To Open The Sky, Robert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (first published in 1967).
Summary: Noel Vorst’s new religion sweeps the Earth with its promise of eternal life, but Vorst’s plans extend far beyond Earth or even the near planets to the stars.
By 2077, the Earth has colonized Mars and Venus, terraforming Mars and adapting humans to live in the Venusian atmosphere. A UN functionary, Reynolds Kirby struggles with the high tension this high tech life creates, little relieved by temporary plunges into nothingness, or other pleasures. A new religion is on the rise, replacing those that no longer speak to the world Kirby lives in. They are called the Vorsters after Noel Vorst their founder. Their chapels are springing up in many cities, the central focus of which is the small cobalt reactor giving off a bluish light. Services follow a liturgy that is a pastiche of scientific mysticism with the promise of eternal life for followers. Kirby is drawn in, and over the years rises to become Vorst’s right hand man.
Meanwhile, another movement breaks off from the Vorsters, led by David Lazarus, until he was supposedly martyred. They are the Harmonist and they’ve succeeded where the Vorsters failed in establishing their mission to Venus. Vorsters who try either die from the vicious creatures on the planet or the inhabitants who want nothing to do with them, or they become Harmonists.
The Vorsters have advanced in extending life and the breeding of ever more effective ESPers at their Santa Fe center. The most visible sign is Vorst himself, who is still alive 100 years later. On Venus, the Harmonists have advanced in telekinesis with the development of “pushers” able to move things and people further and further. All the Vorsters efforts to train the ESPers to do this fail, often at the cost of their lives.
Then Lazarus is found in a nutrient bath encased and buried on Mars. The Vorsters bring him to life, only to turn him over to the Harmonists. It turns out that all of this is part of a grand plan of Vorst that extends far beyond Earth, Mars, or Venus, to “open the sky,” as it were, to the universe.
The question around this book is that of “at what cost” Is the cost warranted of the young lives wrecked, ESPers driven into insanity and a merciful death, “pushers” who are destroyed, all of these young and devout? Is this “religion” just the cloak for the ambitions of one man, as much as others seem to be helped?
In some ways, this book feels more timely today than in 1967, as we see many religious figures who have used religion to gain and abuse their power, and often their followers. In the human longing for something more, there is a great vulnerability, that may be twisted by the power, either tempting others who are needed to join in the quest for power, or to be used up and discarded by the powerful. In this, Silverberg may have been prescient.