grounding in reality and its unfathomable mystery.

    Death is sci-fi’s final stargate. Death is fantasy’s final portal.

    1. I thought Steve did a great job with the audio FX, the alien voices, and with appropriate pauses. And their was plenty of passion in the reading.

    2. Any story with a diverse alien crew is a winner for me and evokes a strong desire to hitch a ride. Any Aliens reading this, please take that as an open invitation –as long as my wife and daughter agree to coming.

    What didn’t I like?

    1. Well, I think its near impossible for me to hear the name ‘Schwartz’ in any sci-fi story without thinking of the movie Spaceballs. “Use the Schwartz Luke!”

    2.Steve, as much as I like your reading, there is most often a certain intensity/strain or something in your reading of the protagonist’s voice. Not sure whats up with that…

    1. I’ll have to think about the protests in previous comments. Are they being overly sensitive, or am I just too clueless? Probably the latter.

    Anyway, I enjoyed what I did and, as always, am very grateful for Steve’s care-full work and for this show, my favorite podcast.


  18. Leif Hansen says:

    (The system screwed with my numbering above, I imagine you can figure out what goes where!)

  19. Arvedui says:

    Wow, the more I hear of Mr. Silverberg’s writing here on EP, the more I wonder how he ever managed to get to be a “Grandmaster” of SF in the first place. I don’t think I’ve particularly liked a single one of his stories so far, and I remember the ending of the novel-length version of Nightfall, which he co-wrote with Asimov, being a literary sucker-punch of the most inexcusable kind. I don’t know how much responsibility he had for that ending, but it doesn’t much help his credibility for me at this point. Hey Steve, can you please stop buying his stuff? I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks he’s been published (more than) enough already!

    Modern anthropology has already been vigorously and well defended in earlier comments, and rightly so (though I notice that nobody seems to have said that it wasn’t a fairer picture of the field back in the seventies when he wrote this–and maybe it wasn’t! but nobody’s yet said so). But nobody’s yet come to the defence of the poor economists! Nobody’s defended the Yalies yet either, but hey, Bush was a Yalie and this administration is easily the most intellectually perverse in US history, so I grudgingly admit a good call there.

    To say that economists “think in money” is to wildly miss the point of the entire enterprise. Economics isn’t about money, it’s about finding the best (most productive, most beneficial, etc.) use for scarce resources, given the simple fact that resources (materials, labour, time, suitable locations) are limited while the number of things we could possibly do with them is not. While it’s true that these things are often measured in terms of this or that currency, that’s only for lack of a better (generally meaning ‘more convenient’) unit of measurement. You can’t eat money, or breathe it or live in it or play with it or do any of the things life is really about with/to it. It’s just a score in a very particular (if rather widespread) game, and it’s only that widespreadedness that makes it so convenient as a basis for comparison, but it’s not the point of the comparison OR the game, and it’s definitely not what good economists think in.

    To be sure, there are plenty of bad economists out there, including those who have probably missed the point of the field just as badly as Mr. Schwartz did, and make a great living mathematically and philosophically justifying and perpetuating the abuses of the rich and powerful. But that’s not economics. Just wanted to make that clear.

  20. Brian Deacon says:

    Apologies for offending with my use of the word mongrel. I consider myself a mongrel (actually, I usually use the word “mutt”). I do not think of it as an insult, and did not intend it as such.

    The melting-pot future I see adds fabulous new combinations of ethnic and genetic variety, while making “pure-breds” so rare that they don’t really have any traction any more to lay claim to the mainstream.

    But at the same time, I myself can feel that weird longing for roots. I often describe myself as Irish, only because that’s where the plurality of my genes come from, but I don’t even qualify as half-Irish. But wanting a heritage that I can identify as “mine” and a set of traditions that I can honor still has a strong tug.

    Weird, though, with everyone’s response to Silverberg. I remember as I was listening that I had enjoyed all the Silverberg I’d heard here, and I’d never actually bought any of his stuff. I’m planning on trying to pick some up.

  21. Pops says:

    No action, repetition. Good narration.Thankfully Stephen Eley was the reader, he added nuance and energy so that I could wade through the whole thing to see if it got any better. He must have read it a couple of times before. The story was the usual poet/INFP with the usual question “But who AM I, really”? The answer in the 90’s revolved around “I AM my culture,” and involved more whining and whinging. This just adds earther to the mix. I will tell you who you are, a second rate poet who found a niche in Sci-fi. Pretty bad. Please no more Silverberg.

