SF Gateway is delighted to announce a new regular feature by one of the all-time greats of science fiction: a multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster of whom Isaac Asimov once said ‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’. Of course, it’s the great Robert Silverberg, with the first of what will be an ongoing series of monthly columns, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.
This month: the Roman Empire . . .
It’s no secret that Isaac Asimov‘s classic Foundation series was a recasting of Roman history in science fictional form. The Roman Empire, by the time of Constantine the Great in the early fourth century, reached from Britain to the borders of Persia, and had become too unwieldy to govern from a single capital city in Italy. Recognizing this, Constantine founded a second capital for the Empire in Asia Minor – Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. Drawing heavily on Edward Gibbon’s great eighteenth-century work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Isaac invented a galactic equivalent for Constantine’s creation of a second capital, and built his books around the quest, in some far-off galactic future, for that distant Second Foundation.
He was not, of course, the only SF writer to mine Roman history for story ideas. A.E. van Vogt‘s Linn series (Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn), which attracted some attention when it appeared in the 1940s and 1950s, was a retelling of the early years of the Empire, the time of Augustus and Tiberius, set in a future age that followed a devastating galactic war. The basic sources for this material were the first-century Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus, though van Vogt seems to have drawn much of his material from Robert Graves’ historical novel I, Claudius rather than going, as Graveshad done, to the original sources.