Monday, November 28, 2011

"Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson

(cover image from

Tyler Dupree was 12 when the stars disappeared. He was in the backyard with his friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, at the time. And as it turned out, it wasn't just the stars.

Eventually, scientists discover that someone or something - these hypothetical someones are soon called the Hypotheticals - has placed a barrier around the Earth, a barrier which, among other things, causes time to advance very, very slowly on our planet.

Ten minutes here sees more than a thousand years go by in the rest of the universe. A year on Earth means that 100 million years have gone by elsewhere. And in 40 years or so - 4 billion in the rest of the solar system - the Earth will be completely destroyed by an aging, expanding Sun.

I don't like to give spoilers in my reviews, so I can't say too much about what happens after that. But the book starts in 4000000000 A.D. Most of it is set in the past, with Tyler writing about the events of his life, a life that was inextricably tied up with Jason and Diane.

First published in 2005, Spin won the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel in 2006. There have been two sequels published since then. It contains some very interesting ideas - in addition to the great idea that's the premise - and I think that's how I'd describe it, as interesting.

My biggest problem with the book is that I don't like the characters. Yes, they're interesting. They're plausible. I even feel considerable sympathy for them. But I don't like them. To me, that's important. Many of my friends in the ClassicScienceFiction discussion group say they don't need to like the characters in a book. But usually, I do.

And I must say that I don't even like the human species much, as shown in this book. Our society doesn't seem to be very admirable. Our institutions - government and corporations mainly, since we never see scientists - are corrupt. Very few people are likable - and those mostly very minor characters.

The idea here was quite interesting, but I just had a hard time caring what happened. So what if the entire human species went extinct? It hardly seemed like it would be a big loss. I was interested to see where the story would go, but I didn't actually care. For me, that's a big deal, but it might not be for you.

Now, as I say, the basic premise of Spin was great, and there were other great ideas in the book, too. I liked the eventual identification of the Hypotheticals. There really is a lot to like here. But I had a few problems with the end of the book. Idea-based science fiction really needs to have a great solution, and I had a few problems with this one.

I'm not going to go into detail, because I don't want to give away any spoilers. But after everything else, I had a hard time buying the ending. Again, maybe that's just me. Most likely, it is. This book did win the Hugo Award, after all.

But the best thing I can say about Spin is that it was interesting. I hate to give it such a tepid review, but I really couldn't get any more enthusiastic than that. I'm glad I read it, but it really didn't grab me.

This was our November read (our modern SF pick) in the ClassicScienceFiction group, and most of our members liked it more than I did, I think. Well, tastes vary.

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