Robert Silverberg—four-time Hugo Award-winner, five-time winner of the Nebula Award, SFWA Grand Master, SF Hall of Fame honoree—is the author of nearly five hundred short stories, nearly hundred-and-fifty novels, and is the editor of in the neighborhood of one hundred anthologies. Among his most famous works are Lord Valentine’s Castle, and the other books and stories in the Majipoor series, but all of his classic works are far too numerous to name.
The idea for “Symbiont”—which Silverberg described in The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg as a “somber tale of jungle adventure and diabolical revenge”—came from a young woman named Karen Haber that Silverberg met while on a book tour. She gave him the idea, and he worked his magic. Shortly after, the story was finished and appeared in Playboy. And shortly after that, Silverberg married Ms. Haber.
But you shouldn’t let that sweet story fool you; he wasn’t joking when he said this one is diabolical.
Ten years later, when I was long out of the Service and working the turnaround wheel at Betelgeuse Station, Fazio still haunted me. Not that he was dead. Other people get haunted by dead men; I was haunted by a live one. It would have been a lot better for both of us if he had been dead, but as far as I knew Fazio was still alive.
He’d been haunting me a long while. Three or four times a year his little dry thin voice would come out of nowhere and I’d hear him telling me again, “Before we go into that jungle, we got to come to an understanding. If a synsym nails me, Chollie, you kill me right away, hear? None of this shit of calling in the paramedics to clean me out. You just kill me right away. And I’ll do the same for you. Is that a deal?”
This was on a planet called Weinstein in the Servadac system, late in the Second Ovoid War. We were twenty years old and we were volunteers: two dumb kids playing hero. “You bet your ass” is what I told him, not hesitating a second. “Deal. Absolutely.” Then I gave him a big grin and a handclasp and we headed off together on spore-spreading duty.
At the time, I really thought I meant it. Sometimes I still believe that I did.