  22. Jerry says:

    I seem to find myself a minority, but not so much in the context of the racial discussion going on as in the fact that I enjoy Silverberg’s work, if at times only because it offers a look back on a different era of SF literature. This was also not so much a prophecy as a what-if based on encroaching “monoculturalism” (read: possible dominating consumerism, in my opinion) that some still see today.
    I also think that many here are confusing the narrator’s views with those of the author. Those arguing about the inaccuracies of the anthropological approaches presented would do well to remember that the title is “Schwartz Between The Galaxies” and not “All Anthropologists Everywhere Between The Galaxies.”
    It does seem to me that people have a variety of views on what constitutes action, and I’m glad EP attempts to cater to them all.

    More importantly, the story did strike an interesting chord with me, although not in the way it seems to have done with most listeners. As a child, I did pretend that airplane travel was interstellar travel amongst a fascinating array of aliens and technology, and as an adult I still daydream of this when I fly, but now I also occasionally wish that the flight to Dallas really was heading to Rigel XXI instead.

  23. Eric says:

    I think that Schwartz’s lecture jihad plays to two contradictory concerns in the “modern” western world: loss-of-individuality embodied by fictions like “The Borg” (total conformity/uniformity), and nationalistic fears that manifest in anti-immigration movements (real world fears of geopolitical/cultural/demographic shifts).

    If you can picture Charlton Heston as Schwartz (in Panavision), perhaps you would be more forgiving of any ham-fistedness.


  24. araña says:

    twas a little long for me, but

    “oh, how nice! she’s youre first alien, and youre her first jew!!”

    THAT made my day.

    the pacing was a bit off, but i din’t hate it.

  25. Whiny and preachy mid-life-crisis story. And as a member of a Swedish-Chinese family with a Finnish-Jewish mother of one of my kids, I find the whole premise silly. Anyway, there were some fine lyrical turns of speech, and I did listen through it all.

  26. Pete S says:

    Too many words, not enough payoff.

    It also felt truly dated, between the recreational drug use that we all expected would eventually happen, but so far seems not to be (instead we get it as “medicine”: I direct your attention to Steve’s ADD medicine outro… ADD medicine offers a similar, but better, high than coke), and really, if the earth ever did adopt a homogeneous culture, I don’t think it would be western.

    I think Joss Whedon got it right when he had everyone cursing in Chinese in Firefly.

    I didn’t hate this one or personally find it offensive, but it just felt like it was twice as long as it needed to be.

  27. scatterbrain says:

    It was boring, extremely dated, unrealistic, unimaginative, the poem a fourth the way through was crap(He says poetry is dead, but him reading that poem makes it seem he killed it himself) and after that I couldn’t take any more!


    I want the fifteen minutes I spent listening to this back; not from Eley(although this is bad editorialship), but from Silverberg, who some forty years ago decided to write a very long story about an anthropologist who says a few racial things.


  28. Brett says:

    I can’t say I really liked the story overall, but I certainly didn’t find it offensive. It makes me wonder if the majority of the commenters here just didn’t notice when the story was written. Yes, the words mongrel and primitive are pretty offensive now, but the thoughts he was using these words to convey were just boring, not offensive. The loss of cultural diversity is something that gets talked a lot these days, and it was interesting to see that even when the words change, people were still worrying about some of the same things over 30 years ago.

    Also, the conversation where the alien was interrogating the main character on what made him a Jew made the whole story worth it.

  29. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    scatterbrain: No, no, it’s only the second worst EP ever. The worst was that horrible Cory Doctorow “story” that’s nothing more than a one-sided conversation about the finer points of venture capital (though apparently written by someone with no understanding of VC) read by someone with the most unintelligible NZ accent ever. I actually had to look up the text of the story to figure out what “sendillreeoud” was–which is what the author kept saying. Turns out it was “Sand Hill Road.”

  30. Jennifer says:

    Hmmm… Pompous ass in space. Still is a pompous ass.

  31. Daniel Cotton says:

    To give my opinion of this story would take too long and not add a lot to the discussion. Some people would get something out of it, some would disagree. If I were to write it, a lot of people probably wouldn’t read my post all the way through.

    I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us (j/k).

