A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a surprisingly different read.
At the very first, I thought it was going to be an alien-Odyssey, a SF treatment of the greek legend, with just a hint of something truly interesting, culturally, in that the entire race, or nearly the entire race, is devoted to self-abnegation.
Imagine, then, instead of relying on the world-building adventure that it began with, it turned into a very distinctive novel of the drug culture that reflects 1971 perfectly, changing Ulysses into Timothy Leary, and instead of being a Lotus Eater, he's become an LSD-like proponent of a drug that allows limited telepathy.
And then the cultural cool-bit now comes to the fore as the full and major plot point, because it is considered evil to say "I", and it's even more evil to say "I love you." How much worse is it when you can see right into the heart and mind of someone else who takes the drug with you? Is it a mystical entwining, an exploration of love and understanding? Or is it, as everyone else seems to think, a twisted aberration, an illegal and immoral pastime, or the destruction of everything good and right in the world? The tale of the gods does hold a moral, after all.
Honestly, I've read a lot of great drug-culture books, fiction and non-fiction, but this reads as one of the very best, exploring the highlights and the problems within our own culture and especially of the 60's and 70's. Not only is it a fascinatingly good story in its own right, but it reflects our world in equal measure, serving a dual duty nearly effortlessly.
Just a warning, though, for you readers who might get turned off by free-sex and shameless, almost laughable pornography: The novel has it. Just remember the times. It's all about throwing off the shackles of the accepted norm, after all, whether it's conformity, sexual repression, or opening your mind to new experiences. If you keep that in mind, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of this novel in the spirit it is offered.
Oh, and by the way, it was nominated for '72 Hugo and won the '71 Nebula. Interesting, no?
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