Simeon Krug has a vision - and the vast wealth necessary to turn dream into reality. What he wishes is to communicate with the stars, to answer signals from deep space. The colossal tower he's constructing for this purpose soars above the Arctic tundra, and the seemingly perfect androids building it view Krug as their god. But Krug is only flesh-and-blood, and when his androids discover the truth, their anger knows no bounds... and it threatens much more than the tower.
"[A] multi-leveled work of high adventure, considerable tension and social consciousness." (Harlan Ellison)
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Androids are people, too.
"Some of them are looking for God, and some of them are looking for power, and some of them are just looking."
Simeon Krug, a brilliant inventor, has changed the world by creating synthetic humans in vats. They are so similar to humans that, to avoid confusion, Krug made their skin a reddish color and gave them no body hair. To these androids, Krug is God, but he doesn’t realize it. He thinks of them as mere machines and he’s set them the task of building a giant glass tower which will reach into the heavens to communicate with the aliens who have been sending messages to Earth. Krug’s son, poised to take over the company when his father dies, doesn’t share Krug’s obsession with talking to aliens, and he is particularly disturbed when he discovers the android religion. What will happen when the androids find out that Krug is not their salvation?
There aren’t any likeable characters here, and it’s hard for me to relate to androids, but Tower of Glass made me think (most of Robert Silverberg’s stories make me think). In Tower of Glass, Silverberg uses androids to explore a common science fiction theme: What makes us human? I’ve read dozens of stories which ask this question, but Tower of Glass will stick with me. Originally published in 1970, Tower of Glass has worn very well, probably because it deals with timeless human problems.
Krug’s androids, who call themselves “vat-born” to distinguish themselves from the “womb-born,” are constructed with human DNA which has been altered to give them a slightly alien look and to make them hard-working faithful servants. What Krug didn’t realize, perhaps, was that this human DNA would make them ambitious and would give them a desire to worship their creator. Under the leadership of Thor Watchman, the android who works as Krug’s right-hand man in the tower project, they develop an entire religion around Krug. In their time off from building Krug’s tower, they get involved in politics, build temples, write holy scriptures, hold worship services, conduct sacraments, chant and pray. Their chants and prayers consist of recitations of genetic code and their scriptures, modeled after the Christian Bible, speak of Krug’s love for them and his plan to save them by transforming them, with genetic code, into full human beings after they die. It’s understandable, then, that they’d be a little upset when they find out that their religion is false and that they’re not going to be saved after all.
As usual with a novel by Robert Silverberg, you have to suffer through some unpleasant sex scenes (I find many of Silverberg’s sex scenes to be disturbing), but there are fewer far-out tangents in Tower of Glass than in some of his other stories and at least here there is some purpose to them here. The pace moves quickly and Silverberg packs in a lot of ideas as he shows us a newly developing android society that is dealing with the same kinds of issues that humans have always dealt with — racism, caste systems, slavery, outcasts, ghettos, disease, drug abuse, political agitators, religious zealots, and the rise of an oppressed population. All the while Silverberg ratchets up the tension as the tower gets taller and Krug becomes more obsessed and noticeably less godlike.
I listened to Stefan Rudnicki narrate Audible Frontiers’ version of Tower of Glass. Rudnicki always gives a great reading — he has a nice voice, he never overacts, and he always seems to “get” what he reads. Tower of Glass was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards.
- Kat Hooper "Kat at FanLit"