  32. csrster says:

    I feel that some of the criticism Silverberg is getting here is ridiculously anachronistic. In amongst all the noise we seem to be forgetting that Silverberg actually poses two very significant (and prescient) questions – will globalisation result in a homogenisation of human culture? And if yes, would that be a bad thing?

    We don’t really know the answer to either of these questions, but the answer to the first is clearly yes in parts – for example in the loss of language diversity. As for the second, Schwartz clearly has one opinion which may or may not be the same as Silverberg’s. However it strikes me as perverse to describe Schwartz’s hatred of universal western-capitalist cultural hegemony as “racist”.

    Then there’s the SF aspect of this story. Am I the only one who felt that Silverberg was introducing a deliberate ambiguity as to which Schwartz was the real? Perhaps the homogeneous Earth was just a drug-induced nightmare of the real Schwartz as he drifts amongst the Stars.

  33. Jake Grey says:

    I only got through about half of this, I’m afraid. I’m willing to give Silverberg the benefit of the doubt and assume that we were actually supposed to dislike the protagonist, but the story was so weighed down with gloom and ennui that I hope our gracious host didn’t have any sharp objects within reach when he narrated it, and on top of all that it’s dated even worse than contemporary Asimov.

  34. Mitch says:

    I liked this one, but mildly so.

    This was a case of where the awfull, horrible, pending disaster looks pretty good to me.

    Nobody in the story, and in real life, thinks “the gold old days” are good enough to return to. Nuts, even the Amish are a vanishing group.

    The only way I can see to prevent the coming monoculture is strictly enforced racism, social classes, restrictions on travel, denying people a whole laundry list of freedoms. It just ain’t worth it.

  35. L33tminion says:

    I enjoyed this story (although it was on the lengthy side), but I usually enjoy stories with insane main characters. I agree with a lot of the posters above, Schwartz is supposed to be hypocritical and unreliable. He seems to be suffering from depression and delusions of grandeur in addition to his failing physical health.

    Like a lot of the other posters above, I enjoyed the conversation between Schwartz and the alien about Schwartz’s Judaism. I also thought that the scene with the speech where Schwartz lays out his ridiculous policy proposals was very well written.

  36. Yicheng says:

    @csrster: “However it strikes me as perverse to describe Schwartz’s hatred of universal western-capitalist cultural hegemony as “racist”.”

    That’s not why he’s a racist. In fact, if he said only that, Silverberg/Schwartz might have had an interesting point. It’s Schwartz’s view of so-called “primitive” cultures and their “mongrelization” in the face of globalism (not to mention his blatant misogyny), that both dooms Schwartz as an unlikable jerk, and make the story unbelievable that someone still holding colonialist/imperialist viewpoints could be considered a world eminent “Anthropologists”.

    The traditional colonialist view of other less-developed cultures is to alternatively treat them as 1) child-like, simple, innocent, and “pure” aboriginals who must be protected and wardened like so many endangered Gazelles from the predations, influence, and exploits of the modern world, or 2) as savage, depraved, head-hunters who want to scalp you, eat your still-beating heart, and rape your women. Depending on whether conquest or subjugation is required, either view can be conveniently swapped in. Both viewpoints demean and rob those cultures of choosing their own destiny. You need only look on the history of American Manifest Destiny to see this at work.

  37. Audita Sum says:

    As someone interested in anthropology and concerned about the effects of globalization, this story really struck a chord with me. I didn’t really feel that the writing was pompous, or patronizing, as a lot of people commenting here seemed to think it was. I thought it was realistic, socially. Western culture has been dominating everything else on Earth for the last few thousand years.

  38. Ryan Ballantyne says:

    The first book I’ve ever stopped reading halfway through was by Robert Silverberg. This story reminded me of exactly why I quit reading that book. I feel like I just wasted an hour of my life listening to this dreck.

    What is the point of this story? There is very little character development, and what little there is goes unresolved. There’s very little worldbuilding, and most of what is there is just a bizarre fantasy in the protagonist’s mind. Is the author preaching to us? What is he preaching?

    Is it hippie culture? The elements are certainly there: drug abuse, free love, psychedelic trips, longing for “cosmic harmony”, cavorting with the Capellans, etc. But it’s not really advocated so much as portrayed as the author’s natural view of the future (wasn’t the whole hippie thing mostly dead by ’76?).

