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The Masks Of Time (Gollancz S.F.) [Paperback]

Robert Silverberg
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Sep 2002 Gollancz S.F.
Vornan-19 fell from the sky and landed, naked, on the Spanish Steps in Rome on the afternoon of Christmas Day toward the end of the millennium. And that, for Leo Garfield began an extraordinary and eventful year. For Garfield is an acknowledged expert in the time-reversal of sub-atomic particles and Vornan-19 claims to come from far in the future, a claim that has to be investigated. But the world is in a strange, edgy state as it prepares to move into the next millennium and is ready and willing to see the charming and magnetically charismatic Vornan as some kind of messiah. Even Garfield and his fellow scientists come under Vornan's spell. But can he really be from the future? Or is he just a charlatan and a fraud?

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New edition edition (5 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575072180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575072183
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 15.7 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,404,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Robert Silverberg was born in 1935 and began to write while studying for his BA at Columbia University. He is one of the most prolific of all sf writers and among his many fine novels are DYING INSIDE, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH, THE WORLD INSIDE and SHADRACH IN THE FURNACE.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Behan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's the commonest SF device; the fish-out-of-water story about the alien traveller or the man from another time. Silverberg's take on this classic form is inevitably clever, but does it add much to the wealth that's already been said? There's a great deal here that is uncomfortably reminiscent of Stranger in a Strange Land and the second part of A Case of Conscience: A tourist from a distant future appears in fin-de-siecle Rome and is soon an international celebrity. At first, to the governments of the world, Vornan-19 appears to be the unlikely solution to their growing problems of civil unrest, but they soon find out that he's a slippery customer. In fact, wherever Vornan-19 goes on his jaunt around the globe, mischief is bound to follow. ...And, since this is a Silverberg book, a lot of that mischief has to do with sex.

We've seen it all before: Heinlein wrote "Stranger..." maybe nine years before, even if we didn't really get to read it in full `til the Nineties. The free love, the unselfconscious nudity, the gentle mocking of the preoccupations of modern society, even the open-minded attitude to homosexuality, were already landmarks of Heinlein country; perhaps shocking and modern once, now hippy-ish and tame. But "The Masks of Time" has aged a little better through Silverberg's superior command of a story.

Like James Blish, in "...Conscience", Silverberg observes his anti-hero at arm's length, making the story not about the man from the future, but the disenchanted academic who is coerced to become part of Vornan's entourage. Like Father Ruiz-Sanchez in "...Conscience", Prof.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The man from the future? 26 Feb 2014
By Archy
It's 1999 and the world is in turmoil, awaiting the end that is sure to follow the millennium (the book was written in the 60s). Into this world steps Vornan-19, a tourist from 2999. So the world isn't about to end, after all! Or is it? Is Vornan-19 all that he seems, or is he a fake? A group of scientists tour the world with him, trying to find out.

As the other reviewer has noted, there are shades of Stranger in a strange land here. And Vornan-19's explanation of the beginning of life on Earth is positively Vonnegutesque, if there's such a thing. It all makes for an interesting premise. However, given the amount of erotic content, it's surprisingly dull. Frustratingly for readers and characters alike, Vornan-19 gives little away about the world of a thousand years hence. Instead, we're treated to a tour of this world in 1999 (30 years into the future at the time of writing), and the chaos that follows Vornan-19 and his scientific followers.

