(2005) Robert Charles Wilson, Tor, US$7.99 / Can$10.99, pbk, 364 pp, ISBN 0-765-34825-X
(We have previously reviewed the hardback and since then the Concat' core team nominated it as one of the best science fiction books of 2005.
The paperback is now out so giving Matt Freestone a chance for further comment...)
Spin seems to have attracted a fair bit of praise for skillfully combining a mainstream character-driven novel with big SF. Knowing that before I read the book, perhaps I set my expectations a little too high - this isn't quite a super-hybrid of Annie Proulx and Greg Egan. Nonetheless, it's a really impressive SF story with real characters. It's not the first, but perhaps it's a sign that the DMZ between the genres has softened a little.
Spin is narrated by Tyler Dupree, a young teenager when the book starts. He is out one night watching the stars with his friends Jason and Diane Lawton, when the stars disappear, hidden by a membrane that encircles the Earth. The World gradually learns that beyond the membrane, time is moving faster, leaving only 50 years or so on Earth before the Sun expands to the point where the planet will be uninhabitable.
The story of what happens in that time is the subject of the novel. Jason becomes a powerful figure in the aerospace industry, struggling to understand the nature of the 'Spin 'membrane. Diane turns to religion, and Jason becomes a doctor, bound into the orbit of Jason through friendship, and suffering from a mostly unrequited love for Diane. Saying almost anything about the plot would reveal marvellous surprises and inventions by Wilson - suffice it to say that the Earth's response is to use the time distortion effects of the 'Spin' to their advantage, and that the ending does make sense of the strange times through which the characters live.
While the immediate cast of the novel is quite small, Wilson also manages to consider the response of the wider world in a fairly realistic way. Civilization does not collapse when the 'Spin' descends, but the changes that come as people reconsider their place in the Universe, and the fact that they may personally see the end of the world, creates a quite stark parable about the way we currently use the resources of Earth. That this doesn't make the novel into a diatribe (*cough* Forty Signs of Rain *cough*) is another mark to Wilson's credit.
So overall I really enjoyed this book. I wanted to know what happened next (Editor: See the sequel Axis), and I found it hard to put down once I'd started. Does the World end with a bang or a whimper? Read Spin and you'll be pleasantly surprised. I was.
See also Jonathan's take on the novel Spin here.
Other Robert Charles Wilson books reviewed on this site include: Bios, Blind Lake and The Chronoliths.
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