Shadrach in the Furnace

by Robert Silverberg
Reviewed date: 2005 Sep 28
Rating: 3
253 pages
cover art

Shadrach in the Furnace is a nearly forgotten Silverberg, which is surprising because it is no less of a book than his other novels. It depicts a post-apocalyptic world. Unlike the standard post-apocalyptic novel, this story's apocalypse is not nuclear but rather a combination of natural disasters--a volcano--and a man-made virus plague.

Genghis Mao Khan is the dictator of this depleted and dying world--ruler not by conquest so much as by default. Shadrach Mordecai is personal physician to the Khan, and is charged with keeping the Khan healthy and--with organ transplants--living forever.

And therein lies the moral dilemma that defines the novel: Shadrach knows that Genghis Mao Khan is a harsh ruler, and yet as a doctor he feels it his duty to keep Khan alive. Shadrach's initial decision is to regard himself as a victim of circumstances: If I don't keep the Khan alive, someone else will. Why shouldn't I do the job and be rewarded? That Shadrach has a greater responsibility for his actions becomes apparent when he realizes that the Khan is deliberately withholding crucial medical advances that could defeat the virus plague and hasten the rebuilding of the world economy.

Like all Silverberg novels Shadrach in the Furnace has its share of sexual content. This novel has more introspection and less action than many of his other stories, which may explain its failure to gain a wider audience. One gets the feeling that in 250 pages very little has truly transpired. (In one sense, one could say that only one decision of lasting import is made in the entire novel; the rest is scenery and background.)

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