Can Someone Please Explain Robert Silverberg's The Alien Years To Me? (open spoilers)

I recently finished reading Robert Silverberg’s The Alien Years. It’s a story about an alien invasion of the earth. The aliens are unbeatable. They do not communicate with us, nor give us any reason for the invasion. They simply enslave human beings to achieve their goals (whatever they are).

In the first chapter, when the aliens first land, the main character makes reference to the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds. He notes how the humans in the novel never really come up with a solution to the alien invasion but instead, the aliens simply fall over dead from some dreaded Earth disease like the common cold. The character finds the ending to WotW to be completely unsatisfying.

However, at the end of the novel, the aliens simply pick up and leave! No explanation is given for their leaving (as none was given for their arrival). They simply get on their ships and blast off.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea that the aliens don’t communicate with us and that we never find out why they were here to begin with. But why does Silverberg make an explicit reference to the Wells novel, have the main character think that it’s a crappy ending, and then give us exactly the same kind of deus ex machina ending to this book?

Am I missing something?

Zev Steinhardt

It’s been a while since I read The Alien Years, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. My take on it, albeit going off of somewhat distant memories, is that the WotW bit is perhaps some foreshadowing. But I think you could be right; there’s likely a deeper meaning to it. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the nature of an “alien” being: you have no idea what it will or won’t do. So it’s awfully presumptuous for the main character to scoff and dismiss the possibility out of hand that a seeming deus ex could be the end of an alien occupation.

I reviewed the main story, “The General,” when it appeared in SF Age a decade ago. I jumped all over this same point. He specifically decries Wells’ lack of a “useful solution” to the problem, implying that we will be given one at the end.

In addition, the story was very much in the Heinleinesque mode, with the alien resistance and the plucky humans who won’t admit defeat. The Colonel’s name is Anson, Heinlein’s middle name, for Pete’s sake.

I have to assume that Silverberg was making some sort of point about the jingoistic silliness of that brand of golden age science fiction. Either that, or it was written during one of his periods of depression when all of sf just seemed like a futile endeavor. That’s why he mostly writes fantasy these days.

Is it possible that he is satirizing Heinlein?