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A Time of Changes
My reactions to Silverberg are somewhat uneven. I absolutely love the creepy yet alluring The Book of Skulls and the dystopian The World Inside but have never been able to get into, let alone finish, any of his Majipoor series which he seems to be so well known for. This one left me ambivalent. I think sometimes he tries a little too hard with his social messages -- in this case, I suppose, the value of love (published in 1971, surprise, surprise).

The main character, Kinnall Darival, is a member of the upper classes on a world settled several thousand years ago by religious fundamentalists (specific type not mentioned but one suspects a virulent strain of Puritans). The original settlers built into their world the Covenant, a socio-religious structure that requires people to keep their private joys and sorrows -- indeed all their emotions -- strictly private and bother no one else with them. This suppression of the self is so extreme that the words "I" and "me" have become obscenities and the greatest sin/crime is "self-baring."

Recognizing, I suppose, that people have to be able to talk to someone the Covenant provides two outlets, one religious and one secular. The religious outlet are the Drainers, to whom one can go for something like confession, while the secular outlet takes the form of bondsisters and bondbrothers (everyone has one of each). Even with these people one doesn't use the words "I" or "me", however.

Kinnall is introduced to a drug that allows people to essentially mind-meld, literally wander through each others' minds like shoppers at a bazaar, picking up this memory and that, and seeing themselves through each other's eyes. This brings Kinnall to a realization that the Covenant is outmoded, damaging, unhealthy and he begins to proselytize (secretly), recruiting others to take the drug. Although his bondsister and bondbrother don't share his views, they don't abandon him; they help him escape for a time, but in the end Kinnall is arrested and taken away, his fate unknown.

The idea is intriguing but I'm not sure how well executed it was. Silverberg's writing is good enough to draw you in past the plot holes (the biggest being that if the first person singular is abhorrent, why is the second person singular OK? If it's a sin to recognize myself as "I" why is it OK to recognize someone else as "you"?) but ultimately I didn't find it particularly satisfying. Kinnall's interlude where he becomes so focused on the drug-induced sharing that he doesn't bother going to work and forgets about personal hygiene make the drug seem a lot less attractive. Perhaps Silverberg's point is that their society is so broken that it takes drastic measures to fix it? Or maybe he tried LSD at some point in the 60s and thought it was great (Kinnall's last experience with the drug sounds an awful lot like Timothy Leary's mind expansion, and his bondbrother and bondsister suffer what sounds very much like a "bad trip" when they try it).

I give it a resounding "Meh."

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