    Is it preaching the protagonist’s premise? Is Silverberg concerned about the demise of cultural diversity? If so, he doesn’t sound so sure of himself. After all, he has the protagonist having a mental breakdown over doubt about the merits of his ideas.

    Or did he just have a bad trip and decide to see if he could sell it?

    Sorry, but there’s nothing here for me. I waited through the whole thing to see if it would ever get to some sort of point, but sadly, the point went missing in action.

  39. Vance M. says:

    The main character was an @ss. I listened to the entire thing at work, and I kept thinking to myself “why is this guy complaining so much, sheeesh.” International flights, hot stewardesses, new and amazing cultures, fans all over the world…and the guy b#tches n moans the entire story. I kept wanting to punch the guy.

    Great read, bad material. But Escape Pod delivers great content 99% of the time…I’ll just chuck this one in the 1% bin in the back ; )

  40. Lorthyne says:

    Wow, seems like most people hated this story. It didn’t particularly grab my attention like Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane and Friction did, but it posed some interesting questions. Not bad, but not spectacular either.

    While I liked the ideas this story presented, I really hated was the way the actual storyline progressed. Whiny anthropologist meets airline floosy, and preaches his views to her while she patiently waits for sex, as though she couldn’t find that somewhere else. Whiner meets alien, and masturbates at her, both verbally and sexually. Alien and Whiner get stoned off their butts on alien ‘shrooms, and jump out an airlock together. What an inspiring story.

  41. Chris says:

    This is the second EP story I’ve been unable to finish, the first being that Doctorow monologue in an unintelligible Kiwi accent… This one really didn’t do anything for me, after 15 mins I just couldn’t go on… Sorry!!

  42. Sushma says:

    I’m from the 3rd world (India to be precise), and yes the anthropology was laughably colonialist and old fashioned. Made me cringe, mainly for White men. But those exchanges with the Yale economist were hilarious (if you’ve met economists and Yalies, you’ll know what I mean) and Schwartz explaining his Jewishness to the alien was pretty hilarious too. I found it interesting for its dated feel.

  43. Put me down as one of those who enjoyed the story without thinking about it too hard. Everything else has already been said.

    Oh, and Lorthyne, I ran across a picture of the statue of Holger Dansk yesterday and it reminded me of that story. It’s a pretty impressive work, and it would certainly make an imposing golem.

  44. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot. This story reminded me of the many dreams I’ve had throughout my life of encounters with alien beings. From a pretty early age, I was regularly interacting with strange creatures, and I went through a long period in my teens when I had recurring dreams about being nervous about meeting the halfbreed child of my liaison with one alien paramour.

    Most recently I had a dream in which humans had colonized a planet inhabited by sort of humanoid cat-gecko people, and treated very much as second-class citizens, if that. I had a native companion whom I truly cared for, and defended against racism from human shop owners and the like. There was actually a plot about the natives collecting human gene samples for some reason related to an underground resistance movement, but I won’t bore you with it.

    Too bad I’m not a writer =\

    Anyway, all my rambling is just to say that maybe I excused the egregious elements of the story because I identified with the erstwhile protagonist in that way, at least.

  45. […] Robert Silverberg’s “Schwartz Between the Galaxies” (read by Stephen Eley), an anthropologist regrets the homogenizing effect globalization has […]

  46. Chris says:

    For the first time I found a story here I did not like. I have not listened to all of it, because it sounds quite annoying.
    People that want to keep diversity for there own amusement annoy and offend me.

  47. Raving_Lunatic says:

    I just liked the philosophy. That’s all. I liked the way the guy was complaining about being disillusioned. Who knows. Anyway, I wasn’t really listening that well.

  48. steve potter says:


    I majored in anthropologist and this story pressed my buttons for having got my whole discipline wrong,

    I dont really want to post a long comment because others have already said how bad the story is but here goes,

    anthropology is not a science! its humanities !

    americans just because the first thing you see is MacDonalds when you get off the plane in a new airport dont think the whole world is abandoning their culture for yours, sorry thats not happening, and never will.

    globalisation will not spell the end of diversity, but its opposite, the whole modern discipline of anthropology says this and if you try to argue against it you will be laughed out of the hall.

    I married a women of another “race” and our children will be “half” and yes I found this story and its protrayal that our marriage was bad offensive.

    thank you all for reading.