Monday, December 21, 2009

1971 Nebula - A TIME OF CHANGES by Robert Silverberg

Creating a richly detailed alien culture seems to have become a favorite game for science fiction writers. Following in the footsteps of LeGuin and Delany, Silverberg spends most of A Time of Changes elaborating on the culture of the planet Borthan.

In the distant future, Borthan is an old colony of Earth that has developed a unique culture that eschews expressions of individuality (which Bortans call “sharing of self”). As a result, the personal pronoun “I” is considered an obscenity, and characters awkwardly use “one” in its place. The novel is narrated by Kinnal Darival, a prince in exile who eventually rebels against his society’s taboos. When an interplanetary trader from Earth invites Kinnal to take a mind-expanding drug, the prince discovers the pleasures of individual identity and interpersonal closeness and begins to share the drug with everyone he can. Yes, this is the era of Timothy Leary.

There’s not much more to the plot, and there are long, languid passages describing Kinnal’s trips. There are some interesting ideas here – especially the seemingly paradoxical context that denial of self and a more communal focus could lead to severe loneliness. It’s a compelling idea for a culture, but it’s not presented in a particularly interesting manner, and there’s little else worthwhile to fill out the novel (unless you’re a fan of mediocre psychedelic prose). This book is very much a product of its time, and it has not aged well.

Grade: D+

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