Robert Silverberg's "Sailing to Byzantium" In the 50th century, a man tours a world he no longer recognizes--but longs to sail to Byzantium. A very visual, rich, textured story by Silverberg that took the 1985 Nebula Award®.
Jake Strange sat at the Pacchio Bar and Grill open bar with a shot of scotch in his hand. He looked up at the TV. It was three in the afternoon and his favorite show 'The Twilight Zone was running another marathon. Jake liked to listen to the various teleplays from that man whom he considered to be his idol, Rod Serling. Jack Weston was just telling Allenbee one of Jake's favorite diatribes. A drunken Jake mouthed along with the dialogue.
"I don't want no presents…I don't want no tidbits…makes me feel like some kind of animal in a cage…you know with some old lady throwin' peanuts at me…"
Jake took another drink and continued with Allenbee's response "I know you think its easy seein' you in agony…comin' here four times a year to this asteroid…I can't give you freedom, just something to help fight the loneliness…anything to help keep your sanity."
Jake broke out into a loud repose as the scene shifted to Jack Weston and the female android left by Allenbee. He shouted along with the episode "I'm sick of bein' mocked by the memory of women…with their make believe eyes and make believe voices…it's just a reminder to me…that I'm so lonely…that I'm about to lose my mind…"
The bartender shouted "Hey Jake, keep it down. All you're doin' is scaring folks with those scenes you've been stealin' from Sterling for years." He sat another shot in front of Jake.
Jake proclaimed "Hey man, this is submitted for your approval. Jake Strange, maker of book, slightly the worst for wear. My life is like a bundle of dirty laundry…the kind I'd like to send out and have all the filth washed away…so it could come back shiny and clean."
"Right Jake and your kid's name is Pip, huh? Serling's turning over in his grave."
"Hey, Pip" Jake blurted out holding up his shot glass which sparkled amber in the rays of a setting sun shining through, "Who's your best buddy…You are pop; you're my best buddy in the whole world."
For Jake, believing in a magical reality was easy. The road to hell was paved with good intention, he'd remember Grandma saying. And for Jake, his intentions were always well-meaning, fraught with the best of his dreams, his wishes. They were filled with benevolent beginnings.
Being a creature driven by habit, Jake suffered from a rather myopic inability to sense the error of his ways. He was a slave to poor judgment. He could never foresee the inevitable conclusions that his often inadequate and misplaced methods would lead him; catastrophe. He would never attain what he originally intended.
Jake was a man completely out of touch with the reality of how he operated. He was expecting different results from doing the same things. He kept on doing what he always did and getting what he always got; stark misery.
In complete denial of his apparent deficiencies, Jake found different ways to end up on the same old road. Always he did that under the guise of becoming wiser and smarter that time. With his feeble attempts, he expected to become victorious and get things right. Jake's ultimate failure was he missed the fact that the more he did to change what was wrong, the more he'd stay the same. Jake resorted back to the tried and true methods which ensured his every failure.
Because Jake never believed his greatest enemy was himself, he'd place maximum trust in himself and his ability to keep the promises he made. But, Jake never found nor made a promise to himself he'd ever keep. It kept Jake the fool that he was and the loser he'd always be.
Like most of the Strange's, he'd refuse to know his limitations and like all fools, kept believing somehow he'd prevail. Jake's folly within what he wanted stood as a dark and sardonic monument to his singular ambition in life. Jake wanted what all men wanted who've wasted and squandered their lives away; one more chance to get it right.
Now, Jake spent his years trying to prove to himself that he deserved another chance. Paradoxically, he continued trying to change a past he was doomed to repeat. He didn't believe his one shot at getting life right was his only shot. Jake thought he deserved as many shots as he needed.
So, like most of Briansburg's populace, Jake held on to his old ways; refuting any need to alter or adapt. Doomed to see life through the cracked and clouded lens that was his family's perspective, Jake waited for new chances to conquer old dilemmas.
Everyone knew Jake was stuck in the past; sinking within his own stupidity. Their greatest fear and most potent weapon with Jake were whenever he'd experience those all too few moments of crystalline clarity. That was when Jake would sense their truths regarding him. Truth's that shattered Jake's hope, crushed his will and left him devoid of meaning and direction.
Drowning Jake in absolute bleakness, he became a man who did nothing right nor wanted to. For those times, Jake did what he did best; he'd run. He escaped into the self-piteous pit which came with self-destruction.
The grotesque beauty of Jake's self-administered beatings through booze and insanity were the stuff of community legend. Briansburg was made ripe for the twisted existence of those like Jake and to some degree everyone. It was a veritable sideshow of fools; emotional cripples and a haven for the self-important slicksters all too busy deluding themselves that in the end everything would be alright. They waited for that silver lining to come through on the sunny side of life.
The harder Jake tried to find that lining, the more Briansburg laughed. And Jake learned, if he was to survive, he had to laugh along. It was because the truth hurt and his abject failures left him afraid to go on; too sad to exist. But, if Jake would only forget, maybe then perhaps….
Well, that's how Jake began writing fiction. He wasn't bad but then again, he wasn't very good either. Still he tried. His works acted as a catharsis; releasing his personal demons and letting him look at his speculative worlds and characters as perhaps analogous to his own world.
His two most prodigious and ambitious projects were called 'The Return' and 'Darkly through a Glass.' He worked hard and long on each, especially whenever he needed a refuge from bitter reality.
Those closest to him worried that Jake's projects would tip him over into a world were he lost touch with reality. Soon, the borders vanished separating the truth from fiction for Jake. He became obsessed with merging the fictional pieces into a singular work. He began to entertain dreams of publication for his work much to his future lament. The importance of his projects overshadowed prudence and he shut himself off at times from the world. Jake operated then as if living within the dramatic situations he created on paper. In a place like Briansburg with people like Lilith Strange, his sister, that dismissal would be dangerous indeed. It might even get Jake killed.
In a sense, Jake knew that, yet he believed blindly that completion of his project would become his saving grace. Maybe, Jake's work could get him what he really wanted the most; a different reality and a voice in which his desires could be heard. Most times, it was what we all wanted.