It's an enjoyable enough read, without really getting anywhere. There are certainly some nuggets from the period before Robert Silverberg's early 70s peak, but I don't think this is one of them.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, compact storytelling 19 Oct 2003
By Michael Battaglia - Published on
Somebody out there finally wised up and started getting these novels back into print. Back in the seventies Robert Silverberg wrote a string of novels that are simply unreal in their consistant high quality. Not only did many of them tackle ideas that SF had merely toyed with or completely ignored but each was a distinct entity. This one isn't as groundbreaking as some of the other, more famous ones (A Time of Changes or Dying Inside being probably the best known) but is an excellent read in its own right. The concept here is blissfully simple and has been tackled dozens of times by other authors . . . a man claiming to be a visitor from the future lands in the present day (in this book 1999, the future when it was written). The man, Vernan-19, states that he is here merely to look around and experience the sights, a team of scientists from a variety of disciplines assigned to escort him aren't so sure, but they can't prove it either way and that inability to prove becomes almost maddening. Silverberg does a good job of twisting expectations around, the book isn't told from the POV of the future guy, but from one of the scientists, whose own work is in the physics of time travel, so Vernan is kept at arm's length. In fact, the central question in the book, whether Vernan is indeed a man from the future or just a faker, is left up in the air, as well as its sister question, just what is his purpose for doing all this? His impact on the world at large is shown in broad detail and for the most part his fictional 1999 feels a lot like ours. The characters are drawn with his usual eye for details, even without seeing into their thoughts the reader gets a good sense of them. What impresses most in this novel is Silverberg's economical style of storytelling, this is a brief book that presents its premise, extrapolates it to entertaining effect and then wraps up, leaving questions dangling in the air. The prose is sharp and lean, with no needless flourishes of flowery sentences to muddle the story. Once past a somewhat slow beginning, it moves at a good clip, never going too fast or lingering on one idea for too long. In the end, the book really isn't about the man from the future, but the people he affects and changes and how they deal with it, and once changed, where they go from there. Not the most attention grabbing of his novels, but excellent in its own quiet way and just as worthy as his other novels from this period. Grab it if you see it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Satiric Novel, Magnificent Prose 25 July 2011
By George Duncan - Published on
I remember reading this for the first time decades ago, not long after it first came out. I thought it was brilliant then and re-reading it, I still think it's one of Silverberg's best. There is not a sentence or a syllable out of place in this brilliantly conceived novel. The plot takes place in 1999 so, even though it's out of date, it's still a wonderful read.
If I recall, this book placed second in the Nebula balloting. Nebula voters have picked some flops. The Masks of Time was at least the second best book of the year, if not the best. Silverberg shows the chaos that an alleged traveler from the future creates. The results of his journey are both amusing and tragic. Man hasn't been perfected in the future for Vornan-19 is full of flaws, and the human traveling with him on his journey are not much better. Human foibles are front and center in the novel.
The prose is outstanding. Silverberg is a master of both prose and plot and this novel shows him at his best.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taut, engaging - Silverberg at his best 25 May 1999
By David Obrien - Published on
The Masks of Time (a.k.a. Vornan-19) is one of my favorite Silverberg novels, one of a string of brilliant works he wrote in the late 60s / early 70s.
In 1999, on the eve of the millenium, a stranger named Vornan appears mysteriously on Earth, claiming to be a visitor from the future. The government, looking for anything to distract attention from the riots of the Apocalypse cults, welcomes Vornan and sends him on a worldwide tour of Earth in the company of several prominent scientists, each of whom is either trying to debunk him or pump him for information on the future.
Short (about 200 pages), engaging, with cleanly drawn and compelling characters, this is Silverberg at his best, and should be a model for aspiring writers of any genre - tell the story well and be done with it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Future Shock 30 Jan 2013
By s.ferber - Published on
I had long thought that Philip K. Dick's 1964-'66 period was the most intensely productive and prolific streak that any sci-fi author of note has ever enjoyed, with nine major novels produced during those three years. But as it turns out, Robert Silverberg, seven years P.K.'s junior, has got him beat by a mile. During the three-year period 1967-'69, Silverberg somehow managed the superhuman feat of releasing no less than 15 novels--six in '67, three in '68 and six again in '69--and all of them, reportedly, of a very high and literate quality. Silverberg's fiction began to mature immensely in '67, by which time he had already released some two dozen full-length sci-fi novels since his first in 1954, and a look at the book in question, 1968's "The Masks of Time," will serve to reveal how capable a writer he had become by this point. Released in May of that year as a 75-cent Ballantine paperback, the novel deservedly garnered a Nebula Award nomination (it ultimately "lost" to Alexei Panshin's excellent "Rite of Passage") and stands as a wonderful, intelligent entertainment to this day, 45 years later.

Although there have been dozens of sci-fi books dealing with an individual's use of a time travel device to visit the past or future, in Silverberg's book, we get a look at such a visitor from the outside. The book is narrated by Leo Garfield, a California-based physics professor who is chosen by the U.S. government to be on an escort committee comprised of five other scientists. It seems that a man claiming to be from the future, and named Vornan-19, has suddenly appeared on Rome's Spanish Steps on Christmas Day 1998. Already a sensation in Europe, his imminent arrival in the U.S. has the government more than a trifle concerned. Riots have already broken out among the cultists known as the Apocalyptists, who believe the world will end on January 1, 2000, and for whom a man claiming to be from the year 2999 represents a total negation of their philosophy. But is Vornan a legitimate time traveler from the future or merely a clever and charismatic faker? That is what Leo and his five fellow academics--an historian, a biochemist, an anthropologist, a philologist and a "cosmic psychologist"--must decide, as they chaperone Vornan-19 around the country and, ultimately, the world.

