Monday, January 16, 2012

The Masks of Time: Review

I'm not sure if I've changed or this is just one of Robert Silverberg's duds. Once upon a time I loved Robert Silverberg--in all of his 1960s-era, free-love, hippie-culture weirdness (Dying Inside, anyone?). But The Masks of Time seems over the top to me--at least now. Maybe the teenage/college age me still would have loved this one. The 40ish/middle-aged me....not so much.

So...what we have here is time travel. We begin with Professor Leo Garfield, a physicist, who has spent his career searching for the answers to time travel. At the time of the story, he's figured out how to send a few particles back in time--only to have them explode from the effort. And he's feeling depressed and like his life's work has been a waste of time (no pun intended). So, he takes a break from his work to stay with his friends. The husband is a former colleague who gave up physics when he was on the verge of a discovery that would revolutionize power supply. He's still struggling with his decision to suppress his findings. It also happens to be the end of the century--late 1990s. And the world has gone crazy with Apocalyptic fears. The world is going to end, you know. One happy crew from the individuals we meet to the world at large.

Into all this drops (quite literally--from the sky) Vornan-19, a man claiming to be from 1,000 years in the future....and whose main goal in this time travel trip seems to be to sleep with as many people from the past as possible. Wait, no, that's not what he says. He's here on a sight-seeing tour; gathering up information about his backward ancestors to take back to the folks in the future. Yeah, that's it. And everywhere he goes he creates upheaval of one sort or another--from riots to straight up property damage. Garfield and a team of intellectuals (from historians to anthropologists to psychologists) are called on by the US Government to escort Vornan-19 around the good ol' USA--as ambassadors of a sort, but also to keep an eye on him and to try and figure out if he really is a man from the future or just a particularly adept con artist.

This read was a major disappointment for me. As I mentioned above, I used to love Silverberg (and perhaps I still do--if the book is right). But this just seemed like an excuse for a lot of free love and folks running around nude--because, hey, it's absolutely okay, you know. But, seriously, if the culture is okay with it, why do we still call it fornication? And then, there's the whole struggle that Jack (Garfield's friend) has over his power supply discovery. Like it would be a bad thing to come up with a solution to the world's power problems and, oh, incidentally, maybe solve the problems of hunger and crime and other social ills while we're at it? Oh and the ending is a bit of a let-down as well. I'm afraid that this is one time that Silverberg just hasn't sold me on his story--and that's been a rare thing over the years. I'll have to give him another try. But, in the meantime, two stars for this outing. Barely.


Julie said...

Parts of your review made me giggle. :)

Isn't it funny how our reading tastes change? But sometimes, it's just that a writer's work changes as well, sometimes evolving, sometimes devolving. Very few writers can sustain the same level of reader-friendliness in numerous titles.

Great review!

Bev Hankins said...

Glad to have given you a giggle, Julie.

Silverberg is the first SF writer that I've gone back to recently that just didn't work for me. Harlan Ellison and Dan Simmons--I still love. I'm hoping that it's just this book with Silverberg.

Debbie Rodgers said...

When I first started reading your review, I thought: "How bad can it be? - it's time travel - and I could count it for my Time Travel Reading Challenge!" By the time I finished your review, I had changed my mind...I'll have to find something else, I guess. [sigh]

Thanks for the warning.

Anonymous said...

This is one of his duds -- reading it at the moment, painful painful painful. I LOVE Hawksbill Station, Dying Inside, The World Within, Thorns etc. But this has to be one of the worst from his period of epic production -- late 60s to mid 70s.