For thousands of years, Borthan has been ruled by a covenant that teaches that the self is to be despised. The baring of personal thoughts and feelings to another represents the most heinous crime. Kinnall Darival, an exiled prince from the country of Salla, has always outwardly observed the covenant. But inwardly, he commits a grave offense when he falls in love with his bondsister, Halum. By law, he cannot reveal his affections, nor act on them. When an Earthman reveals to him a miraculous drug that enables two persons to completely bare their souls to each other, Kinnall immediately begins to give it to others. The authorities force him into hiding, yet Kinnall is determined to use the drug with his bondsister - not realizing the effect this will have on her and the unalterable change it will bring to both their lives.
Hi-fi sci-fi: listen to more from Robert Silverberg.
©1971 Robert Silverberg; (P)1999 Blackstone Audio Inc
"Psychologically intense....Parker, a veteran audiobook narrator...uses pacing and intonation to add interest and variety." (AudioFile)
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
After the first few minutes I thought this might be a really good book. Unfortunately, that was the high point of the writing and the ideas. The idea of the book is interesting, but this book does not go deeply enough to really be powerful. I kept thinking it would go to another level, but never did.
Say something about yourself!
This 1971 novel won the Nebula Award and was nominated for the Hugo, but I have to confess I found it to be quite underwhelming.
Robert Silverberg offers a first-person memoir of a future human (descended from Earthlings) on a far distant planet. In his society words like "I" and "me" are considered obscenities. Burdening others with one's individuality, sharing one's self with them, is held to be a sin that should be limited whenever possible. When he meets a man from Earth with a rare and illegal drug that allows individuals to fuse their consciousnesses, the protagonist questions and ultimately rebels against his culture's taboos, and he pays the price for his heresy.
The novel has problems. First, the world-building seems poorly thought out. If individuality and personal pride and sharing are evil -- if people must deflect attention from self by saying "one" instead of "I" or "me" -- why do they have personal names and take pleasure in having namesakes, for instance? Over and over again, when inconsistencies reared their heads, it occurred to me that Yevgeny Zamyatin (We) and George Orwell (1984) offered far more sophisticated explorations of how the state or other tyrannical institutions may control language and how language in turn affects identity and self-perception, and they did it half a century before Silverberg wrote this.
Second, for the main character's "time of changes" to have the proper impact, the reader should empathize with him in some way and appreciate the depth and drama of his awakening and transformation. Instead, he's about as unsympathetic as they come: flat, uninspiring, oddly two-dimensional, and at times genuinely annoying. (I recognize there was a literary reason for his rambling discussions of his impressive genital size and premature ejaculation issues, but I won't miss them, that's for certain.)
Third, the novel comes across as dated in a way that novels a century older or more do not because of Silverberg's handling of the consciousness-expanding drug. It bears all the hallmarks of a late-sixties/early-seventies flirtation with the counterculture -- from a safe distance. Karin Boye's depiction of a "sharing" drug in 1940's Kallocain is far more nuanced; for that matter, Robert Heinlein's exploration of the counterculture in Stranger in a Strange Land (published ten years before A Time of Changes) is far more challenging.
In short, if I can be forgiven for collapsing my review into LOLcat speech, I see what Silverberg's doing there, but he's doing it wrong. Or, to be more precise, everything this novel attempts has been done better elsewhere by others.
Tom Parker's narration was perfectly solid. My negative review is not his fault!
This book is pretty good if you don't mind listening to a dry read. The narration is almost monotone, and the book a bit wordy. It is however a thought provoking take on a society where saying the word I is just about the biggest social snafu you can make.
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