"The Masks of Time" manages to be a pleasing creation on several levels. The book is exceptionally well written (Silverberg seems to have an unfailing knack for delivering just the right word or phrase), literate, fascinating and exciting. It features a wealth of well-drawn characters, and makes ample use of the newly liberated sexual attitudes of the era, as the field of sci-fi loosened up with the rest of the world. Vornan is clearly bisexual in nature, and Leo and his Arizona friends, Jack and Shirley, are avid proponents of casual nudism. This is the sort of novel that just bursts with imaginative touches on nearly every single page, be it the green-slime bugging devices, the floating pneumochairs, or the artificial life forms created by Leo's biochemist associate. Silverberg shrewdly makes some accurate predictions as to devices in the near future (such as electric cars, music cubes, a telephone answering machine, and something that forcefully suggests today's Internet), and hilariously has Vornan reveal the secret of mankind's origin on Earth (hint: It has to do with jettisoned space garbage!). His novel features one wonderful set piece after another, including one in an upstate NY mansion where a monstrous party in Vornan's honor is held. With Mobius-strip walls, moving floors and ceilings, bizarre partygoers, mechanical insect maids, et al., this psychedelic kaleidoscope of a segment is surely some bravura work from Mr. Silverberg; at least as mind-bending as anything in Dick's oeuvre, and as vividly detailed as the best of Alfred Bester. Other memorable sequences include a visit that Vornan and his guides take to the NY Stock Exchange, to a (legalized and automated) Chicago brothel, to the amusement center in the moon's Copernicus Crater (this same lunar pleasure spot was more extensively featured in the author's 1967 novel "Thorns"), and, as the cult of Vornan grows, to his reception by millions in the countries of South America. Causing problems wherever he travels, Vornan is a mystifying character, and the reader will be hard put to get a precise handle on this sexually rapacious, elusive and ambiguous man from the future. Ultimately, he causes not only worldwide upheaval, but also rifts amongst the sextet of scientists (four men, two women, significantly) and amongst Leo, Jack and Shirley, as well. Whether seen as a Christ figure or parody of Robert A. Heinlein's Valentine Michael Smith, Vornan surely spells trouble for all surrounding him. Personally, I found the story absolutely unputdownable; when I read a book at the office instead of doing the work I'm supposed to be doing, THAT'S a sure sign of a gripping page-turner!

Just two minor quibbles with what is otherwise a fantastic piece of work. First, when Leo travels from California to D.C. by plane, leaving at 10:10 AM Pacific time and arriving at 10 AM Eastern time, I get the feeling that the author has confused his time zones a wee bit. Or am I missing something here? And then, at the novel's end, when Vornan expresses his wish for a personal "crowd shield (think: protective force field), so that he might walk among the South American mobs in safety...hadn't it already been established on pg. 5 that Vornan is capable of emitting an electrical field, similar to an eel's (giving a whole new meaning to the expression "future shock"!), that would render such a device redundant? Oh, well...guess you can't play it TOO safe when a million worshippers are trying to pull you to bits! Quibbles aside, this really is some wonderful writing from Mr. Silverberg, here very plainly coming into the full flush of his considerable powers....
4.0 out of 5 stars Silverberg's partying like 1999 31 Jan 2010
By Paul Brooks - Published on
The approach of the millennium provided ripe fodder for cranks, news organizations and science fiction writers.

Silverberg's premise is right out of SF101: on Christmas Day1999, in Rome, a man descends from the sky and claims to be from the future. He states he wants to observe us and to take the equivalents of a Middle Age's Grand Tour of out civilizations.

Silverberg plays fair in that the reactions are consistent with plausible actuality: skeptics dismiss Vron-19, as he calls himself, as a outright charlatan while a growing segment of the population hails him as a religious figure sent to herald the new Century and the end of the world. Others don't know what to think.

The U.S. Government invites Vrom to tour the country accompanied by "guides" who are in reality scientific experts. These CIA-types attempt to extract information and to ascertain if Vrom is a fraud or what. The government encourages belief in Vrom to counteract waves of hedonistic self-destruction by cults preaching doomsday at the end of the century.

Thankfully Silverberg skips over the "lurid descriptions of riots and orgies in the streets" for thoughtful dialogs between the science-types and Vrom. At the end we are still left with the question is Vrom a fake or a true time traveler.

Robert Silverberg book "The Mask of Time" was a thoughtful and exciting "what if" novel set in 1999. For fans of Silverberg it is well worth reading. The casual readers of science fiction may want to pass because of its "dated" theme.
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